Fuck The Facts 2020: (L to R) Melanie Mongeon (vocals), Mathieu Vilandre (drums), Topon Das (guitar)
Photo by Anndy Negative
Ottawa’s Fuck The Facts have recently returned after a 5 year absence with a new album, Pleine Noirceur. What began as a basement tape project with an unmarketable name from guitarist/founder Topon Das, has since gone on to grab 2 Juno nominations and international recognition. All the while playing an avant-garde form of grindcore, arguably extreme metal’s most inaccessible subgenre. What sets Fuck The Facts apart sonically from many of their peers, is their ability to craft extreme metal music that effectively conveys heartfelt emotion, even if the listener doesn’t necessarily know it.
"We’re definitely not a grindcore band."
“Emotion’s a big part of the writing, I love emotional music,” says Das.
“I grew up listening to the (the 1992) Paradise Lost (album) Shades of God, early Katatonia, a lot of early doom stuff that’s not grindcore at all. But that’s where I get a lot of my melodic ideas, that I even use in some of our grindy-er stuff. We’re definitely not a grindcore band. The influence is there, but I know someone’s like ‘Oh, grindcore!’ and they click on our stuff, they’re gonna be like ‘What the fuck, (laughs) this doesn’t sound like Wormrot or Rotten Sound!’ They’re gonna be very confused. We’re always kind of attached (to) that tag. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but musically we have so many different influences. We’d be cheating ourselves if we didn’t embrace all these different ideas and make the music that we really wanna make. This album, if feels like a Fuck The Facts album to me because it has all those hills and valleys, and it has all the dynamics, and has different ideas. There’s definitely periods with the band where I kinda felt a little bit stifled, or constrained artistically. I was like, ‘Oh can we do this, cause we’re that Canadian grindcore band?’ I always hated that feeling because it’s not in my personality. My mind goes a million miles an hour when I sit down and I start to think about ideas, it goes everywhere. That’s (the kind of music) I’d like the band to put out. I just feel like we’re open to doing anything, and I feel like we’ve got back to that. We’re not like an amazing death metal band, or an amazing grindcore band, but we grab all these influences and we manage to make it our own thing. I think we do that really well.”
Their previous album, 2015’s self-released Desire Will Rot, was responsible for their 2nd Juno nomination and they promoted it with touring in Canada, the U.S, and Europe. But then things seemed to go quiet for some time. I knew that Das was busy with his recording studio, Apartment 2, not to mention raising 2 kids with vocalist Melanie Mongeon. But I hadn’t realized that despite their enthusiastic performances on that tour, the album title was more personal than they let on.
“When we did Desire Will Rot, it’s (called that) because of what was going on,” says Das frankly.
“Really whenever we do anything we’re talking about our own lives and the way we feel. When we went and did all those tours and we put out that album, we knew that that might be it. It’s nothing that we wanted to make public. But we did all that stuff knowing it was just gonna stop and we were all gonna go about doing our own thing, and whatever happens, happens. It was a much needed change. I kept busy the whole time, I was recording other peoples’ bands, I worked at a venue doing live sound. I haven’t been away from music. (When) we got back together it was me reaching out to Vil (drummer Mathieu Vilandre) to see if we just wanted to start jamming, and see what came of it. I think the last 2-3 years that we toured and did stuff heavily, I wasn’t really enjoying it. I kept doing it because I was so used to doing it and going through those motions. But it was just becoming a job and it wasn’t enjoyable like it was before. Some of the situations that we were in, some of the shows that we were doing, you get to this point where you’re like ‘Why am I here? Why am I on the other side of the world playing to 10 people?’ That stuff’s a lot of fun but it makes more sense when you’re 25 than when you’re 35 and then 40. It’s like, I should be at home with my kids at this point in my life”
Although what Das describes seems a natural part of life as an underground musician who starts a family, it did come as a little bit of a surprise to me. Their personal lives always seemed inextricably linked to the band. There are of course memories of the videos that circulated through the underground of Mongeon performing while she was very pregnant. But in general, having a family didn’t seem to affect Fuck The Facts as band. But that’s not what was going on beneath the surface.
“Before, it was always like the band comes first, everything else comes second,” says Das.
“If you have a job, then fuck it, you have to quit that job so we can go on tour. Now, Mel had the opportunity to take a full-time position at her job that she loves. We bought a house. Vil bought a house. Everyone has real-life responsibilities, we can’t just jump on the road and do a grindcore tour like we used it. When my first daughter was born we did shows in L.A. and Mel was pregnant and she gave birth (10 days later). Then we were back on the road (for) a 5 week tour and then we went to Europe. It didn’t really slow us down. It’s a good thing but it’s also a complication that both Mel and I are in the band. Both the parents are leaving and the kids (are) staying at the grandparents for a couple months. I definitely miss my kids and I know for Mel it was even more difficult to be away. When I started the band I was like ‘I’m gonna tour until I die. I’m gonna do all this stuff until I die.’ Then I got older and things just kinda changed.”
"When I started in my dad’s basement with a 4-track, this shit didn’t even exist, I just kinda like, did it."
So the band began their unannounced hiatus. With no plans to jam, record, or tour in the near future, they settled into life without Fuck The Facts for the first time in 15 years. Das spent his days recording and mixing bands at Apartment 2, and nights working at the venue. But the door never closed on restarting the band. So after some time apart they began to drift back together. But this time it was on their terms, and the album that would become Pleine Noirceur developed slowly.
“There was a year or so where (the band) didn’t do anything at all,” he says.
“This album we’ve kinda been working on behind the scenes for a while. Mel and I first talked about jamming, and (then) I talked to Vil. At this point I’ve been jamming with Vil for like 15 years, so it’s really easy chemistry. We just started (jamming) like once a week. When we were at our peak, when we were busy like crazy, we’d jam like 4 times a week. But this time there wasn’t any intention of like ‘We’re gonna work on an album.’ When the band stopped, I put all this shit in the rearview mirror. I’m totally out of the loop of what new band is out or what (they’ve released). I didn’t check any of the gossipy metal sites or read anything about anyone because I (was) tired of all this and (didn’t) want to pay attention. I feel like it could be the least ‘tainted’ album and the most ‘pure’ in the way of us really just doing what we wanted to do. When I started in my dad’s basement with a 4-track, this shit didn’t even exist, I just kinda like, did it. That’s kind of the same thing, and I think that’s a really fun thing that came out of it. We could have just jammed and like 6 months later been like ‘Ah, I’m not feeling this, alright see ya,’ and everything would have been cool. We’ve put something together that we’re actually really proud of and felt like it was worth releasing. It wasn’t for a tour or a label. We made a pressing, and we’ll sell the pressing and everyone kind of moves on and we’ll see what’s next.”
“What’s next?” is a very good question at this point. At the end of 2019 Das left his job at the venue to spend more time with his kids. He also wants to work on more music, as the band hasn’t had a chance to jam since the pandemic started. In the meantime they’ve been putting together ideas on their own in the hopes that it won’t be another 5 years before they release their next album. But even taking on Fuck The Facts on a limited basis can rub up against family, triggering memories of life before their hiatus.
“Mel and I, we were working on packing all the pre-orders for this album and going kinda nuts because we both have jobs during the day,” Das says laughing.
“Then we spent all our evenings packing orders. We sent our kids to the grandparents just so we could spend the weekend packing orders, and we had that moment like ‘Fuck this is crazy! It’s awesome, but this is crazy!’ Mel was like, ‘Sometimes I just feel like quitting the band but I know I’m just gonna end up back here anyway!’ (laughs) Those moments, just a little flashback to when you’re like ‘This is so crazy that we’re doing this!’ I definitely would love to play more shows. Ideally if we didn’t have this pandemic we would be playing some album release shows. We were supposed to play Maryland Deathfest in May, and then that all shit the bed. That would have been fun. We just gotta play it by ear and see what happens and do what feels right.”
Mongeon working on album pre-orders
Ultimately it seems like Das has achieved his goal of having a good work/life balance, with Fuck The Facts still a part of both, but not the dominant factor. The shutdown from the pandemic actually gave Das time to finish the album and be with his family, and he recognizes the good position he’s in. Despite the aforementioned “hills and valleys” of Fuck The Facts’ music, Das himself never seems quite as complicated.
“We’re actually in a pretty lucky situation,” he says.
“My oldest is back in school. My youngest is at daycare. Mel works from home. I’m able to do a lot of my work from home as well. I’ve slowly starting doing some recording sessions at the studio. I’m sure it sucks worse for a lot of other people. Especially people who are living on their own, and especially younger people. But we have a family and everything, and all our jobs are intact. We’ve managed to cope pretty well. The studio, that’s my job, my main source of income. I balance it fairly well, that I still have free time and that I can still do things that I enjoy and I’m not gonna feel like life is just passing me by. Luckily I keep a pretty lowkey lifestyle, so I don’t need a lot in my life to make me happy.”
Fuck The Facts’ new self-released album Pleine Noirceur is available now. Buy a hard copy from the band, a digital copy from Bandcamp, and stream it on Spotify or YouTube. You can watch the videos for the title track, and “Ailleurs” below.
Enslaved 2020: (L to R) Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitar), Håkon Vinje (keyboards, clean vocals), Grutle Kjellson (vocals, bass), Ivar Bjørnson (guitars), Iver Sandøy (Drums)
Photo by Roy Bjørge
It had been nearly 3 years since I’d seen or spoken to Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson when I reached him late one Norwegian evening. The band had just released their 15th(!) album Utgard, and I realized that it had also been 15 years since I began listening to them. Their blend of psychedelic progressive rock and black metal was an immediate hit with my senses. Admittedly I caught on to Enslaved about half-way through their ascent to becoming international heavy metal headliners, and an award-winning band at home in Norway. When I got into the band their music had already undergone a transformation from its more raw black metal beginnings, to the signature blended sound they’re known for. But Enslaved has never been a band to ignore their early days, and the old albums are performed live and re-released on a regular basis to show appreciation to the old-school fans, and that’s something that has informed their latest album.
“I think we came to terms with our own history without letting ourselves lie down and die,” says Bjørnson.
“The whole exercise of going back and playing old albums and relating to (them), is a bit of a risky one. That’s my experience, because you have to balance that with being relevant. I do think we did it in a way that left us with the best of both worlds. I think we allow the fans to romanticize and have a nostalgic relationship through (the 1994 album) Frost and all that stuff, without that being the opposite of being a fan of the music. I think we have an open dialogue there. If you wanna be a fan of Enslaved you’re welcome to come and go as you want, because we have been on a more-or-less steady path. Sometimes I’ve been a little bit confused myself, but I have to say on this one, on album number 15… a lot of the things done getting here make more sense now.”
Utgard again finds Enslaved seeped in Norse mythology and runic languages. It’s a concept album that continues where 2017’s E left off. That album dealt with the intertwined events of the creation of Odins’ 8-legged horse Sleipnir, and the gods building a great wall around Asgard, which Bjørnson describes as a “watershed” moment in the mythology.
“For this album we’re looking outwards, ‘What did they build a wall against? ‘What is this outside?’” he says.
“It’s also quite inspired by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, (and) his use of Norse mythology. It also (refers to) runosophy, the philosophy around rune magic and rune mysticism, as a metaphor for the unconscious. Both the pre-programmed software so-to-speak that Jung mentioned called the ‘common unconscious,’ (where) we are born with a set of archetypes to make the universe understandable to us, but also the individual part which is created as we go along. That’s what the album is about, the need for a unification, a two-way acceptance of the other. You can put it on a mythological scale. You can put it on the universal forces of chaos and order that we so much like to dabble (with) in metal. Even on a societal scale also, by oppressing all these things that once were natural to us, death and decay and love, all that stuff that’s been swept under the carpet is now coming back to bite us in the ass, to say it in an very un-Carl Jung-ish sort of way.”
“The more we learn about our own local variation of that history, which is mythology, I think we learn more about what being human is.”
My initial attraction to Enslaved’s music was their sound. Norse mythology had always been of interest since I was young, but then again there are plenty of bands who write about it. Over time I’ve come to appreciate some of the deeper implications of Enslaved’s lyrics and how the concepts raised within the mythology can relate to how we live today, but it was my passion for their music that got me there. So I was curious to know what Bjørnson would like someone like myself, who doesn’t have Norse mythology in their background, to take away from Enslaved’s lyrics.
“We’re obsessed with ‘Who migrated here and there, and where did those ancestors come from?’” he says thoughtfully.
“But that’s a lot of physical history and of course that’s interesting, but it’s missing one part and that’s the psychological story of humans. Mythology is the language of that, the very powerful unconscious that is driving development, and that’s creativity. Mythology is a common human trait. It’s been messed up quite heavily by these monotheistic religions, which all coincidentally also started out quite agnostic, or mythological. When it makes the transition from encouraging personal interpretation and introspection, into absolute dogmas, that’s when it becomes a religion (chuckles). So it’s not very different from the first religions that are discovered 10,000 years before, hmm… ‘The Carpenter.’ The Norse mythology is one of the later ones actually, and I guess that’s also the reason why it’s so popular in mainstream culture now is because it was allowed to exist for a long time quite far into the Middle Ages. There’s connections to Greek mythology, (and) pre-Judean, the Kabballah systems like the Tree of Life, which appears later in Norse mythology as Yggdrasil. The concepts are quite similar, and then they have these variations. If the people were living in deserts, the sun could be portrayed as the enemy. Up north, the sun was like the most popular guest ever to appear, when it did once a year. Those are just geographical variations on the same thing I think. It shouldn’t be alien. The more we learn about our own local variation of that history, which is mythology, I think we learn more about what being human is.”
Bjørnson at his home workstation.
Naturally talk turns to the pandemic. Enslaved has maintained quite an active relationship with their fanbase during the shutdown, including streaming live shows. But for Bjørnson, someone who travels most of the year to make a living, being at home is a chance to spend more time with his wife and kids. But that doesn’t mean that the band is any less a part of his life these days.
“I haven’t been at home this much since I was 18 I think,” he says happily.
“That’s been a great thing. It’s taken a little bit of effort to get used to, but I realized that it’s also been extremely healthy. I have 2 daughters, and I’ve felt that I’ve already been away way too much. But it’s also what I do. There will always be sailors, truck drivers, military, people who are away for a long time. I happen to be a musician. But I’m really grateful that this time became a really good thing. It shows that we’re pretty good at adapting. Also the band has really come through. This is really a central thing in our lives. The touring has just been replaced by old-fashioned rehearsing, which has been very rewarding! I think Norway has been a fortunate place to be. It’s a big country, not too many people, and the concept of social distancing isn’t that far from what people do to begin with. The most heard joke this spring was like, ‘Well, I’m pretty glad all this hugging stuff is out the picture, finally.’ That was a half-joke, I’m also thinking there might some seriousness in it too.”
When I first reached Bjørnson that evening, I was ready to open with questions and comments about Utgard, but like many conversations these days, we immediately began talking about politics, the return of populism, and the proliferation of false conspiracy theories.
“That kind of stuff it used to be like, fringe. But now it’s really weird how front and center the whole thing is,” he says.
“These things go so slowly, because we go from the 80s and 90s where it’s unimaginable, where it’s really just historical. Now, (during) the so-called (Presidential) ‘debate,’ that the whole world was focusing on, there was a statement (by U.S. President Donald Trump) to a particular political group (extreme right wing group the Proud Boys), who were told to ‘stand by’ or whatever weird things. That’s pretty much Europe 1935-36. The parallels are just, it’s the same. Now you see people on Facebook going, ‘Yeah, well, he does get people employed and that’s a good thing,’ and that’s also the same thing. It’s the worst. People are now, they’re dissatisfied, they’re pissed off because globalization has sort of created a common ideal for everyone. From the biggest cities in Europe and the U.S, to the most remote countryside in Asia or in Northern Europe, everyone’s in the same race, using the same measurement for success and happiness, and nobody’s obviously achieving it! Then you get all these populists pouring into politics now, and they’re giving people something to be pissed at. Low and behold, it’s the same thing again.”
“(Euryonymous) was quite clear about that, that fascism, Naziism, is a cowardly way of trying to avoid the one true fact that every human being is a piece of shit.”
Heavy metal is certainly not immune to these issues, and unfortunately black metal still provides the most documented examples of Naziism in the genre, including the most well-known Nazi musician, Varg Vikernes and his one-man band Burzum. But for me the bigger issue has always been one of ambivalence by the metal community at large, especially concerning Vikernes who is embraced musically by many. Most of his fans will come up with the most acrobatic of explanations for why publicly praising Nazi-metal is ok, as long as they don’t share the violent beliefs of it’s creators. In metal, “separating the art from the artist” is often taken laughably too far. Nazi-metal even has its own sub-genre, tactfully named “National Socialist Black Metal” (NSBM) to avoid scrutiny. Bjørnson notes that there was a schism early on in the Norwegian black metal scene, between those who embraced Naziism and those who didn’t.
“NSBM (became) a thing of its own, which is a very good thing,” he says audibly smirking.
“Not that I’m concerned about those people having leisure time activities, but it’s better that they’re ‘over there.’ That was a result of some pretty strange resistance. (It) was the most ironic thing ever to begin with, as the 2nd Wave of Black Metal was initiated by (Mayhem guitarist) Euronymous who was a die-hard Communist. He was quite clear about that, that fascism, Naziism, is a cowardly way of trying to avoid the one true fact that every human being is a piece of shit.”
In 2009 Vikernes was released from prison after 15 years for the shocking murder of Euryonmous and his participation in church arsons, both of which have become eternally associated with the 90’s Norwegian black metal narrative, and he wasn’t shy about disparaging Enslaved in the media. Like myself, Bjørnson is also quite puzzled as to why there are metal fans of varying backgrounds who are comfortable listening to Burzum, as he doesn’t see Vikernes’ belief system and metal as being compatible on a cultural level.
“I remember when Mr. Burzum got out and started talking to the press again, first thing he did was complain about how black metal musicians were looking like hobos and Africans and gay and all that stuff,” he says.
“It kind of blows my mind that people will read that and then just… yeah, keep nodding off to their Burzum albums. That’s you he’s talking about! How he wants you to be exterminated and how you’re useless. He’s not joking. I can see that, as a culture that’s it’s sort of way of not having to engage in a sense. Obviously metal was not around the last time. But the populist, the fascist system is basically a nihilistic world view, it’s nothing because it’s all about power and money grabbing, and some weird uniform fetish. (It’s) the abandonment of anything, and especially, things having to do with culture. In the metal scene, we can sort of remove ourselves from thinking that we’re culture. ‘Ah culture’s for wimps! This is all about drinking beer and stuff!’ After they’ve gone a few rounds with the undesirables, they’re gonna be coming for the musicians and I promise you, metal is not gonna be on a list of things they wanna keep.”
Photo by Roy Bjørge
Despite this disparity, Bjørnson is also quick to note that metal’s influence in these areas is not nearly as impactful as what we have seen creep into mainstream culture. While the metal scene could certainly do more when it comes to these problems, Bjørnson feels that there has also been a lot of misspent energy, like when metal bands who use Pagan runes or World War II imagery are falsely accused of Naziism.
“The NSBM stuff is as obviously as bad as the marching Neo-Nazis, (but) I don’t think that (bands like) Motörhead or Marduk, whatever these characters have been using - World War II imagery, is what has turned the world into what it is today,” he says.
“(These bands) force people to face it in a sense. It’s a bad thing, and it’s a part of the modern mythology of society. I’m afraid that it has to be… you have to see those horrible photos and those things, because when there’s nothing to remind us of it, that’s when the deniers get a free minute. So I think it’s a drawback of human nature that we have to be reminded of that, and I think that popular culture portraying it is part of that. There’s been a discussion, there’s been a back-and-forth about that in the scene, to some extent. But of course it’s not good enough, but it’s still better than the mainstream, because that’s the problem. I’m not gonna mention band names, but even the dumbest and least sensitive, fetishized use of (Nazi) uniforms and stuff is nowhere near what is happening in the mainstream.”
The music of Enslaved exists to me on multiple levels, and no matter which one you choose to engage with, it’s always a memorable experience. There are blissed-out moments like the most transcendental parts of Dark Side of the Moon, balanced by savage landscapes of tremolo-drenched shredding. Beneath that lies a mythology that you can compare to your own, or enjoy from afar. Ultimately there’s as much or as little to unpack as you care to. But that’s not how I felt about speaking with Bjørnson that night, because there was absolutely a lot to unpack, whether you focus on Enslaved’s musical journey, or how they (and black metal as a whole) factor into a changing and divided world. After examining these ideas with Bjørnson, he had one final piece of advice.
“I would say to people… I’m not gonna say what they should do, but I would really advise people to remain vigilant, to actually take things at face value, and stop this whole stupid child game of ‘We’re fed up of being told the truth, so now we’re deciding the truth’” he says earnestly.
“Let that go. It’s not gonna get you anywhere if you have 5 million individual truths, because now we have people rebelling against natural law and science. It’s not gonna stop shitty weather by you declaring that you’ve decided that it’s different. If you go outside and it gets you wet, you can write whatever you want on Facebook about it, it’s still gonna be raining (laughs).”
You can find every way to stream and purchase Utgard here, and you can watch the video for the track "Jettegryta" below.
Rebecca Northcott Photography
Iconic singer Simone Denny has had one of the most varied careers in the history of Canadian music. In the mid-late 90s she became a house music legend from her Juno-winning work with the group Love Inc. She’s also the voice of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy theme, which ended up being played repeatedly during a memorable episode of South Park.
Most recently the Love Inc. hit “You’re A Superstar” closed the first season finale of Canada’s Drag Race, something that Denny was unaware of until it was happening.
“It was a surprise, I had no idea it was gonna happen” she says.
“I had been watching a few episodes and thinking, ‘it’s so strange, how come they’re not using any Love Inc. tracks? It’s Canadian, what’s happening?’ I didn’t get to watch the finale until my phone started blowing up. I jumped out of my seat and watched it. It was awesome, it was just a beautiful moment to witness, and to be remembered.”
On the other side of the musical spectrum, her 2015 collaboration with former Monster Voodoo Machine frontman Adam Sewell produced the alternative R&B solo album, The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1. It’s a side of her sound that Denny intends to explore further, and she views it as an essential part of her musical identity.
“By no means is that done,” she says with conviction.
“I think a lot of people tend to forget that I was first and foremost a musician, and that I come out of live music. That’s where I got my start. I loved doing Stereo Dynamite, I enjoyed every minute of it. To be able to play with a band and have that camaraderie. To work with Adam and (co-writer) Justin (McWilliams) was a beautiful thing. The album was a little bit darker, but it’s exactly where I was at in my journey emotionally. So it was perfect for me.”
Sewell was introduced to Denny in the mid-90s by his wife, who was working for the label BMG, and he knew immediately that he wanted to work with her.
“It's such a weird pairing of people, but we get along so well, and we've done some incredible recordings and performances together,” he says.
“Standing next to her while she's singing at full strength is as close to a religious moment as I'm capable of having. One day Canada is going to look back and regret not supporting her the way she deserves.”
Jahlen Barnes Photography
While Denny has certainly had a fair amount of acclaim, Sewell’s statement rings true. For someone who has had such a prolific career, her name recognition at home is not at the level of some of her collaborators. To this day she continues to grind harder than others with less hits behind their belts, something she attributes to the mainstream music industry demanding a level of compromise that to her, just isn’t worth it.
“I still feel like I have to hustle,” she says carefully.
“How can I say this respectfully? There are things that I’m not willing to do that others in the industry are. I’m not saying that to take away from anyone. Mine may be the longer route, but I’m good with it. I like to be with the right people in the right place in the right time. I’m not just gonna dive in with whoever, just to say I’m a part of something. Do I have more hits in me? Absolutely! That’s a given.”
Aside from further collaborations with Sewell, long-time friend Shawn Desman, and other more secretive projects, Denny has been busy during quarantine showcasing some of her other talents. Most notably she’s hosting a series every Sunday on Instagram Live, where she interviews entertainers and artists, many of whom like herself, are both notable but underappreciated. It’s an outlet that she hopes will bring her closer to her fans, as she is admittedly quite a private person.
“I meet incredible people as I go through my career,” she says.
“I wanted to show the world, (there are) some people you know, and some people you may not know, but that you need to know because they are incredible artists. There’s a personal side to them, and you get to experience the essence of who they are. I see it as me opening myself up a little bit more, ‘cause I’m generally very closed off with that. I am a person who likes to be very private. Now this has turned into something where I get to connect with people. That’s not something I’m able to do usually, when I’m on the move as much as I have been. (I’m) taking some steps to open up myself and my personality to my fans and they can get to know me on another level.”
Last year Denny spent 10 months on the road, so she’s used most of her quarantine time to reconnect with her parents and her sister. The Instagram Live series has also had the pleasant side effect of allowing her to catch up with her industry friends who she normally only gets to see in passing backstage somewhere. But quarantine has also been accompanied by a deluge of news about racial injustice, and it’s caused Denny to reflect on her own experiences of being a recognizable woman of colour.
“When it all first kicked in I had quite a few of my white friends call and check on me and they’re like ‘Are you ok?’” she says, sounding slightly amused.
“I’m like, ‘I’m fine!’ (laughs) and then they’re like ‘Are you sure?’ I’m a woman of colour 24/7, 365. This is nothing new. I’m sure for many, when we’re in our tracks suits or our loungewear, you walk in a store and you still get looked at or followed. I’ve had it happen to me when people (then realize) who I am and it’s very disgusting. They come to up to me and they’re ‘Oh you’re… oh!’ That shouldn’t matter. I don’t want to experience what George Floyd or any of those people experienced. I don’t want my friends or anyone out there to have to experience that. I don’t wanna get too deep, but in the year that we’re in, in the world we’re living in, it’s absurd. We tend to feel that it doesn’t happen here. But I’m quickly learning that it does.”
Rebecca Northcott Photography
Denny says her next release will most likely be house music or dance-pop. Given the upbeat nature of those genres I had to ask if that’s something she can balance with this state of social negativity that we currently find ourselves in.
“I can definitely weave the two together,” she says excitedly.
“I’m by nature a very positive person, at least I try to be. Doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days! I think that if you stay in the negative, then that’s all that’s gonna keep coming at you. You must, someway, somehow, lift yourself out of it by choice. You have to choose to find the good in every situation. I feel a responsibility to continue to deliver that to people, to give them that release.”
Denny is musically adaptable, but regardless of what style she’s performing, she maintains a consistent image; that of the consummate professional artist. Her talent is what’s on display, while other aspects of her personality are usually kept away from the stage. As she said, it does make the journey longer, but if she was any different then the music would probably not be same. The blessing in disguise that’s come out of quarantine, is that Denny has found a way to show other sides of her personality in a way that suits her.
“I don’t like to follow things that other people are doing,” she says.
“That’s just me. I’ve never felt the need to display everything all the time. These other people who can do that, I’m in awe. That’s really gutsy! (laughs) I’m gutsy on other levels. They’ll see me on stage, and that’s good. That’s why I’m there, I’m there to sing. That’s probably why I don’t sing on Instagram. You guys already know I sing, so let me show you other capabilities that I have.”
Watch Simone Denny every Sunday at 5pm EST on her Instagram Live. This Sunday (October 18th) she’ll be speaking to Juno-winning R&B star Sean Jones.
You can also listen to Love Inc’s classic 1998 self-titled debut album on Spotify, and you can stream The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1 in full below.
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.