Thirsty Thursday: Terminal Talk with Cancer Vocalist John Pescod

thirstycancer.pngPerhaps the greatest thrill as a depressive fan comes when discovering one of the newly minted masters of the craft out of the vast depths of the DSBM clickhole. My recent exposure to Cancer (AUS)’s Terminal (2016) showed itself to be one of these treasured experiences. What Cancer especially exemplifies is that it is possible to have a modern, well-produced tone while simultaneously incorporating compelling atmospheric elements and contemplative themes. Such a pattern is best illustrated within Cancer’s vocal style, which can be characterized as a reined in, more highly powered take on the tortured wail that when taken to the extreme, leaves some outfits—I’m in a Coffin, Silencer, and so on—highly polarizing. I had the opportunity to write the man behind these vocals, John Pescod (Inquinamentum, Deadspace), to get a take on his position within black metal, the land down under, and the universe we’re adrift in.

Would you mind describing the concept behind Cancer’s name? Where does Terminal fit in to this vision? 

Cancer as a solitary metaphor captures the message we are conveying to our listeners: humanity is cancer, people are cancer, and in this body we live in called Earth we have grown to complacent being surrounded by cancerous living; buy meaningless things as bragging rights to our so called friends and family; hitch ourselves up with the wealthiest or most ‘beautiful’ person we can find as a status symbol or our own worth; raise offspring to fulfill primordial expectations inherited from our predecessors and their selfish desires; keep running on the power hungry treadmill of the ‘developed’ world until you can no longer breathe and die. Terminal is an extension of this message and holistically what this globalised bureaucratic world of Cancer is.

With the new film adaptation of Lords of Chaos on the horizon, the gruesome history of 90’s black metal seems to be in the spotlight once more. Where Cancer, as well as other more depressive/atmospheric artists, tend to diverge is that it doesn’t chase a fantasy, but rather embraces harsh reality. Do you think that’s affected the amount of media/journalistic attention DSBM and atmospheric metal has garnered? 

We see the original book, and film adaptation, merely as another medium in which black metal is publicised to those unfamiliar with the music and are curious about its origins. Like any form journalism, there is always going be elements of truth and elements of fabrication, but we’d rather leave audience render there own interpretation on any subject matter. We can’t speak on behalf of other black metal artists, regardless of whether they are depressive, atmospheric, or whatever phrase people chose to coin the art form, but we do agree with you that Cancer is presenting the harsh realities of the world rather than fantasies or a higher power. Whether ‘Lords of Chaos’ or other forms of journalistic coverage of black metal confuse the mainstream as to what bands like Cancer – which deviate way from subjects such as religion or occultism – stand for, doesn’t really matter to us. It’s publicising of black metal can be seen as beneficial for attracting new listeners from new audiences, but also detrimental in other manners.

I spoke with Xasthur recently and Scott had some pretty strong views on the DSBM label. What are your thoughts on it? Is it a label you embrace? Tolerate? Does it serve a purpose?

A label such as DSBM or atmospheric black metal is purely a way to give a one-off description to new listeners of what a band’s art form may sound like. We wouldn’t say we embrace it or tolerate it, but we certainly understand its purpose in allowing listeners to sift through the millions of artists out there and find what may appeal to them. Other than that, we just write what think sounds good and forget what subgenre on top of subgenre people want to classify us as. It’s rather a nuisance when people when do this, rather than listen to the artist as a unique identity. Sure you can draw comparisons to a band with previous influential artists – which personally we think is a slightly better way of labeling bands rather than a genre title – but we take influence from everywhere in our lives and every breath we take. No label or name will never do this justice.

I noted you hail from Perth. I think Australian black metal is quite underrated, which is quite a shame when there are such talented artists like Striborg, Midnight Odyssey, and, of course, yourselves out there. Us Americans are actually quite enamored with your country, but are also horrible culprits of lumping diverse geographic areas under one broad stroke. Could you school us Yanks about the environment of where you’re from, as well as how you think it’s affected your music? Further, are there any other gems in your area worthy of a listen?

In one word black metal in Australia is isolated. Very isolated. For any black metal band in Perth to play outside their own city, they need to fly one-way for at least three hours to play another show in another city in a small bar. The cost of travelling to play such small shows, when a large portion of our listeners are actually from Europe or America, certainly makes it challenging. The bureaucratic red tape involved in getting international bands to Australia, not only deters artists, but also drives up the costs of playing so high to such a small population that a lot don’t bother to come or choose to focus on playing only Sydney and Melbourne. Local Australian bands do their best to accommodate one and another when performing interstate, because really it’s all we’ve got to keep the local scene alive. We think the combination of being so isolated, living in one of the hottest countries in world, and dealing with the day-in day-out ludicrousness of Australia also being the world’s biggest nanny state, has attracted us to black metal as our last slither of freedom.

In terms of Perth based black metal or black metal influenced bands, Deadspace, Advent Sorrow, Drohtnung, Ur Draugr, Illyria, Wardaemonic and Septillion are all active bands we avidly support.

Why do you think it is that people still continue to plow on, even as our time on earth reaches the tipping point from slow growth to slow death? Do you think there are any messages of fragile hope woven within Cancer, lyrically or musically? 

Quite simply, humans as a whole are instinctively and primitively programmed to preserve life, no matter how brilliant or how sinister it gets. The pathetic irony in all this is though is that we’re so hung up on the idea of preserving life, banning ‘life threatening’ substances or activities, continuing to advance medical treatments, sanitising everything out of existence, we continue to step further and further away from what it is to actually live. Lyrically and musically these subjects are most definitely interwoven with what Cancer is crying out to the world to realise – Anamnesis is a prime example of this. More than likely, this world will never learn and we will continue to grow like a cancerous tumour, overpopulated with malignant human cells to the point of termination. Thankfully, despite this terminal condition, the planet will be well and truly functional, merrily orbiting through a universal vacuum, long after we are all gone.

Finally, what can we anticipate from Cancer in 2017? A North American tour I hope!  

We will be releasing ‘Terminal’ through Throats Productions around March-April 2017 on digipack and vinyl along with merchandise. Meanwhile, we have already started writing for our next release which be coming out sometime in 2017. Expect more along the lines of ‘Terminal’ but with some more progression. We also intend to bring Cancer to a live format next year locally and potentially interstate in Australia. If the right opportunity presents itself to us, we’d most certainly consider touring North America!

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