Japanese Black Metal Icon Vivian Slaughter Is Resurrected as Viviankrist
The former Gallhammer vocalist opens up about moving to Norway and launching her chilling new solo electronic project.
Photo courtesy of Vivian Slaughter
Vivian Slaughter thought she'd never touch an instrument again. In 2011, when her former band Gallhammer, a grating black metal trio beloved in underground circles, released their last album, appropriately titled The End, she thought her career playing music was a thing of the past. But, seven years later, when the Japanese musician idly picked up a synthesizer that belonged to her husband and former Mayhem lead singer, Maniac, everything changed. That drive to create that she thought she'd lost came flooding back, and her connection to music was rekindled.
"I thought I couldn’t make music anymore," says Slaughter, calling from her home in Norway, "but I was a little bit tired of doing nothing, so I decided to do something."
In her years away from making music, Slaughter (aka Eri Isaka) was busy being a mom to her four-year-old little girl, and focusing on work and family. She considered her break from metal as something of a long vacation, and getting back to the grind required taking a new kind of approach to the craft. Instead of heading to the practice room with her former bandmates, Lisa Reaper and Mika Penetrator (who left the band in 2011, prior to the release of The End), she was on her own, practicing the synth in the quiet and solitude of her basement in Oslo.
While the atmosphere was different, she enjoyed creating on her own time, working whenever she felt like it, and making music-related decisions by herself. Soon enough, she started piecing together songs, and spent August of 2017 working on what would become her first solo project, Viviankrist.
Slaughter's focus with Viviankrist (a recycled name from a former band in her teens) is quite a departure from Gallhammer's potent blend of crust punk, black metal and doom metal; the project focuses less on the simmering, guttural vocals she once displayed on influential albums like 2007's Ill Innocence, and more on the intricacies and nuance of noise. "I've always loved noise," explains Slaughter. "I grew up with it, because I am from Japan and there’s so much nice noise music there. It isn't exactly electronic music. It was more like really strange Japanese avant-garde artists. So it’s actually kind of natural for me to like this kind of music." While 70s and 80s arena rock like Queen and Judas Priest, and metal bands like Hellhammer and Amebix informed the direction of Gallhammer, these earlier noise influencers helped path the way for Viviankrist's already extensive catalog.
Since starting her solo project, Slaughter's released an impressive 24 EPs on Bandcamp that span the scope of early and modern electronic music. Her debut EP, Cold Sun, which took only three days to record, is an industrious ode to pioneer bands like Kraftwerk, Silver Apples, and contemporary electronic musicians like Aphex Twin. On "Sea of Cold Sun" and "Silver Mountain," the gritty, static waves of her Krog synthesizer is like an electronic punch in the throat. On "She Talks Too Much," you can hear her mastering the synth's multiple buttons and dials, mixing and looping a host of otherworldly sounds like an alchemist.
Following Cold Sun's release, Slaughter started releasing a few EPs a month as if on a deadline to make up for lost time. Some of her work is strictly improvisations, as on Free Improvisation Live Works I and II, where tracks go on for nearly 30 minutes. Others are darker in scope, like on Monotransporter and the Natt EP with their sterile, robotic loops and jutting industrial backbeats, or more melodic and upbeat, like on her ninth EP, Skog. Ideas for releases, says Slaughter, come in the form of images and are often motivated by emotions and nature. "I don’t think so much about what I want to explain in the music," she says. "But I sometimes have an image like space or the forest. It’s abstract, and sometimes it’s a little bit emotional like anger or fear."
Fans of Gallhammer will be pleased to hear that she teams up with her former metal comrade, Lisa Reaper (who now has her own electronic solo gig called Risa Ripa), on four projects, including Tokyo and Oslo, where they collaborate and build upon half-finished tracks they send each other online. "We've worked a lot together and we know each other very well," Slaughter says. "Lisa and I met when I was 17, when I played saxophone in a free jazz/noise-style industrial unit. At the time, she was doing some strange stuff with a lot of different instruments and voices. She is the easiest person to work with for me."
On her fifth EP, released in September 2017, Slaughter collaborated with Goth Girl, a Canadian-based gender-queer artist whose own catalog mirrors the same love for harsh noise as Viviankrist. The two hooked up once they heard Cold Sun and immediately asked Vivian to collaborate. "They said my music was really interesting," says Slaughter. "I didn’t know who they were, but I checked them out on the internet and I thought [their music] was so good, and I decided to collaborate with them." The 10 and a half minute track, entitled “Weathered Chain,” is a pummeling and abrasive voyage through a nightmarish funhouse of scraping metal and demonic sound effects.
She even released a Christmas album, Vinterferie (“winter holiday” in Norwegian), last December, once the snow started falling in Oslo. A lot of her motivation stemmed from staving off the depressive, claustrophobic feelings that come with a Norwegian winter, or a "winter depression," as she calls it. While Oslo is known for its breathtaking winter landscapes and occasional church burnings, its proximity to the Arctic Circle means that many days have little to no sunlight.
"It’s not complete darkness," explains Slaughter, "but it’s really dark and there are really long nights. The sunshine is short in December, so it affects me a lot." With the constant darkness weighing on her soul, she recorded 60 songs between November of 2017 and February of 2018—and still isn't interested in slowing down.
She's already put out 13 Bandcamp releases in 2018—including July's Dance for Angry Mothers, arguably Slaughters' poppiest demo to date (and featuring her daughter on synths and percussion), and Sundust, a pulsating, psychedelic ride through the cosmos—with plans of releasing a physical album sometime later this year. She's also featured on an upcoming double CD, Earthen, for the UK-based industrial/noise label, Cold Spring, and she’ll be playing a few live gigs in Oslo in December. Take that, seven-year hiatus.
As for Gallhammer, Slaughter hasn't laid her former band to rest quite yet, it's just on the backburner. "Lisa said that Gallhammer is not over, so maybe if we feel like it, we’ll start Gallhammer again," she says. "But right now, we don’t feel like starting Gallhammer. We’re just enjoying what we’re doing right now."
Stephanie Dubick is making noise on Twitter.