by RS Frost
Dayal Patterson is an accomplished writer and publisher who has spent over a decade untangling the history of black metal by sifting through decades of material, crossing numerous continents and speaking with innovators and genre mainstays, all in a bid to gain insight into the inner workings of black metal and those who create it.
In 2013 Dayal published Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult, which would go on to become the widely accepted definitive story of the genre, applauded by fans and musicians alike. Since then, he has further explored the far ends of black metal and released multiple books and zine compilations, all under the banner of CULT NEVER DIES.
I thought it best to begin our exchange with Dayal’s formative years and his musical and literary beginnings.
- I began taking photos of bands around the turn of the millennium when I was studying photography and I only started writing when I created my first fanzine a few years after that. Around the same time, I began to take photos for Terrorizer magazine and not long after the zine was released I was asked to write for Terrorizer and Metal Hammer magazines. I didn’t have any ambitions at all to be a writer before that to be honest – the fanzine had been created mostly for nostalgic reasons, because at that point print zines had been largely replaced by internet pages, and I felt I could perhaps do something better, or at least different, than the high street metal mags. But, of course, writing became much more important to me than taking photos in the end, and that’s what I’ve ended up doing a lot more of.
Finding yourself involved with two widely circulated, and considerably popular, magazines, what was it that drove you to create Cult Never Dies?
- I worked with Terrorizer and Metal Hammer for many years (indeed, I still write for Metal Hammer) and starting work on my first book, Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult in 2009, finally releasing it in 2013. By the time that book was issued, I had started what became Cult Never Dies publishing in order to be able to continue writing and releasing books without external interference from publishers who did not necessarily care about or understand underground metal. In the years that have followed, Cult Never Dies has grown beyond being a vehicle for my works alone and has published a number of books by other writers, including the Doom Metal Lexicanum and official books by MORTIIS and ROTTING CHRIST.
Following the release of Evolution Of The Cult, came the mini-book, Prelude To the Cult. The following years would see a constant expansion of the series withThe Cult Never Dies Vol.1 (2015), Into The Abyss (2016) and the Cult Never Dies Mega Zine (2016).
Can you take us through this continuation of the Black Metal series?
- It was clear even before Evolution was completed that there would not be enough space to tell the whole story of the genre and include all the bands that deserved to be interviewed. The sequels have therefore allowed me to expand the story of Evolution Of The Cult, focussing on more specific areas of the black metal scene. The Cult Never Dies Vol. 1 and Into The Abyss, for example, examine the Norwegian scene, the Polish scene and the depressive black metal movement in finer detail, the main difference between the books (other than the bands included) being the format, with Into The Abyss featuring a looser, more conversational approach.
The Mega Zine was something of a sidestep, being essentially a collection of interviews that I was really happy with, but which didn't necessarily have any particular theme binding them together. It does have quite a high black metal content (MYSTICUM, MORK, ANCIENT, NAHTRUNAR, HEAD NOT FOUND RECORDS and so on), but also includes bands on the fringe of the genre (IN THE WOODS…, SCYTHIAN, SLEGEST) as well as artists from other scenes (REVEREND BIZARRE, INDESINENCE, BAL-SAGOTH etc).
More recently, Dayal has released two books which specifically deal with a singular artist, as opposed to various artists contributing to the genre. The first was Mortiis - Secrets Of My Kingdom: Return To Dimensions Unknown, which was followed by Non Serviam: The Official Story Of Rotting Christ.
What led to these publications and why did you decide to start focusing on singular artists? Had the broad genre-based approach simply exhausted its options?
- No, it wasn’t that – indeed, I have started work on further books in the multi-band black metal series (examining the UK, Sweden, the US, Finland, France and more).But I did have a feeling around early 2017 that after four genre-based releases I wanted to try something new, and creating an entire biography of one band seemed the logical way to intensify my approach. And actually, Vol One, Abyss and the Mega Zine are essentially collections of shorter biographies if you think about it, so it wasn’t such a strange leap to make.
Where does the motivation to continue down this path of releasing more books come from?
- Music is my passion, so being able to indulge and explore that in a more or less full-time capacity while also having a creative outlet is the main motivating factor. There is also something very encouraging about being able to constantly build up what Cult Never Dies stands for, rather than being involved in various projects that are unrelated to one another. When I do freelance work for other people’s magazines I enjoy working on each assignment, but once each is completed and sent to print, you essentially begin from scratch again with the next commission. With Cult Never Dies I am still involved in individual projects – ie. a new book, shirt or event – but each adds to what CND is about and so it becomes about creating something which is more than the sum of its parts.
Without wanting to sound pretentious, I would say that it really comes down to having a need to do this, rather than simply a desire. It would, of course, have been more sensible and certainly more profitable for me to continue working in graphic design/retouching, but I’m not sure I could be happy if I did not have a full-time creative outlet. Even when I worked full-time with that I was doing the music-related projects at night and burning myself out. I consider myself very lucky that I have found readers and musical devotees who share my passions and interests and want to accompany me on this literary mission!
Alongside your publications, you have also been involved in merchandising for a few years now, even selling items exclusive to Cult Never Dies. How did you find yourself entering the black cotton arena?
- I’ve always been into band shirts and as soon as I had the means to create and distribute them it seemed like a logical continuation. It began very simply with three or four designs with bands like BEHERIT, Rotting Christ, MANES, ULVER – basically groups where I knew the members to some extent. It’s grown quite naturally from there, but I still only release shirts and hoodies I would want to wear myself.
You have interviewed, it would seem, almost everyone significantly involved with black metal from its inception. I’m curious if there have been any stand-out experiences for you personally?
- Almost every interview I did for the Cult Never Dies books has had meaning. Beyond that, meeting and talking to musicians from bands such as VENOM, DARKTHRONE, MAYHEM, THORNS, BLACK SABBATH, Beherit, Ulver, GUNS N’ ROSES, Rotting Christ, Mortiis, RAMMSTEIN, THE DAMNED, Mysticum, MASTER’S HAMMER, PUBLIC ENEMY, SIGH (and so on…), has been fascinating and getting to know some of those bands on a personal level has led to some great experiences and even a few good friendships.
I understand that some bands have not been as forthcoming as others regarding your books, and that some have even refused to be interviewed completely?
- To be honest, I expected to have a lot more issues getting bands to speak so openly when I began this project in 2009 and I think the fact that I knew a lot of these guys from my fanzine days probably helped a lot. The only bands that were not interviewed for Evolution in the end were SARCOFAGO (who actually said they would do the interview, but for some reason it never happened), DEATHSPELL OMEGA (who don’t do interviews and very politely said so), ABRUPTUM (who also politely declined as he was writing his own biography) and IMMORTAL who couldn’t do an interview until the Abbath/Demonaz thing was settled, which was too late for the book.
Since then I can’t think of any bands that have said no, though, again, there were bands where things just didn’t happen in time (NORTH and CHRIST AGONY from Poland were two bands I’d planned to include in Abyss, for example). One thing I can say is that with each release it becomes easier to make interviews happen, because many bands are now aware of, and in some cases have even read, our books already. In fact, we have had groups approach us, which definitely is a step forward from the situation ten years ago when I’d sometimes have to wait months or even years to get an interview!
Something that I always ask people who have been involved in black metal for considerable periods is whether or not they have noticed any major shifts within the scene - be it attitudes, trends or the music itself?
- I think the longer you are in this scene the more you notice how trends come and go. I’ve been into this now for about 25 years, so I’ve seen quite a lot of that. Some things are quite superficial (for example, the fact that so many younger black metal bands have been unquestioningly copying the “MGLA look” with covered faces and leather jackets in recent years) and some less so (for example, the way influences like occultism or politics periodically intensify within extreme metal, or the manner in which certain subgenres become more or less popular). I suppose the biggest change to extreme metal is the scale of things - black metal, for example, has really exploded since I became involved in the mid-‘90s. The internet has also made everything so much more accessible than one could have dreamed before the 2000s – almost nothing is truly underground or obscure anymore.
I wonder if you have any musings on the seemingly growing prevalence of occult and various gnostic leanings within a lot of newer black metal bands?
- It certainly is growing, but I feel this may be another aspect that will fall out of favour eventually. The trappings of occultism have been very prevalent in both rock and metal for the last ten years, and it goes without saying that in many cases it’s just an aesthetic choice – I know for a fact that some well-known bands that are labelled ‘occult’ or ‘Satanic’ are not practising these things outside of their music. But to answer the question, I find people’s beliefs and worldviews very interesting, and I do have empathy and interest in regard to Gnosticism, I just suspect it won’t be as widespread in a decade’s time (just as the covered face aesthetic will probably burn out by then too).
You’ve travelled extensively for research into your books and for interviews. Given that every country has its own variations of cultural norms, social interaction and general outlook on the world, have you noticed these geographical effects on how people see black metal as well?
- I think one of the reasons that black metal has continued to expand so steadily – both in terms of its popularity and the forms of expression it encompasses – is because it taps into something universal within the human soul or psyche (depending on your viewpoint), and the fact that it can then be adapted quite flexibly to people’s individual backgrounds. Black metal has been embraced by such a wide range of often opposing personalities: the very spiritual and the strongly anti-spiritual, those who believe in building societies and those dedicated to their destruction, the puritanical and the hedonistic, and so on. And likewise, people from very different geographical and cultural backgrounds are able to see themselves within the abyss of black metal.
So I think black metal can be a kind of cultural component in its own right. You can often see that when black metal fans meet – they might be from the UK, from Norway, from Russia, from Mongolia, from Estonia, from Indonesia, or wherever else, yet they often have more in common with each other than they do the average citizen back in their home countries, because they share values, interests and a visual and musical language. At the same time we are all shaped by the societies that we are born into and so most black metal fans - though they may see themselves as being against society in a sense – nevertheless share many traits with those around them. For example, WATAIN are a band who could be described as destructive, or anti-society in a sense, but when you spend time with them you see they share lots of traits with their fellow Swedes. I might consider myself to be rather different from the typical English citizen, but I’m sure I seem very English to others when I’m at a Finnish or Turkish event.
I don’t see this as an issue, except in the case of religion – I find it very awkward when someone who follows black metal still submits to the religious chains of their society, be they Christian, Islamic, Jewish or whatever else. Today I am of an age where many friends have children and it’s always a bit strange when someone in a Satanic band gets their child baptised or gets married in a church or whatever – but hey, it doesn’t keep me up at night, each to their own.
Given the digitised nature of information and how it is digested, which is something that we can only expect to intensify moving forward, what is your outlook on the future of physical publications?
- I think it’s fair to say that in an internet age the average music fan is probably going to take more persuasion to invest in a physical format than in earlier times. But to some extent, I think the proliferation of digitised information has helped us as a publisher, in the same way that the proliferation of digitised music has helped labels releasing vinyl. There is so much free material available online that it is no longer necessary to pay for everything you wish to consume, but that means that although people prefer to spend less often, when they do spend they tend to invest in higher quality items.
So, just as people now prefer to buy vinyl or special edition CDs when it comes to releases that mean a lot to them (as opposed to buying lots more albums but in standard format CD), so I think readers tend to buy less high street magazines and more books and book boxsets. I have occasionally pondered how different things might have been had Cult Never Dies been born in 1993 or 2003 rather than 2013, but it’s a bit of a self-indulgence really since I don’t have access to a time machine. Of course, you could sell more copies of each book back then if you could advertise and distribute them properly, but on the other hand, it would have been harder to promote and publish some of our more obscure titles without the internet. To date, our book sales have increased with each year that has passed and I am confident they will continue to do so.
Do you consider the move towards e-books, kindles, audiobooks etc. to be a detriment to print-format products, or do you think that perhaps this fast moving and overly digital shift away from print-media will stir up a sense of loss, perhaps nostalgia for some, concerning the experience of simply sitting down and reading a book?
- There’s definitely a real appreciation for a well-produced book right now and I think a lot of that is a reaction to the general move towards digital books. I think another thing that is important to mention is that our books are always very heavily illustrated with photos, and the experience of a printed photo is always going to be more powerful than staring at a screen. I am not intrinsically against digital books or audiobooks, but they would seem to me to make much more sense with novels than illustrated non-fiction books.
This article is an excerpt of the full interview conducted, in which we further discuss Dayal’s formative years, publications on Mortiis, Rotting Christ and David Thiérrée, the challenges of turning a passion into a business, and what the next 12 months holds for Cult Never Dies.
The full interview will be available in a later print edition of Inner Missive.