by RS Frost
Since the mid-90s, Neill Jameson has been one of the few individuals to have maintained consistent involvement within the American black metal community. Over the years Neill has been involved in upwards of 20 bands, most notably KRIEG and TWILIGHT, not to mention a handful of labels and other projects, and has been considerably, sometimes detrimentally so, outspoken about all things pertaining to black metal and it’s ever-shifting stance on what is and is not acceptable underground behaviour.
I made contact with Neill to gain insight into 25 years of underground involvement, controversy, collapse, and rebirth.
Given your somewhat sordid past within the scene, I wonder how you see your relationship with black metal and the underground metal scene in general these days?
- Minimal at best. I’m fairly bored with most everything that comes out now and am a firm believer that quantity doesn’t equal quality, which goes against the overly bloated release schedule labels seem to pump out now. My e-mail inbox is a fucking morass of PR firms telling me how exciting every record they’re pushing is, but it’s natural law that if you’re shilling fifty records a month, chances are a good portion of them never needed to exist in the first place. Isn’t this why we have so much trash in the ocean? Because of the overzealous manufacturing of unnecessary garbage? Even in scenes I’m more interested in, like dungeon synth, there’s so much forgettable shit being forced out that the musical landscape looks more like the floor of a porno booth in 1970’s Times Square.
So yeah, you can put me down as “ambivalent” I guess.
You were present for what is widely considered the birth of American black metal, or USBM, with IMPERIAL releasing its first demo in 1995. I’m curious about the general environment and mindset of yourself and other musicians around this time and whether there was a conscious acknowledgement of a movement of any kind.
- No, I didn’t really know anyone involved in the scene for at least a year after I recorded the first songs besides people in my immediate area. 1996 was when I started reaching out to other like-minded folks outside of a 20-minute drive, but there wasn’t any kind of a sense of a “movement” for a few years after, anyone who tells you otherwise either wasn’t there or is trying to sell you on a fantasy.
There was a lot going on at the time I began recording, but it was all disconnected, fragments that a few years later would kind of congeal into something resembling a scene, but most of those bands and people are gone now, akin to the “scene” shedding skin. It’s happened a few times now. I’m sure it will continue to happen.
In 1997 Imperial changed its name to Krieg and the following year the debut album under this moniker was released, ‘Rise of the Imperial Hordes’. This is still considered to be one of the first USBM albums and is mentioned and referenced by new bands to this day.
As I understand it, you actually have very little affection for this release?
- I’ve gone from being hostile towards it to being lukewarm. I guess it’s exactly what I wanted it to be at the time, but I was also 19, there’s a lot of things I wanted then which seem ridiculous to me at 41. I do miss the sensation of creating something with no real goal in mind beyond the music; years being around people who occasionally tell me I haven’t absolutely wasted my life really put a damper on that simple motivation.
I suppose one interesting facet about that record and the time directly after that was that I had my first experiences with parasites who try to attach themselves to something that isn’t theirs, but that’s enough space wasted on footnotes for one night.
I’ve also heard that when this album was released it was met with direct and hostile ridicule from the Scandinavian black metal community?
- Nordic Vision wasn’t entirely kind, but by then the magazine was selling itself as sort of a “soft core porn” styled thing so I didn’t really take their journalistic criticism to heart. I got a shitty review in one of the Slayer Mag issues but I can’t remember if it was for ‘Rise...’ or not. I’ve never been a superstar in Norway or Sweden. Finland has always been supportive, or at least they were until the last two records, that’s kind of when Europe had a change of heart regarding me in general.
We did get a much better response from Europe than the States for the first few years of the band, though. France and Germany especially. I started doing this at a time where, like I said earlier, there wasn’t much of a connection within black metal in the United States and there was a certain vitriol from a lot of the death metal bands due to black metal being a “trend”. This really seems quaint when I look back on it considering how many people have abandoned their black metal projects to do these “old school death metal” bands that all want to sound like a mix of bands like DEPRAVITY that none of these people gave a shit about a few years ago. Time really is circular, everything repeats. What a fucking joke.
Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, Neill was of the opinion that USBM was considered a joke, even within the US itself. Therefore, in order to gain some exposure and legitimate recognition, Neill took it upon himself to shock people into paying attention using less than tolerant language within promotional media and in interviews.
These tirades quickly gained Neill a reputation within the NSBM movement and attracted further mire from the broader black metal populace. Although this decision is still creating significant unwelcomed ripples of opinion from various music media outlets and fans alike, it seems to have been an effective promotional tool in the long run.
- It was sort of like knowingly not using protection when fucking someone who’s admittedly got herpes. The only “long run” success is that it still follows me around and no one wants to touch me. But yeah, I thought I had to do something to differentiate myself and rather than, you know, write good songs, I decided to run my mouth. And I’ve faced harsher consequences than a lot of the bands with shows being “cancelled” now go through, plus I’ve had it going against me for fifteen years. I suppose that’s why I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for what bands go through now. Either they’re going to push through all of it and continue with minimal damage or they’re going to break apart under the pressure.
At some point, I’d like to think we would reach adulthood and realise such ideology doesn’t represent some kind of extra evil or dark element to whatever persona we’re all trying to present and actually represents something entirely unspeakable to a lot of people, in a manner we’re never going to understand or relate to. I’m sure people will say “but if black metal is against Christianity…”, which is a fucking boring response, but when you break it all down we’re pretty boring people.
The only thing that’s at all confusing is when bands get called “Nazis” but then issue lengthy statements about how they’re “not political” without denouncing what they’re being accused of, then being perplexed as to why the tag doesn’t go away. It seems like a pretty fucking obvious solution, at least in a logical sense. Granted, no one is ever interested in hearing reasons or denouncements because it’s far more fun to ruin a band/person instead of engaging in any kind of dialogue, but that’s pretty much the culture we live in now, metal and otherwise. But this is the most obvious step forward and I don’t feel pity for when these bands outright refuse to distance themselves from Nazis in their statements, but act like they just went through a teenage breakup when people decide to throw shit at them. As much as someone may disagree with it, “we’re not a political band” no longer works as a cover in 2020, that’s just the reality of the world.
I’m guessing the 2003 split release with SATANIC WARMASTER acted as fire being thrown onto the proverbial flame for those looking to validate their opinions?
- I somehow thought I was making a hostile statement towards Nazis and Antifa alike, some kind of profound throwing of a grenade into a crowded room. Considering that was two decades ago and we’re still talking about it, it’s probably safe to say I was wrong. Black metal has always been about hostility to me (among other things) so when the backlash started, which was pretty instantaneous, I was confused as to why it was misconstrued, the hubris of thinking I was above reproach or some other embarrassing shit. A really poor decision, but I wasn’t thinking beyond whatever day I was living at the time. Regardless, I have no really good excuse for my stupidity but it’ll warm readers’ hearts to know my ignorance still impacts me to this day.
Neill has found himself involved with an abundant number of bands throughout his career, including Twilight, NACHTMYSTIUM, JUDAS ISCARIOT, ANGELCUNT, WELTMACHT and THE ROYAL ARCH BLASPHEME to name just a few. Throughout these endeavours, the two individuals who seem to pop up as regular collaborators are Andrew Harris, more commonly known as Akhenaten, and Blake Judd, who many know through his many misgivings.
Given that you have spent many years discussing your turbulent relationship with Blake, I don’tsee it necessary to include this as a point of interrogation. I’m more curious about your artistic relationship with Andrew.
Since the cessation of all Judas Iscariot related activities, it seems as though the creative force behind the band has simply disappeared from musical activities altogether. Can you shed any light on this?
- Nothing more than what anyone else knows about it, really. He still records music, but it’s just for himself, at least that was the last thing I heard about it a few years ago. But after Judas he did some really great projects that, for some reason, never got the recognition they deserved, two of which (DEBAUCHERY & DESOLATION HYMN) I released on my label, BLOOD FIRE DEATH.
I tried for a time to be sort of a gatekeeper for the legacy of Judas Iscariot, going after bootleggers and whatnot, but it’s exhausting and it turns out, through what others have told me, he doesn’t give a shit so I don’t see the point to continue. That’s one of the reasons I stayed publicly fairly quiet when Blake was releasing all that shit, or when ELEGY, after 20 years, released ‘An Ancient Starry Sky’, plus whatever the fuck MORIBUND does with their litigious licensing practices. Whatever, it’s not my grave to keep.
How did you first come in contact Andrew?
- He contacted me sometime after ‘Rise…’ came out. He’d forgotten, but I used to write with him a few years prior when SARCOPHAGUS did the ‘For We…’ record. We ended up meeting at the Milwaukee Metalfest in’98 and stayed in touch. He’s probably the greatest musical influence I’ve had in my entire life and did a lot to help Krieg be taken more seriously, despite my blundering to the contrary.
After this relationship was established, Neill would go on to be included in the Judas Iscariot live line-up.
- Andrew asked me to play bass for the sole US performance. Apparently I didn’t fuck up too much because he invited me to play for the sole European appearance as well. That’s pretty much the extent of it, I mean there are stories there but I have a book to write so I can’t give up every detail, gotta have some secrets somewhere. I was there for the recording of ‘Moonlight Butchery’ if that adds any kind of value to the shareholders.
Another of your peers is Jef Whitehead of Leviathan, with whom you have worked alongside for many years.
- Jef is one of my best friends and has been practically since I met him. He had written me around the time I was getting ready to release the first XASTHUR and sent me ‘Verrater’ and a CDR of ‘Tenth Sublevel’, but I didn’t really talk to him until I was introduced to him at a show we played with ANTAEUS in New York, around 2003 I think?
There are various stories about my becoming involved in Twilight with very little of them based in reality, which considering the source I’m sure is surprising. But during the recording of the first record I spent a lot of time with Jef and that cemented a creative working relationship that continues to this day. We’ve talked about doing a record together for around ten years now, hopefully that’ll come together next year.
Speaking of Antaeus, didn’t MkM (vocals) live with you for a short time?
- MkM was in the States working for RED STREAM RECORDS and ended up staying at my house for a bit of time. I think this was 2001 but I can't be entirely sure. The crux of the experience was a lot of really fucked up parties, though it was mostly because of my roommates at the time. It was also when I was starting to really experience a dramatic depression but that was before that sort of thing was commonplace so I didn't really understand what was going on. We spent a lot of time drinking and talking, he's one of the best conversationalists I've ever had the chance to know, which I guess would be interesting for people's next black metal trivia night at the bar.
Along the way, Neill was offered to take over operations of New Jersey-based label Blood, Fire, Death, a label most known for its work with the likes of Xasthur, ARCHGOAT and NECROS CHRISTOS.
- The original owner had no interest in continuing it and had a lot of stock leftover, so I offered to take it off his hands. I didn’t do a hell of a lot with it until I joined with Red Stream Records, 2002 I think, and things took off from there until I self-destructed the label in late 2005.
It was the perfect time to do it and if I hadn’t have fucked it up I would have released some really special records, so it’s kind of a sore spot forme. Besides getting to release Andrew Harris’ post-Judas Iscariot projects, the two that really stick out to me are the PEST and LUGUBRUM releases.
With Pest I was able to release a compilation of one of my favourite demos of all time mixed with two of my most prized 7-inches. Lugubrum were a band who I didn’t pay a lot of attention to because I thought the whole banjo thing was a gimmick at the time. As we’ve gone over a few times in this interview, I made a lot of stupid decisions back then. A friend finally sent me a tape of them and I was absolutely fucking stunned. I was able, over the course of a few weeks afterwards, to track down most of their releases but I could never find ‘De Totem’ so I contacted the band and asked if I could reissue it. That started a three-release relationship that I really feel ashamed that I fucked up. They remain one of the most brilliant and underrated bands in black metal today.
In 2005 Krieg was put on hiatus due to an overload of label-related work, the absence of a positive headspace, an unmaintainable interest in illicit substances and overall breaking down of mind, body and spirit.
- A lot of people close to me know, so I’m not going to go into the really personal realities of the time period, which I hope is ok. We’ll just say that drugs weren’t the only (or even worst) thing poisoning me at the time.
I thought ending the band and walking away from the label would somehow solve my problems. I was behaving in an erratic manner from 2004 onward and really only got worse until probably sometime in 2010, maybe 2011. ‘The Isolationist’ is a weird record because of it, because I had a tenuous grasp on reality at best.
I had decided that ending Krieg was a mistake probably sometime in 2005, before it was even over. There’s even an unreleased demo from a few days after the “final” performance of the band with two new songs on it. Most of the riffs ended up on ‘Transient’ eventually. I thought I’d get the same satisfaction from doing NIL but after that whole first record’s release got fucked up I really didn’t see it as a main artery, not to take away from the project, but it just wasn’t the catharsis I was looking for.
If I’m being honest with myself I probably would have had a better time from 2007 onward if my suicide attempt succeeded. I have nothing but contempt for most everything that happened in my life – self-inflicted or otherwise – from 2005 until 2010 or 2011.
In more recent years, you have been writing a column for Decibel Magazine, in which you have opened up about your long-time battle with severe depression, alongside musings on the political and ideological currents within extreme metal that are being examined much more closely of late. How did you find yourself writing this column, and what are you wanting to communicate or achieve through it?
- It just kind of happened. I’m a pretty active complainer on social media and occasionally people think my inane shit is funny, so eventually I got asked to write a guest column on Decibel’s website about the record store I was working in. It ended up being read and shared several thousand times over, a feat that I’ve only been able to get close to a few times since. I’d come back every so often and do another piece, muttering about some experience or another I had growing up. I didn’t really take it very seriously, I’d always wanted to be a writer and figured I’d end up doing that once I was too old to do Krieg, which probably should have been six or seven years ago.
What really helped me was being approached to do a piece for Noisey about my experiences with Blake, a real tell-all kind of piece. I sat on it for a few weeks because I didn’t feel entirely comfortable using him as a way to better my station in life, you know, like he did to me. I’m glad that I did, not necessarily as a way to get back at Blake for whatever but because it proved I could do a piece with emotional impact and go outside of my comfort zone.
A month or two later, Albert (Mudrian) approached me about taking over Kevin Sharp’s column in the print issue. I kind of dicked around my first column or two because I didn’t know what to write about. Then I just started paying attention to everything going on around me and how stupid people could be. I haven’t lacked for material since, even if I don’t really write as much as I used to.
As for my intent with what I write, a lot of it is misconstrued. People tend to think that I’m overly liberal with what I write, so much so that I heard recently that if Krieg “sold more” I’d own a “Prius with an Obama sticker”. I know it’s caused a lot of older friends and fans to reconsider supporting me in various ways and I’m going to sound hypocritical here but I’m not a “political” writer and fuck anyone who thinks otherwise. I tend to write about what I feel are ethics and intellectual behaviours that could be changed for the betterment of everyone around. If that comes off as too “liberal” fuck it, but it’s common sense to me regardless of whoever the person saying it voted for. I’m appalled at the shit people are upset and offended by, on both sides, and how much time they waste on these things instead of higher ethical pursuits. Priorities are absolutely fucking stunted in this year of our lord 2020.
I don’t write as much now because of that. I have a difficult time sharing ideas without having to have a five-paragraph footnote attached to each as not to make someone sad. Regardless of my black metal sketchiness, I’ve come under attack for my writing because I’ve criticised Antifa or whatever. The kind of people who call each other “comrade” and talk about “guillotines” have really skewed thinking and some seriously thin fucking skin. Could be worse though, most of the Nazi shitheads who read me somehow think I’m taking their sides on these issues, but it’s not like reading comprehension has been that sub-sect’s strong suit.
Neill is currently focusing his attention on BLACK HOUSE INDUSTRIES, a label through which an amalgam of audible output is being released, including black metal, punk, crust and what is now known as “dungeon synth”. How did this new venture come to be and what you are hoping to achieve through it?
- I just wanted to release tapes of projects I enjoyed. I probably won’t continue it after the PATHS cassette is done. It’s more time and money than I really care to spend right now.
I read in previous interviews that you have plans to release much more synth-focused music moving forward. Given your previous offerings in this style, I can’t help but imagine you hold a considerable and long-burning fondness for the Cold Meat Industry movement of days gone by?
- That’s the biggest reason I wanted to work with Paths, because that project really hits that ‘And Even Wolves Hid Their Teeth’ spot. If I keep the label operational next year I’d love to work with projects like ORCHARD or AN OLD SAD GHOST but like I said, time and money are in really short supply and if I can’t give the releases my full and proper attention then I’d be doing a disservice to whoever agreed to work with me.
This article is an excerpt of the full interview conducted, which further explores Krieg’s formidable discography, an epic cache of unreleased (for now) material, Neill’s love for the split-release format and plans for the foreseeable future.
The full interview will be available in a later print edition of Inner Missive.