Black Metal, Non-Profit Labels, and Mystery Science Theater 3000: In Conversation with Dan Jackson

Dan Jackson has been an active member of the metal underground for some time, prolifically releasing a host of albums under several different guises. This year alone, Jackson has unleashed three full-lengths, including two from perhaps his most well-known endeavour, black metal outfit Void Ritual. More than this, however, Jackson has also kick-started a new project, a non-profit record label called Ipos Music, with all revenue going to causes benefitting LGBTQIA+ people and people of colour.

Ipos’ first release, Hug Division Dead Wretch, is perhaps the most underappreciated chapter in Jackson’s career; a more tongue-in-cheek burst of grinding extreme metal, poking fun at the absurdity of the genre we all know and love with satirical songs like ‘Give Me Your Fucking Money’, ‘Red Logo Atop A Buff Goat Demon’ and ‘So Kvlt, So True, So What?!’ as well as bare-faced socio-political numbers like ‘Eat Shit’ and ‘You’re Not Elite’. Ipos Music’s second release came in the form of Death Is Peace, a more conceptually conventional slab of early Satyricon and Immortal-reminiscent black metal from Void Ritual that explores themes of grief, anxiety and personal loss.

With Death Is Peace being unleashed in early August, you’d be forgiven for expecting Jackson to take a slight break before the next release. Instead, he dropped Desolate. Eternal., a brand new surprise album from Void Ritual, less than two weeks later. Described on Bandcamp as a grimmer and more minimal successor to Death Is Peace, the album is a cathartic expression of raw emotion, a bleak and despondent experience compared to the more uplifting flourishes present on moments of Death Is Peace.

Speaking to Jackson after Death Is Peace‘s release but before he unleashed Desolate. Eternal., we got the lowdown on Ipos, Void Ritual and Dead Wretch.

Astral Noize

The proceeds from Death Is Peace are going to The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, and the Dead Wretch proceeds are going to the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. Are these causes that are particularly close to your heart in any way? Was it hard to pick the particular causes you donated to?

It was really sort of just reacting to what I was seeing or interacting with every day, which is why both of the organisations I’m donating to are local to me. With the Transgender Resource Center, I went with them because when trans folks call into my workplace looking for care and help outside of STI or infection testing, TGRCNM is the place I send them to. It’s not just that they offer resources for helping trans people find medical care either, they offer support groups, counselling, and community events too!

For the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, I knew I wanted to contribute to a cause that benefits Native populations, but I needed guidance. My co-worker Becki does a lot of activism work for Indigenous populations, so I asked her for help in choosing an organisation and she told me about the Coalition. They work towards getting policies enacted that benefit Native women, and also offer training to help people working with abusers to change their behaviour, and professionals who work with victims of domestic violence in Indigenous communities, and even more beyond that.

In a sense, it is difficult choosing causes because there are so many people and communities that need help. But really, I just kinda made those decisions quickly because otherwise I would have dwelt on things, and I would have started feeling like I was letting people down or playing favourites, so I just made choices and went with them. I also admit my own faults as they relate to being more personally invested and involved in these causes. I’m doing things this way because between work and my family, I haven’t worked in-person for these causes, so I tried to find another way I could contribute.

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Most underground metal artists seem to go into it knowing they’re unlikely to make much money off it, but by running a charity label, you presumably make nothing from it. Do you find that knowing the proceeds will go towards a positive cause changes your work ethic at all?

I think it’s going to be something I go back and forth with. Because I’m only going to release my own music, I can always come back to Ipos or try to do a release through another label. Death Is Peace has been released on Ipos, but the next one I’m going to see if someone else wants to put it out, as an example.

I don’t know that it changes my work ethic, because I try to put everything I can into a release whether it’s for my own benefit or to benefit others. It would definitely hurt more if I released something on Ipos and everyone hated it and didn’t buy it because then I’d have let that charity and the people it benefits down. If I fail when it’s for my own benefit, that’s a much easier pill to swallow.

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Black metal has a pretty unfortunate socio-political past in places. Your music itself isn’t always political (though ‘Eat Shit’ is pretty to-the-point), but by donating to causes benefitting LGBTQIA+ people and people of colour, do you aim to disavow the far-right connotations of the genre?

Absolutely, though I think it’s more my style to say that I want to play a part in balancing the scales. Not just for the genre as a whole, but for my own failures as a black metal fan over the last twenty years. The right has had a long stretch of having black metal as a refuge genre to spread their message and face very little criticism for it. And you know what? That’s on people like me. I tolerated bands like that when I was younger. I told myself that it was “just music”. And I could rationalise doing that because I wasn’t a target of the hatred of those albums. I was safe from it.

And that’s why you see people say that black metal should be “dangerous”. It’s easy to call for music to be dangerous when you know you’re safe from the kind of danger these albums talk about. And you can tell who someone believes black metal is supposed to be dangerous for when they choose to dismiss or criticise or speak up about who’s being targeted by a band’s lyrics. They usually don’t mean dangerous for anybody and everybody, just certain people, and it’s pretty transparent.

So, in getting to the heart of your question, I’ve always been far to the left politically, but I also want to be open and acknowledge that I used to tolerate stuff from bands that I’d never tolerate in my day-to-day life. I feel an obligation to try to balance things out and make up for how I used to treat the issue, personally. I think back to how I approached these things years ago, and I wonder how I ever could have rationalised it.

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You run Ipos and your various projects by yourself. How important do you think a DIY spirit is to the metal scene?

I think it’s incredibly important to have voices out there that aren’t beholden to established metal labels. At the same time, I don’t feel comfortable truly claiming that DIY label for myself. It’s not like I’m pressing my own tapes or making and distributing flyers for shows I’m playing, or calling around to get basement or house shows. I do everything in Void Ritual musically and lyrically, but really all I’ve done otherwise is give a Bandcamp account a name, and have a specific idea about what I want to do with my own music.

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What does the title Death Is Peace mean to you?

Without getting overly personal or detailed, I’ll just say that the last year has been tremendously difficult for me mentally and emotionally. I’ve been dealing with grief, and also a tremendous level of anxiety over the last few years, and I had moments where it felt like it was so much that I just wanted everything to stop. I haven’t been suicidal, but just the idea of everything going quiet; the stillness of it. It’s been easy to romanticise that kind of peace. It’s melodramatic, of course, but it’s as much about hoping for my brain to give me rest as much as it is about the real death I’ve been grieving over the last year.

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You’ve spoken before about how Death Is Peace has very grief-stricken lyrics but is musically less dark and more melodic than your previous Void Ritual output. What does that oxymoronic duality reflect to you?

The music is escapism and fantasy. It’s the way we distract ourselves when something horrible like a death in the family happens. The lyrics are the sort of omnipresent voice letting you know that this grief isn’t actually going anywhere. So, the music is sort of black metal’s enjoyable, morose musical caricature of what death is “supposed to be like”, and the vocals and the lyrics are what dealing with death has actually been like for me: pain. Sometimes it’s a dull croak, and other times it’s a piercing shriek, but it’s pain all the same.

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With that in mind, do you write based on personal experience; is it a cathartic experience for you?

This album is about personal experiences and personal feelings, yeah. By contrast, Heretical Wisdom was a lot less personal. There was a lot less pain in it, anyway. I do experience catharsis from doing it, and I think that’s why I keep going at the pace I do. I need relief from a lot of shit these days, and even if it’s only temporary, making music does provide that.

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The end of the album strays into more uplifting territories, was that purposefully placed at the record’s close to symbolise a sense of moving on and putting that theme of death behind you?

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that the music kind of wavers back and forth, particularly on ‘In The Depths’, between these ultra-bleak chords and moments of slight levity, and even a kind of danceability to the drums in certain spots. There are up days and down days when you’re struggling mentally, and I think the music reflects that to a degree. I wish I could take credit for having some kind broader musical theme planned out in advance, but I think it’s just a “happy” accident. I put the songs in the order they’re in because I thought it was how they best flowed together as a sit-down listening experience.

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The song titles/lyrics on the Dead Wretch album subvert the usual metal tropes. Do you think it’s important for modern artists to reflect on the metal scene and be open to critiquing it in order for the genre as a whole to progress instead of repeating those same clichés?

I think everybody has to find their own way to navigate the genre. I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, some of my favourite albums are made by people who take metal, and in particular black metal, ultra-seriously. There’s no room for laughter or smiling with some of these folks. At the same time, when I take a step back for a moment and look at black metal culture generally, it seems kinda ridiculous. I can look at a black metal promo photo and think “Wow! that looks cool and mysterious!”, and then moments later look at that same photo and think “Wait, why the fuck is that guy wandering around a forest at night taking photos with a scythe in fucking 2018? I can almost guarantee that dude goes to a job he hates, clocks in at 9:00am, and chats with someone he barely tolerates about Mondays.” So, I just wanted to have some fun talking shit about a genre I’ve loved for well over 20 years now.

I’m no different in that regard! I’m responding to these questions between talking to people about why their birth control might have caused changes in their menstrual cycle, or scheduling an appointment for someone with penile discharge. There can be a magic or mystery to some people, but life is life and we all exist in the same real world. We do our best to lose ourselves in fantasy for those brief moments when we’re playing riffs or screaming into a mic or what have you, but at the end of the day, musicians are just people, and life is funny sometimes.

For all the whimsical reverence I might project onto old photos of Setherial during the Nord era; I bet the process of making those photos happen was probably pretty funny. The reality of one of them putting on their gauntlets, but like struggling with the leather ties, trying to hold one end in place with his teeth or some shit: that’s funny to me.

And really that’s all Dead Wretch is. It’s my musical version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the metal genre. Metal can be goofy because people can be goofy. Again, I’d love to assign some deeper artistic meaning to it, but that’s kinda it.

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What’s next for you and Ipos Music? What can we expect in the future?

Ipos is something I’m gonna put to the side for a little while. I have another album finished and I’d like to see if someone’s interested in putting it out, but I’m nervous about it. It’s a pretty big departure, at least by my standards. It’s essentially a black metal album, but the songs are all about hooks and traditional heavy metal structure and putting black metal riffs into a much more accessible context. Kinda like if Satyricon had skipped Rebel Extravaganza and went straight to Volcano after Nemesis Divina. I’m not comparing myself to them quality-wise, for obvious reasons, but it’s the same kind of jump, even if the sound of my album isn’t really the same.

I might also just retreat back into the safety of Darkthrone and Ulver worship like I did on Holodomor. I’ve got that album pretty close to done too. There’s a part of me that wants to take a break too, but the truth is that I wouldn’t know what else to do if I tried.

Astral Noize

Desolate. Eternal. is available here. Death Is Peace and Hug Division Dead Wretch are available here.

Words: George Parr

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