OCCULTIST – All hell is loose

OCCULTIST – All hell is loose

(…this article is in English…)

Occultist (US) is the kind of band that crawls out of the speakers and threatens to beat you to death with their songs. The evidence for the sheer brutality of this band is found at Bandcamp (occultist.bandcamp.com). There you will find their upcoming EP called Hell By Our Hands, due for a proper release in May.

What kind of band is this? Well, Occultist prevails by drawing all evil from a range of metal and punk genres, and then combining it into a heavy sounding production with songs saturated with the stuff that makes metal great. They offer metal-infused punk and blackened d-beatish songs, all played with the determination and authenticity at the heart of these genres.

And make no mistake: The EP is totally crushing. 18 seconds into the first song ("Gamma Tomb"), all hell is loose: Guitars are pouring out riffs, and the drums are all over the place – and a horrifying scream that sends chills down your spine rips everything apart. Kerry Zylstra on vocals delivers energy, anger and brutality sufficient to catapult dead people from their graves into the final zombie assault on human kind. It feels like being attacked by some insane maniac who wants to tear you apart, limb from limb.

Rest of the EP follows through with the same wave of violence and uncompromising songs. By the time you reach the song Suppressed Population, you will recognize the thrashmetal riffing from the planet Slayer blending into mix, and the band further strengthens the stranglehold.

I guess it has never been doubted, but thrashmetal combined with the punk/crust tradition holds the potential of creating the finest experiences of metal where you seriously consider quitting your job in favor of just banging your head all day, 24/7. This band proves that point with conviction.

The EP demonstrates the potential of combining metal and punk, a well-established genre by 2012 – but with ever fewer examples of convincing songwriting and substantial bands. Occultist delivers the full potential of so called blackened D-beat/metalpunk, and they exemplify a growing headache for the big record companies: What happens when kick-ass bands do not want to be sucked into the traditional contracting regime and standardizing commercialization?

Given the whole digital age, the game seems to be changing: The decentralization and distribution of both competence and means to create music means that bands like Occultist may very well survive outside the smooth machinery of the established record industry, and still be able to grow and gaining a wider audience.

I really look forward to see where this band is going in the coming year. They seem to have the metalness, the songs, the energy, and the determination. The songs holds the promise of total devastation, and are definitely derserving a wider audience in metal.

Photo: Lisa Rubi

Occultist is a five-piece band consisting of Leland Hoth (drums), Kerry Zylstra (vocals), Kent Jung (guitar), Jim Reed (guitar), and Nathaniel Acker (bass).

One of these people must be able to shed some light on what’s going on with this band. I got Jim Reed on the phone, and he offered some thoughts on Occultist, the EP, the future for bands outside the big record companies, and the possibilities for seeing Occultist set up concerts in Europe anytime soon.


First of all, thanks for taking the time do this interview …

Appreciate it! 

Ok, lets see … I stumbled upon your EP … "Hell by Our Hands", and I have to say its one of the rawest songs I’ve heard in a very long time,

Well, thank you!

… I was totally not prepared for the brutality of the songs, and it felt like being kicked in the nuts or something … how has the response been so far?

Its been really good, we only released it online so far, but we have a label that will be putting it out in May … since we start streaming it online, yeah, its been pretty overwhelming. There’s a website called Cvlt Nation, there were the first to pick up on it, and they also wrote a review, then quite a few has been contacting us … and its been overall positive, I would say.

Yeah, I read the Cvlt Nation review, and that was very positive!

I was kinda taken a back, you know, I enjoyed it when we recorded it, but we’re kinda like on the inside looking out, and I guess you don’t really see how the opinion of others get formed, you know, but its interesting, I’ll say that much.

Photo: Joanna Morena, RVA Magazine

… its my impression that you just don’t get out of bed one morning and suddenly decide to crust like crazy like you guys do … Who are you guys, how did you end up doing this?

Who we are? Well, we’re all just a bunch of punk metal freaks that have played in different bands over the years, and we’re all mutual friends here in Richmond. Richmond has this thriving community or scene or whatever you wanna call it, where punk rock and metal is coming together. We met at different shows, and things like that, and we decided that we wanted to form a band, you know. Originally, it came about when our drummer who used to play in a band called Battlemaster, and he was no longer in that band, he used to play bass for them. He called me one day and said ‘hey, I wanna start something new, and I wondered if you’re interested in playing’, and I said yeah, lets do something, you know. Actually, three of us work together, and one of them said lets jam. Then we just started writing songs. Originally, we had a different vocalist, our friend Will, a male vocalist, and we ended up parting ways with him, no major drama or anything like that … and Kerry (Zylstra, INT note) came in, and she actually the only one that never has been in a band before, and that’s it.

Her first band? She sound like a seasoned pro’, I mean … the vocals are vicious …

… yeah, she blew us away with that, and its actually kinda crazy … when we recorded the demo, the engineer that has done a lot of much bigger metal bands than us, he’s more of a professional, so when Kerry came in and did the vocals, all in one take,

One take? Wow,- that’s some performance all in one take …

… yeah, we were in the control room and she’s tracking, the guy turns to me and like ‘this does not happen very often, you know! Holy shit,-‘

(laughs) Yeah,

(Laughs) it was kinda crazy,-

You all got metal background, right? Or would you say that you’re a punk band … metalpunk band or … what?

Well, can only speak on behalf of myself and try to speak for the rest of the band … I grew up in south Florida with a lot of death metal bands …

Yeah, Florida is quite known for their bands …

… I grew up there in the early nineties, and I used to go on a lot of punkrock show too … because, you know, if you’re a kid and you’re in a place that’s boring … I was skateboarded a lot, and I found out about punk and metal through skateboarding and skateboarders, you know, before it was mainstream back in the late eighties. I just started hanging out with the older kids, and they took me to metal shows and punkrock shows, and for me back then, I didn’t see a big division between metal and punk. Some guys have long hair, some guys have mohawks, some guys play three-chords, and some play a bunch of solos – I didn’t really care.

… yeah, that’s my impression that the whole thing with the crossover between metal and punk is often not perceived by people involved as two distinct genres merging, it just happens, sort of …

…yeah, I kinda understood that later on … I grew up in South Florida, and believe it or not, it sort of isolated culturally, in a lot of ways … and there not a lot to do, you know, so everybody just came together with their endeavors. You’d see a lot of punks and metalheads on shows, and that was just normal. Then thing got different. Mid-nineties things started dividing up a lot more, because you had more metallic hardcore coming about, and a lot of straight-edge kids made distinct effort to separate themselves from everything. It was all changed, you know. I don’t know if I’m answering the question, but …

… but what do you think defines the songs that Occultist makes?

Well … I would say darkness is a big part of it … pessimism, discontent … that sort of things …

Do you start off making a song … with lyrics or the riffs or … ?

JR: … Well, mostly I would say the riffs … at the core of it, you know, and we have certain songs with topics we wanna touch upon, something we wanna talk about. Kerry might have something and she brings it to the band. It’s a pretty loose process … We never go like ‘Ok, you sit down and write lyrics about this and that!’ … (laughs) nothing like that …

Yeah (laughs)

We have this music, and she may have a certain theme or subject matter that she wanna express, and we go from there …

Photo: Sarja Hasan

It seems to me that some of the more generic bands starts off with a riff, and just throw a D-beat on top of it, and there you have the song … my impression of the Hell by Our Hands EP is that the song structures are more complex and has this thematic feel to it …

Thanks, we appreciate that … I think we try to be a bit meticulous, you know, we definitely re-edit songs a lot, like, we write a song once, and then we go … ‘No, lets try something else, lets stop this here or put on some different drums…’.  We keep on re-editing, you know. Some of us come from a death metal and black metal background, and we played many different bands … so we bring in what we’ve learned from these different types of bands … it might have a different feel to it than bands that only throw D-beats on it.

Yeah, I saw from your Myspace-page that you have a lot of different bands listed as influences … everything from classical punk bands to Norwegian black metal to Swedish death metal and all sorts …

Yeah (laughs), we kinda mixing all that  …

Could you point to the most important bands? Do you have any personal favorites?

Well, most important bands … I think I can speak on behalf of everybody here … obviously Discharge, pretty important … and I would say Hellhammer, of course. Another band that’s very important for us is Sacrilege, we’re big fans of SacrilegeDarkthrone, in general … Bolthrower, Motorhead, of course … I guess these are typical influences for this kind of music, I guess … those bands are very important for us. But of course classic heavy metal, like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and all those have giant influence on us … and one more thing for bands that influence us, I must not forget to mention the mighty Dismember or our drummer will kill me!

(Laughs) … there seem to be an obligatory list of bands that you need to have listened to as a metal head …

(laughs) I don’t try to come off that way, but I gotta be honest, you know what I mean ,- There are so many bands we like that have been influential to us that have only put out a demo or two back in the eighties and bands like earlier Pestilence, earlier Entombed …  its all typical stuff, but I hope we mix it up so it doesn’t come as obvious, you know …

yeah … back to the EP. One of the things that separates it from the rest is the heavy sound that the songs have … How did you approach the sound production of the EP? Did you have a sound engineer or did you do it yourself?

Well, I’m a audio engineer myself, actually, so that’s what I do for a living. I have some studio experience … so I helped a little bit with the mixing process, but the people to really get the credit for that would be John Chambers, who was the head engineer and oversaw singer production at the Etching Tin Studios, and our friend Ian Whalen, who also oversaw it. The mastering engineer helped a lot to bring out a very crusty and heavy sound to it. Jack Control from Enormous Door mastering in Texas, Austin.

… the EP sounds awesome, I’d say that! … You’re an unsigned band as of today … what are your plans for this year?

Our plans are to have our tape released on a label … a friend of ours started a label called Primitive Ways, and they will be putting 300 hundred copies of the tape out, and that will come out in May. We also have some touring plans, we’ll be doing 2 weeks of touring with Ghoul from San Francisco, and we’ll be doing 1 week with Hot Graves from Florida. Then we have a split 7" coming out later this year with Hot Graves. And at the end of summer or early fall, we’ll start tracking to record a full-length album.

The record industry has changed, it seems. I mean, the old way to do it was to record a CD, and make money off the sales of that. Now, there’s this digital approach … What’s your thoughts on that?

The way I perceive it, is that works in two different ways. One, because of the digital age and because music is more freely available to people, it also keeps more honesty into what does well, you know. If you’re into underground music, and you’re trying to discover new bands, I feel like, the hype machine that the record industry have can’t no longer directly interfere with opinions. I feel its more honest now. If a band is shit, its pretty apparent pretty fast, cause people talk about it, you know (laughs) …

Yeah, (laughs) its like evolution is really kicking in …

Shit bands that surface don’t do well. In my opinion, the music industry has always been a pyramid scheme that fucks over artists and fucks over bands, a bunch of asshole-suits out to make some fucking money. That’s the way I always perceived it. There’s still that now, but I think for someone with the DIY ethics (DIY=Do It Yourself, note by INT) like us, I feel that with the resources available now, you know … Some DIY people wanna stay away from the internet or they don’t like in the Internet, I can understand that because there’s a lot of bullshit going on, but I feel that there’s good things about it, too. I mean, you’re over there in Norway and you’ve heard us, and that’s great. Back in the days, there was tapetrading that I think was great too, but I guess its easier toady …

(laughs) easier, indeed, it was perhaps a bit slower with the tapetrading …

Yeah, I did some of that together with some friends in the nineties pretty early on, and that’s actually how I found out about black metal. In Florida, around 1993, I first discovered the Norwegian side of that, because I had some friends that was into it …

… Do you still have any of the old tapes?

Not anymore, I’ve broke over the years, and I had to sell some of that shit, you know (laughs) … but I still got some lying around … Back to the music industry and the record companies … what they are doing now, including many of the big metal labels, is that they don’t make that much money from the units sold, and what they are doing when they sign a new band is to try to get their hands into the bands pockets by taking a giant cut of the merch. They take get a big percentage of the merch sold or have a merchandise contract with the manufacturers that produce the merchandise. And the bands don’t make that much, in the end. I’m not gonna mentions names, but I have friends in bigger metal bands, and that’s how its done.  All that makes me wanna stay on smaller labels and handle more stuff ourselves. With a computer, I can make our own merch, you know.

Seems difficult, metal is partly an underground thing, to have it included in this economical framework fucks it up.

It does. I think over time, capitalism is fucking over culture.

There’s a conflict, right there?

Yeah, I think it has happened in metal.

Photo: Sarja Hasan

… many would say it happened in the Norwegian black metal scene and the Swedish death metal scene, like during the nineties something changed when the music surfaced from the underground into commercial mainstream.  Now, we have black metal bands doing TV shows with them cooking food or stuff like that. Its strange ,- Many of the big Norwegian bands understood early on that there’s this huge market for this, and they’ve sold hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of albums. That’s great, I guess, but metalwise – it might take out some of the fun with metal, I think I enjoy thinking about metal as a underground thing … What do you think of this?

Yeah, you mentioned black metal, and to me it’s a very personal thing …

… But where do you want to proceed with Occultist? Not on a major label, right, but where go to go, if you think a couple of years ahead?

I’d like to go with someone that I could shake hands with, someone considered a peer or a friend who wants to help us do things. One goal for this band is be able to tour Scandinavia and Europe, actually. That’s a big goal for us, we would love to be over there. And further, to get a decent distribution that is fair, and us not being fucked over.

It would have been really fun to see you guys in Europe, I have to say, so if you ever get here, let me know right (laughs).

We had some people in Europe and Scandinavia wanting to help and get us over, so maybe we’ll get there eventually. There’s a gentleman in Germany wanting to distribute our demo, so perhaps we can get it distributed over there …

Well, I’m through my more or less prepared questions … anything you would like to add?

… well, I guess the last thing I could say, is embrace survival and embrace the end, you know. The society we build around us is not sustainable in any way and is gonna collapse …

Agree with you on that one, and I think the sentiment and mood of metal fits in that sense …

I guess I started out with metal and punk rock because I read the lyrics, especially the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. I was a kid in the sixth grade or something (laughs) when I read that stuff, and that was the first time I really read the lyrics and it affected me. I felt they were talking about things I could relate to, and I later got into metal and it was the same thing.

… I think my way into metal may have been Guns N Roses, or something like that in the mid-eighties. It was the first band that made songs that stood out from the rest of the background noise on radio and TV. But it wasn’t before Sepultura that I really knew that metal was the Truth …

I actually listened to some Guns N Roses as well, we had this tape on the boombox when we went to skate in this half-pipe we had built, and tape had Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, Guns N Roses was also there, and Misfits … we didn’t really see any difference then …

I saw Suicidal Tendencies playing under a bridge here in Oslo last summer, and that was a positive surprise … but what new bands do you listen to? Any fellow bands from Richmond that people need to check out?

Yeah, I would say Enter Arma, they’re from Richmond … I’m a big fan of them. And Bastard Sampling, they’re a black metal band from Virginia and they are fantastic … and Windhand, they are a doom metal band, fantastic. And the guys in Ghoul that we have been touring with, they are good. Hot Graves, we are big fans of them as well. I think they have gotten some press over there. That’s the band we’re gonna split a 7" with later this year. 

… Great stuff …  well, I just say thanks again for taking the time for interview! Best of luck with the concerts and the album, I’m looking forward to that!




As of March 2012, Occultist has played some concerts in the Richmond VA area, and area scheduled for a 3-week tour with Ghoul and Hot Graves later this year. No shows are planned in Europe, and to my knowledge, no decent distribution for the upcoming album is in place.  

Metalwise, that’s a disgrace.

In the bigger picture, the whole thing about the record industry changing, means that booking agencies and venues and distributors need to step up to support the growth of ass-kicking underground bands ready to bring devastation to metal crowds where ever they are.

And metal fans need to remind themselves that we get the bands we f**king deserve.