(Rev. Will’s interview series focusing on metal bloggers and metal print journalists continues today with Erik Thomas, one of the founders of Teeth of the Divine.)
Finding a part-time metal writer with a day job that freakin’ deals with the law is like fantasizing about the existence of a zealous Christian pastor who has an obsession with researching about witchcraft—it is just a combination that comes off as extremely unlikely and weird to many. Well, such a weird occurance does exist.
A law enforcer by day, and a metal writer by night, Erik Thomas is not only one of the founders of Teeth Of The Divine (one of the Internet’s leading metal e-zines), but an ex-contributor to the now-defunct Metal Maniacs magazine and a current writer for Hails & Horns magazine as well. He has a family to boot! It’s just so cool when Papa writes about metal, isn’t it?
From his Missouri dwelling, the fervent devourer of traditional Swedish death metal sheds some light on the workings of Teeth Of The Divine and some of the social stigmas of metal—a topic banally discussed on various metal and non-metal news media during the days of yore.
Also, he is one of the last few surviving robots from the same batch as Islander, only with much more than a head missing than our benign NCS editor. Both of them may be old, but check out their cool arm tattoos! A legacy of and testament to their robotic past (perhaps they are cyborgs now), these unique markers were originally meant as identifiers, something very much akin to a barcode. Luckily for them though, they are fashionable statements now that just scream “Hot geezer alert!”.
Rev. Will: “Basically, we’re not re-inventing the wheel. Only making it rounder.” This is stated on the ‘About’ page of Teeth Of The Divine. There are already a ton of online metal publications out there doing the standard reviews-and-interviews format in terms of content, so why this approach?
Erik Thomas: As you stated, there are a ton of publications out there. Webzines are a dime a dozen, and while we may not be truly making the wheel rounder, we like to think we are doing things a little bit different and making reviews and interviews slightly more informative and entertaining.
Rev. Will: Can you tell us how the name “Teeth Of The Divine” was conceived? Is there a meaning behind it?
Erik Thomas: Well, after Digitalmetal.com, the previous iteration of the site, was hacked a few years ago, the decision was made to move on with a new site and name. Myself and the then ‘staff’ of the site Chris Dick (now with Decibel Magazine) and current co-owner Mikko simply brainstormed. We tried to come up with something that was just metalXXXXXXXX or something blatantly metal or cheesy. I actually came up with the name as it seemed metal and had an air of superiority and confidence. Plus, I thought it just sounded damn cool. A lot of people have mentioned it sounds like the UK band, Teeth of the Lions Rule the Divine, but I had not heard of the band until someone mentioned that fact.
Rev. Will: Who made up the founding team, and what was the vision you guys had for Teeth Of The Divine?
Erik Thomas: As I touched on above, the original TOTD team were holdovers from the Digitalmetal.com days, as are some of our current writers. I guess if there were a founding team, it would be Chris Dick, Mikko and I. We determined the layout, style, name and manually transferred a lot of the Digitalmetal.com content to new servers and databases. However, Chris has since moved on to bigger and better things, though we are still in contact. Me and Mikko kept things going at a simple message board until we got the new site up and running. So right now, TOTD is the little baby of Mikko and I. As for the vision, speaking for myself is simple – to bring our love of metal to the masses in a format that’s both informative and entertaining.
Rev. Will: I really like the modern look of the current incarnation of Teeth Of The Divine. In terms of layout design and content quality, how were the early days of the site like compared to now?
Erik Thomas: All the credit for the design goes to Mikko. There really wasn’t much tweaking, the color palette was the first choice, then we just played with the layout. As primarily a reviewer, I wanted the focus to be on content and reviews. But we obviously had to modernize the site’s look and content, and add links to Twitter, Facebook and such. The design phase was actually pretty easy, it was making the move to new servers, getting the domain name and transferring old content that was the biggest pain. [Rev. Will: Dan Grover will agree with this.]
Rev. Will: I won’t go into too much detail about your day job, but as someone whose main career involves law enforcement, what are your views on the rebellious and anarchic themes of metal music in general?
Erik Thomas: I obviously have to keep my day job and my metal lifestyle separate. I try not to get too much into what I do for a living, but as far as the metal aspect goes, it’s easy to make sure those rebellious and anarchistic themes of metal stay in the music aspect of my life. As most metal fans do, you have to compartmentalize, and there are appropriate outlets to share your metal side like message boards and such; It’s just music to me. I can’t get deeply connected or swayed by the stuff I listen to. The stark reality is that the stuff I deal with on a day-to-day basis is much more disturbing than anything I listen too. Where it gets iffy is bands like Arghoslent [Rev. Will: A cult American death metal band from Virginia infamous for their racism and affiliation with white supremacist groups] where it’s such a touchy subject you’ve got to be careful what you say in this day and age of the Internet.
Rev. Will: Do you really think Marilyn Manson’s music has the power to induce high school kids to bring guns to school and initiate a shooting massacre?
Erik Thomas: To some extent yes, but to purely blame any violent acts on music or video games alone is just idiotic. There has to be some responsibility from the parents. I listened to metal my whole life, and like a vast majority of metal fans, I am a normal functioning member of society. Obviously, the bad apples make for a better story and get all the press. However, for someone to blame violence on solely music is insane. The music is the fuel I think, but there are obviously other deeply seeded issues going on that parents, teachers and others missed. I was working in Law Enforcement right after Columbine [Rev. Will: The Columbine High School Massacre, refresh your memory here], and the knee-jerk reaction to anyone listening to Marilyn Manson or wearing a trench coat was ridiculous.
Rev. Will: What about “evil” stuff like black metal? Do you really think it can lead young fans of the genre astray?
Erik Thomas: Again, MOST people have the ability to separate or compartmentalize the music. Listening to Marduk or Darkthrone should not be what dictates an individual’s personal path or how they primarily act. Sure, it’s a part of that person, but anyone who lets music primarily dictate the way they act in society has far deeper issues than music.
Rev. Will: Will you encourage your kids to listen to metal?
Erik Thomas: My daughter likes metal. She likes Alestorm, FInntroll, Korpiklaani and a lot of the bouncy, folky happy stuff. Now, as a responsible parent, am I going to force Devourment or Cephalotripsy down her throat? No. I’m going to let her choose her own path and be her own person. If she happens to throw up the horns once in a while to “Keelhauled”, I’ll simply be happy that she’s chosen to like my music. [Rev. Will: In the name of my Future Wife, and of my Future Kid, and of the Lucky Sperm Lying In Wait, Amen.] I’ll certainly never force my child into listening to it. Maybe a gentle nudge though…..
Rev. Will: Do you contribute to any other metal publications?
Erik Thomas: I used to write for Metal Maniacs Magazine and Unrestrained! Magazine, as well as Metal Review, but with the death of those two print publications and my recent departure from Metal Review, my focus is on Teeth Of The Divine. I do a little here and there for Hails & Horns, but with work and family, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to be contributing to more publications.
Rev. Will: Wow, so you contribute to Hails & Horns magazine. How did you get your stint there?
Erik Thomas: Gosh, I can’t remember how that came about. I think a fellow metal journalist wrote there and he either gave them my name and they approached me or he told me to approach them. I can’t remember which.
Rev. Will: Do you actually need the money you earn from them?
Erik Thomas: I haven’t earned any money from writing for a long time now—not since the Metal Maniacs and Unrestrained! days.
Rev. Will: Did you start out in Law Enforcement or metal writer first?
Erik Thomas: Well, considering I was into metal way back in 1989 when I was 15 or 16, I’d say metal came way before my career.
Rev. Will: As Teeth Of The Divine is largely a serious metal website, does it receive any hate mail at all?
Erik Thomas: Well, we try not to intentionally prod or antagonize our readership or the bands; whereas, say, Teufel’s Tomb (an awesome site) has a niche for really laying into bands with some great insulting humour (a fact still lost on many readers of that site), we don’t do that. I can’t really say that I used to get hate mail in the early Digitalmetal days, but now, with Facebook and ‘Comment’ sections, readers vent there. Either way, you’ve got to have thick skin, which was something I didn’t have early on in writing.
Rev. Will: Will you ever want to expand Teeth Of The Divine into a more opinionated blogging type of metal website like MetalSucks?
Erik Thomas: I doubt it. Other sites can do that and they do it well. I think we will stick to informative reviews and features.
Rev. Will: What about sponsoring tours?
Erik Thomas: DIgitalmetal sponsored a Sounds of the Underground tour way back in the day. We have not yet been approached about sponsoring a tour, but depending on what it will entail, I’m sure we could be up for it. TOTD isn’t really a business venture or a money-maker—it’s just a webzine where people who love metal can come together and read some reviews or interviews without a ton of bullshit.
Rev. Will: Who did Teeth Of The Divine’s logo? Were you the one who came up with the concept of the final art though?
Erik Thomas: The logo was by a TOTD reader called Brandon Duncan, and he did an excellent job. He came up with the idea, and I just had him tweak the teeth a little. His other work can be found at his website: http://corporatedemon.com/
Rev. Will: The first most unique aspect of Teeth Of The Divine is the very noticeable lack of advertisements. Is it because advertising charges are high, or is it just the website’s policy to not run more than 1 advert at the same time?
Erik Thomas: That’s really two-fold: Firstly, we are pretty lazy and new at this whole owning-a-website deal, so we really don’t do as much aggressive advertising as we should. We got some banners to help pay for a recent server upgrade, but that’s about it. We don’t get banners to pay ourselves or staff. Like I said, we are a hobby, not a business. But if anyone does want to advertise with us, feel free to inquire at ads [ at ] teethofthedivine.com and talk.
Rev. Will: The next most unique and noticeable trait is that all the interview articles are accompanied by a custom-made image. Combine this with the clean look of the site’s light sepia background and the interview articles really read like actual interview articles featured in print magazines. Was this the effect you desired for all along?
Erik Thomas: Errr, sure. That was the whole idea all along, to be as professional-looking as a print magazine. It wasn’t sheer luck at all……
Rev. Will: So who’s the graphic designer who does all those interview graphics?
Erik Thomas: I kid, Mikko is our graphic designer and he’s the one who is responsible for all the graphics you see accompanying those interviews and features. He whips them up quickly too. Honestly, the site wouldn’t be what it is or exist without his help getting the thing going and his continued assistance with graphics. I don’t know anything about designing graphics or Photoshop, so his input is invaluable. Now, if only I could get him to write more—he’s really gifted at reviewing, but doesn’t get the time to write as much as myself.
Rev. Will: Another unique feature is that the reviews don’t have any numbers or symbols used to rate the album that is being reviewed. Do you eschew this standard feature of album reviews in order to make readers focus on the words to understand the writer’s opinion on an album rather than to make a quick judgment on the album based on superficial numbers? Or is it because you simply think that mere numbers alone cannot determine the worth of any music and just see no point in putting them at the bottom of Teeth Of The Divine’s reviews?
Erik Thomas: That’s a holdover from the Chris Dick/Digitalmetal days, and trust me, it’s been discussed to death at both sites. Some of the other publications I have written for have scores, such as Metal Review, and it’s always a point of contention. Having done both, I feel that assigning scores either detracts from the content of the review or simply seems like an over-simplified reflection of the music. My 10 isn’t going to be a reader’s 10, so we want the reader to read the review and get more insight other than a simple figure. Plus, assigning a score can be stressful, and it often gets the brunt of the readership’s ire if they don’t agree.
Rev. Will: Do you set a high benchmark for potential newcomers to the staff roster of Teeth Of The Divine?
Erik Thomas: It depends, really. We like to try to keep our reviews a cut above the rest, but the reality is that it is hard to find quality writers who will stick around for no pay other than free music (not even CDs anymore, as it’s all digital promos now) and their name online. I try to keep a very high standard, but the reality is that we need content pushed out, and sometimes, the handful of super high quality writers aren’t as productive as I’d like; but that’s the price you pay for having quality writers. So often, you compensate with writers that might not be as top notch, but are more productive and consistent with regular output. Though to be honest, those guys don’t last long; finding and keeping quality, consistent and regular writers is one of the hardest aspects.
Rev. Will: Teeth Of The Divine has such a clean and professional look that it is practically an e-zine in every sense of the word. Hence, will you ever consider turning it into a print magazine someday?
Erik Thomas: It’s been casually discussed as perhaps releasing a TOTD compilation CD or financed label of sorts, but again, none of us are businessmen and we are in it for the love of metal, not to make money or be a company or brand.
Rev. Will: In fact, Teeth Of The Divine is based in Philadelphia, the birthplace and home of North America’s leading extreme metal magazine, Decibel. Haven’t you ever considered collaborating with Decibel magazine on anything at all?
Erik Thomas: As I stated earlier, Chris Dick, the founder of Digitalmetal now works for Decibel. I’d be up for any sort of collaboration that got our name out there, but again, Decibel is a money-making magazine. We are just a little ol’ webzine—I doubt they’d be interested in dealing with small fish like us. Bastards.
Rev. Will: Do you think that it is absurd for metal websites and blogs to have their own line of merchandise? Where can fans get their hands on Teeth Of The Divine shirts?
Erik Thomas: No, it is not ridiculous—it’s up to each site/blog. We have a limited number of TOTD shirts, but they are for staff and maybe a contest in the future at some point. They are rare collector’s items.
Rev. Will: Here’s the staple question of this column. I have always thought of the metal music industry as a food chain starting with the rockstar/cult figure at the top, followed by record labels, then the press, the gig organizers, and then the merch retailers and metal stores all over the world. Do you agree with this view that the metal community is simply not as anti-establishment and homey as many prominent figures in the industry like to frequently make it out to be (with their politically correct stances)?
Erik Thomas: Yeah, metal is much more of a corporate business than it would have you believe. But the top of the food chain for me is the fans. Without the fans, there’d be nothing.
Rev. Will: How do you feel about bands and musicians who bash reviewers who give them bad reviews?
Erik Thomas: It’s fair game and it’s a two-way street. If you are willing to make music and put it out there for self-absorbed, opinionated pricks like me and thousands of fans to listen, it’s fair game—and be ready for the opinion. By the same token, if I’m willing to put my name on an opinion and put it out there for fans to read, I have to be willing to take flak for it too. Musicians pour their heart into their work, and it’s understandable that they would get upset if someone pisses all over it. However, you can’t send hate mail to a reviewer who simply doesn’t like your product—there are plenty [of reviewers] that do, so focus on them.
Rev. Will: Interview articles typically follow a standard Q&A format (like this one) or a narrative one with quotes from the interviewee being injected in between the interviewer’s own passages. Do you think that there are any other ways to spruce up the interview format and make it less rigid?
Erik Thomas: Metal Maniacs used to have the narrative format rather than a Q & A, but it was a pain to write; especially since the phone or email interview is in a Q & A format. I don’t know how else you would do interviews to make them different. Semaphore? Smoke signals? It’s a tried-and-true format that gets to the goal of the matter, no need to mess with it.
Rev. Will: Who are your favorite interviewees thus far?
Erik Thomas: Gosh, there have been so many. I’m always surprised how nice, well-spoken and intelligent these guys are when not behind a mic.
Rev. Will: You seem to be a sucker for dirty-sounding, old school death metal. What are the best labels for such music at the moment?
Erik Thomas: Right now, Dark Descent Records, FDA Rekotz and Pulverised Records are kicking out the best stuff as far as old school death metal that imbues the classic Stockholm Sound goes.
Rev. Will: Why should people read Teeth Of The Divine?
Erik Thomas: I don’t have a big sales pitch, but for honest, intelligent, (mostly) in-depth reviews and interview that aren’t about getting traffic, making money, or being better than you or getting headlines, give us a try. I mean, why not?
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