Interview with Valder (Eternal Death Records)

Valder is the man behind the compelling new label Eternal Death, focusing mostly on raw and primitive black metal, with an intelligent and artistic feeling. He is also involved in bands like One Master, Fatalism, and Lustrum. Being on his label with one of my bands, I wanted to ask him a few questions about the state of underground metal music in the US today, as well as to get to know the man a bit better.

You live in the North-East part of the US, which doesn’t differ much from the weather or nature of Scandinavia. Do you find these surroundings and area to be the kind where you most enjoy your life?

I definitely have a strong affinity for the north-east US – the landscapes, the mountains, the four seasons, the curmudgeonly attitudes… I lived in the southern US for a few years during college and definitely missed living in New England and moved back as soon as I finished. I am slowly moving my life up to the heart of the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. Nothing beats living up there.

Have you always been into heavy music, since childhood, or did this come about later in your teens? Was it hard to find like-minded people where you grew up?

The first tape I ever bought was “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns ‘N Roses when I was 10. When I was a young kid and teenager I mostly listened to punk music, but also would stay up to watch Headbanger’s Ball and had some interest in metal. The area I grew up in had a strong punk / hardcore scene so there were always gigs going on and new bands coming up, but there wasn’t really any strong underground proper metal scene I was connected to.

I didn’t get into black metal until I was 19. Summer of 1998, first black metal release I bought was the “Firestarter” comp. put out by the old Century Black subdivision of Century Media. I saw it at a local record shop, it was only like $6 or $7 and looked very interesting (has an actual match in the jewel case) so I decided to pick it up. The first track is “Thus Spake the Nightspirit” and it totally floored me – I hadn’t heard anything like that before. It introduced me to a lot of really good bands. Immediately after picking up that comp I got the Emperor “Wrath of the Tyrant/self-titled” re-release and Ulver “Nattens Madrigal.” A friend of mine in college had independently gotten into black metal that summer so when I got back to school he introduced me to Storm of the Lights Bane, Blizzard Beasts, Filosofem, Transylvanian Hunger…

Hearing all of these great 2nd wave bands definitely was a spark for me. It took a few years, but I slowly lost interest in most punk music and started listening largely to metal, and mostly black metal at that.

Do you think the atmospheres of your surroundings have something to do with becoming fascinated with musical styles such as black metal? Have you been mostly intrigued by black metal, or have you at the dame time been into other extreme musical styles as well?

The cold attitudes and (at times) landscapes/weather of the north-east US definitely mesh well with the atmosphere of proper black metal and other forms of dark music. For instance, being on top of a 4,000 ft peak in the White Mountains in the winter can be quite a remote, cold, grim, and unforgiving place.

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I think my interest in black metal comes from two angles – one is the music and the other is the aesthetics, and I would say they are both equally compelling. I actually had a discussion with some friends about this recently and we all agreed that black metal is one of the forms of music where the aesthetics / atmosphere are just as (if not more) important that the actual music.

In my opinion, when black metal is done the right way, it is founded on feelings of estrangement and the need to create your own world. I’ve always been someone who felt like an outcast. I’ve never been able to escape the feeling of being disconnected from others. I go through binges and purges of social activity, but I think any one who really knows me would say I’m, at heart, an anti-social person. The Left Hand Path ideology of (what I consider to be) true black metal I find to be compelling because it is based on the need focus inward and create your own values and world rather than trying to mindlessly accept something someone else has created.

Lately, I’ve actually been listen to a lot of music that wouldn’t normally be associated with metal at all – what you could call retro-electro, bands like Gost, Perturbator, Carptenter Brut.  What I find to be interesting about these bands is that they play melancholic / dark music delivered in a very clean, basically bubble-gum way. The contrast of feelings in one package is what I find to be compelling.

Right now, I would say black metal makes up a majority of what I listen to, but I also listen to my fair share of neo-folk, death metal, tradish metal/hard rock, darkwave/goth, and some d-beat/crust punk.

Your oldest band active at the moment – One Master – released it’s first demo about twelve years ago. Could we say this band is your most precious child in a sense?

One Master is the band I put the most effort and heart into. If a band could be considered a child, I’d say its my most prized son…

Your bands have a very eerie occult yet sophisticated artistic feel to them, yet they perform quite primitive and raw stuff. Do you think this is the most powerful way to bring visions, emotions and states of mind across, or is this only because you like to perform music like this?

I’d say its a combination of all of that.  I like the contrast of music with an epic base to it but delivered in a raw, barbaric way.  Songwriting for me is a slow and meticulous process and the atmosphere created by a riff or a melody is really what decides whether it makes its way into a song.

Do the occult philosophies and arts play an important role in your daily life, and do you feel you have always been interested in things such as mythology, symbols, psychology, etc.?

Occultism plays a role in how I view myself and try to arrange things in my life. I see it as a way to understand the world and yourself rather than a playbook of words you need to read to get something to come out of an old bronze cauldron. I have come to understand how certain symbols, words, smells, sounds, etc. affect me and the people around me. With that understanding, you can have more power over your life and control your surroundings to achieve desired results. I read occult texts (Agrippa, Crowley, Levi to name some) and pick from them things I can use in my life in my own personal way – I don’t view them as some kind of objective authority that I must follow. I’ve always had an interest in mythology (when I was younger most compelling to me was the mythological figure Satan – as portrayed by Milton and Blake especially – and also Norse mythology), but my interest has grown as I’ve gotten older and been more accepting of the inherently irrational aspects of existence.

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Where did the decision to form a label come from. Were you active in the underground before that, trading records and so on?

To be honest, the main reason I decided to start a label was to have a stable way to release records from my own bands. During the first incarnation of One Master, I found some labels who expressed interest in putting out our stuff but nothing ever came through. I ended up just self-releasing all of our records.

When we re-started in 2012 after a bit of a hiatus, I didn’t want to go through the situation again of having material but no one to put it out, so I decided to just start my own label.  My friend Sal from Peasant Magik had done re-releases of our full lengths on tape and vinyl and did a split tape for us, but he had slowed down the label by the time we started being a functioning band again.  When I made the final decision to start a label, I first was focused on bands who were local and then started to slowly branch out when people heard of the label.

Before starting the label I had been trading records and tapes, so I had some experience in getting in touch with underground labels.

You have gotten a lot of good press lately, with your releases being featured at very visible places online. Do you think this online exposure is more important these days than the older version of just releasing good records, playing gigs, and waiting the word to spread on the streets?

I think both online press and traditional word of mouth are important as they both reach different crowds of people. Younger people tend to use the online stuff (or at least that’s what I think….?) and more older / diehards tend to pick up stuff from a combination of that and traditional word of mouth type stuff.  Releasing good record after good record will eventually build up interest in a label. There’s just a critical mass of interest that a label needs to reach where people give a new release a chance or a look because they trust the taste of the label – I’m hoping to reach that level at some point.

Have you seen any increase in your sales, or is the business slow and steady as it is mostly dealing with physical releases these days?

Sales fluctuate – after a review comes out, an interview is published, or an advert gets sent out I’ll often get a small batch of orders. But I have noticed a slowly but surely increasing frequency of orders even absent any particular review or feature or whatever. I knew that starting an underground label was not a money making endeavor, but if I can get near to breaking even and keep putting out new releases with money from the label, I’ll be satisfied.

What are your plans for the future, regarding the label. Do you work on the bands signed right now to be more exposed, or are you interested in adding more interesting artists to the roster?

I’m trying to not spread myself too thin and take things slow. If you put out too many releases at the same time, its hard to give them the care they need and people also get overloaded with one label putting out too much stuff at once. I’ve got a few releases in the pipeline (The Meads of Asphodel/Tjolgtjar split 12”, One Master full length, Haxen full length, TKNKNTJ full length, One Master/Sangus split 12”) and will probably try to slow down on taking new projects until the existing ones being planned come out. I like all of the bands I’ve worked with and am interested in working with them again. I’m open to working with new bands as well, but unfortunately a label has to be a bit selective in what they put out because there’s only so much $$ available and so much time.

My ultimate goal is do most releases on vinyl, but it is a tricky thing – its expensive to press and real expensive to ship, especially overseas. I have a few vinyl releases in the queue and as long as I don’t lose my shirt on them, will be planning on doing more in the future.

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How about your own bands? Does the label take most of your time from musical work, or have you made a commitment to keep the band activity working full speed as well, playing gigs and so on?

It can be difficult trying to balance the label with being in three bands. One Master rehearses 2 hours away from where I live so it can take up a lot of time. Because of different schedules of everyone involved, we’ve had to spread out recording our new full length over several sessions.  Its slowly coming together and right now I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made. We’ve also got plans for two split releases (7” w/Satanic Dystophia and 12” w/Sangus) so I’ve been trying to finish up writing and we’re going to try to nail down a cover.

Lustrum and Fatalism rehearse less often, but both bands are trying to get things moving forward.  Fatalism is working on a Joy Division cover for a comp. release that should be quite interesting.  We’re also writing new material and trying to book our first show. Because we don’t really fit into any specific music genre, its hard to find the right gig to play.

Lustrum took a long hiatus but we’re finally back together, rehearsing as a 3-piece. It looks like someone is interested in putting out a live tape, and we tentatively have some gigs being scheduled in early 2015. Looking to really channel the spirit of Cronos circa-1984 in these gigs…

Thank you very much for this interview! Any last words?

“Nobody believes in anything any more and yet everybody swallows everything they are told wholesale.” – JK Huysmans, La Bas

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