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Empire of Doom 

How Hollywood’s one-man record label Southern Lord unchained mutant metal

Wednesday, Jul 31 2002
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The Lair of Doom lies on a Hollywood boulevard, upstairs from a Thai restaurant. There, above the ambulance sirens and Metro bus brake squeals rising like so many noxious sonic fumes from the street below, a single industrious man labors intently. Listen close, at almost any hour of the day or night, and you‘ll hear his hearty cackle and -- something else: a strange clatter, like the rattle of bones in a plastic tumbler.

Actually, that’s just the sound of Greg Anderson, 32-year-old founder of Southern Lord Recordings and currently its sole employee, working the phone and tapping out e-mail.

“I‘m here all the time,” says the longhaired, affable Anderson, gazing lovingly at one of the sources of his endurance, a 72-ounce pitcher-bucket of Coke he’s constantly refilling at the 7-Eleven across the street. “But I‘m not looking for sympathy! This is what I like to do.”

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What Southern Lord has been doing since its inception in April 1998 is “doom metal,” a certain species of heavy music whose ultimate ancestor is Black Sabbath. Basically it sounds like the product of a bunch of guys smoking a lot of pot and trying to play music slower than the Melvins: Bands have names like WarHorse and Place of Skulls, albums have titles like As Heaven Turns to Ash and Supercoven. It’s low-end music for black-clad midnight masses.

But Southern Lord does more than doom metal (strictly defined). Another look at the Lord‘s roster reveals: Mondo Generator, a churning, rumbling post-SST racket led by Queens of the Stone Ageex-Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri; SUNN, which features dark, massive guitar sludgework by Anderson and Southern Lord graphic designer Stephen O’Malley; and Khanate, an O‘Malley-led band that Anderson characterizes as “black metal on ludes -- it’s got that same grim evilness.”

With recent releases by the latter two ensembles, Southern Lord has begun to attract attention from new quarters. Acclaimed Japanese avant-garde noise warlock Merzbow mixed two tracks on SUNN‘s latest record, Flight of the Behemoth; Julian Cope has been an outspoken public champion (he’s called the just-released Rampton by Southern Lord supergroup Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine “an endless ambient Ragnarok”); and SUNN, much to their surprise, found themselves being profiled this past spring by influential British artsy-music magazine The Wire. A recent East Coast tour by Khanate was attended as much by drone seekers and experimental music aficionados as the usual collection of stoners and adventurous metalheads.

Doom, it seems, is everywhere.

What follows are the Ten Commandments of Doom: both a how-to list for would-be micro-label operators and the slightly abridged tale, told in his own words, of how Greg Anderson found his grim calling . . . and followed it to the bitter end.

1.

HEED YOUR CALLING.

Right around the time I was getting into heavy rock -- this is like 1982 -- there were all these seminars around Seattle about how rock music was evil. So I went to one of them. I found out about all this music that I didn‘t know about! I was like, “Who’s Alice Cooper?!” I walked out of there going, “Okay, these tapes are what I want for my birthday.”

My main influence is early Melvins -- Buzz is my all-time hero! -- and Earth. When they came out with Earth 2, it really struck a chord with me. I got to see them once in ‘91 or ’92. They played this small club, there were maybe 15 people there, it was just awesome. I think it‘s great when bands play excruciatingly loud. It’s like a two-part experience. You see the band, they‘re doing their thing, but you’re feeling the band, too. It‘s the same reason you may want to take drugs. You want to change your perception.

I look at playing SUNN now, it’s like a body high. Having your body being enveloped by sound waves, especially droning low-end ones, is really massaging, especially if you‘re leaning against the cabinets. It’s like the drugs are almost an afterthought. I played an entire tour sober. We would invite the audience to come lay on the stage, while we were behind our wall of amps, lying down. After the set, I would be soooo relaxed.

2.

I AM NORWEGIAN, HEAR ME RAAAARGH.

Stephen O‘Malley and I actually grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same high school, but I was three years older. We became friends later, through mutual friends. We had all these mutual interests -- he was a big Melvins fan too, and I really wanted to know more about death metal, and he was the guy. Steve and I formed Thorr’s Hammer with our friend Runhild Gammelsaeter, who was a death metalblack metal fan from Norway that was in Seattle on an exchange program. She was this gorgeous Norwegian teenager, but she singsgrowls in this bellowing, guttural, superlow voice. Runhild was going back to Norway, so we had to cram everything in in two weeks -- we recorded a demo, we played two shows. That‘s it. After that Steve and I did a band called Burning Witch together. Then I left Burning Witch to come to L.A. to play with the guys from the Obsessed, and we became Goatsnake.

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