Interview with Sargon the Terrible
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: April 12, 2014
There are many different ways we all found The Metal Crypt. I found it through a random web search. I'm sure some people landed here after clicking on a review or interview link from a social media site. But one of the main things that keep us all coming back is the writing of Sargon the Terrible. I remember when I first started visiting The Crypt in 2008, I looked forward to reading Sargon's reviews. I knew I was either going to find the next cool band or one I was going to want to avoid like the plague. And if you haven't read Sargon's Heavy Metal genre descriptions, you are missing out. I've been listening to Heavy Metal for well over 30 years and I've never seen it all laid out like that.
But who is this Defender of the Faith who has slogged through over 2000 albums (as of this writing) of Heavy Metal, both fair and foul, and taken the time to give us his insights on whether or not each one was worthy of our time and money? Read on to learn more about the man behind The Eye...
MetalMike: From whence came ye? I think we all want to believe you came across the Rainbow Bridge with a sword in one hand and a guitar in the other but I suspect the true origin is a bit more humble : )
Sargon: No, it's not very interesting. I was born in Ohio, grew up in Pennsylvania, and moved to Oklahoma when I was 13. Been here ever since.
MetalMike: I assume you got into Heavy Metal in the 80s/High School. How did that happen? Was there a gateway band or someone who played something for you that just clicked?
Sargon: I thought metal was cooler from the time I was like 12, but back then I had almost no way of finding any except for Def Leppard videos on MTV and stuff like that. (To be fair, when I was 12 it was 1984, so there was not as much metal to find) When I was older I started watching Headbanger's Ball and yeah, they played a lot of garbage, but it was my first real education in metal of any kind. I started hunting down albums, and 'zines like Metal Maniacs and Power Metal - this was the late 80s and you could find those at convenience stores and other places. I started out a melodic metal fan, into Iron Maiden and Queensryche, but I quickly got interested in the darker, more underground stuff as well.
MetalMike: I think a lot of us got into Metal via gateway bands like Maiden and Queensryche back in the 80s. What appealed to you about the darker, underground music?
Sargon: I just thought it was cooler. I've always been into fantasy and SF literature and movies, so I kind of naturally gravitated toward bands with that kind of dark imagery. Why listen to music about crying over girls when I could play music about swords and monsters and killing shit? I mean, there's no contest at all. And once I was in, I was drawn to the more obscure, underground bands.
MetalMike: Why is Heavy Metal so important to you?
Sargon: I've been a fan for a long time and it's just a part of my life. It's the music that means the most to me. Everybody has things that matter to them, and music is a big one for me. I've discovered over the years that music is just more important to me than it is to some other people, and so the music I listen to is more important as well. I think I was just born a metalhead.
MetalMike: You've spend a lot of time and energy over the years upholding the "purity" of Heavy Metal at The Metal Crypt, whether it be redirecting a thread that has gone off topic, writing editorials about Heavy Metal or just generally keeping us all in line. Why is this so important?
Sargon: I have seen trends come and go in the genre over the years, and I have seen what happens when you don't keep some standards and let the latest thing come in and take over. A lot of genres borrow sounds from the metal vocabulary and thus get lumped in with metal, but they do not have the same values or approach as metal bands. They are aiming at something else, and that's fine, but don't get them confused with metal. There is just this impulse among some people to dilute metal with other things, and I have learned the hard way that you have to stomp hard on that or it gets right out of hand. There are plenty of other sites that are happy to write about sludge, or hardcore, or rock, or whatever else. But I don't think it's too much to have one place that is as metal as it can possibly get. I'm happy to try and do that, because it needs to be done.
MetalMike: The story of how you came to write for The Metal Crypt has been told (see the 10 Years and counting... editorial). Why did you feel it was so important to write for this site when there are so many others out there?
Sargon: Honestly, I just saw that Michel was looking for new reviewers. I wrote briefly for The Metal Observer at about the same time, but we didn't get along and that didn't last, whereas I've been friends with Michel for over 10 years now. I'm happy being a part of the site because it has content I can stand behind.
MetalMike: You've reviewed a wide range of bands over the years but did you have any favorite bands at the beginning?
Sargon: At the beginning I was just getting back into metal, so I was going through new bands as fast as I could find them. This was 2002-2003, and I had lost touch with the underground years before and just rediscovered everything through the magic of the interwebz. But a lot of the bands I loved then I still love just as much now: Manilla Road, Kamelot, Ironsword, Lost Horizon.
MetalMike: Are there specific genres or bands that now, after 2000+ reviews, you just look at and say "fuck it, I'm not wasting my time"?
Sargon: Anything identified as "experimental" or "avant-garde" is pretty much guaranteed to be awful. Melodeath is also on pretty thin ice with me, though there are some bands that do it extremely well. There are exceptions to every rule, but the problem is that everybody thinks they are the exception.
MetalMike: Anyone who follows the discussion boards knows you have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Heavy Metal. Is this a divine gift from the Metal Gods or just a lot of time, dedication and love for the music?
Sargon: I don't think anyone can have an "encyclopedic" knowledge anymore - there are just too many bands. But I do have a good memory for songs and band names and such. It's just the direction my head for trivia leans in.
MetalMike: How do you feel about the whole "kvlt" notion in Metal? Does it bother you when a great, little-known band you "discovered" starts to garner more fame?
Sargon: It does bother me. It's a total bullshit hipster impulse, but I can't help it. It doesn't help that few bands manage to make the leap from obscurity to popularity without losing some of what made them great. I mean, don't get me wrong, I like to see bands do well when I feel they deserve it. But often it doesn't bode well.
MetalMike: What are some of the criminally underrated bands out there today?
Sargon: I hate using that line, because usually bands are underrated because they are obscure, and they are obscure because they don't put out many albums, or they have no web presence and don't make an effort to be more visible. Some bands are built to be underrated. Plus, inevitably, a band will get wider exposure and then their next album will disappoint, and all the noobs will say "I kept hearing about that band, but they're not that great". I can't really answer this one.
MetalMike: That's an interesting point you make. Heavy Metal seems so traditional and relies so heavily on what came before, but it is really quite dynamic and a band's success can be so ephemeral. Can you think of any bands that have successfully balanced consistency with innovation and not ended up sounding stale or just sucking?
Sargon: Really an impossible question to answer. Bands go through phases of their careers, and every band at one point or another produces a bad album or a run of them. It happens. Any band I could name I could also point out the one lousy album they did. Artists are mortal, and they get tired and burned out and their interests change. But here's the thing - a band doesn't have to have a universally great back catalog to be worthwhile. Maybe they just produced one great album, maybe that was all they had in them, but the bad stuff doesn't invalidate the good. Fanboys feel like they have to idolize everything their fave band has ever done, but that just leads to defending the band's crap output - and every band has some. I think people feel like they have to love all or none, when it's okay - in fact necessary - to point out when something sucks.
MetalMike: How much time, on any given day, are you listening to Heavy Metal?
Sargon: Not as much as I used to. When I worked a 9-5 job I had metal playing all day, but now I only get 2-3 hours a day while I'm writing. Sometimes I manage more, but it can be hard, because I get so many fucking promos now that I always feel like I need to give them priority and that can mean listening to shitty music. Usually I want to listen to something I already know while I work.
MetalMike: I can empathize with you there. There's nothing worse than knowing I have to listen to some crap album when what I'd rather be listening to is one of my favorites. What are some of the albums that have stood the test of time, in your opinion?
Sargon: I have albums I always go back to, but not all of them are 5-star albums per se, they are just favorites. Ironsword's debut album, Manilla Road's Mystification, Battleroar's Age of Chaos, Nile's In Their Darkened Shrines, Battlelore's Sword's Song. Cauldron Born's albums. I could go on and on.
MetalMike: Can you describe your most memorable brush with Metal greatness? Is there anyone you've met who turned out to be a let-down?
Sargon: I haven't had very many. I got to interview Roy Khan (Kamelot) over the phone, and that was really cool. Howie Bentley actually thanked me in the liner notes to the first Briton Rites album, and that was the only time that has happened. I met Karl Sanders at a show and got all my Nile albums signed, and I treasure those. Pretty much normal fan-type interactions.
One funny story was when I met Heri Joensen (Tyr) after a show and put him on the spot about the interview he never answered. I laughed it off, but I got a second of that "deer in headlights" look that was totally worth it.
MetalMike: That's great! One of my friends from my college radio station met Michael Weikath of Helloween at the bar after a show and asked, in his high school German, if he could buy Michael a shoe. Michael politely declined : ) Shifting gears, are there any "go-to" bands, or maybe songs, for certain situations in your life? You know, like first thing in the morning you listen to X or when you get ready to write, it's Y...
Sargon: It depends on what I want it for. Sabaton's "Primo Victoria" is always good to get the blood going, or Saxon's "Battalions of Steel". I still pull out Ironsword's debut quite often, and Morgion's Cloaked by Ages, Crowned in Earth. Battlelore's Sword's Song is an album I pull out when I need a pick-me-up.
Every book or story has its own soundtrack that I listen to to get in the right mindset, and sometimes it doesn't really make sense but it works for me.
MetalMike: Of your more than 2,000 reviews, are there any that stick out in your memory and why?
Sargon: Well, I always mark Feb 23rd, when my review for Cauldron Born's ...And Rome Shall Fall album went up, because that was my very first review. Other than that, there are so many I can't even remember them all. Sometimes I'll see a review and see my name on it and have absolutely no memory of the album in question.
MetalMike: After listening to that much Heavy Metal, how do you avoid becoming jaded, especially when bands start to sound like other bands and new ideas seem so few and far between?
Sargon: The thing about metal is that it's not really about new ideas. Once you start on that road you end up off the map in some other genre. Metal is a genre that looks to its past for continual renewal. Any time you start losing your way you have to go back to the texts: Maiden, Celtic Frost, Sabbath, Bathory, etc... Metal constantly rejuvenates itself by reinterpreting its classic sounds, and that's how the genre stays fresh, not by innovating.
You do get a bit jaded after a while, but I find it mostly makes me impatient with bands that lack conviction or hunger. I don't really care if I have heard something done a hundred times if it's being done well, by a band that sounds excited about what they are doing and really means it.
MetalMike: When writing a review is it fair to say something like "this band sounds like this other band" or is that taking the easy way out? Should we, as reviewers, try to come up with new ways to describe music all the time? Who do you write your reviews for; yourself or the fans?
Sargon: Complicated question. I compare bands to other bands because that's often the best way to describe what you hear. I suppose it's not meaningful to someone who does not know those other bands, but it can help provide a guide for people to find other bands they might like as well. Also, how can you talk about music abstractly unless you get into really technical terms? That's just going to be meaningless to most people.
When I started out I was reviewing for fans - telling them if I thought an album was worth buying or not in my opinion - but that's changed over time. Now I find I write with more the good of the genre as a whole in mind. That might sound like bullshit pretension, but it's really how I feel. When I listen to something I am thinking "Is this music doing anything for the genre? Is it meaningful? Does it have a reason to exist?"
MetalMike: The United States, in general, and the mid-west specifically, are notoriously devoid of quality Heavy Metal bands. Does it bother you that we don't have the tours or festivals that Europe boasts?
Sargon: It does. There was a period a few years back when we had a local promoter who brought in a lot of metal shows, but he seems to have folded up and vanished, and now there's nothing. I do like to go to shows, there just are not any here anymore, and I would have to drive at least 2-4 hours to get to the next closest hot spots. That's just not possible right now.
MetalMike: You are passionate about writing, something that is obvious from your posts and the words you choose for your reviews. Who are your favorite authors and which bands do you feel capture either their direct works or, at least, the spirit of what that author created?
Sargon: Most of my favorite authors are historians, as I don't actually read all that much fiction anymore. I did when I was younger, and I still read books that are recommended to me. But I find a lot of fiction very tedious and formulaic, and I don't enjoy a lot of it. I read Barbara Tuchman, T. R. Fehrenbach, and classics like Herotodus or Tacitus. I'm a big fan of pulp literature, and I have a whole shelf of Lovecraft, Howard, Burroughs, and Clark Ashton Smith.
Part of what I love about metal is their dedication to fantasy literature, because no genre is as geeky in that way as metal is. Bal-Sagoth, Ironsword, Cauldron Born, Manilla Road, Summoning - all bands I love for their lyrics as much as their music.
MetalMike: You are an author yourself and you make your work available to the masses via your website, www.adventurotica.com. Have you always been a writer, and by that, I mean did you always enjoy writing as a kid or is it something you came to later in life?
Sargon: I've wanted to be a writer since I was about 5 or 6 years old - as soon as I understood it was a thing people actually did, and that I could do it.
MetalMike: 5 or 6? That's quite young to realize what you want to do. Do you remember if there was something specific that made you realize writing was a profession? A favorite children's book, perhaps?
Sargon: My parents read me The Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story when I was like 5 years old, so ever since then I wanted to create my own worlds and fill them with cool stuff, and that just kind of led naturally to writing. I've wanted to really be a writer since I was like 9 years old. I'm not suited for anything else, really.
MetalMike: What made you choose the "erotic adventure" genre for your writings? Have you been tempted to try other styles? What can a reader expect from one of your novels?
Sargon: It kind of happened by accident. My wife was involved in an auction online to help a friend afford a new service dog, and what she offered was "pirate porn". Well, she got working on it, and posted chapters a few times a week, but she couldn't keep up the pace. Once the auction was over she had moved over to Livejournal, and had worked out a crude business model where people paid us to keep reading.
Well, when she couldn't keep up I took over, and we started making money that way, so we have just kept going with it. Now we have our own site and run about 3 funding campaigns a year to make a living. I enjoy writing the stuff, but it's not my chosen genre. I write it because it pays the bills right now, but if I got a contract with a publisher or something I probably would not keep going - at least not at this pace. I actually have a half-dozen other novels that range from heroic fantasy, superhero adventure, and one historical horror novel mixed in. I'm very influenced by Howard in my work, so I go for monsters and lots of big fight scenes.
MetalMike: Having learned a bit about you as I learned the craft of review writing at your knee (I know, I'm older but it's a metaphor, so go with me), I know Robert E. Howard is one of your favorite writers. What would you say to the man if you had a chance to meet him? Or would you prefer to leave things the way they are and simply keep your image of him you've developed through reading his works?
Sargon: Howard was depressed and probably paranoid, so I don't think meeting him would be all that much fun. He was a lonely, tortured man who shot himself when he was 30, so I think I'd just leave well enough alone. But I have a rock I took from his house in Texas and it sits on my computer tower next to me while I work. It helps keep me on track. Howard inspires me and lots of metal bands because his writing kicked ass, and that's something I always try to do. Timid writing does no one any good.
MetalMike: A fair point. We all tend to romanticize our heroes, forgetting they were real people with real problems. Let me ask my question in a different way. Is there a writer, past or present, that, if they were a college professor and you were a student, you would sign up for their class? And I don't mean to imply I think you need writing lessons, just curious if there is someone you think would be interesting to learn from.
Sargon: No, not really. I'm at the point where I can't really learn what I need to learn from anybody else. I may study someone's work to see how they achieved a particular effect, or see how they structured something, but I'm way past being able to learn anything useful from other writers. After a point, as an artist of any kind, you are just on your own, and the lessons someone else could teach would not even be applicable.
MetalMike: What band do you think would do the best job of turning one of your works into a Heavy Metal album?
Sargon: My works are so varied, it would be hard to say. I honestly have no idea.
MetalMike: Now is the time for the standard "Iron Maiden or Judas Priest?" question but I am sure your opinions run much deeper, so let me dig a bit. What is the best and worst album from each band (excluding those with Bayley or Owens)?
Sargon: I don't know if I can answer that one. I'm actually not all that familiar with Priest's older works - they don't really interest me. 90% of my interest in Priest begins and ends with Painkiller. Their other output is tremendously overrated and uneven. It's pretty much impossible to name a good Priest album besides that one. There are good songs, but no good albums. I'll probably get hided for saying that, but there it is.
Maiden I like better, though I have never enjoyed the Di'Anno albums, so I tend to ignore them. Best is going to be really subjective. Probably Somewhere In Time or Seventh Son. Worst of the Bruce albums is definitely No Prayer for the Dying. I remember when that came out what a huge disappointment it was, though now some people try to defend it. I find it amusing how albums that came out when I was a teenager and were considered mediocre then are often lauded now as total classics.
MetalMike: That's so true. No Prayer for the Dying sucked then and still sucks now (that'll get me some dirty looks, too, I'm guessing). Let me wrap up by asking, if you are willing, what's one thing about Sargon the Terrible that readers of The Metal Crypt would never guess?
Sargon: I can't say I can think of anything really exciting to say to that, no.
MetalMike: Thanks for taking some time to let both long-time readers and those new to The Metal Crypt, see beyond the reviews, interviews and generally being the flag bearer for Heavy Metal!
Check out Sargon's books:
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