When I started Heavy Metal Duchess, I thought I had all the time in the world to update and post regular content. As you can see, that plan didn’t work. So my humble apologies to the few that actually read this page. A bigger apology goes to Ben from Black Metal & Brews. I did an interview with Ben almost 4 months ago about metal, beer and mental health. Thanks Ben, for being honest and willing to open about things that society takes too lightly. Here is what Ben had to say:
According to the Black Metal and Brews mission statement; you want to listen to every album possible and drink all the beer. How is that going so far?
Well, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve set an impossibly ambitious goal for myself with this one. I have neither time, patience, nor budget to accomplish this (and I think I’d get alcohol poisoning along the way). However, I have kept true to this in ways. Even though I only end up featuring a small fraction of the music I receive as submissions, I listen to at least ten minutes of everything that comes my way, as even things that sound potentially out of my genre have surprised me in the past. I tend not to like power metal and thrash metal, yet even some of the submissions I’ve received from these communities have been engaging and worth my time. In terms of beer, I do what I can but don’t really have the budget or desire to drink too frequently. I think this surprises some readers, but I appreciate beer as an occasional treat, not as part of a daily routine. With this in mind, I try to make sure that I pick beers that are either classic recipes done to perfection or beers that are completely off the wall and unique.
Black Metal and Brews began as a means for you to combat depression. You put out a personal post a few months back explaining how the website helps you conquer depression and moves you out of your comfort zone. Can you elaborate on that?
Depression is a personal thing, yet it’s not something that is unique to a given individual. I think many people who suffer from depression feel more isolated (either by society or as a symptom of the depression itself) than we actually are. Sometimes isolation is healthy for growth, but sometimes it can be the most suffocating feeling imaginable. As someone who is fortunate enough to be able to get by despite this ongoing issue, I realize that sharing my struggle might encourage others to seek help, support, or whatever it is that they might need. I know that by continually making myself visible and by doing something other people care about, I have created a system for addressing certain aspects of my depression. My primary desire is to withdraw from the world when I feel frustrated, inadequate, or overwhelmed. While sometimes the large amount of emails I receive for BM&B can contribute to this stress, the attention and positive reactions of my readers ensure that I won’t stay away from writing for too long.
It’s important for me to elaborate on this here: for me personally, positive attention can sometimes intimidate and overwhelm. Sometimes people send me messages of support that I just completely ignore because they catch me off guard and scare me. If I do something that people like, I often imagine it as an expectation, a pressure to repeat the positive performance. So please don’t view this as an ego thing or seeking approval nearly as much as it is knowing that something I do regularly brings joy to others. I like knowing that I’m making a difference in the creative communities that inspire me. If you’re depressed and the only joy you have comes from the approval of others, please realize that this is only a small component of life and that the best feelings of all come from approval of yourself.
Depression and other mental issues are taken too lightly in society. If the public cannot see a scar, then it’s not worth talking about. What do you think it will take for the media to open up about mental health especially media in the metal/punk/alternative areas?
What will it take for people to address depression and mental illness properly, especially in media? I honestly don’t think it can or will happen. Too many people who haven’t suffered from a given issue like to pretend they can easily erase or redefine it. We all know that the end result of cancer, AIDS, or heart disease is often death. The topic of suicide as an outcome of depression is often referred to as a “choice,” which on a purely technical level might be accurate, but a choice made during the depths of a sickness that alters the brain’s chemistry is not a choice at all. The unwillingness to acknowledge depression as a sickness only perpetuates and stigmatizes the suffering and isolation that folks with any sort of mental illness experience.
Additionally, in extreme music, there seems to be a disconcerting trend of romanticizing depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. Art needs to reflect reality, which can at times be an uncomfortable place. Still, it bothers me when I see artists glamorizing their own mental health issues without opening up a dialogue on the very real effects of mental illness. A small handful of extreme acts, especially in the depressive/suicidal black metal niche, seem to encourage and celebrate self-harm and suicide. While this may be an artistic expression to some, I have a hard time knowing that bands have sold special editions of albums with razors and syringes to a fanbase that may take this message too far. As a result of this romanticized melancholy, I often feel people in extreme communities may cling to the acceptance of their mental illness in lieu of seeking help. It’s an incredible thing to be accepted as you are, but to wilt away in the grip of mental anguish instead of taking steps to enjoy life more fully is a tragedy. I realize that we do not all experience this in the same way, but I do know that rolling over and accepting depression (or anger, or whatever else may trouble you) as a permanent state will make it that much harder to see opportunities for improvement when they arise.
I realize I didn’t touch on what coverage can be done, because I don’t know what can be done on a broad level. I feel that the first thing would be to start questioning artists whose art is self-destructive. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them would share the messages I’m trying to convey if they were only asked. Instead, the press seems eager to play into the drama and appeal of “dangerous” and “explosive” personalities without examining the repercussions. So…I guess the media should start asking better questions instead of going for the easy headlines, but that’s a general issue with media across the board.
So, tell us, did you successfully complete The Complete Beer Course: Beer Boot Camp for Beer Geeks by Joshua M. Bernstein? What can you tell us that we may not know about beer?
Oh gosh, no. This book is a hefty read and I have every intention of going slowly with it. Each chapter focuses on a style and has a lot to digest. Each section comes with suggested beers that are top examples of the style, so that the reader can sip along and understand what things to look for in a specific beer. My goal is to drink the beers while I read through the book, which will not be a cheap or easy experience, but will hopefully add to my comprehension of the material involved. It’s taken me years to understand extreme music as well as I do (and I still have a lot to learn) so I don’t anticipate I’ll have all the answers about beer any time in the near future. What I do know is that I’ll have a blast while I learn and hopefully impart some of my enthusiasm and excitement to the readers and viewers who are following along with what I do.
With craft beer culture as visible as it has ever been, it’s really hard to say something that other people don’t know. I’m not trying to dig deep for super niche trivia, but I’m frequently humbled by the classics. For all the fun and experimentation that’s involved in the modern craft beer community, especially here in the United States, I still find myself impressed by timeless recipes from Bavarian and Belgian breweries. Revisiting age old beers in between craft brews with peculiar ingredients and angles has been a healthy way for me to remember the purpose of everything I do.
From all the beer reviewed so far, which one still stands the test of time and why do you say so?
Most beers I’ve given favorable reviews are probably worth visiting again. However, I’ll admit I’m not often one to revisit beers frequently. This is partially because my budget doesn’t allow me to keep a six-pack (or bomber) on hand for fun very frequently unless I want to cut into my list of beers that I plan on reviewing in the future. Some old favorites that have held up nicely are North Coast’s Brother Thelonious, Delirium Nocturnum, and the seasonally appropriate Pumking from Southern Tier. Brother Thelonious was the first beer I ever had served at room temperature, possibly one of the only bar experiences I remember so vividly. It’s been a favorite since that day. Delirium Nocturnum is just simply great. All of the beers coming from Brouwerij Huyghe (makers of Delirium) are top notch, but that’s the only one I’ve reviewed. Finally, Pumking is probably the best pumpkin beer I’ve had aside from Southern Tier’s other autumnal offering, Warlock. There are a few other mighty beers I’d really like to include here as top picks, but I haven’t reviewed them yet and don’t want to reveal any impending plans.
Let’s talk music. I know we are a few months away, but what’s on your top ten lists for 2014 so far? (NB. This interview was conducted four months ago…)
Top ten lists are hard even at the end of the year. Damn, let’s see. I feel like I fall in love with a new album every other day, and I’m sure I forget important albums left and right because my brain is more of a sieve than it is a container for thoughts. Lots of great music comes in, gets heard once or twice, and then floats away to other people who actually retain things. If I were to draft it off the top of my head, I’d surely forget things that are crucial and include things that aren’t as noteworthy but are currently in my head. Here’s a tentative list that will likely be seriously altered come December:
Lasher Keen- Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy
Beach Pneumatic- Beach Pneumatic
Body of Light- Limits of Reason
Yellow Eyes- The Desert Mourns
Thestral- Y Canu Brud
Grafvolludr- Promo 2014
Ill Omen- Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence
Rotting Sky- Sedation
To be honest, I know I’ve got dozens of cassettes on hand that might threaten to enter the list but I’ve got a lot of time to dig through my shelves between now and the end of the year, plus there are a few releases I’m itching to hear but waiting until they arrive in physical format instead of in my email. The greatest frustration about running a website that features music I love is knowing that for every incredible release I feature, I’ve neglected to feature at least two or three other great albums that deserve to be heard and loved by a broader audience.
What is your biggest pet peeve in the music industry right now?
My biggest pet peeve in the music industry? Man, I may be shooting myself in the foot here, but since it’s my field of choice it’s the thing I notice the most. I really don’t like lazy music writing that caters itself more towards turning a profit than actually engaging the audience with quality words about exciting new music. I won’t name names, although unexciting websites about underground music are a dime a dozen, and they’re typically the ones that are profiting from advertisements. That’s not to say that money inherently ruins writing, as many of the best metal writers right now are definitely seeing some income, but I feel a lot of sites with ads give in to temptation to put out Buzzfeed-esque articles or crappy gossip pieces instead of really putting something of merit out there. I could rant about this for ages and it would do me no good, but seriously…some days the only thing keeping me writing is the knowledge that a large majority of the metal press lacks integrity and quality control.
You hold down a full-time job, play dad to an inquisitive cat and still manage to churn out quality pieces for Black Metal and Brews. What would you like to say to aspiring music writers? Also, what myths would you like to debunk about being a music writer?
Aspiring writers should write because it satisfies them. If you do it for love and passion, you’ll always do your best. That’s not to say that your best today will be as good as your best next week, but that’s the whole point. Anything you do regularly is a craft and regular practice will make it improve. I’m not embarrassed by any of my mediocre writing, but I use it as a touchpoint for my own planned growth and improvements. I’m always looking forward to new music and new opportunities to expand my voice. I encourage others to do it as well. Also, don’t do what I did and name your site with a genre in mind unless you’re 100% positive that’s all you’re going to want to do. In retrospect, I’d probably have chosen a name with less limitation, but I write about whatever I want on Black Metal & Brews and know that my audience will follow because I’ve developed a reputation for pushing stuff from out of left field. Also, don’t read what others write about an album until you’ve written your own review. If possible, don’t even discuss it. If your opinions are formed on the basis of others’, you’re inherently selling our own judgment short. Readers want to know that you back everything you say in writing. While it may be an easy grab to write high praise of that hot new album, you’ll regret it when all those new readers you gain realize they don’t have much in common with your typical fare. Carve your niche and your audience will eventually find you, even if it takes a few years.
What can we expect in the future from Black Metal and Brews?
The future of Black Metal & Brews is a strange and nebulous beast. Work and life throw me in many directions I don’t always anticipate. Sometimes I have a prolific month or two. Sometimes I go weeks without a blip. This is still just a hobby but I’m slowly laying groundwork to make this more of a self-sustaining project. I’ve purchased art to eventually make some merchandise and do plan on finding a few fun ways to possibly make a small income from this without diluting the purpose of my writing. I’m also hoping to launch a podcast and get back to making beer and tape pairing videos in the near future, hopefully by the year’s end.
Would you like to add anything?
What can I add here? I’m not the most exciting or brilliant person, but I’ve found something I’m good at and done it for a couple years and some folks have taken note. I’m sure some folks can’t stand what I do, and that’s okay too. So, I guess if you’re reading this and you’re maybe in a rut like I was in when I began my site a couple years ago, just find something you like doing and do it a lot. Do it by yourself. Do it publicly. Just do something and do it until you either lose interest or develop a following. The world needs its bankers and chefs, but it also needs people who create custom fridge magnets on etsy and nerdy dudes who write about beer and underground music. If you think your niche doesn’t exist, it’s only because you haven’t created it yet. Thanks for taking the time to ask these questions and wait for my responses.