Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Leviathan’s Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, again.. Listen to the album’s "Merging With Sword, Onto Them" and read Schnipper’s thoughts about the selection process after the jump.
As I mentioned last week, I recently went to Norway. As part of the festival, I got the opportunity to go on a site seeing tour of black metal landmarks. This included the rebuilt church that Varg Vikernes burned in the early ’90s and a drive-by of the apartment where he attacked and murdered Euronymous of the band Mayhem, a crime for which he has just recently been released from prison. The tour also included a stop to a bakery that now inhabits where Euronymous’ record store, Helvete, was. They served us free coffee and let us go in the low-clearance basement, where “BLACK METAL” is still scrawled on the wall. Some guy from Minneapolis chatted me up, gave me his card. He’s moving with his wife to Oslo so they can start a family. Outside, a woman wearing a lot of black leather and spikes said she is the happiest black metal fan in the world. The tour guide, a former member of the bands Satyricon and Celtic Frost, who was friends with Euronymous when they were young, was a chipper, often hysterical narrator. Twenty years removed, the vitality turned stale. The music, which he played over the bus loudspeaker, didn’t sound any less vitriolic, but the history no longer carries similar pungency. When we went to a small black metal record store filled with shockingly rare records, the proprietor was very friendly and talked about jazz guitar. I was happy to see, in addition to a book on disco, they had a CD by Leviathan.
I’ve written about Leviathan, solo project of well-known tattoo artist Jef Whitehead, here before, in the context of walking around NYC in the cold and seeing double at a Kehinde Wiley exhibit. I continually come back to his album Massive Conspiracy Against All Life as a pinnacle of heavy music, scarier than hardcore, scarier than Vikernes' Burzum. I like that Whitehead was a former teen skate prodigy, a tattoo artist living in San Francisco. How actually murderous could a guy from the Golden State be? If you google deep enough, you can find a photo of him in a dress wearing lipstick. It seemed like an appropriate enough dichotomy to have the most intense music I listen to be made by a guy who occasionally cross dresses.
Then I heard about his arrest for sexual assault. According to the Chicago Sun Times: “A tattoo artist raped his girlfriend using tattoo tools above a near West Side tattoo parlor, authorities allege. Jef Whitehead, 42, allegedly choked and beat his 26-year-old girlfriend unconscious by banging her head against a wall above Taylor Street Tattoo and Piercing, 1150 W. Taylor, in the early hours of Saturday morning. He also attacked her with a pair of scissors, it’s alleged.” Those are three completely terrifying sentences. They were also surprising to me. Why? In Oslo actual violence went hand in hand with violent music, why not here, why not now? I have continued to imagine that listening to or creating dark music might facilitate an act of catharsis, not become catalyst for similarly grim, actual acts. Maybe my joyful listening was just too ignorant and if so, that's going to be hard to reconcile.
I’ve been fascinated watching the very slow, very purposeful public reintroduction of Chris Brown after he beat up his girlfriend Rihanna. I have also very much enjoyed his new music. The PR strategy seems to be overflowing the world with Chris Brown, new songs, remixes, appearances, twitpics of his graffiti. And it seems to be working, the simple flooding of the cultural airwaves plus time eroding any severely harsh memories. Charlie Sheen is using a similar approach, though much more mentally ill seeming. But David Carr, in today’s Times, addresses the backlog of aggressive (at best) behavior of Sheen in the past, and Hollywood’s willingness to look the other way. John Galliano got the axe so quickly. Can I still like Dior? Does cartoonish anti-Semitism trump hem lines? I don’t know. That feels way worse than leaning yes or no. I have a pretty good feeling Two and a Half Men is not something I’d find funny, so I may be in the clear with that one.
This weekend, watching Liturgy, a NYC metal band, I thought about the band Disembodied. They had a female bass player. When I saw them in either 1996 or ’97, at CT Bike Exchange, a skate park in Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN, she was wearing a real big sweatshirt, mauling the bass. The squirrely singer stalked the stage, actually just the ramp of a half pipe, bent at the waste, screaming. They were from Minneapolis, far away and cold, the kind of place of course you’d be angry if you were from. Why this performance of the tons and tons of generally and generically aggressive bands I have seen perform for years and years is one that sticks out so clearly, I am not sure. This morning I read an article in GQ about Billy Ray Cyrus that briefly mentioned how those not on either coast of the US have the freedom to not fall prey to coolness and, lifted from some inherent desire for hip, a greater, purer good can emerge there. Perhaps sweatshirt metal is the most unrefined type of expression I’ve experienced and for that it continues to be a fluorescent kernel in my mind. I thought about them while some girl yelled in my ear. Liturgy was playing in front of me, her screaming behind, apparently in ecstasy over US black metal. Ultimately, her behind and them in front was too loud and I had to go to the back of the room before the end of the set. Fifteen years of people getting out their yayas and I’m still not used to it.