One short drumfill. That’s all it takes to bring you back into the Death Rocking world of Mat McNerney (aka Khvost) before Motherblood (Century Media) launches into an uptempo angular, jangly Joy Division-inspired shuffle, and the smile spreads across the lips. Continue reading
It has been said that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”. While I paraphrase The X-Files, there is nothing quite like an anti-hero with an existential crisis to detail that future in a chilling way. I am talking about singer Mat McNerney. Much was made the last few years of his band Beastmilk being the next great hope in underground music. They certainly acquitted themselves well over a demo, an EP and their full-length, the much-loved Climax (Napalm Records). Many bands have since picked up and jumped on the trend they started, bringing the romantic post-punk/No Wave (look it up) sound and style back in a heavy modern context. Few could do it as well as the masters. Of course such magical things cannot last and as the band gave way to lineup changes, and dissolved. What they mutated into is Grave Pleasures. While their début Dreamcrash has been out for a while in Europe, its proper release comes from Metal Blade on a more appropriate gloomy early November day.
Dreamcrash, in spite of the new players in the band is the spiritual child of Climax in many ways. The album plays with a sense of urgency and a dripping sexual swagger that makes you take notice on repeated listens. It is very consistent track after track and when you first hear it all the way through, it is a very satisfying feeling when you think of the progression from the old band to now. McNerney channels all of his energy to his rubber-voiced range, making some stunning melodic choices and killer phrasing per usual. It helps that his lyrics here are among his most biting, yet sad at the same time. Mat has all the dour charm that the Ian Curtis/Peter Murphy/Adam Ant wanna-bees all wish they had. At the same time his vocals have a deeply fragile psychosis about them, not unlike Roger Waters conveyed at his peak. Something tells me Mat would hate that I reached this comparison, but that is what is in my heart listening back to these tracks.
The music is the real equalizer on this album. Although my own jaw dropped at the thought of Linnea Olson (ex-The Oath) joining the Dreamcrash dream-team, her contribution is only part of the special equation. Juho Vanhanen (Oranssi Pazuzu) was the real difference maker in the writing. Together Olson and Vanhanen crafted beautiful menacing tracks, with layers of riffs and motifs that pop up unexpectedly. Songs like ‘Utopian Scream’, ‘New Hip Moon’, ‘Futureshock’, ‘Crisis’, and ‘Lipstick On Your Tombstone’ play like the soundtrack to the end of the world, or at least the end of your love life. If you were somehow in a group of people who were not ready for the sooth-Sayers’ words to come true about the apocalypse, this music would cut right through you.
In terms of originality, Grave Pleasures are not trying to reinvent themselves or music here, and so over time you do feel a sameness in the songs that takes this down a slight notch. However, in the view of the band re-imagining itself a bit and fulfilling their earlier bands’ glorious promise, they get full marks. Hopefully the apocalypse is everything they ever wanted and more.
Seated in the somewhat rustic confines of Manchester’s Star And Garter Pub, the venue in which the gentlemen known to many as Kvohst; English front man of Finnish Post Punks Beastmilk is in fine fettle. After serenading us with an amusing version of Manowar’s ‘Battle Hyms’ during soundcheck we grab a corner by the bands rider to discuss ritual magic, travel and formation of this dynamic outfit which released one of last year’s most exciting albums in Climax (Napalm Records).
“We were in the middle of a really bad winter and Goatspeed and I were drinking in a bar and taking about depression. We were either going to kill someone or kill ourselves!” exclaims McNerney with little hint of irony. “Out of that state we managed to create something cathartic where the music became a channel for that depression. Once you get that feeling and you stare into the void and the void stares back through you it really touches you. I think a lot of music from that era (early 80s post punk) was very political. It was that dark period in Britain when we had that really difficult era socially and economically. Globally there was a lot of apocalyptic themes like the threat of nuclear war. We sing about the apocalypse now in a similar way but the themes have changed. I think you can draw some parallels with some Joy Division stuff but we were just recreating our environment. People mention Joy Division but if they listen to our music it isn’t really like that. A lot of it is the reverb and the sad themes we use. It’s more relatable than say, Black Metal where you have to be in a very particular headspace to get it. I feel that Beastmilk has much more in kinship with Misfits and Dead Kennedys and the old punk scene. I think people get that when they see us live. It has the “Deathrock” vibe, but the indie version of what people have done with Joy Division is so far away from what we do. We are not afraid to use dark humour in the way The Smiths did too.”
Certainly when it comes to attitude and philosophy Beastmilk are unafraid to gaze into the nether like the punks did while approaching it from a more contemporary angle. “Our songs are mainly looking at current themes but you can always see the touch points in history where things come from. Our parents’ generation had the cold war and the Cuban missile crisis, events which threatened our existence. That generation had a huge wake up call. When people ask me how the world is going to end I can tell you it won’t be because of any one thing. You should realise it has already ended. You realise if you read a lot that this has already happened. Hiroshima and Chernobyl, we will never clean that up.”
Charming and softly spoken but also extremely articulate, McNerney is certainly not one of one word answers punctuated by the odd swear word. Patiently explains the origin and significance of his Kvohst alias. “It is a spirit name which is my true name. The name you are given at birth isn’t your real name, you must find and discover your own name which is unique to you. It is also important for me to have this costume you can put on ceremonially when you do music to channel something greater than yourself. It is beyond you, were you grew up and the things Christian society has given to you. It came to me in a dream I had and when I looked it up it was closely related to the word “tail” in Russian which is very fitting for me as I am doing various different projects and I have always floated around never staying in the same scene doing lots of different things.”
As lynch-pin of mystical neo folk act Hexvessel and former mouthpiece of avant-garde black metallers Dødheimsgard and <Code>, McNerney has never been afraid to experiment and “float around”. “Creatively speaking I always want to be pushing boundaries. I am not sure if all my work shares the same ideology but I am always looking to break the reality tunnels that Robert Anton Wilson talks about. Your reality tunnel can trap you so you have to break it down and see things in a different way. If people have been following what I did in other bands I think what we did with <Code> and Dødheimsgard were fairly revolutionary and influenced a lot of Black Metal bands to use different vocal arrangements. I have always wanted to make sure what I do is true and real and from the heart. I talk about costumes and the ceremony of performance but that is more how I portray things to theaudience. Sometimes you have to usean artifice to make people dream and in that way they can come to an awakening. It goes back to the hippie culture of trying to expand your mind.”
McNerney’s fascination with free thinkers like infamous occultist Alastair Crowley and self-styled “Agnostic mystic” Robert Anton Wilson is well documented. Clearly better informed than most when it comes to literature it was interesting to hear his take on the so-called “occult rock” movement but make no mistake McNerney has no time for the fakers. “I think it’s great. Everyone knows who is genuine and who is mucking around with it. I don’t connect the writing (of Crowley) with a lot those bands but I think there are many bands who make me think of Alastair Crowley without using his image or anything to do with him. You don’t need to put a picture of him on your album to give credit and respect to him or William Blake. A lot of people have tried to cash in on those works. I think the way we did things with Hexvessel was more interesting than if we had just plastered his name all over our stuff. There are too many people who name drop him. I go to record stores and pick up an album with his picture on expecting something but often I find these guys are messing around.”
McNerney has a history of changing his environment having emigrated from England to The Netherlands then Norway and finally (at least for now) residing in Finland.
“It seems very apparent that when you travel around you meet a lot of people that don’t get out of their own bubble. People seem to be stuck in a rut and reluctant to move out of their comfort zone but really it is just a mental prison. Anyone can go anywhere or do anything they want it does enrich you. I would have never been able to do what I am doing in London. It’s a shame that the opportunities for creative people are so small. I respect people who can do that and not have to move. I think if I was in London now I would be ok but at the time I needed to get out.”
Climax has seen Beastmilk touring far and wide picking up unexpected celebrity fans. “HIM took us out for a couple of dates playing big venues but it’s maybe not the right kind of crowd for us. Ville (Valo) was so supportive and great to us. He is known in Finland for supporting recording studios. He got a fund together to keep the recording studio that we did our demo at from going under. There comes a time however where we have to do things on our own and not be under the wings of a HIM or a Ghost. I really hate playing bigger venues where you lose the intimacy. I hope we can evolve and grow the way bands like Current 93 have, playing venues to their crowd on their terms.”
Let’s get this out the way; Climax (Svart) by Beastmilk is pure hero worship of a whole clutch of 80’s influences. I heard all the originals many times in between figure-of-eighting to ‘Temple of Love’ and ‘Moonchild’ at The Dungeon goth club in South-fucking-hampton and had long since moved on. Yet, hearing them now put together by a new, yet highly referential outfit, the interest is well and truly piqued, and got me in the mood to go back to the originals. Can’t ask for more than that…
Beastmilk are one of those strange (milky) beasts that don’t play metal but have been embraced by the metal community. Whether that’s because vocalist Kvohst has history in blacker climes (Dødheimsgard and Code) or because it takes those us approaching middle age back to our youth and experiments in painting fingernails black (once! I did it once! Same as the white silky frilly shirt! I’ll admit the leather trousers were worn until they fell apart though), or because you can’t argue with really good songs, whatever the style.
Launching with the energetic punky trio of Cure meets The Smiths ‘Death Reflects Us’, standout track ‘The Wind Blows Through The Skulls’ and the catchy ‘Genocidal Crush’, memorable song after memorable song continues, with the exceptions of the maudlin (and frankly dreary) ‘Ghosts Out of Focus’ and perhaps ending downer ‘Strange Attractors’. From ‘Nuclear Winter’ to ‘Surf The Apocalypse’ to ‘Lost In A Cold World’ Climax is a series of strong death-rock anthems, all of them driven on by an energetic and strong production from Kurt Ballou and an 8th-note peddling goth-punk bassline (Arino)overlaid with the jangly and dreamy guitars of Goatspeed (WTF? – ST), while Kvohst switches from Morrissey to Glenn Danzig to Ian Curtis, nailing the ideal style for the mood and section of the song.
As an added side-game you can play ‘spot-the-80’s’ reference as Bauhaus, Killing Joke and most prominently Joy Division (amongst others) raise their post-punk gothic-rock heads, but when the songs are this impressive, it matters not the amount of homage being paid, what matters is how good an album this is. And Climax is a very good album indeed.