INTERVIEW: Val Dorr of AEVANGELIST
Grab a drink and strap yourselves in, because this is a long one. Rather than do a big masturbatory introduction, I’m going to keep it simple. The following is an online correspondence with Val Dorr of Ævangelist over the course of a few weeks. We connected initially over the fact that we grew up in the same Chicago suburbs just a few years apart. Val even gave lessons at a music store just down the road with a good middle school friend of mine. Anyways, I had the amazing pleasure of talking to Val not only about the band, but also thoughts on being trans in the black metal community, the defamation of the scene with accusations of Nazism, other projects, and much more.
FlightOfIcarus: Let’s start with the last bit of music from you I encountered: the split with Blut Aus Nord. How did that come about?
Val: Sometimes elder siblings smile upon us. I remember being aware that Thorn and Vindsval had some sort of quiet, slow, hermetic communication as far back as 2009 or 2010, when I was discussing Benighted In Sodom‘s Plateau Σ: The Harrowing with Thorn (still probably my favorite Benighted in Sodom album) and made the comparison to Blut Aus Nord myself.
I believe Vindsval himself instigated the planning for our split. Through his connection to Thorn and our shared association with Debemur Morti Productions, Vindsval was among the secret few to hear our Writhes in the Murk long before release, and that seems to have been a tipping point. Our shared swathes of discordant synthesis and touches of trip-hop rhythms made for a natural combination.
If anyone doubts the glacial pace of musical planning, I’ll add that the plans to do a split were confirmed in summer 2013, almost two years before the work became manifest, and that with the speed of the notoriously productive hermits involved and an existing rapport.
To quote Blazing Saddles, and without any intended misogyny, “You use your tongue purdier than a twenty dollar whore.” Sometimes I feel like the black metal artists take some sort of secret linguistics and writing class. Thoughts?
Good question. The surface answer is of course the strong value for æsthetics in black metal (the scene that began with a rebellion against sweatpants). I’m sure I’m not alone in my lifetime obsession with literature and poetry, though. I think black metal just appeals to people who value the taste of elegant words.
I personally developed an interest in writing and language long before music and began writing poetry a year or two before I started playing guitar. Learning more languages (we’ll not mention the time I invented one) and studying voice in college definitely brought my delight in poetry to the forefront.
As long as we’re talking about personal interests, what have you been up to since the BAN Split?
I finished work on Codex Obscura Nomina (Ævangelist/Blut Aus Nord) in July 2015, so that’s a wider question than it might seem. Around that same time, saxophonist Keenan Foley and I recorded a free jazz duo album (which we just created a limited CD edition of for a Chicago performance with a lovely master from Mories) and I recorded and played on the debut Vlk full-length, which Tour De Garde released in early 2016. Ævangelist has, aside from some releases that I don’t believe have been announced officially enough to mention, gone through and discarded at least an album’s worth of material for the fifth album, which is gradually nearing completion. Ævangelist has also nearly completely sabotaged progress on upcoming Shavasana material (which requires a great deal of effort from me and from Ævangelist live guitaris Æryn) with a series of festival appearances at Hells Headbash, California Deathfest, Metal Threat Fest, and most recently our first set featuring material from Enthrall to the Void of Bliss at Brickside Music Fest.
I suppose that’s more professional than personal, though.
No that’s all really interesting. Sounds like you’ve been intensely busy. I would, however, like to step out of Aevangelist for a moment and talk about something more personal we’ve discussed before. Some may not be aware of your status as a trans woman. I am intensely interested in what that experience has been like for you personally, both within the context of the current political climate and the world of black metal which is stereotpically (and often inaccurately) generalized as a bigoted genre.
It’s absolutely a bigoted genre. What it has going for it is the large numbers of people who legitimately love the music instead of “being” black metal. This, perhaps, seems like a confusing distinction, but there are beautiful people who happen to love Transylvanian Hunger and know the names and life stories of treasured artists who have released two obscure demo cassettes–and there are people who ARE black metal. There are people who are perfectly happy to chant “NO FAGGOTS!” back at Destroyer 666 (because, obviously, who wants faggots around?) who can show you a whole world of barely tolerable identical bands and somehow legitimately embrace every one.
Honestly, most of my life as a transgirl in black metal has boiled down to being afraid and pathetic. That’s the sort of vulnerability it seems a lot safer to cover up with rage and frustration around people who can’t even see a skinny guy or a ciswoman without screaming “fag” and “gimmick.”
Realistically? My first few years seriously involved in the world of black metal were an exaggerated relapse to the kind of don’t ask/don’t tell garbage that characterized the first handful of years I spent dealing with realizing I’d really and truly gotten stuck with an XY body after puberty. I stopped dying my hair (not sure how that was gender expression), stopped shaving meticulously, stopped wearing the tiny bits of more “feminine” clothing I’d managed, Ah, . . . there are a few more anecdotes that are probably mostly only from the inside of my own head that are too embarrassing to put where certain old friends can see them. I basically whined to people I was dating in private, listened to Coil and shoegaze on my headphones on tour, and latched onto any musician I met who wasn’t a walking advertisement for proper masculinity.
We’ll have to see what asinine future continuing to play something approaching black metal holds for me, to be honest. I’ve only just had the guts to start HRT in the past couple of months, and if the internet is any indication, people in the metal world have generally seen my “crossdressing” in front of them as a manifestation of the odd and inexplicable “fashion” trends of numetal and 2000’s Hot Topic. In a monumental feat of patheticness and bad communication, I somehow only actually “came out” to Thorn in fall 2015 as a result of talking to noted “serious problem in metal”/”SJW” Joseph Schafer about an interview at California Death Fest.
I’m sure reactions are mixed, whether stated or not. Thank you for sharing that. I was actually going to ask you about the stage experience. I imagine their are fans who have seen you on stage in both personas, so to speak. Has anyone said anything to you about it who actually understood what was going on?
Incidentally, the cashier at the Jewel in Des Plaines a bit ago was possibly the first stranger to call me “ma’am” when I was neutrally dressed after an actual face-to-face conversation o.O
You’d be surprised how rarely people are comfortable directly commenting on anything about someone’s appearance in second person. There’s also the awkward pattern I’ve either noticed or imagined in which people are deliberately supportive of anything related to appearance when talking to transfolk on the (probably accurate!) theory that our shreds of self-confidence probably need help.
I have more recently gotten some “really pretty!” comments and apparently something of a checking-out. I can’t really imagine how a straight or gay person feels to even look at someone clearly trans–I feel like sexuality and gender are incredibly strongly tied up in how people perceive and react to others. The reactions of men who don’t interact very freely with women have been probably the most severe–a bit like watching a 404 error pop up in someone’s head.
Haha that’s a good way to put it. I’ve been talking to people on both sides of the argument and my impression has been that those less in the know are mostly just confused and also afraid to say the wrong thing. Scared of the “pronoun police” so to speak. Have anything to say to either those people who don’t know what to say or those trans people who are aggressive about their expectations from others?
This is where we get into the realm of good advice for all contexts. Communicate. Afraid to get your head bitten off? Talk to them about it. If you show someone you care enough to talk to them, even if you don’t get things right, they’ll know you care enough to talk to them.
I’m not surprised, particularly given my perspective, that so many folk, particularly the younger ones, attempt to solve this by lashing out. I used to think they just didn’t have the perspective us old folks did of taking every moment someone didn’t stab you to death as a high blessing, but I’ve come to understand that it’s emotionally exhausting to connect to people enough to explain where you’re coming from and why things matter to you over and over and over. The number of people each of us deal with daily, even those of us who mostly hide behind a wall of work, is a staggering barrier to creating constant vulnerability. And how have humans always burned a shortcut to “communicating” about problems? Anger, rage, hatred. I absolutely do NOT say that those are neither necessary nor useful, but openness and vulnerability are the only way to get anywhere with this.
So please, if you’re unsure of how to approach or deal with one of us weirdos, create a little vulnerability and talk to us. Chances are we’ve been trying to summon the resilience to do it ourselves.
Thanks for all of that. I agree that given time and a little bit more openess from both sides these things can imporve. Turning back to Aevangelist as a project, what can we expect from the new material? Any concepts in mind? Names? Stylistic changes or new influences?
A lot will be . . . uncertain until the point that the traditional forms of musical revelation occur. Among the upcoming releases are a group of three EPs through I, Voidhanger with a lovely contiguous piece of art splayed across their packaging. The material on these EPs is mostly older than Enthrall to the Void of Bliss and has the sound one might reasonably expect from a hoard of Writhes in the Murk give-or-take unreleased gems–but the truth is that this release has just been in the works for some time. The song “Vessel” from this work is available for streaming somewhere online.
So far, “Death . . . ” (the fifth full-length) is a perhaps-unexpected step sideways. This will be the first full-length release featuring Thorn’s live drum performances, but retaining the focused song structures familiar from I–IV. Thorn has been carefully building a different recorded sound around this that reminds me more of an Ævangelist take on the sound of longtime Thorn influence Vasaeleth or the like than the colder, cleaner sound of Blut Aus Nord. That’s not to say that we’ll suddenly be creating a fresh connection to the HHR and NWN crowds, but we’re exploring different possibilities for our abyss. I’m working on a more significant piano presence for this record, as well–previously, my piano contributions have been an ingredient in the swirling vortex rather than a more traditional instrumental performance. I’m primarily feeding from Thorn’s harp work here, though of course with a dose of my “academic” background from Feldman, Stockhausen, and the like–trained musicians who valued ritual serve us well as hierophants.
What spurred the interest in increasing the use of piano?
It’s inspired by the dominant, twisting role the harp played on Enthrall to the Void of Bliss, first and foremost. The harp honestly made me reassess what Ævangelist is musically and embrace the chaos and dissonance that was previously confined to the synthesized parts as not just an atmospheric but a musical element.
With the modest boost of experience with adding auxiliary instruments to the previous two albums, Enthrall was the moment I really began to explore using my academic training and interests in Ævangelist‘s music. There, it was “limited” to expanding the range of extended vocal techniques I used, playing off of the greater flexibility with detail and softer sounds I had in the studio, as well as introducing something as relatively simple as quartertone-grid melodic contours for the upper register parts.
Now that I’ve crossed those lines, it seems natural that I include the instrument I’ve mostly relied on for traditional compositional processes. With the microtonal dissonances already present in harp and synth, fitting serialized fragments of piano against the more traditional guitar riffs is proving a natural fit.
Would you say that Aevangelist has an underlying mission statement?
Despite all of that musical discussion, the real purposes of Ævangelist are not musical. The music is a key in the lock.
Ævangelist is a method for engaging with a collection of spiritual questions which do not necessarily respond well to the traditional mistake of verbally discussing things that human language was not meant for. The roles of the self, the divine, perception, and experience and their relationships are something of an endless turmoil. The only path to anything outside of this agnosis is constant effort to see, become, and create and strike down simulacra. The only viewpoint from which this is possible is another level of turmoil; chaos meeting chaos tears apart many of the barriers to vision that this blindness trap often succeeds with. Divinity breaks the self and the perception to access self and perception.
If this sounds circular and useless, remember that the tongues of the trap are hopeless to describe the way out.
I wanted to go back to the idea of bigotry in black metal for just a minute. There was an article in AV calling out the scene, but taking it a step further in specifically demonizing Profound Lore, Inquisition, and even Charlie Fell, who I have met and you know
Before I say anything meaningful, the idea that Disma signing with Profound Lore takes Craig Pillard out the fringe is asinine. Profound Lore is a gifted younger sibling of the world of “metal,” and Incantation, though somewhat unjustly overlooked next to some of their brother bands, are SOLIDLY part of the death metal canon. There’s no “fringe” involved–if anything, the quite-popular Profound Lore lineup is a certain fringe of the metal world.. Maybe covering the fringe of mainstream rock makes the more “fringe-accessible” artists on Profound Lore–out of the metal mainstream–seem like the core of metal, but they are not.
One of the biggest problems with politics and beliefs in our society is the crushingly false idea that people typically have at least a core set of values from which they determine their other values, the idea that people’s expressions of belief or even merely their expressions reflect much of anything about those supposed core beliefs, and the idea that these supposed core beliefs are in any way fixed.
Identity, political leanings, taste, and “beliefs” are primarily the result of a complex of forces acting on the “individual.” “Christians” are “Christians” because their social groups (both small and large) pushed them in that direction, because life experiences made Christian identification the option that offered the comfort–or discipline, challenge, opportunity for validated hatred, you name it–that the prospective Christian needed to face the self, the divine, and their reality. Some just needed a hand-fed batch of “core beliefs” to fill the gaping void of meaninglessness and uncertainty. The structure of life expectations and opportunities to feel brave speaking or acting their Christian “beliefs” filled their lives the right way for their context and experiences and stimuli.
Everything else is the same. “Being a metal fan.” “Being a progressive.” Making every little decision, like the decision to scream about mutilating corpses or striking down the Jewish conspirators–is a reaction to a complex combination of internal forces. And you know what? The only things holding people to a set of “core beliefs” are the things that created them in the first place. Most of us prefer to BELIEVE in our beliefs, and the stimuli that would make us back down have to combat the stimuli that tell us to stick to our decisions so we can trust our ideas of ourselves and gain the trust of others–or somesuch garbage.
So yeah, Dagon’s been an edgy piece of shit and neither wants to throw his garbage under the bus nor to embrace it–because it’s “him,” and because it’s garbage. Craig’s project is at LEAST as much covered in the neon paint of absurdity that covers beliefs one puts forward but can’t entirely get behind as Dagon’s–the only difference is Craig’s been more stubborn about admitting he has toilet paper on his shoe.
Charlie and his collaboration with Jef are a different matter. I’m not going to claim Charlie’s any type of angel by any means, but his immediate option in his relationships with other people always seems to be to love first. He certainly tends to dwell on the less socially-approved aspects of the human experience when judging humanity, but he sees people as people–with “flaws”–and treats them like other thinking, feeling beings. I never for a second saw Death Mask as transphobic. That sort of judgment itself suggests to me a marginalization of transfolk–as if treating us like other flesh, bound and abused, is somehow more about a weird facet of our lives.
Frankly, this level of “nazi problem” is, especially in light of Woe’s recent removal from live performances because they were also booked to play with Inquisition, OVER-addressed. The unaddressed “nazi problem” is the normalization of actual “extremist” beliefs in normal low-level bands. It’s not the shitty over-the-top side projects, it’s the world of “sure whatever” agreement with default hateful beliefs. Unfortunately, when people try to eradicate low-level beliefs, they become the hateful extremists doing wrong–and they always seem to miss the low-level beliefs in favor of attacking people spraying neon paint.
I’ve also spent a couple of hours in a small room with Antichrist Kramer. We had NO communication except for awkward glances at each other. I wore my dressiest skirt and chatted with persons of Jewish heritage and Kramer excitedly gossiped with someone I didn’t know about who else in the world of black metal had quietly bonded over their little 14/88 connecting ties.
And you know what? I could have done that too, had my life hit me just a few degrees differently. If I’d taken a little differently to being not only white and of Southern descent but almost entirely descended from the first English folk to colonize the new world and feeling like “multiculturalism” only applied to embracing everyone else’s cultures–if I hadn’t made such important and strong friendships with people who just happened to be people nazis are supposed to hate–or maybe just if I didn’t happen to find describing myself as the latter half of LGBT unavoidable. Maybe only the persistence of both of those factors–and eventually finding that normal people could love me so I didn’t need to find some pathetic reason to feel properly like part of a group–is the only reason I’m not the “nazi problem.”
What does that mean? Should angry progressives hate me? Should I NOT hate the extreme right? Are the reverse statements true? Good luck, just remember to apply your core beliefs and everything will come out fine.
So that’s quite a mouthful, but if I’m not just hearing what I want to hear, it seems like your sentiments are similar to my own: yes, these people are out there, but who and what isn’t all that consequential. What IS important is recognizing that people are a product of their beliefs, and those beliefs do not develop in a vacuum. With that in mind, it seems important to be more open to discussing these belief systems rather than going on a witch hunt. Does that sound correct?
I’m somewhat less positive than that. I believe that beliefs are an affectation. I believe that the actions of “people out there” are very consequential, but that mostly the people blamed are not to blame. I don’t believe that there is any way to deliberately change a culture for the better. I believe that witch-hunts are usually poorly aimed, not that they are intrinsically hopeless. I strongly recommend aiming future witch-hunts at politicians and lobbyists.
Okay, that definitely makes sense, though like you said I try to be more hopeful. And honestly I’m much more concerned about actions than beliefs. People can think what they want, but once they start actively causing real (beyond just the never-ending “I’m offended by this” BS), that’s where I draw the line personally.
Real action is certainly a more important expression than words, but words that aren’t wrapped in absurdity are also significant. Both of those are the trading stock of politicians and lobbyists and only occasionally that of artists.
Right, because the actions spurred by your words depends on your power, and politics is the ultimate stage. Dagon is playing the high school dance to a Senator’s Madison Square Garden. Even that analogy fails at scope, but you get the idea. But I find that even political witch hunts often miss the mark. You remove one, and even if they were the intended target, 5 more take their place. But I suppose we arestarting to stray away from musical territory now. I think I could carry on this conversation forever, but we should probably wrap up. Could you name for us an underground metal band that you think our listeners should check out?
Nivathe, and the related projects around Plague’s Pale Horse Recordings. Filthy and discordant, with the timbral sophistication one expects from Gnaw Their Tongues and Blut Aus Nord, and a slamming weight of doom. Nivathe really lives up to sole member Plague’s pseudonym. I’ve never heard anything that sounded so diseased.