Black clothes. Dark hair obscuring black-ringed eyes and sullen, white-smeared faces. Mournful melodies. Lyrics steeped in sorrow. Blades sinking into pale flesh, dripping crimson. What kind of music are we talking about here? If you said “hey, that’s a trick question because it could be goth or it could be depressive black metal,” then Curezum is for you.
Born in the gloom of Portland, Oregon, out of a love for both of those genres and a desire not to have to write any original songs, Curezum is a consortium of musicians from some of the city’s heaviest and most experimental bands that sets the music of British goth architects The Cure to the template pioneered by infamous murderer/racist/arsonist/RPG designer Varg Vikernes’ one-man black metal band Burzum.
The project was spearheaded by members of Megaton Leviathan and Barrowlands, alongside legendary underground metal producer Billy Anderson (Eyehategod, Mr. Bungle, Sleep), but quickly inspired more Pacific Northwest metal luminaries to come out of the Cure closet to contribute to the upcoming Curezum LP, including Wrest of Leviathan and members of Agalloch, Witch Mountain and Eight Bells.
Yeah, the name is kind of goofy, but take a listen to the first single, “One Hundred Years” (streaming below), and you’ll realize it’s more chocolate-and-peanut-butter synergy than wacky toothpaste-and-orange-juice novelty. I spoke with core members Anderson, Mort Subite, Martti Hill and vocalist “Rob Vikernes,” and they are definitely goofy. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if we all die….
Noisey: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much is Curezum a joke band?
Mort Subite: Not at all. Okay, well, maybe just a little. 7/15ths? What is that in base ten?
Rob Vikernes: At least 35.
Martti Hill: Are you talking about today? Today I'm totally serious about this band. Ask me again tomorrow though.
Billy Anderson: π
Seriously though, why did you decide to do a parody project instead of an original hybrid of black metal and goth influences?
Subite: Mostly because it's the easiest thing for all of us to do that doesn't involve the writing aspect of being in a band, which is super time-consuming. It’s tough enough to get us all in the same room together to get stuff done with all of our schedules. Beyond that, we're all huge fans of The Cure, and we're obviously all pretty intimately entwined with "extreme" music, so it was mostly a matter of it being a thing that all of us could manage outside our other obligations without having to do too much work, and also something that would net the greatest return in terms of musical output because the songs are already there. The love for the combined aspects is sincere; as far as I'm aware, the best way to show that you love something is to mercilessly eviscerate it.
Hill: We've all got other projects going on where we get to indulge in those things. The idea of The Cure as a metal band was something that Mort and I both had floating around in the backs of our minds for a while. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's a completely original idea—all you have to do is look on YouTube to see a variety of metal covers of songs by The Cure. We're just taking it a step further, and hopefully better.
What was the tipping point for Curezum going from a funny idea to a project that you were seriously pursuing?
Vikernes: When it provided a flimsy pretext to extend my work visa in the U.S.
Subite: For me personally, it was sitting down with the Cure album Pornography, writing the guitar arrangements and realizing how effortlessly they translated.
Anderson: Yeah, when you start to play the songs with a more "metal" attitude, it's surprising how fucking metal The Cure actually is. Their chord structures and arrangements are pretty similar to some black metal stuff anyway, so simply changing the tones and then playing double time points them toward being Curezum.
What do The Cure and Burzum have in common musically and philosophically? And what are the biggest differences?
Vikernes: Well, philosophically, there's the toxic nationalism and the Tolkien references. As far as differences are concerned though, I would imagine it's mostly down to what brand of white foundation makeup they use.
Subite: Listen to the keyboards on Burzum’s Dunkelheit and tell me Varg isn't into pop music. Both bands utilize really fantastic songwriting and a trend towards a kind of hypnotic repetition of simple but powerful rhythmic patterns. On the conceptual front, they're both bands that are ultimately the brainchild of one person, and the lyrical themes are similar in that they both deal heavily with loss. Smith in the case of personal trauma and Varg with his "humanity has lost its way" shtick. Conversely, I think one of the most hilarious juxtapositions of this whole project is that Robert's like this liberal socialist, eternally nice (if a bit dour) British guy, and Varg is, well, Varg.
Based on the guest list for your upcoming LP, it seems like half the Pacific Northwest metal underground is made up of not-so-secret Cure fans. How did all these folks become involved? Are The Cure is more popular among metalheads up there than in the rest of the US?
: Yeah, Cure fans came out of the woodwork on this. People started hitting me up the second we started telling people. Most of the time I was like, "I fuckin knew it! You love The Cure!" And everybody is like "Hell yeah!" and starts naming songs they've always wanted to play.
: The more recent generation of heavy, underground Pacific Northwest bands have contained elements of the atmospheric and the off-kilter for a while now, and I feel like it's been a large influence on the trend toward "post-metal" or whatever you want to call it in heavy music these days. It’s not just the Cure, but an appreciation for a much greater spectrum of music besides metal. I think it's pretty true of a lot of the heavy underground scene up here and elsewhere that most of us are into all kinds of stuff from noise to goth and industrial, experimental genres, even into hip-hop, pop, country, folk, etc. I just saw [UK post-punk group] the Chameleons here the other week and the amount of metal and punk fans in attendance was not insignificant. It's probably tied into the PNW's image as haven for progressive types.
How long do you see Curezum lasting? Will you ever expand the m.o. beyond Burzum-ized Cure songs?
Subite: Anything’s possible, but as far as the core concept, I think we've probably already cherry picked all the tracks that we can reasonably rework into extreme metal tracks without drastically bastardizing them, in which case I think we've probably got at least two albums’ worth of songs compiled from various Cure releases. I would personally like to do Pornography in its entirety. Alternatively, we can play live pretty much indefinitely, and we've been working on making that a reality off and on since we put the project together. Worst case scenario, we can always get sent to jail and do some medieval dark ambient renditions of the songs.
Who do you think would enjoy Curezum more, Robert Smith or Varg Vikernes?
Vikernes: Hopefully neither.
Anderson: I think they'd both hate it. Hopefully. Or they'd really like it and want to be in the band. Which wouldn't happen, 'cause fuck both of them.
Subite: I seem to recall Robert being somewhat protective of The Cure, and kind of disdainful of metal in general, so I don't know. I think he said he liked Korn, which probably doesn't bode well for us. On the one hand, I'm fairly certain that Varg would probably enjoy the end result, but I tend to have a nuclear cringe implosion whenever I read anything about the guy, so I don't know how impervious to parody the concept surrounding Burzum is on a fundamental level. Like, he might take it as some kind of personal attack or something, but then again I'm not overly concerned with the opinions of arsonists and murderers, so if anything I guess I hope Robert at least doesn't hate us for taking his songs and making versions of them he can't stand.
Anthony Bartkewicz is keeping it grim on Twitter.