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Twenty Years Later: A Conversation With Neill Jameson About Krieg’s Rise of the Imperial Hordes

1998 was an important year for USBM, seeing the release of Rise of the Imperial Hordes, I Shalt Become’s Wanderings LP, Black Witchery’s Summoning of Infernal Legions EP, and Leviathan’s Time End demo. Krieg’s debut LP offered up a wide variety of sounds. For example, on the track “End of Time.” It ranges from a blistering, furious pace and Imperial screaming his lungs out: “I AM THE END OF TIME!” all the way to a somber outro with clean guitars. “The Great Black Death” is probably my favorite track from the record, and one I hope to see them bring into their future live performances. That track is a great example that I give when I hear people make the old “USBM wasn’t good” statement. Imperial and Lord Soth truly sound violent and maniacal, but much more so on that song.

The production on Rise of the Imperial Hordesis filthy and chaotic, giving it classic necro characteristics, but distinct. 20 years later, and I feel this record stands taller than a majority of the bands emerging in the ever-growing flood of the “raw” black metal genre. Its not just pure noisy bludgeoning, Rise…offers up tormented, and at times ethereal, atmospheres throughout its duration. It is certainly an album that has not lost a drop of its venom with time, and one that should be revisited (or newly discovered) from start to finish. A great debut LP for Krieg, but also an album I feel is important to USBM overall. –Eric Baker (Chaos Moon, Conqbine, Manetheren)

One of these days, someone will finally get around to writing a book about the evolution of black metal in the United States. USBM definitely deserves the Dayal Patterson treatment, but ours is a more difficult story to tell. The important figures from the early days of USBM are fairly well known: Venien from Von, Demoncy’s Ixithra, Paul Ledney of Profanatica, Judas Iscariot’s Andrew “Akhenaten” Harris, and Neill “Lord Imperial” Jameson of Krieg. Some of their paths would eventually cross—Ixithra and Ledney in a later incarnation of Profanatica, Harris and Jameson with both Krieg and Judas Iscariot’s live lineup—but there’s no mythical record store basement where the ‘inner circle’ of the burgeoning USBM scene all hung out, no crumbling castle in the coastal countryside. There’s not even a single record label that someone could point to and say ‘if you want to know what was happening in USBM in 1995, here’s the starting point.’ And unlike US death metal, there isn’t even one specific studio where most of the genre’s defining albums were recorded. So, I mean…good luck trying to research that shit, future person who finally decides to write that book.

I’m sure there are a fair number of readers who already want to stop me and object to Jameson’s inclusion on that list for one reason or another. Krieg’s discography has been too inconsistent. He’s said too much dumb shit over the years. He’s a Nazi. He’s an SJW. He has white knight syndrome. Of course, some of those criticisms are more valid than others, and a few are totally without merit. Jameson has also addressed almost of them in his regular column for Decibel over the last few years, with a surprising amount of candor – no one is more keenly aware of his shortcomings and struggles than he is, and he’s been remarkably (and often painfully) open about them.

Neill is one of the most genuine guys I know and a funny motherfucker. His vocal style is very unique and a blast to work with. He has influenced me on how I approach vocals with other albums I work on. – Sanford Parker (Chicago-based producer/engineer, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, ex-Nachtmystium, ex-Twilight)

After talking with him for this piece, I have a feeling Neill might also object to the idea that he belongs on that list himself, and dismiss the idea with a self-deprecating “I’ve just been around since close to the beginning of the whole thing, that’s all.” In fact, he pretty much says exactly that at one point in our interview. He also mentions that he isn’t really the biggest fan of Krieg’s debut full-length Rise of the Imperial Hordes, which turns 20 today. So I’m pretty sure the last thing he’d want is some sort of hagiography on the occasion of its anniversary.

Here’s the thing: Rise of the Imperial Hordes is a significant album, both in terms of Krieg’s discography and the early days of USBM. It’s also kind of…unfocused? In many ways, it sounds exactly like what it is – a 19-year-old Jameson and an equally young Lord Soth in a recording studio with perhaps not the clearest idea of what they were doing. It veers from dungeon synth-esque instrumental tracks to primitive black metal to long samples of movie dialogue to slightly more second wave-sounding material. There are a handful of stone-cold classic tracks on the album, especially on the second half of the album—like “End of Time,” “Calamity from the Skies,” and “Path of Soth”—but it also has the feel of a band still trying to find its own identity.

I’ve been contributing to Krieg for about six years now, but it’s still weird to be in a band that I listened to throughout my teens. Rise of the Imperial Hordes was the first Krieg album I dove into and at the time, it was the only album that I’d ever heard of that style. It’s an emotional disaster in the best way possible. It’s completely unhinged and feral. Like the mental panic you’d experience as you were being killed. It’s like they went into the studio and recorded raw feeling, rather than trying to write riffs to convey feeling. The same school of writing as Ildjarn and it works really fucking well. I still think it’s Neill’s best vocal performance and one of the better vocal performances in black metal as a whole. ­– Alex Poole (Krieg, Chaos Moon, Skaphé, Mystískaos)

None of which is to say that Rise of the Imperial Hordes isn’t an enjoyable listen. In fact, I think the years have been much kinder to this album than they’ve been to a lot of the material from this era. In listening to it again, there’s also a very clear line of progression that can be traced from this album to his much stronger 2001 effort Destruction Ritual and 2004’s The Black House, which many consider Krieg’s finest moment.

I don’t want to spend too much more time talking about Rise of the Imperial Hordes, because I’m anxious to get to the interview portion of this feature. Neill proved to be an open and engaging interview subject, and I’m incredibly grateful for how generous he was both in terms of his time and his answers to my questions. GiveRise of the Imperial Hordes another listen on the Bandcamp player below while you read it, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve heard it, and join me in wishing Krieg’s debut offering a happy twentieth.

Without Neill, USBM wouldn’t be where it is today. You could also argue it wouldn’t be a serious contender in the worldwide scene. Through his work with Krieg, Judas Iscariot and Twilight (among many others) he brought serious legitimacy to a part of the black metal word that was sorely lacking in proper attention. Not to mention the fact that he is a great and pleasant dude to be around. I had the pleasure of meeting him at 2017’s Red River Family Fest and he was very personable and friendly (despite what his online blogging may lead you to believe). – Mark (Owner – Fólkvangr Records)

 

Indy Metal Vault: Hey…for starters, thanks for agreeing to an interview. Before we jump into talking about Rise of the Imperial Hordes and the early days of both Krieg and US black metal, I wanted to ask how Sage is doing. At least in the realm of USBM, your cats are probably second only to Lil Bub in terms of their “fame.”

Neill Jameson: He’s loudly fucking around in some boxes right now, right after he got done loudly shitting. Since his surgery he’s been more energetic, affectionate, and noisy than he’s ever been. I suppose getting your dick cut off and thrown in the trash helps get rid of distractions.

IMV: It seems like you’ve been in something of a reflective mood of late when it comes to Krieg. Your 2017 releases were all archival material, a lot of which dated from between 2003-04. From what I’ve seen, your plans for 2018 seem to be fairly similar. Was there anything in particular that made you decide this was the time to start emptying the Krieg vaults?

NJ: I wish I had some kind of interesting story, but honestly I was just unpacking boxes of shit right after I lost my job to set up a Discogs store and I ended up finding a lot of CD-Rs that had decades of bits and pieces of material that were going to be used for something or other when they were recorded but never came to fruition. I’ve had some shitty luck with labels over the years, which I guess is karma since I did a shitty job with the last few months of my own, and because of this I just have a backlog. I thought a lot of these masters were lost when I lost my house or even earlier than that, but somehow I have every minute we’ve ever recorded. There’s still a lot of unreleased material left to sift through, plus dozens of live recordings from 01-09.

I guess it just became a project for me and I’ve enjoyed reliving some of these times through the memories the recordings bring. I’m pretty sure there’s a few things that are lost which I’m disappointed about, like the post Rise…demo Profanation, which was a solo thing with keyboard drums like the Imperial material, but for the most part the archival project is a fairly steady roadmap through the various eras of Krieg’s development, if you could call it that.

IMV: Krieg’s debut Rise of the Imperial Hordes turns 20 this year. Given both the somewhat tumultuous history of the band and your own struggles with chronic depression—which you’ve written about very eloquently for Decibel, most notably right after Chris Cornell committed suicide—would you have imagined back in 1998 that people would still care about the record, and that you’d still be talking about it?

NJ: Absolutely. I was 19 when we recorded the album and thought we had something really special with it, a feeling that faded as the years put the record in the rear view mirror. I was really naïve at that age, incredibly arrogant. The experience of recording and trying (and failing) to get the follow up record Sono Lo Scherno, released was enough to knock that back a little. I guess it’s “only child syndrome,” where I thought Krieg should have been the apple of the label’s eye and that everything I touched after Rise…would be somehow monumental. I probably was experiencing the genesis of some kind of mental illness at the time as well, but I spent most of my teenage years in a perpetual state of arrogant anger so I probably wouldn’t have recognized it even if I were somewhat aware of it. I suppose a good follow-up to that question would be how I feel about it now, which is still fairly conflicted. The record is so far away from what Krieg has eventually turned into that, from the creative standpoint, I look back on it with a lot of negativity. But it’s the perfect document of who I was at the time.

IMV: The early days of the US black metal scene aren’t as well documented as the various European scenes, which makes sense given how much more spread out the US is compared to a country like Norway, for example. I’ve only been able to find a handful of notable American black metal bands that predate Krieg: Von (formed in ’87 in Hawaii), Demoncy (’89 in North Carolina), Profanatica (’90 in New York), Absu (’91 in Texas, though the were more death/thrash influenced at first), and Judas Iscariot (’92 in Illinois). And in Somers Point, New Jersey in 1994, you started a solo project called Imperial, which you changed to Krieg for the 1996 Battlegod demo. How familiar were you with the other USBM bands at that point, or did you basically start Imperial in a vacuum? Aside from perhaps Von, who seems to have influenced damn near everyone, I’ll admit that I’m having a bit of a difficult time placing your influences on those earliest demos.

NJ: You’re a tad bit off on the Von years, but that story seems to change constantly. Krieg initially started when I lived in Ocean City, which was already its own vacuum. We really only heard black and death metal through the Stockton College radio station WLFR (which I later had a show for several years), and a local zine we found at a record store on the boardwalk called Rubberneck, which was mostly death metal anyway. The same store, Tunes, somehow had someone into black metal and they would keep a box under the counter of obscure shit. I got my Vlad Tepes/Belketre split there.

Eventually we started taking the bus to Philadelphia and checking out stores there and I somehow fell into the Dark Symphonies catalog, which is how the connection between Krieg (Imperial at the time) and Dark Symphonies (now The Crypt) owner Ted Tringo began. Ted was my introduction to most USBM; he sent me a tape with the first Demoncy record on one side and the Profanatica/Masacre split on the other. I also got a tape compilation that Undead Productions put out that was all USBM and my introduction to Abazagorath, Sorath, Black Funeral, etc. -a really crucial building block.

The Imperial demos weren’t really influenced by American bands, since I really didn’t know any at the time. It was mostly inspired by Ancient’s Svartalvheim in guitar texture (or so I thought at the time) Darkthrone, Vlad Tepes, Graveland’s Carpathian Wolves, etc, which explains the asinine amount of acoustic guitar and waterfall samples. I was just soaking up everything I was able to get my hands on, there really has never been a time in my life where I was so compelled to record something. I was listening to a lot of Mortiis and that era of Cold Meat Industry, again thanks to my trips to Philadelphia. The Imperial demos weren’t even publicly spread until 1997. I didn’t really have any desire to do anything except create. I didn’t have any kind of idea of a “scene” or “community” the first two or so years, I didn’t really care.

IMV: If I’m not mistaken, Imperial/Krieg was a solo project for those first few demos, at least with the exception of drums. What’s your own musical background? Did you start with guitars or keyboards? At what point during your musical development did you first become interested in black metal?

NJ: The first recording was originally just guitars and vocals, the drums were added years later when I was putting together The Black Plague compilation. “Endless Path” and “Battlegod” was just myself, using keyboards as drums, just tapping the keys like I was having a seizure. My own musical background was initially guitar, which my mother got me a few weeks after my father died since he frowned on that kind of behavior, but I picked up bass a year or so later. I first heard black metal in 1994, from the aforementioned radio show. At that time I’d been into death metal and stuff like Carnivore so it seemed a natural jump I suppose. It was just something that really spoke to me, not just on a sonic level, but a spiritual one. And remember that at the time the aesthetics were still perfect, before the outside world got a hold of it.  I became obsessed.

IMV: Following up on that last question, you have one of the more distinctive voices in black metal, largely because you prefer a lower register not-exactly-growl more reminiscent of the style Dead used on Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig instead of the more typical shriek. How did you arrive at that technique? Was there a Dead influence there, or did it come from somewhere else?

NJ: I don’t know. I fucked my vocal chords up when we recorded Rise…which is why so much of it is done in that lower register-near speaking tone. I was really listening to a lot of Master’s Hammer and Bethlehem before the vocal sessions, but I’d never done anything like that and had no idea about discipline or technique so that wasn’t a pleasant outcome. The following A Crumbling Shrine demo was my attempt to switch from the Rise…style and try to mimic Attila. That’s probably the only Mayhem influence Krieg has ever had.

IMV: At some point before Rise of the Imperial Hordes, Lord Soth joined Krieg. Do you remember why you decided to expand the lineup at that point? And how collaborative was that relationship creatively by the time you hit Vortex Sound Studios in October of ’97? Rise of the Imperial Hordes is an incredibly varied album, much more so than any other album in Krieg’s discography – the black metal tracks are a bit all over the place stylistically compared to its follow-up Destruction Ritual, and there are also a few tracks that would likely be called dungeon synth if they came out now. Did you both contribute to the songwriting for it?

NJ: Justin was in a death metal band with me called Abominus. Some time in ’97 my partnership with said band collapsed. My memory is that I was kicked out, probably because I was an asshole. Anyway, they kept going for a while but sort of fizzled out because the guitarist is a feeble fucking idiot. Justin and I started hanging out again, and by this time I was already signed to Infernal Horde Productions to record Rise… in a few weeks, so I figured two minds would be better than one. The deal with Infernal Horde fell apart but we decided to record the album anyway, because why the fuck not? Justin had some material written and so did I, but we didn’t really mix the songs together, like piecing riffs into one another. Look, we really didn’t know what we were doing. It was more just going along with a certain energy at that point. I knew I wanted some ambient tracks, but that was probably the furthest I thought about any kind of diversity.

The record is diverse because, and I cannot stress this enough, we did not know what the fuck we were doing. We didn’t even have a drummer when we recorded it. Ted came down and added synth work and did his absolute best to teach us not to be complete imbeciles. I hope I’m not demystifying this record too much, but it sounds like it does not out of design, but because we were driven by pure instinct and desire.

Teloc Corao

IMV: Assuming the credits on Metal Archives are correct, the recording lineup for Rise was rounded out by Teloc Coraxo on drums and Archæon (aka Ted Tringo of Autumn Tears, who also owns labels The Crypt/Dark Symphonies) on additional keyboards. How did you end up working with them in the studio?

NJ: Ted was instrumental in spreading the Imperial demo and by this point he was kind of a mentor to me so it seemed natural to invite him down during the recording process. Frank was friends with the studio owner, Jim Forbes, and like I said earlier we recorded every part of the record (samples too) before we had a drummer. Jim set us up with Frank, whose work in Blood Storm I was already a fan of, and through this he also introduced me to another band he was working with, Perverseraph – which is still one of the most underrated and special black metal bands to come from the States. Frank was a workhorse, came in and listened, laughed at us because nothing is in time, asked what we wanted (“a lot of rolls, can you sound like Paul Ledney?”) and knocked it out in an afternoon.

IMV: Speaking of samples, you used quite a few dialogue samples from films/TV shows in Krieg’s early music. Do you remember what prompted you to start doing that? Are you much of a film buff?

NJ: I think it was because I’d been listening to a lot of weird industrial that used samples, plus a lot of older death metal, and felt it was a way to give more of an element of storytelling to the music.  It’s been a fairly long time since we’ve used samples, but I’ve got some ideas for some that will tie into the next record properly. I’m not much of a film buff anymore. I just don’t have as much time for it as I’d like to.

IMV: I know it’s been twenty years, but is there anything that still stands out in your memory about the recording process for Rise of the Imperial Hordes? Assuming my mental arithmetic is correct, you would have been in college (or at least college-aged) when you were working on it, right?

NJ: Yeah, it was my first semester of college. We recorded it at Vortex Studios, and besides a brief session there for Abominus I’d never actually recorded something in a proper studio. I didn’t drink or do any drugs at the time, but it’s still a blur. There was a car fire on the drive to the studio the first day and my guitar was super bitched up so I had to use the studio guitar. Just small things like that, fragments. More just the feeling than actual memories, if that makes any sense. This kind of intangible exploration of something new in myself. Have you ever done psychedelics and gotten that odd sense of innocence? It was a lot like that, because I didn’t really know anyone in the “scene” and I wasn’t too involved in any politics of the “scene” outside of people I spoke to in AOL’s “Unholy Metal” chat room or tape traders. It was entirely about the music without any kind of sense of “what will people think of this?” It was probably the last time I’ve recorded something and had that kind of experience.

IMV: What was the response to Rise of the Imperial Hordes like when it was released? I haven’t been able to find any contemporary reviews of it online. Most of the more recent ones I’ve seen, positive or negative, seem to focus primarily on the variety of the material. Did you get decent support from Blood Fire Death Records when it came out?

NJ: Better than the demos. Spider from Metal Maniacs reached out to us about maybe doing some kind of soundtrack work if the Gummo thing worked out, but this was never anything more than a brief idea. We got a lot of nice things said about us in France and Germany but places like Scandinavia fucked hated it. The only review I really cared about was in Where’s My Skin zine, which was very positive. That was the sort of person I wanted the record to speak to.

But there was also a lot of negative press, mostly because it was a barbaric mess that was more in line with Bestial Summoning and Beherit than what was in fashion at the time. It wasn’t symphonic, it wasn’t retro thrash, and it wasn’t technical. Blood Fire Death was very supportive, both to us and to Centuries of Deception (who released an EP with the label around the same time). But like I said earlier, I didn’t really understand the label process or the business side of things and properly fucked that whole thing up. Ted really came through for us. Infernal Horde had dropped us and we didn’t really have any label prospects outside of a letter from View Beyond about a 7-inch earlier in ’97 that I was holding onto for whatever reason. He gave us a proper home with great promotion and excellent packaging.

IMV: Sono Lo Scherno was recorded roughly around the same time as Rise of the Imperial Hordes, with close to the same lineup. However, aside from the tracks on the Kult ov Azazel split, it didn’t see release until right before Krieg’s ‘hiatus’ in 2005. Why did you decide to shelve it—and, as near as I can tell, retire that particular lineup—and go in a different direction instead?

NJ: Sono…was started in January of ’99. By that point we added another ex Abominus member, Jason, because he knew classical guitar and I guess got arrested (or in trouble) for fucking with some church when he was younger. Justin left sometime in the middle of the record, just didn’t show up, so me and Jason worked on finishing it. Again, same stupid shit with no drummer, but this time with a twist: Jason and my girlfriend at the time decided to start fucking, so he was out pretty quickly after. I was left with an absolute mess of a record, and no idea how to finish it. Abominus’ drummer Jim had stepped in for me for A Crumbling Shrine the summer before, so he offered to help with Sono…as well, which gives it the only real cohesion in the form of really fucking bizarre drumming.

I tried to get Ted to release it but he was done with BFD by then, and I doubt he would’ve touched it regardless. So I kept tinkering with it, deep into the summer. Seriously, I worked on this fucking record so long that Justin rejoined and quit and I still wasn’t finished. Killjoy eventually expressed interest and then went silent, same with a few other labels. By the end of 1999 I had just come home from playing bass for the only US Judas Iscariot show and was ready to try something else, so I started to record Destruction Ritual -which took two years. Sono…was used for various releases but it wasn’t until the tenth anniversary of the band that it was released as a full length. And even that version isn’t entirely proper since it has tracks from multiple sessions. The original record as it was recorded in early 1999 is lost. I think I like that record less than Rise…if such a thing is possible.

[from American Underground Onslaught, Vol. 1 (2001)]

IMV: Speaking of the hiatus, you disbanded Krieg after the release of Blue Miasma. In an interview with the now-defunct Live4Metal in 2004, you explained your reasoning for doing so as “Because, for now, I have almost reached the goals I have set out for myself. Perhaps Krieg could return after I have pursued my next projects to their fullest. We shall see.” I do remember reading, however, that you had something of a nervous breakdown in 2004, and you told Metal Insider in 2015 it was more your mental health that “was the cause of ending the band in 2005 and completely fucking my life up.” Do you remember much about what was going on in your life at the time? The hiatus didn’t end up lasting for all that long, right?

NJ: “Achieved my goals” was a good smokescreen for nervous breakdown. My life was fucking garbage at the time. I was mentally unwell, my relationship was toxic, I had overloaded myself with releases for BFD (which changed hands to me in 1999) and I just fucking lost it. I needed a way out and for some reason I thought Krieg was somehow a root cause for why these things in my life were going so astoundingly wrong. I regretted it almost instantly and always figured I’d be back once I settled my life somewhat. We even recorded a demo two days after the “last concert” at Under the Black Sun. But I tried to commit to it and a few months later I joined Nachtmystium briefly to record Instinct: Decay and do two tours, and then I threw myself into new projects like N.I.L. and March Into the Sea with varying degrees of failure, but at the same time I was fucking my life up with drugs and poor choices, which reflect themselves in my “comeback” recordings.

From a technical standpoint the hiatus lasted about three years. From my perspective it lasted about 45 minutes. I suppose I figured it out when I was trying to come down after the UTBS mess and Andrew Harris walked up to me and said, “you know you’re not done.” And he was right.

[Live at Gathering of the Shadows – June 4, 2005]

IMV: I had either forgotten or weren’t aware that you took over Blood Fire Death. How did that come about? How long did you keep it afloat before shutting it down?

NJ: I received all unsold stock at the March Metal Meltdown in 1999, I think. It’s been so long that I don’t really remember. I reissued the Kult ov Azazel Order of the Fly demo onto limited MCD and sold half of them to some European label that refused to pay because they weren’t “professional enough” CDs or some nonsense. So the label went dark for a year or two until I entered into a partnership with Redstream, which lasted a few years until another sub label complained that BFD was getting too much of Redstream’s attention and that was that. I’d say more but it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead. Deathgasm and Regimental helped pick up some of the releases that got fucked over because of that, and then I began to release stuff on my own. I had some really great things lined up too, but my deteriorating life got in the way and the label imploded. That was in 2005, right after I released Lugubrum’s third cooperation with the label. They’re the band I feel the worst for about how things went down. They were always very easy to work with and had great ideas. I’m very glad to see they’re still active and as fucking weird as ever.

IMV: I was actually planning to ask about Under the Black Sun. I’ve heard bits and pieces over the years about that “last show,” but have never heard the full story. Was that the show where you had a nasty case of the flu and the performance was a disaster? If I remember correctly, you haven’t been back to tour Europe since, right? I know you’ve written about this, but I can’t find the article…

NJ: No, I got the great idea to throw a beer bottle into the crowd and it bounced into the soundboard, as the story goes, and ended the night. It was fucking pouring rain, so who knows. Either way it was a bad move -much like nearly everything I did in 2005 – but UTBS gave us space the next night, which I don’t remember much of honestly. The show with the flu was our only gig in London. Total mess. That’s probably one of a few places I’d want to play again.

I don’t have much desire to go back. I miss Europe and met a lot of great people on those runs, but things are so different now I don’t think it would be very enjoyable. How much time can I spend per day talking about why I cut my hair and listen to a lot of punk? Most Europeans hate us now, and I find more interest in bands like Doom than most of the black metal coming out there. Or here, for that matter. I’d have a much better time most likely being around the kinds of bands that probably think Krieg is NSBM. At least they’re interesting and have good songs.

IMV: Quite a few notable musicians have played with Krieg over the years. Instead of asking you about all of them individually, I’ll list a few of them here and ask if you have any thoughts or stories to share about them, either as musicians or about their time in Krieg:

Andrew Harris (aka Akhenaten)

One of the most inspiring people I’ve ever worked with. Andrew helped Krieg more than almost anyone else: he gave us legitimacy at a time no one else really thought of Krieg as anything but a joke. He opened the doors to Europe and to a new way of approaching my work. Absentee father these days.

Jef Whitehead (aka Wrest)

Similar to Andrew, Jef is one of the most creative and interesting people I know. He’s pushed me to widen my boundaries musically, and like Harris has introduced me to a lot of interesting ideas and ways of thinking. Would have never given Joy Division or Killing Joke a real chance without him.

Lauri Penttilä (aka Satanic Tyrant Werewolf)

A genuine human being in an age where people wear a lot of masks. I’m sure someone will call the police on me for this, but he gets a lot more flack for shit than he honestly deserves. Amazing riff writer, and also a proper drinking companion. Lauri is one of the only people who work within the realm of traditional black metal aesthetics and composition that I take seriously.

Jeff Wilson

Incredible work ethic, incredibly shitty attitude. Would work with him anytime the opportunity arises. Another person who’s given me a lift when I’ve needed it. Jeff took us on tour with Wolvhammer in 2012, which is when I started taking Krieg a lot more seriously again as a therapeutic outlet. It really started the momentum that lead to Transient and the myriad of splits and EPs we recorded between ’12 and ’14.

Chris Grigg

Brave for working with us at the height of the Nazi panic. I probably gave him cancer from second hand smoke. Owns a lot of shoes. Chris literally jumped in and saved The Isolationist, as our drummer had to cancel just a few weeks before. He had done some session live stuff with us before, and I really enjoy having him around because I’m very aware that I get on his nerves.

[Krieg live in 2010]

IMV: Since you mentioned it, what’s the story behind the whole ‘Nazi panic’ thing with Krieg? Aside from the Satanic Warmaster split that came out in 2003, what else has there been in your history with Krieg that would have people calling you a Nazi around the time of The Isolationist in 2010?

NJ: People still call me a Nazi now. The guy who runs Ebullition Records apparently emails labels that work with me about the dangers of having a band that’s had members of different racial and sexual backgrounds in the ranks. I think he thinks we sing about eugenics.

NJ in 2010

It’s mostly because I spent time trying to be shocking by using racial slurs in interviews, because I thought it set us ahead of the pack since (at the time) USBM was really mostly a joke to everyone, even in the States, and I thought by having that kind of overblown personality it would somehow bring more attention to the music. Which it did, just nothing positive. And so I’ve spent the last fifteen or so years trying to explain that I’m not a Nazi and that most Nazis want to fuck me up just as badly as Antifa. It’s kind of nice being something they can both come to the table together and agree on.

At the time The Isolationist came out, it was still fairly fresh into the band’s reactivation and was also the tip of the more “modern” era of black metal; the culture shift where politics began to matter. So the label started getting letters about Krieg being a Nazi band, which was well timed considering my lineup for that record had an Asian member and a Jewish member. Looking back on it, I think a lot of it was a smokescreen so that Back on Black had an excuse not to send us a single copy of The Isolationist vinyl.

Krieg is not, now or in the past, a political band, a Nazi band, a communist band – however you want to classify it. If my writing comes off as leftist, that’s probably because in my personal life I’m more of a progressive-minded person politically. But what I write has fuck all to do with my music and vice versa, unless I’m specifically writing about my music. Sure, a few of the bands we’ve covered have been more left leaning in nature, but they are also bands that have a great deal of meaning to me. Politics weren’t really a consideration.

IMV: I had said when we originally talked about doing this interview that I wasn’t going to ask about your most (in)famous musical partner, Blake Judd – you’ve already written at length about him elsewhere. However, that was before his label Ascensions Monuments Media released the final three tracks from the sessions for the final Twilight album as Trident Death Rattle. Were you involved at all in that release? It would appear that he’s mended fences with Whitehead and Wilson – has he reached out to you at all?

NJ: Yeah, we talk. He’s made sure I’ve gotten some of the money back I was owed and seems to be making a real attempt at fixing what he can from past blunders. He’s got a fucking massive uphill climb to regain trust with people, but he seems up for it and, regardless of what I’ve said before, I do hope he proves me wrong and succeeds. I stand by my statement that it’s fucking ridiculous to me that people defend Dagon from Inquisition jerking off to baby rape but think Blake should be publicly castrated and fed his own dick because he didn’t send them a record. If I was him I don’t know if I’d put myself through the kind of public scrutiny he’s going to endure, but that’s possibly a good indication of his intentions being pure. Obviously there’s going to be blowback on me for talking with him to work out issues like an adult, which isn’t really the thing to do in black metal (or metal in general), but whatever. I wish him well. I think he’s gone through more than enough the last few years and I’ve gotten my stabs in. Anything more would be redundant, and at this point I have enough redundancy in my life as I’m sure he does as well.

AP

IMV: Your current musical partnership with Alex Poole is one of the longest of your career. I’ve heard his account of how you two met and started working together, but I’m curious as to how closely your memories line up – particularly since his version of events includes getting blackout drunk and then a day of vomiting at the beach.

NJ: No, that’s about right. I’d briefly met him before, but the first proper meeting we killed a lot of whiskey on the porch of a house in a very nice neighborhood, too nice for us honestly, and I guess I passed out in the basement, then stumbled to work incredibly hungover. The first time I met him I remember telling him when he moved to Philadelphia he was going to join Krieg. I didn’t really give him much of a choice. I’m sure he’s regretted that ever since.

IMV: Aside from AP, the current Krieg lineup seems to be one of the most stable in the band’s history. Is there any chance you might do a bit of touring this year? Or are you mostly interested in one-offs like your appearance at Red River Family Fest last year? I’ve actually only had the chance to see Krieg once – the Chicago date of your ill-fated run with Nachtmystium in 2012.

NJ: That wasn’t our worst show, but it certainly wasn’t the best. With me living in Virginia and them in Philadelphia, touring isn’t really much of an option unless we really plan it through. Maybe a one-off here or there this year. There’s talk of me going out to the other coast and meeting up with Krieg’s west coast division for a short run in the summer. At this point I’m fortunate that the musicians I’m working with on the east coast are very patient with our reduced activity, but I’m starting to get the itch again so we’ll see where everything goes.

IMV: Aside from the few archival releases you’ve already announced, are there any other plans for Krieg this year? I’ve seen a rumor or two about the possibility of a new album, but I know AP is also recording approximately 173 new projects with his Mystískaos collective this year as well.

NJ: There’s a few things being worked on, but at this point the next focuses would be the split with Integrity and I need to put the finishing touches on details for the split with Vegas. I’m also working on some synth stuff. The whole dungeon synth movement has really rekindled my enjoyment of making that kind of music. Krieg really hasn’t had much in the way of ambient synth on any records since Destruction Ritual. The instrumental stuff moved into something more guitar based then eventually somewhat industrial – at least for The Isolationist, which culminated in whatever you could classify “Home” as. I’d also like to do some kind of record that’s just ‘90s influenced black metal, and I have riffs kicking around for that. It’s mostly that I have a lot of concepts and ideas for things, but who knows if they’ll ever come to fruition.

IMV: To bring it around kind of full circle here at the end, you’ve described yourself as a “pretty big asshole” in Krieg’s early days, and you’ve copped to having “done and said some terrible shit” as you put it in an installment of your “Low Culture”column for Decibel that addressed the comments you made on the sleeve of your split with Satanic Warmaster. Granted, you still have more than your fair share of detractors for expressing your so-called ‘SJW’ views that seem to mostly boil down to ‘don’t be a dick.’ For the most part, though, you seem to be settling into a sort of a ‘crotchety uncle of USBM’ role: you’re grouchy, but you genuinely seem to be trying to set a positive example of some kind so that others might not do some of the same dumb shit you’ve done. Do you feel like something of an elder statesman (I know you’re not yet 40, but I don’t know how else to phrase it) at this point in your career? If there were one piece of advice you could give to every musician who might be reading this, what would it be?

NJ: Yeah it’s pretty interesting, the juxtaposition from being a “Nazi” to being a “communist” or whatever the fuck those websites are calling me now. But honestly, it’s not new: for as much as people wanted to classify us as NSBM, Krieg has had just as many Nazis over the years want to put me in the ground. There’s a third category now that I’m a “writer,” which is other writers dissecting whatever I say and trying to detract from it just because their own websites can’t get clicks. Rather than keeping my name dangling in their tonsils, they should focus on writing some kind of content that isn’t base, trite horseshit.

I’m not fighting for social justice, really. I think the majority of the left is just as petulant as the right – though not as physically damaging. The idea of something like a cry closet just leaves me a little baffled. Where my ranting about ethics or “decency” comes from is a strong dislike for my fellow man. Black metal is all about the rejection of humanity, etc., right? I took time to ask myself why I wanted to reject that and the answer was that I despise stupidity and ignorant behavior. One of the reasons why Europeans didn’t (and to some extent, still don’t) take American black metal seriously is the myth of the “Ugly American,” a cultureless buffoon who shuns reason, shits on logic, is excessively loud in order to show some kind of dominance. You know – American stuff. But it’s not like I’m getting out of this country anytime soon and I already fucked up trying to kill myself once, so I’m stuck here. So why not try to open people’s eyes to behaviors that are completely asinine? And from that, I started listening to people tell me their stories about life, which is how I started putting together an ethos on how women are treated and how I contributed to the problem. That’s just one example. The sex scandals are another. Or the various antics of Antifa. It goes on and on. But I’m under no false impression that anything I do has any impact beyond people reading me while they’re taking a shit.

People are going to do stupid things – it’s human nature. The thing that worries me is all the moral equivalency that seems to rate something like cranking your hog to a child being raped to some alleged shitty actions a band made about wanting to fuck someone. This is obviously subjective, though, since if you were the target of said action then you’re obviously going to have a stronger and more valid opinion on it than someone in the peanut gallery. Take what happened with Young & In the Way: I had some points about them in my last Decibel piece that got edited a bit, which made it seem like I was equating them with Inquisition or the kid fiddler from Seven Sisters of Sleep, which was not my intention. Sure, I’m incredibly disappointed with what they’re accused of, but I don’t equate that with a child porn conviction. Same with the guy from Taake. I doubt he’s an actual Nazi, but he’s a fucking dunce for trying to be shocking and then trying to use jazz as a smokescreen for not thinking the public ramifications of his actions through. There are always going to be people who take shocking images or some kind of rock star persona too far. There really isn’t anything I can do at all to change that. But I can do my best to keep myself in check whenever possible. I’m sure I’ll fuck up eventually. Societal standards change so fucking rapidly now that you almost need a spreadsheet to figure out what might offend someone that was completely accepted yesterday.

In order to be an elder statesman, people would actually have to take me seriously as a musician, and let’s face it: not a hell of a lot of people really do. But I’ve been around since a few years after the start of all of this and I’m pretty sure I’m not going anywhere. I’m more just the old guy in the club who drunkenly yells at kids and falls asleep in the gutter. Advice for new musicians? Don’t use racial slurs in an effort to get people to pay attention to you. Actually, don’t do anything as a concentrated effort to get people to pay attention to you. You’re not going to make a living out of this. Do what you feel, and do it for yourself. If someone comes through and it speaks to them, great. If not? Fuck ‘em. And if you’re at all unsure about this, don’t do it: the world has enough bands, and most of them suck. Adding to it is like shitting into a broken toilet.

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