Death-metal Illuminations

Story online since:  18.07.2011 / 18:06:58

Nader Sadek, Egyptian-born but NYC-based, is an extraordinarily interesting artist for me to tackle, as he combines two forms of artistic expression I am particularly close to: extreme metal and contemporary art. He merges the two aesthetics in a meaningful and layered discourse probing through our emotions, raising questions about the way we culturally perceive the concepts of the extreme and the diverse while exploring the countless facets of our doomed relationship with petroleum. Nader’s narrative, as intense as is meticulous, has immediate resonance within the dark chambers of our collective and individual subconscious through a direct yet elegant use of the shockingly noxious, the filthily macabre and the explicitly sexual. Following an eclectic, seemingly boundless path, he is fully immersed in a multimedia/conceptual voyage rooted within the underground metal culture, in the face of certain snobs who still unilaterally look down at all metal as shallow and dumb (of course it has that too). Nader, far from being the intellectual-type, shows that sometimes we are guilty of the same judgmental stance we are so quick to condemn in others, by inviting us in a world where the distaste for the diverse is as ambiguous as it is unsavory. Measuring our own experiences against those of an individual who has defiantly walked the streets of Cairo in full death metal attire - literally risking his life - and also the streets of post 9/11 New York purposely fully robed in traditional burqa to record the unsurprisingly similar reactions of the passersby, is an invaluable opportunity. It is also disheartening to acknowledge once again how the art world is fundamentally consumerism-driven and therefore completely devoid of life-changing impetus: it is fair to say that Nader is working in a very competitive and harsh environment where art galleries are the dominant force, where budgets come from government funds, where politics (=propaganda) make you or break you just like the next trend, and where, if an artistic avant-garde (as in the intellectual force that is eventually capable to bring real changes into the world) ever existed, it would be sniffed out and pounced on for immediate consumption/sterilization.
Nader Sadek’s installation work using specifically death and black metal as medium is already quite substantial (it can be viewed here: in 2007 he collaborated with Steve Tucker for the first time with the piece "Faceless”; in 2009 he showcased some of his works during the Mayhem tour and some Sunn O))) dates; also, in 2009 he created a performance piece to highlight the Darfur crisis with the collaboration of Steve Tucker (ex-Morbid angel), Flo Mounier (Cryptosy), Nick McMaster (Krallice) and Mike Lerner (Behold… the Arctopus). 2011 has seen the release – quite ironically just before the infamous new Morbid Angel shocker - of an excellent concept album on Season of Mist entitled "In the Flesh”. The "sonic installation” has been conceived and coordinated by Nader who, in spite of not being a musician, composed two songs and the album intro, while the rest was taken care of by old friend Steve Tucker (ex-Morbid Angel) and Rune Eriksen (Ava Inferi, ex-Mayhem). Flo Mounier (Cryptosy) helped out again on drums. Guests appearances by Attila Csihar (Mayhem), Tony Norman (Monstrosity), Destructhor (Morbid Angel, Zyklon, Myrkskog,) and Nick McMaster (Krallice) complete an impressive collaboration, but Nader is modest and wise enough to dismiss all the journo talk of "supergroup”, focusing instead on the nitty-gritty of why he does what he does. I warned him I would not hold back with my questions...

You graduated in the USA, where incidentally you immersed yourself in the buoyant death metal scene, then returned to Egypt to be an artist: you must have been conscious of the fact that back home you would have not been able to express yourself freely, at least not with the kind of art you believe in. Tell me about how you became aware of contemporary art as a tool to critique the world and how difficult was it to leave friends and family to move back to America: is it important to always follow your dream? Do you have plans to return now that the political climate in Egypt is hopefully shifting after the brave actions of its people?

I wouldn't quite put out that way, I was shaping myself to become an artist since I was a child, so reaching that level of achievement, or at least the attempt to become one, was there even before had moved to the USA. Yes the kind of work I wanted to make there was not permitted, but it’s also an interesting challenge to make work that’s site specific, especially if you succeed in making it an experience that transcends the culture and the site. My first exposure was through an older relative who is a very intelligent and cultured individual. I had gone to a show titled "Sensation" at the Brooklyn museum when I was about 16, and there I was exposed to Damien Hirst, Ron Mueck , Jenny Seville and Marc Quinn and a few other British artist. And although I wouldn't count them as influences, I’d say they definitely turned my head and created a curiosity for me to explore. Egypt may be different now - but it will take time to undo, or clean up what has been happening there for 30 years. In my opinion, I don't think it will change in the next 10 years, but it’s possible that I’m being pessimistic - I never expected the revolution to happen, it seemed like religion was doing its job well by sedating the masses. I will definitely be visiting, although I do not plan to live there again. In fact I hope to visit soon.

Tell me about your excitement and hopes concerning the recent events in the Arabic world. Did you see it coming? It is shameful that in many western "democratic” states widespread political corruption and even blatant electoral fraud are tolerated by inept citizens, so these kind of revolutions, when they genuinely come from the people (and are not - at least not totally - instigated by foreign secret intelligence) are exciting to see.

I dint see it coming, not in this way at least. But it was done and it was a great moment in history, the point is to hopefully be able to get organized fast enough, which as I mention before I’m not too optimistic about. To me the whole situation boils down to human nature, which is something that my work revolves around: the quest for power, political figures always trying to get more. It’s really about insecurity and about how to sustain some kind of delusion of reaching immortality. Sadly this is what’s driving the earth into eventual nonexistence, using nothing other than petroleum. The problem at this point that the president has gone, which is an amazing achievement, is: where do we get from here, how do you accommodate a society that has been treated horribly in the last 30 years. I recently wrote an article about how the revolution was in many ways instigated by the Egyptian metal scene. In 96 metal was huge in Egypt, and the government didn't like it as metal is a subversive and rebellious type of music (which is threatening), and cracked down on the biggest metal show, thousands were sent to jail and tortured. Now some of those people have become some of the biggest activists. So much so , that the man Wael Ghoneim who organized the revolution in facebook was one of those metalheads. Watching chains of events unfold like that is truly beautiful.

Are you aware of the existence of very brave black metal bands such as Beirut’s Ayat who harshly criticize the three Judeo-Christian religions from the inside?

Yes, I know Ayat’s music. Sick shit. Well, none of these things can really be discussed openly in a place like that. That kind of conversation goes on privately between friends. I'm sure there is a group intellectuals over there, but it’s illegal to defame god or claim his nonexistence, so it must be very frustrating.

Now that the obsolete concepts of "left” and "right” are slowly crumbling, brand new ideas are bound to emerge from the more audacious, the so-called avant-garde. Amongst the sheep there are always a few true rebels who are not afraid to explore the impossible and artists are often forerunners in and instigators of socio-political changes. Are there examples of true avant-garde in NYC or Cairo, do you feel part of it, or is it perhaps too ephemeral a concept to really exist in its purest state?

Unfortunately I cannot say that I know anybody whose work is taken to that extreme. Most work is quiet and is shown in quiet places; no one wants to take that step. That is very frustrating. There are a lot of artists in Egypt trying to make edgy work, but they are also dictated to a certain extent by what the market wants and what the gallery literally tells them to do. Not sure if it’s totally the case in NYC, but in Egypt, I don't see work exhibited that has relevance, or any mark on the zeitgeist or an impression from personal emotion. I know it sounds harsh, but this is not the artist’s fault, it is purely the art galleries dictation. I wouldn't say this is fact, this is my interpretation and experience with what I have been exposed to, so maybe there’s another side and there are exciting things that are simply not coming into view…

It is kind of ironic - but at the same time quite fitting - that you are operating from the USA, a country that has had a huge backlash in terms of popularity as a result of its continuous, often violent interference in the affairs of foreign states. As far as the Middle East is concerned, it is common knowledge that the main issue is petroleum, a commodity the USA wants global control of. How would you describe your relationship (not as an artist but as an
individual) with a country which obviously has opened its doors to you (westernization of old and new "enemies” being an obvious target), but at the same time has been actively painting a very controversial picture not just
in the ME, but across the whole political board since WWII? As a European, I can vouch for the heavy handed Americanization of our culture/economy, something that more and more people are now objecting to.

American foreign policies are driven and motivated by the exactly that topic once again, but the way I have always seen it , is that America goes to other countries and takes what it wants and brings it back home, whereas other countries abuse their own people. It is very unfortunate that a prosperous country such as America would take such low decisions, its hunger for power seems to never cease… but that’s the human condition, it’s not an American thing. Isn't it what all huge empires sought? More power.

As an artist, you make it very clear that your aim is not preaching, but rather expanding people’s conscience: you offer the public an opportunity to connect with the various layers that make up a complex discourse covering
universal aspects of all cultures. Your personal experience must have taught you very early on how art and culture in general are very dependent on the socioeconomic climate. Since the end of the cold war and the start of the ME
crisis, it became somewhat clear that the real undercurrents which stir societies are not political nor religious (they are simply tools), but economical: looking back at history, for example at the great Egyptian or Roman empires, one can see a clear pattern repeating itself…

Exactly, and economics really translate into power, to me- I don't see it as economical, as much as driven by the lust of power which translates as economical as it is the "currency"(no pun intended) of power in culture. Additionally, my expression is exactly as you stated, an observation regurgitated, as it is public knowledge. So in a way I’m not even exposing something new, but somehow it is something that we pretend is not a strange thing. And I do find it somewhat disturbing that we convert the dead (petroleum) into energy.

In describing the various stages and processes involved in the making of "In the Flesh” in another interview, you mentioned how in choosing your collaborators you fulfilled one of your artistic discourses, the many faces of social marginalization. Europe is deeply scoured by social turmoil caused by the age-old problem of integration: even in a democratic system, one person’s freedom begins where the next person’s ends. Sadly it would appear that a
partial (if not total) loss of cultural identity from the minorities has always been the price to pay in order to achieve some kind of social stability: once again, looking back at history, it seems like a recurring process which might
have its roots in man’s own nature (self-preservation), but it is something that keeps perpetrating feelings of hate amongst different cultural and social groups.

Absolutely, racism is a defence mechanism, which is instigated by insecurity, at least that’s how I interpret it. With the piece "Faceless" the questions I’m raising are not just social, but emotional. Fear and insecurities are emotions, and each individual’s emotions are triggered in different ways, even though we understand that we have the commonality of being human. We still choose to hate, in order to defend our own existence.

Do you believe in the concepts of good and evil? To me, no philosophical idea has ever succeeded in highlighting - clearly and brutally - the intrinsic amorality of nature and the immense survival drive of the individual gene like
modern science does. What is your personal perception of Nature? Whilst for example in the ex-communist bloc the orthodox monotheistic religions are coming back strong, Pantheism and paganism are enjoying a big comeback in traditionally Christian countries, even in fundamentalist America.

In a way I’m agnostic, but all I can say is that sometimes it feels like something is out there, and sometimes it feels like nothing’s there. These are my religious beliefs. There is evil and it is something that man invented, but it’s also as I mentioned before intrinsic in the human psyche. I am ok with not knowing, this makes me more curious, and makes my imagination float into specs I don't think I would go to had there been the limitation of the truth. My interpretation of nature is that it is a cycle.

Death metal delved into the darker side (with the exception of Cynic) in a very graphic and unprecedented way and, since on both sides of the Atlantic it developed from punk/crust/hardcore, it often dealt with social issues.
These days the more experimental side of black metal is conducting an extremely interesting philosophical debate, to which US bands such as Wolves in the Throneroom, etc. are contributing in a very individual manner.
You obviously have a direct artistic connection with the legendary Mayhem and, above all, a great avant-garde black metal band from NYC, Krallice, so what is your personal perception of black metal?

In all honesty, I haven't listen to much music lately at all, haven’t in a while. I forgot about music as I’m just enjoying other things; once in a while I take out some of the classics, like Deicide, Katatonia or Carcass, but I haven't listened to much new stuff at all. Having said that, I do enjoy Blut aus Nord quite a bit, to me this is avant-garde beautiful black metal landscapes. I really can’t say Krallice have come even close to the brilliance of that. To me I really do not get a sense of intelligence or anything that can be learned from those NY based bands, absolutely amazing at their instruments, especially Krallice, but as far as song-writing, I’m really not into that style. Definite hard-workers though.

Your album offers a great opportunity to those who are not familiar with the width and breadth of a multimedia artist’s vision to peel off a few layers of the proverbial onion. "In the Flesh” began as an idea by a
non-musician (yourself) which was, through a series of processes, channelled through the medium of sound, thus creating a sonic installation which is still growing in form and developing in scope as we speak. Can you describe
how the concept around this album will keep expanding through the next creative stages, and do you expect music fans to perceive your work any differently from the usual cd/dvd releases?

First we are planning some live shows and this will be another opportunity to get the aural and visual assault we will be displaying. At this point I’ll probably have ideas for the next video already done and will plan on shooting it. But the initial idea was to have each "medium" influence the next: the initial concept influenced the demos at some point, the demos influenced the drawings, the drawings influenced the videos etc. So ideally what I like to do is make a video for each song; I’m currently preparing for a third one, but it won’t be shot for a very long time… As far as the second part of your question goes, I think already a small part of 'strictly music' fans have already started to grasp the nature of this piece, but a lot of people perceive me as band and not as an individual artist. But I think slowly, with a lot of the work congealing and clicking together, I think that people will start to see that this project is bigger than the average band. Unfortunately the funding for the entirety of this project has not yet come in for me to deliver everything at once, so I’m taking it step by step.

Do you ever feel as if you were pulled by two opposing forces, one leading to an endless horizon of exciting possibilities, the other towards that giant black hole that is consumerism via the usual series of structured, soulless
channels? What are your views on the controversial nature of art as a commodity?

Definitely, and I really couldn't have put it better myself. Although I would never say that I ever compromised anything for anyone, there are certain factors that affect the "shape" of the work itself. These influences come in the forms of how much time was given for a certain project and in general how it was funded. And in this case the commercial side of it influences it. For me the process of making art is first and foremost my therapy. My statement and my expression, in many ways, exorcize a certain demon (a persisting idea) and entrap it inside a form; this is watt my work is, small containers of different insanities spawned from the emotional part of my mind. This is all achieved before it gets the polishing it needs to land in the "commodity" level. In the end though - I am still making an object, another product that is fabricated and released onto the world. And it’s hard not to think, "oh another piece of art, another piece of plastic…", but because it hopefully transcends me and my personal emotions and is capable of reaching a great number of people, it becomes more than that. It becomes this container of spirits.

Amongst the multiple narratives in your works, the sexual references resonate in a particularly powerful manner. Your video installation "Rapture” is an excellent piece which communicates the loss of real emotions
and profound disenfranchisement from the real meaning of sex that the self-centered, lonely, plastic city life has brought upon us. "Nigredo in Necromancy”, the first video for the album, shows two memorable images: the
fingering of the melting plastic guitar and the necrophiliac kiss. The rough actions on the guitar reminded me of how much masturbatory, fake music there is around! Can you explain the meaning of "Nigredo in Necromancy”?

Great interpretation. The concept behind " Nigredo in Necromance" takes in the form of a man whose lover dies. Unable to cope with the loss, he decides to bury himself beside her in her grave. Her body starts to deteriorate, and with their skin touching, the bacteria of decay transfers from her dead skin onto his living skin, and this is when nigredo (the blackening) occurs . The bacteria of the decay starts to devour the live flesh, they eventually rot together, and I use the rotting flesh metaphor for crude oil, the theme of the album. So by rotting together, they both become petroleum eventually, and reunite in death. For the video, I don't want to have each medium dictate with limits what the videos should be like; I need to give myself a lot of freedom to create something I am very happy with and therefore I took the artistic liberty of reinterpreting each idea every time I change media. In the video I focus on the man’s ritual of conjuring his lover into ripe decay. So that when he finds her, he can start to rot with her. At first the character plays the guitar conjuring the first level of the ritual, having played "the right melody”, the character is accepted into the next level, and is now "satisfying" the next challenge, getting the guitar to orgasm The Fingering of the guitar is part of this ritual, after that, the ritual is completed, and the head goes from young, soft, and beautiful to a rotten skeletal remain, which the character kisses with passion in order to become one again.

Fine artists are often accused of snobbery and elitism. Your approach to the sexual subject is very successful as it conveys the notion of fetishism in a very direct way without ever coming close to (to use a popular example from
the music world) the Marilyn Manson realm of sexual references: if anyone asks themselves what separates a fine artist from a mediatic one, they should compare your videos.

Thank you. Everything I use in my work is always there for a very good reason, nothing is there for shock or decoration. Basically, I believe I’m on my way to creating my own vocabulary. A constellation of works, which have a narrative that continues with each subsequent piece, if you will. I think in the "music" world things need to usually be created for mass consumption, so it sometimes feels to me that music videos are directed by someone who really doesn’t care about the message (if the band has one). They are just creating great imagery to fit the great music while using the mood of the song appropriately, but there’s no sense of consideration on the vibe /feel of the song and its theme.

Your multilayered installation "Paradox Complex” shows, amongst other things, a direct reference to Don Judd, an artist I have felt very close to because of my innate attraction towards sensuous, light-reflective materials. My
magpie-like eye spotted immediately a rich narrative through a careful use of light in your installation and visual work, can you explain to us?

In "Paradox Complex” my fascination started with my heritage, and in this way I felt I had a duty to my ancestors, the ancient Egyptians. In this piece, I attempted to tackle one of their obsessions, immortality. Having that in mind, I felt that using a "web" of lights which disperse and create the atmosphere of something that is infinite, or to be more precise countless. Each spark and reflection is designed to create the feeling of endlessness: this is specifically noticeable on the strings which were made to divide the different "rooms".

Congrats on the new video for the track "Sulffer”, showing Steve Tucker as "the primordial metal-warrior” waist-deep in the waters of creation. "Sulffer” cleverly references to the words sulphur (to quote yourself, "fool's gold (…) a byproduct of the petroleum-refinement plants heard in the opening 20 seconds of the video, making its way into food and pharmaceuticals as a preservative) and suffer. This, in a nutshell, highlights the central concept of the album, that is the inherent paradox behind humanity’s effort of preserving life by using a petroleum-based product, a "resurrection that fuels new cycles of death and decay” to quote yourself again. The meaning of the song comes across very strong and clear but I am curious about the actual location of the shooting.

I designed and built this cave inside a store I rented out, and with a grant I was awarded I was able to fund getting the materials to make it. The whole cave is made with foam and plaster which I hand painted and shaped. It was very interesting, exciting and almost a scary experience, but that’s what made it even more fun. We took very big risks with this set, and we were doing lot of things for the first time. The background of the cave is an optical illusion I used: by forcing the perspective of the vanishing point, you "fool" the camera’s eye into interpreting something as actual depth. It’s only about 2m deep and I think I really succeeded in making it look like a massive natural earthly construct. The cave and its claustrophobic feel were really important to resonate with the songs vibe, I really try to pay attention and extract the vibe of the song, since I dint write it. With "Nigredo" it was different as I pretty much wrote that song, and knew what it was about the moment I recorded it, but "Sulffer" is purely Rune’s creation, with of course the addition of Steve’s lyrics and vocals.

Nader is planning to bring "In the Flesh” to Europe soon and is looking for suitable venues, namely art galleries willing to host an extreme metal gig: can you help out?

Mystery Flame

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