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As US author J.J. Anselmi has just released his new book 'Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-metal', Comrade Aleks wanted to find out more about how he approached the subject.

Interview with J.J. Anselmi (Author/Musician).
"Well, where to start…it's a delicate topic for me. When I was writing the last articles for 'Doom Metal Lexicanum II' (which should be released soon, I believe) in August 2019, I started to figure out the idea of book covering Doom Metal history, a sort of chronology. I had one more 'Lexicanum' on my mind at that moment, but this project seemed to a be more actual and demanding thing. So, I had an approximate content list in September and started gathering material, and bang! Just two or three weeks after that I received an email from a promoter announcing: "Author J.J. Anselmi to release 'Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-metal' February 11, 2020." Haha… wtf? I was puzzled, but continued to work, until about two weeks ago when I got the chance to read this. I faced some criticism from Doom purists after the 'Lexicanum' release because of a few names in my listed bands, but I guess the situation is different for J.J., because he reveals an American point of view of Doom and I find it interesting to take a look at this topic from a different angle. Also, the thing which I appreciate in 'Doomed To Fail' is how deeply J.J. explores the social background of the genre, that's something different! I had a constructive conversation with him, and here it is."


Musician and author J.J. Anselmi.


J.J., what's your musical and literary background? How were you involved in Doom Metal and writing about it?

I've played drums in multiple heavy bands over the years, including In the Company of Serpents and Former Worlds, and I've been a huge fan of doom and sludge since high school. As for the literature background, I've written one other book, 'Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music', and I have an MFA in creative writing. When I discovered my passion for writing in college, writing about heavy music was a pretty logical outlet for me to pursue. I think doom has a lot of space for interpretation, which makes it fun to write about.

What's 'Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming…' about?

It's about growing up in rural America, riding freestyle BMX, and finding identity in heavy music. There was a lot of suicide and addiction where I grew up, so I was pretty disaffected and angry, but I found solace in bands like Black Sabbath, Pantera, Metallica, and Slayer. I got into hallucinogenic drugs pretty heavily for a short period, and I started to drift a bit in terms of my sanity, so the book covers that, too, in addition to my later decision to get sober. Really it's a headbanger's coming-of-age story.

The first thing which struck me in your book is its cover: seeing in one row Doom, Sludge and Post is like pain in an ass for fans of Doom Metal in its traditional forms. So what's your definition of Doom and how are Sludge (okay, that's more obvious) and Post-Metal connected or rooted with it?

I get into this a lot more in the book, but doom to me often reaches toward some kind of spiritual truth, although there's a wide range as far as what that can mean. From occult spirituality in bands like Coven and Electric Wizard to straight up Christianity in Black Sabbath and Trouble, there's a very wide berth for how that spirituality can come into play. I think of sludge as being much more grounded in concrete realities such as drug addiction and social turmoil. Post-metal to me is music that has elements of doom or sludge but then goes on to subvert and/or redefine genre tropes and expectations in some way. The connection is that it's all slow metal, and it all reaches from the roots of Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath" in one way or another.

Did you get your portion of criticism for mixing genres?

Nope, not yet at least. I feel like most people who listen to doom also listen to sludge and post-metal, so it only makes sense. So far, people have been especially stoked on the sludge and post-metal portions.

A lot of old trad bands (both from USA and the Old World) have said it's harder to get a response with this music in the States, and European tours go better most of the time. Would you say there's a real difference in taste, or maybe lifestyle, between Europe and States?

I haven't spent enough time in Europe to say for sure, but I've heard from multiple bands that they get treated better in terms of pay and turnout at European shows. That said, there's still a very dedicated fanbase for heavy music in the US, and I don't see that going anywhere anytime soon.

I remember Paradise Lost said in one of their interviews that they lost a chance sometime in the '90s when they could have toured America, and as they failed to do it they lost this market and couldn't be successful there again. Would you agree it's still important to tour for bands nowadays?

Yeah I think so, especially when it comes to heavy music: the live experience is often so much more powerful than listening to the recordings. When you see a band like Neurosis live, it's visceral on a different level than their albums, which are incredibly visceral in themselves. Sunn O))) is another good example of that: live, the experience is on an entirely different level in terms of power and impact.

J.J> Anselmi - 'Doomed to Fail Book Trailer' (2020):


Major labels still have their place in major magazines and they have big names which could keep their sales high, at the same time smaller bands have lots of instruments for promotion through the internet but the majority of them are doomed to remain underground. What role do labels play nowadays in band promotion? Does this situation mark a scene stagnation to some degree, as listeners have no chance to find out new names if they don't search really hard? And an ordinary listener won't search further than the big names everyone knows.

I don't think of it as stagnation but rather just an ongoing change in how people consume music; and I still think bands that are signed typically have a much bigger chance of getting noticed, especially if the label has some kind of PR team, even if it's small. The label nowadays still seems to act as a kind of curator in terms of highlighting music and grouping it together into a cohesive umbrella. If labels like Relapse, Neurot, Profound Lore, Thrill Jockey, Translation Loss, or Deathwish put out a record, it tells people that it's worth paying attention to because of the reputation the label has for putting out impactful music. For people just getting into heavy music, I think following labels like those can be an awesome guide. In the end, I think the internet has been awesome for extreme music, because if people want to find it, they can. The barriers have been removed.

I appreciate the fact what you've tried to dig deeper into the social roots of this antisocial musical genre. Most Doom bands deny connection with society and avoid raising social topics in their lyrics. You mention an interesting thing that Blues was music for slaves. Do you think that Doom is an attempt by modern slaves of the system to run away from it?

I think doom is for sure a response to economic inequality and the way the proletariat has historically been treated. So much of Sabbath's sound comes from the fact that they were angry kids who grew up in an industrialized hell hole. Music was their way of trying to upset that system, and I think that spirit has carried on into doom as a whole. People who are completely content with the way things are don't typically play doom.

I wouldn't agree with that. I guess, for example, South American metal scene tends to more extreme forms because of that in general. And doom metal seems to be a genre for those who have time for reflection – be it the retrospective aspects of Death/Doom, "escapistic" elements of Trad, or Epic Doom which deals with fantasy and mysterious topics. Don't you think perhaps doom is music for the replete rather than the hungry, which brings more naked aggression in more straightforward forms music?

I think one of the awesome parts about doom, sludge, and post-metal is that there's room for both introspective and immediate responses and messages. Something like Sunn O))) is obviously going to turn the listener inward, but then bands like Noothgrush and Eyehategod provide a lot of immediate and raw social commentary. I don't play something like Sunn O))) unless I'm ready to sit with it, but there's plenty of sludge and doom with an immediate charge for listeners.

Sludge is rooted in Hardcore, and I wonder if this kind of music could have appeared anywhere outside the USA. How do you see the core elements of the Sludge movement? Could it have been born without drugs?

From stuff like to Iron Monkey to Moloch, I think there's a ton of great sludge by bands that aren't based in the US. Corrupted started as a sludge band, and they're based in Japan. As for the core elements, I think sludge revolves around trying to depict the concrete negativity of everyday life. It's possible that sludge could've been born without drugs, but drug use has definitely contributed to the antisocial and depressive vibe of bands like Melvins and Eyehategod, especially in their earlier days.

Lot of bands praise the "creative effects" of drugs in different ways (be they visual, sonic or lyrical), and we have hard as fuck Sludge bands on one hand and more relaxed Stoner or Stoner/Doom bands on the other. What's your attitude towards this contradiction?

I think a lot of it depends on the drugs people are into—since something like meth is going to make you feel so much different than weed—but also what people are trying to do in their music. It's not so much a contradiction as it is the reality that people have different things to say and explore in their art. Drugs can play a role in that for sure, but music is shaped by the way people see the world and what their experiences of it has been.

As sludge is tied to the NOLA region, can you say what other Doom subgenres are specific for other states or areas?

Doom as a whole was heavily shaped by Birmingham, England, and that city continued to inspire musical innovation later with Godflesh. Paradise Lost have mentioned that their bleak environs played a significant role in shaping their sound. There's some very strong funeral doom coming out of the Pacific Northwest such as Un and Bell Witch, and I think part of that is because of the bleakness that takes hold there during certain times of year. Stoner rock was heavily shaped by the desert of Southern California, but I don't see that branch of music as metal necessarily. In addition to New Orleans, the southern United States has shaped multiple bands' sounds, although in different ways. From Weedeater, Buzzoven, and Kylesa to Jucifer and Harvey Milk, the American south has had a huge impact on heavy music.

J.J., how did you figure out the book's structure? I know well enough how hard it is to build the genre storyline from its roots to the present, so you really have to cover the main stages of its development carefully, including one band or avoiding another.

The hardest part was figuring out how to include such a wide range of bands within one book. I thought just focusing on doom or sludge would be too limiting and redundant, especially since post-metal has significant elements of both and has played such a huge role in showing people what slow, heavy music can do. But it was hard at first to decide on the best way to put everything together. When I realized that I should separate the bands according to sub-genre, that helped me lay out each section and form cohesive timelines. From there I was able to trace each style and try to pinpoint the bands and records that have impacted them most.

It's impossible to offer detailed stories of all the bands in the genre, so why did you choose those bands who are in the book? Why do you see them as vital?

I tried to focus on bands that helped to evolve heavy music in a substantive way. Some of the choices were easy when it came to bands that were very far ahead of their time or completely novel when they came out, such as Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Cathedral, Sleep, Melvins, Eyehategod, Godflesh, and Neurosis. All those bands stood apart from their contemporaries in very clear ways.

The decision on who to include got harder when it came to bands like Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey. As much as I love those bands' music, I think the basis for those styles had already been well established when they came out, so I didn't focus on them. I also tried to highlight contributions from women and people of color since doom—and metal as a whole—has historically been very white and male-dominated. I want to show people that everyone is welcome in this world.

With the first part of Doom Metal Lexicanum we lost betweeen 15 - 20 per cent of the initial text, for good or bad. How much text was cast aside in your case?

It's hard to estimate because my revision process for any writing always includes cutting out lots of redundancies and unnecessary material. With 'Doomed to Fail', I feel like there was an equal amount of cutting as there was going back and making additions. For example, I realized after I had a first draft of the whole book that I really needed a chapter on death doom/funeral doom, and the Crowbar and Khanate portions were later additions as well.

Was it an initial decision to quote outside sources instead of interviewing the bands in person? Isn't that more difficult, due to issues with copyright? People say most musicians are quite talkative when you catch them during gigs.

I generally made that decision by who I could get interviews with. With bands like Eyehategod, Godflesh, Neurosis, and The Obsessed, there's so many interviews out there that ask the same questions and get the same responses. So instead of asking those musicians questions they've answered a bunch of times, I utilized outside sources for that information.

By the way, have I got it right that there aren't any illustrations in the book? Is that because of copyright issues?

There are no illustrations or album art, but there's a photography section in the middle featuring photographs by Sally Townsend and Bronson Karaff, who are both ridiculously talented at what they do. Bronson also took the photo of Jucifer that's on the cover.

Ah, okay… then they aren't included in the digital promo copy. What are your current top ten of doom bands?

Tough question, but I'll give it a shot. Some of these blur genre boundaries.
1. Spotlights
2. Northless
3. Yob
4. Vile Creature
5. Bell Witch
6. Indian
7. Primitive Man
8. Matriarch
9. Destroy Judas
10. Un
As for all-time favorites, I would have to say Sabbath (Ozzy era), Neurosis, Eyehategod, and Harvey Milk, but again, this is more for heavy music in general than doom on its own.

Thanks for your time J.J.! It's good to get a different view on a known topic, so thanks for the book as well. Do you plan to return to doom writings again? Just want to be sure if I have enough time to finish my own project in a more relaxed way : )

Haha, no need to rush. My next book is going to be about my hometown. Thanks for the interview and for your book as well!


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


Visit the J.J. Anselmi (Author/Musician) bandpage.

Interviewed on 2020-04-19 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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