I hold it by its blue-black vane and jab the quill into the eyehole. The tip punctures something—some filmy membrane resists before it gives way. Then, the opening clenches the shaft, like some voracious mouth, some obscene osculum, and pulls it in, inch by inch, with the sloppy suction of a thorough and full-throated fellating, until the mouth’s quivering edges begin to root at my featherless fingertips.
Despumation: The Nekronomikon Eucharist is an excerpt from your second book in your Death Metal Epic series. Without spoilers, want to tells us where this piece falls in that story? It’s significance?
Dean Swinford: This story is positioned at a turning point midway through the next book. Some of the mythical elements of the story have real-world analogues in David’s narrative of Belgian life.
In the series, I use these fantastical song-based interludes to demarcate section breaks. They are written in a very different style from the story itself, which is the real-world narrative of David Fosberg’s musical adventures as told through his ironic and conversational voice. I kind of put them next to that side of the story. There are overlaps, but there’s no direct interconnection of the two parts of the story. It’s more like the song chapters correspond to the unconscious or dream-like imaginings of various characters.
The first book has a chapter, “A Dream of the Nekronomikon,” that plays a similar role. It’s based on a Deicide song and is a description of a robed pilgrim being drawn through a forest by the Nekronomikon, described as a sentient book-being with a single eye.
That chapter appears at the end of part 1 in The Inverted Katabasis. It marks a break between David’s bandlessness and the new energy he finds through his partnership with Juan. The pilgrim opens the book—with a knife; in many older books, pages had to be cut in order to be read—and reads the message “Worship me.”
My story in Despumation features a different version of the book. In that one, it’s written by the girl in the tower and she’s able to write it because she’s channeled the suffering of the pilgrims who initially locked her there. It’s message is different, too.
I’m using the Nekronomikon as a kind of character in these chapters and see it as one of the personified incarnations of metal. In the intro to The Inverted Katabasis, I describe the other two as a kind of goddess and a Lovecraftian octomonster of some sort. They’re images that suggest, to me, some of the different drives of metal: the quest for hidden knowledge, or transcendence, or chaos.
The girl’s transformation in the story alludes to the idea of the triple goddess in myth: the maiden, the mother, and the crone. The robed pilgrims are a kind of embodied chaos.
You should not be surprised to see another chapter, either in The Goat Song Sacrifice or the last book, The Sinister Synthesizer, that involves this metal divinity in its Cthulhian form.
Desp: Aside from this, do you have any other metal-related writing/publishing going on?
DS: I’m pretty focused on finishing The Goat Song Sacrifice, the second book in the series. Plus, doing what I can to let people know about the series.
Niall Scott, who is pretty involved with the International Society for Metal Music Studies, recently wrote a piece about The Inverted Katabasis. It’s in the reviews section of Metal Music Studies. You can access the first issue’s content for free.
Desp: You’re an academic. Is your university aware of your metal inclinations? If yes, how’s the response? (You don’t have to name your school and this can be really general.)
DS: Yes, they’ve been supportive. I’ve done some readings on campus and in the community and the response has been really enthusiastic. I think at first that non-metal people might be thrown off by the subject or even the book cover, but when they read it, they relate to the story of a guy growing up and they like the book’s humor. I don’t think of it as a didactic book or a story with a moral or a single message, but I think it helps explain to non-metal fans what people see in the music.
It also is a way of taking my research interests in myth and medieval literature and putting those into a modern context. As a teacher, I’m always trying to introduce students to the enduring relevance of classical/medieval/early modern literature, and the fiction is just another way of doing that.
Desp: Can you recommend a few pieces of classical/medieval/early modern literature that might appeal to a reading metalhead?
DS: Sure—while everyone knows The Canterbury Tales, metal readers might be interested in Chaucer’s “The Friar’s Tale” with its story of a summoner’s interactions with a demon. While people are no doubt familiar with Othello, they might not be as familiar with Shakespeare’s subtle representation of Iago as a kind of devil, or updated version of the vice figure prominent in medieval and early modern morality plays. Reading metalheads might be interested that Iago even refers to the diabolical act of musical downtuning. He says he will “set down the pegs that make this music” (2.1.198). I’d say the Commentary on the Dream of Scipio by Macrobius is another one where readers would probably see lots of metal parallels. It’s an attempt to understand dreams and their connection to the cosmos.
Desp: Give us your favorite metal band, and your favorite writer.
DS: Such a hard question. I’d have to put it in terms of albums I could listen to endlessly. If that were the case, Blind Guardian’s Imaginations from the Other Side would probably be at the top of the list. Lately, I’ve been listing to lots of live albums to help me as I’m writing The Goat Song Sacrifice.
As far as favorite writers go, I’d probably say Italo Calvino. I also really like Margaret Atwood and the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom. The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies deals with myth and modernity in some pretty key ways for what I’m trying to do in my books.
Desp: Name a song you’d like to see covered by a writer for Despumation and explain why.
DS: I’d love to see Jeff Vandermeer do something for the journal. It seems like he definitely has some metal inclinations. The song would have to meet the criteria established by the Encyclopaedia Metallum, of course. Otherwise, I’ve always thought that Opeth’s “The Night and the Silent Water” must have an interesting story behind it.
Desp: What are you working on now? Books/stories/academic works coming out?
DS: I’m well into the next book of the series. That said, I’m a pretty steady and deliberate writer, which is a way of saying I am slow. I saw on your FB where you were asking people how long it takes them to write 2000 to 3000 words. I try to get 250 words a day. This excludes weekends and holidays. Sometimes I might even spend an entire day fixating on a single sentence. Even then, I might not figure it out until I’m on my bike home from work. I’ll pull to the curb, take my journal out of my backpack, and scribble it down.