Cold Meat Industry
by Niklas Göransson
Burning the self to seed the soul anew: meet Roger Karmanik, the man behind legendary Swedish label Cold Meat Industry and pioneering death industrial project Brighter Death Now.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Mortiis, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.
We join the story in 1990, when Cold Meat Industry has existed for three years. At the time, Roger worked at a print shop.
– Several of my covers were made from scratch, all by myself: printed, pressed, and then glued together. But then we had a kid, and then even more kids, and then I was fired, haha! This was when digitalising had just come along, so people didn’t need their material printed – everything went digital. So, I was made redundant. I’d already built up Cold Meat by then; it was almost as if I had two jobs already. After that, I lived entirely off the label.
By 1995, the company was making a profit and had amassed a loyal following who bought essentially everything that came out. The average pressing was about two to three thousand copies, but sometimes they could get up to five thousand. The realisation that this was actually going to work, in terms of a livelihood, must have been an immense relief.
– I don’t think I’ve ever felt any kind of relief: worrying about bills and shit like that, you do it anyway. There’s something in our sick nature spurring us to constantly fuss over finances, it hangs over us like a yoke – ‘You must make money, earn an honest wage’… bah. It’s a punishment this society gives you no choice but to accept. But it’s funny, starting a record company and so on, that’s not at all how I was raised. You should have a job. You earn your living through employment and receive a monthly salary. You should be able to see and touch what you work with. You go to a workplace and then ply your craft. So, when I was laid off, I didn’t even tell my parents because I knew they’d be worried sick. I just pretended as if nothing had happened.
1995 saw the release of a true milestone in the Cold Meat discography: a double-CD compilation album called “…And Even Wolves Hid Their Teeth and Tongue Wherever Shelter Was Given”. It featured veteran CMI acts like DEUTSCH NEPAL, BRIGHTER DEATH NOW, MZ.412, MORTHOUND, and RAISON D’ÊTRE as well as recent signings such as ARCANA, DESIDERII MARGINIS, ORDO EQUILIBRIO, Mortiis, and AGHAST.
– That sampler became a massive hit; people were essentially served the entire label. I made the booklet look decent and included a list of our back catalogue as well as a presentation of all bands on the compilation. If you bought that one, you had most of Cold Meat covered. “Even Wolves…” got a US release as well – perfect representation of the label. The title phrase was taken from an ILDFROST song.
Immediately following the compilation came the Mortiis album “Ånden som gjorde opprør”, which broke additional ground by bringing over a lot of new listeners from underground metal. Amusingly, when signing the project, Roger had not the faintest idea that Mortiis was the former bass player of one of the most prolific black metal bands of that era.
– I’d never heard of EMPEROR. I wasn’t even sure I was actually going to release the album, I thought it sounded terrible. I remember first listening to it, this ‘my first Casio’ recording… ‘What the fuck, I’m supposed to put my name on this?’ But he was such a cool guy, super-friendly. He’s still great, the exact same person he was back then. Funny as hell, and a lot of distance to everything. It’s not always the music that’s the most important– it can also be the individual behind the project. The artist’s personality means just as much. That’s how I ran Cold Meat; this is what tied everything together. It had to work all the way. But, yeah, that release really set things in motion. We’d also come into contact with AGHAST, and they drew in even more new listeners. By then, people from the black metal scene had already begun listening to our stuff. There was a close connection.
I believe a big part of Mortiis’ early success was owed to the aesthetic presentation – in particular the combination of his promo shots and Roger’s stylish layout. It might not have aged the best but was incredible at the time, and I can personally attest to the fact that the cover alone sold a lot of records.
– Absolutely. But it was all his idea, really, so I can’t take any credit for it. I just did what he told me to do. ‘I want it to look like this and like that.’ It was a nightmare. I had a Mac. So, I sat there in front of my Stone Age computer, with something like twenty megabytes of disc space, constantly forced to swap things around. ‘Okay, I’m going to make this image, so I must copy all files to a floppy disc and then empty the hard-drive.’ I spent an ungodly amount of time just waiting for things to load. And Photoshop back then…. you had to constantly find emergency solutions, improvising every step of the way.
How did you learn Photoshop in the first place?
– What do you mean? How does anyone learn anything? I just tried it out. The early version was actually quite simple. These days, Photoshop is far more complicated. But there was no YouTube to watch tutorials from, there wasn’t even an internet. I also had valuable experience from my time working as a printer, so I knew exactly what the layout had to look like to come out a certain way.
One notable characteristic of CMI’s records was the visual representation. There was always a red thread – one could immediately identify a Cold Meat release.
– Stephen O’Malley stole all of my ideas. Look at the early CMI mail-order catalogues, then compare them to his ‘zine; it’s ripped straight off. No hard feelings about that though, I’m honoured! If you like what I do, why not do it yourself? I worked mostly from personal chemistry – what I knew the artist wanted to convey – as well as the feelings I got from the music, then I tried to merge everything into an aesthetic concept. Every label should have its own imprint, but every release must also have a personal touch and each artist their own vibe. I can’t decide what you should look like but if I can hear what you’re saying, thoughts coming from you, then I can… or at least could, make something out of it. Create an idea and then present it: ‘Would this work?’ I wanted a concept that fully resonated not only with the band but also what I felt in their music and sensed from the people behind it.
The Cold Meat catalogue contains quite a few highlights in terms of cover artwork. Several of the RAISON D’ÊTRE designs are fantastic – then we have classics such as PUISSANCE “Back in Control”, MORTHOUND “This Crying Age”, and MZ.412 “Nordik Battle Signs”.
– “Nordik Battle Signs”… it’s weird, because the same design also exists as an EARTH, WIND & FIRE LP. Almost identical, strange as hell. It’s very similar, I had no idea. I took that runestone photo myself, it’s Rökstenen in Östergötland. And those bayonets, I got them from a book. As per usual, I built on what I knew they were interested in. Same thing with PUISSANCE – I thought, ‘Of course the boys would want something like this!’ Actually, I was drunk as fuck in the office one night when I came up with that thing. I thought it was hilarious, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be fucking unreal to… you know, “Back in Control”, with the eagle and everything?’ That design had nothing to do with politics, it was just a game. Everything was a game; I was merely keeping myself entertained at the expense of others.
As entertaining as it might have been, I’d wager it worked in Roger’s favour that the label had not retained its original name – Triumph des Willens – at this point.
– Oh, yes! At first, the CD plant didn’t even want to do it, but I was a big client and had printed a lot of records there. I was a reputable customer and just told them, ‘There’s no political content on this album.’ ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ My own favourite layout? Difficult to say, I’ve invested a lot of myself into many of them. But that PUISSANCE one, definitely. I was actually admiring it only yesterday, while going through some old stuff. And then we have the DEUTSCH NEPAL records, I really like them. What else? Nah, I can’t really single out any one of them. They’re all like my children; I can’t choose one specifically. That’s it. None of them are more beautiful than the rest.
Mortiis and AGHAST already had strong black metal ties by virtue of the people involved. On the merits of their dark and morbid music, MZ.412 and ORDO EQUILIBRIO also helped bridge the gap between underground metal and Cold Meat Industry. However, one largely unsung contributor was PUISSANCE’s Henry Möller, active nowadays with ARDITI. He introduced a lot of Swedish metalheads to CMI bands and would often be raging up in Stockholm – generally known as a maniac, which was a major reputation-booster back then.
– A maniac? I’ve never seen that side of him. Weird. Nah, to me he’s calm. But the man is indeed very mysterious – he was like that back then too, skulking around. He actually worked at CMI for a few years, handled my mail-order and managed the store.
In the late 90s and early 00s, Cold Meat Industry had a record shop in Linköping. I never had the pleasure myself, but I asked a friend about it: ‘Yeah, I was there a few times. Roger was a bit hesitant to let people in though. I remember one occasion around the millennium shift; I knocked and he opened, looked at me from head to toe, and then snarled, ‘I don’t have any metal!’ and slammed the door in my face.’
– Haha! Christ, always so polite; what a lovely impression I’ve made. Yeah, I guess it was a bit like that. We only had the store open twice a week. One time, people from the municipality showed up. I heard something outside, opened up, and there were two guys measuring the doorframe. Like, what the fuck? ‘Oh’, one of them said, ‘We’re just making sure the entrance is handicap adapted.’ I responded, ‘Alright, whatever, but we don’t want any handicapped people here’, and shut the door. Lina brings this one up all the time, he overheard it. When I came back in, he was glaring at me – ‘What the fuck did you just say?’ I didn’t really think about it, the words just sort of blurted out. ‘Roger, what did you say?’ But really, what reason is there to have handicapped people roaming the store?
Lina Baby Doll, or Peter Andersson, is the man behind pioneering Swedish industrial act DEUTSCH NEPAL. He’s also a long-time friend and cohort of Roger‘s, as well as part of BRIGHTER DEATH NOW in concert. At the time, he worked in the Cold Meat office adjacent to the storefront.
– More than anything else, the store was just yet another avenue to vex people. I recall specifically one time when Möller had the cash register, he was super-black metal back then and his friends were all tough-guys who hung around flexing in the shop. So, we were blasting SPICE GIRLS back in the office, just fucking around. I hit something with a ruler, which made a loud smacking noise, and Lina started screaming, ‘Ouch! Ouch! Ohhhhh’, clearly audible into the store. And there’s Möller, trying to keep a straight face in front of his friends. ‘Eh, what’s going on back there?’ ‘Ooohhh!’ Lots of carrying-on like that. Perpetual madness, all the time. Thinking back, there was clearly a lot of absolute and utter idiocy going on. Just constantly fucking with people, antagonising everyone to the greatest possible extent. That’s pretty much what life was about. I remember once when we were out drinking and then started heckling these massive bodybuilder types. When I say we, I mean I did; Lina was petrified. Not very healthy, but I can’t help myself! I’ve always been an antagonist. Life is about exposing yourself to risks – you put yourself in harm’s way. What else are you supposed to do? You can’t just sit around gathering mould, reality becomes so unbearably dull. You have to whip up a little storm every once in a while.
So, this carrying-on wasn’t something reserved for younger days?
– No, no! We discussed this recently, Lina and I. More than two decades ago now, we said to each other, ‘Fucking hell, we’re getting too old for this nonsense. Travelling around and playing gigs as thirty-year-old men, that’s ridiculous.’ And now, at fifty-four, we’re still having the same conversation. But I’d say we’ve finally accepted it now. We’re never going to quit – we’ll keep going until both of us are dead and buried. This is our calling; this is our life. This is who and what we are. We’d perish if we couldn’t keep on terrorising people and raising hell. Just because you’re middle-aged, it doesn’t mean you have to become some fucking Svensson (Average Joe)! I’d rather drop dead right here and now. Boring as hell. That’s how I found family life, to be honest. Infinitely dull. Obviously, I love my kids, but… I’m relieved and delighted they’ve grown up now, so that I can revert to behaving like a child. Then again, I never really stopped, did I? But I do still have some shame in my body. ‘I have to take care of this and must deal with that.’ No! Fuck no, I’m not taking care of anyone but myself. I’ve looked after so many bands, so many artists. Taken heaps of shit, everyone complaining about… Cold Meat, when things started going downhill. When they began leaving the label because I was falling apart. But, oh my God, what haven’t I done for these people? They’d call me out of the blue, ‘I’m sitting in a bar here, and just discovered that I don’t have any money. Can you wire me some?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, sure, I’ll wire some money to your fucking account.’ They’d do that all the time. There is a mutual sense of contempt, one could say. But, as I said, I’m going to take care of myself now. What matters to me the most, before all others, is myself.
Around the year 2010 there were many signs that something was amiss with Cold Meat Industry, such as several long-time bands jumping ship; operations effectively ceased shortly thereafter. In retrospect, it turned out that Roger had developed what’s medically defined as occupational burnout– a serious affliction most never recover from. Often caused by long-term chronic stress, burnout manifests as crippling mental fatigue, emotional resignation, and deep cynicism.
–I hit a wall, pure and simple. I didn’t understand or realise it myself, but I was constantly depressed. This was so long ago now that no one spoke of burnout. The term wasn’t even around yet– it just wasn’t something people were aware of. ‘A case of the autumn blues, maybe?’ I worked for myself, so I didn’t really have much choice, did I? What the hell was I supposed to do? This was how I earned my living; I had to keep struggling. I thought I was invincible, that I could push through anything.
Roger has previously pointed to social isolation as one significant part of the problem – only communicating with people over the internet. As someone who works from a home office, I’m curious if a largely hermit existence for longer stretches really isn’t viable.
– No, no. God, no. And I think you know that. Unfortunately, you really have to get out there. That’s another thing this entire ordeal taught me: to just head to a pub and strike up conversation with some old fucking geezer. For those who are willing to listen, old-timers often have amazingly interesting life stories. There is so much to learn. It’s taught me a lot, socialising with ‘normal’ people – just regular folks with everyday problems. I realised that life is something you navigate forward under constant strife. You can’t just roll with it, killing time and watching television; you must fight tooth and nail every step of the way.
Exercise, nature, time with friends and family, and, above all, proper rest and recuperation are often prescribed as efficient stress-relievers. That is, to those who bother seeking help before everything comes to a crashing halt. This might be one instance were stoicism, stubbornness, and psychotic durability might not always work in one’s favour.
– You know, I’m actually coming to the same conclusion. Fucking hell, I mean, I’ll hear someone on the radio sharing their life story. ‘I’ve been through this, it was horrible!’ What? You’re joking? Welcome to my life. For fucks sake, if you had the slightest idea of what I’ve been through. But you’re right – it was my own fault. I suppose I should’ve been weaker. What I ought to have done, obviously, was to seek help. Meditation too, I think that’s really beneficial. Also, getting a divorce sooner would’ve been an idea. As for exercise… I did, I went to the gym every day. But that became an additional stress factor. ‘I have to go, otherwise I won’t feel well. I’m going to feel bad all day if I don’t go to the gym.’ But I really should take it up again, working out and getting back in shape… it gives you strength, it’s really good. But you can’t allow it to become a problem in itself: something you must do because if you don’t, you’ll feel like shit.
Roger eventually drove himself to the point where he woke up partially paralysed. Having ignored all the mental warnings, he found it decidedly harder to circumvent the physical.
– My arms became heavy as lead. I couldn’t even lift them, couldn’t do anything. My heart turned into stone; massive pressure all over my chest. I just lay still. What is there to do if you cannot even get out of bed? It was fucked. Thoughts like, ‘I can’t take this anymore, what the hell am I supposed to do?’ gnawed at me constantly. You question your entire life situation. You start considering suicide. I hit rock bottom, got myself a real slap. It was my body that brought me down again and told me, ‘Right, you just lie down here. Lie down. Now, let go of everything. Let it go.’ Finally, I just let go. I’ve let it all go now. I let go of the label, of my family, of the house we lived in… big, beautiful house. All of it.
In 2011, Roger filed for bankruptcy and left everything related to CMI in the hands of a judicial receivership. Having outsiders rummaging through one’s life work and assessing its value must’ve been sensationally shit.
– On the contrary, it was an incredible relief. I just handed in everything. They’d already dealt with these things numerous times before and were very understanding. So, no, it was just pure… it was like going to see someone who just lifts the entire weight off your shoulders. ‘You’re free of this shit now, none of it will haunt you any longer. All of it is gone.’ That’s how I felt. They said, ‘We’ve looked through this and there’s nothing. We see that you have some records left; what are we supposed to do with them? Do whatever you want with your remaining inventory, we’ll write it off.’ Cold Meat was heavily in debt, but the company was incorporated – which separates my person from it. Oh man, when I got out of there…
Roger exhales in audible relief.
– So fucking amazing, all the hell was gone. Total fucking liberation. Fantastic experience, I must say. I highly recommend bankruptcy. I sold my house in 2012, then moved back to Linköping and started rebuilding my life. Got myself a garden. I thought, ‘From now on, I’m going to grow things. Fuck this, I’m done with music.’ I didn’t even listen to any music. I hated music. Yuck. Couldn’t listen, couldn’t create music. My own albums? Couldn’t stand them. And I definitely couldn’t listen to any Cold Meat bands; get the fuck away! Far away. I listened to whatever was playing on the radio, so ordinary superficial shit. I wanted to become a different person. I even changed the way I dressed.
How did that feel?
– Weird. At first though, it was great. ‘Okay, I’m a gardening person now, so I should dress accordingly.’ Green sweaters, plaid shirts, and so on. It felt amazing, hugely liberating: freedom from myself. I also painted my apartment in strange colours, just to get this… not the darkness. Orange, I painted it orange. Intense colours. Lots of colours. Just so I could get a different field of vision. I wasn’t trying to find something exterior, but rather figure out who I am. I did, in the end, and… nah, that’s not me. I shouldn’t be wearing anything but black.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Mortiis, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.