Words and Photos by Andrew Parks
Mick Barr hates doing interviews. We absolutely had to hunt the guy down after hearing the new Krallice disc (Dimensional Bleedthrough, out now on Profound Lore), though. A brilliant piece of psychedelic black-metal, it–like Liturgy‘s Renihilation LP–proves you don’t have to come from the land of ice and snow (i.e. Norway) to make truly essential grim-and-bear-it tracks. In fact, Brooklyn’s concrete jungle will do. Here’s why, as seconded by tonight’s Blackened Music bill at Union Pool (Liturgy is also playing LPR with the stoner-metal supergroup Shrinebuilder on Sunday night)…
self-titled: First off, I wanted to ask you about the song you recently performed at Union Pool. That was one long, completely notated piece, right?
Funny you were there. Yeah, it’s a single piece, with no improvising. There wasn’t enough time to do the whole thing, which is about an hour in length. That was the first time it was performed in that capacity. It has been recorded, but no plans exist to release it at this point. It consists of riffs written over 2008, and I assembled them all together in November [of that year].
Besides the obvious (being able to bounce ideas off someone else), what are the good and the bad things about being in a band as opposed to writing/performing music for one of your solo projects?
Not being the only one accountable is nice. Having other people to hang out with is good. The other members of this band have impressed me countless times. They’re total hard workers with awesome ideas.
The bad sides are having to balance different, and very busy, schedules. It takes a lot longer to get through all this backlogged material we have written. Most of the songs on this new record were around in some form while working on the first album. Having to lug around a lot more gear is a pain, too. When I play solo shows in town, I generally ride my bike or the subway to the venue. As far as writing and performing, it’s a little easier when there’s other instruments to help fill out the space, but there isn’t as much freedom to change things while playing.
One of the things I love about Krallice (and your solo work for that matter) is how psychedelic it sounds at times. The songs can really put you in a trance, you know? Does it feel like that to you as you play?
Yeah, it does sometimes. The trance side of at least the solo material is somewhat intended. Not sure if it is a part of the intent for Krallice; it might just happen, but rehearsals can get pretty heady.
Tell me a little bit about everyone else in the band–about their personalities and what they bring to an average day at the studio.
“U-God…he’s a psychopathic thinker.” Sorry, couldn’t answer this one. Not good at these kinds of descriptions.
The band started with jam sessions between [guitarist] Colin [Marston, also of Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, Byla and Behold…the Arctopus] and you. When did you guys first meet? Was it around the time you did a split with Behold…the Arctopus? And when did you decide to actually give Krallice a name and bring [drummer] Lev [Weinstein] into the fold?
I first met Colin in 2001, at an Orthrelm show in Philly. He offered studio help if need be, and we took him up on it by getting him to record the Orthrelm OV album. And almost all of the releases I’ve put out since then have had his input in some way or another. I also had a subsidiary label called Vothoc that released the first pressing of Behold’s Nano-Nucleonic Summoning CD in 2003. So we’ve been working together for a while now. He lets me borrow his car and stay at his place a lot too.
Krallice was his idea, as he mentioned wanting to make a black-metal record and asked me to contribute. We started writing material in summer 2007, and everything snowballed. The name came from a list of made-up words I showed colin. He chose that one. Getting Lev and Nick involved was Colin’s idea as well.
How would you describe Colin’s playing style? How does it complement/contrast yours? Any favorite record/project of his outside of Krallice?
I’m not that good at describing things like that either, but he uses a very strange tuning, and different string setup than me. I use the totally standard guitar setup. On the records, he is mixed in the left channel and I’m in the right, if that helps. Some favorites: the title track of Behold’s Skullgrid, the Indricothere record….
[Bassist/vocalist] Nick [McMaster] was part of the live lineup initially, so what made you decide to bring him into the band permanently? Did you and Colin like the idea of not having to mess with bass parts on the second record? Did he bring a lot to the table, writing wise?
Nick has been a member of this band for as long as this band has been an actual band. I don’t see him as new. He was hanging out and learning the bass lines while we were recording the first record. I often forget that he didn’t play on the first record. We split the bass writing for this second record between the three of us. He wrote an entire song, “The Mountain,” and contributed some arrangement ideas as well. And he made the cover art and the layout.
When/why did you decide to incorporate his lead vocals into some of the new songs? It certainly makes for a nice contrast, but did you also like the idea of relinquishing the role of ‘frontman’ a little bit, so you could focus more on your guitar parts?
I really liked his vocals from his other band with Lev, Astomatous. (Check out their album The Beauty of Reason; it’s killer.) And like I said before, I hate singing, so it worked out perfectly. He will be taking over as the main vocalist of this band for now. I may do some vocals on newer songs, but that will be decided later.
And, yes, I am very pleased to not be the frontman of this band. I am not a frontman and I am not a singer.
When was Dimensional Bleedthrough recorded? Is being able to use Colin’s studio a mixed blessing because you’re able to work without worrying about being on a clock?
We recorded it right after our tour, from mid-June to mid-July of 2009. Being able to use Colin’s studio is awesome, as (1) he is an amazing producer/engineer, and (2) it’s where we practice, so we all feel comfortable there. However, his time is pretty booked up, so we had to crunch a bit at the end as he had other bands coming in to record.
There’s no mixed blessing; it’s a total blessing. This band wouldn’t exit without the caves.
What was different about the writing/recording for this album besides the fact that Nick was now involved?
We worked on these songs a lot longer and more intensely as well as as a full band. The recording process was incredibly intense. It was right after we got back from tour, we barely even had a few days off. And there was some challenges: I got into a bike accident right before we started and fucked up my elbow, which was a big setback; Colin’s ears were playing tricks on him while mixing; Lev’s feet were playing tricks on him; Nick had a hard time with the cover…
I saw that Wolves in the Throne Room show where you debuted a lot of new material. Were you happy with the reaction they got? Do you almost not even want to play the old songs anymore?
That tour was more of an excuse to practice the songs for recording. We changed things along the way on the road, which was pretty interesting. It was a bit stressful, as we played a different set every night and were still feeling things out, but at least it didn’t feel phoned in. The reaction was mostly good, but I can’t really remember. I have always had a problem with performing older material, so I would be happy to forge ahead and never play anything from the first or second album again. But I’m not in charge.
Tell me a little bit about your own experiences with black metal, as both a listener and a musician. When did you first get into this kind of music? Are you into any of the bands Krallice are often compared to, like Wolves in the Throne Room, Weakling, Burzum or Ulver?
Probably my first actual encounter with black metal was hearing Mercyful Fate in 1990 or so. But I didn’t really get into black metal until 1996, when someone showed me Darkthrone’s Soulside Journey record, which U realize is more death metal, but it struck me and resonated in an intense way. I tracked down a copy of Transilvanian Hunger a few months later and was entranced. I spent a while in a bit of a black metal haze, spending whatever money I had on expensive import CDs. I even made a black-metal album, but I never released it and only ever showed it to a few people. I had to force myself out of it for a while, and stopped following it as intensely from about 2000 to 2007, give or take. And yes, I am into all of the bands you listed, plus probably hundreds of others.
If someone’s never heard black-metal before, but then stumbles onto Krallice and wants to explore more of this stuff, what direction would you point them in? I mean, it still feels like a lot of people see black-metal for the sensationalistic aspect, not the music, which is unfortunate.
There’s so many pockets and paths to follow with black metal that I wouldn’t be able to do that very easily. Probably just tell them to start at the beginning and work their way inward. Or pick a country and explore. It’s pretty easy now to check things out, as music is basically free. And metal seems to have an overwhelming Internet presence. Whatever people get out of music is personal, so if one likes the sensationalism, so be it. Also, luckily for them a lot of the bands involved in the scandals and sensationalism are great.
Do you feel like the small U.S. black-metal scene gets short-changed all the time, with all the focus being placed overseas?
No I don’t. I think it gets plenty of attention. But I also don’t care about that at all. Music in the states has gotten more than enough attention over the years. And besides, European black metal is the blueprint.
What’s this Rainbow Supremacy release you recently put out? Are you going to do any more limited records this year?
This release is a strange one. It’s basically improv metal. You can find the press release here. It probably explains it better than I could. There may be some other limited releases this year, but nothing is set as far as I know.