Doom to Drone to Diversity: A Profile of Los Angeles Extreme Experimental Label, Southern Lord Records

March 21, 2011
By

Intro
History of Southern Lord
Interview with Greg Anderson (Southern Lord Founder, Sunn O))), Goatsnake)
‘Classic’ Southern Lord Albums Reviews
Current Southern Lord Release Sampler

The words ‘southern lord‘, accompanied by an image of a horned creature with a hook and a pentagram, can’t help but dispatch the mind to the fiery netherworld of the fallen one; the scapegoat for all that is vile, revolting and just plain evil in this world, including the unholy sounds of heavy metal music.  So you might be surprised to hear that the Los Angeles-based label, known for its focus on the ‘doom, stoner and drone’ sub genres of metal, was not named after Satan, The Devil, Shaitan or any other such figure, but instead after a certain ‘fruit, spice and whiskey flavored liqueur‘ invented by a bartender in New Orleans well over 100 years ago.   Southern Lord was the name bestowed on a fledgling record label by it’s father, the Southern Comfort swillin’ guitarist for Thorr’s Hammer and Burning Witch, Greg Anderson, because he thought ‘it sounded cool‘.

That was back in 1998, a full decade after I frantically rode my bike to the record store to purchase …And Justice For All on it’s release date, not realizing it was the beginning of the end of metal for me.  I drove away from my hometown in Northern California to my new home in San Diego (and into my skatepunk years) in 1993 to Pantera‘s Vulgar Display of Power pumping out the subwoofers in my trunk.  That was the last metal CD I bought for a very long time.  This was a time when Metallica were on MTV, Bruce Dickinson had gone solo and every jock on the football field owned Countdown to Extinction.  Metal as an identity had been reduced to kids in Killers t-shirts who couldn’t tell you who Paul Di’Anno was.  Blind to what was happening in Norway, Sweden or the European and U.S. underground, I decided it was time to move on. I didn’t look back until some 20 years later, only to have my face smashed in by a thousand angry fists . Bruised and battered, I picked myself up and realized I had some catching up to do.

Armed with a broadband connection, an e-mail distribution list and a subscription to Decibel magazine, I dove into the aphotic depths of the past two decades of metal.  But what I found down there was much more than just heavy metal.  Speed metal, thrash, NWOBHM…sure I recognized those designations, but grindcore, brutal death, metalcore, true norwegian black metal, first wave, second wave, drone, sludge, doom, atmospheric blackened death doom drone -core?!!!

Fortunately, all it took was a little research, quite a few downloads, a couple dozen live shows and a whole lot of headphone/eardrum-punishing d- and blast beats before I had the basics down.  It was southern sludge heavweights like Mastodon, Kylesa and Baroness who led the initiation, it was the second wave black metal bands like Immortal, Enlaved and Dimmu who welcomed me in with raised \m/’s and corpsepainted smiles and it was the United States Black Metal (usbm) scene that made me feel at home.  The Pacific Northwest band Wolves in the Throne Room were my first introduction to usbm and that leads us to the story of Southern Lord Records.

1990’s:

In the mid-90’s, in post-grunge Seattle, two friends in their mid-20’s were being influenced by the Melvins‘ sludge and Earth‘s suffocating brand of doom. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, of Thorr’s Hammer and Burning Witch, would tread their own paths after the demise of those bands, only to be brought back together in Los Angeles in 1998.  In a new city, at the dawn of a new decade, these two metallars would form a new band and launch Southern Lord Records with the primary goal of releasing their own material.  Lacking experience in the day-to-day aspects of running a business, Anderson had worked at Caroline Distribution and understood the process of distributing records.  That experience and a little luck was all Southern Lord needed to get off the ground.

Release No. 1 on the new label was the CD version (previous released as a cassette) of Thorr’s Hammer‘s Dommedagsnatt, a doom/death metal album with Norwegian lyrics.  This was right around the time when Foo Fighters were releasing The Colour and the Shape, so not exactly your average Seattle-sound.  Release No. 2 was none other than Burning Witch‘s Crippled Lucifer, the sole release from Anderson and O’Malley‘s second project together; their next step to becoming the drone/doom pioneers who would redefine the genre.  It wasn’t until No. 3 that Southern Lord branched out to release a compilation album from Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s doom band, The ObessesedIncarnate wasn’t only the first release to bear the Southern Lord label that did not include Anderson and O’Malley, it was also the first embryo to develop into what would become an incestuous family of musicians; a family that would grow exponentially over the next few years.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of The Obessesed, Anderson‘s next band, Goatsnake, was born, adding another name to the roster of the doomed.  As for “Wino”, he went on to be involved with the label through various bands such as Saint Vitus, Place of Skulls and even a solo album in 2009.

Thorr’s Hammer - Norge *
Burning Witch - History of Hell *

The label that started out as an DIY outlet for Anderson and O’Malley, and turned into a family of like-minded musicians, had morphed into something larger as the years went on; something with a mass large enough to form it’s own gravitational pull for talent.  A force so strong, it produced the Sunn and moved the Earth.

In the beginning, Southern Lord could be summed up with one word, DOOM.  A single track could generate tectonic shifts and cause the THC levels in your blood to raise.  CDs, LPs and 7″s from Electric Wizard, Cathedral, Warhorse, Internal Void, Goatsnake, Spiritual Beggars, even Japan‘s Church of Misery were all stamped with the SL label.  Bands from all over the world, with one thing in common, the love of Mary Jane and long, slow, repetitive metal riffs.  There were a couple exceptions to this rule, even back in the early days…Mondo Generator‘s Cocaine Rodeo was essentially a Kyuss reunion album and while it is a stoney affair, it is a rock ‘n roll album.  Frontman Josh Homme, another morning stoner with no doom affiliation, recorded a few of his Desert Sessions for Southern Lord as well.  But overall, Southern Lord was a doom label specializing in those close to Greg Anderson and that is what was expected from the brand.

2001 – 2006:

In 2001 the label started a relationship with the Japanese experimental metal band Boris and 2002 saw the first Southern Lord release of Anderson and O’Malley‘s latest band, Sunn O))).  Then, in 2005, in what had to have been an extraordinary event for all involved, the almighty Earth became a member of the family, solidifying Southern Lord as ‘the’ label for fans of desperation and misery; for soul-crushing, insanity-inducing drone and doom.  These three bands went on to personify the second chapter in the label’s history.

Boris are hard to characterize because they change up their sound quite a bit from album to album, but no matter what you want to call this noise, it’s at home at Southern Lord.  Pushing close to 40 releases on various labels over the past 15 years, Boris have to be the most prolific metal band from Japan.  Most of this material is not represented by Southern Lord, but key releases like Akuma no Uta, Pink and Smile, as well as collaborations with Sunn O))), Merzbow and more recently, Ian Astbury, have been released, or at least found their way to our shores, via Southern Lord.  My first exposure to Atsuo and his pink metallers in 2006 was not a pleasurable experience.  The album was receiving rave reviews on indie rock sites that I frequented and I was feeling some nostalgia for my salad days, so I decided to give it a shot.  My first impression was ‘this is NOT metal‘.  Sure, I recognized the Sabbath influence, but I also heard Sonic Youth and even …The Trail of Dead.  At the time it did not impress me.  I felt like they had taken the early-days of psychedelic metal  and gone straight into post-rock, completely ignoring the pioneers of the 80’s.  I just wasn’t ready for them at the time.  Five years later, with ears tuned to current metal and noise, I can appreciate what these guys were/are doing and applaud Greg Anderson for recognizing it early in the game.

Boris - Intro *
Boris - Farewell *
Sunn O))) & BorisEtna *

Stephen O’Malley was a part of the Southern Lord business in the beginning and he still is to some extent,  but his role is that of recording artist and graphic designer.  He was busy producing album art for Earth, Boris, non-Southern Lord bands like Burzum and Emperor, as well as Sunn O))), all while recording and performing with Sunn O))), Khanate, and various other solo and collaborative projects while Anderson divided his time between being a musician and running the day-to-day business.  Stephen‘s résumé is out of the scope of this article though, so we’ll just focus on Southern Lord‘s flagship project…Sunn O))).

Sunn O))) (pronounced Sun) started out as an excuse for Anderson and O’Malley to continue to play music together.  Both living in L.A. in 1998, but playing in separate bands, they started to jam together…playing riffs ‘through as many amps as possible’… just making noise without a direction.  The droned-out duo decided to christen themselves Sunn after the amplifier brand and added the O))) to match their logo.  O’Malley has also been quoted as saying it’s also a play on the influential drone masters, Earth….the Sunn O))) revolving around the Earth.  The original recordings, The Grimmrobe Demos, were released in 1999 as a limited 500-copy run on Hydra Head Records and were an obvious homage to Earth, even featuring a 15 min. track titled Defeating: Earth’s Gravity.  These demos were re-released on Southern Lord in 2005.  The second release, ØØ Void, was released the next year on Rise Above and included a tribute to another band from Washington whom had an impact on Anderson and O’Malley, the Melvins, in the form of a reinterpretation of Rabbits Revenge.  It wasn’t until 2002‘s Flight of the Behemoth that they started self-releasing their material on Southern Lord.  This also marked a crossroads for the band, a time when they started collaborating and expanding their sound into the critically acclaimed, if somewhat polarizing, project we know today.

Again, there could be a whole book written about the history, collaborations, praise and backlash against Sunn O))) and we just don’t have the time or space to explore those depths here, but the cliff notes go something like this…Anderson and O’Malley recruit musicians, composers, sound artists and vocalists from genres as diverse as black metal, death metal, minimalistic electronic, free jazz, doom and drone to contribute to a dozen or so releases over a 10 year period.  Characterized as a drone/doom project, but stretching those genre boundaries like they were made of silly putty, the average song time clocks  in around 15 minutes, with some tracks pushing the 1 hr. mark…sometimes prolonging a single chord across timezones.  The majority of the sounds are not accompanied by drums and the guitars are in slow motion.  This is sound art that takes patience; patience some just don’t have.  Thus the polarization.  There are those who are adamant Sunn O))) are geniuses and there are those who are just as adamant that this music is ridiculous.  Right now I am in limbo in no-man’s land.  I lack the understanding to choose a side.  Part of me wants to understand, but part of me wants to just be blunt and call it boring.  Some music is made to bang your head to, some is made to dance to, some music makes you think; there is music that tells you a story and music that takes you to another time and place.  I have spent many nights with my headphones on, with Black One, with White1 and with Monoliths and Dimensions and I still don’t know if these sounds fit into any of my presupposed criteria for noise to be called music.  So does that make it worthless?  Does it make it genius?  I think I am going to have to hold judgement until I get the chance to see Sunn O))) in a live setting…a venue filled with fog, men in ceremonial robes, the volume turned up to 15… I’m going to see how this moves me, where is takes me and what it tells me.  I just fear that even then, I won’t find an answer to my question.

Sunn O))) - It Took The Night To Believe *

There would be no questions about Sunn O))), no debate on their artistic merit; there would be no band and more than likely, there would be no Southern Lord if it weren’t for Dylan CarlsonCarlson started making “music” with Kurt Cobain when they were roommates in Olympia.  He is also the man who introduced the soon-to-be icon to heroin and a shotgun, but that’s another story.  On the positive side, the guitarist teamed up with other musicians in Washington‘s capital and formed the band Earth.  Influenced by 70’s metal and local bands like the Melvins, Earth went on to create a hybrid of drone and doom metal, a sound that is known as drone doom.  From 1991-1994, Carlson, with a revolving cast of bassists, guitarists, vocalist and multi-instrumentalists, released a single EP, three studio albums and a live CD called Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars.  But it was their debut full length, Earth 2, that had the biggest impact on Greg Anderson and set things in motion.

The first rotation of Earth was on the predominantly lo-fi, indie rock focused Sub Pop records.  Sharing only a state, this label seemed an odd choice for a band creating these types of soundscapes, so it only made sense that when Carlson brought Earth out of a decade-long recording hiatus, he would seek a more appropriate habitat for his work.  In 2005 a new Earth, now signed to Southern Lord, unleashed Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method on an unsuspecting world.  This was the same project, with the same DNA, but the sound had evolved. Drums, trombones, banjos, chimes, bells and whistles?  The sound had shifted from drone to something more experimental; a sound with elements of americana and jazz.  This sound continues through the four full length albums Earth has released on Southern Lord, Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, Hibernaculum The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull and this year’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (II will be released later in the year).  All three albums have been very well received, by fans and critics alike, and I personally find more depth and warmth in them than I did the 90’s material.  Although, last year’s A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction, a complete record of the 1990 Smegma Studios recordings with Carlson, Slim Moon, Joe Preston and Kurt Cobain just might be my favorite Earth release.  Very impressive first recordings of a band in its (hardly) humble beginnings.  I experienced a tornado rip through my neighborhood last year and in hindsight, that twister actually seems peaceful when compared to what’s on that album.

Earth Raiford (The Felon Wind) *

In the first half of the first decade of the new century, it wasn’t all Boris, Sunn O))) and Earth.  The Southern Lord family continued to grow with notable doom releases like Warhorse’s As Heaven Turns to Ash, Place of SkullsNailed and With Vision and various Goatsnake albums.   Doom, drone and sludge were still the name of the game, but exceptions like Darkest Hour‘s The Mark of the Judas, OrcustusWorld Dirtnap and Dave Grohl‘s sideproject, Probot, proved that Greg Anderson wasn’t prejudice and Southern Lord would not reject bands based on their death, black or heavy metal orientations.

Goatsnake - Easy Greasy *
ProbotMy Tortured Soul *

In fact, between 2005-2006, in the same years that Earth made it’s return and Sunn O))) released Black One as well as collaborated with Boris on Altar, Southern Lord saw just shy of 20 black metal releases associated with the label.  With a focus primarily on black metal with dark ambient undertones, some recognizable names from the usbm scene include Xasthur, Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice and the ‘supergroupTwilight, who’s eponymous debut was released on Southern Lord in 2005.  Relationships (distribution and otherwise) were also formed with international bands, such as enigmatic French metallers Deathspell Omega, Norwegian black metallars Urgehal, as well as bands as far removed as Tasmania‘s Striborg.

Leviathan - The Fourth Blind Wound *
Twilight – Woe Is The Contagion *
Deathspell OmegaKenose III *
UrgehalDead Cold December *
StriborgIn The Eerie Pre-Dawn Silence Of The Cold *

During a natural disaster, such as a tsunami or hurricane, the waves come crashing inland, the black ocean water engulfing and drowning all in it’s path and leaving mass destruction everywhere it flows.  To those who are there to witness the extreme power of nature, it is as exhilarating as it is terrifying.  Well, the black tide had smashed ashore at Southern Lord and as it washed back out to sea, it left it’s mark.  Southern Lord had been reborn as an extreme label, no longer classifiable by one subgenere.  This ushered in a new day for the company as it advanced toward it’s 10th birthday.  These changes might have caused resentment from some of the longtime fans, but it also exposed the label to a new audience.

2007 – 2009:


The later part of the decade saw a couple studio albums, as well as a couple  live recordings from Earth, a few more albums from Sunn O))), including the heavily lauded Monoliths & Dimensions, (an album that made many metal and non-metal year-end lists in 2009), and a series of Boris 7″s to go along with Smile.  But what really interests me about these twilight years of the 00’s is the continued exploration into black metal, especially with Wolves in the Throne Room.

EarthOuroboros Is Broken *
EarthThe Driver *
Boris w/MerzbowFlower, Sun, Rain *

Continuing to mine the Pacific Northwest for talent, Greg Anderson signed Nathan and Aaron Weaver to Southern Lord for their second album, Two Hunters.  Driven by a vision to ‘create a band that merged a Cascadian eco-spiritual awareness with the misanthropic Norwegian eruptions of the 90’s‘, WITTR created a atmospheric black metal album that incorporated natural elements of places like the Cascade Mountains, clean female vocals to compliment the classic black metal shrieks and the feeling of extreme desperation (of being lost in the woods, the wolves closing in) into four tracks .  They replaced the anti-Christian and Norse mythology messages employed by the founding fathers in Norway with ‘ancient and transcendent consciousness‘ beliefs.  In doing so, they created a localized sound that was only black metal in name.  WITTR and Two Hunters spawned a debate among black metal fans, some claiming that they were pandering to hipsters (something Southern Lord, as a label, has been accused of as well) and that calling it black metal was blasphemy against the true black metal scene.  The debate continues to rage on through messageboards among people with too much time on their hands.  My stance is if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.  If it’s not black metal, call it something else.  Because in my experience, most bands hate being labeled anyway.

Wolves in the Throne RoomI Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots *

It wasn’t until 2009 that I was introduced to Wolves in the Throne Room.  About 20 years late to the game, Black Cascade was the first time my virgin ears were exposed black metal.  Not to give the ‘hipster-haters‘ more ammo, but I read a positive review of the album on cokemachineglow and like Boris and Sunn O))) before them, I decided to give them a shot.  And like those bands before them, my first thought was ‘this is NOT metal‘.  The difference is that this time I was immediately entranced by this music.  It was like nothing I had ever heard!  Sure, some of the instrumental parts reminded me a little of Explosions in the Sky, but those vocals, the vocals that sounded like they were coming out of a man being devoured alive by wolves?  Now, those were invigorating, they made me feel alive.  There was something immediate, but very visceral about those vocals.  I had no idea what they were saying, but I knew it had to be horrible.  No translation was necessary, the words didn’t need to be processed to be understood.  Not knowing how to explain this music to anyone in my current circle of influence, I kept it to myself, playing it at an extremely high volume while alone in my car, always feeling like I was doing something wrong.

Wolves in the Throne RoomWanderer Above the Sea of Fog (edit) *

Other notable releases during this period were Anderson‘s Burial Chamber Trio album, thrash/sludge albums from Chicago‘s Lair of the Minotaur, The Accüsed‘s return to Martha with The Curse Of Martha Splatterhead, Pelican coming over from Hydra Head for 2009‘s What We All Come to Need and Weedeater‘s first Southern Lord release…the skull-crushing, southern stoner masterpiece, God Luck and Good Speed.

Lair of the MinotaurHorde of Undead Vengeance *
The AccüsedThe Splatterbeast *
PelicanStrung Up From The Sky *
WeedeaterGod Luck and Good Speed *

2010 – Present:


You would think discovering that Black Cascade album would  have sent me overturning stones, looking for more.  But not only did I not listen to any other black metal, I didn’t even bother researching where this type of music originated from.  I didn’t even go into WITTR‘s back catalogue.  Those four songs were all I needed at the time.

And that brings us back to the beginning of our story, with me getting ‘my face smashed in by a thousand angry fists‘.  Well, it wasn’t actually a thousand and my face wasn’t actually smashed, but I did get my ass kicked in the pit at the first metal show I had attended in quite a few years.  It was Mastodon, Kylesa and Intronaunt at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO and it was the first hit off the crack-pipe of modern metal shows.  Sure, I’d catch any of the Big 4 when they’d come around and I never missed a Maiden show, but this Mastodon show was my first time seeing extreme music in a small venue with a bunch of kids since I was one of those kids…I was hooked.  I started listening to Mastodon non-stop, which led to Kylesa and Baroness, which led to High on Fire and Sleep, which led to death and grind, which led me face-first into a wall.  There was way too much death ‘crap’ out there and I was sinking in a sea of it.  And this grindcore stuff didn’t do it for me.  But instead of giving up, I went in search of a guide.  I found him in San Francisco.  A friend of a friend.  And he introduced me to a crew of seasoned vets.  These guys range from their mid-30’s to 40’s and they know their shit.  They were rockin’ the stonewashed jeans and mullets in high school, they remember Monsters of Rock, they can’t count how many times they’ve seen the Big 4, they cried when Dio died and unlike me, they didn’t turn their backs on the genre after the explosion of the 80’s.  They are also unique in the fact that they were there in the 80’s, but arn’t stuck in them….they don’t hate on what the modern bands are doing.  Some of these guys prefer death/grind, some are experts in black metal, some listen to nothing but stoner/doom and there are those that still like good ol’ thrash and heavy metal.  Needless to say, these guys provided me with the essentials from all the subgenres and corners of the world and let me make my own decisions.  These decisions led me to the conclusion that I prefer good black metal first, good sludge second and good crust/hardcore third…everything else (good) being a distant fourth.  These preferences led me to Southern Lord.

Record labels are not something I usually pay much attention too.  When I was a teenager into skatepunk in San Diego, I know a lot of my CDs came from Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords and I know a lot of what I’ve been listening to over the past 10 years would wear the label of Sub Pop or 4AD or some other indie label that may or may not actually be ‘indie’.  I never bought an album based on the label and I didn’t realize a lot of the albums I had been listening to were Southern Lord until recently.   But over the past month or so, it’s been hard to ignore.  It’s almost like when you hear a word you’ve never heard before and then all of a sudden you hear it EVERYWHERE!  Or when you hear a song for the first time in years and then it seems to be playing everywhere you go!  I don’t remember what order these events happened, I just know that within a short period of time, Southern Lord seemed to have infiltrated my circle of influence and had me surrounded.

Twilight‘s second album was one of those albums that I missed out on last year, so when it showed up on everyone’s year-end list, I had to check it out. It’s been on repeat ever since and would have made my Top 10 if I had heard it sooner.  It’s a Southern Lord record.  Genji‘s first guest post for this blog was supposed to be a review of the Black Breath/Trap Them show at the Roxy.  The review never happened, but I went back and spent more time with Heavy Breathing and I’m pretty sure it would have cracked my Top 20.  It is also a Southern Lord release.  As is Trap Them‘s Filth Rations EP.  The 14-min debut album from SoCal hardcore band, Nails, was my favorite hardcore album last year…Southern Lord.  That amazing, ultra-violent All Pigs Must Die EP?  No, it’s not Southern Lord, but they just signed them.  During my interview with Chelsea Wolfe I asked her who she would like to tour with and her response was that ‘there are a lot of good bands on Southern Lord…it would be rad to tour with‘.  Adding later that she was really looking forward to the Southern Lord showcase at SXSW this year.  A few weeks ago I went to check out a Weedeater show at 3 Kings Tavern, a show in support of their new album, Jason…the Dragon, to be released on Southern Lord Records.  The opening band was Zoroaster, a stoner metal band with connections to Southern Lord.

TwilightNegative Signal Omega *
Black BreathChildren of the Horn *
Trap ThemCarnage Incarnate *
NailsSuffering Soul *

Turning a blind eye to what the universe is so blatantly trying to tell you is never a healthy choice, so I decide to immerse myself into what this label had to offer and in the process ended up discovering some great new music, rediscovering some music I hadn’t listened to in awhile and writing my first label profile for ILSUDH2.

Less than 3 months into 2011 and it’s already shaping up to be a good year.  After being delayed due to freak accidents such as Dave “Dixie” Collins shooting himself in the foot with his ‘favorite shotgun‘, Jason…the Dragon represents the return of southern sludge masters Weedeater and I can attest to the strength of this new material after seeing it performed live.   If you haven’t heard of Keith Morris‘ new hardcore project, Off!, you haven’t been paying attention.  And if you want to score a copy of  their Southern Lord limited Record Store Day 7″, Compared To What/Rotten Apple, you better show up early!  Sunn O))) is curating/headlining the Roadburn Event at The 013 Venue in Holland on April 15th with an allstar line-up of Earth, Trap Them, The Secret, Winter, Corrosion of Conformity and new Southern Lord band, Summon The Crows.   This summer will also bring debut hardcore albums from All Pigs Must Die and Ireland’s Drainland .

WeedeaterMancoon *
The Secret - Double Slaughter *

It looks like I won’t be getting away from Southern Lord any time soon and I suggest you invite them into your circle as well!

A Conversation with Greg Anderson:

On March 22th, 2011 we spoke with Greg Anderson about Southern Lord, Sunn O))), being accused of catering to hipsters, blogs and the Internet in general.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, I know it’s a busy week with SXSW and all.

I know you have quite a few bands out there in Austin this week, including the latest hardcore addition to the family.  Can you describe for me the process for discovering and signing new bands such as All Pigs Must Die?

The last year or so I’ve actually been following quite a few different online blogs that post a lot of underground stuff or demos.  I don’t know exactly how All Pigs Must Die came about but it could’ve been through there.  It might have also been that I just read about them somewhere.  They recorded the record at GodCity with Kurt Ballou, who’s someone we’ve done a lot of stuff with lately.  I really like his work.  Also the fact that the drummer for Converge was in the band was probably something that stood out for me and made me take notice.  The other thing I thought was really cool was that they self-released their own 12” instead of coming out with a demo, CD-R or just shopping it around.  They just kinda took matters into their own hands and went ahead and did a 12” and that’s pretty risky.  It shows a lot of courage to do that.  There’s been a few bands that have done that, actually Black Breath was the same type of situation.  They actually sent me the 12” in the mail…said basically ‘this is our first recording, it’s a demo I guess, but we’ve decided to put it on 12”’. That’s something in particular about All Pigs Must Die that stood out to me.  I really like working with bands that are not afraid to get their hands dirty and work hard.  It kinda shows me that if we were gonna work together, they’re gonna be out there promoting themselves and working hard and not just sitting back and expecting someone else to do all the work.  Those just really aren’t the kinda bands we’re looking to work with.  It just wouldn’t benefit anybody.  Both parties have to be involved and be excited about what they’re doing, you know what I mean?

Absolutely.  And that answers the question about what attracts you to certain bands, so I guess the next question would be what makes certain bands attracted to Southern Lord?

Well, I think we have a pretty strong reputation.  We have an incredible catalogue of releases that we’ve been fortunate to put out over the years. I think that a lot of newer bands that I’ve approached or talked to are familiar with the label and they like a lot of the bands that we’ve worked with. We’ve worked with a lot legendary artists…from Saint Vitus to Earth.  I think people understand that it’s not just some fly-by-night label.  I think it’s obvious by the stuff we’re putting out that we’re not just following some trend, it really is based on what we’re truly into and an intense passion for music.  For some bands or some musicians, the fact that the label is run by musicians is also appealing.  You know, I play music too.  I play in Sunn O))) and Goatsnake and I think artist run labels have an advantage in a lot of ways over non-artist run labels because they can empathize with the bands.  They know what bands go through to do what they do.  Somebody who doesn’t play music or isn’t an artist or hasn’t played in a band doesn’t understand the sacrifices or the hard work that goes into that.  Of course a lot of the choices we make are business driven and we have to make money and have to keep the lights on, but the artist’s and the band’s needs come first.  It’s more of a priority than it is on a lot of non-artist driven labels.

That’s very understandable.  And as an artist, what was your motivation in the beginning?  Besides getting your own music out there, what drove you to want to release other people’s music?

In the beginning there were basically two records that I had been involved in.  One was Thorr’s Hammer and one was Burning Witch.  We really just wanted to get those records out there and documented.  The bands didn’t exist anymore, but we thought the recordings were good and we wanted people to hear them.  So it kinda started as a means to get those two albums released.  The response from that was real positive and a few other things just kinda fell into place.  We got a chance to work with some other really great artists in the very beginning.  The next release was a compilation of rare and unreleased songs by The Obsessed, which were a big influence and an important band for me.  Then it was an Electric Wizard release that we got to do.  So it just started snowballing.  We put out a few things and it started gaining momentum and we just kept going…kept doing it.  For me, I just really enjoy sharing music with other people and turning other people onto music that I like or that I think is important, so that’s kinda the motivation.  There’s some great music out there, especially these days.  I think there’s more great music than ever, but there’s more terrible music than ever.  There are so many people involved in making music and a lot of it is not good.  So for me, it’s like we’re on a mission to expose some of the stuff that we think is worthwhile and put it out there for people to hear.  It is difficult to do these days because there is just so much out there.  There’s a lot a competition, but I think we’ve built a strong foundation over the years with quality releases and quality packaging.  You can tell it’s not just something that’s there to make a quick buck or follow some trend.  We’ve been around for a long time now and I think people can sense that.

Great, that kind of answered my next question, which was essentially, in this ‘download’ age of instant hype and immediate gratification, how can you explain the success of a label that continues to release on vinyl.  20 min+ tracks on vinyl no less.  It sounds like your answer to that is ‘putting out quality work, making a name for yourself and setting expectations for what people are getting when they buy from Southern Lord’.  So I guess that leads us into the next question…

Southern Lord is known for the packaging and artwork almost as much as the music contained within.  Is that product presentation a collaborative effort between the bands and the label?  What does that design process look like?

It’s different for each album, of course.  Some bands are very proactive and some bands…not as much.  Some bands tell us exactly how they want it and give us the layout.  Black Breath, for example, those guys did their own layout for Heavy Breathing.  Some bands have a vision of exactly how they want it to be.  Other bands just supply us with a few images and then we have great designers that can put it together and hopefully create something that is close to what the band  was envisioning…or something that compliments the music the way they want it to.   For me, that’s really the important thing about releasing records.  It is very important for me to have a package or a design that compliments the music. The band has put a lot of effort and blood and sweat into making the music, so I think it needs to have a package to compliment it.  A quality package that also took some time and thought.   I hate it when there’s a great record and the packaging is just cheap..no thought put into it.  That kinda ruins it in some ways.  I think the two need to be on the same level.  And that’s what we always strive… rather than just throwing something together quickly and making it disposable.  That’s the thing [with packaging today], it can be viewed as pretty disposable.  I’d like to at least try to make something that people are gonna value and hold onto.  It’s gonna mean something…

Agreed.  The shelf life of CDs is definitely not going to be what is has been for vinyl.

So you talk about being an artist [vs. a businessman] yourself and I read somewhere that when you started the label you were figuring out how to run a business on the fly.   I have also seen on the forums, etc that you have had some growing pains with the mail-order process, etc.  It sounds like that has been fixed over the past year or so, but other than that, what’s been the hardest thing about running a label?  And what are the most positive things over the past 14 years?

Well, I think the hardest thing is juggling the money, the cash flow, because it really fluctuates.  Especially over the last couple years.  It’s been a really difficult challenge because the market for music, the physical retail, has been shrinking.  So trying to figure out ways to make up for it and keep the lights on and keep your employees happy…it’s a big challenge.  We’ve embraced the digital side of things.  Our releases are available everywhere.  We just released our own digital store as well, directly from the label.  That’s helping make up for some of the decline of physical CD sales.  Vinyl has exploded over the last couple years, so that’s great.  That’s really exciting to me because it’s my favorite format. That’s what I prefer to listen to.  It’s just such a great documentation of a record….the vinyl version.  And of course, it’s not disposable.  But they are so expensive to make.  Your margin on those is unfortunately small.  So yeah, I’d just say cash flow. Juggling the money and trying to make quality records on small budgets.  That’s the other thing, when we send a band into the studio we really want to them to come out with the best possible recording and sometimes that takes a lot of money.  [Money] we don’t always have laying around.

As far as successes, I mean, I think our catalogue speaks volumes.  The fact that we’ve been able to work with so many amazing artists over the years.  Whether it’s Dave Grohl when we did the Probot record or working with Wino through all his various projects …The Hidden Hand, Saint Vitus, Place of Skulls…  The Obsessed of course.

Looking forward there’s a lot of great artists that we are working with now.  Working with Pelican is great.  Wolves in the Throne Room are an amazing newer band that I think are doing exciting stuff.  People are really connecting with them.  In a couple weeks we are gonna release a 7” from Off!., whose singer is Keith Morris from Black Flag, one of my favorite bands of all time!  And I think [Off!] are a really exciting band.  What I think is so cool about them is that they’re older guys, especially Keith, he’s in his 50’s and he’s gotta band now that is as valid and as intense as Black Flag and Circle Jerks…if not more.  It’s amazing  and really sort of an inspiration. I hope that I when I get to be that age, I’m still raging in that way, you know? (laughs)

You know, to me the biggest success is to work with incredibly talented artists.  Just to be a part of it.  To turn people on to what they are doing.

Awesome.  Really looking forward to that Off!  release, I couldn’t agree more with what you have to say about them.

So, what are you listening to right now?  What’s on your playlist or turntable?

What am I listening to?  There’s a couple releases that we have coming out…up and coming…All Pigs Must Die has been in heavy rotation.  The Secret, that record we released last year, has been in heavy rotation.  There’s a couple new things, this band called Drainland from Ireland…really great band.  A band called Acephalix that we’re also doing a release by.  I’ve been listening to the new Earth recordings that we came out with in February, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 and then there’s a second part too that was just mastered, so I’ve been listening to that.  That’ll be coming out sometime by the end of the year.

Yeah, I’m just really excited about new music these days, like over the last year or so.  There’s been a kind of resurgence for me.  I’m actually searching out stuff through different blogs or different friends who know what I’m into or what I like.  The exchange of information reminds me of when I was a kid trading tapes with people through the mail.  You know, you’d get a couple cool demos you’d want to turn on to your friend that lived in Omaha, Nebraska, the one you traded tapes with… I’ve got a group of friends now and that’s what we do.  It’s like ‘oh, have you heard this band’ but its all through the Internet now.  ‘Check out this MySpace or check out this blog’.  It’s kind of exciting for me, you know, it reminds me of my youth and that enthusiasm that I had for listening to new music.  I’m feeling that again.

Absolutely.  I have noticed a resurgence in extreme music as well.

I grew up a metalhead in the 80’s and kinda went another direction in the 90’s…into punk, skatepunk and then indie rock through the next couple decades.  Now I am just getting back into extreme music and I am noticing a backlash against this transition, especially against people who do not have a metal background of any kind.  The ‘hipsters are ruining metal’ sort of mentality.  Some of these critics credit Southern Lord with catering to this hipster crowd.  How would you respond to those types of accusations?

I don’t see how people would think that we would be catering to it. That’s kinda absurd.  We definitely don’t cater to any specific audience other than just people who enjoy music.  Yeah, I don’t know, the whole hipster thing, I really don’t know.  It’s not even really worth my time to go into.  I just think people are gonna have some beef with each other.  It’s just strange. I don’t pay attention to any trends or anything like that.  It’s just the way it’s always been since I got into this music.  To me that’s one of the ideals of underground music or punk rock music or hardcore music or metal.  [Hipters] are the kinda people in high school that we really didn’t get along with, we were different from [them].  The popular crowd or whatever.  We just did our own thing and didn’t really pay attention to trends or anything like that.  It wasn’t about that.  I kinda think sometimes a new movement in music can be considered a trend, but I think it’s exciting if you look at from the overview of a new style or new genre of music coming about.  I’m sure [the new music] might have its peak in popularity and might get some backlash or whatever, but I think it’s just exciting for music.  Music evolves and devolves.  I just like music.  I don’t care about trends or what the name of the genre is.  That’s not important to me.

I have to say I’m right there with you on that.

Genre names aside, Sunn O))) is completely different from the bands you were in before.  Sunn O))) also creates pretty polarizing music. There are people who really get it and there are a lot of people who really don’t get it.  There are not many people in between.   How would you describe Sunn O)))’s music to someone who doesn’t get it?  Or hasn’t heard it?  Preferably without using words like ‘drone’ or ‘doom’.  How would you verbalize what you are doing with that band?

When someone asks me what kind of music it is, I just say it’s ‘an experiment with tone and sound’.  That’s pretty general and a lot people will ask ‘well, what does that mean?’ (laughs).  I don’t really like to personally pinpoint it into one specific genre.  I think that’s limiting.  Yeah, I just think it’s an experimental…it’s a group that experiments with sound and tone.

Is the live setting the best setting to experience this experiment?

It could be.  I wouldn’t want to make that statement just because I think that the recordings that we’ve made are really special and they are important to the story of the group and to the progression or regression of the group.  We spend a lot of time on our records…from the process of creating the music to recording the music to releasing the music and then the packaging that goes along it, there’s a lot of time and effort that’s gone into it.  So I don’t think one is more important than the other.  They’re all part of the puzzle that comes together to create the overall picture.

The live stuff is really important because it’s really a chance for people to actually physically experience what we are doing.  [The thing about] the recordings [is that] we can’t control the way people are listening to them and what kind of sound system they’re listening to them on or what sort of environment they are listening to them in.  I think a lot of the times people are listening to them on tiny earbuds or through computer speakers and unfortunately, that doesn’t really reproduce the phonics of the recording properly.  When it’s live, we have the control over how it’s going to sound and how it’s presented.  The sound becomes very physical and you can feel it.  It’s vibrating, you know?  You are not going to be able to do that with a recording.  But the recordings to me are really important…to give us a chance to document where the group is at or what we’ve created.  A document of where we are going.  Or just a document of that particular chemistry and collaboration at that moment.  Sometimes that’ll never happen again…often times.  The group is loosely based off improvisation…it can change each time we get together, whether it’s live or in the studio.  It changes.  It’s constantly changing.

Speaking of that collaboration…is Stephen O’Malley still involved with the label?  Or do you guys just continue to work together on other projects?

He does some layouts for us still.  That’s always been his involvement with the label, besides being in some of the music that’s been released, of course.  A lot of the music that’s been released.  He’s also done a lot of the graphics.  Over the last six months or so he’s sort of focused more on other music that he’s making and other groups he’s working with and he’s had less and less time to do layouts.  There are releases coming out this year that he’s been involved with though.

Thanks for clearing that up.

So, Goatsnake reunited last year if I’m not mistaken…any chance of a Burning Witch or Thorr’s Hammer reunion?

Thorr’s Hammer played last year at Roadburn, with Goatsnake actually.  That was a lot of fun.  That was Stephen and I’s first group together…a lot of memories.  It was very sentimental playing with those guys.  It was really a fun band.  We might do some stuff in the future, I don’t know. Unfortunately everyone lives far away.  The singer, Runhild, lives in Oslo in Norway, the drummer lives in Tennessee, I live in Los Angeles, Stephen lives in Paris and the bass player we were working with, who also plays in Goatsnake, lives in Amsterdam…so it’s kinda difficult.

Burning Witch, as far as I know, will never happen. There’s unfortunately some beef (laughs) between some of the members, so I don’t think they’re ever gonna pull it together to do stuff.  The thing that was interesting about them is that each person’s mindset was very different.  It’s actually somewhat of a miracle that the recordings were made.  Each person had a totally different way of thinking than the next person.  The fact that they were able to get on the same page and make those recordings, which I thought were incredible recordings, is really amazing.  It’s been about 10-11 years since they’ve played together and I think that everyone just kinda went in really different directions…

Do you keep track or keep in touch with any of the other bands that have since ceased to exist?  Like Warhorse or Craft.  Any clue what they are up to these days?

Yeah, we talked about doing a reissue of the Warhorse material with those guys.  But it just kinda…one of the guys had a kid or two so it kinda fell by the wayside (laughs).  I am still friendly with those guys for sure; I just don’t think they’re doing much musically these days.

Craft have a new record coming out and Southern Lord will possibly release it.  They’ve undergone some line-up changes but I heard the record and it’s great.  Whether we were put it out or not, it’s gonna be great.  They are one of the greats.  One of my favorite bands.   Probably one of my top three black metal bands.  Really, really great stuff.  Cool songwriting and great riffs.

Awesome!  That’s great to hear they’re coming out with a new release, looking forward to hearing that.

So, thanks a lot Greg, that’s pretty much all I had for you today.

Top 10 ‘Classic’ Southern Lord Albums:

One of the ‘crew of seasoned vets’ I mentioned earlier is Genji, from L.A. He has been a fan of Southern Lord for quite some time, so I want to turn it over to him to share his story and review the ‘classic’ albums.

Back in the day, seeing any record released on metal labels like Megaforce, Combat, Noise, Music for Nations, Metal Blade, etc, would be enough to send me running to the record store to spend my hard earned cash.  Rarely did any of these albums disappoint.  However as the 80’s disappeared and the 90’s came along, metal here in the states started to die with the oncoming of grunge and alternative music.  So during the mid to late 90’s I took a small “sabbatical” from metal, mostly hanging onto any bands that dared to carry on in the desolate wasteland.  Towards the end of that decade, as the internet started to become an integral part of life, I slowly started to become aware of all the different underground scenes that had been keeping the metal torch lit for some time over in Europe and elsewhere.  Lo and behold, metal started to seep back into my consciousness once again and as I began to re-acquaint myself with it, consuming vast amounts of bands I’d been missing out on, I once again started to become familiar with record labels that would help reshape my tastes in this brave new metal world.  For me, Southern Lord was THE first label that helped me “rediscover” metal all over again and in my opinion, set the standard by which all great metal labels should aspire to.  Below is a list of my favorite and influential releases from the mighty Lord….

Probot – Probot (SL30, 2004)

In late 2002 I’d started to hear rumblings about a new project that Foo Fighter‘s Dave Grohl was working on, a metal album he was writing with the biggest underground metal frontmen from the 80’s doing one song apiece.  Back then I was just getting my metal groove back on and I couldn’t wait to hear all my faves from my youth doing new material, so when it was finally released in 2004, I remember heading straight to the record store the day it was released to pick up the album, like I did when I was a kid. When I saw the cover art done by Away from VoiVod, I knew I was in for a treat.  The record was fantastic, Cronos, King Diamond, Snake, Tom Warrior…, the list just got better and better and the songs were awesome, but what I remember most was wondering who could be responsible for releasing such a great album.  It was the first time I had heard of Southern Lord and that day a new fan was born….

ProbotMy Tortured Soul *

Thorr’s Hammer – Dommedagsnatt (SL01, 1998)

The first ever release from Southern Lord was a crushing slab of epic doom metal.  It’s slow, droning riffs mesmerized me and gave me an early taste of what would become one of my favorite styles of metal, doom.  But even more so, this ep also introduced me to something I had never heard before, female “cookie” vocals.  Runhild Gammelsaeter‘s vocal performance was not only among the finest unearthly, death growls ever put down on tape, it served notice to the metal world that females could do this as good or better than their male counterparts.  Dommedagsnatt opened my eyes to just how far metal had progressed in so many different ways, all for the better, and I can’t stress enough just how much of an effect this release had on me or how much it would shape my future tastes in doom and metal in general.

Thorr’s HammerNorge *

Twilight – Twilight (SL47, 2005)

My outlook on Black Metal, whether it was first wave or second wave was always that it was done the best by the Europeans.  It was just this kind of narrow minded thinking that had me wondering what exactly my black metal brothers in the US could do that might possibly compare.  So when I heard about this US black metal “supergroup”, I had to hear what the fuss was all about.  Upon my first listen I was stunned.  This was bleak, misanthropic black metal of the highest (or lowest) quality, from the US no less.  From the first track, Woe is the Contagion, I felt like I was grabbed and thrown into a dark, hellish world from which there was no escape.  And as I crawled across this black landscape I realized that what I was hearing was the birth of a whole new, fresh, exciting take on black metal that I was proud of and ready to embrace whole heartedly.  The Black Metal world as I knew it, would never be the same from here on out, and for me this album was my catalyst.

Twilight - Woe Is The Contagion *

Boris – Pink (SL55, 2005)

Some say that Boris are more of an indie-rock band and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them.  But it’s the elements and the approach they take on Pink that to me, make them more “metal” than “indie”.  Earlier releases like Amplifier Worship were exercises in heavy, ambient, droning music, a perfect ingredient for early Southern Lord bands, but with Pink they took that heavy, uber-distorted approach,  and picked up the pace, gave their songs a raw, rock structure and ended up with a brilliant “metal” album.  I remember seeing a shirt of theirs where they took Venom‘s Welcome to Hell cover and put their name on it, and it soon dawned on me that this was really the approach they took.  Taking their raw, heavy, noise and adding attitude, they bashed out some great tunes that made it more metal than anything.  Boris were always a band that didn’t quite seem to fit the metal mold, but there’s no denying they’re absolutely a Southern Lord band and Pink had as much to do with changing my perception of what metal was as any other record I’ve listened to since.

BorisFarewell *

Craft – Fuck the Universe (SL54, 2006)

Fuck The Universe is one of my favorite black metal albums ever, that seemingly no one’s ever heard of.  This Swedish outfit were only around for about 6 years, but I felt they, along with countrymates Watain, were seriously worthy of donning the black metal heavyweight crown previously only reserved for their Norwegian counterparts.  Full of cold, bleak, misanthropic lyrics and containing scores of sweeping, melodic riffs mixed with driving, mid-paced dirty black n roll breakdowns, this album became a bittersweet swansong rather than the second coming of armageddon.  With better production than typical lo-fi “true” black metal albums, songs like Thorns in the Planet’s Side and Fuck the Universe absolutely blew me away with their sheer heaviness and sound and I was positive Craft were destined to be inscribed in the black book of death.  Instead they were sucked into the violent vortex of black metal history, but despite that, this still remains one of my favorite black metal and Southern Lord releases.  Not only did they know doom, drone and sludge, Southern Lord knew their black metal as well and at this point I was fully on board the bandwagon.

Craft - Earth A Raging Blaze *

Burning Witch – Crippled Lucifer (Seven Psalms for our Lord of Light) (SL02, 1998)

Horrific…, Depraved…, Disturbing…, Insane….  All these descriptions do not even begin to describe this miasmic orgy of filth-ridden doom that is Crippled Lucifer.  Born from the ashes of Thorr’s HammerBurning Witch left their hellish imprint on me when I really started to dig deep into the world of Southern Lord.  The re-issue is actually composed of the only two releases Burning Witch ever did, the Towers ep. and Rift. Canyon. Dreams. ep and I’ll warn you now, this is by no means an easy listen.  From the moment you take the plunge, you’re instantly cast into the darkest, murkiest pits of madness and despair.  It grabs you by the throat, drags you further down into the bowels of hell at a creeping, crawling pace while yours ears bleed from this blistering, cacophonous sonic assault.

It’s one of the most terrifying listens you’ll ever experience, one I’m sure you’ll question before ever taking again, but Crippled Lucifer will always hold a special place with me for being just that, one of the most extreme listens I’ve ever heard, thank you Burning Witch and Southern Lord.

Burning WitchHistory of Hell *

Warhorse – As Heaven Turns to Ash (SL09, 2001)

When it comes to the best bone crushing slabs of pure doom, Warhorse’s As Heaven Turns to Ash immediately comes to mind.  Unfortunately this was to be their only official full length, but what a stunning debut it was.  Mixing soft breakdowns and acoustic instrumental interludes like Dusk, Amber Vial, and Dawn between thundering, earth shattering crushers like Doom’s Bride, Lysergic Communion and Black Acid Prophecy further accentuates the heaviness, all the while bludgeoning the listener with riff after suffocating riff.  I like to think of this as the american counterpart to Electric Wizard‘s Dopethrone, it’s just a shame that such a monstrous sound went extinct, like the mighty dinosaurs who once roamed these lands….

Sourvein – Will to Mangle (SL20, 2002)

Crawling out of the sludge infested breeding grounds of North Carolina came one of my favorite bands, Sourvein.  In 2002 they released the brilliant Will to Mangle for Southern Lord which after hearing it, had me dragging every southern swamp for as much sludge as I could lay my hands on.  The filthy rotten riffs churned out by immortal rock goddess Liz Buckingham, combined with the glass gargling, throat shredding vocals from T-Roy Medlin absolutely destroys all in it’s path with sick hitters like Bangleaf, Black Zorlac and Seamerchant.  This release would create an insatiable hunger in me for all things sludgy, dirty, doomy and I can’t thank Sourvein enough for that.

Goatsnake – 1 + Dog Days (SL34, 2004)

Goatsnake was the other band Southern Lord owner Greg Anderson formed after Burning Witch and they were more in the “stoner doom” vein than the Witch.  Though many point to Flower of Disease as their best release, it was this re-release that  listened to the most when I started listening to all things Southern Lord.  The thing I liked most about this band were the Chris Cornell-like vocals of singer Pete Stahl.  Laid over heavier, more Sabbath-like riffs, tracks like groove heavy Slippin the Stealth, Trower or Long Gone to the doom stomp of IV and the bluesy Man of Light all had me banging my head incessantly.  Although not my first foray into the stoner doom realm, Goatsnake were a band that also were gone before they had a chance to do some serious damage, but I always think of them whenever I think of great Southern Lord bands.

Lair of the Minotaur – The Ultimate Destroyer (SL56, 2006)

Maybe not one of the essential Southern Lord releases, The Ultimate Destroyer by Lair of the Minotaur was one of my favorites, and is an album that I will always hold in high regard.  It’s jagged, barbaric arrangements and brutal, pounding riffs remind me of a simpler time when metal was all about chaos and mayhem.  It’s not black, death, doom or prog, just pure, balls out metal.  When punishing tunes like Behead the Gorgon, Lord of Butchery and The Ultimate Destroyer rip through the speakers, I can’t help but bang my head and crank out my air guitar like I did when I was 14.  With all the different genres and sub-genres of metal coming at me so quickly at the time, I found this album a nice retreat back to the basics, one that to this day, reminds me of what metal is all about in the first place, and keeps me searching for bands that play straight metal, just for the sake of it.

Lair of the MinotaurCannibal Massacre *

Current Southern Lord Release Sampler:

Now that you know the history of Southern Lord, have heard from Greg Anderson and taken a trek through the ‘classic’ releases by Genji, it’s time to delve into some current material.  Here is a 5 album sampler of what Southern Lord sounds like today. I have chosen albums from the past 18 months and have included an album each from the black metal, crust, post-rock, hardcore and sludge subgenres.

Twilight – Monument To Time End (SL113, 2010)

The sophomore release from the regrettably named usbm group steps up the production and the aggression to create the modern black metal masterpiece that they just fell short of in 2005.  The second incarnation of the band is a who’s-who of American metallers, featuring Blake Judd (Nachtmystium) and Neill Jameson (Kreig, N.I.L.) on bass and vocals, Aaron Turner (Isis) and Stavros Giannopolous (The Atlas Moth) on guitars and Jef Whitehead (Leviathan, Lurker Of Chalice) primarily on drums.  If you want to know what’s happening in the usbm scene today, this is your introduction.

TwilightNegative Signal Omega *

Black Breath – Heavy Breathing (SL114, 2010)

I’m a huge fan of ‘scary’ horror movies.  Not violent, bloody, chop ‘em up flicks, but actual ‘scary’ movies.  The kind that are subtle and believable.  The Shining is one of the films that comes to mind.  The art for Black Breath‘s debut full length is subtle, and scary as shit!  But don’t let the cover fool you, there is nothing subtle about the tracks buried inside.  If these songs were to soundtrack a scene in Kubrick‘s interpretation of the Stephen King classic, it would be the part when Jack busts through the door with a fucking axe!  Black Breath might be from the Pacific Northwest, but their crusty, in-your-face hardcore style sounds like it comes from the swamps of Louisiana…or anywhere else you might find a family of cannibals wearing masks made from the flesh of teenage hitchhikers.

Black BreathChildren of the Horn *

Nails – Unsilent Death (SL127, 2010)

The town I grew up in had working railroad tracks.  Freight trains blasted through my backyard multiple times every day and night.  The sound became so familiar that when I moved to San Diego, I had a hard time falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the ocean.  I’m not sure where the guys in Nails grew up, but it seems the sounds of waves lapping against the beach weren’t doing it for them either.  They bring the freight trains of my past to Southern California and run them right through your skull.  I heard rumours that if you lay on the tracks perfectly still, a train can pass over you without harm.  Luckily enough I never knew anyone stupid enough to try this stunt, but I imagine if I did, it would sound something like the 14-mins of pure grinding, hardcore chaos on Unsilent Death.

Nails - Suffering Soul *

Weedeater – Jason…the Dragon (SL129, 2011)

If I hadn’t seen these guys live, I don’t think I could be recommending this album.  There are a lot of themes, names, lyrics and imagery I don’t agree with when it comes to metal.  I don’t find it offensive, I just find it somewhat childish at times.   But I can get past all the make-up wearing, D&D playing, Tolkien-worshiping grown men because I love the music.  But a band sharing a name with a brand of lawnmowers and using lame ‘play on words’  album titles (God Luck and Good Speed, Jason…the Dragon, …And Justice for Y’all) is something beyond my ability to overlook.  Or is it?  I didn’t want to like Weedeater, but I couldn’t help it.  Despite their name, this band from North Carolina are much less stoner rock than they are sludge.  If the definition of sludge is ‘slow tempos, heavy rhythms and dark, pessimistic atmosphere of doom metal with the aggression, shouted vocals and occasional fast tempos of hardcore punk‘, then add some ‘dirty south‘ to it and these guys are that definition personified.  On Jason…the Dragon, Weedeater load up an F350 with a 1000 pounds of southern rock, a couple tons of sludge, a bottle of Jim Beam and a bong…and they use that truck to run your ass down!  You can make fun of titles like Turkey Warlock and March of the Bipolar Bear all you want, but it’s kinda hard to laugh when you’re flat on your back in the middle of I-94, coughing up blood with tire tracks across your head.

WeedeaterMancoon *

Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 (SL128, 2011)

The first half of the Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light is what happens when Dylan Carlson immerses himself in the music of Pentangle and Fairport Convention.  But don’t worry, this isn’t a folk album…well, not really. It’s also not a metal album; not an album to put on at a party and not an album to kick-start your day.  This is the album you put on when you need a break from everything else you have read about here.  This is an album to go to sleep to.  Put your headphones on, lay back and let Carlson’s infinite riffs and Lori Goldston’s cello sooth the savage beast.  These five tracks really are the Angels of Darkness.

EarthFather Midnight *

* All mp3s are for evaluation only, so if you like what you hear, go buy it!  Or better yet, buy it at a live show!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to Doom to Drone to Diversity: A Profile of Los Angeles Extreme Experimental Label, Southern Lord Records

  1. Mike Scarola on March 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Great post. I can relate to your death of metal back in the late 80’s early 90’s statement. I definitely switch gears to the Punk side of the house back then too. “Metal as an identity had been reduced to kids in Killers t-shirts who couldn’t tell you who Paul Di’Anno was”… That pretty muted summed it up for me too. Well put. And I love that Probot album too. Good stuff



Music