Album of the Month

Accomplished and captivating melodic Death/Doom is the hallmark of Vanha's sophomore full-length.
(Read more)

Featured debut

Random band

The Black bring epic Heavy Doom that reminds of Black Sabbath, Count Raven or Penance. Slow Doom Metal crammed with many fast Heavy ...
(read more)

It is not directly about music we are talking this time, but literature! Not any kind of book though: "The Inverted Katabasis" is a book about Metal, about Doom Metal even. How accurate is that on doom-metal.com, I ask you?
This is the first tome of a trilogy; Dean Swinford is the young author and we had a chat with him. Read the interview, then grab your copy of "The Inverted Katabasis"!

Interview with Dean Swinford (Author).
"David Fosberg plays guitar in Valhalla. But don't worry: this is no jukebox hero saga of his rise to fame and fortune.
Valhalla's a death metal band. From Florida.
And the rest of the guys just quit. There's not a lot of money in metal hymns to the Elder Gods.
If David can record another album, Plutonic Records will send him on a two week tour to promote it.
A Eurotour.
Where people like metal."

So reads the back jacket of "The Inverted Katabasis", Book 1 of the of the modestly-titled "Death Metal Epic" trilogy by Dean Swinford, which follows David, aka Azrael Le Fevers, on the start of his journey towards...well, so far, almost complete anonymity. Something that should be familiar enough to the underground Metal scene, almost none of whom can realistically expect to see their efforts rewarded by a Kiss-style quadruple-platinum 'Destroyer'.
Without giving too much of the plot away: Valhalla the band are in dire straits, holding an unfulfilled second-album contract in name only, as its members opt for clean-cut collegiate careers or - in David's case - a nine to five at the local bookshop. By chance, David teams up with an almost-kindred spirit, Goth-influenced musician Juan, aka Bard, and the two of them record a Funeral Doom-style album under the Valhalla name. Which, in turn, leads to their record label packing them off on an expenses-not-paid tour of backwater European clubs, carrying a backpack of budget merchandise to sell on the way.
The part-coming-of-age, part-road-trip, part-musical-opus sweep of the novel is eminently readable, with both depth and playfulness to its use of language and inspiration - in equal parts Death (the band, that is) and Shakespeare. If you're familiar with the genres involved, you'll recognise chapter titles and plenty of references, both overt and oblique, but with a subtlety that goes beyond endless name-dropping and lengthy hammering home of the author's personal playlists: both things found irritatingly often in music-centric fiction. Even if you're not quite so familiar, though, it's still an entertaining tale, told well and believably.
The author isn't above poking fun at the excesses and absurdities of extreme music, adopting similarly grandiose voicing to introduce the book, and returning to it from time to time amidst the sympathetic portrayal of characters who are - by and large - as normal, constrained and uncertain as the next person. It's easy to identify with them, and to appreciate that bridge between everyday ordinariness and the larger-than-life persona of the rock stars they'd like to be. I found it a compelling mixture of themes, backed by an in-depth knowledge of both music and the whole underground scene - my only complaint would be that, as the vanguard of a trilogy, I've now got to wait to find out what happens next!
Anyway, since Valhalla are currently on their less-than-lavish proto-Doom-over-Europe trail, we at Doom-metal thought that would be the ideal time to have a chat with the author and hear some more about his views on music and literature.

(1) Hello Dean, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Doom-metal.com. Could we start by asking you to introduce yourself to our readers: who are you and where are you from?
Thanks. Iím Dean Swinford, the author of The Inverted Katabasis, the first book in a series of novels called the Death Metal Epic. Iím also an English professor. My research area is medieval literature and Iíve also written a scholarly book, Through the Daemonís Gate, about the influence of medieval dream visions on the work of the astronomer Johannes Kepler. I live in North Carolina in the United States.

(2) So, you're working on that rarest of beasts - a trilogy of novels proudly based around Death Metal. What inspired that particular choice, and is it at least partially autobiographical in nature?
Thatís a good question. I started playing around with the idea six or seven years ago. A friend of mine was giving me a hard time for doing lots of academic publishing, but not working on anything creative. The character called Juan, or the Bard, is based on this guy, who is a really talented visual artist and illustrator. I started writing the book because I knew he was right. I needed something creative to work on just to keep that part of my mind moving. Also, I donít live near any of the close friends I had growing up, so writing is kind of a way to revisit those people as well as places I have lived. A lot of the characters are built from people I know and the interpersonal dynamics are fictionalized versions of things Iíve experienced. The settings, too, allow me to reimagine places Iíve been.
As far as the music end of it goes, he and I briefly played together as a group like Katabasis and I also had a one-man ambient doom project, Murgulbur, which I spent a lot of time working on when I was in college. I recorded it in a radio station studio like the one I describe in the book. By the time I started to figure out what I was doing, I had to return my studio key in a situation pretty similar to what happens to Juan. Sadly, Murgulburís ultralimited 'Prophecies of Alfheim' never made it past the demo stage.

(3) Although the trilogy is titled "Death Metal Epic", your protagonist quite quickly finds himself becoming half of what sounds like a Funeral Doom project (in the vein of Thergothon-meets-diSEMBOWELMENT). Is that a comment on the general state of Death Metal these days?
Not really, although I guess I think that a lot of the recent releases that appeal to me tend to be funeral doom, or more experimental metal that isnít indie-rock masquerading as metal. I still like lots of new death metal bands, too. If anything, it seems like thereís been a resurgence of bands that are influenced by some of the later Death albums. I like that. If something is technically progressive and lyrically interesting (with, of course, some low, resonant growls), then Iím probably going to like it. In terms of death metal, Iíve been really impressed with Obscura. Plus, their last album is based on a work by the philosopher Friedrich Schelling, so thereís the literary connection.

(4) What do you think of other extreme and underground genres? There are clearly pro-Doom and Gothic influences coming through - in Book 1, at least - are those particular favourites?
Definitely. Even in the early nineties, before doom metal and death metal had developed more distinguishable identities, I always liked the mid-paced death metal albums. Doom death. Like Tiamat, Samael (blackened, of course), or some of the slower and groovier Incantation and Unleashed songs. The last song on Incantationís 'Mortal Throne of Nazarene' is pretty doomy. I guess what I like about more classic doom bands like Candlemass is the song writing and the vocals. You listen to Messiah, and you have no choice but to sing along. And I guess I like the overall attention to atmosphere in so much doom metal. If a song is 20-minutes long, has a good riff, and also includes chimes, bells, and/or monk chanting, then you can be pretty sure that Iíll like it.

(5) I have to ask - Bard's ocarina: is that a sideways reference to computer games, or a tribute to the inventiveness of Metal musicians?
You mean the ocarina in Final Fantasy? Iím actually not a gamer; itís hard enough finding time to write! The ocarina is a way to tie in some of the mythographic ideas in the book. Really, I put it in there to connect metal to some of the Neolithic roots of music. The other instrument like the ocarina that Iím interested in for that reason would be one of those flutes made from mammoth bones that they discovered recently. Juan couldnít get his hands on one of those at the Dadeland Mall, though.

(6) It's nice to read a knowledgeable and intelligent take on all the aspects of the independent music business: you've already covered the band's composition and recording, the machinations of record labels, and the logistics of budget touring in ways that are both readable and believable. Have you been involved in these yourself, or did you have some good advisors?
Iíve been an obsessive reader of Terrorizer since the magazine first came out and I regularly read the reviews on Encyclopedia Metallum, so I think a lot of it is things Iíve read and synthesized over the years. Also, since I had a metal show on my college radio station, I was inundated in the kinds of overwritten press releases that I parody in the book. I guess, too, I travelled a lot as a grad student while living on very meagre stipends, so I tried to bring in my own experiences of living as lightly as possible. You know, itís funny, but a lot of the machinations of the music business sound like theyíre pretty similar to what goes on in the equally elite and underground world of academic publishing.

(7) I can't really name a comparable novel myself, although the thoughtful mix of road trip, discovery and rock music calls up good memories of George RR Martin's "The Armageddon Rag", Bob Calvert's "Hype" and Bradley Denton's "Wrack And Roll". Did you have any literary inspirations for the work, music-based or otherwise?
Those are all cool books. Style-wise, the three main literary influences for me are John Gardnerís Grendel, Cees Nooteboomís The Following Story, and Robertson Daviesí Deptford Trilogy. Grendel is a re-telling of the Beowulf story from the monsterís point of view. It has a guileless hero who has a kind of existential crisis that he tries to solve through the help of some dubious allies. The way the dragon guides, or, better, manipulates Grendel inspires my portrayal of people like Juan, Nekrokor, and Svart in my book. Also, what I always loved about the book is how it uses the language of Old English poetry in a modern style. Thatís what Iím trying to do by playing with the language of metal and interspersing it with a more conversational narrative style. I like how both Nooteboom and Davies rewrite myths in a modern context. Thatís something Iím trying to do as well.

(8) The title of Book 1 - "The Inverted Katabasis" - means a journey out of hell. David, the protagonist, has traded wage slavery in Florida for near-penniless itinerancy on the backstreets of Europe: would you call that a full-blown escape, or just a stage closer to the light? Is it the first step of the journey that's the most critical one?
I think youíre right that the first step is the most important one. For David, heís constantly haunted by the prospect of going home. He doesnít want to go back to Miami, but the gravity of the place (and the life he lived there) is always exerting its force. Even though he ends up thousands of miles away from the Booksalot time clock, itís still there. And heís got that return ticket in his pocket. To that extent, I wouldnít call it a complete escape. And thatís part of what I want to write about. I think that, too often, coming of age stories, especially those about art and music, present a decisive break. Maybe Iím pessimistic, but I donít think life is often like that. Even when you do move forward, thereís still that connection to the past. I guess I wanted to write a coming of age story that doesnít end up worshipping fame as a kind of earthly salvation or immortality. I think thatís a false belief that is problematic in so many ways.

(9) Would you buy Valhalla's albums, if they really existed? And which would you listen to more often: "Thrones Of Satanic Dominion" or "Katabasis: In Circle Of Ouroboros"?
Thatís a great question! I would definitely listen to the Katabasis album on a regular basis. Probably if you mixed the kinds of things I listen to mostólately, Thergothon, Monumentum, and, Iíll admit it, a fair share of Siouxsie and the Banshees, youíd probably end up with something like Katabasis. That said, with Valhalla, I wanted to describe something like a lot of my favourite death metal albums from the early nineties. Not necessarily the ones by the most famous groups, but the ones that captured that sound the best. So, in that regard, Valhalla would probably sound right at home in a playlist that also included tracks from Malevolent Creationís 'The Ten Commandments', Resurrectionís 'Embalmed Existence' (without the weird spoken word intros), and Disincarnateís 'Dreams of the Carrion Kind'. I still listen to those a lot, too. Right now, because Iím working on the second book, Iím trying to steer my listening more towards the kinds of things that would meet the approval of Svart, mastermind of Desekrationís infernal blasphemations, so Iíve been trying to wean myself off of the early nineties death metal and replacing that with steady doses of Inquisition.

(10) At the end of Book 1, David's made some contacts with the corpsepaint-and-winter-forests brigade. Can we expect a touch of Black Metal to creep into his musical repertoire? Any hints about where the story is bound, or will we just have to wait until it's published?
Thatís right. There will be more of a black metal influence in The Goat Song Sacrifice, but the approach Iím taking is different, I think, than that taken in non-fiction books about black metal that kind of mythologize it or the approach taken in fiction not written by metal fans where black metal becomes a kind of shorthand for ďevilĒ and/or juvenile delinquency. David just isnít sure whether he likes it or not. I had that with a lot of the early second wave releases. I was enraptured by them and bought them as soon as they came out (though I am still searching for that elusive copy of DSP 001, 'The Awakening' by Merciless), but I often had to listen to them a few times for me to follow the song or feel the riff. This was hard sometimes because death metal was (and is) much more straight forward about the pursuit of a powerful riff (or, more accurately, riffs). And what I like so much about doom was the repetition and embellished heaviness of a single riff. At times, Iíve thought that is a strength of black metal, and at times I havenít. I wanted David to kind of wrestle through some of the same things. Also, he finds himself in a very different power position in the new band. Letís just say that Juanís costumes endear him more to what you call the ďcorpsepaint and winter forests brigadeĒ than Davidís relative lack of concern with image.
In the new book, Davidís also dealing with the fact that his death/ doom bag of tricks, things like low death grunts and a downtuned guitar tone, are suddenly not the fearsome marks of underground supremacy. In a lot of ways, the series is dealing with that question that, I think, a lot of us who like underground metal grapple with in some way: why do I like this? What am I getting out of it? And, too, how do I maintain my love of this music as I get older and move on in life? Are the two compatible? It deals with a lot of those kinds of questions but, as you mention in the review, in a satirical way.
The time period covered in the books traces that moment when black metal broke big and death metal splintered into more precise sub-genres. The second book has more of a black metal focus, but I think what will distinguish it is that it is not another retelling of the Norway story. Itís set in Hell-gium, not Helvete! The third book (tentative title: The Sinister Synthesizer) focuses on all the weird solo projects and bands that donít quite fit into recognizable generic categories. Stuff like Neptune Towers or that synth-heavy Beherit album that came out after 'Drawing Down the Moon'. But really, the series is about the characters finding their way in the world. The second book is about the recording of Desekrationís InfernŲ, but thereís a lot more going on in David and Juanís lives. Davidís still trying to get over his ex. Juanís costume starts to absorb him, just like Spider Manís black costume. Jan van Eyckís Ghent Altarpiece may make an appearance.

(11) I guess your favourite bands all get a mention in the text, but in true Desert Island Disc fashion - what would your top five albums be?
Desert Island Disc, doom edition:

1. Thergothon: 'Stream from the Heavens'
The amazing thing about this album is that they maintained the atmosphere and pace through the whole thing. I mean, releases routinely do that now, but when it came out, it seemed like bands faced some kind of pressure to show that they could play fast. It came out around the same time as diSEMBOWELMENT, which is similarly amazing, but that record reflects just a little bit more the kinds of things expected of a death metal release. There are still blast beats, thereís some screeching vocals in addition to the lower growls. I love that one, too, but Thergothon managed to cut through all of that and make something that sounds like it stands outside of time.

2. Candlemass: 'Nightfall'
Anything with Messiah, really.

3. Anathema: 'Serenades'
Out of all the Academy releases, Iíve always liked this one the best. I guess, really, I should say 'The Crestfallen' EP. My version of 'Serenades' includes it. The best song, hands down, is 'Crestfallen'. I donít know if this is heretical or not, but I really wish theyíd never gone prog.

4. Mournful Congregation: 'The Book of Kings'
This album is pretty much perfect. Even the ďlightestĒ track, the instrumental, conveys the essence of doom. And the moment when the vocals begin on the song called 'Book of Kings' captures, for me, the emotional catharsis Iím looking for when I listen to doom.

5. Atlantean Kodex: 'The Golden Bough'
I picked this up not too long ago. Itís maybe not as doomy as the other ones (honestly, the #5 slot was a toss-up between this and Sleepís 'Jerusalem'), but it has some amazing songs on it. Plus, I love the literary focus of the band. Iíve been a fan of Frazerís The Golden Bough since I first studied T.S. Eliotís The Waste-Land in college. And their follow up, 'The White Goddess', is named after the same book that my character Juan is obsessed with.

(12) And one last related question, as it's a subject dear to our hearts. What do you consider to be the essence and qualities of great Doom?
I think that, for me, itís the way it stretches out the harmonic interplay of sounds. Generally, Iím thinking of the harmonic interplay of two guitars, and the way that a slow tempo lets you revel in the feeling produced by the sound. Great doom catches you in the riff and kind of holds you there for a while.

(13) Traditionally, we also like to offer the last words to you: is there anything else that you'd like to add?
Thanks so much for the great questions. And for running such an awesome site. Continue your doomination! Anyone reading this should make sure to listen to the amazing radio station on this site.

Then it only remains for me to thank you for your time and the opportunity to talk with you. I hope to see the remainder of the "Epic" published shortly, and wish you much-deserved success with it!
'Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis', by Dean Swinford, is published by Atlatl Press, ISBN 978-0-9883484-3-1, available through Amazon or from the publishers Atlatl website.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Dean Swinford (Author) bandpage.

Interviewed on 2014-03-16 by Mike Liassides.
Advertise your band, label or distro on doom-metal.com