Interview with Dayal Patterson author, publisher and founder of Cult Never Dies
It has been just eight short years since you founded Cult Never Dies and published your ground-breaking work, Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult. Tell us about the rapid growth of your publishing empire!
Ha, I don’t know about rapid growth, but things have certainly expanded pretty steadily since that book was released. Cult Never Dies effectively launched the day Evolution came out, as I purposely issued the companion book, Black Metal: Prelude To The Cult, to coincide with that. The store started with just those two books, one Rotting Christ shirt and one Manes shirt, if memory serves, and today we’ve got 700 items available there including books, fanzines, magazines, vinyl, CDs, cassettes, flags, boxsets and more.
So it’s been quite fast, but it’s also grown very organically. It had to actually – I started Cult Never Dies with zero money in the bank and no loans and every release was effectively funded by the sales of the preceding releases, so to a large extent the scale was based on demand. I guess we could have done things in a more traditional way, but I think this grassroots approach has been for the best – Cult Never Dies is a business of course, but it was first and foremost a creative outlet and a way to engage with the underground, and while I have to aim to make a profit with most releases, it wasn’t intended to become what it has became when I started it. .
Is this your full-time occupation now? If yes, what did you do before?
Yes I have been full-time with this for six years now, and had full-time staff for the last five. We actually expanded this month to larger headquarters and took on more staff, so it’s (thankfully) a far cry from the days when I was creating and posting books alone in spare hours around other paid work. When I started Cult Never Dies – and going back to when I begun writing Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult/Black Metal: Prelude to the Cult, which was the foundation of the whole thing – I was working part-time doing retouching and design at a photo studio, and writing for Metal Hammer and some other magazines as a freelancer. I studied photography and also took pictures for magazines like Record Collector and Terrorizer, but in terms of work I’ve mostly made my living doing writing and Photoshop work.
In this modern digital age, what is the enduring appeal of hard copy books and magazines? Conventional wisdom would suggest that starting a business such as yours would not be financially viable.
I guess it’s important to underline that Cult Never Dies didn’t really begin as a business, at least not in the traditional sense. It was merely an outlet for my writing and it’s become a bigger and bigger proposition as the demand grew, until it became an outlet for other people’s writing and a fulltime mailorder/wholesaler. So I didn’t go into this thinking about whether creating books about metal would be financially viable as the foundation for a new business or whatever. That said, my instinct did tell me that there would be a fair amount of people like myself who would have enough of an interest in such items to mean there would be fairly decent sales.
In the end I think high quality books have an enduring value, a value that is actually accentuated by the dominance of digital media. I think books have become more essential and desirable items now that we do so much staring at screens, and I think that the digital takeover has resulted in people buying less physicals, but more of lasting value. I see the paradigm as being pretty similar to that of buying music: People used to buy more CDs and now that it’s possible to listen to music online, fans tend to buy less physicals, but when they do they are often seeking to invest in more special releases (for example, opting to buy vinyl editions of an album, or a boxset edition, despite the extra cost). Similarly, it is not necessary now to buy weekly music magazines to get reviews, news or concert listings, and that makes the idea of investing in a book a lot more tempting and affordable. Our book sales continue to grow, so I am optimistic that there is a growing market for this and you simply cannot get depth of content you find in a book online. I would probably be less confident if I was starting a monthly metal magazine, because I think that medium is much more encroached upon by online titles.
On a related note there are more books and documentaries about Black Metal than any other Metal genre by far. What is the attraction, why do Black Metal fans support the underground and physical product in such a dedicated manner?
I think this is for three main reasons. Firstly, I believe black metal is the broadest form of metal in terms of musical style and has more variety and manifestations than other genres. Secondly, black metal is very concerned with philosophy and ideology. Very few people – at least until recently – made black metal simply because it sounded cool or whatever, and if you talk to most of the prominent artists they have strong opinions or worldviews that drive their music and art, which makes interviews more engaging than simply talking to a band about the riffs on their new album or similar. Lastly, black metal is a very visual and often theatrical genre, which naturally lends itself well to photography and film.
Regarding the strong level of support for physicals, I think this might be something to do with metal, and especially underground metal, as a whole, rather than specifically applying to black metal. Cult Never Dies does have more involvement with black metal than other forms of metal/music, but we do also sell death and doom metal books, CDs and vinyl and the reception to that suggests that the passion for physicals and dedication to supporting creative endeavours is very similar. And that’s a very good thing for the health of the scene, needless to say.
Is it hard to secure the rights to reproduce some of the cool fanzine anthologies that you have been publishing?
It gets easier with each one, because people increasingly know what we’re about and what we do. That’s true of all the books actually, not just the anthologies. When I wrote my first book, it was quite hard to give potential interviewees an idea of what the finished article would actually look like and what my approach was going to be. At this point most of our potential authors and partners have already encountered at least some of our books, and if they haven’t I can just send them a couple, so it’s not necessary to make for anyone to make a leap of faith.
How many books have you personally written now and how many have you published? Do you miss writing, now that most of your time is spent running your business?
I never know what to say when people ask me this. I’ve written four full-length books alone, co-written the Rotting Christ biography, and wrote all the text for our David Thiérrée artbook. Then I also wrote all the new material for the zine anthologies. As Cult Never Dies we’ve published 20 books, all of which I edited and handled layout for to some degree, except for the Black Candle III book, where the author – Thomas Reitmayer, rest in peace – created the whole work themselves.
In terms of the writing, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I would definitely like more time to write books, but at the same time I enjoy working with other authors on their books and making them a reality, and I also enjoy most of the work that goes into running the store/mail order, for example choosing what vinyl to stock, making trades, designing adverts, working on the webstore and so on. On a day-to-day basis I don’t really have any complaints and I really appreciate the variety of work, but I do regret slightly when I see that it will soon be three years since the release of my last book. I think in the end you have to accept that there are only so many hours in the day unfortunately.
Over time your reputation has grown to the point where you are the official merchandiser of several high profile bands. I’ve noticed that you have been having to combat bootlegger and pirates. What advice can you give to fans who maybe might fall prey to these criminals? How can one tell the difference between an authorized product that you sell and a cheap knock-off made without permission to make a quick buck? Feel free to name names so people can avoid supporting these criminals.
Yes, I really despise modern bootleggers to be honest. There was a time, pre-internet especially, when bootlegging metal bands was a little more excusable because it could be impossible to find official shirts by many bands, or indeed to make contact with those bands that had ceased activities. Today, there is no excuse. Most bootleggers claim that they just do it because they’re fans and it’s not for the money, but this is easily disprovable nonsense – if that was the case then why don’t they sell the shirts for cost price instead of charging the same as (and often morethan) official sources. If they aren’t trying to exploit the bands in question why don’t they share their profits with them after the fact? Not to mention that the quality of most bootlegged shirts are below that of official versions. I don’t like to preach, but I would say to anyone buying metal shirts that you are severely undermining the artists you claim to appreciate when you buy bootleg merchandise and stolen intellectual property – no one making metal music is getting rich and these days the income they make from merchandise is really important to help fund studio time and so on.
I realize that many people labour under certain stereotypes about Black Metal (and to a lesser extent Death Metal) and it’s fans. As your status and success as a business have grown, have you noticed an increase in detractors, critics and cynics? Is it hard to avoid the inevitable politics in this business?
We haven’t had too many problems in that sense I would say. Of course it helps if you can get along with people and can both be diplomatic when necessary, and stand your ground where that is needed. Honestly, I think Cult Never Dies kind of exists in its own space in some senses and avoids some of the politics of the business simply because there isn’t really anyone else doing the same thing as we are. I definitely feel very free to carve our own path and make our own rules in a way I didn’t when I was only writing for other people’s magazines and so on.
You have just released Rotting Ways:The History of Finnish Death Metal. How has response been? What is your next big project?
That book has been remarkably successful, actually more popular than I expected. It would be within our top five best selling books, which is well deserved as it is an excellent book, but also quite surprising – in fact, I actually delayed a book that I would have expected to be a much bigger selling title simply because I was enjoying editing and doing the layout on Rotting Ways so much. There is already a licensed edition via Decibel in the US and some translation offers, which is great as in many ways it’s a niche title. Then again, I suppose all of our books are niche titles!
In terms of big projects we have No Celebration: The Official Story of Paradise Lost, Expanded Edition by David E Gehlke, and the second volume of the Doom Metal Lexicanum by Aleksey Ekdokimov, so a double dose for doom fans there. We also have a new art book coming in the shape of Chris Moyen’s Thorncross: 3 Decades Invoking The Deadened finally Petrified: Under The Full Moon, which is an anthology of Petrified fanzine and the story of the related Full Moon Productions. So that will take us into 2022 I think. There’s quite a lot of projects planned for that year also, but more on that closer to the time I think.
The 10th anniversary of CND is not that far away. Do you have any plans for some sort of celebration or project to commemorate the milestone?
Yeah I guess the anniversary would be November 2023, so it’s not too far away. Hopefully Covid will be under control by then and we can organise some sort of celebration, but definitely there are things I want to do in time for that anniversary. Fingers crossed we have the time for it all!
Thank you in advance and may the cult never die!
Thank you for your interest and dedication to the metal scene!