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    Vain Warr Talks QAnon and Explores the Vagaries of Hell In “Mausoleum Saturnalia”

    Primal Architecture Records has become an extremely vital DIY record label throughout the course of the last year and change. Not concerned with chasing trends or cornering the DJ market, the label has offered a series of counterculture, limited releases that spread across the spectrum, from haunting nachtmusik, dark electronic folk, post-punk Americana, and everything in between. The latest release on the label is from label figurehead Josh Strawn, operating under his solo moniker Vain Warr. After laying the groundwork with 2016’s Deadline Season single and collaborating with the original lineup of The Harrow, we’re honored to premiere the long-awaited full-length from the project, titled Mausoleum Saturnalia, which is due out this Friday, March 5th. Listen to the entirety of the record below:

    Mausoleum Saturnalia is a record of earnest duality – a serious-sounding take on a playful concept, flirting with both extremes of the LNN black metal movement and the classic Leeds drum machine bands of the 1980s. Over the course of the album’s seven tracks, Strawn channels both Mütiilation and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. The guitars are thinly acute and razor sharp, the bass is dirty and deep, and the drum machine rhythms pummel at breakneck speed, drenched in copious amounts of delicious reverb. Strawn’s vocals are buried low throughout most of the mix, often distorted, but when his voice lifts through the din, the emotional weight and texture comes through tenfold. “Assassination Reverie” is arguably the most accessible track on the record, a central access point that sounds like an updated, dirtier take on The Cure’s seminal “One Hundred Years” by way of Ionia. Closing track “Total Dominion of Unyielding Annihilation” is another standout, with Strawn’s rasp and an electronic shuffle driving the track forward to a powerful end to a perfectly unified and unique record. Mausoleum Saturnalia is a relentless and engagingly claustrophobic onslaught of texture and mood, with only one moment of reprieve at the halfway mark in the form of “Demonic Shadows Fall,” a sparse electronic piece that evokes latter day Ulver and Coil works and allows the final two tracks on the record to drive home, hard.

    While many of his works over time have been a terse, direct reaction to world politics, Mausoleum Saturnalia equally taps more into the fantastical, a bygone era where flirting with demonic imagery felt both mischievous and dangerous. In the process, the songs draw parallels between the vexatious peak of heavy metal and the modern breed of extremist politics, denouncing the QAnon movement by taking something out of their own Biblical playbook, so to speak. With that in mind, Strawn has shared his thoughts on the record and its influences over a statement of intent, which we’re happy to publish here in unadulterated form.

    I grew up, for a time at least, in pretty extreme Christian conservative circles. Halloween, horror movies, and heavy metal weren’t allowed, I was in private evangelical school during the height of the Satanic Panic. So my relationship to the Satanic imagery in horror and metal has always been personal and had a liberating dimension. When you’re taught an almost paralyzing fear of devils and demons as a child it becomes a personal journey to rid yourself of those fears. This started for me not in black metal but industrial – the day I had the courage to buy I See Good Spirits, I See Bad Spirits by Thrill Kill Kult was a big deal for me. I think I was 17.

    Most of my friends who operate in the world of underground music — certainly not all of them, but most — do not have this background. Most of them, it seems, come from pretty liberal upbringings and for them the devilishness of black metal is by now almost meaningless and corny.

    In the early-mid 2000s, I started latch on to this sort of notion of Satan that came from Blake and Shelley as a Promethean figure of knowledge and rebellion. It was more poetic and symbolic than the manifesto style of Blacklist. It was an inspiration during the first Vaura record, but after that, it kind of ran its course. I tend to move, like David Bowie, from one set of interests to the next when it comes to creativity – if I’m not inspired by something, why would the people listening to the music be? I have some main guiding forces that stay semi-permanent but I also don’t dwell in the same place for too long. What remaining affections I had for this idea were channeled into Vain Warr (which took its name from Milton’s Paradise Lost)

    When I wrote these songs in October 2019, I was revisiting black metal for the first time in years. I hadn’t initially really liked the punk aspects of it, but this time I did. It was really fun. But being much more inclined to the (post)punk of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry than true punk, when I started writing, the songs just came out like this. I was having a blast, as the reference to saturnalia in the title implies.
    I hadn’t thought about Satan very much until recently. If you lived through The Satanic Panic and all the apocalyptic fear-mongering that came with it, you recognize QAnon. It’s just a reboot for the internet. Arguably the main difference is that in the 80s, evangelicals still believed in arming themselves with scripture, not AR-15s. They might have record burnings at the local church but they didn’t get together and openly fantasize about mass murdering Ozzy fans. The stakes are different this time.
    When I started thinking about lyrics and song titles, I was thinking about black metal tropes in the era of QAnon. Something that’s driven me crazy over the last several years is that it no longer feels like there’s fantasy space for music to act as an outlet. Everything has to be a manifesto, which is funny since I’ve written so many manifesto records in Blacklist. The anti-cancel culture people on the right claim they’re into free speech but if Kathy Griffin decapitates Donald Trump, they’re ready to throw her in the first Gulag they can find. Meanwhile on the left your art supposedly has to be some perfect reflection of your deepest intellectual political ethics and you have to answer to every single person that misreads you. I’m not into any of this.
    This has led to a soul-crushing world where your politics as an artist is your sales pitch, and your press is all about your politics. People who want to be like this should think about running for office instead of making art. I spent years being criticized for always talking politics in music. It was very unpopular until it became capitalism’s primary means of feeding the attention economy. So I’m not very impressed with everyone’s sudden “all art is political” conversion. You can’t tell where the self-branding social media entrepreneur ends and the artist begins half the time. To be honest, I don’t think half of them know, either.
    I would say this is a symptom of collapsing all things into all other things. The flattening of everything into ‘content.’ This is not something people should submit to. It’s extremely dangerous. It’s bad for art and politics simultaneously. This record is inspired, in part by people who thought they were vampires. It’s inspired by videos of black metal bands playing in underground bunkers and grave caves. Some of those bands have bad fashy politics, so I imagined “what if you retconned those images into images of death and violence against fashy jerks instead.” If people wanna read into that all day long, that’s their business.
    People who relish in the story of Satan mostly do it for a certain, psychologically dark reason: he empowers them. The devil, for the Q leaders of the world, is really important. The brimstone and supernatural evil that terrorized our minds as kids now is used to turn political opponents into metaphysically evil entities that must be destroyed. If you appoint yourself general of the army to purge the world of Biblical evil, people rarely ask questions. It’s an extremely efficient tool, in other words – for building power for oneself, for designating enemies and for roping in followers who can be convinced to commit any atrocity. It was only a matter of time before someone weaponized this using a Facebook account.

    It still feels good to throw some devilish stuff out there in the world, because in a counterintuitive way, it liberates you from the horror of the idea of Satan. If the stories about Satan were true, you’d never throw horns. We do it because it isn’t true, and for some of us who worked hard to get rid of that fear, it feels good to remind ourselves that there’s no eternal pit of fire. This for me is a fun record. We think we’ve stopped needing to hear that it’s OK to throw off the yoke of the “Thou Shalt” and the monsters that were designed to scare people into obedience. but I don’t think we have. I tend to think we need more of it than ever.

    As mentioned above, Mausoleum Saturnalia will be released this Friday, March 5th. The album will be released digitally, with an extremely limited edition of ten physical cassette copies already up for sale, most of which have already sold at this point. Check below for the full album artwork, track-listing, and pre-order link:

    Vain Warr- Mausoleum Saturnalia
    1. In the Graceful Name of Satan
    2. Pure Black Riot Ecstasy
    3. Assassination Reverie
    4. Resurrection of the Raven Legions
    5. Demonic Shadows Fall
    6. Genocide of the Christian Pedophiles
    7. Total Dominion of Unyielding Annihilation

    Pre-order via Bandcamp

    artwork by Kelby Clark


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