Denver's Jonathan Canady is a very disturbed young man. The recordings he makes under various handles (Dead World and Deathpile among them) are horribly dark and severe--and Canady admits that these descriptives apply to him as well. "I'm a pretty misanthropic person," he says. "I tend to get frustrated in a lot of situations, and these feelings often manifest themselves in my music. I think the overall impact is frightening--but I'd rather be making something frightening than killing people at random."
If this last statement represents hyperbole, Canady, a student at Metro State College majoring in computer graphic design, certainly doesn't let on: In conversation, he seems genuinely terrified by many of the thoughts that creep into his brain and extremely grateful that he's found an outlet for at least temporarily ridding himself of them. Just as important, the results of his creative paroxysms are frequently fascinating. While some of his material seems little different from standard-issue death metal, his explorations of a sonic style he refers to as "power electronics" represent an intriguingly extreme approach to the industrial genre.
Forget Lou Reed: On Thanatos Descends, a Dead World CD released this summer as part of an agreement between Canady's own Malsonus imprint and the New York City label Bloodlust!, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist proves himself to be the real expert on metal machine music. Tracks such as "(warhammer)," "(the scourge)," "(violator)" and "(deathpile)" are built upon death-metal staples--thudding/ear-splitting guitar riffs, demonic vocals and lyrics that concern violent, often misogynistic themes. But interspersed among these fairly typical offerings are experiments that venture into hitherto unexplored realms of racket. The first of these, "(thanatos I)," begins with a squeal that suggests a circular saw slicing into a car fender. It's followed by "(thanatos II [parts 1 & 2])," which rumbles with ominous, bell-like keyboards that suggest minimalist Steve Reich with a gun in his mouth; "(thanatos III [parts 1 & 2])," a cut that crashes and bangs like an automobile assembly line run amok; and the sound-effects orgy "(thanatos IV)." Taken as a whole, Dead World's non-vocal pieces are much more formidable than its comparatively accessible offerings because they allow listeners to conjure up their own dreads rather than asking them to grapple with the ones Canady makes explicit.
Canady, too, is excited by the "(thanatos)" opuses. "Without them, the album would have been a straight industrial/death-metal record," he admits. "And since I spend most of my time working on experimental music, it wouldn't have been true to me to leave it out. It's what I find most interesting right now."
A native of Denver, Canady has been into sonic doom since high school, when he was part of a death-metal act called Psychotic Society. He subsequently participated in a hardcore group, Velcro Overdose ("I'm not very excited about talking about that one," he notes) before forming Dead World with guitarist Kevin Kopp and drummer Greg Knoll during the fall of 1991. The trio cut a series of demos at Denver's Platinum Studios that impressed the suits at Pennsylvania-based Relapse Records, best known for releasing manifestos by the popular metal combo Neurosis; a contract was signed, and the tapes were released in 1992 under the title Collusion. Knoll left the band prior to its next two Relapse offerings (a full-length, The Machine, and an EP, This Will Hurt Someone), and by early 1994, Kopp was gone as well. Canady, who was living in Pennsylvania and working as Relapse's art director at the time of Kopp's departure, takes much of the blame for these lineup shifts: "I'm a control freak," he says unapologetically.
Following the recording of "Helter Skelter," a cover of Charles Manson's favorite Beatles tune that appears on the collection Death Is Just the Beginning 3, Canady severed his relationship with Relapse. He's dodgy about explaining what led to this decision. "Let's see how I can put this so I won't get in trouble," he mutters, before stating: "Basically, I just wanted to start my own label. I want to make a living being a professional musician, and the only way I could see that I could do that without making extremely commercial music was to start my own company."
Since giving birth to Malsonus (reachable at P.O. Box 18193, Denver 80218) and issuing Thanatos Descends, Canady has been in contact with death-metal and power-electronic enthusiasts all over the globe. "I've recorded cassettes specifically for people in Italy, Japan and England," he points out. "And I get letters and e-mail from everywhere you can imagine: Malaysia, Russia, Lithuania, Portugal--places you'd never expect to be into this kind of music."
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The next four Malsonus releases, due during the first half of 1997, exemplify the length of Canady's current reach. They include Blunt Force Trauma, a collaboration between Deathpile (also featuring Denver's M. Todd) and Gruntsplatter, a San Diego outfit; Hollow Earth, which pairs Canady and Michael Hensley, who fronts the act Yen Pox; an album shared by Canady and the leader of the Japanese unit Aube; and a compilation of American and international noise acts to be titled The Sound of Sadism. In the meantime, Canady hopes to star in a series of live performances--he'll appear as part of Deathpile at the Lion's Lair on December 2, with Black Cell Backwards and Infasonic--and to assist in bringing touring performers to Denver. "I'm talking to bands from other parts of the country--like Black Leather Jesus, from Texas--about coming here to play," he says. "I think it's a tragedy that there isn't more of this kind of thing going on here, and I'm going to do my best to get it going."
This is a controversial goal, especially given that a great many moralists see brutal compositions like Canady's as blueprints for extraordinarily repulsive behavior. Predictably, Canady views attempts to blame music for society's ills as misguided. "The guy who shot himself in the face after listening to Judas Priest--there was obviously something wrong with him in the first place," Canady says. "What he did would have been activated by something else eventually."
"In my case," he adds, "if I didn't have this music, I might actually do the things to people that I talk about in songs. My music might seem socially unacceptable to people, but it would be a lot less socially acceptable for me to be out murdering and raping people left and right.