Like many fantastic people who have become my friends and colleagues in recent years, I first met Cheryl Carter via the Internet. We’d briefly written for the same publication in ThisIsNotAScene, and I began to actively follow her and her work online. Her Tumblr, Bleak Metal, is consistently fantastic. Her reviews strike me as passionate and insightful, and I’m always inspired by both her candidness and her obvious love for the heavy metal scene. I’m incredibly pleased to have her as a part of Girls Don’t Like Metal, especially as this is the first column of 2013!
It took a while to really get into heavy metal properly. I spent my childhood years in a little town in North Wales where everyone pretty much knew each other and the only music we were really aware of was whatever was in the charts or in Smash Hits magazine. I was very much a pop music fan as a kid and it wasn’t until we moved to a larger town in the north east of England that things really started coming together for me in a musical sense. We had the Internet installed and cable TV and this whole new world opened up to. Please bear in mind that I was a teenager in the late ’90s so the kind of music that was popular in magazines and on TV was the much-maligned but bizzarely massive brand of rock known as nu-metal. It makes me cringe now, but we all have to start somewhere right? I distinctly remember my Aunty copying me some Metallica albums on to CD when I was about 13 (it was very much because she had all the tools to do so) and between them and AFI, my love of metal and darker punk steadily grew. I listened to bands they cited as influences and I would consume anything they did with great fervour.
During school there was a little group who would talk about all the crazy and outrageous bands we saw in Kerrang and Metal Hammer yet while most of my friends got very into pop-punk and such, I always felt like there was something missing. I’d go to local gigs with them at this small venue and I loved the atmosphere of the live show, but that kind of music wasn’t really doing it for me. I went to college and in the early years of the new millennium the Internet finally took off. It was so easy to find new music (or old music) but still, as much as I knew that metal was for me, I was yet to stumble across something that clicked. I’d seen the movie High Fidelity and read the book when I was about 17 and it suddenly came to me that I must, without any shadow of a doubt, work in a record store. And I did, and I discovered a whole new range of bands and sounds. One day whilst pottering about at home (by this point I was living with friends and a long-forgotten ex) I picked up one of said ex’s CDs. It was Transilvanian Hunger by Darkthrone and (un)holy shit, everything changed. Since then black metal has been my one true love, and along with doom, death metal, a little neo-folk and the occasional pop record, it’s really helped me transform my world view and myself. Black metal gives me something that no other genre can, whether it’s pretty atmospheric French woe or Norwegians shouting in caves about Satan. It’s a feeling like nothing else in this world, or the next.
When and how did you first begin to write about music?
It wasn’t until April 2011 that I really began to think about it as a serious proposition. I’d been following a couple of writers and blogs on Twitter (of course) and I was really into what they were doing, both as journalists and as people. I’d been reading the obvious magazines for a while and I’d come across some of those on twitter also and they were always talking about new music and I wanted in! I started writing my own blog whilst I had a week off work. I’d been thinking about it for a few months and I had the time and thought, fuck it, let’s give it a shot. So Bleak Metal came to life, although it was a long time before anyone really knew it existed. I just felt like I could do what I’d seen other people do, that I had a lot to say about (bleak) metal and that I could conjure up words as to how it makes me feel. I know next to nothing about music, how it’s made, what happens etc… but I know a LOT about emotion and the weight of someone’s words and that’s the kind of writing I wanted to do.
You are involved with a number of publications, including Bleak Metal, Metal Hammer, ScenePointBlank, CineMart, CVLT Nation, ThisIsNotAScene and Ghost Cult. How did you choose who to write for? What appeals to you about these publications?
CineMart is a lovely little film blog that I unfortunately don’t seem to really contribute to anymore; time is essential to these things and it’s sad I don’t say a lot for them now but Martyn (the editor) gave me a shot and I’ve done some really great things over there. Film reviewing is so different to music writing and it’s with them that I began my “career” as it were. It gave me the confidence to go out and put my opinions on the Internet, but even after having a few things published, I still wasn’t sure about music writing. Metal meant a lot to me, and I guess that initially I was quite embarrassed about throwing my words out there. I’d taken the first step but showing it to people was a whole other story.
Bleak Metal is my own blog, and it first it was the only place I contributed to music-wise. I wrote about records that I was super into at the time or albums that were a little bit older but I still threw on often for some reason or another, and so the semi-regular “Kvlt Albvm Ov The Weak” feature was born. A month or two after, an old Internet friend suggested I give Scene Point Blank a shot. He wrote for them and I’d known about the zine for a few years (an old AFI-related buddy started it up many moons ago) and it was a new outlet for my new-found passion. It was exciting and I had the chance to write about a few things that weren’t metal which was terrifying but fun. I was constantly making new connections on the Internet with musicians and labels and such and it was actually Jonathan at Flenser Records who suggested CVLT Nation. Sean and Meghan from CVLT Nation approached me and I jumped at the chance. The zine was going from strength to strength, had a huge readership and it was a place to write more. I really just wanted to write as much as possible; it’s the only way to learn and I was very excited to get started, and I’ve stayed with them because they’re great people and they obviously love it as much as I do.
During this time I developed an online relationship with Jon Selzer at Metal Hammer. He edits the section I contribute to at the magazine called Subterranea (the explanation is in the title) and I met him at a few shows and we got to talking. I cheekily asked how I could get into writing for Hammer (you don’t know unless you try!) and strangely enough, it kinda worked. I went to an Inquisition show which Jon couldn’t make, he asked me to cover it and a year and a bit later, I’m a full-fledged part of the team. It blows my mind to be honest. I’ve been reading this magazine for half of my life and eventually Subterranea became the only part I was interested in, so to have my hard work featured in there once or twice a month is truly an honour.
After that came ThisIsNotAScene, again a web publication that allowed me access to more music than I could ever hope to get hold of, and in turn Ghost Cult Magazine which is new and different. It’s a monthly digital magazine, and whilst in its infancy, it’s certainly gaining some real momentum.
It sounds awfully egotistical, but these publications all, for some reason, chose me. I didn’t go after or pitch to them (except for maybe that one request via Twitter to a chap at Hammer) because I didn’t–and even now still don’t–think I’m in a position to ask for work. I still get very nervous when I submit reviews and once it’s published it’s a wonder I don’t have a heart attack. I enjoy working for them all and it gives me a chance to talk about records and interview more bands than I could were I just working on one thing. It’s a lot to do, especially around having a full time job (still in a record store, sort of), and trying to have some kind of personal downtime, or hanging with my boyfriend or going for a lovely cup of tea with a friend, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.
What kind of music writing do you prefer to do?
At the moment I mostly do record reviews/interviews online, and in print, both record and gig reviews. Occasionally I’m offered what Subterranea calls a “Fresh Meat” piece, in which we talk about a new band, or maybe a cult band or a band that has been around a little while and is now breaking through. These are fun to do and it’s a style of writing I enjoy, despite the difficulties of editing down a three page response to only 320 words. So reviews is where I think my strengths lie right now. I’d like to improve on those pieces before branching out into other types of writing.
What do you hope to accomplish with your music writing, from a critical and creative perspective?
One day… one day I’d love to have my own print publication, but first I need to learn how things work. Writing for a print publication really taught me a lot in terms of voice, and what to do and not do in a review. I take advice wherever I can get it and Jon at Hammer has been a massive help in that respect and I owe him a lot in terms of improving my writing. I look back at things I’ve done in the past and they’re terribly immature, or my point got lost in the enthusiasm for the music. Writing for print teaches you to say the most important things because you only have a short space to say what you think in and I’ve hopefully taken that to the online aspects of my writing. Although I did bash out a 1000 word review on Ahab’s The Giant, because damn, that album is huge. Creatively, I’m not sure. It would be nice to have a little control over content (although for the most part I choose a lot of what I write about online) but I’m not confident enough to start throwing feature ideas and columns around just yet.
In the last few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of women writing about aggressive music (including you and me). What do you think accounts for this?
I wouldn’t like to say for certain, because that’s playing a very dangerous game with issues I am not qualified enough to speak on. Certainly the Internet has played a huge role and it’s now easier than ever to have your voice heard whether you’re female or not. It’s a slow process for sure, yet ladies are becoming increasingly more confident at putting their opinions out there. When I was growing up reading magazines and such, I didn’t see a lot of women’s name in the contributor lists but now when I look at the staff sections, more and more women are adding their voices. People like Beth Winegarner, yourself, the charming Kim Kelly (and these women are a small section of the circle, and are ladies I have a great pleasure in knowing and looking up to) are now paving the way for others to begin their lives as serious journalists. It’s incredible that it’s happened in a relatively short amount of time and I hope it continues. It’s 100% normal for girls to like aggressive music, it’s a natural and human reaction and we find in it a lot of what men do.
Do you ever find that your writing is received differently, or critiqued differently, because you are a woman?
If it has ever happened, then I’m not aware of it. I would hope that if someone was going to view my writing negatively, it would be because it was awful, or I’d gotten something massively wrong. When I first started I often thought that people wouldn’t take me seriously because I was (fairly) young, and a girl–something I come across every day in my day job, unfortunately–and yeah, there’s probably guys out there that think I’m a terrible writer, but if you haven’t the balls to say it to me, then I care not a jot for that opinion. You can get far in life with honesty, and as you’re constantly told, it really is the best policy. If you can be constructive, then have at it.
Have you ever had an Internet troll/harassment experience, and how did you deal with it?
Y’know, I never have. I must be very lucky because I’ve seen some awful things levelled at other ladies in the business. It’s ridiculous, uncalled for and generally comes from a dark place of imagined emasculation. Of course real life is a different matter although the last year hasn’t been too bad in terms of guys thinking they own the space you’re in or dudes looking surprised at your choice of shirt. At a Primordial show last year I wore an Urfaust shirt and a friend of a friend deemed me a “try-hard.” I continued drinking whiskey (because duh, it was an Urfaust shirt), and said boy was sent packing. It’s moments like that where you realise that men don’t like to be “out-kvlted” by a girl. But why should it matter? Urfaust rule, why couldn’t we talk about that? (Interviewer’s note: Urfaust do rule.)
What advice would you have for someone who wants to pursue a similar career path?
Oh my, just work, work, work. Never be afraid to say what’s on your mind, or to ask advice. Be aware that it won’t pay the bills. Constantly write: for yourself, for others, for fun and for serious. Never stop caring about the music you love or the bands you admire. There is always someone out there who can and will help you, but you need to put the effort in and be prepared for heartache, for joy and for experiences you only ever dreamed of.
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Cheryl Carter is 28 and lives in London, England. She loves cats (although she isn’t allowed one in her abode), has a deep love for Transformers, enjoys a lovely cup of Earl Grey, the ever soothing taste of Jack Daniels (not at the same time) and has a special place in her heart for the Queen of Pop, Kelly Clarkson. Very short. Constantly busy. Follow her on Twitter!