Beastmilk is dead; long live Grave Pleasures.
It's now been roughly a year since Noisey last spoke to the ever-prolific musician Mat McNerney about the demise of his explosively popular Finnish death rock outfit, Beastmilk. Its next reincarnation, Grave Pleasures, sprang fully-formed from the ashes of its predecessor, and McNerney seemed nothing less than relieved to be distancing himself from the chaos, major label interest, and hype that had turned Beastmilk from a joke into a ticking time bomb of frustration and ill will. Thenew band's debut, Dreamcrash, was released by Nuclear Blast in late 2015, and now, McNerney and his fellows—which currently include co-founder and bassist Valtteri Arino, Oranssi Pazuzu guitarist Juho Vanhanen, Kohu 63 guitarist Aleksi Kiiskilä, and former Shining drummer Rainer Tuomikanto; The Oath guitarist Linnéa Olsson appears to have exited the building—are poised to release a new seven-inch, entitled Funeral Party (which will be released via McNerney's own Secret Trees record label on November 18, 2016).
The seven-inch's two songs serve up icy, dancey goth-tinged death rock, and temper it with an ominous apocalyptic obsession—the video for "Deadenders" is a vintage nuclear nightmare, and McNerney's own interest in the end of days foes far deeper than a few song titles. When I first touch base with him to schedule a phone chat, he's on his way out the door to play a gig in Greece with his other band, forest folk godheads Hexvessel (about which we interviewed him again earlier this year). By the time he gets home to Finland, the clock is ticking, and we agree to have me send my questions by email. Usually, emailers turn out dry and boring—but there's no danger of that with McNerney. His responses are lengthy, and considered; he's clearly a person who never stops thinking, analyzing, and observing his surroundings. He's a sensitive soul, and one that seems demonically blessed with an endless wellspring of creativity besides.
That passion for life and curiosity about its processes is nakedly apparent, whether he's discussing dystopian literature, his survivalist impulses, or the role of masculinity in metal culture. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity, and we've got Funeral Party on blast below. Get ready to dance with death.
Noisey: Last time you spoke to Noisey, Beastmilk had just transitioned into Grave Pleasures. To make sure I've got it all straight—who is currently in the band now, and how did they get there?
Mat McNerney: Since the split as Beastmilk to the recent lineup changes, it was me and Valtteri Arino [the original and co-founding bass player of Beastmilk] that kept flying the black banner of this band. We were the ones that kept it going and have kept playing those songs live and kept the original spirit of the band going. Long after our original guitarist wanted to bury the band, to people coming and going, we've been the lynchpins of the original sound ideas and concept. Juho Vanhanen (from Oranssi Pazuzu) was always part of Grave Pleasures in reality. Though credited only as session, he played every live show with the band and was in every way our lead guitarist and co-songwriter on Dreamcrash. I always knew that if we had more time to create songs together we were capable of much better things than that album. Being already a major part of the band for a long time, he now joined me in co-songwriting and arranging the music for this new 7" and the next, forthcoming album. It's down to him that the songs on fire again.
More importantly, we're back to a Finnish lineup. We're a real band that rehearses regularly and lives in the same place. It's organic and punk. The way it is meant to be. We only ended up with an international lineup because things fell apart so quickly with our original Beastmilk guitarist, right before we were supposed to record an album. He left us in the shit, and we've had some struggles but we moved on and never looked back. We will never give up, it was never an option for us! Aleksi Kiiskilä, who has been playing with Finnish punk legends Kohu 63, joined us on second guitar after applying for the position in the local musician's website. We're lucky to have found him and it feels very natural to play with him. There's a real excitement to play with fresh blood in the band and it brings a wild hunger to the live shows too.
Our new drummer Rainer Tuomikanto who has previously been playing with Shining from Sweden, and many other well known Finnish bands, joined us after declaring some time ago to our drummer Uno that he wanted his job! Rainer is the drummer that this band always needed. He has that 80s goth dance beat down perfectly but he also grew up in black metal and heavy music, so he has this innate chemistry with the rest of us. I think, for a while, we had kind of overlooked the fact that where we came from as a band with Beastmilk, the drums were such an integral and important factor of the band. That surf rhythm and 80s punk bunker thundering, has to be there. Band chemistry is everything. When it doesn't work, it doesn't matter if you're Uli Roth or Dave Lombardo, you won't necessarily make a good band together on talent alone. I think we have found that now with this lineup though. It's got spark. It's real, perhaps for the first time with this band.
There's been this real push in metal, especially underground metal, towards both goth rock and 80s synthwave (sometimes both on the same record!). GP feels more gothy to me, but regardless, metal seems to, well...want to dance again. Why do you think bands are reaching towards these other influences? Why are metalheads dancing their asses off to Perturbator right after watching One Tail One Head?
It's like that Ultravox song, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes"—it's painful, you know? It's not like dancing to some euphoric happy tune. I think it's much more about a state of mind and way of the world than about just getting your kicks or being happy for the sake of satisfying your basic desires. For me, I feel that something deeper is happening. It's a natural reaction to show a smile to death. The feeling when everything is against you, the most defiant feeling is to not give in to despair and sadness but to want to dance. It's the most punk thing you can do in the face of adversity.
If you look at cultures at war, dance became an important symbol of freedom and hope. It's their last brave physical reaction to an impossible situation and a way to liberate their soul. In WWII, there was the Lindy Hop and the Charleston and all these very intense dance styles that were all the rage. If you watch people dancing, you'd think of anything but war times. I believe what is happening in darker music scenes now is about people celebrating their nihilism. We all know we're fucked. We're doomed. We're dancing with tears in our eyes because there is nothing left. It's also reclaiming the ability to dance and to move. I don't think times are so generous any more. People aren't inclined to stand with their arms folded at shows anymore because the music scene has left a very large gap between what is going on in the world and how people feel. That's the lyrics to this latest song, "Deadenders"—"Dance with the skeletons, there's nothing left, dance with the skeletons, gasp for breath, raised up by the end, generation death, we're dead ends, we're dead ends." It's about that dance of death that unites us all. We're all going down with this sinking ship, so let's play out until the last note, until the last breath.
Do you think it's got anything to do with the "brutal" or hypermasculine image that so many metalheads seem to subscribe to (or be pushed towards)?
Saul Williams said that "vulnerability is power," and I subscribe to that. I haven't thought of our music as a reaction to a brutal or masculine image in metal, though. Even at the most brutal part of my deep black metal years, you would find lines like "tears fall as I think of you" by Fenriz on "Natasja In Eternal Sleep," for example which would emphasize for me a more vulnerable side. I was very much of the mind that, as Fenriz said, "black metal is 50 percent lyrics and 50 percent music." So for me this poetic part, this unabashed sensitivity, felt that it went hand in hand with the scene and the meaning behind it. I suppose that this is the "gothic" element which characterized a lot of the early 90s black metal, but also the music was beautiful, pretty and often ornate. The melodies were very contrary to a lot of the "brutal" death metal tropes and archetypes. That's what attracted me in many ways into black metal from goth rock as a pre-teen and teenager. But I don't see those masculine aspects in metal really in that negative way, either. I think that a lot of those aspects—that, taken out of context, might appear to be problematic—actually are simply part of a really healthy and thriving music scene. You would find them elsewhere in any scene. It's not to excuse it but to understand it, is to understand metal. To oppose those flaws is to oppose reality, or the reality of the way the world is right now.
You know, if you compare it with hip hop, a lot of the imagery is about over-masculinity, gangsterism, guns and violence and drugs, but on a deeper level, those young kids are learning to express themselves and to get out some of their dark energy, and as a result they become poets, writers, critics and even politicians. That's the good role that hip hop plays in their lives. It's about using that language and symbolism to open a door for people that might never have that opportunity. It's a road to elevate young men and women out of their lot in life. I believe that metal does the same for our culture, too. It's base on the outside, but it can be very profound if you dig beneath the surface.
In my opinion, the road to wisdom through metal is greater than the road to depravity or misogyny. I know so many people who have expanded and elevated themselves mentally, through reading and experience, because of metal, than I do people who are somehow backwards in their treatment of women because of it. I often think it's sad that people don't talk about the really good things that metal has done for a whole generation of young men. Much more so than with the "bitch" and "ho" culture that came along with rap music and into pop culture now. That doesn't excuse the over-masculine posturing, but you have to see it for what it is. I happen to feel that the way metal treats women and deals with women is really positive, most of the time. Importantly for me, I think that there are, especially recently, a lot of very strong and powerful role models for young women in the metal scene to relate to. Most of the women I know in metal are way more extreme than the guys, and without mercy. My wife, for, example has always been into more extreme and obscure black metal than me. There are very tough girls out there in that world who will kick your ass!
I think to put boundaries on what metal should be would be to tame it and reduce its capacity to shock and be extreme. It would then lose the potency and ability to be of any use to youth culture. Rebellion is important. A lot of that brutality and masculinity is still there, but I think it's an important aspect of the scene. I'm not talking about any kind of chauvinism or mistreatment of women, but more that it's a necessary aspect that young men are allowed to let go and to act out and to react. It's not as if modern society and pop music culture reflects a more decent and healthy image of women than in metal. In that way I admire the witchy attributes and evil devil-woman image that rock 'n' roll and metal bestows on women. It's another more adulatory role. There at least woman as a figure and an icon, is powerful and godly. And rightly so. There are no princesses but song titles like "Woman of Dark Desire," as the Bathory song tells you, elevates women to the role of the ultimate powerful villain. Something to be feared and worshipped. Or think of song titles like "Goddess of Doom" by Reverend Bizarre. Metal lyrics are steeped in admiration for woman as the ultimate figure of worship.
Are you relieved that Beastmilk is dead? It seemed like it got so big so quickly that the model was just unsustainable (and you seem so much more energized now, talking about GP!).
I never got the Beastmilk hype. I always thought it was the industry jumping on a bandwagon and wanting it to be something it wasn't. It's why a lot of people imagined I somehow wasn't into doing Beastmilk or had no interest in it. I loved the band, but hated the hype. I wanted to do it my own way, and not be what others expected us to be. I was very committed to the band in actual fact and put a lot of my time and energy into making the artistic and professional side of my work in it the best that it could be. Unfortunately, there was an aspect of it when we formed the band that felt like it was a kind of joke, and the way the lineup chemistry made us feel very disconnected. I thought the hype, together with that band tension, was a cruel twist of fate that was stopping the band from progressing naturally. I enjoy Climax as a record, but it's not the best record I have written or made. I thought we had more to offer and I still do, but the lineup had some ill chemistry. The change of name had to happen. It was one of the things i just thought could be better.From there to the media hype, which felt very forced, I was a bit bewildered and ultimately felt a bit creatively stifled. I am not really used to being an insider or one of the gang by the media. I am used to being an outsider artist and one on the fringes. The awards and poll success and 5 star reviews and constant ass kissing was too over the top. It didn't reflect the sales of the record and it certainly didn't reflect the mood of the band at the time. We were going to hell in a hand-basket and by the end of it, me and our other co-founding guitarist, simply couldn't stand each other anymore.
The name began to signify more than a joke, it started to stand for everything I loathed about doing music.We carried on the band, and changed the name—I think it was the best decision we ever made. Since then, we have had great experiences and it has developed finally now into a real organic band again. It just took us a long time after the breakup to pick up the pieces. Dreamcrash was made through a lot of turmoil and there were still unfounded legal threats being made by our ex-guitarist that made it all very painful. It's in many ways a breakup record.The new material now is the sound of a band that is firing on all cylinders again. We've rediscovered lost spirits and have improved on where we started. That's something people who like this band should know. Grave Pleasures is the band I always wanted to create when I founded Beastmilk. I am certain, without any grain of doubt, that it is.
What do you think musicians and bands owe their audience, if anything? There's obviously a sense of gratitude for their support, but at the end of the day, are you looking to make music that resonates with other people, or satisfies your own sensibilities?
I don't believe I owe anyone anything other than gratitude for their support. I'm always exhausted and fed up when people want an artist to create the same album over and over again. I love seeing an artist I like shift, change and grow; even if I don't like everything they do, they have my respect if they follow their own will. The unfortunate side of the internet dialogue between fans and bands is that people want to be obnoxious without any implications. People expect more and more that, as the fan community is so much more visible and established even with underground artists, they somehow own the way that artist should work. If you like one record, that's your own preference. You don't control the artist after that, and you can't expect to direct his or her work with your wallet. Some people are happy to keep making the same record of course, as long as it sells. I am into music because of the artistic enjoyment I get from creating and writing, but it is personal before it is public and it doesn't have a price tag on it as it's being written.
I need challenges and I like to be eclectic. Often it can be touching when a person really connects with your music—that's when you know that what you wrote, that was for you in the beginning, has developed into something that lives a life of its own. When you write in the right way, it's an alchemical, magical thing. You give life to a story or a mood or feeling that can live on and travel and affect someone's life on the other side of the planet. All my heroes when I was young were poor and struggling—poets like Rimbaud, or writers like Lovecraft. Ambition for me is about art. It's not a crime to write for money or with money and album sales in mind, but it is a crime to cheat on your music. You need to be true to your music before it can become real. The Swedish band First Aid Kit said it really well recently when discussing Leonard Cohen's death: "Songs are bigger than that, they have no ego. They travel without borders at their will." Cohen is a good example of a songwriter who was also a magician.
To shift focus a bit: you're big on apocalyptic imagery, and now, the world is closer to the end than we've been since the Cold War. I know from your Hexvessel interview with Louise Brown that you're very much interested in self-sufficiency. Do you have a survival plan for if and when the bombs fall?
My family is somewhat prepared for when things go down. We have a survival kit and a stockpile and a plan. We have also formulated and discussed our plan, and, while it's a constant work in progress, we both believe, my wife and I, that it's an important part of life. It should be a way of life, to survive and be self-sufficient. You shouldn't rely on the state to save you. Human life is not that important to governments and states. You can see that in any given humanitarian crisis. People have to know how to fend for themselves. It's about way more than being prepared for shit hitting the fan. We believe in getting back to a way of life which is not going to bring about the destruction of life on the planet. I want real true civilization, which the modern way of living has completely destroyed, with over-population and the needs of modern comfort that go with it. Human being were survivors first and foremost, but we've let ourselves become completely addicted and reliant on a way of living which is not sustainable. Global warming is an indication of that. It's backed up by scientific fact. If you ignore that, then you're the tin-foil hat wearing fool.
Having a border to Russia, and given the history of Finland there are other, perhaps more realistic situations where society could break down before nuclear war starts. Look at Ukraine to see how that goes. The financial situation today in Finland is bad, as it is in the rest of Europe. So it's not hard to see where things might go when the banks collapse. I really don't understand why a sustainable way for human beings to live, one where the outcome of any given situation is that we survive, is not a priority to us as a species.You have one life. If you adore it and treasure it, and believe that mankind can accomplish great things and great civilizations (look at space exploration or breakthroughs in particle physics as modern examples of that), then you will want to preserve it. It's amusing to me that my inner-city dwelling friends back in London or Berlin or Paris, who love disposable culture, will find my survivalist instincts dangerous or frightening. They imagine that I'm going to stockpile guns, build a fence around my property, and have a shoot out with the police. Their over-reliance on a destructive lifestyle (both to themselves and to the planet) makes me think of them as the dangerous and suicidal ones. The culture they advocate is one of death. There are those who say they cannot live without meaningless modern culture, food and convenience. They can't see the irony of it. They are already dead.
What'll you be reading down in the bunker? I'm a massive fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature (even as we rapidly inch closer to living within one) and would love to know what's on your bookshelf.
I would probably not be reading dystopian literature down in the bunker! I would probably opt for something far more optimistic or practical to our survival once we have come out of it! Some of the books like Patterson's Field Guide Of Wild Edible Plants or The Forager's Harvest (we have versions of these kind of things in Finnish that would be more use to us, but maybe not to most of your readers) or an enjoyable read, with some factual good like Natural Navigator or The Walker's Guide To Outdoor Clues And Signs by Tristan Gooley.For dystopian literature though I am fond of JG Ballard, John Wyndham and HG Wells. A great book is Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (which was made into a movie called Soylent Green) or one called Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm. There's also a really obscure old book called After London by Richard Jeffries which I can recommend, which was written in 1885! It was really ahead of its time, but deals with England after a catastrophe and the whole country has reverted to wild nature again. Like us, Jeffries was a wild idealist who had a lot of anger about the changes taking place to the land by human beings and how the countryside was becoming lost. If you read George Monbiot's book Feral (which I also recommend; [it] deals with man's effects on nature and re-wilding the land), then you will really know how ahead of his time Jeffries was.
What can we do to avert the apocalypse? Is humanity even worth saving?
The Finnish writer Pentti Linkola has a quote, "What to do when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to overload it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides." The earth is overpopulated. What can be done about that would be rapid depopulation and fast. It's hard, because in any given nuclear or war scenario, it would still not reduce the population of this planet significantly enough to reduce the damage we are doing to it. That's a sad fact for the more extreme environmentalists. You would have to have a more holistic approach where you combine depopulation practices (one-child families etc) with a very drastic an extreme environmental policy to re-wild the land. Monbiot talks about it in "Feral" too. "Progress is measured at the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life."
I think there are many things that make human beings worthy of life on this planet. Our advances in space travel and our enterprising spirit of exploration in that way elevates us from primates. We also have art. It is that ability to witness and understand our planet and also our capability to destroy it, which sets us apart from any other species. We could be the greatest of stewards and wonderful custodians of our planet, or we could be, as Oppenheimer, said, "Death, the destroyer of worlds."
Kim Kelly is dancing with death on Twitter.