There’s no denying that I, Voidhanger is one of the labels that critics and fans alike have to stop and recognize at this point. With a roster that includes Ecferus, Howls of Ebb, Spectral Lore, Voidcraeft, Skáphe and Dissvarth (to name a few) the label is poised to have a breakout season. With the Italian metal scene exploding lately, we here at Nine Circles wanted to know more about the mysterious Italian man behind this international label. Thus, we sat down with Luciano and banged out short profile for you get familiar.
I started I, Voidhanger Records in 2008, but I collaborate as a writer with various Italian rock/metal magazines since 1999. I currently write for Rock Hard Italy, though I contribute less articles than in the past because the label grew faster than expected and now keeps me very busy. I didn’t have any wild dreams when I started, just wanted the label to reflect my tastes. Basically, I tried to recreate the metal microcosmos I live in: essentially dark, and with undefined contours.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get a site to review or interview a band on your label that you really cared about?
I care for all the bands I release, and I’m sure that none of them would approve such a behavior. We do what we do for our own satisfaction, first and foremost. As romantically stupid as it sounds, I don’t feel like I’m a merchant selling records to people, I feel more like I’m sharing a musical experience with likeminded listeners, being them customers or metal writers. If you like the music I release, you will want to write of it and won’t need me to harass you about doing that, right?
What’s your selection process for discovering and signing bands? How do you hope to grow your reputation as a label? Is that a process that mostly develops through who you sign and work with?
When I select bands, I obey only to one rule: they must own a recognizable sound and/or personal approach to metal, especially when it is conveyed through a precise concept. I want to give voice to those underground artists that have really something to tell and with a vision so original or unique that risk to get unnoticed in a metal scene dominated by trends and generic sounds. It’s for that reason that I, Voidhanger Records has grown a peculiar reputation: that of a label which deals with what’s weird or not obvious within the metal field… a very nice compliment, if you ask. You can like them or not, but you can’t deny that bands like Midnight Odyssey, Howls Of Ebb, Spectral Lore, Mare Cognitum, Bloodway, Malhkebre or Todesstoß stand out within the metal scene because of their unique and recognizable style.
How important are issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and do you in any way insert those issues into your work? How do you feel about the semi-recent turn in the metal scene towards a larger and more pronounced social consciousness? Do you feel any of that turn has affected who or what you’re willing to sign and put out there? I usually find that Europeans feel very differently than Americans on this one.
I don’t have an opinion on political or social issues in metal, but I suppose they are always there, even when bands don’t seem interested in taking a position. When musicians create fantastic worlds that appear far and detached from everyday life, or when they deals with cryptic, esoteric and occult concepts, they are making an implicit political and social statement: they are escaping from reality, they are refusing Society,showing intolerance for what surrounds them. And the more advanced is their detachment, the more disgusted they probably are. I am not sure what you mean with social consciousness, but it sounds like something I don’t like, something that legitimates the homogenization of culture and the standardization of the way of thinking. On the contrary, I will always be interested in listening to the voices outside of the choir, being them politically correct or not, and will always prefer individualism over collective consciousness.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you?
I got into metal by myself, in my 20’s. I grew up listening to 60’s psych rock, 70’s hard rock and prog, jazz, noise and indie rock. That probably gives me a different viewpoint on metal, and explains my inclination towards unconventional sounds. I clearly remember that I started with Slayer’s “South Of Heaven”, Order From Chaos’ “Stillbirth Machine”, Celtic Frost’s “To Mega Therion”, King Diamond’s “Abigail”, Cynic’s “Focus”and Obituary’s “The End Complete”, all bought in the span of a week. Then I discovered Burzum, Darkthrone, Emperor and Absu, and I felt like I was finally home. I think metal is one of the most complete and flexible genres ever, open to contaminations and creative possibilities. It is a paradox, when you think that most metalheads perceive it as something that should remain impenetrable to changes and experimentation…
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
Stickiest? Like in Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” kind of sexual excitement? I am happily married with my wife and engaged with my daughters, so music is my only sexual toy. At the moment I feel turgid for the new Howls Of Ebb’s full-length out in April, and for an amazing Greek band I’m going to release later this year. They play a progressive black-thrash kind of metal. Simplifying a little, they are as aggressive and violent as Absu, and as emotional and complex as Opeth, with strongly symbolic and existentialist lyrics. But can’t tell more, right now. In the past, my heart beat faster for artists like Blue Öyster Cult, Kyuss, Morbid Angel, Three Mile Pilot, The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Miles Davis, Mark Lanegan, Absu, Emperor, Burzum, The Jesus Lizard, Van Der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind, Demilich, Paul Chain, Deathspell Omega, Xasthur, Darkspace, Roky Erickson, The Fuzztones… I could really go on forever.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a label owner?
Being a writer myself, I know I wouldn’t like anybody to tell me how to do my job. However, I have one simple advice for aspiring music critics: never turn the review into the stage for your personal show. It’s silly to show how cultured and dialectic you are when you hype a band, or how cynical and mean you can be when you tear apart a record. Be creative, but never forget that the music is the only protagonist. Unfortunately, Internet is full of improvised reviewers that write to please their own egos and to amuse their flock of friends and followers. That’s not only annoying, it also takes away credibility to metal journalism.
I’m stepping aside here to ask you a bit about the Italian scene. Normally this would ask you about hobbies but 2015 was a pretty great year for Italian metal with terrific releases Mefitic, Grime and Abhor (among others). Can you take us through the development of the scene and how you think metal is different in Italy from the surrounding European cultures?
There’s no Italian metal scene, really. The lack of a big metal audience and a metal market never allowed the growth of a stable scene, and prevented Italian metal to find its own voice. In comparison to other Countries, there are very few Italian bands that can be considered seminal or significant in Metal History; those few bands are indeed excellent, but have operated separately one from each other, and generally within a hostile context. Italy has a long and glorious tradition in classical music, pop music, and during the 70’s had a strong prog rock scene, but metal bands always got from little to no recognition here. I like the groups you mentioned, and would add Ad Nauseam and Nibiru to the 2015’s list of great Italian bands.
Finally, what were some of your favorite albums of 2015?
I did a list for Rock Hard Italy, with albums from Leviathan, Tribulation, Sabbath Assembly, Elder and a few others. I obviously didn’t mention any of the records I released because it would have not been nice… but, in all honestly, I like some of them much better. Therefore – and without caring for what people could think – I will answer that some of my favorite albums of 2015 are Midnight Odyssey’s “Shards Of Silver Fade”, Howls Of Ebb’s “The Marrow Veil”, Spectral Lore’s “Gnosis” and Todesstoß’ “Hirngemeer”. Didn’t listen to many non-metal records the past year, but I remember I particularly liked a couple of John Zorn’s albums, “Inferno”and “The True Discoveries Of Witches And Demons”.
Thanks to Luciano for his time!