Author: Dayal Patterson
Publisher: Feral House
The notorious history of the rise and growth of black metal has already been widely documented. From mainly sensationalist works like the infamous Lords Of Chaos book, to the closer personal portraits featured in the documentary Until The Light Takes Us, it’s clear that this particular subgenre has sparked a public fascination that expands far beyond the music. That being said, despite these numerous attempts, the black metal underground still lacks a definitive account. Previous works on the matter have never quite succeeded at giving an accurate historical account without getting too hung up on the controversies, or ultimately tend to lose sight of the actual music.
Enter Dayal Patterson. A long-time journalist for his own Crypt Zine, and later the popular magazines Metal Hammer and Terrorizer, he has the distinct advantage of being an insider of this peculiar subculture. Evolution Of The Cult is his first book, and is being published through Feral House (who also did Lords Of Chaos). Since 2009 he has been traveling around the world in order to interview prominent musicians of the scene, apparently getting to know a few of them personally.
The author with Behemoth’s Nergal
Evolution starts out by painting a chronological picture, harking back to the introduction of explicitly satanic imagery through Black Sabbath and Coven. Instead of drawing direct lines from the birth of metal to Venom’s debut, Patterson is careful to include the thrash-movement of the early 80s, including Sodom, Kreator, and Destrucion (sometimes labeled “proto-black metal”). From here he works his way forwards through the first wave of black metal, with the now familiar stories of Venom, Mercyful Fate, and Bathory. None of this is particularly revolutionary, and the story of Mayhem has been told so many times that most of this book’s core audience will know it by heart. This is a vital point, as the book goes through some effort to appeal to newcomers and hardcore fans alike.
Patterson’s main strength lies in his obviously vast knowledge and love of the actual music. By taking on the role as a fan as well as the narrator, he tackles the most obscure subjects with glowing enthusiasm. Although it would be impossible to properly tell this story without devoting a few chapters to Vikernes and Euronymous, Evolution is careful to also consider lesser known artists. Thus we have entire chapters devoted to the curious tales of groups like VON and Master’s Hammer, which gives both a fresh perspective and a feeling of depth.
Fenriz is a major contributor, and approves of this book
After the main bulk of the Norwegian chronicles are out of the way, the book embraces a degree of artistic liberty, delving into sub-sub genres like symphonic and industrial black metal, before ending up on in contemporary world of post-black metal. As the title suggests, Patterson emphasizes that his book is about the continuous evolution of a genre, instead of a posthumous rise-and-fall type of situation. In a project like this there is never room for everything, and although some omissions are questionable (where are the chapters on the Finnish and American scenes?), the almost 500 pages (split into 50 chapters) are packed with interesting anecdotes, bold statements, and summaries of musical achievements. In addition, the book includes numerous rare archive photos, with 64 pages of color-prints.
One of the pervasive aspects of black metal as a movement has always been the seemingly paradoxical narratives. While many of the interviewees in Evolution are unwilling (or unable) to break character, and go on about a grand satanic narrative, others tell reflexive accounts of juvenile rebellion. Instead of teasing out eyebrow-raising statements, Patterson lets his subjects speak for themselves, which strengthens this juxtaposition. Some might question giving individuals like Graveland’s Rob Darken a platform to voice their opinions, but by doing so Evolution feels like an unfiltered document of sometimes extreme individuals.
The accompanying zine Prelude To The Cult
All the aforementioned points factor into the uniqueness of Evolution, and Patterson’s casual yet on-point writing-style makes the book an enjoyable read. With an aim to appeal to both new listeners and hardcore fans, he is occasionally awkwardly standing in two circles, taking form as some rather cramped summaries of revolving line-ups or extensive discographies. However these flaws are few and far between, and the personal engagement of the author is much more of a boon than a curse. Patterson seems to have a blast writing about his passion, yet he never appears as an uncritical fanboy. This zeal shines through in his style, and makes for a very engaging approach.
Compared to earlier attempts at documenting the rise and growth of black metal, Evolution Of The Cult is untouchable. Despite some now and again clumsy rundowns of facts, the book gets straight to the point and then expands on the familiar with elegant elaboration. Aside from his own favorable insider position, Patterson is able to give some genuine and original insights by going straight to the source; the music and the musicians who were actually there and lived to tell the tale. As it stands, Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult is essential reading for metal-nerds, and the best documentation of this particular subcultural phenomenon to date.
Get it here.
Postscript: Make sure to pick up the optional accompanying zine Prelude To The Cult, which is printed in the style of old-school fanzines and features expanded and previously unpublished interviews that didn’t quite make the cut for the actual book. This prelude gives some additional insights into the work behind the book, and also contains transcripts of conversations with some highly eclectic and transgressive individuals.