The Integrity/Krieg split is not just another sterile collaboration concocted in a lab using demographics, marketing numbers and polling — the seeds of the split were organically sown in the genuine friendship and respect between the respective musicians. In 2016, when Integrity descended on Richmond to play United Blood Festival, mainman Dwid Hellion met Neill Imperial of pioneering black-metal act Krieg and the two immediately hit it off, bonding over shared influences and mutual respect for each others' work. Cut to a couple years later, and that friendship has led to the killer joint release for Relapse Records.
With their split scheduled to drop this Friday (August 3rd), Revolver brought together Imperial and Hellion to interview each other. Throughout the following conversation, the musicians open up about a wide range of topics, including the darkness that drives them both, the corruption of the black-metal scene and the non-musical passions that are essential to sustaining their creativity.
NEILL IMPERIAL Your music seems to be getting a lot more violent as you progress in your work, whereas most artists seem to soften over time. What's driving this?
DWID HELLION I do not know exactly how to answer this question. I think that oftentimes musicians eventually start to wish that their music would become more accepted by the mainstream and more accessible to the masses and therefore these musicians attempt a more "pop" music approach. This desperate strategy usually fails and it ends up alienating the musician from their audience. For me, I make music that I would like to listen to. I create images that I think express what the music is saying, and are appealing to my aesthetic, to my artistic taste. I invest a lot of time and energy into my creations and I think that passion can be felt by those who are interested in Integrity.
HELLION So, when we will see a new Krieg LP?
IMPERIAL I wish I had some kind of concrete answer for that. It's been a lot of fits and starts where I come up with a lot of material and a few days later decide that it's not worth spending any more thought on. I kind of fucked myself with "Circle of Guilt" because it's one of those songs that really are benchmarks for me, where I'm not sure where they came from and not sure how to go back there. I spend so much time working out ideas now that I think I need to sort of sit back and let the more primitive spirit, the reptile brain, take back over and just drive down an ugly road for a bit. We talked a bit about doing just a nasty-sounding record but that might turn into another project, I'm very scatterbrained as I'm sure you've figured out by now.
IMPERIAL Is there an endgame for you or do you think you're going to continue working until you're in the grave?
HELLION I do not know if there is an endgame yet. It feels like I can yell louder and for much longer durations now. Much more than I could when I was younger. Once it becomes something that I can no longer physically handle, I suppose then I will need to focus my attention on another outlet.
IMPERIAL Vocally you sound like a fucking army on this record, is there anything you do to prepare for this kind of recording physically?
HELLION Thank you. Well, I do some light exercise. Minor weight training, some running as well. Quite minimal, nothing too serious. I am not certain if that has had any affect upon my vocals. Mainly, I am afflicted with a great darkness that has always resided within me, and Integrity is my means of temporarily exorcising those demons.
IMPERIAL You've managed to find a balance between your personal life and your artistic one. What sort of advice would you give someone struggling with that?
HELLION Actually, I do not feel like I have any balance. My creations have consumed who I am, because my creations are who I am. Most of my time is spent on making music or artwork, I do not have much of a personal life. I reside in the center of a dark chaos for the most part. Only within the creative abyss do I feel like I have some control or balance over my life.
IMPERIAL As both a visual and sonic artist do you feel that both need to be experienced together in order to fully take in what you're conveying with Integrity?
HELLION I believe that imagery complementing music allows a greater depth of the experience for the audience. I enjoy being able to offer visuals that further express what the music is expressing. Both two aspects are inseparable, and they are each gratifying for me in different and similar ways. Sometimes they also inspire the other. An image might give me an idea for a lyric or a section of music might inspire an image. They work together hand in hand. I also use the imagery as a storyboard when writing the music, and that allows a soundtrack aspect. Almost like a cinematic approach.
HELLION In addition to music it seems like writing — journalism, satire, commentary — seems to be a big part of who you are lately. I know that you seem to get yourself into unique and entertaining situations with your day job, which seems to be the main focus of your writing. Do you have any larger plans for your writing? A book? Screenplay? Broadway musical?
IMPERIAL It really began with just how easily irritated I can get with the general public and using social media as an outlet. That kind of turned into using social media as a public notebook to eventually draw together into something. It's also oddly my daily exercise in becoming a stronger writer, a way to sort of experiment with words and my voice. I've had aspirations to be a writer since even before I picked up an instrument but since leaving college nearly twenty years ago I had never really worked on it outside of delusional self-fantasy. I have skeletons for three books, the first being about my exciting career in retail since the 90s, another on depression, and finally one on my life in music. These are all still delusional self-fantasy but they inch closer to breaking through to reality. I've been very lucky that I've had people like Albert [Mudrian] at Decibel and Fred [Pessaro] here who've helped cultivate this voice even though I'm extremely moody and difficult to work with. Broadway might be pushing it a bit, I'd settle for a nice off-Broadway production about how I've sold records, cheap booze and penis anti-depressants.
HELLION Who are some of your favorite writers that you have found inspiration from?
IMPERIAL Initially I was very much into fantasy writers, but around 2002 when I was first diagnosed with major chronic depression I started looking into deeper and darker visions of reality. Irvine Welsh has always been a favorite. Bukowski as well, which I guess is somewhat cliche but fuck it. I also devour books on music subcultures, even if they're not ones I'm involved in or even appreciate aurally because I'm fascinated by people who break through the stagnation of requisite living in order to create something truly theirs. The last few years, now that I'm a few weeks shy of 40, I've been reading what should have been on my college reading list: Sartre, Celine, Camus. I try to work through Russian literature too, especially if I'm feeling too smart and need something to let me know that in reality I don't know very fucking much.
HELLION You seem to break many of the rules of black metal. Does that defiance toward conformity bring contempt from the black-metal community towards you?
IMPERIAL But isn't that the point? Rejection of society and rebellion? Convention is for boring fucking people and I left that behind in the early 00s. We're talking about a scene that is obsessed with rules, so much so that there's fucking clubs that probably charge membership fees. Anyone pushing for the purity of black metal who publicly releases their music instead of just creating it because they're driven and keeping it to themselves and a select few really must've missed the news the last few years because what was once a hidden secret in the depths of the music world is now being used to sell talk shows and novelty shirts.
And we brought it on ourselves, I mean look at the motorcycle-gang mentality, the clubs I just mentioned. It was commercialized from within and once people outside, curiosity tourists, got through being mocked and grabbed their own pieces of land it was all over. People bitch about hipsters taking the poison apple when they need to look in the fucking mirror at who planted the tree there in the first fucking place. And bands mocking terms like "safe spaces" sound more like they're begging for attention and shirt sales than defending any previously held tenants of black metal. If the black-metal scene wants to come at me and blame me for openly preaching a gospel of decency and literacy then fucking let them, they've ruined this scene, not me.
IMPERIAL What initially attracted you to black metal as a genre? I know you're into the LLN stuff [Les Légions Noires, underground French black metal]. Do you follow anything that those involved are doing now?
HELLION I am rather particular in regards to black metal, I do not like the majority of the genre. I am a fan of LLN. I feel like LLN was something like the Dada art movement for black metal. Whereas they both rebelled against their own movement, and therefore created something entirely new through their fierce defiance. In addition to LLN, I also enjoy the bands who were directly inspired by LLN. Bands like Forbidden Citadel of Spirits and I am a big fan of the Portuguese scene of raw black metal. Conjuro, Vetala, Mons Veneris. The raw quality lends a great dimension to the experience and the mood of these bands and that resonates with me deeply. I also enjoy your work and that of musicians like Leviathan, Kruel Kommando, Appalachian Winter, Devil Master, Cape of Bats — if they fit the genre? Just a handful of black-metal groups interest me.
IMPERIAL You've reworked a Vermapyre track, "Sons of Satan" [for the split]. What made you look back on it to de/reconstruct it and do you think you'll do any new Vermapyre material anytime soon? That project is bleak as fuck.
HELLION Thank you. Vermapyre is a unique side project of mine that tries to portray the idea of a Victorian-era metal band that constructed hand-made electric instruments in order to supply a Vaudevillian soundtrack to dilapidated and corroding silent horror films. [Integrity guitarist] Dom [Romeo] told me that he especially likes the Vermapyre song, "Sons of Satan (Return of the Sorcerer)" and he suggested that we cover it. That song was written by myself and former Integrity guitarist Rob Orr many years ago. When we reworked the song, Dom added a long solo and I think it helped breathe some new life into the song. The majority of Vermapyre material does not actually sound like "Sons of Satan," I can not imagine Integrity reworking any other Vermapyre songs. Especially because most of the Vermapyre songs were written and recorded on one- or two-string home-made electric guitars.
HELLION What were some of the early records that propelled you into the world of black metal?
IMPERIAL I came up at a pretty fertile time for black metal but it was more of a mission to find bands, what with there being no real internet-at least as we think of it now. So honestly every black metal record I came across in '94/'95 had some kind of impact on me, good or bad. The first black-metal record that I really gripped onto was Samael's Ceremony of Opposites, probably because it wasn't much of a stylistic leap from the death metal and death/doom I was fixated on. But the record that gave me my "spirit of '77" moment, that really made me think that I could somehow involve myself in the creation of the music was Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger, which was like nothing I had ever heard before but also had a very familiar feeling.
Shortly after that I fell into Ancient Svartalheim, the Vlad Tepes/Belketre split, Burzum's pre-prison manifesto records, early Behemoth ... these were all records that seemed to try to tell a story instead of just being a collection of songs, a concept which has been very important to me even to this day when I record full-lengths. It was everything about these records that captivated me: the weird and obscure aura around them, the flow of their soundscapes, the aesthetic presentation. The impression that the antisocial feelings were genuine and not some prefabricated idea of what it was like to be disgusted with humanity put together in a nice package that sold shirts and lunchboxes. You know, like how black metal is today.
HELLION How much did Profanatica and it's proximity to where you grew up in New Jersey mean to you?
IMPERIAL By the time I was entrenched into Profanatica they were gone a few years and the club they used to play with a lot of the vanguard had closed down, so honestly geography didn't play any real part in it for me. Geography has never really held much interest in terms of music in my life if I'm being honest. New Jersey had one band when I was coming up, Abazagorath, who I thought were stellar. New Jersey at the time was more of a death-metal kind of state, mostly dick-riding whatever they were doing in New York, which I had no interest in. Going back to Profanatica though, they were a game changer for me. They managed to take the lo-fi aesthetic, which had become my drug of choice, and inject it with a visceral nastiness that no other band had, then and now. They were the first U.S. band that really, for me, captured the essence of what I felt our country's overarching narrative should have been. Just this vicious and chaotic black storm. I'm sure how messy our first few records are is a direct influence tho not executed nearly as well.
IMPERIAL You've long professed your fandom of GISM, Randy Uchida, and Sakevi. Have you ever met Sakevi? The legends of the man are very much well known.
HELLION Yes, I have met Sakevi. He was a delight. A greatly talented artist and musician. SKV has been an inspiration for me since I was 13. If it was not for unique musicians Sakevi, Lemmy, Howlin' Wolf and Ozzy, I would have never had the courage to get involved in recorded music. I owe a great debt of gratitude to those four legends.
IMPERIAL You've covered a GISM song on the split, Zouo on a four-way split in the past, R.U.G. on the Decibel Flexi, what do you feel is so odd and interesting about Japanese hardcore?
HELLION I find Japanese music to be some of the most pure and sincere metal, punk, noise and hardcore music. I tend to be more attracted to the most extreme and aggressively creative Japanese bands. The more demented the Japanese band happens to be, the more likely I am to enjoy the experience. There seems to be a Dada element to many Japanese bands, which also holds a soft spot in my heart. Not to mention their love for wild guitar solos, which is another of my undying passions.
HELLION Krieg has been around for 23 years now. You also have several side bands. Which project is your main focus these days?
IMPERIAL They're all kind of different arms of the same creature at this point. A little over 12 years ago when I walked away from Krieg for a bit and did the Nil record and some other stuff I really tried to separate myself consciously from the Krieg mindset. And — while I'm proud of the results — that concept was an abject failure because I realized that while Krieg is the name of the project ... it's me, it'll always be me, and in turn everything I do is somehow also Krieg, if that makes any kind of sense. It's why you can take one of the records I did in the 90s, then the 00s and then the last record and they all could be different bands but the one unifying thing is me. I'm sure it sounds egotistical but it's all different chapters from the same book, different weapons from the same war.
IMPERIAL After three decades of constant work, progression and obvious passion what would you say is the most important thing in life?
HELLION My work is my great distraction and a wonderful escape from reality. It also serves a direct commentary upon my life and it can bring great satisfaction. The most important thing in life for me is silence.