The hypnotic shriek of black metal usually brings to mind a very particular landscape – primeval forests, harsh winds, snow – but it stands to reason that any type of extreme landscape should bring about an extreme musical response. Why wouldn't the insane heat, palm trees and tourist hordes of South Florida provoke a similarly antisocial response? Working from that premise, it doesn't surprise me that Ft. Lauderdale's Kult Ov Azazel were among the early vanguard of black metal bands in the United States.
From the jump, KOA were decked out in just as much leather, spikes and ghoulish makeup as Immortal or Mayhem, and they dealt in the same raw, wild sounds as their European counterparts, with early works like Order of the Fly and a split with Krieg providing ample evidence. Here's the thing: Up until the present day, KOA have kept the (un)faith and kept it distorted, dirty and completely in thrall to the horned one. Black metal as a whole has evaded the clutches of the mainstream, and KOA mainstay Xaphan (vocals/guitars) has no problem with this phenomenon. Though he did consent to this rare interview with Orlando Weekly.
OW: What was it that initially attracted you to black metal? Was there a gateway album?
Xaphan: When Mötley Crüe came around I thought they were the incarnation of evil on Shout at the Devil. That is until a neighbor turned me onto the Venom albums. From that point on I immersed myself into all the music I could find that espoused all things satanic.
Kult Ov Azazel were among the earliest practitioners of black metal in Florida; were there any sort of extreme reactions?
When we were releasing Order of the Fly, we had hired a reproduction company to silkscreen the baphomet on the CDs we would end up burning the tracks onto. It ended up being a family-run company that was overtly religious. When we got our sample of the disc with the image on it we put the disc on since we were curious. ... It ended up having this crazy church sermon on it about the dangers of Satan.
Kult Ov Azazel impress because of their singleminded devotion to a singular set of musical and aesthetic ideals. This is not music for everyone. It's theatrical, but not like Alice Cooper; more Hermann Nitsch or Anton LaVey. Xyphon takes pride in the continued use of corpsepaint: "We are one of the few out of the old bands from that era that still do use it. Most have dropped it." At current count, the band has 15 albums and EPs out, with a new album promised this year. They've shared stages with everyone from Black Witchery to Toxic Holocaust and show a dedication to live work that's more in line with punk ethics. This Friday night, a rejuvenated Kult Ov Azazel burst out of the crypt for a show at West End Trading Co. in Sanford.
You were the first black metal band to play Puerto Rico (2009)?
We were the first black metal band to play the island, correct. I don't remember much for various reasons or another if you catch my drift but I do remember it being sold out and it was total insanity. The fans and people of Puerto Rico made us feel at home and treated us like kings. We went, we saw, we conquered and then we came back home.
What should an audience who may be new to your work expect from you?
I don't even know what to expect. Hag (vocals) and I never discuss what he has planned, so just like everyone else, I will find out the night of the first show in Nashville, since we don't do any "dress" rehearsals. I can tell you that the audience should be prepared for a sonic bludgeoning and the practice of black magic.
A good amount of black metal projects are studio-only, but live work seems important to you.
Everyone in this band enjoys all aspects of what it takes to be a band, both onstage and in the studio. This may come off as elitist, but most black metal bands are studio-only because either they can't re-create what they recorded or just aren't proficient enough at their instruments to pull it off live.