Shadow Out of Time: An Interview with Anders Manga of Bloody Hammers

Bloody_Hammers_-_Lovely_Sort_of_Death

It’s wonderfully fitting that the genre-bending dark metal band Bloody Hammers is based out of Transylvania County, North Carolina. On their fourth LP, Lovely Sort of Death, the band has taken its witches’ brew of fuzzed-out hard rock, deviously catchy hooks, and occult horror theatricality and blended in elements of post-punk and darkwave to create what might be the year’s most diabolically entertaining record.

Anders Manga, the mastermind behind Bloody Hammers, chatted with Nine Circles’ creepy person in residence, the Seductress of the Innocent, Tenebrous Kate, about the latest incarnation of the band’s sound, his love of classic goth, and the reason we should be using the right tools to talk to our dead relatives.

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One of the things I like about Bloody Hammers is how you combine a diverse set of influences into the music. On the latest record, you’re really bringing out the goth and darkwave sounds that you’ve been working with since the late 90s and early 2000s in your solo work. What inspired you to move in this direction as Bloody Hammers?

Maybe I had an identity crisis at the time! As I was working on the batch of songs that were coming to me, I realized they weren’t exactly like what I was doing on the earlier albums. “Lights Come Alive” was one of the first songs I was working on and I thought it wasn’t going to fit in either project, and that maybe I should start something new. I decided I didn’t want to put boundaries around Bloody Hammers and so I said fuck it, I’m not going to throw away good songs just because they don’t fit perfectly.

Especially in Europe, they like you to fit in a box when it comes to the business end of things. The stoner rock festivals think we’re too goth, and then the goth festivals think we’re too stoner doom. It’s not good for business, what I do, but it’s what I like, so if we don’t fit somewhere that’s OK–we’ll just stay home.

It’s an interesting thing. As someone who’s trying to find music, a lot of the time I feel like the boxes are not the right boxes. You have doom metal, black metal, death metal, and so on, and then there are these spiderwebs that kind of connect everything and cross over and make things confusing. What do you think about that kind of genrefication? Does that hold you back as an artist?

It doesn’t hold me back as an artist, but it definitely holds us back… Well, I use the word “business” very reluctantly, because it’s not really a business in that there’s not really any money! For other people, like my booking agents and my record label, it can be a challenge. Some stores want to have a doom metal section and they have cards set up: doom metal, goth, and so on. They break it up under these little categories and then with Bloody Hammers, they think “where do we put this record?” I say just put it in the rock section! I don’t even think about my music that way–I don’t like to have boundaries on what I do. I don’t want to put out some contrived record where I’m only writing stoner rock songs. That’s no fun.

It’s almost like we’ve reached a point where the genres are no longer helping people find music. They’re just helping marketers–it’s like an easy way out for them. When there’s someone who’s making music that’s between the boundaries, or who could be classified in multiple boxes, it seems to fry their brains.

Exactly. It’s always been sort of a struggle for me. When I was doing the darkwave stuff, the first record I came out with was more 80s style, but at the time everything was Combichrist and Terrorfakt, this really intense industrial stuff. Here I am singing while everybody else is growling.

You’ve always been a man out of time.

I mean, a lot of people liked what I was doing, but it didn’t really fit in then either. Now, there are bands like Cold Cave and Lebanon Hanover that are doing what I was doing then. I was too early for it I guess.

It’s interesting that this manifestation of your sound is coming out now, because I’ve heard a bunch of music over the past several years that you could arguably classify as gothic rock. Yet it’s as if these labels are turning themselves inside out not to call this music “gothic.” The sound is there if you listen to Alaric’s latest, or to the Beastmilk album from a few years ago. As someone who’s been involved in this kind of music for a long time, how do you feel about that?

I don’t have to promote it anymore. With the first Bloody Hammers album, I put it out on Bandcamp and kind of walked away. It was a labor of love, but then the next day this label out of Amsterdam, Soulseller, wanted to put it out on vinyl. I never had any of my stuff issued on vinyl so of course I agreed to that. Then Metal Blade and Napalm Records hit me up and I was like “what the hell! Where were you guys when I needed you, when I was a little bit younger?”

It feels like there’s a stigma on the goth, “the G Word,” and people are trying so hard not to use that term.

It’s the kiss of death, that word, it really is. There are really no media outlets for “goth.” Pitchfork? They barely cover Gary Numan or Peter Murphy–they don’t talk about those people and they’re legends. There’s Gothic Beauty but that’s more about fashion. If you’re a band making goth music, especially in America, you’re just fucked. You’re just doing it because you love it. There are absolutely no press outlets that are going to touch you. I knew that going into this record, but I like that vibe.

The musicians I grew up with like the Sisters of Mercy and Daniel Ash have a thin, minimal, distorted kind of guitar sound. What’s different about Lovely Sort of Death is that it has the heavy, fuzzed-out tones. I can’t think of a goth album that has fuzzy guitars and crooning vocals. I’m proud of it–I think it turned out pretty cool.

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It really did. Another thing I like about the album and about Bloody Hammers overall is that there’s a really strong visual element behind the band. It’s got this erotic occult, horror film but also Americana, dark cowboy feel to it that’s so much fun. How did you develop that? Do you work with artists or is this just stuff that comes from your brain? How does it reach the page?

Man, I don’t quite know how to articulate that! When it comes time to put a wrapper on the music, I just want it to look good. I like the way that combination of styles looks. I guess growing up with cool album covers made me want to have a cool album cover too, dammit!

I remember when I was tiny kid, staying up too late watching Showtime, this movie called The Hunger came on and I saw Bauhaus for the first time. It was so striking. From there I discovered the Batcave sound and bands like Alien Sex Fiend, but at the same time I was also into Slayer. I was sort of a mixed up kid. My friends would come over and I would have The Cure’s Disintegration next to Reign in Blood and they’d be like “what the hell is wrong with you, man? Is that your sister’s album?”

I think a lot of people like all kinds of music but some people just don’t like to wear it on their sleeve because they like to fit into a scene. It seems like scenes aren’t what they used to be, though. When I was in high school, there were the punk kids and the goth kids and the metal kids, all these separate groups of people, and I don’t think that happens anymore.

I think that’s all positive stuff, from where I sit. And going from crossing genres to crossing mediums, you and Devallia created a handmade spirit board as part of the limited edition release of Lovely Sort of Death. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

We make spirit boards year round. DrabHaus is the name of our company and we have an Etsy store where we sell the wood carvings we make. Our spirit board is called Madame Devallia’s Mysterious Spirit Board and it’s sold in witchcraft stores around the US. When we were going to put out this record, I wanted to do a spirit board for Bloody Hammers but I wasn’t sure if anyone would want one. It was crazy–they all sold out!

Absolutely, and the handmade aspect was so creative.

They ship out next week and they’re just stacked up all over the house drying right now. It’s crazy.

Tell me a little bit more about the wood carving and the spirit board business. That’s really interesting!

We live in a place called Transylvania County, right next to Bat Cave, North Carolina, and there are just shit-tons of bats around here. There are bats that live in the grating of my house–they’re everywhere. We were thinking of getting into the business of making and selling bat houses because everybody down here needs one. You can get them here, but they’re crappy, imported bat houses and we wanted to make nice ones. After we got some tools to make them, we thought we would make a spirit board, just for fun. From there, we made an Etsy store and it just took off.

There aren’t a lot of good spirit boards out there. The Parker Brothers Ouija Board is just sad. It’s made of plastic and shitty cardboard. Nobody wants to talk to their dead relatives through plastic and cardboard, so we wanted make something nice. Our boards are solid wood, the planchettes are solid wood. We’re starting to get more calls from stores that want to carry them. I guess it’s the American dream!

It sounds like you and Devallia work together on a lot of projects. You have a beautiful creative partnership in addition to your marriage.

Absolutely. We’ve been playing in bands together for years. She worked with me on my darkwave and electronic projects. We’re both pretty laid back people, we don’t really argue much at all. Some guy was talking to me yesterday and asked me how the hell I work with my spouse, like it’s going to be some bad Fleetwood Mac implosion. So far so good, though–we’re coming up on ten years in October.

Now bear with me while I get theatrical for a moment. This is an incredibly diverse and evocative record and as I’m sitting listening to it, I’m thinking that this would be a great thing to listen to if I was drinking absinthe in a bar that’s been converted from a former church or something equally dramatic. If you were to imagine a perfect circumstance under which to listen to Lovely Sort of Death, what would it be?

What you said sounds perfect! Someplace dark, you know. I think there are moments when it could be played in a club, even.

Most of the record was written in the snow. We had a horrible winter last year in the mountains and we couldn’t leave. Even if it rains, you can’t go on some of those roads because they’re so steep. I just stayed in the studio and worked through most of the winter, so I think the songs do have some of that feeling of solitude and isolation. Whenever I think of the record, I think of when I was writing it–the warm cup of coffee and the snow piling up outside.

It’s a great record and I can’t wait for people to hear it once it’s released. In closing, is there anything else you want to tell us about future plans for Bloody Hammers?

As far as touring, we’re working on it. Bloody Hammers is really just me and Devallia, so we have to bring in other people when we play live. Right now, the booking agents are looking at opportunities for us to get out on the road in the Fall and Spring. We had a string of bad luck last time. We were supposed to open for Killing Joke and then they just dumped their whole tour, and other things fell through so we never got out. Hopefully we’ll be on the road soon!

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Bloody Hammers’ Lovely Sort of Death was released by Napalm Records on CD, vinyl, and digital formats on August 5th, 2016. Purchase Lovely Sort of Death on Bandcamp and learn more about the band at BloodyHammers.com.

– Tenebrous Kate

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