Wretched Wisdom: An interview with Krallice

It’s difficult to imagine that black metal is an agreeable form of musical or cultural expression.  Indeed, it seems that the most passionate fans are those who hold the deepest convictions about what black metal means.  Far beyond a simple musical form, black metal has given rise to various social, political and spiritual viewpoints and has spawned every manner of treatise and manifesto that could be conceived.

Even with all of the divergent thoughts and opinions, one thing is certain – these are exciting times for black metal.  Setting aside the endless ways that one could quantify or qualify it, ever before has black metal been as vibrant and alive with interest.

Enter Krallice.  Hailing from the megalithic cacophony that is New York City, they are one among the vanguard of black metal bands that have, in their own way, contributed to an ever-evolving legacy of sound and dark intensity.  Even as the maelstrom rages around them, it seems as though their sound and inspiration comes from the eye of the tornado.

Join us now as we speak with one of the catalysts for Krallice’s black metal alchemy, Nicholas McMaster

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TBR:  There’s on obvious stylistic progression between your previous LP, Diotima, and Years Past Matter.  I don’t want to paint with too broad a stroke, but there’s a bit less of a traditional black metal sound as things go.  Apart from the obvious, take us back to the discussions you might have had between recording the two.  

Nick: Well it’s funny because, to me, Diotima was the death metal record due to the fact that my vocals are common and because of the density and drum furiousity of a song like Inhume, which we hadn’t really done before.

There’s honestly not too much overt discussion about how we want these records to sound before we make them. We’re not charting where we want our songs and albums to fall in the spectrum of traditional black metal, or any genre. I can remember that on Diotima Mick wanted to sing less and so I took on more of the vocals. And there was a desire to use less polyphony than on the first two records, which probably is at least part of what reads to you as a more traditional black metal sound–all of us playing the same riff together, such as on much of The Clearing.

There weren’t really any guiding principles like that for Years Past Matter. Mick used a tuning he hadn’t before, a series of fifths starting on C that resulted from him writing some music intended for cello. That’s on the first two songs, the rest he’s got his standard tuned guitar, while Colin has his usual strange tuning that he uses on every Krallice song. And Mick was into singing again so we made it 50/50 and even doubled one another on the last track.

It’s important to remember that these records are the summation of a thousand small decisions made over the course of months and years. Even as the creators, we’re not quite sure what the overall impression is exactly going to be – especially concerning nebulous concepts like genre and musical tradition – until everything’s done and we’re listening back. To me that is part of what makes the process worthwhile.

 

photo by greg C photography (trademark)
photo by greg C photography (trademark)

TBR:  With most bands, I don’t think much of the idea of talking about the specifics of their arrangement and composition of their songs.  However, with Krallice, your work is really quite different from the majority of the bands out there in black metal.  Obviously, you’re striving for a unique and personal expression, but would you say that this is more by design or that it is just naturally how things come out?

Nick: It’s really just naturally how things come out. There’s never been a self-conscious desire to be innovative for its own sake, but just to create riffs and songs that are interesting to us. Obviously, a part of finding something interesting is that it’s not the same thing you’ve heard a million times before–though sometimes it is something you’ve heard a done a million other times, yet it clicks with you anyway.

I also think that if people heard many of our songs as the initial one-guitar composition they’d be surprised how traditional the riffs sound. It’s the addition of the other parts and overall arrangement that tends to make the songs sound dense, and (your word) “different.”

TBR:  Can you talk in a bit more detail about the songrwriting process in Krallice in terms of the way that you guys collaborate?  Does it differ from song to song or do you guys have a particular methodology or rituals in the way that you work together?  

Nick: I referenced this above, but the vast majority of our songs have been composed by Mick or Colin as a full-length, one-guitar composition. Usually the initial composer (this is what is meant in some of our liner notes by the “initiated” credit) will record that composition and then the other guitarist will record a full-length part to accompany it. Then I take the two guitar composition and write a bass part that tries to accommodate both guitar parts, and then we all take our parts to practice and work on the drums with Lev.

Sometimes I’ve written a bass part after the initial guitar but before the second guitar (Telluric Rings and # 3 from Years Past Matter, which were initiated by Colin and Mick, respectively) and therefore maybe had a little bit more of an effect on the drums and second guitar. Sometimes Colin’s demos have both programmed drums and bass he’s written, so the only thing that’s not written by him is Mick’s guitar part. (Monolith of Possession, # 2 from Years Past Matter). In these cases, Lev definitely adds his feel and flourish to Colin’s drum programming, but he sticks pretty close to what Colin’s written, just because it’s almost always very good.

The basic drums on Autochthon and Litany of Regrets were also written by Colin and programmed on his initial demo, but I wrote the bass for those songs. On Dimensional Bleedthrough (the song) and Intraum, the bass was written in thirds by me, Colin, and Mick, each taking about a three/four minute chunk. It’s worth noting that the final song on Years Past Matter, which we consider the title track, was a collaborative effort but was written as a bunch of separate 1-2 minute two guitar compositions. So we had the guitar harmonies before the structure, which is the only time that’s happened. And lastly, I wrote all the guitars and bass for The Mountain and the 5th song on YPM, which is really just an intro to set up the last song. That’s something I’d like to do more of in the future.

 

photo by greg C photography (trademark)
photo by greg C photography (trademark)

TBR:  The song titles on Years Past Matter follow an interesting and unusual convention.  Obviously there is a pattern to the sequence but is there a particular significance to what was used for the song titles or was it simply the desire to get outside the box when it came any literal interpretations?

Nick: The titles have no intrinsic meaning. There aren’t supposed to be any titles except the big closer which is “Years Past Matter.” The physical editions have no titles, but if your album is going to be released digitally, you need to have some sort of track names, and this was a sequencing that we found aesthetically pleasing.

So there isn’t meaning in the titles, but there is meaning, de facto, in the gesture of not having them. I think after the concept-heavy Diotima we were sort of tired of that approach and wanted to just present the music rather than wrapping it in a bunch of cultural references. Your comment about being “too busy digging the tunes” is exactly the point.

TBR:  Between the two recent LP’s, you recorded Orphan Of Sickness which shows a subtle tip of the hat towards death metal and/or hardcore.  If I’ve got it right, cool that there seems to be a certain degree of tongue in cheek.  Tell the people a bit about that release.  Dare I ask what “BBH” stands for?   

Nick: Well, are you aware that those songs are all covers? Orphan was a sludgy/punky bass drum duo we used to play shows with. Then the bassist died and we covered some of the songs as a tribute. We learned them for a concert that was to honor his memory, and the recording was something of an afterthought, like, hey, why let these songs go to waste. Recording is quite easy for us because we practice in Colin’s recording studio anyway so it’s just a matter of having him set up mics and playing as usual (especially with that release, which was all one-take, everyone-playing-live-together-in-the-same-room recordings).

We were pretty liberal with adapting the songs as covers – for example, we played every riff as a tremolo which almost none of them are in the original. So I think the hardcore kind of comes from the original material, mostly, and the death metal maybe just comes from the intersection of the original material and our process of adapting it towards something more like we would normally play. As such, there’s no tongue in cheek involved, but I think Orphan did have a kind of whimsy – black humor, if you will – in their songs and that sort of shines through. I personally find quite distasteful the idea of a band being like “oh, here’s our [insert genre] song, isn’t that funny because we wouldn’t normally play like that?” Life’s too short.  Oh and the original Orphan song is called “Big Black Hog.” Though if you’re into Russian black metal you may see something else in BBH.

TBR:  I’m interested to hear your thoughts being the sort of band that’s taking some interesting chances with your sound and coming and that fact that you’re based out of New York.  There seems to be a lot more scrutiny and pressure.  Seems like it can be a bit of a shark tank or would you disagree?  Personal experiences?  Comments?

Nick: If there’s scrutiny and pressure, it’s only a byproduct of the main advantage of being a band in new york, which is that people seem to pay attention. Most areas in the states there simply aren’t enough listeners to create that critical mass that supports a band over its development. The internet has attenuated this a bit, but there’s no substitute for real-life audience and artistic community. So I still think we’re beyond lucky with the reception we’ve had over the years. If we catch a little bit of flak on forums for various reasons, it’s really just a side effect of being out there, being discussed.

I’d also say that the New York metal environment itself is far from a shark tank. If anything, it feels too supportive sometimes. Bands can just kind of go through the motions of a particular genre and people will be down.

Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™
Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™

TBR:  I hate to ask a blunt question about a band’s early musical influences – especially when there are so many obvious answers – but give me some of the less obvious answers and more importantly, tell us a bit about the road map as to how you found your way to black metal and what it all means to you.   

Nick: Ahh, ok. So when I was an early teen I listened to industrial and noise and “experimental”– bands like Skinny Puppy and Coil and Nurse With Wound and Autechre and Muslimgauze and Merzbow and Ryoji Ikeda and Death in June. Then one day when I was 15 or so my friend Mike Sochynsky — he did that band Genghis Tron for a while — came over to my place with Napalm Death’s Fear Emptiness Despair. To be honest, I hated it, but I found myself thinking about it a lot after he left. I went to a nearby record store (when you could do that) and bought the only ND record they had, which was Diatribes, which sorta sucks. But I still listened to it a lot because it was my first exposure to metal beyond heavy radio bands like AIC and NIN etc.

So then a couple months later Napalm Death was coming through and playing Coney Island High in Manhattan. When I bought the ticket I noticed that they were actually opening for this band called Morbid Angel. I figured I’d enjoy the concert more if I knew their latest album so the day of the show I bought “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh” and listened to it on repeat a couple of times. And when I saw the show that was just it. It was Steve Tucker, obviously, and they still had Erik Rutan on 2nd guitar. I remember having the thought that these guys were pushing out something just as dense and destructive as a Merzbow record, but doing it right in front of me with the same instruments the Beatles used. I started playing bass a few months after that and just kept going with it.

Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™
Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™

Around this early time Lev Weinstein, who was the only avowed metalhead in school and with whom I’d gotten closer as my fascination with metal grew, gave me a copy of Lords of Chaos. Though that book is stupid, it still enchanted me at the time, and I endeavored to check out every band in the book. So that’s really my foundation with black metal– obsessions with Burzum, DarkThrone, Bathory, Emperor, Immortal, Ulver. And for me those bands still embody the essential characteristics: a mixture of grandiose melody, harsh tambres, unconventional recording techniques, a great feeling of soaring movement, and a certain sense of decrepitude.

I was so obsessed that I started studying Norwegian in college and got a scholarship to study there for the summer. This was in 2001 so the scene I was chasing was long gone (if it ever really existed outside of a few friends, which is my suspicion). But I was struck with how many metalheads i met or just saw on the street; Italians, Belgians, Poles, people from South America. They were all chasing the same idea I was, and that’s when I knew this was a powerful, global cultural force.

In time, of course, my idea of black metal went beyond Norway as I learned of the important contributions from the Ukraine, Poland, France, Russia, Finland and even (unprobably, it seemed at the time) America.

To me black metal is adversarial yet introspective, bold yet decrepit, with an abstract or explicit mysticism that transcends its mundane origins of dudes with guitars. That said, I don’t personally consider Krallice to be black metal.  Sure, I’ll use that term if I’m trying to give someone who hasn’t heard the band an idea of the sound, but I think it’s really something we work with, a form that we’ve used to create our own language. And that’s fine.

Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™
Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™

There are bands – I won’t name them – but there are bands that annoy me with the degree to which they seem to be opportunistically raiding the genre and marketing it towards people who aren’t really that deep with it, people for whom the essential characteristics of the genre are still novel. That’s just me being a curmudgeon. But I don’t see us that way because there’s a lot more elements in our brew than just some uninformed reading of long-form atmospheric black metal, and I feel we have a developed a sophisticated enough compositional logic to make it worthwhile. Just my opinion, of course. Other bands are and have been mixing it up with very interesting results – just look at Deathspell or Blut Aus Nord. There are also great bands making “pure” black metal right now – if that’s what you want, check out the Nidrosian movement or the stuff that’s been coming from Finland over the last few years.

TBR:  Let’s talk about the future.  What’s going on with Krallice over the next couple of months?

Nick: Well, just on the administrative side, we’re looking to repress the Orphan of Sickness 12″ with a different label (nothing against the old label but it was a one-shot thing for them), do a tape edition of Years Past Matter, and some other things of that nature.

Writing wise we have a few new songs that may be used for splits or maybe just a vinyl EP, but, honestly, we have less new music than we’ve ever had at this point in the previous album’s cycle. This is just a hunch, but I feel like whatever really comes next, not just these few songs we have now but the real next full length, will be more different from our established sound than YPM or Diotima was. The only thing I can say pretty much for sure is that a fifth album will happen. Five years in, I still feel like we’re just getting started.

Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™
Photo by Greg Cristman | greg C photography™

 

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Photos by Greg Cristman
www.gregcphotography.com