Live Ritual - Friday the 13th
Blasphemy Live Ritual – Friday the 13th
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Die Hard Version: Red vinyl LP, gatefold jacket, 2 sided A2 poster, 36″ cloth tapestry, sticker.
July 13, 2001 marked Blasphemy’s third live ritual following a six-year torpor. The performance was part of a fest that took place in Burnaby, BC, just east of Vancouver. I still recall the moment The Desecraters took the stage, opening their set with “War Command”:
Together proclaiming war
The worlds ending forever more
A nuclear power plant scare
Breathing out the flame of doom
Cursing all evil on the land
Nuke metal sinning calling of war
Angel’s blood dripping from the sky
Hailing in the sign of Satan
While I didn’t think about it at the time, the lyrics to that song—the references to nuclear annihilation—prefigured the relationship that began that night and would persist through the years between Blasphemy and Nuclear War Now!. The live album that resulted from that show would be my label’s first vinyl release, although I could never have predicted at the time that the label would be thriving after nearly two decades. Back then, I had no aspiration to create a “successful” label; my decision to release Blasphemy’s “Live Ritual: Friday the 13th” LP was motivated solely by my intense appreciation for the band.
I first heard Blasphemy when I was in high school in Northern Virginia. I had a close friend at the time named Vaughn Currier who was a few years older than I was and already deep into Death and Black Metal. One night, sometime in 1993, as we were driving to a Carcass show in Washington D.C., Vaughn played “Fallen Angel of Doom….” on the tape deck in the car. I was immediately drawn to the violent, cacophonous roar I heard on that tape. Later around that same time, Vaughn and I took a bus trip from Northern Virginia to New York City, and I recall he bought several Wild Rags titles (including Nuclear Death and Order From Chaos) while we were at Bleecker Bob’s. Listening to those records after we got back to Virginia further deepened my exposure to the metal underground. Over the next several years, as I delved deeper and deeper into Black Metal, I always found myself drawn to the early bestial sound of bands like Sarcofago, Holocausto, Beherit, Impiety, Abhorer, and, most of all, Blasphemy.
In the late 1990s, the more extreme sounds of those bands fell out of fashion to some extent. Norwegian and Swedish-style Black Metal was ascendant, yielding a flood of bands playing poorly recorded raw Black Metal, much of which, at least to my ears, sounded incredibly weak by comparison. Fortunately, at the same time, a second wave of more aggressive Black Metal appeared, with bands like Black Witchery, Conqueror, Bestial Warlust, and others carrying the torch.
By 2000, I had gotten the idea to start a record label but had no clue how to go about releasing music on my own. I had a digital MiniDisc recorder that my uncle sent me when they were becoming popular in Japan, but were not yet in use in the U.S. In August of that year, I used it to surreptitiously record an Enslaved show, and “released” about 30 copies as a bootleg CD-R called “Vikings Cometh Through the Fog.” I later regretted bootlegging the show and eradicated it from my official release catalog, but it showed me that I could get a decent live recording simply from using that MiniDisc device.
In July and August of 2000, Blasphemy played their first shows since 1994. I desperately wanted to travel to Vancouver to attend one of the gigs but was unable to at the time. I was 25 years old and having just finished school and started a new job, I was too broke and too busy to contemplate traveling to Canada. The following year, Blasphemy announced two more shows. I thought it would again be impossible for me to attend, but chance intervened.
Earlier that year, I went to Chicago for business. The airline overbooked the flight on the way back to San Francisco, and when I heard they were asking people to give up their seats in exchange for a $500 travel voucher, I jumped at the opportunity so that I could use the voucher to go to Vancouver. It proved to be one of the most significant decisions I’ve ever made.
This was around the dawn of widespread email usage and the early days of the Full Moon Productions forum, and I was already deeply involved in trading tapes and records with other metal fans. A year or so earlier, around the time “Hellstorm of Evil Vengeance” came out, I began corresponding with Ryan Förster of Conqueror, who, in 2000, had been initiated into Blasphemy as DeathLord of Abomination & War Apocalypse. I was also in communication with Jay of Godless North (who would later appear on the NWN! release “An Ode to Sin” by Rites of Thy Degringolade) and Justin of Allfather, a band which also played at the same fest where “Live Ritual” was recorded.
I booked my flight to Vancouver so that I arrived the day of the gig and planned to leave the following day. Jay allowed me to stay at his apartment; it was also the location of the after party, so there were plenty other people there as well. I wanted to document the show for a possible release, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about doing it. A few weeks before the show, I asked Förster if I could record Blasphemy’s set with my MiniDisc player, although I didn’t really know what I intended to do with the recording. Neither he nor anyone else in the band objected. I also brought a disposable camera with me to take photos, but I couldn’t move around during the performance because I wanted to hold the microphone steady, so I asked Jay to take some photos of the band while they played.
The show exceeded my expectations. Allfather and Blasphemy were both exceptional. Even if the record had never come out, it would still be one of the most powerful live rituals I have ever seen. Back at Jay’s after the show, inspired by what I had witnessed, I asked Black Winds and Caller of the Storms for permission to release the recording in some form. To my surprise, they agreed. I went back home the following day committed to finding a way to accomplish this task. Interestingly, that same night, Jay played an advance copy of Revenge’s “Attack.Blood.Revenge” that he received from J. Read. I didn’t know it at the time, but this early exposure to Revenge foreshadowed another of the label’s most significant long-standing relationships. In fact, in 2014, I had the honor of reissuing “Attack.Blood.Revenge,” which has long been one of my favorite recordings of all time.
In those early days of the internet, it was not a simple matter to just put out a record. CDs were still the dominant format, and pressing and distributing vinyl was an expensive and time consuming process. Having cut my teeth in the hardcore punk scene, vinyl retained a special significance to me, and, although it would have been far easier to just put out CDs, I really wanted to honor the tradition of releasing metal on vinyl. Mike Meacham and James Fiala of War Hammer records offered to split the release with me, with the understanding that I would be responsible for the layout. War Hammer’s involvement was helpful, both financially and because they had already some experience running a label.
Although I had an idea of how I wanted the record to look, I enlisted the assistance of Jim Kapsalis from Cult of Daath to help with the layout, since, at the time, I knew nothing about graphic design, especially the technical aspects. Back then, there was no “one-stop shop” for pressing and packaging records, so I had to assemble the records piecemeal, ordering the vinyl, posters, and LP jackets from three different vendors and putting them together myself in the tiny apartment where I lived. I decided to do 666 copies, which seemed like a lot in that era. (The LP jackets had to be done in batches of 1,000, so I had several boxes of them left over that I used as packing material for a long time after.)
Inspired by Iron Pegasus’ “Die Hard” editions, I decided I wanted to add bonus material to the first 100 copies of the release, which were on red vinyl. I printed extra copies of some of the photos and included a silkscreened poster of a promo picture taken in May 2001 at the Ross Bay Cemetery. Most significantly, I also included with the Die Hard edition a CD-R of a rehearsal the band did in August 2001, just prior to their August 29, 2001 performance at the Anza Club in Vancouver. Although no one knew it at the time, that show would be the last one Blasphemy would perform until 2009. (They would also play at the NWN! fest in 2010 and 2012.)
A few weeks prior to the rehearsal, I shipped the same MiniDisc recorder to Förster with instructions on how to use it. The band held the rehearsal session in the basement of then-bassist Bestial Saviour of the Undead Legions. Förster set up the MiniDisc recorder on the top of a washing machine and captured the entire session, from beginning to end. The members of Black Witchery were also present and can be heard in the background of the recording. Notably, the set included what was, at the time, a new song called “Victory (Son of the Damned),” which they actually played twice in a row during the rehearsal and performed for the first time at the August 2001 gig.
Looking back on it, the original “Live Ritual” LP feels very naïve, and it was. I nevertheless remain proud of it because it was a pure, passionate endeavor, unmotivated by the sorts of deadlines and expectations that characterize my work with NWN! now that it is a much larger operation. It also set into motion the project—Nuclear War Now! Productions—that has consumed my life ever since. Releasing “Live Ritual” taught me that I had the will, dedication, and vision to run the label. Feeling emboldened, the following year, I released Black Witchery’s “Desecration of the Holy Kingdom” LP, the self-titled Morbosidad LP, Goatvomit’s “Chapel of the Winds of Belial” EP, and Abigail’s “Intercourse and Lust” LP. For Blasphemy, “Live Ritual” was the first new material the band had released in years, exposing many new listeners to the music for the first time and foreclosing any dispute as to Blasphemy’s claim to its throne.