To slightly tweak a Frank Zappa title: does humour belong in black metal music?
Not everyone thinks so. As one of the commenters on the Black 2, The Gathering Facebook page would have it, the decision to have YouTube star the Vegan Black Metal Chef headline the June 11 celebration of black metal culture is “a fucking joke”. And rather than stop there, poster Jordan Daniel Cameron continued with: “A black metal vegan chef? Fuck right off it sounds like a bunch of hipsters put this thing together.”
Brian Manowitz—aka the Vegan Black Metal Chef—has heard it all before. “I get plenty of ‘Die you vegan faggot’, or things of that nature,” he admits, on the phone from Los Angeles. “But honestly, the overwhelming majority of the comments are pretty positive, once they see an episode, or hear the music.”
That music is a spot-on pastiche of black metal. Manowitz writes and performs the songs in his YouTube episodes, the lyrics all about about cooking eggplant or lasagna rather than scrambled Scandinavian brains. (Check out “Episode 21: Breakfast Massacre”, where, over chugging guitars and triple-time drums, he places slices of tofu in a sizzling pan while demonically growling “The prophecy states that the fried tofu slices/Will turn a little bit brown.”)
If some people don’t get the humour, Manowitz isn’t overly concerned.
“Honestly, black metal people don’t even like black metal bands!” he says. “There’s no appeasing everyone.” It’s a shame, because his videos are really fucking funny. The first he posted—a recipe for vegan pad thai, which went online in 2011 and has now racked up over three million views—was conceived as a spoof of three groups that take themselves too seriously.
“Vegans, black metal-heads, and chefs,” he explains. “I poke fun at all three, and also take very seriously all three.”
In the video, dressed in corpse paint and metal studded, cruelty-free armour, Manowitz uses decorative knives and death growls to show how to prepare the dish. He subtitles the instructions for the death growl-impaired: “Now I will show you how to crush some garlic,” he rasps. “You cut its head off and smash it with a knife!”
Manowitz obviously has a great sense of humour—but he’s also a vegan. So how does he feel about black metal bands like Mayhem or Watain, who have drawn controversy for using animal parts—such as pig heads on stakes—for stage decorations?
“Of course it sucks, of course there’s no reason to exploit an animal in any way like that,” he says. “But quite honestly, I would say, even the most wholesome pop star that comes out on stage with a leather jacket, leather shoes, or leather pants, is doing the same thing, just in a more subtle way. They’re wearing the skin of an animal. You can’t freak out at one and then excuse the other.”
Manowitz—in full costume—will be instructing Black 2, The Gathering audiences at the Rickshaw in how to make palak aloo, a south Asian spinach and potato dish, as well as vegan pakoras.
The Vegan Black Metal Chef will be joined by an even heavier hitter in the world of black metal: the “Lord of the Logos” himself, Christophe Szpajdel, a Belgium-to-Britain transplant who has made news recently for designing a death metal-influenced logo for Rihanna, and for doing the Mayhem-inspired Metallica logo in the video for “ManUNkind.”
Szpajdel’s other famous clients include Emperor—one of the bands implicated in the notorious Norwegian church burnings. Given some of the extremes that black metal adherents will go to—which can include embracing Nazi ideology—would Szpajdel ever refuse a commission?
“I haven’t so far refused commissions,” he tells the Straight from Exeter, England while working on a logo during a Skype call. “But I started to become more and more selective. In 1992, I did a logo for a band called Absurd, or a band called Graveland, that were actually sort of initiators of this kind of ideology of NS [National Socialist] black metal. But they [Graveland] were, music-wise, absolutely great. And these bands have, these days, matured, and they have evolved from this NS black metal into something a lot more elemental. So if they start becoming more respectful towards others, okay. But if they are sort of kids, who are sabotaging and are disrespectful towards others, this is what would tarnish my reputation. For example, if it is a band who has desecrated the monument of [Pantera guitarist] Dimebag Darrell, like one band has done in Texas, that would be something completely unacceptable.”
A short documentary on Szpajdel—who has done over 10,000 logos—will screen as part of Black 2, The Gathering, which also includes a performance piece conceived by local metal photographer and event co-organizer Kevin Eisonlord. The evening will also feature a performance by White Rock black metal band SVNEATR, whose name refers to Sköll, the mythical wolf who eats the sun during the Viking apocalypse, Ragnarök.
SVNEATR’s 2015 EP, Serpents & Storms, is rife with violent and anti-religious imagery. Proving some people have a sense of humour, though, the group is more than fine with sharing the Rickshaw stage with the Vegan Black Metal Chef.
SVNEATR bandleader Vitharr is actually stoked, it turns out. “I’m actually a bit of a fan,” he says. “I myself am a vegetarian. As far as the controversy around it, it seems silly, because black metal is supposed to be about independent thought and expression!”
Black 2, The Gathering takes place at the Rickshaw on Sunday (June 11).