Interview: Misery Index Frontman Jason Netherton Talks New Album, New Book, and the State of Death Metal
Not too many people are as deeply involved in the death-metal scene as Misery Index's Jason Netherton (pictured above, far left). Not only does his band have a new record, The Killing Gods, but the vocalist-bassist has also written a new book on death-metal music and culture, Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground. When Revolver caught up with busy Baltimore native on a Friday afternoon, he was working on his graduate studies in Canada, where he plans to get a degree in Media Studies. Fortunately, he still found time to talk to us about all things death metal.
REVOLVER So your new album, The Killing Gods, is centered around the story of Faust. Why did you choose that?
JASON NETHERTON It's actually like the first song but broken into five parts, so it's like the first 15 minutes of the record. Our guitarist Mark [Kloeppel] put together this song in five parts. I had just read a book by Marshall Berman called All that Is Solid Melts into Air, and he takes sort of a literary approach to the consequences of modernity versus a nineteenth century Enlightenment drive for progress and the growth of capitalism. He talks about it through Faust and how Faust is sort of this tragic figure in his drive to progress, he sort of destroys it at the same time. So we thought that was a good literary side-step for us to still talk about our themes that we have as a band, but take it from more of a literary approach rather than being so real world about everything.
Right, usually your lyrics have centered around political topics.
We wanted to get more introspective with this record lyrically, and maybe get more metaphoric and personal with things rather than having lyrics being so upfront. Maybe it's just we're growing and don't want to do the same thing over and over again. It was a conscious decision.
Revolver premiered the track, "The Calling." Can you tell me about the song?
It's part of the Faust piece and begins introducing the situation of Faust. It's probably the most difficult song to play on the album for us too. It's challenging. It's also going to be the first video track, too. It actually has footage from the Faust film in it.
Each Misery Index album sounds different. What were you going for this time around?
The recording is something we put a lot of time into and we didn't have any deadlines. The last several albums, we were sort of on this touring and recording cycle. With the ability to have a longer writing period and also record at our own pace, we think the sound came out a little bit more to our own liking rather than previous records. We have a new member since the last time, Darin Morris [guitar]. We don't want to repeat ourselves too. We have had grindcore influences on the past albums, but I think this album is probably our most death-metal record.
This album was recorded at Visceral Sound Studios with Pig Destroyer's Scott Hull, right?
The drums were recorded with Scott Hull--Adam [Jarvis, Misery Index drummer], probably as you know, is also in Pig Destroyer. He has a good relationship with Scott and he likes the way that his drums came out on the last Pig Destroyer album [2012's Book Burner]. It was a really comfortable situation for him to record in. He tracked the drums there and then a month later we went to a studio in Baltimore to our regular producer Steve Wright and we completed the album there.
It has been a few years since your last record, 2010's Heirs to the Thievery. As you mentioned, Adam has been working with Pig Destroyer, but what else have you guys been up to?
Adam is the most full-time among us as a musician because we all have other things going on in our life right now. I'm in graduate school and our guitarist Mark is also in graduate school. We got started with that over the last few years so while we were doing that, we were writing mostly. We've just been writing this record for the last two and a half years.
Speaking of projects, you have written Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground—a 480-page book that provides an oral history of death-metal music and culture. Why did you want to write a book?
We were touring a lot in 2010 and 2011 with the last album. We had a lot of down time and I ended up spending a lot of time backstage with different friends sharing memories, anecdotes, and talking about the industry. I just started thinking there was a lot of cool history being talked about that was slowly fading away. So one day I bought an mp3 recorder and I just started randomly recording my conversations with my peers. After a while, I had over a hundred hours of conversations.
There are books about death metal, but what makes your different is the fact it's an oral history. Was that always the intention?
Yeah, because the most fun and interesting for me has always been when you read those first-hand accounts. So when an entire book is comprised of those sorts of perspectives, it gives you a side of things you can’t communicate through a writer’s single authoritative text though as a music writer, journalist, or historian.
When you were researching and interviewing, did you come upon anything that surprised you?
I always wondered how the first generation bands came to perceive death metal as its own separate scene from thrash or speed metal. Also, how they first discovered the international underground tape-trading and fanzine culture. How the media was so important to the scene in giving it its own identity--there were barriers to entry that kept it almost an international secret in a way. Even touring back then. It’s so easy to tour now with a GPS. I always wondered how tours were put together back then because they didn’t happen much then. You might get a package tour every couple months and it was a huge event. I didn’t know how it worked even though I was a young teenager then who was going to those shows.
You’ve been in the scene for a long time—what are the biggest changes you have noticed, either positive or negative?
Well, the double-edge sword of the Internet. That’s actually a thread through the entire book, is this transition from analog culture to digital culture and how it sort of upended the underground. That’s why today we sort of have these like fetishize the whole old school—the original sound, the analog recordings, the black and white imagery, and the fanzines. The mystique of those days is perceived to be gone in the transition from the material compact disks, cassettes, and vinyl to what is seen as a cold meaningless mp3. But at the same time, it’s never been easier to get your music out to people. With the click of a button or a status update, you can contact thousands of people immediately. It’s an immediacy that’s cool but at the same time it’s cold and doesn’t have the same sincerity that was more prevalent in the early days when people were handwriting letters and waiting two or three weeks for a tape to arrive in the mail.
I see the metalhead culture as more materialistic in a weird way than mainstream culture. They go to shows, buy physicals, read books, and collect memorabilia. Do you agree?
I fully agree. As I’ve been talking about, media is front and center for metal. It’s so wrapped up in what the metal scene is and how it produces itself and finds meaning—everything in the T-shirts to, as you said, why people actually want to own a real record or have something that relates to their favorite bands. The media is sort of the twin of the music itself. It’s so bound to metal that it stands out as something distinct than other music subcultures for sure.
How do you think this will change in the next decade?
It’s hard to say, but I don’t think it’s going to be too much different. If anything, metal is pretty conservative—there are certain traditions that are upheld. While it does allow deviations with subgenres, I think there is always sort of be a core--whether it’s death metal or power metal or black metal--I think those traditions have been established. While the media will change, I think that as it’s been shown with the resurgence of vinyl and the attachment to all things of the old school, I think that there’s going to be this foundation in place that will survive change.