Finding Black Metal’s Radio Pop Core With Spider God (Interview)
Black metal's relationship with pop music is, at first, tenuous. The music of rebellion against morality and musicality certainly can't have any connection to what the masses hear on the radio, and yet English "blackened pop" (his words, not mine!) project Spider God forged that connection with a collection of EPs and, more notably, a full album of smash pop hit covers (Black Renditions) which shows the corpse-painted, anti-musical efforts of dorky Norwegian teenagers is just as catchy as Casey Kasem's Top 40 picks. In a new interview, Spider God mastermind G. discusses his project's whys and hows, more specifically what took him down pop music's bubblegum hallways as a black metal project and how Black Renditions came to be. Listen through Black Renditions' infectious melodies and figure out just which radio hits Spider God chose to blacken and read our interview below.
Though Spider God's melodic, Norwegian heritage is obvious (especially in the titles you use), there is a notable hardcore underpinning which moves the music along in a dynamic way unlike most black metal. How do you keep your post-hardcore and hardcore (and pop, but more on that later) upbringing in mind when crafting Spider God songs?
I was a teenager in the early 2000s and bands like Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan, Circle Takes the Square, Between the Buried and Me, etc. were everything to us back then. My friends and I knew that these bands took some influence from metal, but we just thought that genre was a bit lame, so it was only several years later that I hopped over to bands like Taake, Darkthrone, Leviathan etc. That early 2000s hardcore, metalcore and screamo are genres that run through my veins, so when I go to create black metal, that stuff just naturally channels into my music.
Your fascination with pop music was brought to the forefront with the Black Renditions album, in which you covered pop classics in a period spanning decades. What was it about pop music which made you envision and eventually record these black metal covers?
I've always been drawn to aggressive music. Music that punches you in the gut. To me, pop is arguably the most aggressive music, not because it has violent lyrics or pummeling instrumentation, but because everything in the best pop songwriting and production is honed and perfected to give you a concentrated punch of melody that can't help but get stuck in your head. "Stay" is an aggressively catchy song. All of the songs I chose on Black Renditions were picked because they hit me as hard as the best breakdown or blast-beat. Melody is violent! All I did with Black Renditions was try to translate the aggression I heard in these pop songs into a language that metalheads might understand and appreciate.
Why do you suppose there is that superficial disconnect between black metal and pop music which has led to this fusion not being explored before?
There is a lot about black metal that is inherently silly, over-theatrical, and melodramatic. But just like any other fandom, the black metal community feels safe in a space where they can explore and indulge in this over the top genre with a completely straight face. I'm part of that community, and I like being able to immerse myself in the over-theatricality of it all without fear of ridicule, especially when it comes to a genre as steeped in evil and darkness as black metal. It's a genre that's easy to mock, so we have to protect the safe space to a certain extent. It's understandable, then, that the seemingly frivolous and throwaway happiness of pop would threaten this black metal safe space where only anger and depression reside. Black Renditions, to some, was blasphemy and a direct threat to the genre's true identity.
Spider God was initially a very outwardly serious project, which was kind of turned on its head with this declaration of "fun." How do you want Spider God to be perceived?
Context is helpful here. Black Renditions started as an experiment that was meant to be kept between friends. But after some fellow musicians heard a couple of demos, they encouraged me to release something publicly. At Christmas I had some spare time and Tom from Repose Records challenged me to record 12 cover songs of pop hits for the 12 days of Christmas. So the record was created as a bit of festive fun rather than a serious release, and something that I thought would be forgotten after Christmas was over. But the reaction was overwhelming and spurred us on to release the songs as a full album. So, I see Black Renditions as a fun aside, even though I approached the process as sincerely as I do any other Spider God record. The original material will always remain the focus, and that stuff is pretty serious. That being said, I hope it has shown the community that black metal can be fun, and it's alright to smile while listening to it!
You composed and recorded your trio of EPs in 2020 and steadily released them over two years. What fueled this heightened period of creativity and why did you choose to release this stockpile of music as three releases?
I had a two-week period off work and in the midst of the pandemic I was pretty much housebound. Lockdown had brought me into the raw black metal scene in a big way, and so I took this opportunity to see if I could make something on my own that sounded like the music I was listening to. What came out was nothing like Borda's Rope or Carved Cross, but I enjoyed taking the raspy, feral energy of those raw bands and injecting some poppiness into it. I recorded and mixed the first EP in 5 days, then took a break over the weekend to record an album for a different project, and then recorded the second EP over the next 5 days. The third EP was recorded about a month later, but I was also working on the Μνήμα [Mnima] split and Four Winds split at the time as well. It was like something had been unlocked and I haven't really looked back.
Spider God definitely stands out from the raw black metal "community" as something which is catchier and more accessible. Given black metal's "over the top" nature and your own ideas on aggression through melody, how do you place Spider God among this ever-growing movement?
I don't necessarily see Spider God as fitting within the category of "raw black metal" anymore. I think that some people in the community have rejected the band because it doesn't nestle itself comfortably between the other projects in the scene, but I'm more than happy to be rejected. Black metal is at the core of the Spider God sound, and I owe a lot to the raw scene, but I'm excited to move away from this label and build something that's not easily categorizable. Especially with the records I'm working on at the moment, which are a further progression away from the "raw" template.
How would you categorize Spider God if you had to try?
I've flirted with the idea of blackened pop, but that doesn't really cut it. Maybe melodic blackcore?
Do you think people will be surprised by the influences you've cited given your current audience?
Perhaps, but I think the current crop of underground raw black metal bands are taking their influences from far and wide, and in my mind that can only be a good thing. I completely believe in upholding the "true," traditional sound of black metal, but I also believe we can push the genre into new territory, and I'm looking forward to seeing other artists push it even further than I have.
I understand you're playing your first live show in May [Editor's Note: It's sold out! Sorry!], sharing the bill with Lamp of Murmuur, with your live band featuring a veritable who's who of the black metal underground. What was the preparation process like for that?
Well, the first step was to find a band! Luckily, I have some incredibly talented friends, so it was relatively easy to complete the line-up. Jurgen from Phantom Lure, Tom from Repose Records, as well as Reign and Gate Master, are all part of this live iteration of the band, so I guess it's a kind of underground supergroup! As we're from different parts of the world, the process started with me recording guitar playthrough videos and sending them out to the members to practice. This meant we were already pretty tight by the time we met in London for the first rehearsal. It's been a real pleasure to adapt these tracks for a live setting, and each member has brought his own personality to his part, which has made the songs come alive. We're playing a mixture of older and newer tracks, and there may be one or two surprises along the way…
Should we expect an anthemic pop song to make its way into your live set?
I guess you'll have to come along and find out!
In such a short period of time you've released the "Faith" EP series, you released an album of black metal pop covers, and you're about to make your live debut. What comes next for Spider God?
The first proper Spider God full-length is completely finished. I don’t want to reveal much about it yet, but it’s a massive step up in every way. I’ve also just finished tracking my side of a split with a musician I hugely respect–it’s being mixed as we speak, and should see the light of day before the end of the year.
Follow Spider God on Bandcamp.