Interview with Mathew Nicholls (Carved Cross and more)

A couple of months ago, as you might remember, I appeared on the first time on Blog Thrower with an unusual in-depth analysis, in which I told you what I knew about the Tasmanian black metal scene. You can read it again HERE.

Well, after writing that article, something unexpected and amazing happened. Basically, I shared the screenshot of the article on my Instagram profile and it got noticed by Mathew Nicholls, probably the most active member of the Tasmanian black metal scene. Some of his projects are Carved Cross, Forbidden Citadel of Spirits, Fixation (I discovered he plays in Fixation in this interview, actually, e.d.) and many more, he is also the owner of Overuse, an underground record label on which Nicholls releases most of his material. So I took the opportunity and asked him if he was interested in an interview and Mathew kindly agreed. The result is a long and surprises-filled interview, but it was very satisfying. I hope you like it [H].

Mathew Nicholls.

Hello Mathew! First of all, thank you for giving us the opportunity of interviewing you. Let’s talk about your many projects: Carved Cross, Forbidden Citadel of Spirits, and also Ceremony, Night Falls Haunting, Blackline, Dea Tacita, and more. You were also the owner of Winterreich Productions and now you run a label named Overuse.

Hi Giuseppe, no problem… Thanks for the interest. I apologise in advance if my answers aren’t your typical kvlt Black Metal responses that people are probably wanting to read, let me just start by saying my interest in Black Metal probably peaked in about 2007.

What is your best achievement on an artistic aspect among all of these projects?

To be honest, I’m not sure. I’ve never really been the type of person to sit and reflect on the past. I’m not a particularly sentimental person and I don’t feel that there is any real benefit in looking back and thinking of releases as being better or worse than other ones. It would be different if any of these bands were ones that wrote music, recorded it as a band, toured it, attempted to promote it, etc. etc. – but the truth is that that isn’t the case at all. The majority of my bands (and particularly the ones you have mentioned) largely improvise when we record and by the time something is finally released, usually a few years have passed, and a dozen or so other recordings have taken place since.

Even the releases that you might expect me to regard as our best achievement, like the latest Carved Cross LP was just a bunch of random half-finished riffs written on a bit of paper that I was going to use to start writing an album with. However, Dani asked if we wanted to release an LP with GoatowaRex, which, interestingly enough, is the first and only offer we have ever received to release an album (and not just a re-release of some sort). So that afternoon I recorded some drums which would roughly fit onto an LP, I played through the riffs that I had and found something that resembled a chorus that I could repeat a few times, and the next day I recorded the guitar. It is nice to hear it on vinyl and it seems that a handful of people really understand it, but in reality, I probably spent a maximum of 2 or 3 hours on recording the release.

MN with Nun Piss from Bleak Solitude.

In my recent article about the Tasmanian black metal scene, I talked about the role of Burzum and Striborg as influences. I would also add Les Légions Noires, sonically-wise at least. Do you agree with this statement? Are there other artists that inspired you for your music?

To be completely honest, I have never really found the ‘originators’ such as Burzum, Mayhem, Darkthrone, etc. to be particularly inspiring. I can’t argue with the fact that their actions in the early 90’s created, and perhaps more so ‘shaped’, what Black Metal became, but musically there is probably nothing that I’d ever bother listening to again. I think of the bands that they went on to inspire in the late 90’s/early 00’s to be much more interesting music-wise… Bands such as Katharsis, Mutiilation, Moonblood, etc. etc. have always been what I have thought of as ‘the classics’ from the genre.

I think of the mid 00’s as probably the last period when Black Metal was really its own genre, after this everything became a little muddy and Black Metal just became another sound similar to Death Metal. Saying ‘Black Metal is Dead’ is pretty lame, but all I see is a pissing contest of people collecting the same records online or people that look like goths trying to look ‘extreme’ in person. Gone are the days of being cautious what you say to people about bands because you actually fear bumping into them.

There are other bands that I found really inspiring around the time of starting bands/labels. Bands that I was introduced to through tape trading in the early 00’s and found the most interesting were Australian bands like Black Putrescence, Black Twilight, Empire of Hate, etc. who seemed to put as much of an emphasis on making their recordings sound a particular way as they did with the actual musical content. None of these bands were trying to find ‘record deals’, or release CDs, LPs, etc. and I think their attitude really captured what I thought was most important about Black Metal. Back then it was even hard to get dubs of these tapes, people would only give them out to those that needed them. There is some great stories about people sending money to try to buy them and instead of getting tapes they received an envelope full of ashes of their burnt money. Some of the best stuff I got was from a guy that used to trade these tapes alongside VHS dubs of Bondage Porn and his kids Wiggles tapes.

Obviously, Striborg is an important part of the history of Tasmanian Black Metal. But again, I don’t think there is much musically that I have ever found to be overly inspiring. I have a great deal of respect for Sin Nanna due to the fact that he has always ran his label/bands the way that he feels is most in-line with what he thinks Black Metal is. Around 2003 or 2004 when I started ordering music from him, you could only contact Finsternis via writing him a letter, and then he would send you his distro list and information regarding Striborg. Back then I would be surprised if there was another label on the planet that didn’t have a website or at least an e-mail address where you could contact them. I’ve never met Sin Nanna in person, even though we probably only live a 30 minute drive away from each other.

The other integral person in the birth of Tasmanian Black Metal (who I don’t think your article mentioned) is Jarmed, his label (Asgard Musik) and bands (Mirk, Kill the Kristians, Nuclear Winter, Scourge of the Leper, etc.) have been around for as long as Striborg. Jarmed also released a lot of the early Striborg material on CD through his label and exposed a lot of people to Striborg’s music via his distro. Asgard has also ran an annual Black Metal festival (Recrucifying the Bastard) in Tasmania since the 90’s. Throughout the years some of my bands (FCOS, Bleak Solitude, Dea Tacita, etc.) have played at these… Back when I was 16 or 17 I used to try to sneak into these shows with a friend of mine who was also under-age. A lot of these guys (Ismaelta, Sin Nanna, Jarmed, etc.) are all a great deal older than me, back then they were in their early 30’s, but I’m only that age now.

There is an older issue of the Tasmanian Zine Down & Out which is focused entirely on the history of Tasmanian Black Metal and goes into more depth than I would ever be able to manage, I would suggest tracking this down for more information on these bands and labels/information regarding Tasmanian Black Metal in general.

Winterreich Dungeon.

I’m currently listening to “What you see in me” by Fixation on LP while writing down the questions for you. It was released under your label Overuse. I’m loving it, it reminds me of Bone Awl, Cirrhus and the other bands under CW Productions. Moreover, I noticed Carved Cross often did splits with black/punk bands. It seems you are interested in punk, what do you like of the punk scene? What you don’t like? How much is punk an influence for you?

I also play guitar in Fixation, I think if you asked each member in the band where our inspiration came from we would give you a completely different answer, which I think is always a good thing with a band where the members think it’s heading in different directions. For me, the guitars were inspired by a lot of ’00 – ‘10 HC bands (Cult Ritual, Gutter Gods, Hoax, SQRM, Total Abuse, Vile Gash, etc.) although I’m an absolute useless guitar player, I don’t know anything about tuning, keys, chords, etc. I just play until I think something sounds good and write it down.

I look at Punk much like I look at Black Metal, I really don’t see the point of people being into a particular style of music and then feeling that they need to re-adjust their clothes, attitude, personal interests or realign their eating/drinking habits or politic beliefs because that fits within the ‘rules’ of the genre. I don’t really know anything about the punk scene locally or otherwise, but anything that aligns with Political Correctness, Veganism, Feminism, etc. is the complete opposite of what I’m into.

Let’s talk about the Tasmanian scene again. You released two compilation albums with Overuse: “Tasmania I” and “Tasmania II”, both can be seen as a sort of legacy for Tasmanian extreme music. Can you describe these two releases, content-wise as well? I didn’t get to listen to them and, from what I heard, some of the bands involved aren’t even metal.

Correct, the idea with Overuse is to have an outlet to release bands of my own and those of other locals that I am in contact with regularly, although I must stress that there is no ‘scene’ here. In reality, all of the music across the ‘Tasmania II’ DLP was recorded by just 4 different people.

I don’t know that I really look at any music that I do as ‘extreme’, in fact hardly any band that I am involved with nowadays outside of Carved Cross could even be classified as ‘metal’. Even with Carved Cross lots of people tell me that they think we have more in-line with electronic music due to the sounds being so repetitive with small subtle changes forming the structure of our songs.

I listen to a lot of minimal techno, rhythmic noise, synth, 90’s Acid, etc. so anything that I have worked on lately has been in the vein of this kind of music. I sat down recently and wrote a Carved Cross Double LP in one evening after an 8 hour day at work, I know how the process works well; I know what riffs should sit where when putting a song together and how to build up songs. I can play music on a guitar that is not plugged in and know exactly how it’s going to sound. Whereas with electronic music, I can ‘write’ music and record it twice and each recording will sound nothing alike, I can have the volume turned up on one instrument and it cuts through the volume of another, or have something play through my monitors and when I listen to a recording on my 4 track, the bass drum has disappeared! In my eyes, my contribution to Carved Cross (or FCOS) of playing repetitive riffs or playing loops of synth/noise is VERY similar… I’m just using a different method to create the same atmosphere.

Bleak Solitude live.

I’m from Italy and very few people here know (or even heard) about the Tasmanian scene. What do you know about extreme music in Italy, instead? Usually, foreign people mainly know about Death SS, Necrodeath and Bulldozer.

In the past I’ve dealt with and been interested in a few Italian bands (Goatreich 666, Fog, Tenebrae in Perpetuum all come to mind). I also like Death SS… I have an original copy of The Story of Death SS LP signed by Steve Sylvester at home somewhere, I also used to play drums in a doom band (The Wizar’d) that did some Death SS covers, I think we also had a song where the main riff ‘paid homage’ to a Death SS song.

I absolutely wanted to grab the latest Carved Cross out on GoatowaRex, sadly it got sold out in a few hours and lost the opportunity to do that. But, somebody on Discogs is now selling it for hundreds of euros. What do you think of this? Does the fact that somebody is profiting on your music bother you or that’s not a problem for you?

It’s unfortunate that this is the state of ‘the scene’ in 2018 that people turn up their noses at records limited to 500 copies, but will buy 5 copies of a record limited to 150 copies to later re-sell. I think that many of the labels are to blame for this behaviour, they love the fact that their releases sell for these amounts and try to hype everything up in order to exaggerate the fact that what they are doing is so limited and you only have one chance to buy them. The value of a record on discogs has become a measure of success for labels/bands whichever way you look at it.

We regularly have labels that get in touch with us asking to re-release our old material, but it’s generally only based on the prices on discogs, if a tape sells for $5 they aren’t interested, if it’s a tape that sells for $100, they will re-release it without asking to hear it first.

Personally, we have tried to combat this for our own releases and tried to come up with some more creative ways that make our releases end up in the hands of those that ‘deserve them’ rather than those who are quickest to order from a website. i.e. We had a ‘subscription service’ to Down & Out zine where our releases are only offered to people who have bothered to subscribe. We have also recently sent out some invitations to regular customers to purchase a new Carved Cross record within a 30 day window.

But at the end of the day, if a label knows their last tape release that was limited to 50 copies is on discogs selling for 100 Euros, why would they release their next tape to 50 copies again (unless of course they wanted the same result).

Regarding the particular LP that you are talking about, Goatowar will re-release that early next year, so anyone that missed out will be able to purchase it then and avoid paying flippers on discogs. Goatowar will also be releasing the self-tilted Carved Cross LP before the end of this year. Both releases will also be re-released on cassette via Wrath Productions. If people are so desperate that they want to pay insane prices for an ‘original press’ when there’s other options available with the exact same audio, I guess that’s their decision.

The latest Carved Cross is an exceptional album, atmospheric in the right way and able to convey a perfect hypnotic mood. At the same time it sounds a bit cleaner compared to your previous works. Why did you choose this approach? Do you think it paid off?

Thanks. I don’t think the writing/recording process for the most recent album was different to any other Carved Cross release. Although we did use different equipment to record this album, in the past we have had a drummer, so when we used to record, we did so as ‘a band’ in a rehearsal room and usually this was just using an old cassette recorder with a built-in mic, so the sound was always pretty questionable. But, now that I record all of the drums and guitars for Carved Cross, I have to record all of the elements separately which naturally ends up with a much cleaner sound.

I think the reason the album sounds like it does is due to the masterwork by CT who has mixed this (and the previous Carved Cross album). He really understands what we are trying to achieve and isn’t just applying a usual ‘one size fits all’ approach to our sound. He is actually giving it some thought and attempting to enhance the sound by doing what will end up with a better result.

Trust me, the unmixed version that I slopped together after recording the album sounded nothing like the finished product.

Forbidden Citadel of Spirits hasn’t put out new material since 2013, besides the compilation releases under Skjold. Will it be back? Maybe with a full length, since you still haven’t done any with that project…

Since its inception, FCOS was always two members, myself and Ismaelta. Ismaelta’s contribution to the project was all the vocals, imagery and artwork, so without his input, there is no FCOS… And the last time I saw or spoke with Ismaelta was in 2012.

There will be one final release with Skjold, ‘Collection III’ which will compile all the material which is missing from the other two Collections.

In my mind, I have always thought that the music that I was writing for FCOS naturally progressed into the music that I started writing for Carved Cross, so I see little need to poorly try to continue the project by myself without the most important element of the band. Perhaps on the off chance that I see Ismaelta again, we will record some more material, who knows.

Forbidden Citadel of Spirits live.

About Forbidden Citadel of Spirits, I’ve noticed you did many split releases with Portuguese bands. Do you follow the scene there and/or feel there are similarities between your bands and theirs?

In the past I’ve been in touch with many people from the Portuguese scene. We’ve shared splits, projects and labels, etc. this is mostly due to us having a similar approach towards Black Metal in the days when we used to release tapes limited to 20 copies that you literally couldn’t give away. Someone told me once that they were first introduced to FCOS when they saw one of our tapes in a bin and they were told that is was in the bin because the tape sounded as if someone was gurgling alcohol through a daisy chain of effect pedals.

Back when I had an active distro in around 2007 there were many nights where I would be dubbing tapes, set an alarm for 45 minutes, go to bed, change the tape, set an alarm for 45 minutes, go back to bed, etc. etc. for nights on end. There wasn’t people that would just ‘get into Black Metal’ and start listening to Vetala or Mons Veneris, bands like this were a very acquired taste and looked down upon by people into ‘normal’ Black Metal at the time, so for all the guys with labels/bands that were spending their entire life doing it while for the most part losing money, we connected. Things were very different back then, bands like Black Cilice weren’t selling 1000’s of albums through ‘big labels’. If a band did a 20 copy demo, that was it. There was no intention for a vinyl reissue at any point in time.

In my recent article I talked about Carved Cross and Forbidden Citadel of Spirits, mainly. Tell us about your other projects.

I think you have mentioned most of the projects that anyone reading this would care about. I want to spend more time on some projects, but between work, family and other interests it can be difficult to justify spending hours locked inside the Winterreich Dungeon by myself.

How do you see Carved Cross in the future? Do you have some specific goals in mind?

No, I don’t have any specific goals with Carved Cross. Much like FCOS was, the band is heavily reliant on the other member (Sam Vince). If for some reason we stopped being in contact, the band could easily end tomorrow.

What’s your relationship with the more “mainstream” kind of metal? Do you listen to it or avoid it?

Similar to what I have mentioned with Black Metal and Punk, I despise everything to do with Metal music (mainstream or otherwise). I don’t think there is anything ‘extreme’ about dressing up the same as your friends with ‘Metal shirts’ while wearing the same jackets with the same patches, all having the same haircut, etc. etc. I’m sure that most people reading this will disagree, but I think any genre/sub culture that has existed for this long has had the life sucked out of it long ago, now all that remains is a mould that people to try to fit into while thinking they are an individual. If you are into all that stuff and you enjoy it, that’s great! But I’m not.

The end of the year is approaching, what are your favorite releases of 2018?

I’m not the best person to answer this, in fact I’m quite possibly the worst. I tried to find a new album that I bought this year, but I can’t think of any. I’ll probably buy the new Rune Bagge LP that came out on Northern Electronics, the Repro record on Ectotherm and also maybe the new Vril album (the Techno Vril, not the Black Metal Vril), but none of that stuff is hyped. You can buy it whenever you feel like putting in an order.

To be honest I’ll probably just download that stuff, be disappointed and keep saving for some Buchla clones.

That’s the end of our interview so I have to ask you this, aside from your bands, black metal and all… are there some reasons to go down there in Tasmania? Convince us to come visiting you!

Tasmania is a good place to live and raise a family, it’s quiet and not overly populated. I can’t think of any reasons why anyone would want to travel here, especially from Europe. We have untouched nature which is nice if you like to go for a walk and listen to music on your headphones or something.

That was the last question, thank you for your courtesy. To end up the interview, can you give us some links to follow your activity?


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