Ancst is tired. The members of the collective itself are probably worn out from recent tours and the effort it took to bring their vicious new album, Moloch, into fruition, but moreso than that, they're tired of society's bullshit, and are using their DIY-built platform to address and confront those ills. As a statement of intent on their website makes clear, "We're tired asking the same unanswered questions and using this collective to create a vent for all the accumulated frustration about democracy, fascists, racists, sexists and all the other fucked up agendas. Our storm will wash it all away."
That storm is brewing for sure, as the band gears up to release its most ambitious and widely-distributed album yet. Ancst's sound is a frantic blend of black metal, crust, post-rock, screamo, and hardcore—"neocrust," if you insist, though the band's impartial to genre tags. It's urgent, dynamic music with a firmly-held message: "anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-religion, death to NSBM." These ideas are still weirdly controversial in the black metal scene, but Ancst takes a more negatively holistic view, noting that these are societal problems—not just subcultural problems—especially in their current home of Berlin, where tensions are running at a fever pitch and intolerance is on the rise.
No matter how you feel about their politics, Moloch's roiling riffs and furious urgency are hard to resist, and straddles the foggy DMZ between Tragedy and Pale Chalice with aplomb. The album is officially out on April 15, and in true DIY fashion, Moloch is a collaborative release—a cadre of four different labels are involved in its execution. Vendetta Records is handling the vinyl version in Europe (Halo of Flies has that covered for the USA), Yehonala Tapes is doing the CD release, and D'Kolektif will release the South East Asian tape version. Both vinyl editions are available for preorder now—Vendetta's is here, and the Halo of Flies version is here.
Now that we've got all that cleared up, check out my conversation with Ancst's Torsten and Tom, conducted via email in between dates of their most recent tour. As one might expect, it got political—though, as Tom says, "Everything you do in your daily life is political," black metal and otherwise.
Noisey: I remember how excited I was when I first discovered that there was a whole world of bands out there who combine black metal and crust punk, whether you want to call it neocrust or whatever else. How did you first find out about this particular cross-pollination of genres, and why do you find such satisfaction in playing this kind of music yourself?
Torsten: It's like taking the best of our favorite ingredients of each genre and mix it the way we like. On the other hand, I don't really give much attention to naming genres or at least I try to. As long as I am getting caught by the atmosphere and the emotions music is creating, I am fine. Unfortunately I cannot remember when or how i found out about this cross-pollination (i like this expression a lot), but i am convinced that we all should listen to way more Undying and Propagandhi...
Tom: For me personally, Iskra set the standard for that black metal / hardcore crossover sound a while back. They were also the first band I came across that had something to say in that genre and that had an attitude I could relate to. See, I was socialized with both extreme metal and DIY hardcore in my youth so there had always been a passion for bands that blended both genres. We are all pretty much socialized this way.
It definitely shows. Who are some other bands in this vein that you think deserve more attention?Torsten: I am still blown away by xRepentancex from the UK. They're mixing fast metal(core) with this mid-90s mosh parts. This might sound a bit mediocre, but they're owning some really great melodies...and they're fast.There are also a lot of interesting bands in Germany like Depravation, Phantom Winter or Battra.
Tom: Well, there are not that many around, and to be honest, most of the newer bands that popped up with us in the last years haven't really mixed both genres. A lot of them still stick to the old black metal blueprint and sometimes just go with an different attitude, while some really do well mixing black metal with other stuff. But I strongly recommend you to check out Ast, Thränenkind, Dawn Ray'd, Antlers, Sun Worship, Unru, Thurm, Anagnorisis, and of course Iskra.
Tell me a little bit about Moloch—it's your most ambitious and accomplished release yet, and it's great to see you working with a label like Halo of Flies in the US. What was going on in your lives when this album was being written and recorded?
Torsten: It feels like it took decades to write and record these songs. I think we started two years ago, but at the same time we also started to play shows as a band. Before that, it was just me and Tom, and we actually just wanted to record and release grim music on tape. 2015 was kind of busy for us as a live band. We toured almost three weeks through Europe and the UK with Children of God from Orange County, played some weekenders and a couple of festivals like Fluff Fest or Kiel Explode. Besides that, I am pretty busy with my life as a father of two kids, having a job, and being creative in different musical genres.
If we speak about social and political circumstances, I should talk about the rise of racism all over Europe. It may seem like this shit just happened because of the so-called refugee crisis or the IS, on the other hand it's just a development, which only became visible through these things. My family migrated to Germany in the 60s and i got confronted with racism as long as I can remember. So the footage shown in the news and on the Internet may be frightening and consternating for the average citizen, but I grew up with this. Of course all of our daily frustrations need to find space and a vent through our music, because most places in this current world are more or less fucked up. This, again, fucks me up.
Tom: My share of the lyrics deals a lot with the changes that society in Germany is going through at the moment. Songs like "In Decline" or "No More Words" deal with racism and a turn to the right in Europe, while songs like "Human Hive" or "Strife" deal with wage labor and media overexposure. There are some personal songs on that album as well, that mirror a phase in our lives that was and to a certain part still is filled with misery, depression and disorientation. I dont feel like talking about personal things, so let's just say we kinda had a hard time.
It's rare for a black metal (or black metal-influenced) band to come right out and say "Death to NSBM." There isn't a ton of visible pushback against these elements, and when a band does come out with an anti-fascist, anti-racist stance, they invariably get some shit for it. What impact do you think the existence of far-right politics have had on black metal's evolution?
Tom: I don't think far-right politics really had a huge impact on black metal, but I think that black metal had a huge impact on the far-right politics in the metal scene. I think black metal gave people that are racist a forum to spread their bullshit, as it was in vogue to hate human life. You know, the problem I see is not the music, its the people. It's people wanting to be different, but in reality they are just like everybody else in society—same problems, same daily grind, same prejudice, same racist slurs. They are with the status quo, so whats extreme about that?
Torsten: Racism is not a black metal thing, it's what the current society seems to want or wants to accept. Maybe it's all in the name of democracy. I mean, we are all getting caught by Darwinism at some point – either as perpetrators or as victims, and our musical taste doesn't separate us from this. It's not about those crappy NSBM bands like Absurd or Satanic Warmaster. They all suck big time musically, don't they? We got some shitstorms online in the past and also some verbal conflicts at shows, but this encourages us, on our good days...on bad days, we just threaten to cuddle all [of our] critics unconcious.
How would you counter the argument that, since black metal is inherently evil and anti-human, it makes sense for some of its practitioners and fans to embrace this kind of hatred?
Tom: I wouldn't even counter that. If grownup people still think in terms of "evil" and are referring to black metal, they are a big joke to me personally. It's not a black metal thing with misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism and so on, it's a society thing, and it shows how accepted black metal is in society.
Torsten: Who draws the line between real, authentic black metal and some emo stuff like ours? The characteristics you mentioned seem to be used as show or provocative elements most of the time, at least from my perspective. And I don't understand how people are still getting attracted by these really boring elements in 2016.
Do you think politics belong in extreme metal at all? There are arguments on both sides, but many people seem to forget that metal's earliest stirrings came from working class British guys who were anti-war and pro-freedom.
Tom: In my opinion, everything you do in your daily life is political, so yeah I think there should be a bigger dialogue in the extreme metal community about politics. And talking history, you are right, there had always been a political side to the metal community, but you know how it is with the commercialization of a youth subculture—suddenly the wrong folks smell the roast.
Torsten: It's supposed to be part of all of our daily lives and even if you label yourself unpolitical as a metal fan or just as an individual, you're kind of responsible for the political and social trends in the area you're living in.
Speaking of where you live, your home city of Berlin seems like it's a political hotbed right now. What does the climate feel like on the streets and among the people? Are people afraid, are they angry, are they still feeling hopeful about the refugee crisis?
Torsten: Unfortunately it's not just the refugee crisis which affects the people. Especially in Berlin, law enforcement seems to have bigger plans to weaken the leftist/anarchist movement. They're raiding house projects disproportionately, they get more aggressive if there's any sign of defense, they're protecting racists instead of innocent people who migrate from areas of war and terror...but maybe all those negative things we criticize most of the time are hidden somewhere inside human nature. I personally recommend the Polish philosopher and sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who wrote a couple of books about suppression within society, its history, old metaphorical stories and stuff like that. Pretty interesting guy.
Tom: It's not just Berlin, it's all over Europe. Right-wing ideas have gained ground, and the new right is getting stronger, also in the governments. People feel betrayed by the state, and guess who their scapegoat is? There are big demonstrations, especially in Eastern Germany, that promote Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, and our government seems to be asleep. It feels like there is a bomb about to go off. There had been over a thousand attacks on refuguee shelters since 2015, and racism and nationalism are suddenly back on the streets. Believe me, it's an nearly unbearable mood over here right now.
Has the artistic and musical community made any effort to reach out to refugees? The Berlin Street Music 4 Refugees initiative seems like a great start.
Torsten: Yeah, definitely. There are numerous shows and parties organized from the DIY scene, but there are a lot of support actions from other subcultures like hip-hop, and even parts of the pop culture, too.
If you're attending a party or a concert at a commercial location, and you and your company are able to get in for free, there's the possibility to pay admission once and this sum will be donated for refugee projects. But besides that, there are also collectives like the HardcoreHelpFoundation, who try to make a positive impact within a more than negative surrounding.
In addition to playing with Ancst, you also have a ton of experience in running DIY records labels—can you tell me a little about how that experienced has shaped the way you approach Ancst, and some of the most important things you've learned through participating in DIY culture?
Torsten: What I'll always love about DIY and punk is that there's always an individual niche, where you can be creative and try new things, as well as the fact that you'll meet like-minded people and make friends. I personally play in bands, I've done vegan catering for shows and photo exhibitions, I've released fanzines, I've organized and attended shows, and I've traveled. What I learned was, for example, that there are numerous ways to express and share feelings, political stances and, of course, to have fun.
Tom: I can only speak here for myself, but I think I learned some valueable lessons by doing loads of mistakes in the past. See, when I started putting out tapes for bands back in 2007 I had no clue about what I was doing. I lost money and dealt with lots of frustration due to my lack of skills, but I kept going, commited myself to learning new stuff, and started getting interested in the business side of things. This has helped Ancst from the beginning, as we approached the construct that this band is differently. We manage all our stuff on our own. The only two external people that have been working for this band from the early days are Vendetta Records and our screenprinter, Paul Ayuhara. There is no manager here, no booking agencies, and no endorsement deals. It's us recording, mixing, mastering, writing lyrics, designing shirts and album covers, putting out our own records, booking our own tours, driving our own vans or working the merch booth every night. DIY has taught us to be independent, to be responsible, and to go out and do the things that we like.
What's on Ancst's agenda for the rest of the year? Are there any US dates planned?
Tom: We have a few things planned out for the rest of the year. First will be the album release tour through Europe with our friends in Thränenkind, a few festivals in the summer, and smaller tours at the end of the year. No US plans though, give us a few more years.
Torsten: I just need a monkey butler.
Catch Ancst on tour in Europe with Thränenkind next month:
13.05. Berlin, Cassiopeia
14.05. Leipzig, Bermuda3eck
15.05. Weimar, Gerber
16.05. Prague, Café na půl cesty
17.05. Nürnberg, Projekt31
18.05. Wien, Pankahyttn
19.05. Linz, Kapu
20.05. München, Cafe Marat
21.05. Stuttgart, Juha West
22.05. Mainz, Haus Mainusch
23.05. Trier, Exhaus
27.05. Hannover, Alerta Antifascista Fest
28.05. Hamburg, Gängeviertel
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