I can’t say that I have a total overview of the Australian metal scene but I do know of one or two bands. Thrall being one of them. I was so fascinated by their take on black metal that I had to interview them. Anders Ekdahl ©2011
When I saw the promo shots you use I came to think of another Aussie band with the same kind of line-up gender diversity; Netherworld. In being a two-piece how do you divide the workload?
E: I’ve not heard of Netherworld.
T: They’ve disbanded… right? Historically in Thrall I wrote most of the music and lyrics and did the artwork. Em started doing drums and additional vocals on Vermin to the Earth. Trent Griggs our recording engineer and friend also provided some additional vocals and a few guitar parts on Vermin. Recently, Em has been writing some lyrics for our third album Aokigahara Jukai. Things seem to be getting progressively more collaborative. Em and I share duties equally as far as logistical responsibilities are concerned.
E: We’ve got a full four-piece live line up now and we intend to use it on the next album. As far as your question regarding gender is concerned, I don’t know if gender has any influence on our output thus far. In fact I would dare to say it has had no effect at all.
T: Considering that few musicians compose songs or play instruments using their genitals, I think sex and gender are largely irrelevant. I’m weary of the proportion of Neanderthal-amateur-writers out there that seem more concerned with reviewing what women in bands wear rather than their music. For fucks-sake, it’s not 1890!
E: Yeah, I’m not really into responding to this kind of question. You might note that I use the name Em – not Emma or Emily – to kind of sully what gender I might be – hell, I could be Emilio or Emmett? My gender’s definitely not the first thing I would want people thinking about when they listen to Thrall. I want them to be thinking about the music, raising the horns like a mad fucker, just as if I wasn’t there.
What kind of black metal scene is there in Australia?
E: Honestly, there isn’t much of a “scene,” as such – or at least not one that I participate in. Where we come from in Tassie there’s not even that many people who play original music. It has meant that musicians in Tasmania tend to work together, across music genres, be multi-instrumentalists, and play in multiple bands. Lead one project and then help out with another – quid pro quo style reciprocity. It is one of the unique elements of living on an island with a fairly small population. You’ve got to pitch in. You can’t just live in a little ivory tower and only hang out with your black metal friends (of which there are two). Unless you’re Russell. And even Russell had to play in a couple of bands along the way before he retired to his mountainside.
T: He was a fucking great drummer back in the day. He probably still is.
E: Hell yeah, he used to rip the shit on drums! Back to your question: “scene” – the word just pisses me off. It makes me think of some kind of informal hierarchy, with ‘scene leaders’ and wannabes and ‘scenesters’ just hanging on. I want no part in a scene. However, there are some excellent bands around at the moment. We’re lucky to have Destruktor, Hordes of the Black Cross, and Order of Orias making some excellent black metal and black thrash sounds in Melbourne. Ruins, Throes and Striborg are still active in Tasmania. Throes has been demoing for I-don’t-know-how-many years, so I’m hoping that we’ll hear a full-length from him before too long.
T: Trent from Throes recorded our first album and everything on the second album except the drums, (which were done in Japan with Ippei Suda).
E: If he ever finishes his album, you’ll be in for a treat.
How do you take black metal into the 21st Century without losing the roots of the 80s?
T: Continue to listen to bands from that period, hold onto a spirit of rebellion and play what you want regardless of others.
E: Remain true. And for fuck’s sake, don’t use triggers or write a manifesto.
When does black metal stop being black metal? I think of bands like Sorgeldom or Svarthi Lohgi that have taken the music one step further.
E: I’m sorry, I don’t know those bands. So I can’t comment on their version of black metal.
T: The boundaries of black metal are entirely subjective and depend on your criteria – whether they are formal, conceptual, or both. The genre distinction is in the mind of the listener and consequently varies between individuals. Reductionism and purism bore me. So my definitions are more open than some.
E: I think it’s fair enough to say that Thrall isn’t strictly BM. We’ve got some sludgy, doomy, experimental elements, and these elements are part of a sound that came naturally to us that we are satisfied with. If you try too hard to be “black metal” you disappear into a reductio ad absurdum situation of being unable to incorporate new ideas – if you try too hard to be all genres at once you end up in a populist mess – either way you end up being irrelevant. It’s a fine line.
Why is it that we don’t see more Aussie bands using the history of the Aborigines in their lyrics? They must have a very vivid story telling being a people so old and pretty much without a written history?
E: Hmmm, I know of one band called Mekigah (which is an Aboriginal Australian word – I’m not sure what it means) who are engaging with Aboriginal ritual in their lyrics. But as far as your question is concerned: there’re two reasons that spring to mind. Firstly I don’t think the content of the dreamtime stories are very metal. Secondly – this was a colony. The native people of Tasmania fell victim to a deliberate and successful genocide. Remaining Aboriginal Australians have an average lower-educational attainment, higher prevalence of substance abuse and non-communicable diseases, and a lower-life expectancy than Caucasian immigrant Australians. The remnants of Aboriginal art and storytelling (a) don’t fit with what we’re doing and (b) deserve respect.
T: …and (c) the vast majority of Australians are largely ignorant of indigenous culture through lack of exposure to it. I think there is far better education and integration of indigenous culture in New Zealand and this is only because the Maori were a better organised military force and were able to secure better treaties from white invaders.
Do you feel that because of where you live you can work in greater seclusion from outside influences or do you see it as a hindrance?
E: I think it helped when we lived in Tassie. The more time you can spend alone in a creative space, the better. These days we’re living in Melbourne. I miss Tassie a lot. Being up in the mountains, by the ocean, or deep in the forest, you can really draw power from your surroundings. I would love to be able to live in Tassie, but there’re fuck all jobs, if you do get a job you get fuck all money, and there’s definitely fuck all bands, so it’s a trade off. You get to do your own thing a bit more in Tassie, but you also just don’t have any choice in the matter. Melbourne gives us better options for now.
T: Tasmanian seclusion was a significant factor in our formative years. I miss the harsh and desolate beauty of the environment there. I don’t miss being broke though. One day I hope to build a house, miles from anyone else in the Tasmanian forest. For now I have to live in Melbourne.
Having released one album already do you feel that you put greater pressure on yourself to come up with something even greater this time around? Or do you have a greater concept you follow to the fullest?
E: Every musician will make the best album they can at the time that they’re making it (given that they haven’t got a record label breathing down their necks) – of course I want it to be the greatest thing I’ve ever done every time I hit record, but you have to compromise a bit.
T: As primary songwriter I feel enormous pressure about every album. Every album is a compromise. You have to be pragmatic and do the best you can under the circumstances at the time of writing / recording.
E: As far as there being a greater concept, we’ve been toying with some over-arching themes and I think it’s worked quite well to inspire us. We read lots of books – both fiction and non-fiction – watch films and seek out images to inspire us. I have recently been reading a book about occult symbols. That’s been fun. That said; I’m not into Satanism. I find Christianity and those that oppose it to be immaterial – I am not just an atheist. I am anti-theistic. Aggressively opposed to religion and those who evangelise. In fact, I would like to smite a few believers and see how they like being on the receiving end!
T: I’ve been researching occult symbols too, but only in-so-far as they can enhance the symbolic content of my visual art. Anti-theism best describes the path we’re on. I also have themes selected for our third and fourth albums, but I don’t want to reveal too much.
When I think of Australia I can’t help think of the Post-apocalyptic society in the Mad Max movies. How do you view the downfall of modern man? Will we survive post modernism?
E: Fuck, I love Mad Max. When we were living in Japan I watched Mad Max and it made me so homesick for Australian highways and huge open spaces. Those characters are so Australian as well, like the Toecutter, Nightrider – there’s a certain Aussie hooliganism that I really like – a drawling, laconic charisma. Many of my favourite friends have a similar lawlessness and knowing quality. That devil-glint in the eye. Fucking great film. Thanks for bringing it up. As for the downfall of modern man, I don’t know whether society will suddenly collapse or just crumble slowly over a few hundred years. I’m not a soothsayer or a member of a doomsday cult – and there are few certainties in life other than uncertainty. May we live in interesting times! Truly cursed, the lot of us! Maybe living is worse than dying? Who can say? Looking at the world this year we’ve seen rebellion in places that been repressed for so long. When will we in the western civilization rebel against the oppression we are subjected to?
E: I don’t know when. In fact, I’m not sure that it will happen at all. Most people are too damn repressed to throw down their tools and riot in the streets. The fringe-dwellers that march in the street have little popular appeal. You’re not going to see nine to five wage slaves picketing Wall Street. They’ve got their own problems and can barely see beyond 5pm on Friday for the rest of their miserable lives.
T: First world populations are too apathetic and comfortable. Their minds are fixated with the accumulation of material wealth, which they have been conditioned to do by sociopathic corporations and corrupt politicians. They have been successfully transformed from farmers into consumers. Because the capitalist economic system is sustained by using environmentally unsustainable quantities of resources, the moment of collapse is coming.
Where do you see the future of the band take you on the journey you’ve embarked upon?
E: Dunno. In my more optimistic moments I hope we get to tour overseas one day, but Australia’s a long way from anywhere – these things are bound to take time. That said, writing the next album is coming along. Nice and evil. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more from us before too long.