The Black Metal Arts

This town has one of the most thriving metal scenes in the world. Local faves Ludicra offer tips on how to cash in on that action.

Florida dominated the American underground metal scene at one point, and if that place can be an epicenter of doom and gloom, then surely the Bay Area can, too. After all, we are the birthplace of the satanic church, free love, and one really creepy mortuary school. Surely we can rival a state that has given us such burnt offerings as hot boiled peanuts and the town of Celebration (population 9,500). To prove California's metal mettle, we need only consider the serial killer factor: Ours are better than Florida's, ergo we are more metal. Aileen Wuornos? Ha. Try Richard Ramirez. You say Ted Bundy was executed in Florida? Well big whoop. We have Charles Manson, and he's still alive.

In fact, according to Aesop (just Aesop), drummer for S.F. black metal band Ludicra, "San Francisco is being looked at as the new capital of metal in the United States." High on Fire, Asunder, Impaled, Exhumed, and many more rest their mildly satanic and/or pestilent heads here. If TRL decides it's time to commercially mine metal, we could all be sitting on a fortune. And do you want to be jump-starting your Modest Mouse sound-alike when that happens? Of course you don't. It's time to start up your own metal band before the label feeding frenzy arrives.

It was with this in mind that I sat down recently with Aesop and Ludicra singer Laurie Sue Shanaman to talk about the intricacies of the metal zeitgeist in an effort to create a primer for those just starting out. Most underground metal bands have great senses of humor, even if it's not reflected in their music (intentionally), so let's peel back metal's pretentious layer of self-importance and peer into the abyss, shall we?


The first thing you need to do if you want to start a band is figure out which genre of metal you are going to dip your toe into: death or black? What's the difference, you ask? Ah, well, that is like asking the difference between a cadaver pregnant with a demon's child and a forest haunted with pedophilic Viking spirits. Like, duh.

"There's a raging controversy around these definitions," says Aesop. We're wedged into a booth in the back of Benders on South Van Ness, drinking pitchers of beer. "Some people feel that for black metal, you have to have satanic lyrics. But for me, it's the style of music that we play."

For starters, black metal is usually in a higher key than death metal, and the vocals are screechy, as opposed to Cookie Monster-y. Then there are the lyrics. "Death metal deals with death and gore, serial killers and whatnot," explains Aesop. Death metal is also about, shall we say, medical malpractice, and many a crypt. Black metal is more interested in the mystic.

"Black metal is more Middle Earth," interjects Shanaman, refilling her glass.

And, says Aesop, "Death metal is full of redneck jocks."

Indeed, black metal is comprised mainly of nerds, ex-Dungeons & Dragons players, and sci-fi dorks who outgrew Queen. But they like to call themselves innovative. "There's more room to grow in black metal," asserts Aesop. "It is less rigid." Apparently so, as there is a polka black metal band, a flamenco black metal band, and even a pedophilic black metal band. What color is your parachute?


OK, now that you've figured out which side you're going to play for, you need to figure out your name. This is probably the single most important thing you can do. Not only should your name convey the message you're sending -- say, "We like to cannibalize corpses," or "We died in a sewer" -- but also, regardless of the metal category, it should fit neatly across a T-shirt and be completely illegible when written out.

"We wanted to pick a name that could grow with us," says Aesop, who chose "Ludicra" for its several different meanings. "Look at Metallica. There is no way a band that is making the music they are making now should be called that." The members settled on "Ludicra" after doing what every burgeoning band should do: They consulted a Latin dictionary. Ludicra means "the art of drama," and seemed to fit. "We thought it was appropriate," says Aesop, "because there's sort of an air of female hysteria to our band: drama, catfights ...." (Ludicra is composed of two women and three men.)

So go to your nearest Latin dictionary and start skimming for a name that sounds imposing but also has meaning for you and your band.

"Medical dictionaries are good, too," adds Shanaman. "You want to call yourself something like 'Embryonic Inhaler.'"

"Yeah," says Aesop, "or Extreme Unction."

"Ooh, yeah," says Shanaman, "there is the -tionfactor, very important."

In the event that you do not own a dictionary, Latin or otherwise, here are some words we found: nidor (smell); pravus malum (evil); scelero (to pollute with blood or guilt); improbus (wickedly); voluntas (last will and testament); abutor (to use abusive language); ulciscor (to avenge); vorago (chasm, pit, abyss); acerbus (bitter, gloomy, dark); diabolas (Satan); trucida (to kill cruelly); volutbrum (filthy pigsty); demens (insane); viscus (entrails, bowels); turpis (morally corrupt).

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