VIDEO PREMIERE: Black Nihil brings black metal to Scranton in horror-inspired debut ‘Cross My Heart’
Seeing Black Nihil on stages across the area, one may initially assume they’re a Norwegian band touring through Northeastern Pennsylvania, but soon it is clear that they represent Scranton’s own take on the controversial black metal genre.
They’re not lighting churches on fire, but they are burning down the conventions of what metal can be in NEPA. After founding well-received bands The Hill You Die On and These Idol Hands over the last three years, bassist James Simon envisioned an entirely new project towards the end of 2018.
“His heart was always in black and doom metal. He began writing and slowly pulled the rest of us in, piece by piece. We had our first practice in January 2019 and, by April, we were ready for our first show,” guitarist Anthony Magraner told NEPA Scene.
“All of our members listen to some form of metal, but within very broad subgenres that I believe all pull together to create our sound. It’s the influence of our backgrounds, ranging from doom metal to hardcore to thrash and some black metal. Just because of the elements and feel of the overall project, it would be like a black doom metal band, if I have to put us in some form of box.”
The signature black metal elements are all there – the shrieking vocals, distorted guitar, black attire, corpse paint, and ritualistic stage show – but where they break out of that box is in their wide range of heavy metal influences.
“We all grew up with metal in some form to varying degrees, and I believe all of those pieces come together to create our whole. James is very black metal, thrash, and doom-oriented. [Vocalist] Aaron Ferranti is similar but with added touches of thrash and hardcore. [Keyboardist] Jamie Macheska listens to a lot of prog and instrumental metal. [Drummer] Gabe came from a hardcore background. I, myself, grew up with a lot of grindcore, hardcore, and industrial metal,” Magraner continued.
“I like to think that we stray away from your typical stereotypes and conventions. Our sound is unique and something a little different than what is the ‘norm’ for the area. We added theatrics to our live show and also have our own version of corpse paint that brings a ‘street’ black metal feel, and I believe that element brings something different to the table. Our music kind of sounds old in a way; we have had numerous people mention Pentagram.”
When James Callahan, the dark mastermind behind NEPA music promotion and production team Camp Rattler, first listened to the band’s initial mixes, he said it made him feel “like when I put a record on as a kid that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be listening to, in the best possible way,” Magraner recalled. “No two bands around here sound alike anyhow, so I believe we’re just adding another flavor to an already varied and talented scene.”
Producing music videos for local bands like Royal Hell and Cut Up Naked Teenagers to national acts like Clutch, Callahan began meeting Simon last year to talk about how they could bring those forbidden feelings to Black Nihil’s first video for their song “Cross My Heart,” debuting today exclusively on NEPA Scene.
“He only had a few thoughts, initially – he wanted a black and white flick, and he wanted it to be brutal. We loved both notions. Later in the summer, I reached out to Chris Krisanda, who we had in mind for a couple upcoming parts, and the rest fell into place. Krisanda brought Angela Thomas in as our victim/avenging spirit. Their enthusiasm for their roles was strange and wonderful. That, coupled with the tireless efforts of our team, made this a super fun project for a Devil’s Night release. We all had a blast on the banks of the mighty Susquehanna ‘fleshing this out,’” Callahan said. “Enjoy. The song is killer.”
“James and Aaron collaborate for the lyrics on all the songs. They have a process that keeps it poetic while catering to Aaron’s primal urges when he just goes to another place, when letting it all out. They tend to draw from their darkness and emotions and use it as inspiration. It’s typically left a bit vague, as to allow anyone to plug in their own emotions and connect with an overall feeling. They have a specific connection with each song, and the listener can have theirs,” Magraner added.
“Shooting the video was an amazing experience for all of us. It was a long and exhausting process but made easy by the professional and enthusiastic crew. The actors were absolute troopers. They were dragged through woods, hung on harnesses, and put through hell – all done with a smile.”
The Camp Rattler crew turned the typically beautiful West Pittston riverbanks surrounded by the peaceful Pennsylvania woods into a horrific crime scene ripped right out of a Halloween movie. The NEPA Horror Film Festival thought so too, so organizer Bobby Keller projected the video up on the big screen of the Circle Drive-In Theatre in Dickson City in between movies at its fifth annual event two weeks ago, a “childhood dream come true” to Callahan.
“I’ve been going to the Circle since I was a kid. To have our video on display on that screen was nothing short of breathtaking,” Magraner agreed. “That it was also a part of the NEPA Horror Film Fest was so cool. Bobby Keller has done some amazing things, and we were proud to have it displayed at his festival.”
“Cross My Heart” is one of four tracks on their upcoming self-titled EP, due for release later this year.
“The album was recorded and mixed by James Yamrus at King Room Studios. The studio was set up in an old church in Wilkes-Barre, which was the coolest environment I’ve ever recorded in. The room was huge and gave us the best sounding drums I’ve heard. Clyde Rosencrance at Republic Audio mastered it,” Magraner said.
“Being our debut, I like to think of the EP as a formal introduction to the band – four songs that we poured our hearts into and will showcase who we are at the present time. Being so new, we’re still constantly evolving, but I think it’s a good snapshot of who we are as of right now.”
As they work on finding the perfect venue for a release show, Black Nihil is finishing up a run of shows tonight with Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza at The Barbary in Philadelphia and tomorrow with Dead Air and DJ Honeyman Lightning at the Backyard Ale House in Scranton, just in time for Halloween. Their small run of T-shirts sold out almost instantly, so word is beginning to spread about this evil-looking band that may just start a Satanic panic in Scranton.
“[The theatrical presentation] allows us to become someone else while playing, to slip into another mindset. Also, at the end of the day, when you see a band live at any level, you’re paying to be entertained. James always says, ‘No one wants to pay to see their neighbor on stage in the clothes they just cut their grass in,’ which I believe was something Lemmy once said. And he’s right. As stated before, it’s our own version of makeup that we came up with that we feel suits us and our sound. We are not wearing bullet belts and giant spikes and pentagrams because that’s simply just not us,” Magraner left off.
“We’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has shown us love – all the bands who support us, the people who have given us encouragement and a kind word, Camp Rattler for working with us and being an all-around amazing group of people, NEPA Scene for all they do for the local acts and businesses… there’s far too many to list. We’d like to give a huge thank you to Brian Craig. He was the first person James spoke to in the formation of our band. He heard every demo, thought, and idea before even some of the rest of the band did. We love him so much and miss him greatly already.”
See NEPA Scene’s photos of Black Nihil performing at Darkenheavy Campfest at Mountain Sky in Jermyn last month here.
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.