Interview : Author Dayal Patterson


Dayal Patterson’s book, Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult was one of my top reads for 2014 and it was an honour to interview the man behind it.

Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult presents, without a doubt, the definitive history of black metal. The mind behind the tome is Dayal Patterson, a writer, photographer and designer from the UK.

Four years in the making, Evolution of the Cult transports the reader to the beginning, to a time when the black metal beast was emerging, thrashing and snarling from the underground. The book moves through the development of black metal, digging into its subgenres, and marking off essential cultural insights along the way. It is doubtful that any other book will be able to touch Evolution of the Cult in terms of scope and accuracy.

Holding my copy of Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult.
Holding my copy of Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult.

Can you recall when you were first exposed to black metal, and the ways it changed your attitude towards music?
I first became aware of it while still at school through the exposés that Kerrang! published, but some time after that I stopped going to school regularly and began to meet slightly older guys when I was browsing in the local record shops during the day. Perhaps recognising a potential ‘acolyte’ due to my Paradise Lost/Bolt Thrower/Entombed shirts they gave and/or lent me some materials by bands including Emperor, Cradle of Filth, Gorgoroth and so on. It blew me away. Not because of the heaviness, but because it was mixing the aggression and darkness with other feelings and atmospheres that were entirely new within heavy music to me – the tranquil/meditative parts, the emphasis upon atmosphere, the suggestion of something deeper and so on.


In your own words, how would you describe Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult?
It is a (hopefully definitive) history of the formation of black metal music and culture as we know it today, a timeline examining the most important music and events via the voices of the people who made it happen.


Can you pinpoint the moment when you thought ‘I need to write a book about this subject’? Was there a defining event that encouraged the decision?
For many years my thinking was that someone needed to write a definitive book and invest some serious time capturing the real story, because increasingly people were trying to tell the story who had no business doing so. In early 2009 it became apparent to me that no one else was going to do it, so I took the plunge myself.


Was there ever a point during the writing process, and/or afterwards when the book was actually published that you were afraid of how people would react to it?
Not afraid to be honest, because I don’t worry too much about what people think (at least in that sense). But for sure I did wonder what the reaction would be, both from bands and readers. I wasn’t willing to compromise my vision so I did sort of make peace with the fact that people might react badly against it and that bands might tire of me pressing them for information during the writing process. Fortunately that didn’t happen.


How was the task of finding a publisher? Did you approach publishers with the idea, before writing?
No, that is a more sensible way to work of course, but this project was something I needed to do on some level, however much time and money it involved. Or put differently, it was a labour of love rather than a business venture so I just began working on it. I spent a couple of years on it (not non-stop obviously, I was still doing freelance work) with the idea of presenting it to a publisher down the line, or simply self-publishing it, but eventually some life events meant that the book was set aside for a bit. At some point I thought that if I was going to finish the second half I should know if and how it would be released, so I set about approaching publishers.

Thankfully Feral House were quite quick to show interest once I sent a few chapters along and your options when finding a publisher for such a niche subject is pretty limited to begin with of course, so there wasn’t much time wasted approaching people.


You established and published underground metal publication Crypt Magazine. Can you talk about the reasons you established it, and the role it played in your development as a music journalist?
Well it is the reason I am a music journalist, put simply. I never had any ambitions to write about music at all; at the time my thought was to be a photographer. In fact I was in the last months of my degree when I decided to do a zine (largely for sentimental reasons and to distract me from the dissertation) and originally I hadn’t intended to write too much of it myself. But in the end I basically did all of it myself and I ended up selling all 500 copies. So I began writing for Terrorizer as well as shooting for them and when I made the second issue of Crypt I sent it to Metal Hammer in the hope they’d review it and I could make back some of the money I’d spent on printing it. They never did review it but two days later they asked if I’d be interested in writing for them.


2005 was the year you started to write professionally. Would you say the freelance life treated you well from the start or has it been an uphill struggle?
I wouldn’t say it’s been an uphill struggle although I came into it without any expectations of making a living from it, so my situation might be a bit different to that of people who study journalism then struggle to find work. Of course it goes up and down in terms of the amount of work – some months are super busy with commissions, some are quieter. I have had the option of doing this full-time, but that would involve going into an office of a magazine full-time and I’ve chosen not to do that as I have other work (photography, design etc) that I do. Today writing accounts for over half of my income/work, but I still like to do other things as well for variety’s sake. So I can’t complain at all.


You spent four years creating Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult. Was there ever a point where you thought ‘I’m never going to get this done?’ What helped you to get through the inevitable dark days?
I think at that period when I stopped for some time there might have been doubts as to whether the project would be finished from people around me, but as far as I remember I was always confident that it would see the light of day in some form or other. And although there have been aspects of this that have been stressful and hard work, I have to say that the writing itself was no chore, I really enjoyed it. It was something I was doing for pleasure primarily.


Did you have any trouble getting musicians to recall their memories and experiences?
Tracking these guys down and persuading them to become involved was something of a challenge and actually even when they had agreed (and in some cases had even become friends) actually getting the interviews to happen was a struggle. But that said, I had expected a lot of musicians to refuse to talk about their histories after all these years, so I can only be happy with the positive response I got.


Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult has been received with phenomenal success. Did you ever envisage this kind of reaction?
No, not really. I do believe that the book is a pretty definitive work – that sounds arrogant I know, but I worked very, very hard on it and would not have bothered releasing it until I believed it represented that. But I did not expect it to reach so many people.


What would you say has been the most fulfilling part of the book creating process?
Without a doubt the writing process. Of course the good reaction is also great to see, and I have been very active in promoting it because I think if you put this many years into something you should try and get it out there. And it means a lot that the musicians involved (and others who were not directly involved but still in quality bands) have largely embraced the book. But still, the most enjoyment I got was when I was doing the interviews, discovering new information and channeling into the book.


Where do you stand on radical experimentation within black metal? Do you prefer bands to stick within a certain formula or are you nonplussed?
Black metal was always about innovation I would contend, the key bands innovated (be it Venom, Bathory, Mayhem, Thorns, Darkthrone, Master’s Hammer etc) so I think that’s a vital part of black metal. To me black metal is about that duality of experimentation and traditionalism, radicalism and conservatism. Who could have predicted some of the directions black metal has already gone in, and I’m sure there are a lot more surprises to come, new unpredictable music that is nonetheless still undeniably black metal.


Which bands have been a consistent source of inspiration for you over the years?
Well a lot of the bands I spoke to in the book I guess: Mayhem, Mysticum, Gehenna, Venom, Emperor, Thorns, Vlad Tepes, Gorgoroth, Celtic Frost, Manes, Arcturus, Belketre… the list goes on!


What are your thoughts on how the distribution of music has evolved?
That’s a tough question. Obviously the music industry is in a much worse place than it was twenty, ten, even five years ago. And that affects black metal bands as well as mainstream bands – it’s much harder to make money (or more accurately, not lose money) for bands now, and that means bands are given less time because people have to feed their families and pay their rent and so on. But of course I like the fact that you can check out any band or recording (almost), no matter how obscure, in minutes. It’s a double-edged sword.


How important is it to you to still buy and collect music?
I still do it. I buy and trade vinyl and also tapes and CDs and zines. I’m not sure if this should be important to me, but I still appreciate it for sure.


Do you have any ideas formulating for new books?
The Evolution of the Cult book represents the start of a project I think, rather than the end of it. When the book was released at new year I also issued a collection of interviews that didn’t make into the main book called Black Metal: Prelude of the Cult featuring bands such as Taake, Clandestine Blaze, Hades, Beherit, Archgoat, Skitliv and so on. And very soon I am releasing a bigger publication entitled Black Metal: Cult Never Dies which is a true extension of the project, a collection of new chapters released in instalments. The first is out in about a month and features bands that were only featured in passing in the book such as Satyricon, Vinterland, Arkona (Pol), Wardruna, Total Negation and more. The best place to find more information is to like the Facebook page and check out the announcements there.
What’s on the stereo today?
I realise this is an opportunity to name check lots of obscure bands but I will be honest instead. I’m lucky enough to be able to listen to music throughout the day so I get through quite a few albums. Current listening: Total Negation, Arkona (Pol), Vybz Kartel, Vinterland, Blasphemy, Sham 69, Russian Circles, new Mayhem album, Impaled Nazarene, Diabolical Masquerade, new Septicflesh album.


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