Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Choosing an appropriate name for a black metal band can be a lengthy bureaucratic process

When a pair of Reading University students decided to form a black metal band, they were knowingly embarking on a journey that would take them all the way to Reading Town Hall

In 2012, Reading University agricultural science students, James Ervin and Timothy Stoddard, decided that they were going to form a black metal band.

“We were both in the second year of our degrees,” recalls James. “Even with our studies, we still had quite a lot of free time on our hands. Also, I think we realised that after our exams we would probably want to settle down and have careers and families. It was a question of: Are we going to do this now, or are we going to wait until we retire?”

The pair were keen musicians who had already played separately in a number of local indie bands, but both agree that their true love has always been black metal:

Timothy: “I was five years old when I first heard Welcome To Hell by Venom. I had never experienced anything even remotely like it before. It totally blew me away.”

Rather than expand their line-up, they opted to remain a duo, with multi-instrumentalist James handling most of the music, while bass and lead vocals were delegated to Timothy:

“I'm a pretty decent keyboard player,” says James. “Tim can shriek like a man having his ribcage drawn-out through his anus. By the way, that's not an idle boast. That's the legally documented opinion of an independent medical professional with over 30 years experience.”

Musical talent aside, the pair were under no illusions about what a long, frustrating, and fraughtly bureaucratic process forming a European Union-based black metal band can be:

James: “We were aware in advance that it was going to be hard. In the past a few of our friends had tried and failed. At the same time we had a clear vision of what we wanted from the outset. We knew that as long as we kept our end goal in sight we would achieve it, regardless of the obstacles.”

Timothy: “A lot of contemporary black metal draws on folklore and traditional instruments. We admire that, but it wasn't an area that either one of us wanted to explore creatively. James and I saw ourselves as operating within the traditionalist model of black metal, juxtaposing Christian iconography against a repellent image palette of blood, gore, disease, human filth and medical waste.”

James: “There's a fallacy, perpetuated by mainstream media, that black metal begins and ends with growled songs about inseminating the virgin Mary using improvised apparatus manufactured from the unsterilised shin bones of John the Baptist. For people outside the genre who lack in-depth knowledge that's certainly the most visible part, particularly among bands who thrive on shock value. What people don't appreciate is that underpinning this is a lot of paperwork and red tape.”

Since 1989 black metal bands operating within the E.U. have been subject to some of the toughest legislation anywhere in the world. Band members must have a licence and abide by a mandatory code of practice:

James: “There's ongoing debate as to whether these laws have stifled the genre. I prefer to think of the legislation as a framework that leaves us with no choice other than to raise our game and be the best that we can be.”

backwards7: “Have these rules and regulations hampered the growth of black metal? Recent government figures for the UK indicate that 81% of all black metal bands dissolve within 6 months of forming, usually after failing to acquire the necessary permits.”

James: “Well I think that you have a point there. The rate of failure has been an issue. 81% is an unacceptably high figure.”

A common stumbling block that has brought many black metal bands to a premature end is deciding on a name. This must then meet with the formal approval of local councillors, operating under EU guidelines - a document over 500 pages long:

Timothy: “I cannot stress how important it is to find the right name for your band. The UK government provides financial support in the form of grants and repayable loans that can be put towards funding consultants and public focus groups. I would advise anyone following in our footsteps to take full advantage of these. You should also expect to dip into your own savings.”

James agrees:

“No one will tell you what you're entitled to so it's worth doing some research. I recommend arranging a meeting with your local citizen's advice bureau.”

By March 2012, the pair were ready to begin the process of whittling down a lengthy list of possible names: AIDS Blood Gum Drops was among the first to be rejected:

James: “It was a bit unwieldy. If anything, it sounded a little too psychedelic.”

Timothy: “We were concerned that a cure for AIDS might be found in the future. Anything like that would instantly date us.”

Another name to fall at the first fence was Whoretopsy:

Timothy: “While the term 'whore' is gender-neutral, it is usually applied in the derogatory sense to women. Throughout the naming process we were mindful of not wanting to alienate the female demographic. Also James' girlfriend didn't like it.”

James: “It sounded good at the time but in hindsight it made no sense. I can't think of one reason why the autopsy of a prostitute would be any different from, say, the autopsy of a cook or a geologist.”

Timothy: “The best monikers are often single unembellished words. Names like Prolapse or Dissection would have been great, but they have already been taken by other bands.”

James: “At the other end of the scale we toyed with Bethlehem Funk Ensemble but were concerned that this might mislead audiences as to our musical direction.”

In another heated session Mecha-Jesus was dismissed as being “something that you might call a stoner rock group.”

Timothy: “In the end we narrowed down our list to five candidates: Gutted Disciple, Seraphim Vivisection, Faecal Papacy, Septic Entrails and Gangrenous Stigmata. After a further week of discussion James and I both agreed that Septic Entrails was the way to go.

In the interests of accuracy the pair immediately began researching sepsis, drawing on articles in medical journals and supplementing their knowledge with visits to hospitals where they interviewed patients with septicaemia:

James: “The last thing that Tim and I wanted was for people who had first-hand experience of septicaemia to be querying whether our music really embodied the full horror of the condition. It was important to us that we had their blessing and that they knew what we were trying to achieve with our music.”

At the beginning of July, with their paperwork completed James and Timothy travelled to Reading town hall where they submitted the forms to the town clerk. Their application to form a black metal band was debated the following week in a closed session of the High Council of the 13. No-one from the band was allowed to attend:

James: “After the hearing was over the clerk came out and pinned the verdict up on the board outside the chamber. Our application had been turned down. No reason was given.”

Timothy: “The paperwork took us an entire weekend to complete. It was so mentally and physically exhausting, and then to have it thrown out and not know why...”

James: “I know that the nephew of one of the councillors is in a black metal band called The Ides of Acheron. It's possible that we were seen as a potential threat to their domination of the Reading black metal scene.”

With the future of Septic Entrails dependent on an appeal, scheduled to take place a month after the first hearing, James and Timothy did not rest on their laurels:

James: “We hardly slept that month!”

Timothy: “We organised public meetings around Reading. James went on local radio. We had growing support from survivors of septicaemia, all passionately defending our band's moniker. We knew that would count in our favour.”

Unlike the first hearing, band-name appeals are heard in open sessions:

James: “The atmosphere in the council chamber was so tense. When they voted to over-turn the rejection by a majority of 9 to 4 it was such a release. We were all in tears, even my step-dad.”

Two weeks later Septic Entrails were one of the opening acts at the Thames Valley Gorefest, which takes place annually in music venues and community centres around Slough and Bracknell.

With the final notes of Aftermath of the Infernal Sodomy reverberating around a packed Britwell Youth Centre, an exuberant James bounded off the stage and bear-hugged me.

Later, in the dressing room he proudly showed my a letter the duo had received from the Vatican condemning them to hell if they did not repent.

“My advice is to be as organised as you can. Document everything on spreadsheets. Practice efficiency – remember that rejected band names can be re-purposed as song titles.”

Timothy shares his band mate's enthusiasm:

“It took us 18 months of solid graft to to get where we are today, but when you see those rows of corpse painted faces mouthing the lyrics to Glass Dick Messiah back at you, it's suddenly all worth while.”

No comments:

Post a Comment