Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Band Interview: CRUCIBLE STEEL

Interview with JONATHAN NESBITT of CRUCIBLE STEEL

How long has Crucible Steel been active? Why is it a solo project rather than a full band? How did you choose the name for your musical project?
I started Crucible Steel in January of 2016. I could not find serious musicians to form a band with so I decided to do everything on my own. Since then I have recorded three albums. The first album is self-titled, the second is called Forge The Blade. The third is called Dead Within. You can purchase my music on Amazon and many other sites. I found the name by researching the Viking age. Crucible steel is made by melting cast iron. The Vikings used these crucible steel swords. They were called Ulfberht.

How long have you been a professional musician? What were your tastes back then and how have they expanded since?
I started really learning how to play guitar when I was thirteen, and learned bass and drums while in high school. Since I don't make a living playing music, I can't call myself a professional. But that's the dream I would like to achieve. When I started playing at thirteen, I started with bands like Kiss, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue. I learned as many of their songs as I could. My playing has greatly expanded because I listen to so much music from different genres. It has helped shape me into the musician I am today.

How many instruments have you learned to play altogether? Is balancing your practice on all of them a task?
I play acoustic and electric guitar, bass and drums. It can be a task to practice everything sometimes. But if you love playing and you’re dedicated, you will find the time to get some practice in with each instrument.

What resonated with you about the songs by Kiss, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue you learned to play?
I learned songs like Strutter, Cold Gin, Strange Ways, and She from Kiss. I Wanna Rock from Twisted Sister. Shout At The Devil and Looks That Kill from Motley Crue. Obviously all those bands had a big influence on me, so naturally I wanted to learn how to play them. One of my biggest influences is Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath. His playing still influences me today.

How much of an inspiration has Tony Iommi been for you? Has it been his work from any era of Black Sabbath in particular?
The early Sabbath material is probably the biggest inspiration for me, but as far as Tony Iommi goes, he still writes incredible music and is an inspiration today.

Did learning progressions and chops shape your composing? Would you write variations writing your own material?
I would say yes and no. There's always been a Sabbath feel to my music since day one. But I try to incorporate as many influences as I can, to keep the music interesting. And I've never limited myself to just writing death metal music. Even in the beginning, I would write whatever sounded good to me. I've always tried to write something new and original. But sometimes you can write something and listen to it and say, damn that sounds similar to another song. So I try not to do that.

What genres did you gravitate towards after your exposure to rock and classic metal?
I was finding more bands in middle school. Two that definitely shaped my playing were Pantera and Sepultura. I gravitated towards metal, death and thrash. Bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary and Dismember along with Slayer and Megadeth. The rawness and aggression of those bands grabbed my attention.

Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power seemingly increased Pantera’s popularity overnight. Sepultura was among the first bands to incorporate tribal percussion. Did listening those bands inspire you to head in new directions?
I heard Pantera and Sepultura around the same time. Vulgar Display Of Power definitely grabbed my attention. Dimebag set the example for the modern metal guitarist, and no one’s been able to touch him since. When I first heard the Chaos A.D album from Sepultura, I knew I wanted to play metal. That album was crushing and one of my biggest influences. My style is a mix of all of those early influences. I still listen to all that stuff today. My sound evolved but I have the same influences I had as a kid.

Did the increased intensity, faster pace and crunching guitars of thrash metal enhance your songwriting?
In the beginning, my music wasn’t that good. It took a while to build my chops and find my own sound. The first thrash bands I discovered were Slayer, Megadeth and Sepultura. That definitely changed my way of writing. I focused more on the right hand, getting my picking hand precise. It took hard work and dedication to play fast, but I'm glad I took the time. At first it was a challenge, I had to start slow and work my way up. I have a couple thrashy songs on my second Crucible Steel album Forge The Blade that I'm pretty proud of.

How long did you work at fusing rock with thrash metal until you were satisfied?
I'm still not fully satisfied with my playing and probably never will be I'm always trying to learn new styles and techniques. As far as playing fast, I still have plenty of room to improve. I think it has become a natural progression to fuse hard rock and thrash. It all comes down to the players who influence me. From Tony Iommi to Kerry King and so many others. They all come out in my playing at one point or another. I may have a Slayer style song wrote, and end up playing a blues style lead over it. I never know how a song is going to turn out until it's finished.

How many differences did you see in death and black metal? How are they integrated into your songwriting?
Obituary and Cannibal Corpse were the bands that got me into death metal. I was twelve or thirteen. Mayhem and Satyricon were my first taste in black metal when I was fourteen, starting high school. There's a world of difference between those two genres and what I was listening to already. Going from Kiss to Kreator to Emperor was a big change. Having all of those different influences as a player has definitely helped me become a well-rounded musician. I was able to soak up all of those bands and create something of my own. I have a few tracks that incorporate black metal. There's a lot of tremolo picking. And the lyrical content is a bit darker. Other than a few thrash style songs, the majority of Crucible Steel is old school death metal: Obituary, Amon Amarth and Asphyx influence.

Some people believe death and black metal is just noise and screaming. Having listened to it and played it firsthand, do you understand the complexities of those genres? Which bands write and play the most complex material?
Death metal is extremely complex to play. So is black metal. But it's like any genre of music, some of it is quality music, some is not. A lot of people will hear a song or see the imagery, and not realize the talent it took to create the band. It’s hard to appreciate those genres if you don't listen to or play them. Technical death metal bands like Necrophagist have pushed death metal to new boundaries. The new Morbid Angel album was impressive and complex. As far as black metal bands go, I'm a big Watain fan. They have expanded the black metal genre and made it exciting.

Would you consider adding other underground genres (doom, symphonic, grind, Celtic etc) to Crucible Steel’s formula?
I've incorporated some acoustic pieces for Crucible Steel. My third album will have a Danzig style song which is pretty cool. If I don't listen or play a certain genre, it won't be incorporated. I might do some doom style stuff down the road.

Some people say we stop discovering new music after age thirty, and there is little to no originality left in metal. Are you more inclined to agree or disagree?
There's still a lot of originality in metal. You have to look past all the trendy bands. Find the underground bands. Bands that don't sound like the next band. It may take some time but they are out there.

How important do you consider it to forge your own direction when social media and streaming sites have generated an endless amount of new bands? How much more uncharted territory is there these days?
Because of social media, I see more trendy bands than ever before, especially in metal. A lot of these bands have been influenced by maybe three bands and have tried copying their sound and look. So metal in general has been watered down. It's become difficult to find bands that are doing something completely different and new. I tend to stick with the older bands, the guys that got me into music. The uncharted territory has come in the form of experimental music. Experimenting with extended range instruments and mixing genres. There will always be something new happening, it may not always be good, but it will be new.

Do you write music for other projects besides Crucible Steel? How many bands were you involved in previously?
I record music outside of Crucible Steel. I write a lot of bluesy rock instrumentals. I hope to release these songs soon. You can't stay in one genre for too long or you will get burned out. I keep my mind sharp and write different things. I have enough blues rock stuff for two albums at the moment. I'm always busy writing. Hopefully I can get it released soon. Before Crucible Steel I was part of many bands. From classic rock cover bands, to punk and metal and even radio rock. I've done it all at some point or another. Whether I was playing guitar, bass or drums, I've always been part of something.

Discuss how long your first bands were active. How easy or difficult has it been to find musicians to work with? Did those bands release anything that is still available?
I started jamming with kids my age when I was thirteen. By the time I was fourteen we had a garage band. It lasted till the end of high school, then we all parted ways. I'm the only one still actively playing music. Unless you want to play classic rock and country covers, it's extremely hard to find musicians, much less serious musicians. I hope to play the songs live at some point, so I'm hoping to find the players I need to bring my dream to the stage. My previous bands didn't record anything that lasted.

Were all the Crucible Steel full lengths recorded and produced independently? How much creative freedom does working solo give you?
My three albums were all recorded and produced by myself. Apollyon Entertainment has put the first two out and the third should be out soon. I have full creative freedom with Crucible Steel. Every album has been different. I never wanted to put limitations on Crucible Steel. I plan on expanding this project even more and hopefully can have a band in place so I can play these songs live.

What equipment to record, mix and master is at your disposal? Why do you prefer producing your material independently to working in a recording studio?
Everything I recorded for Crucible Steel is in analog format, which is rare these days. I used an Ibanez RG on the first album, a BC Rich Warlock on Forge The Blade, and for Dead Within I used a Jackson Dinky. I've used the same amp, a vintage Peavey 4x12. My effects are all Digitech. And for bass I use a Dean Demonator. I would rather work in a studio, to get a more polished sound and better mix, but I am a musician on a budget. And I enjoy working at my own pace.

Does working on your own schedule contribute to the originality and creativity of the band?
Writing and recording on my own time is a huge plus. I'm not rushed and I can focus on originality and I can definitely focus more.

What analog equipment do you have to record with? If you could record in a studio, which one would you choose locally?
I'm a big fan of the old Tascam recording studios. They really contribute to that old school death metal sound, and the black metal stuff. I don't know of any local studios that I would use. I haven't really shopped around for one.

Are you directly involved with the Apollyon Entertainment label or just releasing Crucible Steel material through it?
I am not involved directly; they heard the first album and wanted to put it out. I've had a great relationship with Apollyon Entertainment ever since. They are hard-working guys and thanks to them, my music has gotten on many platforms.

Do you release Crucible Steel on compact disc or stream your full lengths on social media sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud? Which method do you prefer?
My music is available through digital download on many sites around the world. Hopefully at some point, if there's a larger interest in Crucible Steel, we could provide physical copies. As long as people are checking the music out, I don't care what format they use to enjoy it.

In what ways do your releases differ? Do your transitions come naturally or do you have specific ideas in mind before working on each full length?
You can hear a lot of different influences on my albums. Each one has something different. Obviously It’s mostly death metal, but you can find influences from black metal and thrash bands. The third album will have a bit of Danzig influence, who I'm a huge fan of. I always have specific ideas for each album. Sometimes they are used, sometimes not. For the most part, the transitions come natural. Sometimes I'll write something that doesn't work for Crucible Steel. I may release those songs at some point.

What characteristics of Danzig were instrumental in influencing parts of the new full length?
Danzig is one of those bands that influenced me since day one. It may not have been obvious in my music, but on Dead Within I have some tracks that you can definitely tell. There's a song called Sound Of Pain I wrote with Danzig in mind. And it's the first track that I'm not doing death metal vocals.

Does your lyrical content also differ from album to album? What subject matter do you usually write about?
My lyrical content changes on every album. There's topics on Viking history, isolation and religious themes. I've also wrote about man's creation, war, and my own thoughts. History plays a big role in my lyrics. It’s hard to relate to fantasy themes so I tend to write about my own life and the adventures of others.

What research on Viking history have you done? What effort do you make to have your lyrics differ from other bands’?
My song Banished Vikings is about Erik the Red, a famous Viking explorer who founded Greenland. I also cover topics of the Crusades, and various Viking beliefs. I've always been into history so it was natural to take interesting topics and turn them into music. Hopefully my lyrics differ from other bands. There are a lot of bands with similar lyrical content. I try to tell the story accurately and transform it into a song.

How does Banished Vikings relate your research of Erik the Red legend?
I talk about his family’s banishment from Norway. They sailed west finding Iceland. History credits Erik the Red for the discovery and settlement of Greenland. So Banished Vikings is about that adventure.

Do you research surfing the internet, watching the History and Discovery channels, reading or all of the above? What yields the most information for you?
I find information using all of those, but I get more knowledge from reading books. The History Channel is also useful. I watch it as much as I can, when they have something interesting on. I like Ancient Aliens and Forged In Fire.

Did you happen to catch any episodes of Ancient Aliens or Forged In Fire that inspired you to write song lyrics?
Forged In Fire is a cool show to learn how steel weapons are made. It hasn't inspired any lyrics. On the other hand, Ancient Aliens has inspired a few Crucible Steel songs such as The Destroyer and Gods Among Us, both off the self-titled first album.

Where are religious themes, particularly relating to the Crusades covered in your lyrics?
I cover the Crusades in a song called Spill Their Blood, which will be on the third Crucible Steel album, Dead Within. Pagan Blood, from the same album is also based on the Crusades. I tackle religion on a song called Seed Of The Serpent, off my first self-titled album.

How would you say your lyrics about the Crusades reflects on that period in history? Did you look toward the same sources to research those events? Are there any books you care to mention?
My lyrics on the Crusades talks briefly on the history and what was going on in the world at that time. It was a dark period and my lyrics reflect that. I would recommend A History Of The Crusades by Steven Runciman and The Origin Of The Idea Of Crusade by Carl Erdmann.

Tell the readers some more about A History Of The Crusades and The Origin Of The Idea Of Crusade. Are those two books as informative as you hoped they would be?
A History Of The Crusades is broken up into three volumes. The first volume focuses on the foundation of Jerusalem. The second is on the Frankish states of Outremer. And the third volume is about the revival of the Frankish kingdom. The Origin Of The Idea Of Crusade talks about the evolution of the Crusades. An interesting point I took from this book is how people will make god appear like them, they will turn god into whatever they want him to be, to fit their lifestyle. Both books were very informative and enjoyable reads.

Have you written lyrics about wars from the last century or so? If you have, which have you written about the most?
I have a song on my second album Forge The Blade called War Of Revenge. It’s loosely based on World War 2 and one of the first songs I wrote for Crucible Steel.

Quote a verse or two from War Of Revenge and explain how the song conveys your thoughts on World War 2.
I left the lyrics open to interpretation. It could be written about any war. During World War 2, many armies took revenge into their own hands. And many times they took it to far, murdering more than opposing forces, but civilians as well. Second verse: “Over and over they come, the rape doesn't stop. Mutilating, torturing their victims. And then shot dead.”

What aspects of your personal life do you write about for Crucible Steel? Are you comfortable capturing them on paper?
I write about the inner demons that most people face. Being isolated from the world. I get more personal on the third album, Dead Within. Songs like Internal Prison, Decompose and Misery. They really reflect on my inner demons and daily struggles. I'm comfortable writing the ideas down. Those lyrics are easiest to write and makes for a good song.

If you could name a song from each of your full lengths that best represent where you were headed with Crucible Steel at the time, what would they be and why?
Banished Vikings off my self-titled album set the tone for Crucible Steel and represents that album the best. End Of Flesh off my second album Forge the Blade is a great thrashy song. It’s one of my favorites. The third album Dead Within has Raven, an old school death metal song.

How soon do you expect the new album Dead Within to be released? How many tracks will be included and in what way is the album an improvement from the previous two?
I hope to see Dead Within out by the end of the summer. It contains ten tracks and different influences. It starts with a Sepultura style instrumental and then goes into old school death metal. The last couple of songs are the ones with a Danzig vibe. I'm not sure if it's an improvement but I write how I feel so it's to the listener to decide if it's an improvement or not.

How do you plan to promote Dead Within once it’s out? How well do you imagine it will be received by your listeners who have been there from the beginning?
Dead Within will be on every streaming site and there will be many online stores where you can purchase the album. We will promote the album for several months and hopefully Crucible Steel can gain some new fans. Every listener is different and not everyone is into old school death metal so this album will be something new for a lot of people. For the older fans there's old school death and thrash.

At which online stores and streaming sites will you be promoting Dead Within? Will people hearing it who don’t normally listen to underground become more open to it?
I'm not sure what sites it will be on yet. I'll know all the details closer to the time of its release. I hope people will be more appreciative of death metal and underground music, and realize the hard work and dedication it takes. And I hope other bands will realize that you can expand on the genre. Don't be afraid to write outside of the box.

Do you think extreme metal has or could become more commercialized since it broke aboveground? How would you like to see it continue without losing what appealed to its fans in the 80s and 90s?
I don’t think it will ever be commercialized. The majority is still underground. Because of social media, more bands are out now more than ever. Most of those bands are playing one style of music. It has become harder to find a band setting new boundaries. I would like to see more bands expand musically; there is so much room left to explore death metal and underground music. My advice is, Don't rely so much on the digital aspect. Write good songs, but keep that raw, aggressive energy that made 80's and 90's death metal so exciting.


-Dave Wolff

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Full Length Review: VOTOV Votov (Independent) by Dave Wolff

Votov
Independent
Place of origin: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Genre: Old school death metal
Streaming on Soundcloud and Bandcamp
Release date: December 20, 2017
Votov’s 2017 debut full length first impressed me as having notable influence from Samael and Obituary. The opener The Smear has crunch and groove similar to Samael’s Throne Of Baphomet, without additional atmosphere. The primal theme and lyrics strike me as reflecting the constant bickering and arguing on social media, when it gives us an opportunity to share information and knowledge. As people have pointed out it becomes a forum for petty conflict and gaslighting which contributes to the dumbing down of the masses. I find most of the lyrics critique the stagnation that results from said conflict, much like that of spin media about which celebrity is getting divorced this week, “fake news” and other scandals that distract public attention from real problems we face each day. The dystopia is here and most people aren’t even aware of it. Listen to the spoken word CDs of Jello Biafra and watch the movies of Eric Bogosian and you’ll see what I’m saying. Popular media is eroding our ability to think critically, making us all mindless observers, and this is the point I believe the band is making. Or their point could be something else entirely. Either way, the lyrics address the issues of concern to them, not bothering to candy-coat them or gloss them over. The compositions they are set to present themselves as a preamble to what the band has to say, furnishing a stable backdrop. Memorable death metal bands have always arranged their songs in this way, utilizing their musicianship to make their point about self-perpetuating and self-defeating corruption, and Votov is off to a good start at following suit, making heaviness and mid-tempo groove the vehicle for their ideas. They complete their ritual with a rendition of Celtic Frost’s Dethroned Emperor, likely one the most covered songs in the history of death metal, but here it reinforces the unifying concept of their original songs and make you want to read more in the process. Contact the band and acquire a copy of this album. -Dave Wolff

Band lineup:
Chuck Labossiere: Guitars, vocals
John Duke: Bass
Derrick Kroll: Drums

Track list:
1. The Smear
2. Organic Incarceration
3. Absinuance
4. Indoctrination
5. Massing Link
6. By the Disgrace of God
7. Reviled Deliverance
8. Dethroned Emperor (Celtic Frost cover)


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Live Review: Anthrax, Testament, Byzantine, DownSlave

Anthrax, Testament, Byzantine, DownSlave
The International, Knoxville, Tennessee. June 8, 2018
All photos by Deanna Revis 
DownSlave is a southern thrash band from Knoxville. They didn't really get a good chance to play. They were sort of screwed by the venue. They sounded good. They just didn't have any room on stage and were kind of rushed to finish their set. 
Byzantine is a thrash metal/heavy metal band from Charleston, West Virginia. They have shared the stage with the likes of Lamb of God, Anthrax, and Testament as well as others. They bring a mind blowing show. The stage presence of high octane. Chris Ojeda (vocals and rhythm guitar) will make you feel his intensity. Brian Henderson (lead guitar and vocals) is definitely a monster on the axe, and his vocals too. Sean Syndor (bass and backing vocals) is 200 proof no doubt! He is full of energy, intensity, and when he gets started this guy is unstoppable! Last but definitely not least Matt Bowles (drums) just WOW! When he gets in beast mode, Matt Bowles brings it! A real monster on the drums. All together Byzantine is a force to be reckoned with. They bring a live performance like no other. When the lights go back down, you are left wanting more. They should be on every metalhead's must see list. If you have never listened to them I would recommend the album's The Cicada Tree or The Fundamental Component. Byzantine is currently on Metal Blade Records. 
Testament. I grew up on bands like this. Even with the line-up changing over the past thirty-five years. I was blown away. Chuck Billy and his air guitar show how much fun he is having up there. Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson definitely bring the pain, amazing axe work. Steve Did Giorgio on bass, makes you feel all of his blood, sweat, and tears. Gene Hoglan on drums, a heavy hitter. Testament does not leave you disappointed. 
Anthrax!!! To have the opportunity to see one of the Big Four was an experience like no other. I have been listening to Anthrax since I was a kid. This was a bucket list show. And to be front row was even better. Joey Belladonna still sounds better than some of these guys half his age. Frank Bello on bass, all I can say is Wow! Charlie Benante on drums, hits heavy... hits hard... sounds like thunder. Jon Donais on guitar, has so much energy and pours his heart in it. And last but definitely not least...... Scott Ian! The axe man cometh!!! The only remaining founding member of Anthrax.... I have loved his playing for years. If Anthrax comes to your town, buy a ticket and go! You will not regret it! -Deanna Revis

Monday, June 11, 2018

Author Interview: MICHAEL ARONOVITZ

Interview with author MICHAEL ARONOVITZ

You do a regular series at Pure Grain Audio magazine called Music Hell, of which you showed me a sample featuring Anthrax. Describe this series to the readers and explain how it began?
To give a brief background, I had (have) been writing and publishing horror stories since 1993, my first collection in 2009, first novel in 2013. Instead of just Tweeting my buy links, back in 2014, I decided to write rock reviews as well. I always saw a connection between metal and horror, so that was my angle, and I wound up writing more of these reviews than first expected. As a natural sort of byproduct, I developed communications with a lot of musicians and industry people, one of them, Chris Poland of Eclipse Records. This past October, I asked him if he knew any rock magazines I could write for, as I was already freelancing for Metal Heads Forever by that point, thinking I could expand this even more. He introduced me to Chad Bower of Heavy Music Headquarters, and I currently write for him in addition to MHF.
Another name Chris Poland gave me last October was that of Chris Gonda, the CEO of Pure Grain Audio Magazine. He was nice enough to talk to me on the phone, and after hearing my history, immediately suggested that I write horror fiction stories about real rock bands, starring them as characters. This was the hybrid I was looking for. The first band I did a story on was Trivium back in January, titled “The Sculptor.” This story is about a serial killer who forces famous bands to solve his blood-puzzles. Chris next gave me the press kit for Electric Wizard, and I wrote their story titled “The Hiss of the Eliminator,” a tale about playing a deadly game of poker with the Grim Reaper. The third story centered around Asking Alexandria, titled “The Ghost of the Hot Checkered Flag Girl.” This one was about a horrific road race finally answering the fatal question of which is better in a death-race, Camaro or Mustang. With the fourth story, Chris made an incredible connection with Anthrax’s publicity people, yielding me the opportunity to write about one of the “Big Four” in Thrash history. For Anthrax, I decided to do something special, and we put out our first novelette at 11,500 words (equal to around 42 pages double spaced with standard margins and font). This one, titled “The Shadows of the Asylum,” was initially inspired by their tune “Madhouse,” and I decided to feature each band member in his own horror-scenario that eventually intertwined with all the others. The latest story to go up starred Carpenter Brut, titled “Blood Lust and Skin Hunger,” a vampire piece to be sure, but presented in a way I would hope readers would find surprising (and frightening).
On June 13, we are revealing the biggest of the Music Hell stories to date, featuring a band so huge and so perfect for this series, that readers will be blown away, guaranteed.

From where did your inspiration for writing horror come in the early 90s? Was your first collection of stories compiled of pieces you wrote from the early 90s to the late 2000s?
My inspiration for all horror writing goes back to Stephen King. I have read almost every one of his books and was blown away when I first read “Night Shift” in the early 80’s (it was released in ’78). I was especially taken with his descriptive ability coupled with the way he built characters so quickly and effectively. As for my first collection titled “Seven Deadly Pleasures,” (2009) yes, it was compiled of initially five tales I wrote in the early 90’s. I had walked away from writing fiction in the mid 90’s to go back to school to become a teacher. I wound up running the English Department and teaching 10th grade and seniors in a Philadelphia Charter School in the 2000’s and got a second masters in literature in 2006. A student got me a Borders gift card in late 2007 and I bought a book with stories about 17th century ghosts. It was edited by a guy named S.T. Joshi. The book reminded me of my own horror writing that I had abandoned for teaching, and I dug up the four stories I had published in the early 90’s in small magazines. I figured that if S.T. was an editor he knew people, so I found an email and sent them to him. I was surprised when he actually responded. He read my stuff, made some suggestions, and agreed to actually publish my material through a small press called Hippocampus, a small house that he used when he couldn’t find a larger press for his scholarly work. Turns out, he was (is) Lovecraft’s most renowned living biographer, so I had made a powerful friend! My long short stories equaled about 40,000 words altogether, and he suggested I make the collection double the word count. I took the scraps of a novel I had always believed in yet never realized and whittled it down to novella size. Now I had my word count, but when I told S.T. we could call it “Five Deadly Pleasures,” he said, “Michael, it won’t publish for a year or more, so why don’t you complete the metaphor. Write two more stories, making it “Seven Deadly Pleasures.” I quickly wrote a scary-clown story and then reworked a verbal tale about a ghost in a charter school that I had been telling my students for years. It is called “How Bria Died,” and also appeared in “The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, 2011,” Prime Books.

Name the seven pieces compiled for Seven Deadly Pleasures. How much of an influence was Stephen King’s descriptive writing on your tales?
Originally, S.T. looked at four of my early works: “The Clever Mask,” “Passive Passenger,” “Quest for Sadness,” and “The Legend of the Slither-Shifter.” That equaled the 40,000 words. The novel I boiled down to novella-size was originally called “Mischief,” but shortened to the 40,000 I needed for the complete work count of the collection, it was re-named “Toll Booth.” To make it seven stories to equal seven deadly pleasures / sins metaphor, I wrote and added “The Exterminator” and “How Bria Died.” And Stephen King’s descriptive writing was a huge influence, especially short fiction like “Graveyard Shift,” “The Jaunt,” and “Survivor Type.”

How actively was Seven Deadly Pleasures promoted following its release? Tell the readers about the second collection of short fiction you published.
The promotion for Seven Deadly Pleasures was pretty well executed. I have never been very good at promotion, yet Derrick Hussey at Hippocampus Press did a nice job of contacting journals to announce its release. The horror scene is a niche-world, and within it, there was a bit of fanfare. I recall Publishers Weekly commented on it, mostly praising the novella “Toll Booth.” There were some other nice articles written on it and I sold a fair amount of books, enough for a little pocket money. It was a nice first publication. I did a reading at my original writing teacher’s place. His name is Ken Bingham, and his adult fiction writing class is an extravaganza that developed a whole social scene lasting decades. His community, built upon people taking his workshop, has literally hundreds, even in the thousands, who get together at his mansion-like place in South Philly every other Wednesday, so when one of their own has a book, it’s a big deal. That reading was a lot of fun. I also did one at a Barnes and Nobel down town, so it was a nice celebration all around. As far as the second collection, it was called “The Voices in Our Heads.” I took a chance on a new publisher here but felt it (ironically) could have been promoted better, so I recently got back the rights. I may be re-releasing the five or six best stories from there and adding five or six good new ones I have written since, for a brand-new collection.

I remember the short pieces by Stephen King you cited. What parts of each of those stayed with you since you read them? What can you say about his novels?
Interesting question, especially since I have a different aspect of each of the Stephen King short stories I found appealing and useful. “Graveyard Shift” has some of the best setting descriptions I had/have read. “The Jaunt,” one of his few examples of science fiction, simply had a phenomenal, thought-provoking premise: (tele-transport with one problem: you had to be knocked out when “jaunting” as the mind perceived the process as nearly endless, and if left awake, you went mad). As far as “Survivor Type” goes, I have taught many fiction classes where I paraphrase the tale not only for its awesome brutality, but the perfect examples of foreshadowing (his fingers, the doctor bag). In terms of his novels, my favorites are Christine, The Dead Zone, The Stand, and Joyland. I like them all for different reasons, but in the end, with King, it is always character-first.

Who are other writers of horror fiction you read when younger? Which era within the genre have you gotten the most from?
I was always a fan of some of the work of Dean Koontz (favorite book – Velocity), and Thomas Harris. Still, I have always argued that horror is not a genre. It is a spice, a condiment that is necessary in various forms for any story to make it interesting. Stories are based structurally and philosophically upon “impending peril,” and whether it is Cinderella having to get home by 12:00, or someone with a gun to the head, the “peril” is always there. In terms of an “era,” I just don’t know if my reading experience “covers that.” From King, I learned how to describe things and build character. Koontz has good plot work, so for me, he was more an influence for structure. Thomas Harris unveils his antagonists with aching slowness, a written method of “hiding the monster” that has never been equaled.

What about Koontz’s Velocity and other novels he wrote inspired you?
I always felt that his set-ups were strong. He had interesting scenarios that were troubling and engaging. In Velocity, he has a guy read a note on his windshield that says (paraphrased) “If you call the police, I will kill a teacher in Ft. Lauderdale. If you do not call the police, I will kill an elderly librarian in Jackson County.” This is the ultimate impending peril. No matter what the guy does, he is an accessory to murder. Unless, he chooses option 3…go after the guy or gal himself. That’s good stuff. As for his other work, I liked Night Chills. The antagonist had a very specific and human issue, linked with power, and it was fascinating. These are the only two that really appealed to me, however. Koontz tends to write passive sentences…a lot of “ing” words beginning the phrases, and unless you are doing bio stuff, I feel this weakens the prose. He also had a story (I forget the name, which tells you something) where a father had an unruly teenage son, and Koontz ends the conflict with a fierce hug. Wasn’t impressed.

Are you inspired by any older writers such as Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley or Stoker? If you have read their work, how relevant would you still consider it today?
Interestingly, I must say I am influenced by none of the above. I do realize that being the protégé of the world’s number one critic of Lovecraft, and myself not being a part of the humongous wave of Lovecraftian influence that has become so powerful especially in the last twenty years, might seem strange, but S.T. doesn’t seem to mind. My biggest influence from horror, of course, is King, but the biggest overarching model was created by Ernest Hemingway. I believe his Aesthetic Theory of Omission set the template for all modern writing, and I see a lot of his syntactic techniques (rambling sentences followed by short and declarative phrases) in my own work. I am also influenced by other classic writers who involved horrific elements in work not necessarily called “horror,” like Shakespeare, Ellison, Swift, and Chaucer.

What genres were you usually reviewing when you were freelancing for Metal Heads Forever and came into contact with Chris Poland? How much has your readership expanded with Heavy Music Headquarters?
I was writing reviews about Chris Poland’s bands long before Metal Heads Forever, actually. Chris P. was one of my first real industry-contacts back in 2014-2015. My third novel, Phantom Effect,” had just come out, and the idea to write rock reviews came from, again, my desire to tweet about things other than my books. A lot of new bands, maybe with their first record coming out, were sending auto-responses when you followed them, asking what you thought of their music. I answered one, Ralph Buso from Ravenscroft, and sort of “auditioned my writing for them” right there, watching their video “Cauldron of Deceit,” and commenting back in that skinny message space. Being that I was in a professional metal band in the 80’s, I had some insight into the business, and my being a teacher (now a college professor) helped with the analytic structure. He liked the review, and I got my friends at Hellnotes, a horror blog connected with Journalstone, to publish it. The content was different than the standard review. I talked about the horror genre for the equivalent of a few pages before even mentioning Ravenscroft, and so I had inadvertently created a “new style.”
Chris Poland came a month or so later. I had written reviews on Ravenscroft, Forever Still, Heaven the Axe, and Amerakin Overdose (that is the correct spelling) and saw a Twitter post about Eclipse Recording Artists-Saint Diablo. The singer, Tito, answered back, but said I had to go through the president of his label, Chris Poland. I wanted my own page by that point, so I convinced horror writers Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross to lend me space on their blog. I called my column “Goblet of Shock,” and continued writing scholarly reviews about metal and the historic and current connections to horror. In doing so, I have since reviewed more than ten or fifteen of Chris’s bands, so the two of us have become friends.
Metal Heads Forever came into the picture back early last summer, 2017. I wanted to put my stuff into a format that had bigger readership, and David Maloney there at MHF offered total freedom, no word count constraint, no oversight on content except a bit of copy editing by his pro Keith Clement. I have written more than thirty reviews (I believe…I would have to count) for David, and he gets a humongous amount of readership. For example, one of my reviews that concerned the Chicago power duo with singer – “Chains Over Razors” had more than 20,000 views.
When I contacted Chris Poland last October, asking him if he knew anyone else I could write for (to expand off of MHF), he introduced me to Chad Bowers, the one who runs Heavy Music Headquarters. His phenomenal magazine has stricter guidelines, and I have been writing for him since October, 2017. His reviews are far shorter, (usually 125 words) and I do not choose the bands. I did get an opportunity with Chad very recently to get my own page for a review of one of my all-time favorites, Dokken, and their live record, and I recently went to a show here in Philly at the TLA theater with guest passes from Chris Poland for his band Sifting. I wrote a comprehensive article on this band back in November for Metal Heads Forever, but for this live show, I was given no word restrictions and my own page at Heavy Music Headquarters. That article went up on May 22nd. I honestly do not know how much my readership has expanded with HMH, but I am sure the numbers are favorable.

What was your usual criteria for reviewing bands for Metal Heads Forever? How many fanzines and webzines are you currently writing reviews for today?
The bands I review for Metal Heads Forever have to thrill me. MHF does not have a “rating system,” so my analysis is never based on deconstruction. In other words, I don’t write reviews to talk about shit I don’t like. There are other reviewers for that, and rockers work too hard to hear that noise coming from a small-market horror writer like me. Since I have experience playing heavy metal, I tend to favor those types of projects. I also usually choose to review bands I want to get to know. One of the things I do for MHF is contact the band personally so I can ask questions one can’t just go and find online. I write for three rock magazines currently: Metal Heads Forever, Heavy Music Headquarters, and Pure Grain Audio, though all my writing for PGA is fiction in the “Music Hell” series.

What was the last band release that thrilled you as you indicated? How and why?
No doubt, a tie between Lillye with “Evolve,” and Sifting with “Not From Here.” These are two bands off the Eclipse label that are not, in fact, deathcore, and both have incredible star power and originality. I also reviewed Avatar’s new record for Heavy Music Headquarters a couple of months ago and gave my first 5 out of 5. Excellent structuring, variety, and guitar-work on that one.

Does writing with no word restrictions help you express yourself freely and clearly?
I actually enjoy both. Freedom of word count, as I have with Metal Heads Forever, allows me to bring in more specific examples and allusions to literature and horror. On the other hand, the standard reviews I do for Heavy Music Headquarters are 150 words, and I appreciate the idea that I have to be succinct. As I mentioned previously, however, I had the opportunity to do those two longer pieces for HMH recently, (Dokken’s live record and the concert review for the band “Sifting”), and I feel those are strong pieces of writing as well.

What did you have to say about Dokken and Sifting in your reviews of them?
Well, I have dug Dokken since the early 80’s. George Lynch has an incredible sound, and the ESP product he promotes is top rate. Their live album is a gem, and I complimented most their sound production and sharp execution. They had a couple of new tunes as well, studio versions, that were excellent.
Sifting, as mentioned before, is a new band on the Eclipse Records label. I went to see them at the TLA Theater here in Philly, on their guest list. There were no seats, but I was in the equivalent of the second row. They were amazing, playing the “spaces” as much as the changes, with incredible two-guitar solo portions. I got to talk to the band at their merch table (and outside actually) at length, and the article was fun to write.

How much do social media sites help independent reviewers and authors make a name for themselves? Which sites have helped you promote to readers most actively?
I have gone back and forth with people about this, and I fall on the side of being hesitant to talk about social media promotion and specific sites, because in many ways, I find the labyrinth to be disagreeable. Of course, I have a Twitter and a Facebook, but I disagree with those who say it is effective to promote our own books by living in these places all day. I have talked to writers that say they promote quite cleverly all over the Internet, yet it takes up half of their writing time. I know a horror author who self-publishes, and claims he sold literally thousands of books simply by putting up stuff on Facebook. For me, it has never been that easy, and I consider many of the social media self-promotions to be basically useless. The way Facebook is set up, many of my posts don’t reach all my friends anyway, and I have never been good at getting my best five pals together at Starbucks, flipping open our lap tops, and lighting up the world. Everyone has a circle of acquaintances, usually to the tune of three to five hundred people, who will buy the first book. The thing the author-mills don’t tell you, (and they are the ones who sign anyone, then send you monthly newsletters concerning the ways to spend all day self-promoting) is that your promotion is all the promotion, and once your three hundred enthusiastic “friends” buy your couple of books, they are wondering why you keep messaging them about new work as if you’ve become a human spam-bot.
I could go down the rabbit hole about this. The Internet never really gave me many sales. I am not self-published, and the traditional presses, for the most part, worked well with me, contacting journals and blogs, and getting the word out. The bigger, medium sized presses, actually send your book out to stores and outlets and only count those as “non-sales” if you have returns. But again…I would much rather be a bit more of a mystery on line, than the guy who puts up those fucking stupid daily questions, like “What’s your favorite hotty in last year’s feature films, GO!” or putting up pictures of my cat. I post when I have something online or available and try to leave it at that. Of course, the Internet and posting things brought me other things of great value to me as opposed to straight book sales. It got me reviewing rock, which has become a hobby that I absolutely treasure. I have met people on line, and that has been far more beneficial than self-promoting the books.

How do you go about choosing bands to write horror fiction around? How have your fiction pieces on PGA gone over with fans and zine readers since you began your regular column?
In terms of the bands for the Music Hell series, Chris Gonda is the one who has the contacts. He approaches the bands, then with their permission, provides me the press kit so I can see their latest work. I try to help celebrate that with a story that relates to their “themes,” or more specifically, their videos, lyrics, and overall feel. As far as how the stories are going over with fans, I think it is going famously. The only way to technically “check it” is to count the Facebook shares, but to me, this is like a batting average, leaving out many factors. The Anthrax piece yielded more than five hundred shares, so that is a nice indicator… yet not the whole picture by any means.

Which press kits most helped you develop a fictional piece about the band?
Without a doubt, Electric Wizard. Their promotional stuff is so all about horror that the story jumped into my mind. Their “motto” is “Legalize drugs and murder,” and Liz Buckingham is on their pro-Facebook page kissing a skull.

Tell the readers about the novels you have written to date. Is writing short stories or longer novels generally easier for you?
I have three novels that have been published. The first, “Alice Walks” is a ghost story. “The Witch of the Wood” is apocalyptic dark fantasy, and “Phantom Effect” is a serial killer piece with a supernatural thread. All three were challenging to write and I like them all for different reasons. “Alice Walks” is the most commercial of the bunch, and “Phantom Effect” sold the most. Short stories, however, are much easier for me. I like them long, though, and find I am most comfortable with 8000-word stories or somewhere around there, or even more preferable, the “novelette,” between 11,000 and 20,000 words.

How long did it take you to pen those novels? What inspiration did you draw from?
A nice question, and one not asked very often. Still, more than the time it takes to write one, I think an interesting way to look at it is how the given piece was written creatively…more specifically…was it planned, outlined, or discovery-written? Many writers swear on outlines. Chet Williamson is one of them, and I dig his work. He claims that discovery writing is like jumping off a cliff and hoping for a hang glider…that he likes to know what he is going to write that day before he does it. This is a Richard Matheson template. He claims a writer needs to know the last line before he writes the first (paraphrased), but for me, I specifically do not outline so I can specifically NOT know what I am going to write the next day. If there is no discovery, there’s little that’s fresh…and speaking of the time it takes to write a novel, I find it difficult to predict where I am going to be, say, a year from now, in terms of the plot, in terms of the developments I made at the moment right there at the word on a particular day…in reference to the techniques I developed along the way that reflect a change in the story, the feel, or the format. In other words, I think some of the best things come when you go exploring. That being said, I believe in a combo - taking the best of both worlds. I like having a couple of nifty horrific (yet poetic) images to aspire toward, and then I make the story fit.
Alice Walks is a short novel, at around fifty thousand words. I wrote it in eight months. I started with an image I had in my head of a fourteen-year-old girl who died drowning last summer. In my developing vision, she is down by her mausoleum at the south edge of the Saint Mary’s Cemetery, floating on the cold night air. For some reason, someone is throwing rocks at her. She bleeds, symbolically, like Jesus, and whips toward her attackers. I was working out how to hide the monster, and thought a veil would be nice, sticking to her face as she breathed, like Saran Wrap on a skull, then falling loose. Hmm. Breathing. She died drowning. Every ghost needs a chant or a rhyme the little kids remember her by, so I thought of, “Alice Walks. She walks ‘because she can’t breathe. She’s angry that you can.” As I was thinking of these things, my son, thirteen at the time, was having a sleepover, and he asked for some Red Bull. I asked why, and he complained that his friends Nick and Will put oatmeal in your shorts if you fell asleep first. I smiled. I had my rock-throwers. They sneak out on the night of first November snow to get high in the tool shed. Mikey, the lead character, has the keys because his dad is a grave digger there. Hence, this makes available the background information that the yard is exposing a corpse in one of the mausoleums so it will deteriorate faster. The kids go to look at the body. Her spirit falls in love with and stalks the lead character. Once I had that much, I wrote the story as I went. I knew the ending when I was about half way through.
The Witch of the Wood was even less planned. It took a year and a half and stands at slightly less than 80,000 words. With Witch, I was dealing with more fantasy stuff, and everything was engineered around an apocalyptic event that was pre-planned. That whole concept began when I looked around and wondered what it would be like if every tree fell down in the world at the same time. What would the after-effects be? Hmm. Now, how can I make that happen? Turned into a witch-piece. Trees are prison stalks, their nest of roots each holding a witch prisoner. The wild stuff took off from there. Interestingly, I sometimes end my stories too quickly, feeling that a sudden blow or shot makes for a cool exclamation point. S.T. Joshi looked at the original draft and said my protagonist and antagonist hadn’t really “faced off,” and it felt short. I took an extra month and added about thirty pages, making a gore-fest rodent, bird, highway scene I still feel defines the book. Thank you, S.T.!
My third novel, Phantom Effect, came out through the powerful Night Shade Books (now also known as Skyhorse). The small market and boutique presses I had been published through were certainly reputable, Centipede being the biggest (they put out the hard cover version of Alice Walks), but Night Shade was my first deal with a mid-ranger. Phantom Effect started as a short story. I only had my first line, “I ain’t scared, asshole,” and I wrote what ended up being a serial killer tale. It seemed on the brink of a larger story, and I set off to write my most complicated piece. Even though I feel the book is exciting as all get-out (a serial killer is up on Rt. 476 in a rainstorm at midnight with two flat tires and the body of coed Marissa Madison cut to seventeen pieces in his trunk. A cop pulls up to “help.” This is where the story begins!). There were politics going on with this one. Back in 2012-2013 there were a lot of magazine editors making what I felt were ludicrous demands of writers, claiming first person narration was a sloppy-second to third person limited, that flashbacks were for rookies, that point of view shifts were infantile, etc. Phantom Effect was my rebellion, breaking every rule I could, adding first person and third person narrations back to back to back, multiple viewpoints, and a funhouse of flashbacks as part of the story. I have gotten mixed press on the piece, but I love it because the opinions are usually so extreme. I have had people say they couldn’t put it down, and others say the structure made them feel stupid (or that I was showing off). Heck, sometimes I felt stupid, as I literally had no idea what the next scene was going to be until I wrote it. I had nothing but the beginning I just described, and I discovery-wrote this as pure as one can do. It was terrifying. There were some times when I couldn’t think of the next scene or chapter for a week or so, but I never abandoned the writing for much more than that. It was heavy lifting, but good lifting to be sure, and another HUGE benefit of writing this way is that…if I have to work this hard to figure out the next twist, the reader, strolling casually through the piece will probably never guess my next move. When authors “telegraph,” I feel it is from too much preparation…forcing the piece to fit a stale and antiquated vision. So often, the characters develop and grow through the course of the writing, and I know this sounds really “artsy,” but if a character wants to grow, you let him or her do it! Anyway, Phantom was the kind of piece an author usually only pulls off once in his or her life. The labyrinth of plot detail, all tying up at the end, was fun for me, but felt like a one-time thing. Can’t be duplicated or “modeled,” because it broke the mold. The piece took me two years to complete at 83,000 words, and for a while, I literally could not write anything else. After realizing that Phantom couldn’t be replicated, I started doing short stories again. I have some damned good ones too! Seems like I almost have enough for a third collection.

How many pieces do you think will be included in the third collection, if you decide to publish it? Are you consistently looking to review for new magazines and webzines?
Twelve to fifteen. I have done a few sweeps, but presently I am happy writing these things for Metal Heads Forever and Heavy Music Headquarters.

What bands would you want to write about in future stories?
An excellent question, especially since I might weigh a band I love with the type of project that sparks a story in my mind! For example, Asking Alexandria is a phenomenal metal band, but the Music Hell story simply “erupted” in my imagination the very second that I saw their video for “Into The Fire.” In short, however, without the materials of all these potential projects in front of me, I would say, Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, and Halestorm for starters.

As far as you know, is writing and publishing fictional pieces featuring bands something that hasn’t been tried before?
I do not believe I have ever seen it tried before. There have been band movies, some good, some bad, some biographical, some fictional, but I have never heard of a band with a current release having a horror story done about them and starring them, so yes, I think “Music Hell” as a series is unique.

How well have your novels been received by horror readers since they were released?
Most horror readers like my stuff. I have been criticized for over-writing at times, yet most of my work has been called atmospheric and frightening. Some have called me “literary,” but I disagree. The “literary” stuff has much more of a political-symbolic feel, and I always wanted to go for a nice, regular old good story.

Tell the readers about Electric Wizard and how much of their material you have heard?
Electric Wizard is an awesome stoner doom metal band, and their latest release, Wizard Bloody Wizard (2017) is phenomenal. They are a four-piece band made up of guitarists Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham, Clayton Burgess on bass, and Simon Poole on drums. I was impressed with the album Wizard Bloody Wizard especially in the sense that the band was/is clearly more interested in power than speed. I am an old school Sabbath fan, and their music reflects similar inspirations. Jus is also a great guy, and he was quite helpful when I got a chance to talk to him briefly before writing their story, “The Hiss of the Eliminator.”
Are you considering ideas for future novels at this point? If so, what have you come up with thus far?
Thank you for asking this question, and I will answer it this way. The “Music Hell” series has my primary focus at this point, as every month I need to work off of a given band’s materials and think of a brand-new story. Amazingly, I have, in fact, had the opportunity to write “in between” a bit however, and came up with the tale, “The Tool Shed,” which I wrote in January. This will appear in Jason Henderson’s Castle of Horror anthology sometime later this year, but as for a novel, I am considering a number of horrific scenarios to aspire to. Interestingly, I have been seriously considering expanding on an antagonist I created, “The Sculptor,” originally making his appearance in my short story of the same name, appearing in the 2011 edition of The Weird Fiction Review Centipede Press. I resurrected this character and put him in a musical setting for our first “Music Hell” piece starring Trivium, and I have been considering building a novel around him outside of the “metal thread.” (Originally, he had nothing to do with music). I might go another direction with this, however. I am currently in the very first stages of making a podcast possibly writing this character with a partner-writer creating the protagonist, but again, this is in the very earliest of stages.

Do you see the market for independent writers increasing in the future, as it has for the last ten or fifteen years?
It is hard to predict what the landscape is going to look like in the near future. Independent writers, or self-pubbers, have flooded the marketplace, going on the Amazon platform, or looking for those prior-mentioned author-mills, and selling their initial five hundred. In a way, it makes it harder for guys like me who go traditional, because the market is glutted with what is so-often filler. It is sort of like the old college rule that only peer reviewed articles from the official data bases will be accepted suddenly getting overrun by a new administration that accepts any shit off of Google. Sure, now that we’re are flooded with information, some of it will be valid, but much of it will just be noise, often watered-down shit that is generalized off the first hand, fresh research we would have gotten off the data bases. I know…sloppy sort of parallel, but that’s the way that it feels.
On the other hand, in a way, we are living in the most literate period in history, as those with a wide variety of skills and deficits gain the automatic ability to publish. That’s a beautiful thing. Anyone can write a novel and publish it, a short story, an article, a paragraph, a one-liner. It is easy to throw one’s voice into the mix. Getting a lot of people to slow down and listen to your voice exclusively, however, is a different story altogether, and having that audience stay with you over a substantial time period, a modern day beautiful miracle.

Is there anything you want to reveal about the new fiction you plan to release on June 13?
No can do. Or the powers that be will kill me. But…hint…this band has a big summer tour going on.


-Dave Wolff