Photo by Andrew Craig
“You should see this, you are in the War Room after all,” says Panzerfaust guitarist/vocalist Brock “Kaizer” Van Dijk as he hands me a human skull.
I’m standing with the band in their jam room/bar/living quarters, decorated by the spoils from 15 years of being Toronto’s black metal workhorse. From humble beginnings playing suburban sports bars in full corpse-paint, to artful and impactful performances on international stages, the band has amassed an interesting collection of memorabilia. But let’s come back to that.
When Panzerfaust started, like most bands, they were a bit rough. It was the support of the local metal scene, and near-constant gigging, that helped them cut their teeth as musicians and form the foundation of what would become their current sound and image.
“We’ve been around for quite some time so, we’ve had to go through the experience of doing shit that you may find embarrassing if you look back on it today” says Van Dijk, smirking.
“You make all the critical errors, the elementary mistakes you make when you’re a band starting out. It’s important to mention this; we were teenagers when we started the band. A teenager knows, sweet fuck all about what they’re writing. Find me one and I’ll tell ya, ‘try again later.’”
Panzerfaust 2020 features founding members Van Dijk and vocalist Goliath, along with bassist Thomas Gervais and drummer Alex Kartashov, both of whom have been on board since last year. The band’s early work was steeped in old-school, raw black metal. It’s since changed into an intricate and progressive take on the genre, while still showing their roots in the origins of the sound. Naturally, their live shows have evolved along with their music. A hooded and menacing Goliath towers over the audience from a pulpit in the middle of stage, accentuated by the band’s layered sonic barrage. These changes have led to increased exposure internationally, and even a few more fans at home. Looking back, Van Dijk credits perseverance and practice for leading the band to their present incarnation.
“(It was) probably about 10 years into it,” he says after some thought.
“I’m a pretty firm believer that, any kind of practitioner of any kind of trade, it takes about 10 years to really figure out what it is you’re doing. Especially when it pertains to creative work. I think before we released The Lucifer Principle EP (in 2016), that’s when I think the proverbial ‘click’ in my mind happened.”
This musical progression has now led to their new album, The Suns of Perdition II: Render Unto Eden, out tomorrow, Friday August 28th on German label Eisenwald. Musically, the album is undoubtedly their most creative and varied, exploring different levels of sound and intensity across 5 sprawling tracks. It’s neither the clean bombast of popular black metal, nor the wall of noise that’s come to represent so many modern acts. Instead, Panzerfaust have established their own sound.
“This (album) is probably the most, for lack of a better word, experimental,” says Van Dijk.
“I think there’s a lot more dimensions involved with the writing of the music. We just realized the range of what we could do was so much more vast than anything we’d ever done before. For what reason that is I’m not sure. I think I’d probably attribute that partly to the fact that we have a new lineup, a more engaged lineup. There’s a lot more fleshing out of ideas. Sometimes nothing happens, but sometimes everything happens. The only real crime as a creative person is to be insincere. Everything else is arbitrary. Everyone can have disagreements or agreements about their appreciation of the material, or lack thereof. As long as you do it with sincerity and conviction, everything is out of your control. Black metal shouldn’t be restricted by the sound of it so much, as it is kind of a spirit. It’s an approach to music. It’s supposed to not be immediately digestible.”
Render Unto Eden is the second of a four-part historical album series following War, Horrid War in 2019. Generally speaking when playing extreme metal, it can be difficult to get a message across. In terms of writing about history, I wondered what Van Dijk’s expectations are for the audience to interpret the lyrics outside of experiencing the music.
“You’re not writing it for anybody else,” he says bluntly.
“But surely it’s nice when someone takes the time to read through it. In this band we’re all readers of books. You read a book a second time you get a lot more out of it. Imagine you do that a third and fourth time, you’re going to get more and more. You shouldn’t expect everyone to understand every nuance or subtlety of anything they’re listening to or reading. You just hope that maybe people will read it and it will make them think, and maybe think differently. For me personally, I like words. I like reading, I like seeing the words on the page.”
L to R: Thomas Gervais (bass), Goliath (vocals), Brock "Kaizer" Van Dijk (guitar/vocals)
Photo by Andrew Craig
In some of my previous At Home interviews, I’ve spoken about how many of our most talented homegrown artists have much larger followings outside of Canada. I would say that this goes double for underground metal bands, and in the last decade many of the most notable acts have been from Toronto. Bands like Skull Fist, Crimson Shadows, and Operus have all gained significant international fanbases. Panzerfaust have already toured the U.S, and appeared at Norway’s most famous heavy gathering, the Inferno Metal Festival. As far as Canadian black metal goes, it’s difficult to argue that they’ve become our biggest representative.
“I think the sphere we were operating in was kind of hindering our ability to expand in the direction that we probably should have long before,” says Van Dijk.
“You go to Europe there’s just more of a foundation for metal support. I think (metal) is more ‘artistically accepted’ there as a legitimate form of expression. It’s hard to put the United States in just one compartment, cause it’s such a big country and every city is so different. It’s not just one monolithic block. California is not Kentucky, and Oregon is not Florida, and Texas is not Rhode Island, right? Of course we’d like to play everywhere. You see festivals happening in Indonesia or India, for example. Which I think is great. It’s fantastic that music of this kind is opening up to areas of the world where it may not have been socially acceptable to have it played.”
Panzerfaust has returned to the U.S. as recently as 2018, and so Van Dijk’s observations about the cultural differences across the country come from first hand experience. Their 2014 American tour was particularly memorable for their well-documented photo-op, pissing on the headquarters of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church.
“All of the most nefarious parts of the American spirit have taken over,” he says.
“I’ve travelled the United States extensively, and I’ve met some of the best people. It’s one of the most fascinating countries in the world. You go across the American frontier it’s just an amazing place. A lot of these southern states, who are what you’d call your Trump-base, I’ve met many people there who couldn’t be nicer. Here’s the thing; you’re at someone’s polite dinner, and someone just drops a racial remark out of the blue. It’s very bizarre but the smile stays on their face. It makes most thinking people feel uncomfortable.”
The American and European touring has paid off for the band. Their live show is undeniably memorable, and perhaps the most significant aspect of that is Goliath. The band doesn’t really have a “frontman.” Goliath shares vocal duties with Van Dijk, and the audience isn’t addressed. With his face covered, Goliath’s echoing bellows take on what can only be described as a nightmarish quality. His development as a vocalist was fueled early on by a high school music teacher who bristled at his metal aspirations.
“He was very ‘by the book,’” says Goliath with a wry smile.
“I think with us, our mentality is, there are no boundaries. Creativity is all over the place, and that’s how it is. There’s no ‘you have to follow this rule to write this song, or you have to follow this rule to sing this way.’ With the attitude that I had, I wasn’t interested in learning theory in music at that point, and I wasn’t interested in learning classical compositions. I wanted to learn how to develop what I wanted to be as an artist. That was definitely a drive for a long time, still kind of is. Looking back, there’s still a part of me, if I could see some of those people, I would love to see the look on their faces.”
Photo by Samantha Carcasole
But let’s go back to the human skull for a moment. It sits on a shelf accompanied by trophies from the band’s penchant for what one might call, “shenanigans.” What I’m saying is that their personalities couldn’t be farther from the intensity of their music. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun-loving bunch on tour. For the most part, they keep their antics completely separate from their image as a band. The major exception is when they attracted criticism for their tour/t-shirt slogan, “This Is Not a Fucking Safe Space,” admittedly some of it from myself. I felt it was artistically distracting from their music, and gave more of a voice to the same people they were making fun of. Ultimately it didn’t seem to represent who they are as a band, or as people, and it’s something we still argue about at times.
“I’m actually still quite proud of that to be honest with you,” says Van Dijk.
“Our music isn’t supposed to be safe, it’s not even necessarily meant to be liberating. (But) we would never sanction the physical harm of any person for voicing an opinion, ever. Quite to the contrary.”
“If it ever came down to something like that, we would get involved,” says Goliath severely. Van Dijk nods emphatically and resumes speaking.
“I think all free-thinking people should be anti-fascist by definition,” he says.
“No one wants to see some dickless moron spouting off ridiculous things in their place of business, I can totally understand that. I’d kick them out myself if it were my business. We do have the street cred of… kickin’ a few Nazi heads in! (everyone laughs) I just can’t concern myself with the sensitivities of people who may or may not be bothered by (the slogan). I see things that offend me every single day. Don’t you think you’re offended by someone being killed by a police officer? I’m offended when I see something like that. I’m offended when an act of terrorism happens in whatever stripe it is. That offends me. I don’t like the word ‘offensive,’ I think it’s a stupid word. But if everyone else is allowed to be offended, I think it gives me a little bit of right to say it offends me when I see unpardonable offences to human rights.”
Despite our differences of opinion on some issues, I’ve always found Panzerfaust to be a breath of fresh air in a genre often dominated by polarizing personalities with extreme beliefs. For me, their music is about examining both their sound and subject matter from different angles, and as such, they are on pace to set a new standard in Canadian black metal. But with what’s arguably their best work dropping amidst a global pandemic, I asked Van Dijk if this is going to affect their forward momentum. Turns out that for Panzerfaust, the shutdown has only given them more time to write new music, and they’re already looking to the future.
“In terms of the creative allowance we’ve been given, with being able to sit in this room and just make more music, we have something of an ambitious project we’ve embarked on,” he says smiling.
Panzerfaust’s new album, The Suns of Perdition II: Render Unto Eden is out tomorrow, Friday August 28th on Eisenwald. You can order your own copy here, and you can also stream the album in full below.