Metal is really silly…
In April this year, Christgrinder delivered their first full length album, Whence Cometh Evil?, four years after their debut EP, Smoke Crack, Worship Satan, and we at MR liked it very much (the review is here). Here, bassist/vocalist Cardinal Sinne and guitarist/vocalist Baron von Christgrinde talk to MR’s Jason Guest about the band, their music, the album, their views on religion (and Islam), humour in metal, why metal is silly, and writing from the perspective of a 9-year-old girl…
Thanks for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Whence Cometh Evil? It’s been four years since the Smoke Crack, Worship Satan EP, musically speaking, how have Christgrinder evolved during that time?
Baron von Christgrinde: Thanks for giving us the opportunity. Well, most of the tracks on Smoke Crack, Worship Satan were written by me before I got Cardinal Sinne involved in the band. Once he came in, he began contributing more to the songwriting process, both musically and lyrically. We have quite different songwriting styles so I think that was a major factor in how the album came out, especially in terms of the wider range of flavours the album has to offer when compared to the EP. Also, while the EP was released four years ago, the songs had mostly all been written considerably before that. Back then our influences were far more narrow, as was my scope for what I wanted Christgrinder to be. So on the EP, you’ll mostly just find blackened death metal, but in the intervening years we’ve incorporated far more thrash, grind, doom and even some jazz and folk.
Cardinal Sinne: It’s an ongoing process. For me the album was about experimenting with what I could do stylistically in the context of Christgrinder. I’m very happy with the album, but I’ve definitely come away with a better picture of what works and what doesn’t within my own songwriting. I know which ideas I want to build on and which I want to cut for the next record.
How long has the album been in the works? Many revisions / re-writes?
Cardinal Sinne: Not as many as you might imagine. Most of the songs here are contemporary with the last EP; it’s just taken us a long time to get them out. It’s a case of real life getting in the way, unfortunately. We all work and live quite far away from each other, so it’s a case of snatching time to rehearse, record and mix whenever possible.
Baron von Christgrinde: We had some of the material for it written and many of the ideas already in our heads since before the EP was officially released, so we’ve been working on it for years. As Cardinal Sinne says though, hopefully it won’t be quite such a long wait before our next output.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the album to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
Cardinal Sinne: A bit of both, really, but mostly the former. Like I say, most of the songs were at least partially realised long before the album was recorded. There were edits and changes all the way up to the eleventh hour, but mostly pretty minor stuff to do with layering and arrangements.
The album title seems more philosophical and, dare I say, serious than the obvious anti-religious and tongue-in-cheek title of your 2011 EP. Does it reflect a difference in your approach?
Cardinal Sinne: Not really. I mean, there are silly songs on this one too! I think metal tends to lose something when it stops being able to laugh at itself. Look at metal’s preoccupation with wordplay: Album titles like ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ & ‘The Violence of The Slams’, any Lich King lyric. There’s a certain wry self-awareness to it. Metal is really silly. And the best bands know that it’s good partially because it’s silly. But by the same token, sometimes you hear about something that moves or interests you and you write a song about it. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.
What are the lyrical themes on the album?
Baron von Christgrinde: I suppose the overarching theme on the album is that of evil itself, mostly in the context of a cosmic or divine structure. Religion is an obviously consistent one, though each track has its own specific concept. For example, the lyrics for the title track are just a recitation of the problem of evil proposed by Epicurus, and ‘He Of Cloven Hoof…’ is about the transformation of old gods into new devils in modern religion. ‘Necrodegenerate Phallus Envenomation’ was written about the Milgram experiments and is less to do with religion itself and more closely examines the phenomenon of dogmatism and blind faith in authority. We also write about literature, ‘Things That Walk’ is based on The Festival by H P Lovecraft. And, lest you think we’ve become too serious, ‘Faster than the Speed of Darkness’ poses the age old philosophical question ‘How fast can one thrash?’ Generally speaking though, we just find a topic or idea that we find interesting and roll with it.
Why the tribute to Witchfinder General?
Baron von Christgrinde: Because obviously.
Cardinal Sinne: Witchfinder General are the greatest of all the great doom bands from Stourbridge.
With ‘The Black Adhan’ and ‘Opening The Eye of Aisha’ taken from Islam, obviously Christgrinder’s targets aren’t limited to Christianity. In an age where there are plenty evils in the world to choose from – wars in the name of economic power, curable famine, the ever-growing void between the super-rich and the super-poor, etc. – why focus on religion?
Baron von Christgrinde: There are multiple reasons for it. When I first started Christgrinder my main goal wasn’t to make a bold statement really, but just to make a black/death metal band and obviously there’s already certain anti religious sentiments woven into the fabric of the metal scene, so my own opposition to religion could find a natural way to express itself there. And I find religious themes in art/literature/music aesthetically pleasing, especially concerning opposition to the divine and sympathy for the devil, so it’s a theme that I think I’ll always want to work with. But I still find religion to be a particularly noteworthy evil in the world, even in the presence of all the injustices you’ve mentioned and more. In particular, I am of the opinion that dogmatism is the evil that gives rise to all other evils. Even where religion itself isn’t to blame, behind just about any serious widespread injustice lies a concept or motivating ideology that is enforced with the religious mind-set, with dogmatic adherence, with emphasis on the loyalty and faith of its practitioners and subversion of critical inquiry, silencing of opposing ideas, demonising of opposing factions. Where the motivations behind such injustices are greed, or tribalism, or anything else, in order to really gain support and become widely accepted, dogmatism and faith are the surest tools for success.
‘The Black Adhan’ is a reworked version of the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer put into the negative. Why this prayer?
Cardinal Sinne: Not only is the Adhan is one of the most recognisable trappings of Islam to a non-Islamic audience, it is a beautiful piece of music in and of itself, regardless of its context. We thought changing its lyrics was nicely subversive, and having it sung by a woman was appropriate to Aisha’s themes. The Arabic was translated for us by Seeds of Iblis and their translation was verified by our friend Maz who knows some Arabic.
‘Opening The Eye of Aisha’ is written from the perspective of the nine/ten year old wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Aisha. Why write from the female perspective? A challenge to the patriarchal ideology of the major religions?
Cardinal Sinne: Essentially, yes. Gender inequality is something that is woven into our society on a fundamental level, and while recent years have seen this being challenged more and more, it is still a taboo to criticise people’s religious beliefs. As such, intolerance, sexism and racism that are justified using religion are typically given a free ride by people who would disagree vocally with such views in any other context. Just look at how partisan an issue female ordination still is in the Anglican Church, or the objections to the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality on the grounds that it “stifles religious freedom”. Allowing people to justify their hatred with religion is something I personally disagree with extremely strongly, and the story of Aisha provided me with a fertile source of inspiration to express that. The song was originally written from a 3rd person perspective, but as I started to do more research into the topic and really get into it I thought the song would have more impact from the point of view of Aisha herself. It’s her as a mature woman reminiscing about a violation she wouldn’t have fully understood as a 9-year-old beyond it being a traumatic experience. Our Aisha is characterised as jaded, but having come to terms with her past and become a stronger person for it.
The sax on ‘Opening The Eye of Aisha’ is just beautiful. Why sax?
Cardinal Sinne: It’s an homage to Gato Barbieri’s solo at the end of Carla Bley’s ‘Hotel Overture’, which, if you haven’t listened to it is the most doom jazz record ever put to tape; he manages to make his saxophone sound like a woman screaming. It’s really quite remarkable and given the lyrical content of ‘Aisha’ we thought it was appropriate.
Baron von Christgrinde: I urge anyone who likes heavy music to check out ‘Hotel Overture’. Seriously, it’s darker than a lot of metal I’ve heard.
There are a number of guest musicians on the album – Matt Jones from Dakesis, Paul Prokopiv from Morgue Orgy, Danielle Lee from The Collective 43, Matt Moss of Slugdge, Dani Hawkins of Ishmael, Lord Andreas Mazzareth of Groan, Hal Sinden of Talanas, Stephanie Mccorquodale, and G, The mouth of Iblis. Why choose to work with them? And what did they bring to the tracks they worked on?
Cardinal Sinne: We like to have a fun with our friends, so we like to have guests on every track. We weren’t very exacting, we gave everyone a quick brief and pretty much let them do their own thing and I think it really served the record to allow them to bring a bit of themselves out in the songs. I’m struggling to pick a favourite, but I definitely think the ‘Black Adhan’ wouldn’t even be half as good if someone else had sung it.
That’s a drum machine on the album, isn’t it? When I listened to the album the first few times, I had to check a few times because it sounds like a real drummer for the most part. How much time was spent on the drum programming? And did it take up a lot of time during production to get that sound?
Cardinal Sinne: Not all that much time, really. I play drums (badly) so I have a pretty good idea of how dynamics play into a human drum performance. It was just a matter of applying that to the drums that had been written when we wrote the songs. I think it took me about a week to program the drums to my satisfaction, and then the Grinde Old Duke of York had a look over them and tweaked them so they were more in line with what he plays live. I mixed them in much the same way as I’d mix live drums, although obviously there was no need to gate anything, and the only compression I applied was for tonal sculpting rather than dynamics control, plus some very mild compression on the drum bus just to glue the whole thing together.
Can you tell us about the artwork, the symbol on the cover, and what it represents?
Cardinal Sinne: The cover is supposed to resemble the kind of old faux-leather and gold leaf prayer book you used to see in Church, although I daresay the leather effect didn’t come out as well as I’d have liked. The symbol is just the Sigil of Lucifer in conjunction with an inverted cross. It represents the fact that we blew all our money on mastering and couldn’t afford proper artwork.
How does Christgrinder write? Independently, collaboratively?
Cardinal Sinne: We all write songs, but we usually write independently until we have a song or most of a song and then we finish and polish it collaboratively. There’s a lot of passing around of drafts. We’re not really a jam band. I’ve never been able to write by jamming.
There’s broader range of musical styles apparent on the album than on the Smoke Crack, Worship Satan EP. With such an obvious wealth of musical knowledge in the band, how do you choose which style/genre/approach to take with your material? How much is “feel” and how much is conscious decision?
Cardinal Sinne: Thanks for the compliment. It’s nearly all conscious decision. We knew we wanted ‘Whence…’ to have crust riffs and D-beats, for example. We knew ‘Necro…’ was going to be a death metal song, ‘Things That Walk…’ was a Filosofem homage, ‘Aisha’ was going to be a doom song.
Baron von Christgrinde: The first step is usually a lyrical concept or a title. After that, we consider what kind of style would best suit it; most of the time it’s obvious to us how it should sound. There was never any doubt that ‘Raped, Killed and Raped Again’ needed to be a fast-paced grind frenzy, for instance.
Humour in extreme metal? Surely the trve black metal kvlts won’t like that…
Baron von Christgrinde: They don’t. I’ve not encountered many of them though. Most people in the extreme metal scene aren’t all as serious as they might first appear, so the vast majority of our audiences seem to get the punch line. A few people are quite serious about black metal though and I find it baffling how they can get on stage wearing corpse paint and spikes, shrieking “SATAN!” at the top of their lungs, spitting fake blood into the crowd, their faces contorted into a grimace that would look absurd on a cartoon character, all the while maintaining that there is nothing ridiculous or inherently funny in their art.
Cardinal Sinne: We’ve had a few comments from people, but there’s a long history of humour in extreme metal. What about songs like ‘Masturbating The War God’ and ‘Satanic Rites of Count Drugula’? Videos like Brutal Truth’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ and the endless puns slam bands make? Humour in metal is an intertextual act. I have an Ahab shirt with ‘Sail and Kill’ written on it for example. That Manowar reference is funny, but it’s also a way of identifying yourself to others who are ‘in on the joke’; it’s part of how we establish camaraderie with each other as metal fans. It’s common across all styles of extreme metal, but some people who are very serious about their occult nonsense like to forget that.
Rotting Christ have said that their name was more representative of their themes and attitude in the early days but as they have developed, they say that though the name guarantees that Dave Mustaine will run to the nearest church cowering in fear and anxiety, they feel it’s no longer wholly representative of the band now. Do you think it may become the same for the name “Christgrinder”?
Cardinal Sinne: Who knows? Maybe. I doubt it though, I think we still have plenty more to say in opposition of religion. It’s pretty flattering to be compared to Rotting Christ either way!
Baron von Christgrinde: As I said earlier, religious themes are ones that I find aesthetically pleasing anyway, so I think there’s always going to be an element of that in Christgrinder. But we’ve got plenty more ideas and concepts that we want to work with for future releases.
A duo on the Smoke Crack, Worship Satan EP, Christgrinder is now a four-piece with vocalist/guitarist Count Gripsnatch and The Grind Old Duke of York on drums. When did they join? And what have they brought to the band?
Cardinal Sinne: I’ve been in bands with the Count prior to Christgrinder and he was our first choice when we decided to bring in another guitarist. He’s a great songwriter, with loads of interesting musical ideas. His grace the Duke is also a great songwriter and we’ve really enjoyed working with him and making use of the ideas he’s brought to the band.
Now there’s a real rotting-flesh-and-blood drummer in the band, does that mean we’ll be seeing more of Christgrinder live?
Cardinal Sinne: I certainly hope so! The drum machine is a cross we’ve had to bear for a while now, and it was only ever a means to an end. I’m hoping to have real drums on every future Christgrinder release. Having said that, the Duke was basically on loan to us from his real band Dakesis (who you should definitely check out if you like power metal), and now the album is out and the promotional gigs finished he’s going to be going back to Dakesis full time to support their forthcoming album, so as it stands we’re in the market for a drummer.
What shows have you got planned for 2015?
Cardinal Sinne: We’ve actually just finished a string of gigs. All we have lined up right now is a charity gig in Manchester in support of food banks in August. As I mentioned though, after that gig we’re going to be drummerless, so it might be a while before you see us live again!
What does the future hold for the band? Is there new material in the works? Any other deities you plan on grinding?
Cardinal Sinne: Well, we don’t have anything concrete to show people yet, but we do already have a title and plenty of song ideas for the new record. As far as deities go, let’s just say we have a couple of songs about Buddhism in the works…
Baron von Christgrinde: I’d like to get something on just about all of the worlds religions. Not sure if Mormonism lends itself to blackened death metal, but I’ll be damned if I don’t give it a try.
Many thanks for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any final words for our readers?
Baron von Christgrinde: It’s been our pleasure. Smoke Crack, Worship Satan.
Cardinal Sinne: Also, if you’re a drummer come and drum for us.