The Albuquerque-based solo black metal project Void Ritual hasn’t yet amassed a large catalog of work, but what mastermind Daniel Jackson lacks in volume he makes up for in sheer quality. After debuting last year with the three-song EP, Holodomor, Jackson returned with some new material earlier this year, contributing three new Void Ritual tracks to a split cassette with Barshasketh (read our review here). If you’re a fan of deep-rooted yet progressive black metal, it’s in your best interests to check this stuff out. It’s simply stellar.
Earlier this month, we got the chance to chat with Dan about Void Ritual, politics and his upcoming Godzilla-themed melodic death metal project, Desu. Dan not only answered our questions with candor, but at one point, also felt comfortable enough to fly off on an inspired and well-meaning rant. Here’s what he had to say:
First things first: black metal has, by and large, been created by solitary, depressive people. From knowing you the way I do, I have found you to be quite the opposite. What inspired you to create a one-man black metal project?
It was originally born out of necessity rather than looking at, say…Varg, or some other one-man project. I grew up in Burbank, CA. Patton Oswalt actually worked a bit about how boring that place is into his standup act at one point. When I first got into black metal around ‘97 or ‘98, there wasn’t really much of anyone into black or death metal in my school. I was kind of just the guy at my school who listened to the crazier shit. There were kids who were into stuff like Machine Head, Sepultura, Slayer and bands of that size, but there were only a few people who even knew who Cannibal Corpse was, let alone Emperor, Darkthrone, Mayhem, and so on. So, it didn’t take long to figure out that if I wanted to pursue this music, it was going to be on my own. I’ve been in bands since then, but none of them really ever got off the ground and the majority of my time has been spent making music on my own. You just get used to working that way over time, I suppose.
Not to state the obvious but, being in a solo project means that you have to do everything by yourself. This includes writing the songs, recording them, playing the instruments and having a vision for the release. Do you see yourself as a control freak of sorts or are you sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility that comes with having the final say on everything?
I’m definitely not opposed to working with other people, but I think this is also the first time in my life when I’ve created music that other folks might want to be a part of. There’s also a part of me that is kind of controlling when it comes to the music I put my name on. I’m no elitist, nor do I believe I’m some great talent that shouldn’t trust other people to do well with my music. I’m just kinda older and set in my ways at 32. The responsibility of it doesn’t bother me. In fact, the idea that people care enough to do something like this interview or want to come to me to talk about music is really exciting. I’m also happy to admit when I screw up, so if I say something stupid or if I make a bad artistic decision, I have no problem being the guy responsible for the fuck up.
Something you and I have discussed in the past is drumming ability. I think both of us have expressed a desire to be much better at drumming but perhaps our body and coordination skills have refused to match our heart’s desires. What was it like working with a drum machine to round out your recordings? Was that a challenge emotionally for you?
Programming drums isn’t really an emotional challenge because I’ve had nearly fifteen years to come to terms with not being able to physically carry out what a song needs. I’ve also had a lot of time to learn how to, at least to an extent, program drums in a way that mimics choices a drummer might make. I use individual samples and then cut, paste, and even adjust the volume of certain hits to at least try to emulate the way a drummer might accent the ride cymbal on a blast beat for example. It’s the longest, most tedious part of creating and recording Void Ritual or anything else I do, but I’d be annoyed listening to my own music if I didn’t do it.
Following up on the drumming aspect, another thing we have discussed in the past, ad nauseum, are blast beats. You’re somewhat of an expert on the subject. You tend to stick to the European style of blast beats. Why is it that you choose that style, and can you maybe briefly summarize your theories on blast beats?
I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I’m just really opinionated about it. I can trace my obsession with blast beat styles back to conversations I had with Rob Alaniz who has done drums for Evildead, Noctuary, Rise and also did a split for Krieg (thanks, Metal Archives!), but I mainly knew him as the drummer for Noctuary back when I was living in Los Angeles. He was more blunt about it than I’m going to be now, but he made it very clear that the drummer for the band I was in at the time was not blasting correctly because he was doing two-foot blasting where the kick and snare are both struck at the same time. I’d never heard anyone point out where that was such an issue before, but once it was pointed out to me; I couldn’t blow it off or get it out of my head.
Now, the “American style” blast doesn’t sound right to me at all. There are some bands I let get away with it, but there are very few exceptions to that rule. To me, it just sounds flat and lifeless. A blast beat should have an undercurrent of chaos, where you get the sense that if the drummer falters or relents before the right time, the whole fucking song could fall apart. American blasts sound too organized and it makes the sound of a song feel too narrow. I kind of understand it in a technical death metal context, where a band like Suffocation or Broken Hope might do it it to show off how tight and precise the guitar and drum work can be in unison, but in a black metal context—or with a death metal band dealing in something with a foundation in Incantation/Autopsy, Morbid Angel, or Sunlight Studios-sounding stuff—the two foot blast is a choice that always hurts the music, in my mind.
Personally, I find some of what you write, especially the Holodomor cover, to be quite punk. Do you have any roots in punk or are you at all influenced by punk rock?
There is something to that, as the picture I used for Holodomor could easily have been used for a Disrupt or old power-violence album or something like that. Punk is something I didn’t really appreciate until I got older. I was into the Misfits because I was, and remain, a gigantic Danzig fan, but as a kid, all I wanted to hear was whatever was the most powerful, heavy, or evil, so punk seemed a bit too thin and basic by comparison. A little over 10 years ago, my friend Dash just started playing all of these old records he had of bands like Dropdead and Crass and a bunch of others, and it just clicked for me. So, I wouldn’t say I have roots in punk, but I listen to crust and anarcho-punk pretty regularly now.
I’ve heard rumors that you have created a melodic death metal project based entirely on Godzilla, called Desu. I’m going to assume that there is a really fun back story there. Care to share?
It’s kinda boring, actually! I’m just a big fan of Godzilla movies. I didn’t really get the idea for something like this until I’d started re-watching a bunch of the older Toho movies leading up to the new American movie last year. I must have re-watched probably 15 of them after seeing that first trailer for the new one, just out of excitement. The one that gave me this idea was Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, from 1995. I’ll have to be careful because I can’t use the name Godzilla on the album, but the lyrics are all inspired by the plot and characters of that movie. The name of the band is taken from “DesuGoji,” the nickname for the Godzilla suit used in the Destoroyah movie.
The music is kind of all over the place. Melodic death metal in that slower Hypocrisy style is definitely there, but it takes off in a few other directions. There’s some black metal in there, I’ve had someone tell me they heard a part that they reminded them of Ennio Morricone. Like I said, it’s kind of all over the place. It’s my chance to try things that I wouldn’t try to get away with in Void Ritual. It’s definitely different enough from Void Ritual that I needed to call it something else, even though it’s still just me doing everything.
You’re a family man and an actual person living a real life in the real world. How do you find the time to record all this music? Do you record in your house? I ask because, while I picture you perched on the edge of your bed recording straight into a computer, the quality of the finished product is quite fantastic.
You’re not far off. My one-year-old daughter is usually asleep by eight and I normally go to bed around eleven, so a few days a week I work on music during those hours and then I do some work on weekends as well. Basically whatever free time I have is devoted to either recording, writing, or writing about someone else’s music. I’ll watch some wrestling or UFC too, but I don’t really do a lot of sitting and watching TV. I’ll catch something every now and then, but if the TV’s on, it’s more often than not something my daughter likes. As far as the setup, it’s basically a computer in a spare room and me on a recliner.
You recently spoke about your favorite bands in an interview for Cvlt Nation so I won’t bore you with a retread question but I would love to know how a little, innocent boy like you was able to get so deeply into the Scandinavian metal scene.
You’re not too far off with the “innocent little boy” bit, either! I actually grew up going to church every Sunday and even twice a week as part of a Christian youth group up until I was about 12 or 13. Of all things, it was actually listening to other kids coming back on a bus from a Christian summer camp, talking about how the bible didn’t make any sense to them, that made me question having faith. Things fell apart for me and religion pretty quickly and around that same time I took that interest I had been putting into church and started applying it toward finding new music. I’d take the money my Mom gave me for lunch and instead of buying food, I’d save it and I’d ride my bike over to a shop called Atomic Records and buy a used CD/tape with it.
It started off as Metallica or Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy, but then it became Sepultura and Slayer. The big turning point into the more extreme genres actually came because I had a huge crush on a girl in high school and I noticed she had these bands written on her backpack. Emperor, Mayhem, King Diamond and so on. So, I started seeking out those bands so I would have something to break the ice with when I went to talk to her. King Diamond was the first one I got. It was The Graveyard, which is an album I probably still like more than most people. The funny thing is that I could never work up the courage at 15 years old to ask her out, but I kept obsessing over those bands. I still do.
To get away from the music for a second, you have some pretty amazing politics and the work you do for your day job is truly the work of a saint. A lot of black metal bands get accused of being into some questionable politics. Does it affect you when you see that because it’s part of a scene that you’re an embedded member of?
I’m going to apologize in advance because this is going to be a bit of a rant. Amazing is much too strong a word strong word. More accurately, I feel very strongly about certain views, particularly when it comes to discrimination. I also don’t want to play the part of someone acting morally superior to others because I’m just not that guy. I’ve fucked up more than my share in 32 years and I try to understand both sides of everything even if I’ll never see things their way. I work for a reproductive health provider that also offers abortion services. But I’m just a guy scheduling appointments and helping with information and general patient questions. That’s not a saint’s work. The saint’s work is done by the people working in the clinics and the volunteers who help walk women to the clinic while protesters with grotesque views yell things at them.
What it boils down to for me is this: I grew up living with my mom and my sister. Then I’d go to my grandma’s house where we’d often meet up with my aunt. The only man in that scenario was grandpa, and he’d usually be napping on the couch for most of the time I was there. I saw my dad once every two weeks. My grandpa helped when he could when it came to having discussions about sex and whatever else, but it wasn’t a constant. I’ve always looked up to my uncle, but he always lived too far away to be a strong influence. I was raised by a woman who worked just as hard as any man I’ve ever met. I didn’t show her the appreciation she deserved for all of that work when I was in school or even in my early 20’s. But even with that failure, I could never look her or any other woman in the eye and tell her that she doesn’t deserve every single one of the opportunities I’ve been afforded—which I’ve largely managed to squander and piss away—for being born a white man. There were no pre-determined limitations for my future when I was born. The possibilities were endless. All because of something I had nothing to do with.
As it stands right now, if you’re born a woman, born any race other than white, born attracted to the same sex or both sexes, or born a gender you don’t identify with, you’re immediately at a disadvantage. It’s like you’re starting out at the bottom of a mountain you have to climb, but you’re fitted with cement shoes and made to carry extra weight, and then you’re told you have to do it as quickly as everyone else and the reward for reaching the top is less than what everyone else is getting. It’s terrible. But you know what? A woman doesn’t need a man like me, or any man, speaking for her. Nobody needs me, or anybody, speaking for them. I’m a fucking dude with a black metal project. One of thousands. It doesn’t really matter what I think. But if our fucking Declaration of Independence says we’re all created equal, we ought to make good on that fucking promise by giving everyone an even playing field under the law.
Now, as for how those racist, misogynist, homophobic, or transphobic views play into the black metal scene and into metal as a whole: it’s shitty no matter what music they’re into. In the same way that metal music shouldn’t be blamed when someone who listens to metal commits suicide or murder, it shouldn’t be blamed for the stupid views some the musicians and fans of the genre hold. Metal has an issue with bigotry because bigotry is a worldwide, universal problem and it doesn’t prefer one subculture over another. In the same way that people like to tout their right to free speech to express their shitty views, we can, and should, use that same freedom of speech to call them out on their bullshit and marginalize those views publicly.
Everyone is really excited to hear this new project, Desu—when can we expect a release for that and are you looking at an EP or a full-length for it? And when do you think we can be prepared to put on Godzilla costumes and march around pumping your music?
I’ve had to delay working on the vocals for Desu a couple of times now due to illness so I’m a bit behind schedule, but I’m hoping for a late summer release right now. It’ll be a full-length at just under 40 minutes. Godzilla costumes are encouraged at any and all times, not just when a Desu album is released.
Also, when can we expect a full-length for Void Ritual?
Next year. Once things are wrapped up with Desu, I’ll start writing for that next.
You’re quite an understated guitarist. The actual guitar work that you put forth is marvelous and reveals some real talent. What’s your axe of choice these days?
If I had my way I’d be playing a Les Paul again, but priorities and budgets being what they are, I’ve had to settle for a guitar I got used for about $130.00. I’m hoping to upgrade some things once I’m finished with Desu, so I guess we’ll see how things go!
For a lighter question: I assume you wear full corpse paint when you record your music. First, what bands are you looking at for stylistic inspiration and what brand of makeup do you recommend?
I did wear corpse paint in the band I was in just out of high school, but I never did the makeup myself because I was awful at it, so one of the other guys would have to do it for me. I was in another corpse paint-wearing band about five years later. I just went the smeared, Gorgoroth-circa-Twilight of the Idols route so I wouldn’t have to bother with intricate designs. It’s been long enough that I couldn’t tell you which companies were best, I know we had a few that weren’t so great, though. Once it kinda came out blue-looking, to the point where we almost went on without it.
Many thanks to Dan for his time.