Blasphemy’s black metal is far from dead

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      Ask your average Vancouver metalhead to list the progenitors of black metal—a movement to restore evil and brutality to the genre—and they’ll probably start in 1980s Scandinavia, with bands like Bathory and Mayhem. They might name-check England’s Venom. But they probably won’t mention Blasphemy, which came together in Vancouver back in 1984, around the time that Mayhem was just getting started.

      At that time, Blasphemy’s singer Gerry Buhl, who performs under the name Nocturnal Grave Desecrater and Black Winds (or Black Winds for short), was a teen. His musical tastes involved “basically, anything I could get my hands on that was really fuckin’ brutal”, he tells the Straight by phone.

      That ranged from punk like Discharge and GBH to the early demo tapes of Flint, Michigan, grindcore innovators Repulsion, known at the time as Genocide. (“They had the fastest drummer going, his name was Dave Grave. Oh, man, they were fucking outstanding, they were ballistic.”)

      Black Winds scoured zines and traded tapes; the thank-yous included in Blasphemy’s 1990 debut, Fallen Angel of Doom, include scores of publications and artists who inspired the band or showed support.

      He also had an interest in Satanism and demonology, though he doesn’t go into detail when asked about his association with the Ross Bay Cult, a Vancouver Island group with ties to the band that’s centred around the storied Ross Bay Cemetery. (The graveyard was the backdrop for some of the rituals that inspired the infamous satanic-panic book Michelle Remembers.)

      “Y’know, I wouldn’t want to be caught in some unlucky boneyard digging up a corpse or a skull or a femur or whatever,” he says with an evil chuckle. “Especially when I was just awarded a silver-plated shovel from the Ross Bay Cult!”

      But while there was plenty of talk of Satanism in 1980s metal, there wasn’t much, locally or elsewhere, quite as intense as the music Nocturnal Grave Desecrater and Black Winds had in his head.

      “I can’t figure out too many bands that were like us then,” he says. “I just knew that I wanted to outdo them, like, shut ’em down. Like Slayer—that’s a pretty hard act to shut down! I mean, those guys are brilliant musicians. But we weren’t looking to be brilliant musicians, we just wanted to be brutal on-stage.”

      It took a while for Blasphemy—which used to cover Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare”—to realize its own vision. “We were pretty poor, as far as being able to record,” Black Winds remembers. “And our first gig wasn’t until 1988.”

      In its initial incarnation, the band played somewhere around 20 shows in Vancouver and Victoria, though it also toured the U.S. and Europe.

      “There were some metal bands around” in Vancouver at that time, he remembers, “but more thrash/death/speed-metal-type bands, like Witches Hammer. That’s who we generally played with.”

      Then, starting in 1994, the band took a long hiatus, not playing locally until the early 2000s.

      If Blasphemy has been absent from stages in Vancouver since then, the group has built up massive respect in Europe, with heavy hitters like Behemoth’s Nergal and Mayhem’s late founder Euronymous paying respects in interviews. Studio albums like 1990’s Fallen Angel of Doom and live outings like last year’s Desecration of São Paulo—Live in Brazilian Ritual Third Attack have found a devoted underground audience.

      Beherit has covered Blasphemy’s “War Command”. Fenriz of Darkthrone included the band’s atmospheric, creepy “Winds of the Black Godz”—made with tape manipulations and slowed-down, back-masked German opera—on a compilation (Fenriz Presents… The Best of Old-School Black Metal).

      You can even get a backhanded sense of their importance through what some might call a disrespectful poke in Metallica’s recent video for “ManUNkind”. The clip—which riffs on the tropes of black metal—features the cast members of the upcoming Lords of Chaos movie playing Metallica’s instruments. Metallica’s logo is altered to ape Mayhem’s in the video, and a Blasphemy T-shirt is seen on the faux band’s drummer.

      “They’re just making a joke of black metal,” Black Winds says of the video. “What a bunch of jokers! I mean, I’m not out makin’ fun of them. I grew up loving Kill ’Em All, that was one of the albums that got me on the go.”

      Check out Blasphemy at last year's Steelfest Open Air Festival.

      There’s a long list of other bands that Black Winds shouts out to, including Vancouver’s Antichrist, Edmonton’s Revenge, Sweden’s Watain and Nifelheim, and Brazilian acts like Goatpenis and Sarcófago. Another favourite, Mystifier, has the unusual distinction, in the sometimes racially intolerant world of black metal, of having members who—like Blasphemy’s lead guitarist, Caller of the Storms—are actually black.

      Blasphemy also owes a nod to Florida’s Black Witchery, with which it presently shares a drummer, Vaz. (Other current members include DeathLörd of Abomination and War Apocalypse on rhythm guitar, and “on and off” bassist VK666.)

      The most relevant of the bands Black Winds pays respects to, however, is Finland’s Archgoat, which will be coheadlining an upcoming and rare local appearance by Blasphemy at the Rickshaw.

      “We’ve been turning down Vancouver gigs,” Black Winds says, “but we thought this time we would say yeah, because we have played at least 10 shows in Europe with Archgoat and they’re pretty good friends of ours. So it’s kind of hard to say no!”

      So what are the most extreme things Black Winds has seen in his years on the metal scene?

      He vividly recalls a gig in the 1990s in Freiberg where “the whole front row yarded out a bunch of box cutters and just really shredded up their arms. I happened to be wearing a shirt of another favourite band of ours, Blood, and they scooped me up off the stage and that Blood shirt got pretty bloody, I tell ya.”

      He pauses. “It’s not something I would do myself. I wouldn’t want to hack up my tattoos.”

      Surprisingly, though, some of the most violent shows he’s seen were in Vancouver. “I saw one particular thing at the Waterfront where two guys were holding a guy like a battering ram, and rammed him through the front doors. And I guess it was at the Town Pump where the crowd went a little crazy. There were a couple of other bands playing.”

      Among those bands was Procreation, featuring a bassist, Jay "Hippieshredder" Schneider, who was later briefly in Blasphemy.

      “A couple cops got beat up the second they walked in the door,” Black Winds continues. “I’d never seen that happen anywhere before!”

      There is another story, findable online, about how former drummer 3 Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity assaulted a cop and ended up doing time. While that sort of thing might—might—have seemed cool to a younger man, I confess to Black Winds that at age 48 (the same age as the gravel-throated singer, it transpires), I don’t have a lot of desire for that kind of drama in my life.

      Neither does Black Winds, I’m relieved to hear. Or as he puts it, “I got no time for jail!”

      Blasphemy plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Sunday (March 12).