(New Zealand-based metal writer and broadcaster Craig Hayes rejoins us with the following very thoughtful and interesting interview of members of Germany’s Ancst.)
German crust collective Ancst was born from hardcore and black metal colliding at 666mph. Biting socio-political commentary forms a big chunk of Ancst’s anarchic aesthetic, and like fellow metallic punks charged with the idea that society desperately needs to change its direction, the band channels its frustrations with the world at large through a sound that’s hot-tempered and savage.
Ancst recently released its In Turmoil compilation, which collected remastered EP, split, and demos tracks, and the band’s raw mix of caustic crust and fierce tremolo-screeds has resulted in Ancst’s profile steadily rising outside of Germany’s borders. Ancst vocalist Torsten and multi-instrumentalist Tom took some time out from gearing up for a German tour to answer a few questions for No Clean Singing. They talk about the band’s beginnings, their clear-cut and rabble-rousing political stance, and what’s in store for the future.
Let’s start right back at the beginning. Was there a moment in time that inspired you both to step from being fans of music to people driven to create?
Torsten: Listening to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, and then watching his epic “Thriller” video, when I was six years old. Years later, I was deeply moved by Adrenaline by the Deftones—and my love for that band is ongoing. For me, creating music is just another element I use to express myself, within a DIY context.
Tom: To be honest, I can’t really remember. Music has always played an important role in my family and I started playing in bands really early, but they weren’t heavy bands. I couldn’t find people to play extreme stuff with, and so I ended up in shitty alternative and indie bands at first. Years later, I met like-minded people when I moved to the city. But, if there is any band that opened up my eyes to the world of extreme music, it’s Napalm Death. Particularly their Inside the Torn Apart album.
Talk me through Ancst’s formation. The band’s in that sphere where punk and metal meet, so were there any particular influences that served as a catalyst in forming the band?
Torsten: When I started going to hardcore shows, I began to question things and situations in life. Those ranged from animal rights to political trends, or even personal themes like suicide, or other negative tendencies resulting from the shit we have to deal with on a daily basis. But, the music I create is definitely not complaining or bitching about human incompetence, because we all share guilt in our individual ways.
Tom: I started Ancst somewhere around 2010/2011 as just another recording project. I had no big intentions, and no plan. It was just me, a guitar, and my broken laptop. I recorded two songs that would later become our first demo, and then I forgot about them for some time. When I got back to the project later on, I was talking to a few people to see if they would sing on those demos, and I knew Torsten from shows and always liked his voice. So, one thing led to another, and we ended up as a two-piece, recording several tapes that sold out. We’ve recently released them on our compilation LP, In Turmoil.
I guess I’m personally influenced by loads of ’90s black and death metal, as well as a lot of emo/crust kind of stuff. I always liked both metal and hardcore, and I always felt that giving metal a more hardcore attitude would be something I’d really like to see happening more. There had always been a crossover within those two types of music and those two subcultures, so for someone like me, who grew up as a metalhead and then got into hardcore punk, the whole Ancst sound came naturally.
Does the band feel like it’s drawing anything specific from the metal or punk scenes separately? Or do you just see it all as one giant pool of music and thought?
Torsten: One giant pool? Not at all. I am very happy that there are still comfortable places within this DIY-culture. I’d consider myself sort of misanthropic, and there was a time when I felt kind of safe hanging out with friends at shows. Unfortunately, this has changed. Now you’re getting scanned as soon as you enter a venue, and most of the people aren’t even able to have a proper conversation. I don’t know if they’re too scared, or numbed by fashion, Facebook, or Touche Amore (just kidding!!!!) etc. This saddens me, and I’m not attending many shows nowadays. You could easily call me ignorant, but let’s just say that I am fond of the musical variations metal has to offer, but from my perspective, the average metal consumer is nothing more than a long-haired version of a conservative citizen. At least in Schland.
Tom: I’m not really agreeing with Torsten on this part, because I don’t think there is an ‘average’ metal consumer at all. There might be a certain attitude that metal fans have that he is referring to, but I’d say there is diversity among metalheads. That conservative citizen beer metal dude all filled with ignorance sadly exists though. We draw loads of musical influences from both metal and hardcore, but at the core we’re strongly influenced by the whole DIY hardcore punk community.
I like the idea of one giant pool of music and ideas. As I’m growing older, the separation between these sub-cultural bubbles don’t seem as strong anymore, and I just do what I like, not what a certain scene dictates. I pick what I like from that pool, mix it up together, and I don’t give a shit what bastard creation comes out. I mean, the whole mix between hardcore politics and ideas and black metal does piss off a lot of orthodox and elitist scene boys, and I have to admit I like that. But, there has to be some kind of boundary crossing. Without that we would end up with the same shit over and over again and again and again. Not that we’ve come up with something new, or are reinventing the wheel—all this has been done in the past already. But, I really like the direction Ancst is taking, and the other bands coming out of their shells and breaking the law of their scene.
Ancst has a really clear political and social stance: anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-religion, and DIY. What drove you to set those ideals out as clear ideological markers for the band?
Torsten: I am currently working with kids in a school, and have two kids myself. In my eyes, these stances are just common sense. I mean, c’mon, do you (not especially you) even realize what’s happening? Politicians are letting refugees almost starve to death on rooftops, and most of us don’t give a fuck. There is still gay bashing happening. And people are still getting outsourced, because of their gender, cultural, and social origins.
This list could continue for a while, and I’ve had my times as an activist, but it frustrated me being forced to act with minor effect. Society always claims to be open-minded and progressive, and even multicultural, which is a term I hate. But, what they’re doing is locking their doors, closing their eyes, and whispering to themselves that everything will be all right.
Tom: That’s easy. Like Torsten said, it’s common sense. We deliberately choose to make it clear where we stand. There is a lot of misunderstanding inside the international metal community about politics, and a lot of people don’t see metal as a political forum. In my opinion, it is. It’s the same with hardcore/punk. In my eyes, it’s a counterculture. Just look at older metal records, look at their themes, look at the lyrics, look at the artwork, or the band photos. Beside your average zombie, gore, splatter, or occult themes, or even inside them, there is a lot of social criticism, and a lot of political referencing and statements.
Sure, there is a lot of stuff that people could consider unpolitical, but you have that in other more political subcultures also. As I see it, there is often a fear to speak out about politics in metal because not a lot of people know a lot about it, they aren’t really interested, or they simply haven’t thought about politics. Also, people tend to get emotional when it comes to political discussions, which somehow makes them think it could destroy the community feeling, but that’s just herd mentality. There are a few shady bands out there that don’t want to see discussions put in their way. I understand that, but that’s not the way we see things.
You’ve marked out “Death to NSBM” on your Facebook page too. You’re obviously fans of black metal, but there is that far-right element in the subgenre. Is that something you carefully negotiate when choosing to listen to bands?
Torsten: It’s kind of hard for me to explain. I am definitely anti-fascist due to my non-Aryan background, and the whole “Yooooo… let’s try to shock our parents with black metal” thing. But, it’s not only about corpse paint, decapitated pigs, or raped maidens. NO, NO, NO… people even use the ‘Hitler-Joker’ thing, which is even more ridiculous. If those are your parameters for out-letting your nihilistic views, then go for it. They don’t match with my definition of common sense or art, but I also don’t want to tell people what they’re supposed to like.
I don’t want, and also don’t need, to know how many people within this hardcore/DIY context separate Varg Vikernes’ ideology from the music he created with Burzum. That guy is just a stupid asshole, and his stupidity reaches way beyond that phrase. I know that I’m using him as a prime example, but unfortunately there is a connection between the statements of many, let’s call them respected black metal bands, and NSBM. This connection makes it a lot easier to spread fascist messages and even militancy. I could talk for years about this, but I’ll recommend a book called Unholy Alliances instead, which describes the development and the structure of National Socialist Black Metal
Tom: There are NSBM bands that have a clear position, and then there are the more shady ones. I don’t listen to any NSBM as I can’t connect or relate to it. There is no way I’d support people like that. For me, metal and fascist or racist ideas don’t work together. Even if Torsten hates the term, for me this is a multicultural thing. Every Nazi black metal band is a bunch of posers that got it all terribly wrong. As long as rock music is the core or the foundation of their sound, they are automatically relating to blues music, made by people of colour. Even if you mix that Viking or Norse mythology in there, it’s still the music of the people they despise. The instruments we use, they are Turkish and Moroccan in origin, and if people truly understood their own bloodlines, it would just prove how fake, corroded, and pretentious their world view is. End of story.
There have been a lot of shady and dumb statements within the whole black metal scene, and I don’t wanna revise them. But, most of the time, they are made by kids around 17 to 21. Look at all those second-wave black metal bands. They were nearly kids when they made statements for shock value. I’m not saying that those people weren’t saying what they meant, but this shouldn’t be considered final when you talk about black metal today.
Its hard to draw a line for me. I try to get my hands on interviews with certain bands that I’m not sure about to get an understanding of what kind of people they are, and if I feel like I want to support them. This is important to me.
When you sit down to compose tracks, are you always thinking in terms of intertwining Ancst’s music with core lyrical themes? Or are you really open to where a song takes you?
Torsten: Lyrically, those stances I hold kind of limited me in my expression early on. But now I keep things more cryptic, to create a foundation for discussion. For some of our older songs, we provided an explanation on our physical releases, but they all have a political perspective. I’m trying to describe the enormous fuck-ups in this civilization’s agenda, which lead to things like police violence. When we’re recording, I come up with lyrical ideas and then we make them match with the instrumentals. Before that meeting, everybody’s kind of alone with his share of work.
Your recent In Turmoil compilation is filled with a lot of furious blackened crust. But, there are also elements of drone and more ambient passages on a couple of tracks too. That blurs genre boundaries even further, and I’m wondering if that exploration of tone and texture is something the band is likely to explore further?
Torsten: I’d say yes.
Tom: Yes. If you haven’t checked it out, we’ve also got some ambient-only releases. No vocals, no drums, just long and evolving textures. I really like those a lot, and it completely works together for me. We are going to put out more of those releases, and work on blurring the lines between these and our ‘normal’ songs in the future.
If it wasn’t for social media I would never have heard Ancst. Obviously, that’s a good example of how our technological landscape helps fans from all over the world find new music, and form a community around that. However, there’s a real downside to technological advancements too. People download albums and throw them away like they mean nothing, and some would say all that time in front of a computer screen is really isolating us and removing us from real-world issues. How do you guys see that equation in relation to the band and your own lives?
Torsten: It’s pretty much impossible to escape all those media influences and advances.
But in the end, it’s your personal choice how far you let those influences affect your lives. It’s neither black nor white.
Tom: I’m spending a lot of time in front of my computer—let’s say, most of my time. I’m doing music with that, promoting and marketing the band, and I do most of my graphic design with it and so on. I would be screwed without it, seriously. It keeps me thinking regularly about how strongly we are connected to technology nowadays.
Sure, it’s isolating, but isn’t society isolating in general? It has its ups and downs. I would say I’m really happy to have a powerful tool like the internet at hand. Without it I would spend thousands of euros to promote my music to potential listeners. With the decline of the traditional music industry, bands like us can reach out to loads of people without paying shitloads of money.
I mean, the market for new bands with this is also much bigger, and much more confusing. But, in my opinion, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Regarding free music, it’s really hard to pick a side. I’m downloading music myself, I’m still buying physical releases, and I’m also paying for digital downloads. So, I’m caught somewhere in the middle.
It’s no big deal for me if people get my music for free and spread it around, but that sure does change a lot about musicians today. Most musicians, especially those making extreme music like us, are barely breaking even. A lot of people are doing this because they love making music, not because they wanna get rich. It sure would help if more people would spend a few bucks on a digital download if they like what they hear—but I won’t force nobody. If people feel like they want to support something like this, they will do so. I don’t see them as pirates. I understand that there’s been a shift of values when it comes to art. It’s a complex story really.
I could go on with why it’s like this, but let’s just say that we can’t really complain. The feedback for In Turmoil has been overwhelming. I’m really thankful to everyone who has supported us by buying something (or even downloading something for free) and telling us how much they liked it. Seriously, that means the world to me.
Back in the day, there was a much clearer segregation between hardcore fans and metal fans. Nowadays, that line’s increasingly blurred. What’s the scene like in Germany in that regard today? I’m thinking, you’ve got bands like Alpinist, Jungbluth, or Downfall of Gaia that seem to appeal to crossover crowds outside Germany, but what’s the scene like from an insider’s perspective?
Torsten: Beside the bands from your question, there are many interesting bands like Depravation, UNRU, or AST. Musically, they’re all referencing black metal’s trademarks, or what is called blackened/shoegaze/post-metal/whatever/crust, and they seem to be like-minded people, when it comes to political topics.
And I don’t agree with your statement about the segregation in the past. There used to be bands like Absidia, Costa’s Cake House, Heaven Shall Burn, or the whole Bremen-style (Acme, Carol, etc) and many more. They all had a love of metal, but they were all also socially aware. Nowadays, it’s simply easier to reach people with your music. And it’s easier to produce music. The wrath, however, stayed the same, and finally it all comes down to what we have today.
Tom: I totally agree with Torsten, the ’90s had a strong metal/hardcore crossover thing going on in Germany. There is still a separation between those two bubbles, but I would say more metal people have an interest in hardcore and more hardcore people have an interest in metal, in my opinion. Audiences are mixed, but it always depends on the show. They still stick to their own crowd, but the lines are fading slowly.
In Turmoil has just come out recently, but what are the plans for Ancst in the immediate future?
Torsten: Basically, recording music and playing shows. AND I want to play a concert on one of those Heavy Metal cruises. AND I want to hear our song “Entropie” in GTA.
Tom: Fun aside, we are currently finishing our split with Ast from Germany, and have already got a bunch of songs together for our first real full-length LP. Both will be released through Vendetta on vinyl again.
We’re are also planning some smaller and bigger trips through Germany and the rest of Europe in spring 2015. Also, some more of these ambient-only releases are lined up as well.
I won’t tell you too much, but you’ll be hearing from us again.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can find Ancst on Facebook here. In Turmoil and related mercy can be ordered from the band via this Bandcamp link, and it can be downloaded at Bandcamp here. Vinyl copies are also available in the U.S. from Gilead Media, 20 Buck Spin, and Halo of Flies. If you haven’t yet heard the album, you should — and you can, right here: