Sons of Southern Darkness: A conversation with Christian Larson of Necrofier

Photo of Christian Larson by Violeta Alvarez

Decibel Magazine Tour 2024: Hulder, Necrofier, Devil Master, & Worm | 03.16.24, 7:00 PM | Red Flag, 3040 Locust St. | All ages | $20

This Saturday, four of underground metal’s preeminent bands will darken Red Flag’s doorways for the 2024 Decibel Magazine Tour’s St. Louis date. Launched in Philadelphia in 2004, Decibel Magazine, which bills itself as “The World’s Foremost Heavy Metal Authority,” has been one of the go-to sources for metal journalism in the United States. Since 2012, Decibel has organized an annual North American tour featuring some of the most acclaimed bands in extreme metal, with past tours featuring notable acts like Behemoth (in 2012), the Black Dahlia Murder (in 2014), Wolves in the Throne Room (in 2018), and Cannibal Corpse (in 2013 and 2019). Decibel also hosts a semi-annual metal fest, the aptly named Metal & Beer Fest, which is held in the magazine’s hometown of Philadelphia in April and in Denver, CO in December.

This year’s Decibel tour, which kicked off in Roseville, CA on February 21st, features four bands, each with their own twist on the extreme metal formula: Necrofier, a melodic black metal band from Houston, TX; Worm, a death doom metal band from south Florida; Hulder, a traditional black metal band whose founding member (Marz Riesterer) emigrated from Antwerp, Belgium to Portland, OR; and Devil Master, a “blackened” crust punk band from Philadelphia.

This year’s tour lineup is partly distinguished by its emphasis on “younger” bands. All four acts released their debut albums in 2017 or later—as opposed to past years, which prominently featured “legacy artists” that were foundational to the birth of extreme metal (e.g., Obituary, Morbid Angel, the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse).

In advance of the tour’s upcoming St. Louis date, we spoke with Christian Larson, guitarist and vocalist for Necrofier, who also runs his own annual metal festival in Houston (Hell’s Heroes). Our conversation was in early February, roughly two weeks before the tour’s kickoff. (The upcoming Red Flag show is one of the final stops of the tour.)

Necrofier photo by Violeta Alvarez

The Arts STL: Can you tell us about life in Houston? Are you a full-time musician or do you have a “day job” as well?

Christian Larson: Besides music, I’m also a concert promoter, and I have a festival I run called Hell’s Heroes. But most of the time, I’m working on music, something band-related, or concert stuff depending on what’s going on.

What’s your work as a promoter like? Are most of the shows you promote in Houston?

CL:  Most everything I do is in Houston. Occasionally I’ll do something in Austin at the Lost Well. It’s hard to spread out and do that much more in Texas, everything’s about three or four hours apart. White Oak Music Hall is the main venue I work with in Houston, and also do some shows at Secret Group, Warehouse Live, other places like that.

So your festival, Hell’s Heroes, is coming up soon. Can you tell us more about the planning for that? Does your band usually play it as well?

CL: The festival starts on March 21st, I’m trying to get everything done that I need to before I leave for the tour. Necrofier will be playing Hell’s Heroes this year, and I also play in a heavy metal band called Night Cobra. Usually one of my bands or the other will play, this year Necrofier is playing so Night Cobra will probably play the next year.

Who are some of the acts that you’ve booked for this year’s lineup?

CL: We announced the lineup back in June. Sodom’s playing; Queensrÿche’s doing an old school set of the EP [Queensrÿche 1983] and The Warning; Rotting Christ, Candlemass, Autopsy, Doro, Forbidden. Yeah, you’ll have to look up the rest, there’s a lot! It’s at White Oak.

Can you talk about what the metal scene is like in Houston? I know there are a few pretty well-known black metal bands from the area that have connections to your band, like Malignant Altar.

CL: Mat [Aleman, bassist for Necrofier] and Dobber [Beverly, drummer] were both in Malignant Altar, yeah. I would say Houston’s a lot more death metal than black metal, and that’s true of Texas in general. Houston has a good scene, there’s a bunch of good bands and I feel like people are going to more shows, heavier shows, more often now than they really ever have been. But metal is popular all over Texas, the stuff coming out of Dallas especially has really pushed the Texas metal scene even further.

Obviously black metal is popular internationally, but I feel like every region in the US that has a black metal scene has their own variation on it.

CL: Yeah, I feel like whenever people talk about American black metal, none of it’s the same. Some of the bands from the Pacific Northwest might have a similar style, but what’s going on in L.A. doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on in Houston, for example. I feel like a lot of that has to do with where you’re from and what you know. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful, and you can hear that in their music, but Texas is just, I don’t know, it’s different. Texas is wild and hot, you know!

Also, with Texas being a Southern state, obviously you have a very big Christian population, so in some respects maybe the lyrical themes are sort of a response to that. At least, that’s how I feel like it is in the Midwest.

CL: Yeah, it does happen like that a lot, there’s a lot of super blasphemous bands down here. Our stuff has some of that in it, like Luciferian stuff, but in the last few years it hasn’t been going straight in that direction. But it’s been in my head, at least, with the rise of Christian nationalism and all that other bullshit.

Necrofier. Photo by Violeta Alvarez.

Not to get too into the weeds of “which sub, sub, subgenre of black metal is this band in,” but I know some people would consider Necrofier to be a “melodic black metal” band, and it seems like that’s a particularly popular style for black metal bands in the South and Midwest. Your labelmates Cloak I would say fit that description, I know they’re from Atlanta.

CL: For sure, I would say the Southern bands tend to be very into bands like Dissection, which gives them more of a focus on the melodic. I think it’s probably the influence of traditional heavy metal as well. I always compare this to the European scene, like Greece is huge for rock and heavy metal, and their scene gave us bands like Rotting Christ and the Hellenic black metal scene, right?

Something changes when you get more Southern, just the way people are and what they’re into. With our new record [Burning Shadows in the Southern Night], there’s definitely a rock and heavy metal influence that shines out. I feel like that does happen more in the Southern region of the United States than it does anywhere up north.

So the tour you are preparing for is the latest in an annual series organized and promoted by Decibel. Can you comment on how the lineup for it came together?

CL: Albert [Mudrian], the owner of Decibel, puts it together and picks the bands, and we just got a message asking if we could do it. This is the first one they’ve done where I would say it’s all bands on this level [early in their careers]. I mean, one of the last ones, I think, was Cannibal Corpse [in 2019]. Albert was talking about focusing on younger, newer bands, because you can’t keep pushing the same stuff forever. Eventually a lot of those guys are going to retire. They [Decibel] kind of brand the tour and market it, and having that extra promo for the tour works out great.

This year’s Decibel Magazine tour poster

So the bands that are on the current tour, in addition to Necrofier, are Hulder, Worm, and Devil Master. From my perspective, not only are you all from different parts of the country, but you also represent pretty different styles of metal.

CL: It all works pretty well together, considering nobody sounds the same at all. Like, Devil Master is more punk, Worm is a little more doom-y and death metal-y, and the black metal that us and Hulder play works together, but it’s not the exact same. I feel like it’s a really good combination altogether. Four active bands from four different regions, going all out together, I think it should be really good.

Have you played any shows with the other bands on the tour before?

CL: We did some dates with Hulder in Texas [in October 2023], and they went really well. But we haven’t played with Devil Master or Worm until this tour.

Last time we went out on tour was with Midnight, which was great, and I love Midnight. Except going out with Hulder, the audiences were probably exactly into the style of music we play. With Midnight, the shows were great, but the vibes were different, you know? We were a little more wild, because the Midnight crowd likes to get kind of crazy. But Midnight has fans that are only into punk, that particular niche. But I think this tour will be great because it’s right in the avenue of whatever it is that we do.

And that makes sense because there are certainly different metal cliques, right? So it might be easier for you to reach your “target audience” playing with a band like Hulder.

CL: Oh yeah, I could tell at any show we played on that tour, “Oh, a lot of people came to see us.” Cause there’d be a flood of black metal shirts. But in places like Portland, a lot of the crowd was just punk. It’s very city by city, show by show. But for this tour, I expect everyone will know what they’re getting into, so it should be good.

We like black metal a lot in Saint Louis. I know everybody likes it all over the country, but we certainly have a black metal “scene” here.

CL: I don’t know if I’ve ever played Saint Louis before this tour. Necrofier definitely hasn’t, but I might have with a different band. I know a couple of years ago Necrofier played Kansas City while touring with Danzig [in May 2022]. So wherever Danzig was playing, we were out there as support, and we didn’t give any input on the cities we played. If we did a headline tour, then we could get a little bit more specific, like, we’ve sold a bunch of records in this city, we should play here. But if we’re not, we’re just handed some dates and it’s like, cool. This is the tour, we’re getting paid, sounds good.

The cover to Necrofier’s most recent album, Burning Shadows in the Southern Night

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Obviously you have this tour coming up, and then I saw that you have a few festival appearances later in the year.

CL: We’re doing my fest after the tour [Hell’s Heroes], and then we’re playing Milwaukee Metal Fest in May. After that, I think we might be doing something late summer, a little tour for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure exactly yet, we’re working out some stuff for that time.

And you did release an album last year [Burning Shadows] so I’m assuming you weren’t planning on releasing anything this year.

CL: No, but we’ve been working on some new stuff. We’re possibly going to record this year, and probably will, so maybe a new record next year. But it’s not rolling full steam yet, not enough to confirm anything. 2022 and 2023 were full of new releases, for metal and every genre, because of the pandemic backlog. We recorded our first record [Prophecies of Eternal Darkness] during the pandemic. So there’s a ton of stuff out there from people who spent much of 2020 just writing or recording because they weren’t able to get out on tour.

Your band is signed to Season of Mist—do you want to comment on what your experiences with the label have been like?

CL: Season of Mist has been great. Anytime we needed some extra help with stuff, they’ve been there. We get along with them really well, and they’ve signed a good number of bands that I really like.

Do you want to give a shoutout to any of your labelmates in particular?

CL: I mean, Rotting Christ for sure. They’re playing Hell’s Heroes this year too, doing all old school stuff, which is going to be super fucking awesome. Dobber and Semir [Özerkan, guitarist for Necrofier] are also in this band Oceans of Slumber, they just got picked up by Season of Mist.

I saw that Oceans of Slumber were touring with Lacuna Coil this summer, I know they’re playing here in St. Louis In May [at Delmar Hall].

CL: Who else is on here? I’m just going down the list. 1349, Abbath. Black Anvil’s great, Craft is great, Crippled Black Phoenix is great, Destroyer 666 is great, so is Drudkh. They picked up Eivør, which is awesome. Enthroned. Let’s see. Man, there’s so many bands I forgot were on here.

So to wrap up the interview, here’s my one curveball. What’s something that came out recently that you’ve been listening to, that isn’t metal at all, that someone might say, “I had no idea that Christian Larson would be into that!”

CL: I listen to a lot of Goth stuff. The new Twin Tribes record [Pendulum], everything I’ve heard from that so far is really great. I’ve also been listening to a band called Home Front. They kind of sound like Blitz [British punk band], like New Age-era stuff where it’s kind of post-punky, but it’s still punk? I’ve been listening to that album a lot [Games of Power], it’s great. | David Von Nordheim

Decibel Magazine 2024 Tour (remaining dates)

03.16.24: St. Louis, MO @ Red Flag

03.17.24: Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck

03.18.24: Denver, CO @ HQ

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