Black metal has long held a reputation for being the most abrasive, proudly underground corner of the heavy metal spectrum. Those with only a passing knowledge of the genre may be familiar with the sordid tales of ’90s Norwegian acts such as Mayhem. The modern grouping of bands that are considered black metal is much more expansive, with dozens of acts adding layers of progressive musicianship and atmospheric shoegaze to the existing genre blueprint.
That said, there is still a sizable contingent of black-metal musicians and fans who are hesitant to see the genre expand and gain attention from outside its small, exclusive bubble. But on Saturday, Aug. 11, two separate events — Black Metal Yoga and Black Metal Brunch — will drag black metal kicking and screaming into the lifestyle-events arena.
On a surface level, the harshness of black-metal music and the calming therapeutic leanings of yoga seem incongruous. But for yoga instructor Alissa Nelson, aka “the Black Metal Yogi,” the combination is more than complementary.
“Yoga is about putting yourself in uncomfortable positions,” Nelson says during our conversation on a sunny Saturday morning in Torrance's El Prado Park. “Listening to black metal is absolutely perfect for yoga, because both are based on small changes in tone over time. The message for each is that you have to be OK with confronting things that are difficult, challenging, messy and painful to get to a place where you are not experiencing suffering.”
Nelson has been teaching yoga for four years, and she has been involved with several local studios since moving to Los Angeles two years ago. She is one of several yoga instructors around the country who integrate heavy metal music into their classes. Nelson's own forays into incorporating black metal into her classes began in 2016, shortly before she relocated to SoCal from San Francisco. A fan of heavy music going back to her teenage years, Nelson's experimentation with black metal blasting in the background began as a response to her own anxieties, which she had confronted with her learning experiences in the traditional yoga studio environment.
“I've always felt excluded by the overall yoga scene, especially in Los Angeles, where the studio scene is so much more hard fitness-based,” Nelson says. “When I started doing yoga, I had a long history of depression and anxiety disorder. Things were affecting my body differently than the standard person that does yoga. I wanted to make other people that felt like me feel comfortable going to classes, because it was helping me reintegrate my mind with my body. I have all these friends that would be totally into this if the music didn't suck and the teacher wasn't always so sunny. I don't want to just peddle sugar water in the form of some vaguely spiritual fitness class.”
Adventurous heavy metal fans have been taking advantage of Nelson's invitations to try yoga in her environment. Her next event — Saturday, Aug. 11, at Indie Brewing Company in downtown Los Angeles, in conjunction with yoga/brewery tour promoter Downward Grog — is sold out, with another event already scheduled for Oct. 6 and classes all weekend at this year's Desert Daze festival, which runs Oct. 12-14.
The class sizes are fairly small to maintain Nelson's goal of presenting a welcoming space for first-timers. The playlist for the class consists of modern black-metal acts such as Deafheaven and Wolves in the Throne Room, with some other heavier acts that may not fit exclusively into the black-metal tag, such as post-metal greats Neurosis.
Nelson's exercises are imported from the traditional yoga realm. But she takes great care in matching the music with the exercises, as well as adjusting the overall vibe of her classes to be more in line with the emotional catharsis of extreme metal.
Nelson and Downward Grog promoter Raziq Rauf — whose own heavy metal bona fides consist of stints as a journalist for U.K. metal magazines Kerrang! and Metal Hammer — recognize that there will be critics from the more elitist corners of the black-metal scene who may scoff at the integration of the music with yoga.
“The wall between commercialism and black metal evaporated the first time a black-metal band sold a record,” Rauf says. “If you want to be on the side that says don't commercialize it, make your music and give it away for free. Go live out in the woods. We want to open our doors to the section of society that want to interact and enjoy their lives.”
Grindpour founder Eric Schuman has been entrenched in heavy metal his entire life, playing in multiple local bands and working as a promoter within the Church of the 8th Day organization. Within the last three years, his passion for coffee has grown to equal his passion for heavy metal.
“I've always felt metal is an attitude and way of life,” Schuman says. “Heavy metal is something people seek out in times of need to feel good, and seek comfort in. Coffee is the same way for me. It's a ritual, and it's part of a daily feel-good habit, and I wanted to integrate the two rituals of my life together.”
Schuman quit his career in IT last year to pursue his coffee passion. Operating as a pop-up shop since its origins earlier this year, the name Grindpour — a pun on the heavy metal subgenre grindcore — started as a one-off joke in response to ribbing from fellow heavy metal fans over his caffeinated obsessions. Currently a member of acoustic pirate-metallers Dread Crew of Oddwood, Schuman spends his time on tour exploring the coffee traditions of every town the band play.
“The metal community and coffee communities are very similar in regards to how they interact within their communities,” Schuman says. “People that are hardcore about the bands they like and where their favorite bands come from share a kinship with people that are hardcore about the type of coffee they drink and where their favorite coffee is brewed. It's neat to gather them all together and be nitpicky about the things they like.”
Schuman's next gathering of coffee and heavy metal enthusiasts will be on Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Black Metal Brunch. The gathering at Resident DTLA runs from 2 to 6 p.m., with food by Resident's in-house food truck, KTCHN LA; themed cocktails and mimosas; heavy metal DJs; and Schuman's black metal–themed coffee concoctions.
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In addition to traditional brewed coffee, Schuman's contributions to the menu take their inspiration from black-metal greats of the past. One concoction, dubbed Night's Blood after a classic track from genre pioneers Dissection, is an iced espresso mixed with tonic water and a touch of black cherry juice. This author had the opportunity to try the brew. The experience was genuinely like experiencing an unfamiliar band at a heavy metal festival. The first sip of tonic water in the beverage was akin to the initial “What is this?” moment of finding a harsh extreme-metal band for the first time, but a few sips — or songs in — the experience is palatable and you have a new favorite thing.
While extreme metal is the base inspiration for Schuman's brewing, you are still welcome at his events if you all you want to do is try the coffee.
“In my mind, I imagine walking in and seeing a bunch of fine people in corpse paint sipping mimosas,” Schuman says. “But metal was always meant to be a theme and an attitude playing along with coffee. I don't care if you listen to metal or not. Just don't show up with a Starbucks cup!”
Black Metal Yoga at Indie Brewing Company, Sat., Aug. 11, 10:45 a.m.; 2350 Sunrise St., C-100, Boyle Heights. Black Metal Brunch at Resident DTLA, Sat., Aug. 11, at 2 p.m., 428 S. Hewitt St., downtown.