In September 2020, mid-pandemic, UK plague merchants The Infernal Sea dropped their third full-length, Negotium Crucis. The timing couldn’t have been more apt, and it’s a filthy masterpiece that takes their vicious Black n’ Roll to another level of depravity. This Is Black Metal Webzine caught up with enigmatic vocalist Dean Lettice (DL) to talk about Evil, Black Metal vocals and Stryper…
This Is Black Metal: It’s tempting to talk about the pandemic, given the subject matter of your previous album The Great Mortality (2016), but I’ll try to avoid it as much as possible. Instead, I want to focus a little bit more on evil. Through my job, I sometimes work with people who’ve done evil things, and the subject of evil is one that deeply interests me.
Dean Lettice: Same, it’s always fascinated me, to be honest. It’s just an interesting subject, how our brains allow us to commit these heinous crimes, and how some people don’t have any guilt, or any remorse, or any reasoning for why they did it. It’s just that chemical imbalance in everybody’s brains that could make anyone flip. The dark side of life has always been fascinating to a lot of people.
TIBM: Absolutely. In terms of The Great Mortality, that had quite an explicit theme running through it, the black death. This release you’ve said expands on the medieval theme but is focused on the crusades and the Knights Templar. I read up a bit on the Rhineland Massacre, which you’ve said inspired the opening track ‘Destruction of Shum’, but I’m interested to know, what was the most shocking thing you discovered when researching the new album?
DL: Well, the Rhineland Massacre is a prime example of that. Historically referred to as one of the first known instances of mass genocide committed in the name of Christianity. The Knight’s Templar was a military order sanctioned by the church to commit these atrocities – they massacred 1000s of people at the ‘Rhineland Massacre’ because they didn’t support Christianity and that’s insane, you know, it’s horrific. And the events we’ve explored for this concept have occurred numerous times throughout history since; it’s like we haven’t really learned from these past mistakes. The church has got its underlying issues now, but it’s nothing compared to how it was during the reign of the Knights Templar. I would say that this event was the most shocking, so many thousands of people were just wrongly convicted or wrongly put to the sword, or burnt at the stake because they didn’t support Christianity, which, as we know, is just bullshit, isn’t it? You can’t just force your ideology on someone and say ‘convert to this or die’… And most of them accepted death as their fate or threw down their swords and said ‘we’ll support Christianity’ in an attempt to stay alive, often being forced to carry on with their religion secretly. It wasn’t until the church realised that Christians were pissed off with the way that they were acting and decided to condemn the Knights Templar and decided to give them the inquisition and put them to death, so it was very hypocritical. Exploring the sadistic nature of mankind, and how vile we are as a species, has always fascinated me.
The Infernal Sea – Entombed In Darkness (Official Music Video)
TIBM: If you go back before civilization, we were just hunter-gatherers for a long time and lived in relatively peaceful ways. It seems as if civilization keeps getting itself in these tangles over and over again; we think we’re beyond it and then ISIS comes along… Are we doomed to fail, or is there some hope?
DL: Hopefully there is, but the way everything’s going, I don’t know. Maybe we are just stupid and we don’t learn. Like you say, with ISIS and there’s still war in the Middle East and it’s all over religions and it’s all over the territory, you know, and it’s all over power and money. It’s as simple as that. And it’s those age-old excuses that have been there since the birth of mankind – and we never seem to get past that. It’s always about greed and the wealth and the power and who owns what, who owns which country with the most oil. And surely in 2020 – well, obviously not 2020 because it’s been a strange year… but in this day and age we should be over that, we should be in a more civilized society, but we’re not. There’ll always be that hate, there’ll always be that desire for success and greed and wealth, and I think whilst that’s always there, whilst religion is always around, there’ll always be conflict.
TIBM: It’s particularly interesting with the Knights Templar because they’re almost an inversion of what, as a kid, you expect a knight to be – you think of Camelot, chivalry and so forth, and it seems the opposite of that. I guess one good thing about your band, and a lot of English Black Metal bands is that they make you want to read.
DL: I think that’s what we aim for. History has always been a subject I’ve been interested in, and, as you say, with the chivalry of the knights, they’re portrayed as the good guys in ‘Modern Culture’, no one really delves into their darker side, and, when you start exploring their reign of terror, you can actually see how fucking despicable they were… they were brutal. The middle ages were a horrific time to live in.
TIBM: It’s a cool aesthetic as well and we’re drawn to it, aren’t we? We might feel lucky that we weren’t around back then, but in music and art there’s something about the medieval times that is appealing and there’s something very English about it too – perhaps it connects with our deeper cultural identity.
TIBM: But moving on to talk about the sound on the new album…there’s a lot of rawness, the Black n’ Roll thing, and a bluesy solo on ‘Befallen Order’ which I enjoyed a lot. But there’s also a nastiness at times, a Second Wave influence. It sounds quite varied when you put it like that, but it also feels very cohesive, so I wonder, is there one unifying principle of your sound, and how do you think it manifests on the record?
DL: We set out to create a conceptual album, one that spanned the duration of 50+ mins. Primarily, we were writing music for us, and if we liked it then it went on the record. We’ve injected a lot more of the Black ‘n’ Roll element into our music and that was there in The Great Mortality, an album which started to cement our sound, and Agents of Satan (EP, 2017) was where we said ‘this is where we’re heading direction wisely,’ and I think we’ve taken that element and just perfected it. Obviously, there’s more room for improvement, so maybe perfection is not the right word. Collectively we’ve always said that we’re a rock and roll band foremost, and I think the black and roll element is what unifies us now – adding that punky element to it.
TIBM: That’s interesting, because Blues-based Rock n’ Roll is obviously a big part of Metal, and I think at times Black Metal likes to imagine it isn’t Blues based because it’s got that coldness. And your music feels cold, but it has got the blues too…
DL: We’ve always worn our influences on our sleeves; we’re not afraid to say who we’re influenced by, and at the end of the day we all come from different backgrounds, and we’re all metalheads. We grew up listening to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; listening to all the mid-90s Metal that emerged from America, the UK and Europe. A few of us were also into Punk and Hardcore and I think you can hear those influences in our music. Whilst we have retained that brutality, we were never afraid to inject groove or melody. The Infernal Sea are at their most vitriolic once those grooves kick in, they add weight to the songs.
TIBM: Absolutely. I might be wrong, but it seems as though there’s maybe a split in the British Black Metal sound. You’ve got Fen, Winterfylleth and they sound so atmospheric, but then bands like yourself, Burial and Crimson Throne have a darker, rawer sound.
DL: I don’t think there’s a split, I actually feel that the UK scene is very unified. We all know each other and get along, but musically we are all very distinctive – not many of the UK band’s sound similar, like for example, Saor and Necronautical might fit in the same ‘Sub-genre’ bracket, but they certainly don’t sound the same. That’s what I really like about the UK Black Metal scene – no bands sound the same, but we all have that British Black Metal sound which is fucking awesome!
The Infernal Sea – Negotium Crucis Official Music Video
TIBM: Yeah, it is an interesting tapestry of sound I think, varied and healthy. I really like the vocals on your new album – I like Black Metal vocals that have character, and what you do so well is create a menacing sound with moments of despair to give it that hint of vulnerability. Did you get in character for the performance?
DL: I think lyrically it helped because the lyrics are so harrowing, and the subject is so disgusting that it brings out that vitriol and hatred. When you’re screaming about the horrific things that we’re singing about, you want to channel that aggression, adding emotion to each track, via chilling and haunting shrieks, but I’ve been doing this for so long now that it just comes naturally. I get in the zone, put the track on and scream. I don’t necessarily need to be in character, its more about conveying that emotion and that aggression into the music and incorporating different methods so the vocals are not so formulaic and ‘one tone’. I’m not going to lie, the shrieks on ‘Field of the Burned’ (Track 4) were demanding, they were actually done on a whim, but they worked perfectly on that track.
TIBM: It sounds great, but I don’t envy you touring as a Black Metal vocalist. I used to work in a café in Manchester, and one morning Advent Sorrow walked in, they’d played the night before, and I was like ‘Oh shit, it’s Advent Sorrow’, and they came swaggering in looking really cool, and then the vocalist stepped up and whispered ‘Can I have a cappuccino please?’ in this frail voice and I thought, he must just speak like that all the time when he’s not singing.
DL: It’s fucking hard. I learnt pretty quickly during stints in previous bands that after a few shows my voice was sounding hoarse, and something had to be done about it. So, I bit my pride and went for some singing lessons and learnt how to protect my voice and warm up. I didn’t stay with the lessons long, I probably did four or five, but from that I learned how to warm up; it’s essential and allows you to project your voice and the sustainability of your voice. That means I can come off stage after doing an hour and my voice is fine: I’ve still got that power to it by simply doing fifteen minutes of warmups; I think that’s essential, and it’s what a lot of vocalists don’t do – they just go on stage and shriek at the top of their voices and shred their vocal chords because they’re singing from the wrong place. They’re not singing from their diaphragm, they’re singing from their throat. I’m self-taught, and I’ve learnt that over the years. There was one show where we were playing with Nargaroth in Glasgow and I lost my voice, completely lost it. I was constantly having hot water with lemon, and it managed to come back slightly, but for me the show was vocally disappointing, and I had to go on stage and tell people I’d lost my voice, because otherwise people would’ve thought ‘well these are shit!’ And ever since then, I’ve made sure that I warm up.
TIBM: Yeah, because it’s a performance, isn’t it? A lot of the time I look at bands and the drummer looks like an athlete in trainers and shorts, but no one else does and, you think, it must take a lot out of you.
DL: It does, it’s exhausting. And I don’t want to be that guy, but as you get older it gets more tiring. It can really take its toll on you and doing an hour is like doing four hours of cardio on your lungs. You come off stage and you just think ‘fuck’, cause you’ve given it all, you’ve used all of that lung power and it is difficult.
TIBM: And the costumes too. It’s hot being on stage at the best of times…
DL: And we always seem to play in summer when it’s fucking 30 degrees outside and we’re dying in the heat. But the aesthetic looks great…
TIBM: They look fantastic!
DL: But they’re a pain because they’re so warm.
The Infernal Sea – Devoid Of Fear Official Music Video
TIBM: UADA got ripped, didn’t they, when they played in Mexico and then complained of the heat, but they said it’s like a punishment playing live – they often play blind and it must be the same for you guys.
DL: It is the same, you know, we can’t see, we’re overheating. It’s punishing music and we’ve always said to ourselves we should suffer as well because we’re bombarding the crowd with this nasty, aggressive Black Metal. We attack their senses so it is only right that we suffer too. My mask is so tight, and the same with the guys, they can hardly see! That is dedication for you.
TIBM: On the subject of touring, you’ve toured with some really big names, Rotting Christ, Vreid, but what’s the weirdest experience you’ve had on tour?
DL: We’ve been quite lucky in terms of weirdness. You meet a lot of odd characters shall we say, and they can make touring very eventful, but nothing really strange. We had a great run with Abigail Williams a couple of years ago which was great; we’ve been big fans of Abigail for quite a long time, so to tour with them was great.
TIBM: But when you go to a show as a punter you just see a glimpse of a band: they play, then they’re off in the van, and it’s cool to imagine what happens, but I bet a lot of the time it’s quite mundane.
DL: Yeah, what people don’t know about being in a band is that you can spend 20 hours sitting in a van, you get to the show, you wait around, you play for like 40 minutes or an hour, then you’re back in the van again. And you go to sleep around 4 or 5 in the morning. It’s mainly an endless cycle of motorways and service stations. You get to see a bit of the city you’re visiting and that’s it. I mean, when we got to play in Europe we were quite lucky, we have friends out there, so they took us sightseeing in Belgium and Holland and Luxembourg.
TIBM: You must be missing it.
DL: It’s fun because you get to see new places, you get to do all this crazy shit, you know? I do miss it, and I can’t wait to get back doing shows. I’m looking forward to heading back out on the road and performing tracks from ‘Negotium Crucis’.
THE INFERNAL SEA – PLAGUE HERALD
TIBM: I bet, I can’t wait to get back to gigs as well. Luckily before Covid hit my son was about to be born, so I squeezed in a lot of shows before, but thank god I did.
DL: The gigs I’ve got booked are for a few ‘classic’ bands; I’m not even sure if the shows will go ahead anymore, it’s frustrating.
TIBM: And bands keep teasing you too, putting out dates for summer 2021, and I keep thinking shit, is this gonna happen?
DL: I think that’s because booking agents need to keep booking tours, otherwise it’ll mean redundancies. They’ve got to keep people’s hopes up that something’s going to happen at some point, otherwise no one will have anything to look forward to in 2021/2022.
TIBM: Absolutely. So back to the evil thing… Do you think evil art can have a positive function in society?
DL: I think so, because some of the events that occur in films and tv shows, or are explored in music have actually happened to people, and that can help people to relate to it – they’re not alone, there are other people out there that’ve had this happen to them. It helps them come to terms with stuff. It helps us understand the dangers in this world. Stuff that’s more realistic, you know, general slasher movies not necessarily, because that’s just to get a kill count or whatever. But I think it can have its positive effects, and I think it can avert people’s aggression into their art as well. Humans need that outlet. In music, you can go and scream your head off, and if that’s going to help control your frustration, then great!
TIBM: Yeah, I guess that’s important. It’s like the Marilyn Manson Columbine thing…
DL: Yeah, well if you look at the West Memphis Three, I’m deeply interested in that case. It’s insane what happened to those guys, victimized for being different, and it was like, come on, just because they listened to Metallica doesn’t mean they were devil worshippers. And they lost 20+ years of their lives, with Damien Echols fighting for his life on Death Row. It’s sickening, it’s such a tragedy. And we’re lucky that the UK’s judicial system is nothing like it is in America, or some countries in the Middle East where you’re not even allowed to like Metal without being imprisoned, and that’s scary.
TIBM: So, in terms of the Christian thing…I’m not a Christian, but if I was, I might argue that the bad press Christianity gets is unfair. After all, it also ended human sacrifice in Britain, and in many ways, it’s been a great unifier. A lot of people might argue that we’re losing something now Christianity is fading away – we’re more liberated perhaps, but we’re losing something. Do you think we’ll miss Christianity when it goes, or do you think we’ll find another religion?
DL: Many will miss it; Christianity is still hugely popular. Many rely on religion because it gives them purpose, having faith is a positive factor in their lives, some people need that drive in life, and I think that’s important to them and I think, whatever religion you support, if that helps you in life, then so be it. It’s like, I’m atheist, I don’t support any religion and that’s my choice, Christianity is an outdated religion, that, for example, doesn’t support the LGBT community, or understand that our society has progressed, we have evolved.
TIBM: Yeah, it’s very awkward with the whole LGBT thing because it’s got itself in a corner there – it has to move forwards, but there’s something pulling it back. I guess it’s caught between tradition and maintaining relevance.
DL: Stuck in the past, isn’t it? Like the American constitution. It needs updating. This is the 21st century, you know. Update it. Times have changed. People have evolved. Ideologies and theologies have evolved, people’s way of life has evolved, the way they perceive themselves has evolved. Whether people like it or not, that is the way the current world is, and we need to embrace that.
TIBM: I guess it’s hard because holding something sacred is about keeping it the same, treasuring it. Its difficult to have a sense of that whilst trying to evolve. It’s a problem that we don’t know how to solve, or maybe it’s about taking the best bits and running with it, maybe that’s the way.
DL: Well, if you’re using it as a positive thing, then why not? If that’s what helps you get by in life, who am I to tell you not to? But it’s just an old religion, isn’t it?
The Infernal Sea – The Great Mortality
TIBM: Changing topic slightly, when I spoke to Dez from Burial he said there’s a chance of a split further down the line. Has Covid put the brakes on?
DL: We’re talking about it. It’ll happen. Burial are good lads – they’re mates of ours, so it just makes sense to do a split with them, because it’ll be a blast, to be honest. It’s in the pipeline, it’s going to happen, but Covid has messed our plans up because you can’t really do anything, you can’t just get in a room and jam, but it’ll definitely happen at some point this year.
TIBM: And, on Covid, do you think it will have a lasting impact on Black Metal culture, even Metal culture as a whole?
DL: I think it’s definitely going to have an impact on the industry, and many bands will split as a result. I think if Covid is here to stay, as it seems it is, hopefully in a less potent form, but if it stays like it is and capacities are reduced it’s going to be tough. Half capacity shows are not going to be sustainable for venues,it’s just not viable. But who knows? It’s changing a lot of things in the world.
TIBM: I really liked what Vreid did. They did a live show up in the mountains in Norway, and they had a drone view with a story behind it, and it’s almost like a film of a live performance. And I’m thinking that could be something that works going forwards, because in England there’s so many interesting landscapes.
DL: Yeah, the livestream thing is a good idea. I think a lot more bands will start doing that, but then I think it’ll just be another thing that people forget about over time; like, it’s cool at the moment because people are missing gigs, but, you know, if you get a year or two of live streams, let’s hope people don’t get tired of them and move onto something else.
The Infernal Sea – Agents Of Satan
TIBM: It’s interesting. I think format’s really important. I like to listen to CDs because I feel like I can access them more, it takes a while to get your head around a full album. And it’s great to see more tapes flying around too.
DL: Yeah, tapes are a great nostalgia. They sound awful, but, you know, nostalgia-wise, they’re great, and they’re a cool little collector’s item as well. The resurgence of vinyl’s really helped. I’m a record collector, so getting that 12-inch sleeve and the liner notes and putting that record on – it’s more of an event; you actually take time to listen to an album. And because they’re expensive – you spend thirty quid on a record you’re going to listen to it from start to finish. But when it’s online, you can just go ‘30 seconds – onto the next one’ and it’s gone, isn’t it?
TIBM: It feels disposable.
DL: And you’ve got to rise above that and create something good.
TIBM: Yeah, and I think Black Metal’s a perfect antidote to disposable music, because it feels sacred – you know, like when bands release a record and it comes in a wooden box with a tooth in it or something, it feels meaningful.
DL: Definitely. I think we’re lucky because in the style of music we play, and obviously Metal as a musical subject, the fans are so devoted or fanatical, and that’s great. And pretty much everyone in bands is the same – we’re all fans of the music. And you listen to all the old bands in interviews, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest for example and they talk about all the bands that they loved – they’re fans of the music. And I think that’s what a lot of other genres don’t have – they don’t have that fanaticism behind it, and I think that’s why Metal has survived, and it will for a long time.
TIBM: I think you’re right. Even battle jacket culture, when you see someone like James Hetfield with a GBH patch or whatever…metal feeds back into itself more than other genres. It’s not uncool to be a fan.
DL: It’s about that, isn’t it? It’s about recognizing the old school and actually paying homage to that. Like you say, Metallica wouldn’t be anywhere without Diamond Head, GBH or Discharge, and the fact they’re repping them – someone else will see that and go oh, who are GBH? And they’ll check them out and that’s good – it’s kind of giving back, and I think that’s what Metal’s always done. And as you say, battle jackets are a perfect example of that – every band you like on one denim jacket, it’s great!
TIBM: Last question then, if you had a battle jacket, what would be the back patch?
DL: I have a battle jacket because I’m old school! It’s Iron Maiden, with Bruce being impaled by Eddie (Raising Hell). My jacket has a mixture of Death Metal, Black Metal, classic Hair Metal and NWOBHM. I have had people in the past question my patch choices, but I am not ashamed to include Darkthrone alongside Stryper. I get a lot of shit for my Stryper patch, but you know what, they have got some sick riffs! For a Christian Hair Metal band, they were awesome!
The Infernal Sea – Negotium Crucis (Full Album)