by Niklas Göransson
Fifteen years ago, a rotten reverberation began oozing out from the humid furnace of southern swamplands. This is a tale of an unlikely duo, brought together by happenstance but bonded by vehemence, who cast open the Negative Plane.
– We first met in Florida during the summer of 2002, says drummer Bestial Devotion, at a DESTRUCTION concert – very fitting if you ask me. He was there with a friend and they were sporting BEHERIT and POSSESSED bootleg shirts respectively – you really didn’t see that out in the wild at that time.
It’s curious to note that something as trivial as a simple choice of garment would cement the foundation for American black metal band NEGATIVE PLANE. Further conversation revealed that guitar player and vocalist Nameless Void had put out a demo earlier that year.
– This was the “Surreality” tape and much to my elitist surprise, I thought it was great. We remained in touch – he was in the midst of a change in direction and wanted to put a full band together.
– I was looking for a vocalist, says Nameless Void, back then I couldn’t play guitar and sing at the same time. Instead of a mere recording project I wanted a proper band, Bestial Devotion liked the music I’d written and wanted to be a part of it.
The duo teamed up with a third party on drums and set to work. However, after six months of rehearsals, things still didn’t feel right and the songs had yet to come together properly.
– We finally came to the conclusion that we needed a new drummer, the problem was that we didn’t know of anyone that was available.
As it turned out, Bestial Devotion had been playing around with a neighbour’s kit on and off for two years so he decided to give it a go.
– He played the songs much better than the guy we were using so it was a logical decision to get rid of the other person altogether.
While on the subject, I point out that Bestial Devotion’s demented pounding reminds me of drummers who are originally guitar players; with PORTAL being a prime example.
– You’re completely correct, he confirms, by then I had already been playing guitar for roughly two years. I’ve never taken a lesson or anything, I just tried to copy Bill Ward (BLACK SABBATH), Fenriz (DARKTHRONE), Kim Ruzz (KING DIAMOND) and Philthy Animal (MOTÖRHEAD) as much as possible.
Not only is the delivery peculiar, there are also the bizarre tempos.
– I tend to favour styles regarded uncool because they’re too heavy for wimpy modern black metal in our oh-so advanced days of pretension. SARCÓFAGO had a blast beat over a mid-tempo palm-muted riff, we were really into that. I also worship the drummer on CANDLEMASS’ “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” LP; those sleazy hi-hat accents were one of the first things I learned to play.
And so the now trademarked NEGATIVE PLANE sound was inaugurated, one that a certain Italian band undoubtedly had some bearing over.
– My small circle of friends was already completely into MORTUARY DRAPE, says Bestial Devotion, but Nameless Void somehow had the fucking demos which we were infinitely impressed with. They were, together with the “Into the Drape” EP, basically all we’d listen to for a time.
Reducing NEGATIVE PLANE to simply being a MORTUARY DRAPE clone is however grossly inaccurate.
– We were equally obsessed with MERCYFUL FATE, “Abominations of Desolations” (MORBID ANGEL), the INCUBUS and NOCTURNUS demos, DARKTHRONE’s “Goatlord”, MASTER’S HAMMER, BLASPHEMY, ROOT and things like that.
They felt there was something about the atmosphere and sound on those recordings that had been completely lost in black metal at that point.
– I also remember having just discovered PAGAN ALTAR’s “Volume 1” and we listened to that constantly. MARTYRIUM’s “L.V.X. Occulta” was also one of Nameless Void’s huge inspirations.
Not only did they draw their musical influences from the same sphere, they held the same vision of the soundscape to frame it in.
– It was very important that the album sounded ‘right’, says Bestial Devotion. This was, again, inspired by what utter shit was being released at the time – we wanted a MERCYFUL FATE production, or SAMAEL “Worship Him”. Things like that, not some digital, clean computer bullshit.
In a bid to escape the latter, they searched for a guitar amplifier that would give them that ugly and reverberated sound they were craving.
– We traded in our new tube amp for a dingy old solid-state Peavey – it was a revelation to us. It makes no sense to have a nice production if the intent of your music is rotten.
Nameless Void’s exceptional guitar playing has since become one of the most striking aspects of NEGATIVE PLANE.
– I took lessons for six months when I was 15 years old, he says, after that I learned a few things from friends and the rest I figured out for myself.
In retrospect, this half-year of training was probably crucial to the skills he’s accumulated today.
– I would have given up if I’d gone about it on my own, I’m too impatient and don’t usually learn anything in proper order – I even taught myself lead guitar before rhythm. At first I was far more concerned with how fast I was playing rather than how it actually sounded to the listener.
Bestial Devotion on the other hand has no musical education, nor does he lament this fact.
– I prefer not to study music too closely on an academic level. Ignorant perhaps, but I find stumbling upon a great riff without much theory behind it to be really satisfying and revelatory.
NEGATIVE PLANE’s March 2006 debut “Et in Saecula Saeculorum” was recorded the year before, in fellow Floridians BLACK WITCHERY’s Down There Studios.
– We were always around when they were working on their “Upheaval of Satanic Might” album, says Bestial Devotion, so it was only logical. It took us three months in total and as you can imagine – half the time we were recording, the other half was spent… not recording.
The BLACK WITCHERY connection came from Bestial Devotion, who first met guitarist Steve ‘Tregenda’ Childers around the turn of the millennium.
– He confronted me for trying to cut the line in front of him and his wife at an INCANTATION show. Fortunately I was wearing some obscure shirt – BEHERIT, BLASPHEMY or similar, so his demeanour changed and we had a brief conversation.
Another fine display of the impact a clothing selection can have; instead of a walloping, the towering man gave Bestial Devotion his phone number. They started hanging out and went on to become close friends. Earlier this year, in February 2016, Steve Childers died in a car accident.
– I don’t even know where to start. What I can say about him is that he was a smart, interesting and fucking funny man who carried a lot of demons and a hard past.
He describes Childers as a fiercely loyal friend to those he took a liking to.
– If he didn’t, I wouldn’t want to be you – at all. He was an absolutely 666 percent rocker to-the-bone in every aspect; they don’t make ’em like that anymore, as they say.
What is your fondest memory of him?
– His response to someone pulling a tire iron on him in a parking lot, after some trouble with another band.
‘What’re you gonna do with that, boy?’
– Pure ‘man-metal action’ as he would’ve put it himself – the image of the offender’s look of pure fear as he dropped that thing is forever etched in my brain.
He says that volumes could be written about Childer’s antics, but that the anecdotes aren’t really for public consumption.
– We had drifted apart in his last year or two; he had had a lot of problems but had definitely gotten his act straight. I think I speak for us both when I say that Steve‘s death left a hole of sorts.
In 2004, the two men moved into a house on a five-acre property a thirty minute drive from the nearest store.
– Swamplands may not be the literal definition, says Bestial Devotion, but close enough. To give you an idea of how desolate and fucked up this area was; the nearest lake was shut down from public access with huge barricades, after bodies were found dumped in there twice in a row.
Living mostly nocturnal lives and often rehearsing in the middle of the night; much of their second album, the 2011 “Stained Glass Revelations”, was written during this time.
– I either had small sections worked out, says Nameless Void, or I would play something random on the guitar and we’d take it from there. It was easy to work like that since we rehearsed in the living room.
Unsurprisingly, there were equal amounts of nefarious activities unrelated to music carried out in the marshland abode.
– It was all very mind-bending, says Bestial Devotion, or eye-opening. Or both, I suppose. Use your imagination and I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions about what was going on out there.
By 2008, both of them had packed up and moved northwards up the East Coast.
– Nothing but dead ends in Florida, he continues, private issues and family ties in New York. It felt like the end of a personal era – a lot of things came crashing down and that lifestyle couldn’t be sustained in any realistic way. I think we pushed it too far but managed to get out before the rubber band snapped back.
Despite having lived a fairly chaotic and turbulent lifestyle during these years, the artistic integrity of the band was always of highest priority.
– We take the creation of music very seriously, says Bestial Devotion, probably too seriously. You’re projecting your innermost objectives and intents – even subconscious ones, and smashing them into tangible form that in turn affects other beings by altering their mood, outlook or whatever it may be.
Thoughts become ways, the word becomes flesh and so on.
– It’s your character that makes your music sound a certain way. Who you are determines whether or not it’s charged with that special current; the real you and what radiates from inside – not pseudo-intellectual dogma regurgitated from someone else’s scriptures.
Acta non verba, as the saying goes.
– People can write about the occult, create overblown artworks and praise the devil – none of that means a thing to me if I can’t hear it when the music starts.
This is the focal point, what really matters – your gut reaction to the music, not intellectual process or analysis.
– Smelling bullshit in music is fucking easy if you’re a person with this type of character, it’s not necessarily elitism because I don’t feel good about being like this. I just think ninety percent or more of bands in black metal are little more than weaklings writing power fantasies.
What counts is the resonance in music, the atmosphere it creates and which frequencies it pries open.
– How it’s presented genre-wise, I do not care at all at this point. I’ve been a fan of electronic music since I was a kid – I’m German you know, I can’t resist the sound of a cold synthesiser. Obviously, my blood resonates with it or something like that.
Bestial Devotion was born and raised in Germany, then uprooted from his home in Bavaria and relocated to Florida in the late nineties.
– It wasn’t my decision, I had no say in the matter and it happened on very short notice so the words I’d use for the ordeal are culture shock and extreme alienation. I was in my late teens with established social circles and so forth so I can’t say any aspect of it was particularly pleasant.
Barely being able to speak a word of English certainly didn’t help.
– This would leave me as the ‘weird foreign guy’ in most social situations, on top of being an intrinsically strange person to most others to begin with. Most of my acquaintances here happen to be immigrants – including two other NEGATIVE PLANE members, we all tend to agree that it can be a severe psychological burden.
He says that despite settling in new soil, roots lodged in the old never untangle entirely. The strong cultural connection to your home only intensifies and grows increasingly obvious with prolonged absence.
– Many think the answer is as simple as just moving back, but life is more complicated and illogical than that. There’s also the natural surroundings, which I somehow took deeply to and felt a strange bond with.
So you don’t feel the same connection to American wilderness?
– No, I think everyone has that link buried deep within their bones. New York is more similar to home for obvious geographic reasons, and the American Northeast – especially New England, has some great and desolate nature to offer. But of course it’s not the same, what could be?
Florida and its oppressive humidity must have been quite the contrast then.
– Yes, though I must point out that Europeans have a pretty skewed view of Florida – it’s anything but nice sunshine and fun to live there. It also has its own surreal charm if you go off the beaten path – there’s a reason bands like DEICIDE and MORBID ANGEL were as intense as they were.
Despite leaving the state behind, he claims they have since not only retained the swamp insanity but also trodden deeper into it.
– I grow all the more bitter for each passing year, so I need increasingly malicious-feeling music – we have all sorts of twisted plans for our coming work. Something I’d like to use more of is real organs, bells, and similar classical instruments.
‘Real’ – so are the ones on previous efforts only samples?
– None of them are samples, as in others’ work. The pipe organ on “Et In Saecula Saeculorum” is Mike Browning‘s (ex-MORBID ANGEL, NOCTURNUS) and was recorded in his house. The piano on “Stained Glass Revelations” is also ‘real’; there was one in the studio.
These instruments were played by Nameless Void, who besides guitar also learned both the piano and clarinet in his youth.
– That’s the extent of my ‘classical’ training, he says, although I didn’t really take either of them too seriously at the time. I wish that I’d kept playing, but at least I stuck to the guitar.
– He’s actually really fucking good in my opinion, says Bestial Devotion, I’m not very fluent on key instruments at all. Though I can play some cello as well as gongs, we’ve used some of that as well.
The only proper sample used in NEGATIVE PLANE outside of intros and outros is at the very end of “The Fall”.
– It’s from a piece by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and used for dramatic impact.
Bestial Devotion says he envisions the production of their next output to sound like a mixture of MERCYFUL FATE’s “Don’t Break the Oath”, DARKTHRONE’s “Under a Funeral Moon” and “God Died on His Knees” by INCUBUS.
– Preferably recorded in a rotten Albrecht Dürer hell, after two bottles of Polish spirits. Anything to bring it closer to sounding like a nightmare straight out of a medieval woodcut.
Incidentally, he’s particularly qualified for invoking scenes of this nature – having his fair share of recent first-hand experiences.
– Over the last few years I’ve been suffering from obsessive and repetitive night terrors that keep waking me up; think David Lynch deleted scenes reel. Atrocious, most likely brought on by stress.
The current plan is to record a new album – and that’s about as much as they’re willing to say at this point. It seems the biggest hurdle is not actual creativity but rather structure.
– I probably have three or four albums worth of decent riffs and sections, says Nameless Void, but I can’t find a use for them as they have no place in a full song.
When you begin writing a new piece, what do you model it after?
– I’ll typically have the title ready before the music, the riffs will be geared towards the feeling the name of the song implies. For example, “All Souls” and “Unhallowed Ground” were both created this way; tailored to fit the titles, and once that was finished I worked out the lyrics.
Another dimension he takes into consideration is their place in the track-listing.
– Like “The Chaos Before the Light”, I wrote that specifically to be the first track on the debut, and “Stained Glass Revelations” was written to be the last song on the record by the same name.
NEGATIVE PLANE are not among those who consider themselves ceremonial ensembles, they have little interest in soothing their audience into some mindful stupor.
– They should of course be banging their heads, Bestial Devotion announces, I’m so fucking bored by people staring at us and then mildly clapping once we’re done. It’s not a goddamn opera – you can drink in the atmosphere perfectly fine while also reacting.
But you do have an interest for the metaphysical?
– Sure. I think humans in general have issues with lack of structure, goals and order – a side-effect of the ‘gift’ of sentience I imagine. We seek meaning and an end-goal in all things – I believe ritual and ceremony in general is an extension of that, to bring order and lucidity to something intrinsically intangible.
His cohort Nameless Void actually knows a fair bit more about religious ritual than most.
– I was raised in a strict Roman Catholic household. Not only did I go to mass every Sunday as well as the Holy Days of Obligation, I also went to Sunday school after mass.
Alas, youngsters forced into something will often have a natural predisposition for rebellion; and so virtually anything associated with the Devil became a grand source of interest.
– Albums from bands like SLAYER and MORBID ANGEL took on an almost supernatural quality. They became all the more special because they were forbidden, I had to hide them from my parents.
And so his theological uprising became the new reality, one that many years later compelled him to wear the shirt that would radically alter the course of two young men’s lives.
– Growing up in the middle of America with little besides tired sermons and more rules to look forward to, nothing fills the void better than music that embodies the complete opposite of everything you’ve been raised to believe.
Only fitting then, that this is precisely the music he has now devoted a vast part of his adult life to creating. Bestial Devotion concurs:
– A great man once sang, ‘Hey Satan, paid my dues, playin’ in a rockin’ band’, that’s straight to the fucking point.