Dayal Patterson’s books about black metal are essential reading for those interested in the genre and its history. His first book Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult was released in 2014. Now, it has been greatly expanded with new interviews, new chapters and 130,000 words of new content. We caught up with Patterson, who tells us about the arduous process of creating Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult – The Restored, Expanded & Definitive Edition along with thoughts on a myriad of black metal-related subjects.
Chad Bowar: What first drew you to black metal as a teenager?
Dayal Patterson: The combination of high-quality music, the darkness/extremity and the sense of emotional and artistic depth present. The first – and to an extent, the second – of those I had already found within death metal, but it was a revelation to discover heavy music that explored a wide array of emotions and utilized elements that were unusual within metal, be it keyboards, folk influences, classical touches or even straight guitar-led atmospherics. In that sense those first bands I was introduced to, like Gehenna, Emperor, Hecate Enthroned and Gorgoroth, were clearly different to, say, Entombed and Sepultura, as great as those bands were.
How are fans of black metal different than fans of other genres of metal?
Interesting question. I think it would be hard to apply any sort of blanket description, particularly at this stage when the demographic is so wide and the listeners so varied. However, I would dare to say that fans of black metal and extreme/underground metal are more dedicated to the scene and more likely to dig deeper into things than fans of more commercial forms of metal, which, I would argue, tends to appeal more to people with a more casual interest, and which tends to remain at a more superficial level. I think that’s true of any underground subculture to be honest, you have to dig somewhat to be involved, and so it attracts people that are that way inclined generally. I’m sure you’d find the same thing if you compared fans of underground rap to people who dip into the mainstream side of that genre. That’s not to say that every single black metal fan is a deep thinker or whatever, but having worked within metal for two decades, I would say that you’ll find more artistic and intellectual aspirations within the black metal scene than, say, with the average Avenged Sevenfold or Pantera fan.
How did the first edition of the book come about?
It was a reaction to what I considered the misrepresentation of black metal. During the late 1990s and the 2000s black metal reached the mainstream of metal in a more obvious way, and then began to reach people who weren’t even particularly involved in metal, and there was a rush of writers and filmmakers who were excited to document the scene and its many colourful characters. The problem with that was that most of them had so little familiarity with the movement that they just latched onto the most obvious stuff – ie. the story of Norway from 1991-1994, the murders, church burnings etc. Of course, Norway from 1991-1994 is extremely important to the story of black metal, but even then, it’s so much more than just Mayhem, Burzum and Emperor.
So I wrote the first book in order to set the story straight and allow the musicians involved to tell the story of black metal from the 1980s – thus including bands such as Master’s Hammer, Vulcano, Venom, Celtic Frost, VON, Rotting Christ and so on – and go way beyond the 1990s and show how the genre was a much broader and more international movement than it was being depicted. I started writing the book in 2009 and finally released it via a fairly large American publisher in late 2013.
How did its initial response compare to your expectations?
Much better than expected actually. To write a book on black metal is quite a provocative move for many people, especially back then, and I expected way more negative reactions from bands and fans. In fact, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and many people in the scene I respected were incredibly complimentary about the book. When it came to write the sequels I found many musicians in the scene that I was approaching had bought and read the first book and were wanting to be involved in the series.
What led you to want to revise and expand the book now?
I wanted to expand it before the original was even published! You have to understand that I had an idea of what needed to be told in the original book, but the publisher gave me a limit in terms of wordcount, images and space. And that’s fair enough, because they were publishing the book, but it meant I had to leave out so much and now that Cult Never Dies is publishing the book the sky was the limit really. That’s meant the new edition is a massive hardback book with 340,000 words of content and 650 images. I think that might make it the biggest book on metal ever published. It needed all that because the scope of black metal really is immense. I would argue that it is the most varied and cutting edge form of heavy music and to communicate that you need the space to be able to show examples of each form of manifestation.
How did you go about deciding what content to add?
Mostly it was self-evident, and simply a case of giving bands that had been mentioned in brief in the first version the space they deserved. To that end I added whole chapters on, and large interviews with, bands such as Immortal, Satyricon, Necromantia, Winterfylleth, Profanatica, Absu, Mystifier, Impaled Nazarene, Vinterland, Forgotten Tomb, Arcturus, Deathspell Omega and many more. But just as importantly I rewrote most of the chapters and expanded them. For example, the Thorns chapter now features not only Snorre Ruch but also Marius Vold.
The chapter on the Black Legions/LLN was proofread by Wlad of Vlad Tepes, with changes made as appropriate. The Rotting Christ, Mayhem and Mysticum chapters were updated with multiple new interviews. Whole chapters were added relating to the Greek, Brazilian and Swedish black metal scenes. The depressive black metal part of the book saw the addition of Bethlehem, Silencer, Strid, Forgotten Woods and more. In every case it was about building up a more complete picture and it was incredibly liberating to be able to do that without interference.
What was the biggest challenge in putting it together?
Maintaining my sanity and keeping Cult Never Dies going with less time. The book took over my life for a year, and I was working more or less every day from the point I woke up to when I went to bed, leaving the mail order mostly to the staff at Cult Never Dies, with no other releases for the year except the Trivax album. That meant financial challenges, and what might be considered a fairly unhealthy lifestyle. I’m not complaining, because it was the best creative experience of my life, but realistically it all had to be completed by late 2023 and that meant a lot of stress and pressure.
Was there anybody that you were unable to locate or turned down an interview for the original version that is included in this one?
Mystifier and Deathspell Omega are the only two I can think of – in the other cases, I had to kind of turn down bands that I’d spoken to. But what I would say is that artists were so much more available than they were first time around because I had closer connections to them than before. So in a lot of cases I could just text or call a band now if I had a quick question or needed a short quote, whereas first time around things moved very closely. Social media is also to thank for that ironically.
How has your interview approach and technique evolved over the years?
It’s probably more relaxed and intuitive now. When I started writing my fanzine back in the early 2000s I would write these long and detailed questions for interviews, even when they were in person or via phone, which most were. Now I write very few if any notes when interviewing black metal bands because I might be familiar with the interviewee and because I have a lot more information in my head so to speak. So interviews tend to be more conversational and candid, I think.
Who do you most enjoy interviewing?
Honestly, pretty much everyone. What makes a book like this possible is the fact that most people involved in black metal (at least until recently) are motivated by much more than just wanting to make some riffs, or get famous or laid. I think all of the 160+ people interviewed in this book have some sort of ideology or worldview behind what they’re doing and that makes them much more interesting to speak to. When I worked for Terrorizer and Metal Hammer I interviewed quite a few death metal bands whose only reason for doing anything was basically ‘it sounded cool’. That’s fine, but there’s a reason that there aren’t books like this about bands like that.
Have there been any artists you’ve interviewed that turned out to be very different than what you expected going in?
Not really. Maybe a decade or so ago. For example, Gaahl I know fairly well now and anyone that knows him properly knows that he laughs a lot and can be quite funny. Well, I wouldn’t have expected that from the Trelldom albums or Gorgoroth shows or from old fanzine interviews. So there were things like that but this time around, no. Maybe Wlad of Vlad Tepes. Perhaps it’s harder to hide your personality and be otherworldly in an internet era, but I also deal with a lot of these people with tours, festivals, merch etc so I see behind the mask more than I used to.
Is what drew new listeners to black metal in the ‘80s and ‘90s the same as what’s leading new listeners to explore it now?
To some extent yes, darkness and high-quality music. Of course today some of the cult-like atmosphere of the 1990s is gone and you have a larger but sometimes more casual fanbase. Less dedication is needed to be part of the scene and some people are therefore less dedicated as fans and even as artists. But mostly I think the motives are fairly similar.
The advent of social media has dramatically changed how bands and albums are promoted. The mystery and mythology of the ‘80s and early ‘90s has been replaced by transparency, access and interaction, which isn’t necessarily the ethos of black metal. How has that dynamic impacted black metal, from both a band and fan perspective?
That’s an eloquently expressed point. There is a clear tension between the mysticism and cult-like qualities of black metal and the overly literal and mundane nature of much of social media. I strongly believe that black metal bands need to be aware of how over-exposing themselves on video and social media can cheapen the aura around their art and remove the mysticism for people. UK bands are often very guilty of this. It’s fine to have a normal life, have a sense of humour and be a balanced person, but you don’t need to share all of that to your potential audience. No one applauds the magician when they reveal how the trick is done and thought there are very real aspects to black metal that can survive the hard light of social media, there is also an important element of theatricality, distance and staging oneself involved.
It’s important not to get lost in the ‘human’ side of things because black metal is supposed to be about something bigger than the individual (despite its focus on individuality), hence the use of corpsepaint, pseudonyms, masks etc. to remove the personalities behind the music. Let the art speak for itself as much as possible and use social media to promote your art and not too much yourself. “No one wants to see Yul Brynner take a shit in a cowboy film,” Fenriz told me once, and it’s a good point. No one wants – or at least needs – to see the frontman of their favourite black metal band doing South Park impressions backstage, hitting the pool on holiday or having a good old laugh at a festival, even if it’s fine to do all those things away from social media.
Black metal has had its share of controversial characters. What’s your philosophy on separating or not separating the art from the artist?
As far as enjoying or experiencing a piece of art, I can fully separate art from artist, to the extent that I can enjoy the specific performances of a few people that I have met in the scene and don’t like as people. To me, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a piece of music by someone awful, particularly if they don’t inject their awfulness (stupid politics or personality for example) into said music. That said, I don’t necessarily want to work with everyone out there just because I appreciate their art. I despise R Kelly and the Red Hot Chili Peppers because they both make terrible music, but even if I loved their songs, I wouldn’t work with them under any circumstances because they involve singers who have touched kids.
Likewise I don’t need to agree with the religious or political views of a musician if they keep it to themselves, but Cult Never Dies is not going to work with a Christian spokesperson or politically active nazi or communist etc. These are extreme examples of course and in most cases this is a grey and blurry subject, and where each person draws the line is up to them. I don’t have a problem with someone who decides they don’t want to buy, for example, Horna records, because they don’t agree with things members of the band might have expressed, but going a stage further and trying to stop other people buying their records or seeing them live – or even trying to cancel bands that might be linked to them – is deeply problematic.
Certain countries are known for being hotbeds of black metal. What are some countries whose black metal scenes are underrated?
I think the (more or less) universally recognised countries for black metal at this point would be Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, the US, the UK, Greece and perhaps Germany and Russia and Ukraine. Today there is black metal in almost every country in the world, so probably every country not on that list could be considered. I expect that we’ll see more talent from Asia and South America in the years or decades that follow and talent can already be found there, not to mention many other countries in Europe.
Black metal has a core of bedrock artists that are still around after several decades, but who are some younger artists that you think are the future of the genre?
I guess we can see various generations in black metal now, the pioneers of the 1980s such as Venom and Celtic Frost/ Triptykon, the 1990s legends such as Mayhem, Darkthrone and so on, the bands that really hit their stride in the following decade such as Watain, and then bands like Mgła which were the gateway bands for people who got into the black metal during the 2000s. The 2010s were big for scenes like the one in Iceland and now we’ve hit the 2020s. I find it hard to say which younger artists will be the future for the genre, because I think the average age of important black metal bands is much higher than, say, the average age of important artists in hip hop or pop music.
The average teenager in 2024 who likes black metal will still be listening to Venom, Mayhem, Watain, Mgła and Misþyrming. Black metal doesn’t have the same sort of generation gap we see in other scenes. In fact, that can be said of metal in general. If you’re into metal right now and don’t like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, it’s certainly unusual. Don’t get me wrong, bands of young guns will appear in the next decades and take black metal to new places, but I don’t think the future of black metal will ever depend on new bands or even active bands. If you don’t listen to Bathory or Sarcófago or Vlad Tepes or Master’s Hammer you’re missing something even now, you know?
How has Cult Never Dies expanded and evolved over the past decade?
More than I ever could have expected, really. When Cult Never Dies began it was literally just me in a one-bedroom flat, writing the books, packing up the orders, posting them, answering all mail and so on, while also working three days a week in a ‘normal’ design job. I went full-time with Cult Never Dies in late 2016 and took on staff the following year to run the mail order and wholesale side of things. We went from publishing books by Dayal Patterson on black metal to working with authors and artists from around the world, releasing about 30 publications to date, as well as merchandise for bands such as Ulver, Beherit, Mysticum, Rotting Christ and forming a record label wing for bands such as Yoth Iria, Heathen Deity and Trivax. We have a pretty sizeable crew involved and even have our own stage at the biggest indoor festival in Europe. All this has happened quite steadily and organically and we remain dedicated to the same values we had when we began. We are dedicated to extreme and underground metal and aim to document and contribute to this culture, we just hopefully do that in a steadily more effective way and reach more like-minded people.
What do you have in the CND pipeline for 2024?
This new edition of Evolution of the Cult really took over my life for a year and meant that Cult Never Dies really slowed down in terms of new releases and concentrated on expanding our distribution, opening an EU store and signing a deal with the biggest book distributor in the UK and Europe as well as working much more closely with Decibel books in the US. So there’s a lot of releases that were delayed coming in 2024 and 2025 including the Petrified fanzine anthology, the Christophe Moyen art book, a book on UK black metal, a book on dungeon synth, a couple of new albums, and more merchandise, as well as a new biography book on one of our favourite bands.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Always, but to keep things simple, I would recommend that anyone interested in death, doom or black metal check out www.cultneverdies.com and cultneverdies.myshopify.com for music, books, zines, shirts, CDs, LPs and much more.
Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult – The Restored, Expanded & Definitive Edition can be ordered via Decibel Books in North America, Travelling Merchant in the EU and via Cult Never Dies for the rest of the world.
(interview published November 27, 2023)