by Niklas Göransson
Irish beacon of black metal misanthropy, Joseph Deegan from Slidhr, makes another appearance in presenting “The Futile Fires of Man” – a conversational foray leading us into spirited discourse on the existential merits of man, beast, and technology.
SLIDHR‘s new studio album will be avaiable for purchase from Ván Records on June 26.
– “The Futile Fires of Man” was recorded between Iceland and Ireland towards the end of 2017. The process was a somewhat scattered affair – we tracked the drums at Studio Emissary, the bass in Garðar’s home studio and the guitars, vocals, mixing, and mastering with my own set-up here in Dublin. The new material is most certainly SLIDHR, in fact it feels closer to some of our earliest recorded music. I spent the best part of a year writing for this new record and the end result sounds strong.
Judging from the album title, SLIDHR’s policies on the existential plight of humankind do not appear to have softened by any greater extent.
– You are indeed correct – lyrically, the fatigue towards my own species hasn’t let up. The themes are quite broad at times and not tethered to this but it’s always present in some way. This is a medium that allows my mind to drift into other areas of expression, thankfully.
You mentioned in our previous conversation that your creative process is typically a rather strenuous affair – how was this one?
– Nothing worth doing is ever easy. While gratifying on many levels, you must put in the work to earn those rewards. Finding time for this whilst trying to juggle day-to-day life can be extremely taxing. To me, SLIDHR deserves a lot of time and effort, regardless of outside opinions or attention. It’s somewhere between a labour of love and an unhealthy obsession; sometimes it would be easier to simply forget all about this music stuff, but that’s looking unlikely at this stage.
Not only an active musician, Joseph is also a visual artist. As I’m prone to when conversing with the creatively multi-talented, I wonder if both artistic expressions are drawn from the same source.
– Visual art and music can definitely draw inspiration from the same places, but this is largely dependent on the project at hand. When I paint just for the sake of painting, it’s quite similar to music composition in many ways. With no restrictions and no client in mind, it’s purely cathartic. Creating artwork for other bands is a completely different story; musicians are some of the biggest pains in the arse imaginable, which is why I generally only accept art commissions from people I know personally.
Joseph earns his living primarily by ink-work. I bet he hails small-talking to tattoo customers.
– I started tattooing in 2003, so at this point I’ve built up a good reputation as well as a strong and loyal clientele. I’m lucky enough to work privately by appointment-only these days, but that wasn’t always the case. I’ve spent plenty of years in street shops dealing with the general public. As could be expected, at this capacity it’s a job which requires plenty of patience. However, those years taught me a lot – I’m grateful for the experience and have carried much of this work-ethic over to my current situation. I consider myself extremely lucky to have an occupation I’m passionate about and would never take it for granted. Personal opinions are largely left at the door when I’m working. My clients are always treated with the respect they deserve; when tattooing someone, I make sure to always remember that they’re paying me for a service. They will have to wear that tattoo for the rest of their lives, not me. So, with this in mind I’ll always do my best to capture their vision. Many tattooers today are pushing the latest internet trends onto their clients and this is something that doesn’t feel right to me. The subject matter of a tattoo should be secondary to the technique in many ways and as a craftsman, one should apply a tattoo skilfully regardless of how many social media interactions it might garner.
When we last spoke, Joseph had some scathing words for parts of the black metal scene and, if I’m not entirely mistaken, he has a few similar sentiments in store for us today.
– It’s pretty funny in several ways. Having been around this kind of music for a fairly long time you naturally see many different trends come and go. The same twenty-somethings who are governing the black metal scene of today were Myspace emo-kids not long ago. Flirting with runic symbols that are just controversial enough to be ’edgy’ but safe enough to stay out of trouble is the thing to do these days. Further polluting this music is the influx of leftover punks and left-wing types who feel it’s their right to dictate who can and can’t play certain gigs and festivals.
He says that black metal has always been extreme in all kinds of ways, which is what attracted these people to it in the first place.
– Then, when realising the uncomfortable truth about the politics of some bands and individuals involved, they run crying to their antifa friends. I will take this opportunity to state that I will never judge a man by his race or nationality, only but his actions. I didn’t choose to be born in Ireland and I didn’t choose to be white. This goes for all of us, you can’t be proud of something you didn’t achieve for yourself. I did however choose to reject Christianity and call bullshit on the propaganda taught in our religious and state schools. My politics are neither left nor right but I will mind my own business regarding yours; if this is difficult to comprehend then you’re not worthy of respect in return.
After I first published the previous SLIDHR feature and then a Nuclear War Now! piece in short succession, parts of the readership lamented that I did not adopt my customary antagonistic approach in either of the lengthy segments on veganism. And so here we are. It occurred to me that some of the criticisms Joseph has levelled against black metal could, with some modification, be applicable to the vegan movement. Both are consumer cultures which predominantly thrive in urban areas. Both have a set of ethics, a subculture, as well as a commercial side peddling synthetic products disguised as something they’re not; it seems that much vegan food is sold as meat analogues, with tofurky this and veggie bacon that. Furthermore, the consumption of these goods promotes a sense of spiritual and ideological purpose amongst its target group – vast parts of which base much of their identity on it, believing themselves to harbour some manner of higher truth elevating them above the unenlightened rabble and thus adopting a spiteful attitude towards outsiders.
– I regard the common factor between both to be the all-powerful internet, they’re both subject to virtual humans jumping on the hype-bandwagon. It really depends on how you view it. Of course, we all know that vegans are passive-aggressive fools who are generally more concerned with telling others about their veganism than actually helping animals. They’re usually just buying into a fad diet and lifestyle because it’s cool at this particular moment in time. This is annoying but if it educates more people and reduces the animal holocaust, it’s mostly a good thing. Anything working for the benefit of animals can only be a good thing.
Joseph says that the rise in popularity of fake meats and other vegan products has very little association with the ideology itself, and significantly more to do with capitalism.
– But how ’real’ are meat products? Most people will only eat animal flesh after it’s been smoked, cured, seasoned and prepared in a certain fashion – but when you do the same thing to vegetables it somehow becomes ’fake’. And those parallels can be drawn with any subculture, no matter how opposing their ethics may be. I’m sure butchers and hunters are bickering amongst themselves just as much as vegans. It’s definitely a bigger issue pertaining to human behaviour in general and not specific ideologies.
After a cursory glance at which point in human history the vegan philosophy arose and then when it really started to take off, there seems to be more of a concurrence with Western urbanisation rather than connectedness with the land. It has been said that one who is truly attuned to nature sees clearly the endless cycle of death and rebirth inherent in her, a process lending little thought to whether it is hominid or beast being preyed upon. That nature is cruel, unfair, brutal and unforgiving – and no amount of human emotional outpouring will ever change this.
– And this is what’s so beautiful about nature. You may think it cruel, and it is, but unfair? Nature is as indiscriminate as it gets. It doesn’t judge us in the way we perceive, as sentient beings, and that’s just how it is. No amount of posturing on behalf of mankind will change that, there’s a cycle of life and death but we don’t get to call the shots. We should know our place in the order and it isn’t at the top – that’s for sure. Comparing our dietary preferences to the cycle of nature is actually pretty hilarious and outrageously arrogant.
There is increasing science emerging speaking of what we traditionally regard as sentience in not only fauna but also flora. Conducting their 2017 study, researchers at Aarhus University in the Netherlands discovered that trees have a heartbeat of sorts. Beating only once every second hour or so, it’s too slow for anyone to have taken notice before. The human heart expands and contracts in order to send blood coursing through our veins – a tree-trunk does the same, pumping water from roots to crown. The same research team previously demonstrated how birch trees in a bid to conserve energy enter a nocturnal state reminiscent of sleep, branches that spend their days reaching for solar photosynthesis slump down once night has fallen. If it were to be scientifically proven, enough to convince Joseph, that plants possess a complex consciousness which makes them just as living as any animal or human, I’m curious if he would have any qualms about ingesting vegetation-based products.
– That’s a pretty old non-argument used to discredit veganism, it’s up there with the ‘desert island’ fallacy. The simple fact is that they’re not sentient; they possess neither central nervous system nor a brain and don’t process pain as humans or animals do. Even if we for the sake of argument call them sentient, it still wouldn’t make sense to kill animals the way we do today. Just to feed cattle, we need to kill even more plants than if we consumed them directly. The argument for veganism remains the only logical one.
Do you have any thoughts as to why veganism is pretty much concentrated to metropolitan areas?
– I’m not sure that it is. On many occasions I’ve been surprised to find vegan restaurants and options in the most unlikely places. In general though, more people equates a larger demand for certain things. This might also differ from country to country. Rural areas are absolutely desensitised to animal abuse due to the farming industry, where animals are viewed as stock and nothing more. When the demand for animal products decreases, their business model will adapt in order to make money. Ethics are not an issue for these people but rather a means to an end.
Seeing as how my interviewee has previously claimed city-living to sever man’s connection with nature, some might suggest that one such symptom is a susceptibility to ideologies which are incompatible with living at the mercy of the elements. Most, if not all, of earth’s remaining nomadic cultures rely to a large extent on livestock – should global veganism be enforced they’d have to settle in cities and learn new trades.
– Living in hostile environments will shape what you do as a matter of survival. In the harshest of starvation scenarios, people have resorted to cannibalism; that doesn’t necessarily make it the ideal solution. If your surroundings are that unliveable, maybe you need to question why you ended up there in the first place. Nature provides more than enough for us – permaculture is the only sensible option for a sustainable future.
Preparing for this conversation, I revisited our prior exchange. I had some thoughts upon reading the segment where Joseph expresses longing for a more primitive and natural state of living – as opposed to our high-tech society – and his hopes of attaining this by societal apocalypse. Now, while I can absolutely sympathize with notions of leaving behind concrete, neon lights, and those who thrive between them, I’d never bear the thought of giving up technology. Pathetic as it may be, I would probably rather lose a limb than the internet. I am a massive enthusiast of knowledge and science as well as the discourse thereof, and none of this would either exist or be accessible to anywhere near today’s standards without technological advancements. Would it really be worth it, I ponder, to sacrifice all of humanity’s accumulated knowledge to force us closer to the land.
– Yes, I relish the thought of nature pressing the reset button as a general ‘fuck you’ to our insufferable arrogance. However, if we’re really as clever as we like to believe ourselves to be, we could have the best of both worlds. I thoroughly enjoy reading and researching various subjects on the internet, it’s a fantastic resource. This doesn’t mean it rendered my book collection obsolete. On the contrary, I still find older books to contain plenty of valuable information that’s not available online. But I do think back with dread to the days when posting letters was the only way of writing someone. We have the potential to be better as a species but we continue to flex our muscles and try to dominate nature; it’s completely unnecessary.
Regarding this term ’natural’ – it could be argued that society as it is now, in terms of post-industrial revolution, is a direct result of human nature. Should our forefathers in the 19th century, or whenever Joseph feels we left the natural world behind, simply have decided to cease pursuing scientific innovations they would have been going against their own innate hominid characteristics.
– Large populations are far too easily manipulated by the kind of governing systems we have today. True technological advancements shouldn’t be harmful to our environment, otherwise it’s no longer progress. The thing is – we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our technology if we revert to a simpler life. On the contrary, knowing should render such a transition effortless; we can both improve quality of life and further our learning, humanity could have the best of both worlds but instead we allow so-called smart technology to dumb us down. This ego trip has also been responsible for the loss of invaluable wisdom we possessed in the past, thousands of years ago we were far more advanced in so many ways than we give credit for. The mentality that pharmaceuticals are the most effective way to treat illness and that natural remedies are just primitive nonsense has led us down a very unfortunate road.
Now, this is something we can agree on; having myself once been rather awed upon discovering the staggering amounts of resourceful medicinal vegetation which can be either collected locally or ordered online. Simple tea infusions of plants like valerian root, passion flower, and skullcap act as mild sleeping aids, damiana and blue water lily are great for meditation, mullein is near-miraculous to combat respiratory issues such as asthma, and dried guarana root or yerba mate leaves serve as natural energy drinks.
– Natural medicine is pretty much all I’ve ever used throughout my entire life, I was brought up with it. For prevention of any ailment, begin with looking at your diet. It’s should be pretty rudimentary stuff but somehow people can’t seem to fathom that what you ingest will have a drastic impact on your physical and mental health. I’ve never taken antibiotics or even painkillers for a headache – it just wouldn’t even occur to me. Perhaps if I had a serious condition I would use antibiotics but, so far, I’ve been doing fine without them. Overall, there are vast numbers of options for whatever ailment you can think of, it just requires a small amount of research as well as some trial and error to find out what works for your body chemistry.
The Swedish Medical Products Agency recently saw fit to classify CBD, a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, as a pharmaceutical drug. It has proven medicinal qualities with no noted side-effects and, until this point, it was possible to purchase very affordable tinctures extracted from industrial hemp. CBD now requires a doctor’s prescription in order to be obtained legally – but further complicating the matter for those who need it is the fact that there are no such approved products available on the market.
– I wasn’t aware of that but, needless to say, it reeks of government and pharmaceutical industry collusion – which is the whole reason why cannabis is banned in the first place. You can buy low doses of opiates over the counter in most countries but a non-psychoactive substance such as CBD oil is illegal… this sounds like a pretty strong indicator that it works. I actually give my dogs CBD daily as a preventative measure. Even when these types of substances are available legally, pharmaceutical companies will find a way to infiltrate the supply; another good reason for cutting out corporate sources. For those who smoke weed and such, do you really want to buy it from Pfizer? It’s no better than buying it from some random scumbag in an alleyway.
In light of previously discussed topics, some might regard the fact that our human physiology contains receptors which are compatible with communicative manifestations of nature to be a strong indication of an intrinsic link between man and Gaia – rather than being pitted in direct opposition.
– That’s a very complicated topic, one that could even take us on a tangent from the subject of this planet to a much broader plane. Whether or not these substances are terrestrial or extra-terrestrial doesn’t matter much, they’ve found their way here and certainly seem to have a very definite purpose. I’m not a drug guy at all but you don’t have to be to see the incredible potency of such tools, particularly when you consider the coherent experiences that are reported.
What’s next for SLIDHR in terms of tours, concerts, and so forth?
– We actually don’t have much planned for the foreseeable future. This week we play House of the Holy in Abtenau, in October we play the Siege of Limerick. And probably even less gigs from now on actually.