Thus far, the first quarter of 2018 is shaping up to be a good one for fans of all things black and blackened: Eigenlicht and The Projectionist have already released stellar new music, and that surprise Crawl/Leviathan split that came out last week via our friends at Red River Family Records is an absolute beast. Byyrth and Rites of Thy Degringolade both have killer new albums coming out in the next couple of weeks.
You can also add Pittsburg-based trio Slaves BC and their sophomore full-length Lo, and I Am Burning to that list.
Lo, and I Am Burning is a heavy album in every possible sense of the word. Musically, it takes the blackened sludge of the band’s first full length All is Dust and I Am Nothing and dials up both the black and death metal elements of the band’s sound, making for some incredibly intense listening. From both a thematic and an emotional standpoint, it’s a painfully personal album for Slaves BC drummer/vocalist Josh Thieler, as his lyrics paint a tormented picture of someone struggling with depression, loss, and a near-crippling crisis of faith. It’s a difficult album to listen to, but it’s also the very rare sort of album that is going to change the listener on some level, so long as that listener approaches it with an open heart. And yes, I do realize what a strange thing that is to say about a black metal album, but Slaves BC are definitely not your typical black metal band.
I had a chance to interview Thieler via email, and he was incredibly generous with his time and his answers to my frequently long-winded questions. He was also good enough to allow us to premiere the second track from Lo, and I Am Burning, the moody and caustic “We Are All God’s Fault.” Give it a listen below while you check out the interview, and then head over to The Fear and the Void Recordings to preorder the album ahead of it’s March 16 release.
Indy Metal Vault: There are a lot of things about Lo, and I Am Burning that I find striking, first and foremost being the way the band’s sound has evolved since All is Dust and I Am Nothing. That’s an album I’d file next to Coffinworm or Lord Mantis – nasty blackened sludge. Lo, and I Am Burning feels more like a straight-up black metal album to me, albeit one with much more nuance in the song structures than you’d find on something like the most recent Watain album. Did you approach the writing for this album any differently than you did the first one?
Josh Thieler: I really appreciate the comparison you drew between AIDAIAN’s sound to Coffinworm and Lord Mantis. Most of that record was written by Sean (guitar) and I, and we were both very much into both of those bands during the writing of that album.
That record was written and recorded over the course of three years. When we started writing it in 2012, we were a completely different band than when we finished writing/recording in 2015. In 2012, we were still very much trying to find who we were musically as a band. The line up was completely different and the writing process was more inclusive of all the members we had at the time. Towards the end of that timespan, it had shifted to being solely Sean and I writing for the record. We have been best friends for a long time, and we have played music together since starting Slaves BC in late 2010. So we just started running with what we wanted to hear, and it all came so naturally. This is how we did the songs “Nothing Remains But Death,” “God Has Turned His Back,” and “Why Are We Here.”
We sat on AIDAIAN for so long that by the time it was out, we were starting on Lo, and I Am Burning. LAIAB, at least during the writing process, was all Sean and I. We had learned what we were capable of doing with AIDAIAN, and we wanted to push farther into the darker aspects of the music. I had recorded for Twilight Fauna around this time, so I had evolved in my drumming in the more “extreme” style, and this just opened my eyes even more to what we could do with LAIAB. The other difference with LAIAB is that we were able to focus 100% on it until it was done. I forget how many months we jammed for it, but it felt so fast. We also recorded the entire album in one chunk instead of spreading out over years. This allowed us to get a more focused and consistent sound that we had on AIDAIAN.
I think the other biggest thing that influenced the record was the addition of Brandon (bass/noise/guitar) to our writing process. We had been wanting to expand our sound to add more atmosphere and noise for a long time, but we just hadn’t been able to do it before. Brandon came in and just crushed the bass. Absolutely killed it. Then we asked him to play around with noise a bit, and he just ran with it. After that recording process, Brandon has made himself absolutely critical to our writing. You will hear a lot more of Brandon’s influence in our material that we have written and recorded after LAIAB.
IMV: So you are both drummer and vocalist for Slaves BC. You don’t see a whole lot of that in metal – in fact, the only other real example I can think of off the top of my head is Paul Ledney from Profanatica, though I’m sure there are others I’m just not remembering. However, your studio lineup and live lineup are different, right? Which do you consider yourself first – a drummer or a vocalist?
JT: I am the vocalist of Slaves BC. I was always supposed to just be the vocalist, but except for an eight-month period in 2012, I have also been the drummer since the beginning. We have never stopped looking for a drummer through all those years. I was the only drummer we had between late 2012 and mid 2017. In those five years, Sean did 100% live vocals for a bit, then Sean and I shared vocals (as I got better at playing and singing at the same time), and then for a long time, we had our friend Adam of Meth Quarry filling in on live vocals.
We recently got Brandon B, the drummer of Meth Quarry, to take over on live drums, so I was back to just doing vocals for the first time in five years. I am hoping that as we all play together in this line up, everyone will get more comfortable with each other and that musical chemistry evolves to the point where I can step away from writing the drums altogether for Slaves BC.
So for Slaves BC, I am the vocalist first.
I have been playing drums in live setting for almost 20 years, so I technically am a drummer first. I have Twilight Fauna to use up all that energy, though. Twilight Fauna has had a very aggressive recording schedule in the last two years, and I have been recording drums for others like Arete, Vials of Wrath, and Anchorhold. While I love everything we’ve done in Slaves BC, I will be more than happy to completely pass that torch on to Brandon B.
IMV: I want to delve a bit into some of the thematic elements of your music. Even before I saw the lyrics for it, Lo, and I Am Burning was giving me some serious Catholic school flashbacks – so much so that I started looking around online to see if you’ve ever been asked in an interview about the name Slaves BC. Once I ascertained that you aren’t from British Columbia (like Seer BC or Bison BC), I started wondering if it had its roots in the Old Testament – maybe the Israelites when they were in Egypt? And if so, what was it about that particular Biblical narrative—the same one, for readers who might not know, that inspired Metallica’s “Creeping Death”—that drew you to it as a band name?
JT: Short answer: The name comes from imagery that the Apostle Paul used in the New Testament. He referred to himself as a slave to sin/death before encountering Christ. So “Slaves Before Christ.” This is more of a spiritual metaphor than the “real life” physical slavery experienced by the Israelites in the Old Testament, but they are the same.
IMV: Speaking of the Old Testament, All is Dust and I Am Nothing was a concept album based on the book of Ecclesiastes. That particular book has inspired quite a few artists over the years, from the opening of Shakespeare’s 59th Sonnet (“If there be nothing new, but that which is / Hath been before, how are our brains beguil’d”) to the title of Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises to Pete Seeger’s song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (best known by The Byrds), which is essentially a rewriting of Eccl 3:1-8. It’s a strange little book in that Biblical scholars can’t quite agree on how to interpret it or even how it even ended up in the Old Testament. What do you think it is about Ecclesiastes that’s made it so influential on Western writers?
JT: I could talk for years about the book of Ecclesiastes. Since I was a child, it has been one of my favorite books of the Bible. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else as to what speaks to them from that book. But I have a few guesses.
No matter the differing opinions of interpretation or the relevancy of its inclusion in the collection of books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes is about the meaning of life. Humanity has evolved in many ways with civilization, science, and technology in the thousands of years since that book was written, but no matter how far we come, no matter the disagreements of religion, our origins, or social issues, we all hold a deep desire to discover the meaning of life.
Why are we here?
The questions that arise from that book are timeless. They are just as relevant and mysterious now as the day they were written. Perhaps the cultural interest is stronger in the U.S. because of the exhaustion of the idea of and struggle for “the American Dream,” and Ecclesiastes just deflates that whole concept.
IMV: To follow up on that last question, I can’t help but notice that your reading of it is definitely darker than Seeger’s – in the album notes on the Slaves BC Bandcamp page, it refers to Ecclesiastes as “subject matter that is as bleak as the music.” I don’t think anyone could possibly listen to “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Everything Under the Sun” and guess they’re inspired by the same source. Why did you opt for that more pessimistic reading? It does seem like “Why Are We Here?” ends the album on a slightly more uplifting note, though – or is that just wishful thinking on my part?
JT: That’s how I always read Ecclesiastes. While I was reading it, it was all bleak. There’s no point to any of this. No point to our hopes and dreams. Our desire to make a difference, to leave our mark upon the world is largely futile. Its all been done before. No one will remember our hopes, our heartaches, losses, or our names. And it’s a level playing field. It’s the same whether you are rich or poor, wise or foolish. Everyone will return to the dirt. Everyone will be forgotten. This was supposedly spoken by the wisest and richest man alive at that time. He had achieved everything there is to be achieved. Power, wealth, and every hedonistic impulse and desire. And he was saying that all of the struggle and toil was meaningless.
You can see this I think with a lot of pop stars and famous people in modern times. Or even in your friends and family. No matter their circumstance, no matter how much money and success they have, no matter how beautiful they are, no matter the chemicals that are put into their body, a lot of them still feel empty. I think this is where the author of Ecclesiastes switches gears in his writing. He suggests that literally nothing you do can have meaning, unless you are living for God. In my experience, I have found the same. And I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. I’m talking about my life and my experience. The times when I am plagued with emptiness and depression, I find those are the times when I’ve allowed myself to walk away from the path that God has set before me. When I am walking on that path, I find the strength to continue on. I find much joy in my life, but only when I am living that life for God.
So don’t live for yourself. Live for others. Find a servant’s heart.
IMV: Okay, it took me a bit longer to get here than I was anticipating, but let’s talk about Lo, and I Am Burning. If the lyrics for All is Dust and I Am Nothing are “bleak,” then I don’t quite know how to describe the new album. This is clearly a more personal album than All is Dust…, and for me at least it’s a far more harrowing listen because it feels more personal. Now, I’m not in the habit of asking specific questions about lyrics – it feels like bad form, and no one really wants to answer those types of questions anyway. So instead, I’ll ask you this: what prompted you to turn inward for lyrical inspiration this time around?
JT: Each song kind of has a different reason for being on the album, but the album as a whole (mostly) serves as something of a confession.
I think confession is something that is largely missing from protestant/evangelical churches that I have seen. I see a lot of preaching both in the pulpit AND in the pews. Everyone striving for the appearance of piety. Jesus referred to people like this as white-washed tombs. They work so hard to have every appearance of having everything together, of being the perfect Christian, perfect spouse, parent, etc. And too often, when sin comes to light, instead of allowing for confession followed by grace and forgiveness, the offender is ostracized. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It seems to me that a lot of people in the American church like to think that “All unbelievers have sinned….” but that they are no longer counted as having the capacity to sin.
Since this is something that I see as missing in a lot of churches or believers today, I decided to examine the plank in my eye before pointing out the speck in my brothers’ eyes. I have been held up by many people in my life as an example of a Christian. I’ve always been a person that people come to for help, advice, or just love. So I wanted to distance myself from the possibility of either allowing myself to be perceived as or to perceive in myself that I am somehow above, holier, or better than anyone else.
Lo, and I Am Burning is my confession. The exceptions being “Lightbearer” and “XLV,” those tracks are not for me. But I still feel as passionately because they are for people that I know in my own life. People that I love that I see either chasing Lucifer (in the case of “Lightbearer”) or supporting hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia (as in “XLV”).
Half the lyrics for this album were written over 10-15 years ago. “Glory” was taken from a suicide note I wrote. “Honor Thy Father and Mother” is something that I’ve been writing since I was 5 years old and only was able to finish and get the strength to include it in the album after the death of my grandmother at the end of 2016 and subsequently severing my relationship with my parents. And while “Unclean” is essentially a culmination of many of the things I have felt at my lowest points, it also serves as something of a follow up to “When Her Prayers Are Silenced.” That track was written for my Grandma the week she died, and largely focuses on my fear and dread in continuing my life without her daily prayers.
But to answer your question, AIDAIAN was written as my own narration of one of my favorite books of the Bible. LAIAB is written from all of the darkest points in my life. Where all of my hope had died. Where I either was deceived into thinking that I had exhausted the infinite well of God’s grace or I ran from that grace. It is from when I was an alcoholic, stumbling through life and begging for my time on this earth to end. When I was ready to take my life. When I had been cast out by everyone that I knew that I thought loved me.
Again, with the exception of “Lightbearer” and “XLV,” I have been terrified to share these lyrics with anyone. But ultimately, Sean, who is my best friend, convinced me to share them in the hopes that they can help someone else who is going through some of the things that I did.
I wrote the lyrics to this album because I needed to, and because I fully believe that someone else out there needed to hear them.
IMV: I am going to ask one specific question about the lyrics, though. In an interview with Metal Riot in 2014, you were asked a question about staying positive in a scene that’s “saturated with negativity,” and you responded “I absolutely feel that every breath matters. Seriously.” On the song “I Looked Upon the Face of God and My Body Turned as Ash,” there’s the line “Every breath is a curse.” Was that in any way a deliberate callback to that interview, or is it just a coincidence? Either way, it’s quite the change of perspective…
JT: I’ve rewritten this answer (and answers to some of the other questions) like ten times.
You are very good at coming up with these questions. I wish I was better at answering them. Come visit, I’ll build a fire and share some of my bourbon with you and we’ll talk about all of it.
“I Looked Upon the Face of God and My Body Turned as Ash” is loosely pulled from the book of Isaiah, Chapter 6 in the Bible. Essentially, Isaiah had a vision where he was brought into the throne room of God. There were Seraphim flying around. And Isaiah freaked out a little bit.
“5Then Isaiah said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
6Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Hopefully that helps build some of the context around the lyrics to this song. But in response to the difference in lyrics to my interview answer from 2014:
Breath is something of a recurring theme to me. In 2014, we did our split 12” with Grace & Thieves called “Cursed Breath/Innocent Blood.” Cursed Breath was a reference to the breath that Judas took when he was betraying Jesus. The same breath that was choked out when Judas hung himself once he realized he had betrayed the Son of God to die.
I use Cursed Breath as a way of describing sin, or the spirit of the antichrist.
When I said that “every breath matters,” I believe that 100%. In the book of Psalms, Chapter 150, David sings “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!”
Every breath is an opportunity. Every breath is a miracle. Every breath is an opportunity to change. Every breath is an opportunity to speak words of grace, love, encouragement, joy, and praise. It depends on what you use that breath for.
In “I Looked Upon the Face of God…” I am referencing the times when I was not using my breath for grace, love, etc. I was speaking to when my breath was from my own sin, rather than through the love of God. It’s a reference to me asking God to have His seraphim place that hot coal to purify my lips. Every breath is an opportunity to either curse God or sing His glory.
IMV: I’m not entirely sure how to phrase this question, since I’ve never even been tempted to ask any of the “shrieking about Satan” bands I’ve interviewed whether they’re into occult practices or not, but there’s clearly a heavy Christian influence to pretty much everything Slaves BC has done. I’m less interested in whether you’re actually a practicing [fill in the name of a Christian denomination] than I am that you seem to have a very existential view of theology – a lot of the lyrics on Lo, and I Am Burning read like they were written by someone suffering from a serious crisis of faith. If “Why Are We Here?” ended All is Dust… on a semi-positive note, “Unclean” seems to do the exact opposite – it starts with the line “I’ve failed you” and ends in pretty much the exact same place: “You haven’t failed me. / I’ve failed you both. / This body’s unclean. / This body is weak.” Is Lo, and I Am Burning ultimately a hopeless record?
JT: LAIAB is a hopeless record from start to finish. I usually like to tie my lyrics up nicely at the end because I feel that there is redemption in even the most despairing of stories. Most of these lyrics were written while I was still in the situation. I wrote it while all of these feelings were still fresh. These were all written before that silver lining on the horizon. They were written when I thought the night would never end.
I didn’t include the redemptive parts of each of these stories, but I am hoping that if someone is touched by one of these songs, that they will reach out to me personally. I will explain where it all goes and how it comes back around. Or even if you don’t want to ask me questions, if you want to share a whiskey while you tell me your story, I would love to listen.
IMV: Okay, the last few questions have been pretty heavy, so let’s pull back a bit. You worked with Matt Very at Very Tight Recordings again on Lo, and I Am Burning. You commented in an earlier interview that you never wanted to work with anyone else after recording with Very. What is it about his approach that you find so appealing?
JT: Matt is awesome to work with in every way. He’s just a good dude. He’s a good dude to shoot pool (and shoot whiskey) with.
He built his knowledge, his gear, and his studio on his own by hand. Man, that dude earned everything the hard way. He knows every inch of his studio.
He knows what we need. He perfectly is able to capture the essence of what we are trying to do with our music. He is a stickler for natural sound over studio tricks and computer sound replacement. He’s also just good at pushing us when we need to be pushed.
I take every opportunity to work with Matt Very. I wouldn’t even consider anyone else if I have a choice.
IMV: I always like to ask at least one gear question, since the topic fascinates me. What did everyone’s studio rigs look like, and how close are they to what you’ll take out on the road?
JT: I asked Brandon and Matt Very this question.
Brandon: For effects in noise portions, there was a lot of Lone Wolf Audio Hypnotic Eye, Source Audio Nemesis, Earthquaker Devices Hummingbird, Earthquaker Devices Afterneath, Mr. Black Downward Spiral, Tech 21 Bass Chorus, Earthquaker Rainbow Machine.
Ibanez RG570 is the guitar. Dimarzio Tone Zone pickups in it. A heavily modded Ibanez sr505 was the bass. Nordstrand Big Blade pickups and all kinds of electronic mods by Jay Allman.
Matt spoke to the cabs and heads: For the guitars, I believe we did it through all Eminence speakers; Swamp Thangs, Texas Heats, Legends. I can’t recall what amp heads we used, probably that Peavey vtm120 and the modded Laney aor50. Bass was most likely the Darkglass 900 amp head into the Ampeg 8×10.”
I’m super in the dark about all the guitar gear stuff. But to answer your question about road/studio setup, Brandon, Sean, and Adam will use the stuff Brandon listed and a slew of revolving amps/heads.
I used the following for my drum setup in studio:
Mullins Custom maple kit:
18×22 bass drum Aquarian Superkick III head, with a Kickport and DW 9000 pedals
11×14 tom tom with Evans Onyx head
16×16 floor tom with Evans Onyx head
5.5×14 snare drum with Evans EC Reverse Dot Coated Batter head
All Saluda Custom Cymbals:
14” Dark/Heavy Glory inverted china
15” Dark/Heavy Earthworks hi-hats
16” Dark/Heavy Glory crash
18” Dark/Heavy Glory crash
20” Dark/Heavy Rough Bell Glory ride
22” Dark/Heavy china
The drums would be completely different on the road as Brandon B, our new drummer will be using his kit, for shows (and I can’t remember what he has).
IMV: You do all the artwork for Slaves BC as well, correct? The cover for LAIAB is really striking, but it’s also upsetting in a way that I’m not used to seeing from a metal album. I mean, most people are probably pretty desensitized to the shock value style violence and gore of the average metal cover art. The torment portrayed on the cover of LAIAB strikes an entirely different chord than the usual slasher film imagery. I’m particularly unsettled by all the eyes. I’m curious as to how you arrived at that particular concept for the art. Was that what you had in mind from the start, or were there several false starts along the way? What’s your preferred medium for creating the cover art? Most of the Slaves BC stuff looks like pen-and-ink to me.
JT: Yes I do. With the exception of the artwork for our 2012 split 7″ with Cousin Sleaze, and art on the insert for LAIAB that was done by my good friend Unknown Relic, I do all the art for Slaves BC.
I actually do not remember when I got the concept for the artwork. It came to me way before the music was done. Its a kind of a collage of imagery I have used when thinking back on my own life and different situations. So the cover is something of a self portrait. I being the figure in the center being tormented with fire, while always there is an audience. With the devil and Death circling me. Feeling myself dragged down. Being consumed. The hooded figures serve as my own sins staring at me and watching my torment.
The eyes that surround the main focus of the art is representative of two things:
One being the Seraphim (creatures covered with eyes). The Seraphim are a particular type of angel that is discussed in the Bible. I have always found their description to fill me with awe and fear. But I use this as a visual depiction that through all of my darkest times, I always felt like the eyes of God were upon me. Even when running away, I always felt like I was not out of his reach. Even when I would curse Him, He never let me from under the shadow of His wings.
The second thing that I was attempting to portray with those eyes was a reference to this album itself. To depict the feeling that I was putting my sin and suffering out for the whole world to see. The art (like everything about this album) is essentially just shining a spotlight on all of my deepest, darkest, most shameful, and most insecure parts of my soul.
And thank you for what you said about the artwork. I’m always insecure about art that I have been involved with creating (music, lyrics, visual art) and given the concept, I was even more insecure about this artwork.
Due to how fleshed out this was in my mind before I started drawing, I actually had no false starts this time. I felt it important to leave my mistakes and to stick as close to what was in my mind as possible. I work solely with ink pens (Micron 005), so often I make a mistake with the ink and have to start the whole thing over. Which I’m sure is frustrating for anyone, but I am very slow with my artwork. I spent about a year working on the art for this record.
IMV: So what’s next for Slaves BC after Lo, and I Am Burning drops? Is there any touring in your immediate future?
JT: Sadly, we aren’t cool enough to do real touring. We definitely want to make our way back to Brooklyn, Asheville, and maybe get into Ohio and Maryland a bit. Just weekend stuff.
IMV: In addition to doing Slaves BC, you also run a kickass label (The Fear and the Void) and do PR (Cvrsed Breath). How do you manage to balance it all?
JT: I think I balance it all poorly, haha.
I am of the belief that if you have the gift of any creative ability or any way to help someone else, that you should not waste it. Do everything you can. Take every opportunity. But especially recently, its been getting harder. My day job has been weighing me down a lot more. Even still, I’ve recently been able to do the artwork for the newest Old Thunder album, record more drums with Twilight Fauna, and do studio drumming for Vials of Wrath and Arete.
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you want to add?
JT: Thank you for your time and interest. This interview was wonderful.
To everyone else:
Don’t give up.
You are not alone.
You are loved.
You are deserving of love.
Find your voice, and never silence it.