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"...I decided to catch up with owner/operator Stu, who I have known for many years, to get his views on 'The Pernicious Enigma' vinyl remix, and on running a truly underground label in 2016."

Interview with Aesthetic Death (Record Label).
"Aesthetic Death were responsible for unleashing Esoteric upon the world back in the '90s, with the releases of seminal double albums 'Epistemological Despondency' and 'The Pernicious Enigma'. Over several years, they have been reissuing the entire Esoteric back catalogue on vinyl, with a view towards releasing a box set compilation of all the records at the end of the process. With the release of possibly their most defining record (and my personal favourite), I decided to catch up with owner/operator Stu, who I have known for many years, to get his views on the record, and on running a truly underground label in 2016."

Hi Stu, would you mind giving us a brief introduction to yourself and Aesthetic Death?

Hi Kris.

I started Aesthetic Death as a distro back in 1992, then the label started to take shape during 1993. It all began quite naturally and without any great notions. Originally, with not living in the city (and with no internet/email), I always found it hard to find demo/CD releases from underground bands. When I wrote to bands/labels directly to buy their stuff for my own collection, I was often offered wholesale rates as well....so, I just bought more copies. Things worked in a different way back then – letter writing, mail orders, flyers, tape trading – but it was something I gravitated towards.

Differing stages of existence since have witnessed various levels of label activity – sometimes other things in life just get in the way.

As for me, there is no narrative of real interest. I’m long in the tooth – lots of things can happen in life by this time. I drift through life with a general will to avoid society and just be myself. I hold a general disdain towards the mechanisms of society – and the overriding acceptance towards conformity, capitalism, consumerism, globalism, establishment/bureaucratic control and all those factors which help create the shallow, mindless and selfish population that surround me - disrupting my equilibrium.

But....who cares about all that. There are no facts, only interpretations.

The label has had a long standing association with Esoteric, releasing their debut and second albums, re-issues, and various side projects. How did this association come about? Did you know the band before starting the label?

Well, it just seemed to happen. I was at a gig in 1992 in Birmingham (possibly My Dying Bride, Kong + GGFH). I handed out flyers and it turns out I gave one to Greg [Chandler – Esoteric Guitar/Vocals]. He wrote to me, I listened to the demo and was blown away. It was just so different and stark – I loved the music and the art. It was alien to almost anything else I knew back then. There was only really Thergothon, Mordor, Unholy, Winter, Decomposed (UK), Transgressor etc. that were familiar to me in the doom scene and I mainly listened to death metal. When I spoke with Greg I mentioned I was starting the label and would like to work with them – and, as stated, it just seemed to happen. We seemed to trust each other – and had a similar vision. And so we worked on the release of “Epistemological” – I don’t think any of us knew exactly how things might turn out, it was just exciting to work on releasing the album.

We have worked on and off together since 1993, but it’s not any kind of business arrangement. Outside of releases, I have remained close to the band throughout - and the relationship is much deeper than simply a typical label/band situation. This is somewhat reflected with many bands I’ve worked with over the years.

When Gordon (Lysergene) and Olivier (Dead Beat Project) started their side projects, I was in a position to release them – and thought they both deserved some wider recognition. In some kind of parallel universe either of these bands might’ve been much more widely known.

'The Maniacal Vale' triple LP.

Can you explain the concept of the Esoteric vinyl reissues? When can we expect the finished box-set?

Back in 1994 and 1997 we never had the ability or budget to release on vinyl – and, ironically, nobody ever really requested it on vinyl back then. We just wanted to get the albums out there; format wasn’t really a priority to us. At that time I had only ever released a couple of 7”s from other bands.

I spoke with Greg about possibly doing vinyl versions when we were sat in a pub in Germany, back in 2004. We thought it would be a good idea – but I never realised how long and problematic it might become!

The box-set was the original vision – but when it was costed out it was going to be the same cost as a small house at the time!! So, the concept was to release them individually and, subsequently, create a limited box set at the end of the process with added material. That is generally still the same concept now.

On your site, you have stated that "'The Pernicious Enigma' is a very important album to me" and "This will stand as one of the proudest moments for Aesthetic Death". Can you explain what you mean, and why this record in particular stands out so much?

“Pernicious” is indeed a very special album to me.

After “Epistemological” we had a lot of things to contend with, such as a general indifference to the album, various interesting tours, fires, injuries and so on. Greg was adamant that things would recover, yet there were times when people with less vision would have chucked the towel in.

For me personally, in the late 80s when I was about 13 years old, I had a health condition which I was told would kill me before I was 16 (‘91). So, during these two albums (‘94-‘97) I was in a rather strange personal limbo, being quite a few years past my expiry date – kind of awaiting my death at any imminent point. This caused me to have a more fatalistic, hedonistic, yet quite thoughtful, mindset.

So, whilst things were not very routine during this period, they were great times where I learnt a lot. I spent a lot of time socially with Esoteric, being free from society, experimenting with drugs, plus I was kicking around during their rehearsal and recordings. I was able to witness the genesis of the album, in various psychoactive states, then finally the recording and listening to the finished album many, many hundreds of times since.

It is an inevitable consequence that any harsh life experience has a subconscious impact on one’s epistemological and ontological standpoints, especially in our formative years. These philosophical underpinnings inform one’s approach to life subsequently. Therefore, due to my life at that time, “Pernicious” is irrevocably engrained into my psyche. It is a very personal album - representing some of the best times in my life, yet at the same time it stands as a soundtrack to the end of my life. End game audio.

Pernicious has a very cathartic effect upon me. It reflects some deep personal emotions and has channelled my thoughts, aggression and personal ambition through the following years. It has everything I look for in an album – it has complexity, the claustrophobic darkness and gives me the ability to drift amidst the sounds, with the vocals adding so much more. It is an album that sounds as perfect to me nearly 20 years later – this was an album that was wonderfully ahead of its time.

Pernicious is an emotional journey and is crafted from the true essence of the environment from which it is construed - the darkness and misery therein is simply music that cannot be crafted without having a genuine empathy, intuitiveness and knowledge of those matters. Sheer emotion to the heart of every track!

For these reasons, I felt the burden of responsibility in ensuring that “Pernicious” came out perfectly on vinyl. Whilst I am reasonably happy with how it turned out – I am always critical of how things could have been done better. Both for myself, and those people that have an affinity to the album, I hope that we have done it justice!

What do you think of the remix/remaster of The Pernicious Enigma? Will there be a CD release at some point?

The remix was a long and difficult task for Greg, due to the poor recording quality and the original DAT tapes being very unreliable – but it was important to do. The mix on the 2cd back in 1997 was never how Greg had foreseen it. However, as an outside listener, who had heard the album a lot, I have always loved the original mix, frailties or not. We had always talked about remixing for the vinyl, it seemed like the one and only opportunity to amend the mix.

Greg has done a wonderful job and when I first heard the new version it sounded completely different to me, and I have grown to know what Greg had envisioned back in 1997. So, you’re right, there will be a CD version of this remix – but, that will happen when it happens.

The label strikes me as having a very old-school ethos - you maintain many trading links with other underground labels and distros, keep your prices extremely low and put out records from totally unheard of acts based entirely on their musical quality, whilst ignoring all trends. It's also fair to say you haven’t really taken quickly to the modern 'social media' driven web... indeed you've described yourself as having "technological ignorance and unwillingness to learn quickly" - but I wonder... is it just 'technical ignorance', or just a general preference for the older, more personal way of working?

I’m not entirely sure what an underground ethos is – but, if it is what I do, then so may it be. I have strong principles on matters like capitalism and profiteering – therefore, if that is how I think personally, then it would be unacceptable for my label to function in any other manner than how it does. I would rather stop the label immediately than be some soulless label that is seeking the next great seller, signing established bands simply because they sell well, licensing shitty albums from 25 years ago for vinyl because they sell.... and so it goes on.

I’m proud of all the bands I work with and grateful that they have entrusted their creations to my label. I am merely a conduit for what they create – and just hope that I am able to help their music get heard elsewhere and put out albums that do them justice. I do work and trade with other underground labels – this remains a strong method of collaboration for me – and a positive way to get music heard. Again, I have no wish to sell my soul to distributors who only care for how many units they sell and the profit margin therein!!

Your observation is accurate. I have no interest in social media. This may be something of a paradox when running a label. I just do what I do – the label drifts along in its own way. If people find me over the years, then that is great.

I have a Facebook presence which is currently excellently run and maintained by Trent from ThrOes. I’m not sure how easily I’ll streamline myself into engaging with this over time.

You put out all your records on CD, but some have seen Vinyl releases too (As well as Esoteric, the second ever AD release saw a vinyl reissue several years ago amongst others). Your vinyl releases tend to be really special as well, 2 or even 3xLPs on very heavy vinyl and top quality sleeves. A lot of love seems to go into these releases. As a listener/collector do you have a preference for Vinyl or CD?

I’m definitely a keen record collector myself, so everything I release needs to meet my own personal standards. More importantly, when these albums are in my “custody” I have a responsibility to create something the band are proud of and that people are happy to buy.

I have no real preference for any particular format, so long as it is a physical format :-)

I have great contact with some wholly decent people around the world who still take their time to buy my releases – and part with their hard-earned money. These people have my respect, especially with so many people these days having digital collections. I’ll always do everything I can to ensure my customers are happy with what they get from me.

Link to Aesthetic Death full release list.

You've released records in a wide range of genres, but for the most part they seem to share something in terms of darkness and uncompromising-ness. Is there anything in particular you look for in an AD release?

The priority is my personal enjoyment of an album. Nothing else. If that encompasses varying genres then that is the way the label has materialised and grown, as I have also done, over the years. I err towards a certain darkness and non-conformity in the music I listen to. Each person’s varying emotional and psychological states will naturally turn them towards differing musical areas – so my label can only represent and reflect me personally.......but, I’m too closely involved to be impartial!

How does running the label differ now to when you started?

It’s easier in many ways. I no longer have to write numerous letters, across weeks/months, to organise a deal. But, technology aside, there is little that is different. I will continue as I am – doing releases, supporting cool bands, spreading good music, being true to myself – and have as little contact with society as I can reasonably achieve.

What's next on the agenda for AD? Anything relevant to Doom-Metal.com?

I’ve just released the new Haiku Funeral CD. Not a band you might associate with doom. However, someone close to Doom-Metal.com introduced me to the band in the first instance. This is a band that has a very unique style and sound, which is rare these days. “Hallucinations” transcends anything Haiku have previously put out and is a beautifully crafted album that has such a dark apocalyptic feel.

Have also just released a CD by Australian act ThrOes – an album that might not, on the surface, endear itself to those on Doom-Metal.com. However, I would encourage anyone to check out ThrOes – it really is one of the greatest extreme metal albums I have heard.

Later this year I will be doing the latest Mourning Dawn – Wastes EP – which is a wonderful piece of creativity and craft. Await something special indeed there.

I will be putting out the “Dysangelist” 2LP from extreme doom noise act Dictator. This is a cult album to me and am privileged to have the opportunity to work on this beautiful vinyl version.

Finally, I have just agreed to work with USA doom act Ketch. An amazing band and relatively unknown in these times – but I love the new album and hope to get their music more widely known. Some reading this might know their debut EP back in 2014, which co-incidentally will be added as bonus tracks to “The Anthems of Dread”.

Doom metal merges into so many other genres these days, that any release I put out might interest those into doom. My main enjoyment in music is doom in its various guises – even though that might not be immediately apparent from my roster. I’m very fortunate to work with such excellent, creative and talented bands – doom or not.

Thanks for your time Stu, is there anything you would like to add?

Thanks Kris – appreciate the interview and interest in Pernicious.

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often...but no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself”.

Editor's note: A complementary 'The Pernicious Enigma' interview, with Greg of Esoteric, can be found here, and the album review is here.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Aesthetic Death (Record Label) bandpage.

Interviewed on 2016-08-01 by Kris Clayton.
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