We’ve done some industry profiles on record labels and businesses in Heaven’s Metal before – to great success – because the people involved are passionate about putting out great Christian metal and all have stories to tell. That is certainly the case here with two young men – Jason Butz in Wisconsin and Jeremy Thurmond in Michigan – with their fingers on the pulse of the underground. These two guys combined their businesses to go full bore against the gates of hell.
Tell me the stories behind starting Starve the Flesh and Nokternal Hemizphear.
Jason (Nokternal Hemizphear): As for how it all began, I am very thankful for my first break into the metal industry when I got a big opportunity to do artwork for Frost Like Ashes’ Tophet album. I was thrilled and enthralled. Working with (frontman) Sebat (Frost) and the guys was fun and a great experience. I think, in the long run, they were very gracious to me as I was doing all of the artwork by colored pencil. Alterations were killer. But in the end, they ended up using two pieces of art that I had presented to them. I was totally excited. I laugh now, because I think this was God’s way of easing me into the industry. Now that I look back at it in, the art I made for them was super-cheesy. It looks great in the original and re-released album (after someone touched it up with Photoshop), so that was good. Soon thereafter, I had a few opportunities with Banshee (New Mexico) and Dead in Christ (USA) and some other minor jobs arose. Then, when I was seeking God’s direction in my life and a desire to get my art out to the masses for His namesake, something happened. While driving one day, my conversation with God went like this:
“So, God, you know I want to do more art and minister to this darkened world. How do I do that? Do you want me to even do that? Should I just quit?” He said in a still, small voice, “I want you to distribute music.” I immediately reacted, almost out loud, “You’re crazy!” He said, “Exactly.” And that was the slow and humble beginnings.
From there, I was just bold and followed God’s lead with approaching a few labels (and a lot of bands) about doing something that, to my knowledge as a Christian metal fan and customer, had not been done before in developing successful licensing programs for apparel (and some albums, as well). Fear Dark, MCM Music and many bands joined me, not to mention the great teamwork from other awesome labels including Ulterium, Endtime Productions, Nordic Mission, Soundmass, Veridon, etc. Soon after all of that, the opportunity with Borgazur arose. Then Fire Throne. Suddenly the Nokternal Hemizphear Record Label was born.
Jeremy (Starve the Flesh Clothing): My wife and I started out as a clothing company, printing original designs that would look similar to metal band tour shirts, but our focus was on the Bible instead of the bands. Our first slogan was, “Blood, skulls and Bible verses.” We were kind of disgusted by some of the cheesy Christian t-shirts out there. You know the ones. They were either rip-off shirts that look like popular business logos somehow changed into a Bible verse, or they were just making the Christian life out to be flowery and happy all the time. My boys and I just couldn’t find shirts with a message of truth that we wanted to wear, so we set out to create that with Starve the Flesh (STF). This was our focus from 2008-2010: to promote STF. Our favorite part was doing little mini-tours of the Christian music festivals in northeast U.S., because we got to hang out with so many great people that had similar interests, people who loved metal and who were seeking to live for God. There were so many incredible conversations, times of prayer and times of encouragement. We have not sat behind a booth since 2010 and we miss it!
Around that time, my wife took a full-time job and kind of stepped back from STF. STF operates a lot differently now, having become an on-demand printer of extreme Christian metal bands. This started slowly, one band at a time. I would reach out to bands and ask if we could work together, and slowly the list of bands we were working with started to grow, and it still continues to grow. I am not a good salesman, but I truly believe that for smaller bands and bands that don’t tour a lot, we offer a simple and affordable way to get their fans apparel that has the quality of any band out there. That’s why it works. I would never have come up with this idea on our own; I am just not that smart (laughs). But, looking back, it is easy to see how God has guided us to where we now.
What led to you guys deciding to pool your ministries to become Metal Helm?
Jason: God always has the ultimate plan and knows everything so much better than us. Looking into the past, it is mind-blowing to see how God orchestrated our steps. Back in 2008, Jeremy and I met at Cornerstone. Complete strangers, we ran into each other when I was co-sponsoring the Day of Metal tent with Bombworks Records, and running the huge booth of music and apparel that I had. Amongst the many people that I met that day, Jeremy was one of them. He told me about this Starve the Flesh Clothing booth that he and some of his family members had set up on the other side of the grounds. He told me a bit about his shirt-printing ministry at that time. We instantly hit it off. There was a connection as brothers in Christ that I have had with few others in my life.
Later that day, Jeremy came back into the Day of Metal tent with his Bible and told me that God had just revealed to him what his mission statement was for Starve the Flesh Clothing. He read it to me and I could sense that this humble guy was on the cusp of becoming a great warrior for Christ.
From that day forward, we always kept in touch. Not regularly, but here and there. I personally never wanted to lose track of where he was and what he was doing. It was unreal to think that from a few minutes of meeting each other at the chaotic Cornerstone festival that I would consider him a close friend. It was that unspoken bond between us that kept us in contact over the next four years.
Since the inception of Nokternal Hemizphear, I had been praying for and somewhat seeking a partner to join with. I saw the work that needed to be done in the Christian rock and metal scene, and that it could not be done by one individual. I saw a lot of solo websites and great Christian men trying to make it on their own. My vision from God was that the Christian scene, specifically the underground, would become larger in impact and scope than those within the scene could ever imagine. Being a fan of Christian music in my growing-up years, I always saw such great potential for how God could utilize the talents and passions of the Christian scene to share the truth of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world. Throughout 2011, I was engaging in in-depth conversation and prayer with another large Christian web shop, seeking the Lord’s face to see if we were to join with this other entity. Leaving the other fantastic entity nameless, I will share that God is so good. In the end, both of us were directed by God to not join forces. At total peace with that decision, both of us moved on yet remain solid brothers in Christ.
On the heels of this event, Jeremy and I suddenly began to speak about joining. Over months of prayer, planning and seeing if this was, indeed, the Lord’s will, Jeremy and I (along with our wives, which is of utmost importance) began the process of creating what is now Metal Helm. It was amazing to see how God had it all fit together one piece at a time. There was tons of hard work, as is the case with anything of value and glorifying to Christ, but in the end, we are of one mind with one vision. We sharpen each other like iron sharpens iron. We rebuke each other, we challenge each other, we seek each other’s insight and wisdom, and we desire to make sure that Jesus is honored in all that we do from printing apparel, to creating art, to chatting with our beloved customers, to supporting bands that do not back down from sharing the Good News.
Jeremy: Just to add some details about our meeting at Cornerstone in 2008 … First off, it was our third week of being on our first tour, having just come from a week at Alive in Ohio and then Creation in Pennsylvania and then straight to Cornerstone. We were deflated at how hard it was to promote your clothing company amongst so many others, not to mention all the bands selling their own merch. Then I saw Jason selling all of these super-heavy bands’ merch, and to be honest, I was jealous! So that is when I went back to my tent and got into the Word, asking God to help straighten out my attitude. I started reading Philippians and was hit hard by Philippians 2:2-4, which talks about unity instead of empty conceit, and the importance of putting other people before yourself. I had to go back to Jason that day and just let him know that God had worked in me to show me that I was wrong for comparing and for coveting, and that God’s kingdom is big enough for both of us. After all, we are on the same side right? Years later I started printing for Nokternal Hemizphear and the bands on the label, and I just laugh at how cool God works these things full circle.
What are your hopes and visions for Metal Helm?
Jeremy: First, to see the Christian music scene that we operate within completely united and synergistically using all of our God-given talents and passions so that we can more effectively reach out to this dying world. Second, that God will open up doors that no man can shut. That the Metal Helm ministry, everyone connected to us and the greater Christian music scene as a whole would be pushed further and deeper into the underground and the mainstream in ways that dramatically cause massive spiritual awakening to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Metal Helm is not alone in the desire to be able to minister through Christian music in a full time status. Getting paid to do this full-time would be what most of us desire; however, that may never be the case. It is all the more reason why the flame that burns in Metal Helm – and the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ to spread the Good News – is all the more potent.
Tell me about some of the bands you work with.
Jason: As far as Metal Helm goes, our focus is to support and distribute Christian rock and metal artists, typically within the underground scene. We work with a wide variety of band styles and genres. Although we are known for our emphasis on holy black metal and death metal, we carry many different genres including the excellent classic material from the ’80s and ’90s.
As far as Nokternal Hemizphear goes, the focus that my wife and I have always had is to follow God’s direction on what bands to work with and which ones to not. There are a plethora of great bands out there making excellent music, so it can be difficult at times. However, bands that get signed to the NH label are ones that I personally become very attracted to musically.
If the music is something that, as a fan, I fall in love with and I can envision the total art package for the album, then we will decide to work with that particular band. Again, only if the Lord makes it clear that we should work with a certain band. Of course, the lyrics and message must be Christ-honoring and focused on drawing the listener into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ – all of that goes without saying.
NH has become known as a small, underground label that primarily focuses on holy black metal. We have published several different albums that embody sub-genres of the black metal style, but we will be working with other genres in the future. My personal tastes are captivated within the black metal style, obviously, but also just as much in the ambient, power, thrash, and death genres as well.
Jeremy: STF works with over 100 bands now. The one thing I would like to say up front is that every band gets a good cut on the sale of each apparel item sold. This is a legitimate way to help out bands a little, which has always been really important to me. We work with bands all over the world and in all genres of extreme Christian metal. It is hard to drop names without leaving out somebody worth mentioning – it is always my first inclination to mention the bigger-named bands we work with, but the smaller bands are every bit as important to our mission – so let me just take the bands that start with “A.” We work with a lot of bands from Central and South America, like Aceldama, Aggelos, Almagor, Anerhoth, and Azmaveth. Then we have the U.S.-based brutality of Abated Mass of Flesh and the blackness of A Hill to Die Upon to the very underground of Armath Sargon, Arch of Thorns and Antivenom. Adorned in Ashes from South Africa, the power of Denmark’s Ascendant and the legendary Antestor from Norway. Bands range from under 200 up to 10,000 fans on Facebook, but as far as I can tell, we are all in it for the same purpose: to bring Glory to our King. That is the only requirement we have for the bands we print for.
What draws listeners specifically to black metal music? What drew each of you to work in that genre?
Jason: Thankfully, my introduction into the black metal sound was within the Christian scene with bands like Frost Like Ashes, Vardoger, Crimson Moonlight, Vaakevandring, Frosthardr and others. Looking back, I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt this was critical in my mind and soul. I was being grounded in eternal truth prior to ever delving into what has now been nearly a decade of intense research into the origins of black metal, including the dogma, philosophies and mindsets of the genre. This was crucial to me. Not only understanding how and why Christians could use the black metal sound as a form of praise and outreach when it was birthed for evil ways, but also so that I could totally level with and develop the heart for those who are choosing to be sold out to the dark side and the lies of Satan. How can one love them and minister to them if they don’t fully understand their pain, joys and worldview? An individual that has not been addicted to porn cannot effectively minister to a porn addict. The same mentality goes for anything within the music realm. Though I have not come from paganism or Satanism, I had spent years addicted to porn, almost followed through on suicidal plans several times and I have seen the hypocrisy of “Christendom.” Therefore, I comprehend what fuels the hatred and misanthropy that are the backbone of the origins of black metal. This is why my heart leans towards this style of music so intently, because it is so real, so gut wrenching and so spiritual to me.
Jeremy: When I walked away from the Lord in my early teens, I was always looking for the next band, the newest and heaviest. I have always liked the underground, and I get turned off when a band gets too “big.” When I came back to Christ in my late 20s, this didn’t change. I truly believe that God makes us diverse in our interests so that we can reach out to different people. Nowhere in the Bible does it restrict us to what genre of music we listen to, although I think there is an argument to be made about the lyrics that we listen to. But I feel privileged to work in the scene I am most passionate about.
Black metal has been splintering into subgenres for years. What are some of the different styles out there now?
Jason: Oh, as you are aware, there are quite a few subgenres of the black metal style. Some folks are hardcore that only the original “old school” raw stuff like Burzum, Mayhem, and Darkthrone should exist. Those believers are the purists. Though I tend to like that mentality musically, the musical influences of the black metal style started when teenagers in Norway were (primarily) heavily impacted by the sounds of Merciful Fate, Bathory and the classic Venom album “Black Metal” – all of which are not what we, nor purists, would consider “old school” black metal that was eventually birthed in greater Scandinavia in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Personally, I am a fan of the following black metal genres due to their diversity, complexities and organic attributes, and, of course, always seeking to determine if they inspire me into deeper communion with the Creator and my Lord Jesus Christ: atmospheric black metal, ambient black metal, depressive black metal, epic black metal, symphonic black metal, melodic black metal, blackened death metal, black thrash metal, Viking/folk black metal, black punk metal and, of course, old school black metal. Aside from this, there are a plethora of black metal subgenres just the same as there are for thrash, death and other musical categories.
Scandinavia is home to black metal, and it’s also home to some of the bands tied to the infamous church burnings years ago. Has that kind of anti-Christian sentiment died down since then?
Jason: My perspective is that it has transformed. Yes, it has grown as far as record sales go and the notoriety of many bands. The secular underground scene has definitely advanced and become very impactful globally. It is not mainstream in the U.S., which is a wonderful way for it to retain its uniqueness, whether it is Christian or secular. But in Europe in particular, the black metal scene is far more infiltrated into the mainstream marketplace. There are a lot of festivals and a lot of bands playing at big venues that have not been previously known for hosting such musical acts. There are a lot of bands playing on television shows and getting more recognition.
What I am saying is that secular black metal it is getting more popular. It is having a deeper influence into the lives of the listeners. I completely believe that all of this greatly aids the growth of Satanism and neo-paganism that we see. It also heavily promotes a more diabolical game plan of Satan’s, which is not about outright evil or rebellion, but is relativistic. Most of the movement within black metal is stems from and points back to atheistic philosophies, eastern mysticism, National Socialism and naturalistic pantheism. I see it interwoven throughout so much of the black metal scene and its subgenres. Satan or evil actually becomes more of a poster boy for their ideologies that are not overtly Satanic, but are full of post-modern thought, lending the music and the lifestyles of more and more bands and labels to be propagating these beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bands and labels out there that honestly love Satan and are ritualistic through and through, but it is no longer the driving philosophy behind the entire black metal scene anymore.
Does all of this lead to more anti-Christian sentiment? Yes and no. It depends on who you talk to. Holy black metal (or unblack metal) is being received more and more these days, but not always with acceptance. At least it is being recognized, even if it is despised. The bottom line is that the origins of black metal are evil. Music is not evil. The intent, message and lifestyles behind it are what determine if it is good or evil.
Over the years, the pioneers of unblack metal, starting with Horde, have carved the way for today’s metal missionaries to utilize the harsh medium of black metal to inspire, challenge and communicate the truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel message. The Apostle Paul said two things that really stick to my innards, and have been at the core of my faith in Jesus Christ. It’s also how my family (and now the combined efforts of Metal Helm) operate: “Be all things to all men so that you may win some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) and “What was intended for evil, God used for good” (Genesis 50:20). This sums up the validity of holy black metal, heavy metal and rock music in general! Also keeping in mind that King David wrote in Psalms, “Make joyful noise unto the Lord,” and other likewise statements found throughout the book of Psalms. What is considered “joyful” is different from person to person. Black metal and heavy metal is joyful to me. I use it to praise God.
What does the corpse paint mean?
Jason: From the origins of black metal, it was used to convey a look of death – to be horrifying and shocking. Those Norwegian black metal innovators were not the first to use corpse paint. Men like Alice Cooper and King Diamond were a few. However, the Scandinavian black metal scene took it to a more intense level, less showy and a whole lot more brutally real, as if to be a part of them. Corpse paint became used as if to be painting faces for war, and it has even been adopted within Christian black metal. It is a part of the music; they go hand in hand. It is essential as a backbone characteristic of the music. It has many different styles, and thus molds well with all of the various subgenres of black metal. I personally love it and see that it has its place in Christian black metal. It acts as not only war paint for musicians going to war for the Kingdom of Heaven, but also as a sort of antithesis to the rebellious hateful black metal origins.
What do unblack or holy black metal bands bring to the table, and how do the secular black metal bands react to them?
Jason: (Unblack metal) is the antithesis of black metal origins, and the satanic forces behind the scenes always cause secular black metal bands, labels and fans to immediately have a negative worldview against Christian black metal artists and the scene as a whole. Are the secular artists and promoters separatists? Do they seek to keep us pushed out and pushed down? Indeed, they do. I am not the only one to experience this.
However, we are not called as followers of Christ to reach out to only those who like our divine directives, but we are to spend our lives praying for and reaching the dark and hopelessly lost of this world, whether it is music related or not. For Jesus said it himself, “I did not come to save the righteous but the sinner” (Luke 5:32). I am a sinner that needs saving just as much as those lost in depressive, hatred-fueled metal need saving from their sins. It’s a matter of heaven or hell! Regardless, if we, as Christian metal missionaries, are loved or hated, we are to press forward and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) for God desires no one to perish (2 Peter 3:9). This is our God-given spiritual mandate.
Anything else you guys would like to discuss or promote?
Jason: Unity within the greater Christian music scene is key. Without it, we are impotent with the command to bring the love and salvation of Jesus Christ to all corners of the earth. A strong, biblically sound “metal church,” led by Christ-followers that are on fire with the flame of truth, void of selfish ambitions and hypocrisy, is critical. Ultimately, the focus must never be on money, fame or anything that is wise in the eyes of man. God’s kingdom is the opposite of man’s mindset, thus, we who are within the Christian scene must put all things aside and be wholly devoted to God in all that we do. The business part of the Christian scene must always be handled with communication in Christ. There should be no division of business and church, get it?
Along with this is the importance of prayer for all of those involved in the scene. Whether it is a band, label, distributor or promoter of some kind, everyone needs to be lifted up in prayer. I can speak for more than just myself when I say that being under constant attack from demons is commonplace. This is the case for anyone that is on fire for Christ, because it means they are dangerous to Satan. Thus, the temptations and attacks will be more prevalent and intense. Satan wants those in the scene to get burned, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ in our lives to be mute to this world. This is the reason why we must be praying for one another and seeking to glorify Christ in all that we do at all times with every facet of Christian music and ministry.
Jeremy: Just quickly, one of the things God has been walking me through this year is that many of us are battling – and by that, I mean struggling in our circumstance in this world. And I truly feel like He has taught me to stop looking for the way of escape from the current circumstances, and to start looking to the One who is waiting to take you through them. That growth comes from endurance, not from running. And I find great comfort in the simple verse, Psalm 16:8, which says, “I keep the Lord in mind always. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
To all the supporters of the extreme Christian metal scene and to the bands that make up the scene in which we have the privilege to be a small part of: Thanks! Combined, you guys keep us going. Let us not grow weary in doing good, but run this race as if our lives depended on us winning – because they do.
Metal Helm was posted on July 16, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by Chris Gatto.