An interview with Lev Weinstein (Krallice, Bloody Panda, Astomatous)by Rob on Aug 24, 2011 • 7:42 pm • 6 Comments
It’s often struck me how rarely you come across interviews with drummers. Even in the world of metal, where prowess behind the kit is as highly prized as the best shredding, it’s only the occasional characters (the Gene Hoglans, Frosts, and Flo Mouniers of this world) who end up sharing the spotlight alongside their guitarists and frontmen. In an effort to turn the tide a bit, I sought out one of the finest drummers today’s metal has to offer, to discuss inspiration, technique, and the dreaded ‘hipster metal’ tag.
I started drumming around the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, so I suppose I was nine. My brother and I both had to take music lessons. I started with the piano, and pretty much hated it. I was allowed to quit on the condition I picked something else, and drumming looked way more fun.
By that time, thanks to the influence of an older brother, I was already well on my way to becoming obsessed with heavier music. I have a distinct memory of hearing …And Justice For All for the first time when I was that age or a little younger, and worm-holing, both with the album, and the notion of double bass drumming as evident on One and Dyer’s Eve.
My brother ultimately grew somewhat out of heavier stuff, but I was hooked. It went from an initial infatuation with thrash and NWOBHM stuff to death metal and then to the other extreme variants of the genre. Gene Hoglan’s playing, especially on Symbolic and Individual Thought Patterns, was an enormous influence growing up, and still provides constant inspiration.
Soon after the release of Krallice you said that you felt like an outsider to Black Metal and couldn’t really identify with its aesthetic. Have your feelings changed after four years of playing in a Black Metal-rooted band?
I never intended to reply that I felt like an outsider musically, only aesthetically. Black Metal took me longer to get into than Death Metal, but I was very much a fan of, for instance, Enslaved by ninth grade, and went to some pretty memorable shows, like seeing Immortal when I was 15 or so. The bill was Krisiun, Immortal and Satyricon, and the inclusion of a death metal band on the bill also mirrored my taste and burgeoning ideas about music. I never lent much importance to the visual aspect of this music, and never really cared to draw particularly hard and fast lines between genres. I’ve certainly always loved Death Metal with a bit of a Black Metal sensibility to the melodicism of the riffing, and Black Metal with Death Metal’s tempos and rhythmic assault.
For the most part, I’ve always just found Black Metal’s aesthetic a little hokey, though there have always been bands that do it with enough sincerity and ingenuity to make it more of a legitimate artistic statement.
So my experience with Krallice hasn’t really altered my viewpoint in that way. It’s not that I universally condemn the visual trappings sometimes associated with this genre, it’s more that it’s never been for me. It’s simply not something that I would ever feel comfortable personally partaking in, in large part because it would be so utterly insincere. My interest in the genre grew out of a musical, not visual fascination. I don’t think that’s liable to change any time soon.
You have several projects on the go, one of which has put out three highly-wrought albums in just four years. How do you keep it all going? How much rehearsing do you manage to do with each band?
The rehearsal schedule can sometimes be frenetic, but often times a certain bands’ period of elevated activity corresponds with a dip in another band’s output in a way which makes things somewhat more manageable.
Krallice sometimes goes through periods where we can’t get together a great deal, but we like to try to do something at least once a week when everyone’s around. They’re often pretty long sessions, where unless we have a pressing thing coming up, we work on new songs, of which there always seems to be an abundance coming from Mick and Colin, and the pace at which we turn things over can feel rather accelerated.
Bloody Panda hasn’t been all that active in a while, with multiple members living out of state, or out of country. We’ve tended for the past couple years to convene in New York prior to tours for some marathon rehearsing. We’ll then go on tour, go our separate ways, and repeat the process every few months. That said, we should be getting together soon to start shedding on the new material, which should be a lot of fun.
You have quite an unconventional and busy drumming style for a Black Metal-based band. Do you consciously try to avoid the conventions of Black Metal drumming? How much do you reckon the time you spent playing technical Death Metal has influenced your drumming for Krallice?
My only real ethos in Krallice is to try and respect and accentuate the riff. I think doing this can create periods where there’s really not a lot going on in terms of bells and whistles. There’s certainly parts which are fast, though I wouldn’t characterize as busy, where for instance, I’ll play a blast for a decent period of time uninterrupted by fills. I’ll do this expressly because this band tends to operate in riffs that take a long time to resolve and flip over to the next repetition. So it often feels intrusive to throw a fill in the middle of the riff, even if one rep might be 32 measures long, or what have you.
There are certainly other points where the drumming does get busier, but I try very, very hard to not play anything I can’t justify with a correlating section on one of the melodic instruments. And those parts, of course, sometimes get extremely technical. I feel like playing in a technical Death Metal band certainly did help me, in regards to some of the same rhythmic concepts still being on play in Krallice. What is overt in techy DM certainly becomes more obfuscated, but there’s a lot of fuckery in them there riffs.
It’s also really important to note that I’m far from the only mind coming up with drum parts for this band. Most of the song Colin writes come with a drum-machine demo. Those parts often end up pretty much in the same form in my ultimate drum part. I try pretty hard not to have an ego about this stuff, and reject a part just because somebody else wrote it. The vast majority of the ideas are great, and correspond very well to the riffs. I’ll of course add my own personality and viewpoints to these parts, but sometimes it feels inappropriate, or needless, to mess with them too much. We’ll also often take new riffs and just work methodically through everyone’s ideas for drum parts, until we settle on something everyone digs. This has really never been contentious, and is often fun as hell.
I think that although granted, there are certainly Krallice drum parts that get out there, a tremendous amount of what I play is, if anything, not avoiding but reveling in the conventions of Black Metal. I mean, there are songs where I play what we tend to call the Darkthrone blast (a mid-tempo traditional, alternating blast beat) for essentially the full 10+ minute running time.
What new influences did you bring to the table for the writing of Diotima? There are points on the record that have quite a Slavic/Pagan BM ring to them, especially parts of ‘The Clearing’. Were you listening to a lot of Graveland during the writing process?
I for sure hear that Eastern influence in some of the riffs for this album. I think we probably were all listening to the new Graveland at some point while working on this stuff, though I don’t reckon it was too much of a direct influence.
That said, we have stupid nicknames for all of our songs, and one of the guys on this album we refer to as Roman’s Band, as in Roman Saenko of Drudkh, Hate Forest, Blood of Kingu and Astrofaes.
Some of the riffs on this album, it should be said, are of a provenance in line with our oldest material. We kind of had a pleasing back-log of cool parts, some of which got used in songs earlier along, and some of which those guys didn’t work into their final progressions til later.
I farmed this one out, as I figured it would be useful to have an actual answer, as opposed to my recitation of a half remembered conversation. This is what Nick (bass) had to say:
The reason litany sounds the way it does is because there is a heavy compression effect on the track as a whole. This is true of any mastered song but in this case the compression is more severe, which flattens the volume profile of the song more than usual. Because the song employs the “darkthrone blast” for most of its duration, there is a volume spike on every downbeat, when the kick and cymbal are played, and then a relative volume drop on the upbeat, when only the snare is played. Because of the severe compression, the guitars drop in volume to accommodate the bass drum swell (this is a “zero-sum” situation). They are naturally an even stream of tremolo, but the volume now rises and falls with the drum beat, so the end effect is a rhythmic volume oscillation. What’s cool is you hear this effect happening during the double-bass sections at the end, where the oscillation is much quicker, and so it sort of sounds like the track is disintegrating.
Krallice’s liner notes usually describe the music for a song as ‘initiated by’ one or other member. How much of a role do you have in the shaping and pacing of the songs? Will we ever see a track ‘initiated by Weinstein’?
The initiated tag is really that. Who came up with the initital riffs for a song before everyone else put their spin on it. So it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll have one of those, unless I learn to compose for a melodic instrument.
My role into the shaping of the song can vary a good deal. Occasionally particularly ideas really stand out to me, and end up really changing the feel. Just as often, I really don’t have anything to add in terms of structure, but spend my time trying to create as dynamic a rhythmic vehicle as I can for accentuating the riffs, and creating musically satisfying transitions between them.
You’ve written some great lyrics on Diotima, a single piece split between the songs ‘Litany of Regrets’ and ‘Telluric Rings’. Could you tell us a bit about the subject matter, and about this anchorite figure? Why did the two halves end up back-to-front? Do you do much writing outside of your lyrics for Krallice?
Thanks! The lyrics are kind of a rumination on the illusory nature of any notion of immortality, be it physical, spiritual, or the desire to live on through great works. It’s about the impossibility of reconciling oneself with the contradictory notions of time as both essentially endless, but truly finite, as well as ones own place within it, both in terms of memory and self-image as well as in a longer-term, loftier sense.
The anchorite just seemed like a suitable representation of the sort of inevitable corollary to “no man is an island.” Every man is an island, and via both natural barriers and self made barriers, there will always be a part of everyone that is completely on their own in the vastness of the universe, and I liked the idea of a single man struggling with huge questions, completely unaware of the endless caves and fires of other anchorites wrestling with exactly the same thing that stretch on into the distance.
I was also on a big Flaubert kick, really into the Temptation of St. Anthony and Salombo, and that for sure was a source of sort of the imagery I started with.
The lyrics ended up backwards just by a simple quirk of either a misunderstood song order, or a change, I can’t remember. Ultimately, I kind of love the way it ties in with the themes of the lyrics.
I hope that all didn’t come off as hideously pretentious as it reads to me.
Essentially, I don’t write, certainly not creatively, out of the confines of this band. It’s definitely fun, and exercises a portion of my brain that otherwise would have atrophied, but it’s not something I feel a compelling push to constantly do, like I do to play music.
New York is home to a growing number of bands experimenting with the Black Metal form (Castevet, Liturgy, Yellow Eyes, etc.). Do you feel that Krallice belongs to an NY (or even US) scene along with bands like these?
I’ve always been pretty wary of the notion of scenes. I think most scenes are both more and less than people tend to think. It’s often either a bunch of people just getting a little incestuous with bands (ala something like Bergen, Norway in the mid 90s), or a lot of music that’s not particularly connected is pooled together because of geographic proximity.
Frankly, I try pretty hard to stay away from thinking about things in terms of a scene, I like all the bands above (not really familiar with Yellow Eyes) but don’t much care whether we have enough threads in common to be part of our own thing or not.
That said, it has been really pleasing to look up and realize that there are a shit-ton of really good metal bands around my neck of the woods these days. I guess I kind of think of this in broader terms than a black metal scene, but as a metal scene, and around especially this part of Brooklyn, but very much in general, things seem to be flourishing around here, especially with that broader lens encompassing death, doom and so on.
Things also do get a little incestuous, at least in the sense that all the heshers seem to run in pretty tight circles, and I feel like I’m personally friendly with the vast majority of NY bands I see written about, not to mention, that I’ve also become friendly with plenty of those writers during their time in NY.
(Perhaps it’s not important, but I’m interested to hear your view on this.) Any idea why a band like Liturgy has received so much hostility from metal audiences, while the same audiences hold Krallice in high regard? Do such matters even bother you?
I think metal has a serious hypocrisy issue these days. I was always attracted to the notion that unlike almost any other modern form of popular music, metal was supposed to be purely about music and not about looks or look. But try playing metal and looking like the dudes in Liturgy and you’ll see how quickly that notion goes out the window. A lot of the recent hostility has been directed as much to various ideological notions espoused by the band as well as driven from their aesthetics. I can’t say I agree with those notions, but that would never, ever interfere with my ability to enjoy the band musically. I mean, if one can comfortably listen to say, Graveland, how absurd is it to let the notion of “transcendental black metal” stop you from listening to music?
Also, I get the impression that while Krallice has been spared the gigantic mound of bullshit Liturgy deals with, we certainly still seem to have plenty of people out there who detest us for being a hipster black metal band, or being not really black metal.
This only really bothers me when this whole hipster metal thing rears up. I mean, this is the only music I’ve ever cared about. I don’t really listen to anything but metal. Somehow just by virtue of moving to Brooklyn, and because I’ve never gone the back patched vest route, I transitioned from ‘true’ to ‘false.’ Give me a fucking break.
As for not being a real black metal band, I think that smacks more of an absurd revisionist history of the genre than anything. Does Vikingr Veldi sound like Transylvanian Hunger? There’s always been room for weirdness and technicality in the genre. Maybe it’s not the sort of black metal you like, but that doesn’t have any sort of impact on what it is or isn’t. That said, if your personal classification for a band like this fell outside the purview of what you consider black metal, I take no issue with that. It’s always seemed like the best common denominator to me, but to each his own. What bothers me are arguments that it’s somehow not really metal, or is really shoegazy, which strikes me as bizarre, as I think that’s probably a genre of music which Krallice collectively listens to or cares about roughly 0%.
Have you taken a more active role in songwriting for Bloody Panda since you joined, or is everything quite clearly set out for you in advance?
Although I joined a few years before the second album came out, all the drums had already been recorded. The guys have always been really cool about how I interpret the other player’s parts, but I’ve tried to keep it fairy faithful. This new crop of demos we’ll be working on in a matter of days is my first opportunity to really creatively collaborate with those guys and I’m damn psyched.
I see you’re now drumming for the thrash band Fischel’s Beast: how did you get involved in that? You’ve pretty much covered the metal genre bases now with your various bands…
I got involved with that project initially through a craigslist ad I had posted advertising drum lessons. Barry Fischel is an ex Sentinel Beast (mid 80s Metal Blade band) guitarist who wanted to start playing heavy music again. It’s led to some fun things, like a gig with a mostly reunited Sentinel Beast at Keep it True fest in Germany next April. And I mean, I knew who Sentinel Beast was, had heard them on a metal massacre compilation at some point when I was a kid, and was a little familiar with Depths of Death. Thrash was probably the first genre of music which ever grabbed me violently in the way all good metal does, and so will always be pretty damn important to me.
And yeah, as one might have inferred from my previous answers, I’m hardly a genre purist. I like metal. I like playing metal, and I want to play it all.
Thanks. I’m really proud of how that one turned out. It’s a very cool snapshot of a very formative musical experience—being newly in college, and getting to play with Nick really for the first time (as he didn’t get going on bass until roughly his last year in highschool, and he was a year ahead of me) and a guy named Foy Scalf, who had played in Internecine, a fucking seriously ahead of the curve Cincinnati band featuring the late Jared Anderson. Foy was, I think, kind of like an awesome death metal boot camp for Nick and I, and just a monstrous player. Dude decided to pursue a degree in Egyptology instead of joining Morbid Angel as a second guitarist after one of the Rutan splits. I haven’t talked to him since Radikult, so I should ask him how he feels about it these days.
Astomatous as a band was really a Chicago thing, though Nick and I are in the process of keeping it going here in NYC. Sloooowly but surely.
Do you find much time to listen to music? What have you been listening to most lately?
I listen to music a ton, although it seems like I listen to far more while on the subway or walking around than I do at home these days.
For the past little…actually it’s been kind of a long time now, I’ve been on a pretty heavy dm kick. I’ve been rediscovering my love for the tremello stylings of Deeds of Flesh, the infernal blasting of Inferno on Azarath’s Infernal Blasting, as well as more recently discovered stuff like Swedish drummer Nils Fjellstrom’s back catalogue (this guys is ridiculous), like Aeon and Sanctification.
The past couple of weeks, however, have all been about Aeternus, Destroyer 666 and Impaled Nazarene. More old favorites.
Who do you think are the most exciting bands the US has to offer at the moment?
From my vantage point, there’s so much good stuff out of the US, covering so many different metal styles, that I’m essentially experiencing option paralysis. Uhhh..the past two Absu records have been fucking phenomenal? I got nothing.