With bands like Liturgy and Wolves in the Throne Room nabbing headlines and igniting heated debates about authenticity, black metal is all the rage. It's also a conflicting period for James Brown III, the 39-year-old guitarist of savage, crusty L.A. black metal trio Harassor, who play at B.I.P. tonight.
“Part of the appeal for me has always kind of been the outsider status, the feeling that there was this secret world that I was a part of. That made it kind of special,” Brown says. “Now it feels kind of like the secret's getting out.”
Word is also starting to spread about Brown, a 20-year veteran of the scene. Last year Harassor released their self-titled debut on vinyl (Jason Roche named it the fifth best local metal album of the year) and Dais Records reissued a couple '90s demos Brown made under the name Lord Foul.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Brown first got into metal with the big four trash acts in the late '80s and formed a death metal band called Son of Dog. Tape trading sparked his interest in the burgeoning international black metal scene and led him to Von's Satanic Blood. “It really blew my mind and really kind of opened up new possibilities for that kind of music,” he says.
In 1993 Brown rented a four-track for Lord Foul's first demo of harsh, messy black metal, Killing, Raping, Burning, which he recorded in his parent's house and self-released on cassette. In '94 he made The Devil's Advocate at an eight-track in a basement studio, but he didn't release it because his life took an unexpected turn. Son of Dog broke up, he dropped out of the University of Louisville, abandoned the metal scene and left for Alaska.
“I was getting into the rave culture,” Brown says. “I started taking psychedelic stuff, and Alaska was kind of this vision quest.”
For the next seven years, Brown spent his summers leading adventure tours in Skagway, Alaska, and returned to Louisville in the winter. In 2001 he moved out to L.A. and helped open Hollywood's Amoeba Music, where he met his future Harassor bandmates, drummer Sandor Finta and singer Pete Majors. The trio formed Harassor as a one-off project for Amoebapalooza 2003, but they've since released a couple full-lengths — last year's Harassor, which is a reissue of their 2004 cassette demo, and the new Hater of Man cassette — and have won over people like Best Coast's Bobb Bruno.
“They just really blew me away,” Bruno says. “I told them if they ever wanted to record I would do it for free.” Harassor took Bruno up on the offer and did a couple sessions with him in 2010. They'll release those recordings on vinyl later this year.
A year before those sessions, Brown got a big surprise when Son of Dog's original bassist, Greg Mattingly, told him that Lord Foul had amassed a fervent fanbase, partially due to a 2001 cover of “I Burn For You” by German black metal band Nargaroth. Forever Plauged Records contacted Brown about reissuing Lord Foul's material, and they released both demos on CD in 2009, which Dais pressed on vinyl last year.
Brown is tapped out of his Lord Foul material, but he's still releasing a stream of music with his label, Rising Beast Recordings. This year he's put out full-lengths by his new solo black metal project, Moonknight, and a Harassor side project he and Majors have called Dargar. Trend-seekers may not recognize Brown, but he's the hardest working man in black metal.