In the age of downloading and the commodization of subculture, the idea of loyalty to a record label can sometimes seem almost anachronistic. The label as a unified aesthetic vision, with its tendrils being each of its constituent artists, is rarely an archetype appreciated or even seen anymore, with the tiny businesses that make up the metal scene doing all they can to abandon ideology and an absorbing sense of taste in favor of faster, shorter profits from flashy, short-term artists. Pale Horse Recordings is the sort of grumbling, ornery entity that would appear to be the sort of label operating in unobtrusive obscurity since the early '90s- were it not that its first release, a wretched, dismal split between funeral doom black holes Bosque and Senthil, appeared only a half decade ago. Boasting a roster of unique, creative, intensely individual bands from the deepest reaches of the underground, Pale Horse Recordings is one of the few labels remaining who functions in the way a metal label should: with zero concern for anything but its own vision. I asked proprietor Andrew a few questions about his label, the scene, and forgotten cassette releases in hopes that you'll stop listening to Watain today.
Noktorn: So let's get all the self-promotion out of the way immediately. PHR: What is it, how long has it been going on, what's coming out, the usual.
Andrew: PHR publicly began operations in October 2005; however, I put it on hiatus for some time between 2007 and 2008.
I have a few future releases already planned: PHR will be putting out the first LPs for Kthanm and Imynvokad as well as Ophian’s first album. The time-table for these is indeterminable at present, each for a unique reason. There may be another cassette release between now and the vinyls, should something creep up that demands my attention but, for the time being, my schedule is otherwise set.
N: Various forms of doom and black metal take up the bulk of your releases. Intentional decision or just easier genres to arrive at for smaller labels? That's something I experienced with mine: death metal bands tend to shoot for larger, more commercially viable releases while there's many more small, short-run-receptive black and doom bands out there to work with.
A: The existence of the label is an amalgamation of intentional decisions. It may just be chance that my main musical interest is black metal and that the particular genre is so bloated that even talented new bands are willing to work with a smaller entity such as myself.
N: A lot of what you release on your label comes from one or two man projects. While I do love plenty of small-form projects like these, they do most of the time seem more bare bones and less detailed from a songwriting standpoint simply because there's fewer cooks in the kitchen adding the small variations that tend to make more well-rounded songs. Is this a natural problem of working alone or simply indicative of the sort of musicians who do these projects?
A: The vertex between ability, creativity, and vision seems to be elusive and, to borrow your analogy, I find that music often suffers from having too many cooks in the kitchen. While I certainly enjoy many formal bands, I am drawn more readily to those which operate under the creative oversight of an acting dictator or those with the rare ability to unify their vision and sound throughout the intermediates.
N: There's a certain structural similarity to the artists on your label. I notice a few distinct elements which seem to recur in just about all of them: deliberately cloudy but not indistinct production, melodic structures heavily based on odd, jazzy chord phrasings and dissonance, and a sort of sparse, dead atmosphere no matter how busy the music might be. Deliberate choices?
A: Analysis of the corpus of my releases does yield similarities such as those you have listed. Again, I put out what I like to hear and I get bored very quickly with the mundane. Esotericism and conviction rank high with me; consonance and predictability do not.
N: One of the most interesting things about metal to me has always been the geographical variation in sound, and how bands from neighboring cities can sound completely different simply due to how the scene constructs itself. Are there any particular up-and-coming regional scenes you've been exploring? Lately I've been looking a lot into the Argentinians- they have a particularly brackish, angry style of politically-driven metal that tends towards very memorable, violent music.
A: By and large, regional scenes don’t really do anything for me. I may find it interesting to stay current when there is an outpouring of music from a normally quiet area but I cannot buy into hype alone. What I appreciate most in music does not come from geography or other trappings of the terrestrial but from the Spirit of the Devil.
Excluding the unnamed bands included in your Thra’el review, which I believe you described as “incestuous,” the Nidrosian circle in Norway (Kaosritual, Black Majesty, Mare, …) and the bands associated with Ancient Records (Grifteskymfning, Kaos Sacramentum ,…) are really excellent and I definitely encourage those unfamiliar to seek out and purchase these bands’ material.
You're located in San Antonio, Texas, which manages to be both hipster capital of the south as well as the home of a fairly thriving extreme metal scene. The public perception of the area from those outside it is that Texas is practically a Mecca: frequent fests, a strong, unified scene, and solid, uncompromising bands. Of course, I live in Tampa and know how garbage the scene really is here, so these sorts of stories aren't always true. Is it as good as they say or is it an arpeggio and marijuana-fueled wasteland like most other places?
A:We Texans have had our share of large-scale events, most notably the now discontinued annual Sacrifice of Nazarene Child Fest as well as the up-and-coming red giant, Rites of Darkness Fest. Both of these events have, though their respective courses, brought many people and well-reputed bands from around the world to San Antonio, so certainly there is merit in your outside perspective of our scene.
Behind the perception are we in actuality wasteland? Maybe? I have very little need for belonging or identification of myself as part of a larger group so I remain content to observe things from the outskirts when I get it under my skin to venture out into the thick of things.
Is black metal a genre of music where ideology and the projection thereof is a necessary component? Note that I didn't speak of a specific ideology, just any in particular. Black metal, political/religious or not, seems like a pretty propagandistic style of music, and I wondered if you considered that a crucial part of it.
A:I believe an intact ideology that is prevalent throughout the intent and aesthetic is indeed necessary in black metal as well as everything else in life. Propaganda has its place and though I find the overly prevalent, overly forceful use of it tiresome, that approach is far more appreciable than the subtle attempts at persuasion of the arm-chair philosopher popular with the neo-hippie, post-* crowd.
N:What have you been listening to lately that won't be forgotten in two weeks?
N:Any last words?
A:Thanks for the interview and for the continued support you’ve displayed since the birth of PHR.
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer my questions. Anyone reading this should take the time to check out Pale Horse Recordings for its array of releases and excellently priced distro items. Support the true underground and one of its most valuable members.