In 2016 you released the documentary British Black Metal: The Extreme Underground which extensively covers England’s current black metal scene. How much exposure has it gotten since it was posted for viewing on social media?
It has had quite a lot of exposure actually. More than I expected to be honest. With it being a niche thing yet at the same time having a lot of passionate fans it got a lot of attention. I did build up a hype before making it through Facebook and with the crowdfunding campaign so that definitely helped. That was mainly with people in the UK but now it's surpassed that and people from other countries are watching too. It's got over 90,000 views now so it's definitely got some attention and the comments are mixed in opinion. There are a lot of people with strict definitions of black metal commenting and also people who don't usually listen to it who are opening their minds to the genre, but both interactions are appreciated. The last thing I'd do would be to censor the opinion surrounding it because I think it's important to hear views that aren't your own and to keep an open mind. When people disable the comments or disable ratings they are trying to shield them self from negativity but you are limiting yourself if you do that kind of thing and you won't continue to grow as a person so I welcome both kinds of comments.
I welcome rational discussions, in which people agree to disagree if need be, but as we know social media is also used as a platform to trash differing viewpoints. The attitude of “your opinion is wrong, you’re an idiot” etc. Often copped by people who claim to be open minded.
Good point. It's a difficult one really. On one hand I do think people should be respectful and not hurl insults at each other but at the same time just because someone throws insults around doesn't mean the other person is going to take it to heart. If we just keep on censoring everything then that also limits people from learning how to deal with abuse, which I think is a good skill to have. If you don't take everyone so seriously and remember that we're all human, that certainly takes the edge off a bit. So I do encourage civil debates but I also wouldn't advocate censoring discussions because it limits the room for growth. People seem to forget that you can also learn from uncivil discussions.
Is British Black Metal: The Extreme Underground your first effort at a documentary? What was it about today’s scene that inspired you to interview the new bands out there?
It’s my first documentary and the longest film I've made so far. The thing I like the most about the black metal scene in the UK is the diversity and depth it has. Back in 2014/2015 I was finding new bands every week and a lot of them sounded very unique with different ideas and themes going and I was really inspired by that. That excitement for the music really helped drive my creativity. I always do my best when in that kind of place. There has to be an intense enjoyment of the art I'm experiencing for me to put my all into it and the scene certainly succeeded in giving me that.
When I watched the film and listened to what the bands had to say, I was reminded of the British grindcore scene, in terms of the bands’ criticisms of society. What similarities, if any, do you see between the two?
Well I suppose the stance Winterfylleth have against corporate greed and corruption certainly fits with the grindcore scene's position, and then there's also the individualism aspect. Both genres are obviously extreme so that in itself has a sense of standing up for what you believe in by expressing yourself and saying fuck you to expectations. There are probably a few other similarities too, like both being inspired by punk but politics isn't generally all that common in black metal. The majority of the bands in the film had more of a distance from that in the music and focused more on things like nature, fantasy, spirituality and history. There might be some parts of the history side of things that could be seen as political but when it comes to the heritage stuff that kind of loops back to nature again and the heritage theme is quite prominent in the scene.
In terms of positions on society, it's a topic that's bound to come up in this sort of scene. Alternative music has always kept a certain amount of distance from society and it's an expression of people wanting something more out of life that's different to what they've been told. This is why I think spirituality is such an important part of the scene and the film. Although many people surrounding black metal are atheistic and anti-religious, I think there's still an intuition and understanding that there's more to life than just the physical realm and to me black metal is like a spiritual voyage of the unknown. It takes you somewhere else where not everybody wants to go but it's not just a journey in the dark for no reason. After all you can't see the stars without the darkness.
Why do you think so much time passed before the United Kingdom began forming its own exclusive scene?
I think it’s a bit of a mystery why we developed a scene at all really but the internet probably helped quite a bit. Hard to say why black metal connects with people in our culture. I guess the British reserve kind of thing is part of it, which is now making me think of Peep Show. I know it’s a bit bizarre to mention a comedy TV show in regards to black metal but there is that aspect of nihilism and existentialism in there that we really relate to in our culture. It's also brutally honest which we value, despite the fact we are generally pretty inauthentic in our actions as a culture. I think that's why we find it refreshing when we hear people being honest and accepting the fact they dread their existence.
I remember having that kind of feeling when first watching the show and it almost feels like the cultural conditioning in you is saying he can't do that, he's being honest about his feelings and though there's that resistance, the shock factor and authenticity overpowers the neurotic patterns arising. Having said that, Mark only really tells the viewer how he feels so it's believable and typical of a British person at the same time.
So going back to your question, I think it just happened at the time it needed to but definitely an interesting topic of why it became an interest over here.
In the 90s Cradle Of Filth and Hecate Enthroned were the UK’s premier black metal bands. Did their extensive bodies of work have any bearing on the newer bands that emerged in the 2010s?
They definitely influenced bands like Old Corpse Road and there's bands where the influence is more subtle like Ethereal and Eastern Front. I think a lot of bands are unconsciously influenced by them but wouldn't cite them when asked about inspiration, but it's there.
I noticed the UK scene’s emphasis on spirituality is contrasted the occult themes of the scenes in Norway and Sweden from the 90s. I think I remember a band or two stating they didn’t want to emulate those scenes or any others.
I can see why the film makes spirituality look that way but it isn't all on the positive side. "The Watcher" from Fen explains in the film that black metal has a sort of spiritual in the dark to it, suggesting that spirituality has other forms away from the stereotypes of being about love and peace. Harnessing the force of aggression can also be a part of the spiritual path, which is why martial arts is associated with it. Encompassing the masculine energy of existence is just as important as expressing the feminine, hence the well-known yin and yang.
The film does generally use a more positive look at spirituality though and connects it to the stillness and beauty of nature.
When it comes to comparisons of our scene with the goings on in Norway such as the church burnings et cetera we've definitely not taken things that far. It kind of comes back to the grindcore scene. The UK probably has more in common with that scene than the Norwegian black metal scene, despite being the same genre. As you say a lot of bands feel taking too much inspiration from the 90s Norwegian scene would be disingenuous and disrespectful to the Scandinavian culture. Bands like Winterfylleth have heavily made it about British culture and took a stand against the visual look that is expected of a black metal band by many people.
I remember reading about how Christianity was forced on the Scandinavian people, which had much to do with antichristian sentiment in Norway and Sweden. Does England’s different history account for the differences in their scene?
I learnt about that in some of the documentaries about black metal. Varg speaks about it in Until The Light Takes Us and I heard in some other films that Christians used to violently force Scandinavian people to convert to Christianity. Shoving snakes down people's throats and all kinds of brutal methods. So I can see why Varg was so pissed off at their culture. I prefer Abbath's attitude towards the church burnings though. "If you burn down a church, the government builds it back up again".
I don't think the church burnings really achieved anything apart from maybe publicizing black metal. Whatever the Christians did in the past though and however despicable it was, it's best left in the past and I don't think "revenge" ever lives up to expectations. If anything it turns people into the very thing they are against. That's how the right and wrong paradigm gets you. Reality is indiscriminate of what happens, there's just action and consequence before we assign any meaning to it. Once we see someone as evil we somehow tend to justify doing the same things to them that they did to others but in doing so what's the difference between us and them? Once we've met violence with violence we're likely going to be treated the same way by others as we treated them and the vicious cycle is more likely to continue.
Our culture is a bit different but religion has still been a big part of our past so it can definitely still be relevant to being Anti-Christian or Anti-Religious. As humans I don't think our particular habitat is always the biggest reason to take a stand against religion. We're all from the same planet and we're the same species so it often gets looked at in that way I think.
Nevertheless there are definitely bands who appreciate our culture and heritage who use that in their music. So yeah, our history is one way we differ from the Scandinavian scene but when you think about Burzum, though Varg appreciated his heritage and culture, his music was very fantastical and routed in escapism. He respected his heritage but couldn't fit into the new culture that the Christians had created. His resentment and distance from the new culture was probably two important parts of the sound he came out with. The nature around him obviously helped also and that couldn't be taken away from him.
Magazines overhyped the church burnings in Norway, though there weren’t as many incidents reported by the late 90s. Was this overhype in Until The Light Takes Us or did the film place it in a more realistic perspective?
I think Until The Light Takes Us is well rounded as a film and has a good balance. The church burnings were definitely prominent and give it the "edgy" shock factor. That's definitely a conscious decision to showcase it but it would be dishonest to leave it out also. I think it's what people remember the most after watching it but there are plenty of other things spoken about in the film. There's Fenriz's interest in art and electronic music and Frost's provocative stage shows featuring corpse paint, fire, violence and self-mutilation for example. It's a topic that you could easily make a whole documentary on but it's not all about that in Until The Light Takes Us.
Are there any documentaries on black metal or extreme metal you watched while surfing Youtube?
I found loads there and this was before even thinking of making my own but they inspired me to make one because the topic was so interesting. I really enjoyed watching them and that deep appreciation for the films was the driving force for me making my own. I made it with the viewer in mind because I know how great it was for me to watch these films and wanted to contribute to that. My favourites were "Black Metal's Unexplored Fringes - One Man Black Metal" by Noisey and "True Norwegian Black Metal" by Vice. They're both really well-crafted films and sculpt the atmosphere nicely with their filmmaking approaches. There are other films which are interesting but not quite at the same level when it comes to the viewing experience. I'd put Until The Light Takes Us next in order of favourites but these other two I preferred.
What documentaries, if any, did you get to watch by Bill Zebub Productions? Is his work known in the UK?
I've seen "The Music Of Satan" which was ok. It had a few interesting parts but the experience wasn't as immersive as I would have liked. I know it was a low budget film but feel there could have been some extra elements in there. I'm also not sure about his popularity in the UK but I haven’t spoken about him to anyone.
What bands and solo projects do you remember being featured in Black Metal's Unexplored Fringes, True Norwegian Black Metal and The Music Of Satan?
In Black Metal's Unexplored Fringes there's Leviathan, Xasthur and Striborg who are all one man bands. The film basically revolves around depression and isolation but also speaks about connection with nature.
True Norwegian black metal is all about Gorgoroth and Gaahl in particular. Although the filmmakers make some mistakes in the film like forgetting what Gaahl said and asking him something that he wouldn't like to answer, it's still very entertaining and educational.
I don't know The Music of Satan all that well because I haven't watched it as many times as the others. I think Venom, Immortal and King Diamond are a few that feature.
Who were the first bands you interviewed for the documentary and how did you arrange interviews with them?
The first bands I interviewed were Forneus, Ninkharsag and Mountains Crave all at the same gig, which was at the Snooty Fox in Wakefield. It's a great venue and the guy who runs it, called Malcolm had a tour bus he lets the bands use and kindly allowed me to use it for conducting the interviews. I arranged that with Malcolm and arranged the interviews through Facebook in regards to Forneus and Ninkharsag but Mountains Crave was quite spontaneous actually. I saw Danny, the vocalist at the gig and my rhythm guitarist, Liam from the band I was in at the time suggested I asked him to be interviewed. I actually played a set at that gig and interviewed three bands all in one night. Anyways I wanted to get Mountains Crave in the film at some point anyways so asked him if he was up for an interview for the documentary and although initially a bit taken by surprise, he agreed and we snuck off to the tour bus. As romantic as that sounds, I can assure you we kept things professional. After I got the footage from these interviews and some live footage of the bands, I put the crowdfunding video together, which people responded well to and added to the hype around the film.
How many UK black metal bands were interviewed for British Black Metal altogether? How many of them were you in contact with beforehand? As for the bands you weren’t in contact with, how did you have to arrange meeting them for interviews?
I conducted thirteen interviews, one being with author Dayal Patterson and promoter Steve Tefis, so twelve bands were interviewed. I was in contact with all the bands I interviewed, though the Mountains Crave interview was done earlier than planned, after spontaneously seeing Danny at the Snooty Fox gig.
The first interviews were at that gig in Wakefield, so they were quite nearby. The next band I interviewed was Hryre in Hebden Bridge so it was still not too far but a little bit further out. I tried to prioritize the ones that were further away after this. The most difficult to organize were the interviews with the bands down south. I ended up going down to London for the weekend to get a few in one, so it took a little while to get dates good for everyone. I interviewed Eastern Front, Fen and Steve and Dayal down there. It was organized mainly over Facebook and a few phone calls/texts in some cases. I had planned to fit Voices in there but that fell through. Luckily they were mentioned by some of the bands so I still got them in there with some added context.
I went down to a gig in Peterborough, which wasn't ideal for filming but I still managed to pull off an interview with Ethereal. The main reason was to get live footage of Ethereal, Eastern Front and The Infernal Sea in one go. It was a bonus to interview Ethereal who I would've had to travel again to interview if not.
How long has the Snooty Fox been hosting performances? Does it get sufficient coverage in the local press?
I'm not too sure about that actually. I've heard it's been around for quite some time and bands like to play there. Especially because they have cameras rigged on the ceiling and they live stream the bands. It's a bit of hidden gem that doesn't get the attention it deserves and was almost shut down at one point. Definitely needs more publicity than it gets.
Do you personally think it’s a good idea for clubs to stream their shows? CBGB streamed theirs for a number of years before its closing and this enabled people outside the US to see what performances there were like.
I think it's a good idea. When people share the stream it promotes the venue, and it can make bands want to play there. Watching a stream obviously isn't the same as actually being there so I don't think it'll stop people going just because you can watch it online.
I interviewed Adam of Forneus for Autoeroticasphyxium when it was in print; if memory serves we discussed his label Winter Forest Industries. Are you familiar with that label?
I've not heard of the label but Forneus are a good band. Slight line-up change I believe since I interviewed them. I think Scott, their drummer went back to Heathen Deity, an old band of his. Speaking of them, many viewers of the film really liked their acoustic pieces I used nearer the end of the documentary. They really did go well with the British landscapes and the NSBM part. Another great band to check out if you like the old school stuff.
Are you familiar with a label called UK Black Metal Promotion that released the UK Underground Black Metal Warfare compilation last May? If so have you been in contact with any of the bands that appeared on it?
I've not been listening to as much black metal lately so it'll be interesting to see if there are many new bands I don't know. I've been listening to quite a lot of prog rock and metal. Also a bit of grime actually, there's a great artist from Leeds called Dialect who's doing well and Graft also who's getting attention too. I've also been exploring through Mike Patton's music. That man is a genius and has dipped his toes in so many genres. I don't really care about genres nowadays, I just follow the vibe of the music. I also recently found a band from Bradford called Fling who's sound is a mix of indie rock, pop and 60s and 70s psychedelic rock. So they’re a pretty dynamic band who I think are gonna get big very soon.
I understand you were playing in band called Slaughter Throne. Did you play out, record and release anything with them?
We played gigs around the West Yorkshire area and also released an EP entitled Wrath of an ancient darkness. We actually started to build up a decent following but unfortunately it didn't last. I couldn't stay due to how busy I was with uni and the documentary.
Getting back to the documentary, who are the bands you interviewed with the most relevant things to say about present day England and the scene’s role in English society?
I think it depends on what you consider to be relevant, really. My goal was to get a wide variety of opinion and perspectives. I wanted the film to feel authentic and real; I only used footage of the bands speaking and didn't implement any voiceovers to lead the narrative.
I did have a narrative in mind but it ended up being a democratic process of meeting in the middle. My vision and personal perspective met with the opinions of the actual people in the scene. I'd considered a voiceover, having an intro and a guide throughout, with a conclusion at the end but I think that would have taken away from the feel. Perhaps the film could have been wrapped up a bit better at the end but other than that I'm happy with the overall connection you get with the people.
I don't really think the English black metal scene has much influence on our society though it doesn't really aim to either. It's more about being here with what already exists rather than trying to change anything. It's about authentic expression of our demons and an encompassing of the dark energy in nature. It's a part of us as much as we're a part of it. The melancholy side of nature is something we get satisfaction from. It's an accepting of the way existence is and not always having a need to be cheered up. Just because you feel sadness doesn't mean you don't feel some sense of enjoyment. We as humans want to feel all emotions, not just one particular emotion, but I think it’s generally forgotten in society as a whole.
Though it's about accepting reality it can also be about escaping from society's paradigms. Even when we do this we're still accepting truth and existence, no matter how paradoxical. Existence is full of paradox after all and great philosophers like Socrates knew this. "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing" springs to mind.
Do you feel that not having a narrative to lead the viewers makes room for them to directly take in the band’s viewpoints?
It does give a bit of space I think but there were my own ideas of what I thought I should and shouldn't feature, which is just the nature of editing really. There's always going to be your own bias in an edit but that's a lot of the time what makes it special. We all have our own way of looking at the world and I think being true to what you feel works is better than thinking of what people want.
Since you mentioned Socrates, how much of the paradox you described do you see in the scene and how much does philosophy come into play if it does at all?
I think it's an undertone you see very often, especially with the bands like Winterfylleth, Aklash and Old Corpse Road because nature is very much a part of the sound. The music gives you a sense of isolation and connectedness at the same time. It makes you forget about society and reminds you of what's real. A forest of stars also create this kind of atmosphere and DSBM is very much like that too. Philosophy came up quite a lot in the interviews, as did spirituality and the individualistic stance because it's a big part of the music. The thing that attracted me to black metal in the first place was its substance. I felt bored with thrash and death metal which started to feel hollow and devoid of any real meaning. A lot of it seemed to either be really cliché or just violent and dark themes for the sake of living up to the stereotypes of metal. I was gripped by the spiritual connection black metal gave me and the wolf pack symbolism. It's about saying no to being the sheep that blindly follows what everyone is doing and instead following your own destiny. This doesn't mean we isolate ourselves though. Respecting your right to do what you want with your life is better for everyone in your pack. If you don't listen to your heart then you'll likely take your frustration out on them. That's why following your calling and letting go of expectations is so important. That can be a problem when in a scene like this so I think it's important to keep reassessing things.
What material by Winterfylleth, Aklash and Old Corpse Road would you recommend to people reading this interview?
I'd suggest The Divination of Antiquity by Winterfylleth because it has a good balance of sounds in there which is probably why it's one of the more memorable albums to me. I don't think Aklash have released anything other than the self-titled album but they have a new one coming soon. Tis Witching Hour is a great album by Old Corpse Road. The atmosphere is brilliantly gothic and English, whilst having a harsh black metal assault.
How much of a wide range of perspectives do you believe is offered on the documentary?
I think it has a pretty diverse range of perspectives on how to create music and express yourself creatively. That was one of the main things I wanted to showcase. Just how much can be done with black metal and show that it's healthy for it to be taken apart and put back together so to speak. Questioning what black metal is and how far it can be pushed is interesting to me and whether or not everyone agrees whether something is still black metal I don't see as important anyways. As I said before, genres aren't concerns of mine. They are just labels to quickly sum up something that can't be explained or put into words. The place the music takes you is the important part, not what sticker it has on it. Moving with change is another important spiritual message that will help you stay fulfilled in life and I look at music the same way. If a genre has too many rules, it gets boring and loses the life it had when it was first born. Living things never stay the same, they are always changing so if genres don't change they are pretty much dead.
In what other ways does your approach to making documentaries differ from most others?
I don't think my process was too revolutionary but I would say that the editing is the strongest element of the film. It's my strongest area because I get the most enjoyment out of it. I love sculpting footage into something greater than how it stands on its own and combining it with other footage that supports it or gives it contrast. The editing process is more about surrendering to creativity instead of controlling it.
You need to have knowledge of how good edits work but once that stuff is second nature to you, the edit somehow edits itself. You have to get out of your own way and although attention to detail is important, you have to get the idea of perfection out of your mind and strive for excellence. Perfection is an illusion; a concept our minds come up with to try and get us to excellence but it can backfire if you forget it's just a tool.
Another thing I think made the film so engaging was the music choices. I had music almost all the way through the film but I used it subtly, just sitting underneath the voices. This added to the atmosphere but didn't distract the viewer from what the subjects were saying. It helped add emotion to the topics that were being spoken about.
I thought about every song I used and why it should be where it is in the film. When they speak about the topic of nature for example, the bands that fit around nature are used more and when speaking about NSBM there's an eerie and melancholic acoustic track that really heightens the emotional impact. It serves as a nice ending piece for the film after the viewer has experienced all the high energy. Taking it down to a sombre atmosphere gives it a satisfying contrast.
What is your personal definition of black metal from the bands you interviewed for the doc? Where do you think the genre will be headed the rest of the 2010s?
To me black metal is about connecting to what is real. It's about surrendering to darkness and encompassing masculinity. It's also about being there with melancholy and feeling the feminine side. I think it's often forgotten that both men and women have a mixture of femininity and masculinity within them and the balance is important. The stereotypes of both have nothing to do with the real essence of those expressions of the universe. I don't know where the genre is heading but there's something in not knowing that I appreciate. We don't really want to know because it takes the life out of it. Enjoy what's here in the moment and move forward into growth, while staying firmly in what's real: the present moment.
In the 90s it was a debate as to whether black metal was a trend or a cult. Which argument are you most inclined towards, and how has the meaning of those terms changed over the years?
Well as its still going I don't think it’s just a trend. It was more of a cult for many people but only in the early days. As far as I'm aware the meanings have stayed the same and black metal has more substance than trends tend to have.
What genres would you consider basing a documentary on next? Any ideas you’re mulling over at this point?
I've been considering doing one on Grime because the local scene is pretty good but I'm also wanting to do more fictional films. I don't know yet if I'll be making more documentaries but I'm keeping an open mind. There are many documentaries I would enjoy making though. It's really fun when you feel passionate about the area you are capturing. It'd be cool to make something with Fling at some point because I feel the excitement that drives me when listening to them so I think there could be something there potentially.
Who are Grime and Fling? How long have you known about that band, and what sort of feature would you do with them?
Grime kind of developed out of electronic music, garage and hip hop. It's pretty popular right now but not exactly something that many metal heads are into. A well-known artist in the genre is called Skepta and one of his most popular songs is called Shutdown, which you might have heard of. Fling are hard to fit into a genre but they are basically a mix of indie, psychedelic rock and pop. I only found out about them earlier this month and if I made a documentary about them I'd be open about the style it had. From what I've seen they seem fun, loving natured and humorous so they would be the main three things I'd focus on probably. I've heard that they all live together so perhaps a day in the life styled film with some other elements mixed in would be cool. Some live footage and what not would be good but maybe something else completely unrelated to the band that gave it a unique quality. A film following them on a road trip would also be great if there was the chance.
Metal and hip hop were crossed over extensively in the 90s. Some bands experimented before that but Biohazard was among the first to base their sound on the crossover.
Nu metal was actually what got me into heavier music in the first place. Linkin Park was the first band to take me down that route and then I ended up listening to metalcore, thrash, death and finally came across black metal which became my favourite. I'm also very into progressive rock and metal currently.
Talk about some of the ideas you have in mind for fictional films you’d consider working on.
I really want to make existential and spiritual centered films that are comedic yet immersive and intense but I'm also open to experimenting with any genre. I'd love to see if I could add something different to a genre and give it another dimension or mix two together that complement each other. I'm a big fan of Christopher Nolan and Charlie Brooker. The psychological thriller genre is one I really enjoy but I don't think my films would always fit under that umbrella. They would be close in terms of the thought provoking nature and shock factor they have but psychology is only one area that can used to give that sort of experience.
In what ways would Christopher Nolan and Charlie Brooker be an influence on your filmmaking?
They both have very deep and thought provoking work with an intense shock factor. Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker enters some dark and fucked up areas. It never fails to surprise you with its shocking twists. Christopher Nolan has great twists and his stories have complex dimensions which I love. His sci-fi movie Interstellar even went so deep it ended up in spiritual territory and challenges our assumptions of reality. While on the topic of inspiration, another director I'm inspired by is Shane Meadows. I love the balance of seriousness and comedy he has in This Is England in particular. His music choices work brilliantly. His work is immersive and believable because he balances improvisation and scripted parts so well you get lost in it. It feels like you're watching a documentary with real people.
How would you describe Meadows’ This Is England to people who have never seen it? What else would you\ recommend to the readers?
If I was to put it into three words I'd say Authentic, Hilarious and Heartbreaking and I'm referring to both the film and the TV series here. It's definitely not a series that falls short of the movie. The series compliments the film really well and explores the characters you don't learn much about in the film. I would recommend Dead man's shoes to anyone who likes This is England which was also directed by Shane.
How would you want to be remembered as a filmmaker in the future? If there is anything about your work you would want to have the biggest impact on people; what would it be?
I don't really think there's any particular way I want to be remembered. I'm fine with however people see me but I do care about the impact I have on people. I want my films to help people accept themselves, whilst giving them a satisfying experience. I want to help them grow and become the best they can be. This isn't to say it will be something that is possible to do in every film I make but other than this I just want to share both my joy and sadness with them through film. I want them to feel authentic emotion and connection to the non-physical.