Black Sun was formed in Glasgow, Scotland, ten years ago, by Russell McEwan. Black Sun’s first album, Fleshmarket, featured heavy use of samples to create an industrial metal sound similar to that of Godflesh. With the line-up now a power trio, comprising Russell McEwan on vocals, drums and programming, Kevin Hare on guitar and vocals, and Graeme Leggate on bass, Black Sun’s music has developed into a ferociously extreme doom metal-noise rock fusion, with their live performances in particular having a fearsome reputation. Black Sun’s fifth album, Paralyser, has just been released on Scottish label At War With False Noise.
Heathen Harvest: What inspired the decision to make Paralyser a vinyl-only release? Did that idea come from you or from Alastair of At War With False Noise?
Alastair offered to release something of ours a while back, and I was most interested to make it in vinyl. Apart from the analogue versus digital quality debate, I like the large-scale format of the vinyl medium and the design challenges you enter into. Fortunately this time I was able to collaborate on the design and layout with Al, and he made lots of interesting suggestions like the poster that comes with the release. We included the lyrics on the poster to reflect the way they’re created. Kevin and I write lyrics thematically in parallel with each other, but not necessarily at the same time.
HH: Do you have a preferred format, in terms of vinyl, CD, mp3 or whatever?
I find the resurgence of audio cassette and vinyl interesting, given the current music industry death of CD or whatever. Digital formats supposedly lend themselves to lossless duplication, which seems hard to believe. In the case of heavily compressed formats like mp3, you’ve already lost the sub-bass and super high frequencies that provide the chest-punch and presence in the song. Given the particularly low quality and random encoding of ripped mp3s on file-sharing sites, they have almost nothing whatsoever in common with the original songs.
Any attempt to own music has always been elusive. We aim to make our recordings as powerful as time and money allow, but they remain a parallel entity to Black Sun playing live.
HH: At War With False Noise is a local label for you, relatively speaking, and you seem to fit in well with the label’s overall profile. Will you be releasing more material via At War With False Noise?
I think if anything, Black Sun are a slight diversion from the pure noise normally associated with At War…We’ve been really pleased that so many people have picked up a copy of ‘Paralyser’ so quickly, and the pre-orders have been pretty healthy too. As usual with bands and labels, it’s necessary to concentrate all our efforts on the current release to ensure its creative success. Al is really good to work with, and he puts a lot of his money where his mouth is when it comes to supporting the artists on his roster. I really like the Gnaw Their Tongues
release he did, so it’s good to be on the same label.
HH: Paralyser has a very unusual structure for an LP, with the A-side filled with a single track and the B-side featuring two reworkings of that track, making it seem more like a 12” single than an album. Your previous album, Hour Of The Wolf, was much more conventionally structured. So how did Paralyser end up taking this form?
‘Paralyser’ has been with us for quite a long time since its most embryonic form. For some reason we never let it lie in terms of how it first came out. I made a few demo versions of it, and continued to explore with the development of the programming that is contained in ‘Paralyser (Hammer The Nails)’. It progressed even more in the remix that became the ‘Paralyser (Dub)’ version. I think there was so much going on in the song for us that it retained our interest to write and record the main ‘Paralyser (Prison Of The Cross)’ version, which could actually be considered a live reworking of the earlier versions. To be a member of Black Sun is to accept that your musical ideas will be pummelled into the ground over a period of time to see if we still like them at the outcome. ‘Paralyser’ is one of those songs for us.
HH: The three tracks on Paralyser had three different producers – yourself, Duncan Cameron, who’s better known for his work with Glaswegian pop bands like The Pastels and Teenage Fanclub, and Billy Anderson, who has worked with everyone from Swans to The Melvins to Neurosis. Again, why did you decide to work this way, and what different qualities do you feel each producer brought to bear on your sound?
Both Duncan and Billy are excellent to work with. They’re very different producers, and the way we worked with them was very different as well. Billy worked from separated dry tracks recorded by Scott Walker in our studio in the centre of Glasgow and sent over to him in San Francisco at the time. Over a period of a couple of months we exchanged mixes and ideas over the internet, and because we’re both coming from a commonality of bands and artists we admire, the process was very enjoyable indeed. There was room for Billy to add in subtle ideas of his own, and it’s always good to have an outside pair of ears and opinion as to how the song might sound. In working with Duncan, we had the opportunity to record analogue reel-to-reel again, and have the engineer with us in the same studio. Any adjustments required could be made there and then, and the tape distortion was a real joy to behold in contrast to the digital domain where you have a very definite threshold. Duncan is very sensitive to the mix and what is required by the band and sound. Black Sun are an extremely hard-working band, and we were well practiced before we entered the studio, so the recording had the benefit of what we wanted it to sound like rather than the sense of just getting through the session. When I made the dub remix, I felt there was a certain return to the mixing practice I used on Black Sun’s first album Fleshmarket, additionally benefiting from four subsequent albums’ experience.
HH: On your previous two albums, Sacred Eternal Eclipse and Hour Of The Wolf, you worked with James Plotkin, who’s well known for his guitar work with bands including Khanate and Scorn, as well as his remixing work for Earth, Isis, Pelican and Sunn 0))). What was it like working with him, and do you have any plans to work with him again in the future?
In his role as DJ James Plotkin, we’ll be playing with him and Aidan Baker’s
in New York on Halloween this year. It will be Black Sun’s first visit to the US, and we’re really looking forward to it. Khanate was an amazing band. I loved their minimal approach and almost architectural sound, and we had the honour of appearing with them in Glasgow on their last ever tour. Once again, it was a very interesting process working with James on the Sacred Eternal Eclipse and Hour Of The Wolf albums. James has an equally impressive musical history. I think in many cases, producer and band select each other with a view to making as positive a recording as possible. Additionally, James is an excellent musician and collaborator, and his work can be heard on the outro to ‘Disintegrate to Khrist’ from Hour Of The Wolf, where he took a tiny section at the end of the song and processed it into a very moving outro.
HH: Black Sun is often described as a doom metal band, but it seems evident to me that your sound has been at least equally influenced by noise rock bands like The Jesus Lizard and the Amphetamine Reptile stable, industrial metal like Godflesh and Ministry, and above all the Swans, who have been an influence on your artwork as well as your music. I was wondering whether the three members of Black Sun had differing tastes, and brought different elements into your melting pot of musical influences.
Black Sun have been together for so long that it’s now impossible to differentiate our individual and shared influences. Like Batman and the Joker, we complete each other, except in a musical sense. Like I mentioned earlier, the environment exists to bring whatever ideas we have and explore them to the absolute. It’s always been a collaborative process between the three of us and we remain the burning black core of Black Sun. All aspects of Black Sun are up for input and discussion. For example, the layout of the back cover of Paralyser was Graeme’s idea. The reason we’ve been together so long is that each member feels valued and has a say in whatever direction we choose to take.
HH: How about non-musical influences? Who or what else has been important in the development of the Black Sun aesthetic?
Books on my recent reading list have been Dennis Cooper
’s annihilating Period, Cormac McCarthy
’s jaw-dropping The Road and No Country For Old Men. I often re-read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, just for the singularity of purpose of a scalp-hunting gang on the Texas/Mexico border in the 1800s. I particularly enjoyed Belgian director Koen Mortier’s fucked-up and beautiful film Ex-Drummer
, about how a bunch of self-appointed retards recruit a successful but nihilistic writer to join their band to help them win a battle of the bands contest. The list goes on and on.
HH: Do you feel that you have been influenced by your physical surroundings? Is it necessary to come from a big, grim city to make big, grim sounds? (I’m writing this in Birmingham, so no offence to Glasgow!)
I’m originally from a large industrial town called Falkirk, and my father and uncles worked in or around big petroleum and plastics corporations in nearby Grangemouth. Kevin and Graeme are from the country outside Glasgow. I think the greatest influence upon me is the early darkness of the winters in Scotland. I have a love/hate relationship with the oppressiveness of the short days and long nights. I’ve been playing drums since I was ten years old, when I started with pipe bands, and making my way to practice in the chill of a Scottish winter or summer has been an integral part of my existence since then. I now consider Black Sun practices as necessary armour against the cold.
HH: Is there much of a Glaswegian extreme music scene?
Extremity in Glasgow is pretty diverse, There’s the noise community, which includes Lea Cumming’s Kylie Minoise
, John Cromar’s Noma
(he played keyboards on Paralyser), Nackt Insekten
, Eye Shaking Kingdom
, and Al Mabon’s Seppuku
. Metal bands we play with range from the extreme grindcore of Co-Exist
to possibly more accessible sounds in The February Solution
and The Black Chain
. Electronic psycho Dissolved
occasionally collaborates or appears with us sometimes.
HH: Do you have any sense of who your audience is at the moment? Are your fans mostly coming from the metal scene, the industrial scene, or where?
The more widely we play, the more diverse and international our audience becomes. There are more women and girls involved with extreme sounds than ever before, both in an organisational sense and part of our audience. I think that is a good benchmark of diversity. I saw a report recently that drew parallels between the metal community and the classical one in terms of intelligence, which seems pretty significant. However I, like our fans, probably engage with a huge range of music based upon just how good we think it is, regardless of genre.
HH: Some of the imagery surrounding Black Sun, including the name of the band and the use of the Wolfsangel runic symbol, has associations with the Third Reich. Has there been any controversy about this?
Initially the band was called Black Sun Machine in reference to the sample-based approach I took at the time. Partially, I based the band name on the Dead Can Dance
song, and also Geoffrey Wolff’s biography Black Sun: The Brief Transit And Violent Eclipse Of Harry Crosby
. The Wolfsangel is an ancient Germanic symbol, not a rune as such, and it was the wolf-trap or wolfs-hook associations that first interested me, about the time of the ‘Hour Of The Wolf’ album. The captured wolf would be left hanging on the hook on the outskirts of the town, as a warning to other wolves. For Paralyser, I make associations between the themes of crucifixion and asphyxiation of the Christ and of the wolf. Anything that upsets our ideas of equilibrium must be deleted, even when we are responsible for the creation of such concepts.
HH: I was gutted to miss your live performance at the Supersonic festival in July this year. How did that go? Did you see any other bands at Supersonic who you really liked?
We were there for the entire weekend, in order to really soak up the atmosphere as much as possible. I’m sure all the guys have different bands they liked, but on the Friday I really enjoyed Dokkebi Q
. In the case of Dälek, I loved their live sound, where the drum machine was much more prominent than on record. Dokkebi Q’s take on dub was really fresh and interesting. Early on, I was influenced by a lot of the artists on the ON U Sound
label like Mark Stewart
and Dub Syndicate
and Graeme’s downtuned sub-bass approach really resonates with me in the same manner. It was amazing to play alongside bands such as Oxbow
on the Saturday and Asva
on the Sunday. The intensity and mood both those bands create always raises the hairs at the back of the neck.
HH: Have you done many other gigs outside of Scotland? I see that you’re playing in New York in October with Nadja – is that your first performance in America?
This last year or so, we’ve played a lot wider afield than before; London at
magazine Hells Bells gig with Moss
, Manchester and Sheffield with (ex-Atavist) They Are Cowards
and Lazarus Blackstar
, Bilbao in Spain and SWR XI Festival in Portugal with the incredible Knut
from Switzerland and black metallers Nifelheim
who were very entertaining indeed. We’re really looking forward to playing the US for the first time, with Nadja and James Plotkin. There’s also the possibility of a date with Grief
and Unearthly Trance
still to be confirmed.
HH: You also have a UK and European tour with Asva planned for early next year – are any or all of the dates confirmed for that yet?
We’ve played with Asva a couple of times and they’re a great bunch of guys. Stuart Dahlquist invited us on to their 2009 European dates down at Supersonic, and we’ll stay in touch over the next couple of months. We’re very enthusiastic about touring live in Black Sun, as we love to play, so we follow up as many leads as possible. Drop us a line if you want Black Sun in your town.
HH: The official Black Sun website is down at the moment – are there any plans to replace it? In the meantime, what’s the best source for information about Black Sun?
The web editor for www.ripyourselfopen.com was really unpredictable to use and eventually ground to a complete halt, so we decided not to continue. I update the official Black Sun MySpace page regularly, as well as a few other social networking sites.
HH: Do you have any more releases in the pipeline?
We currently have around 25 songs at varying stages of development. We decided to work on material a lot longer than previously, in order to fully explore the ideas contained. It also allows more advanced lyrics. There is a Doomed Forever Doomed Forum compilation CD in progress, where each band has their track voted on or off. We’ve submitted an unreleased track and we’ll see how that goes.
HH: Anything else you’d like to add?
Previous and Upcoming Live Appearances 2008:
Ramesses, Knut, Lazarus Blackstar, and They Are Cowards (ex-Atavist)
Supersonic UK 12 July 2008 with Harvey Milk and Oxbow.
October 2008 New Jersey with Grief and Unearthly Trance (to be confirmed)
October 2008 New York USA with Nadja and James Plotkin
February 2009 Europe with Asva
Fleshmarket (Over Records)
Circus Of The Fallen (Over Records)
Rip Yourself Open EP (Black Sun)
Sacred Eternal Eclipse (Distortion Project)
Hour Of The Wolf (Maximum Volume)
Paralyser (At War With False Noise)
Black Sun Myspace
Black Sun E-mail
At War with False Noise Myspace