Misery Index – A Discourse on the Rituals of PowerTuesday, 19th March 2019
With a barrage of extremity that has been seated at both the table of death metal and grindcore, Misery Index has made a name for themselves over the years when it comes to hard-hitting music. But it isn’t just in the music that they can hit you hard. They have always taken a more social/political approach with their lyrics, and reflect some of the current goings-on at that particular time. The band’s newest album, Rituals of Power, does exactly what the band strives for – it bludgeons you with extremity (though with some tact for melody there as well), and provides some good food for thought in the lyrical department. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Mark Kloeppel to engage in some discussion about the latest effort, and ended up having a solid chat about the world we live in (and how it relates to Misery Index of course).
Dead Rhetoric: It seemed like The Killing Gods was a good step up for you guys and this one [Rituals of Power] is definitely a push farther.
Mark Kloeppel: The Killing Gods was a pretty dark record. We put a lot of time and effort into it I think. It was a pretty complete statement as well. When we were faced with the task of one-upping it, we kept failing miserably. We couldn’t figure out how to do it. Eventually we dumped all of our insecurities off and just started writing music that we wanted to hear and went through our normal process. That’s partly why it took so long to do the album.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think that there’s less stress/pressure to release material in a scheduled manner nowadays?
Kloeppel: I don’t know – we just don’t care [laughs]. We have our own thing going on and our own distinct sound. We just kind of do what we want. We have other interests as well. Adam [Jarvis] is in Pig Destroyer, Jason [Netherton] has his doctorate, I have two kids and just finished up masters degree in between these two records. But Misery Index is very important to us. We want to make sure that everything we do with it is well thought-out. Make sure our legacy isn’t impeded by forces of capitalism or something [laughs] – being forced to put out a record before its ready. Maybe some bands get some criticism on that. I don’t know, if you don’t have anything awesome to put out, why put it out at all? We don’t like to half-ass things in that regard.
We probably could have had it out last fall, but a few songs put a bit longer to put together, and we changed our production plan. We had to deal with the schedules of those people. Erik Rutan did drums, and then Will Putney did the mix/master. Those two guys in particular are very busy – they are great at what they do so they don’t have a wide open schedule. So we had to navigate that, but it was how we wanted to do the record and we weren’t going to compromise. I’m glad we didn’t because I feel like the production is fantastic.
Dead Rhetoric: You said you finished up your masters. What was your degree in?
Kloeppel: I essentially did sociological research. I was inside a parks, recreation, and tourism department. It was inside a school of natural resources. So I have a bachelors of science in natural resources technically speaking. But the research that I did was sociological. I talked to, basically while we were playing the European metal festival circuit, people that put on these festivals. The types of things that they have to navigate, and the types of struggles that they go through – logistically, morally speaking, do they have sponsors or no?
Ieperfest for example, is all vegan food and composting toilets, DIY, and all volunteers, compared to say, Hellfest. There’s big differences there. Where is the line? It’s interesting how they talked about their identity – who they were and how they practice those things and how it has changed over time, and how it has reflected in their event…or not reflected in their event. I was interested in those people because it seems like a lot of work to do that year after year. We as musicians heavily rely on it. I was curious about their driving force – beyond the logistics of doing it, what are the things that were at play according to them. It was pretty interesting.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you find anything that kind of surprised you in doing that research?
Kloeppel: It was fairly well theorized down to the methodologies. The results weren’t exactly surprising so much as affirming. The finding was that there was this sort of force of capitalism and business being pitted against other cultural forces. What seemed to be happening, according to the festival organizers, is that the more that capitalist influence there was, the more cultural aspects started to disappear. It was like it was exchanged. You have a cleverly named stage that has been named since the inception of the festival and it is engrained into people’s minds, and then all of a sudden it’s the Monster Energy stage. I guess no matter what event they were putting on, or how hard they towed the line with DIY culture, they all sort of felt that capitalist/business aspect worked to obliterate the culture the more they had to tie it in. The more they tied it in, the more profit was generated, but also the thing that was generating the profit was starting to get obliterated, instead of the branding.
Dead Rhetoric: I could see how those would be more affirming results – it kind of ties into the lyrical context of Misery Index too.
Kloeppel: Yeah, a bit. The rituals of power, the constant struggle. The album isn’t all about that. It’s more about social and human struggle. How it has been going on throughout history up to the present day. Maybe some of these more nuanced social environments that you see happening as a rapid pace. With the advent of the Internet and this text-based stuff, you can see it happening in real time.
I came to a realization the other day. I was checking out some [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, and his writings on discourse. What is kind of weird about all that, was back then they didn’t have all of this social media and stuff. They had books. Now we talk about discourse as if it is this rigid thing. It’s something everyone subscribes to and it’s out there. Yet we have all of this technology where we can see that it is constantly fluctuating. It’s very malleable and changing, and you can monitor it – it’s crazy. But back then, in his book, he was talking about how discourse isn’t this concrete thing. It’s what we are doing right now in this conversation. It’s made through talk, which was more in line with modern times.
I don’t know how common it was, but it was his idea at least – discourse happens through comment and talk, it’s literally built into the word. Nowadays, we have all of this technology that says that it isn’t rigid at all, yet we rely on things just the way they are. Then you have these racist movements that pop up based on this sort of ignorance.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny how those sort of things tend to work. With my own background, I teach in a middle school and seeing those reactions often makes me scratch my head a bit.
Kloeppel: Dude, I know. This modern communication system we have – there’s a great danger there. I feel like people seek out their own echo chamber. They get an idea in their head somehow – it’s passed on in their family, it lives in their community, and then they seek things out online and there are tons of incorrect and morally abhorrent affirmation everywhere. They feel like this very wrong logic, which is only half thought out, is correct. I think it is giving rise to some…and I don’t want to pass judgment, but some pretty interesting activists [laughs] that don’t know what they are talking about. The logic is strange, the information is wrong, and everything is based on a ton of opinion. You don’t have a single fact that isn’t woven into some sort of editorial-style opinion.
Our mass media doesn’t really help that situation because you just have a moving visual editorial column instead of remotely trying to present objective facts. You can’t really get to pure objectivity but now there is no one even trying.
Dead Rhetoric: I tell some of my students sometimes when they bring up certain things, that sometimes in science there is no debate, despite what people think – there are facts and evidence, and then there are what people want or choose to think to the contrary.
Kloeppel: Yeah, there is such a thing as proof. You have triangulated it so much that there aren’t very many options left, if any [laughs]. Those things exist in reality. We have found a lot of that. Human beings don’t know everything – we are on an eternal quest for knowledge and we get closer and closer to understanding reality. But we do have truths. It’s not all opinion. It’s not all up for debate.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that we’ve completely derailed the conversation from the band [laughs].
Kloeppel: Well, what we are talking about is essentially what the album is all about. It’s got ‘veritas’ written on the album cover, the rituals of power surrounding truth manipulations is essentially what it’s all about. If you want to go back and read those lyrics, this whole conversation is what the album is referring to.
Dead Rhetoric: Which is a topic that we do need to talk about and discuss in today’s world.
Kloeppel: Misery Index is about things that are happening in the real world, from a very punk/hardcore perspective, that make us a little angry. It’s been our tradition to speak out about those things. I think its valuable now, because things seem to be – due to the aforementioned dynamic we were talking about – that everyone is trying to be very polarized about things. You have to be one side or the other with these terms, and then creating arguments around that stuff.
I saw something recently – people talking about characteristics of a generation. This generalization of a whole group of people born from this date to this date. I’m not so sure I buy that. Yeah, it’s true that if you were born in a period, you might have some similar life experiences and history, depending on where you grew up. But there’s way more variables. The common word ‘millennials.’ I don’t buy that. I don’t buy the classification and generalization of millennials. Who is that? How exactly do they act? I’m pretty sure it’s just people [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: That’s pretty much all it is. There’s a need to have things into a group or be a part of something I guess. I’m not sure.
Kloeppel: I don’t subscribe to those types of subdivisions. I might even venture into dangerous territory – when someone says they are a certain thing, I don’t know if I subscribe to that. People are allowed to say who they are and what they are, and that kind of thing. But I feel like the classification terms have gotten to a point that is ridiculous. It doesn’t represent reality. I’ll hit on a hot button issue – sexuality. It’s like LGBTQ…how many letters are we going to add to this thing before we can just say that sexuality is on a spectrum? I feel like some of these things, maybe they pop up naturally, but I feel like a lot of these micro-categories on identity are used to control and manipulate people.
I feel like identity politics, and I’ll be careful here, but I feel it can be used instrumentally, to control and divide the population. It’s a tactic since the dawn of time, where there have been power-hungry people who control the populace. They divide us on lines of race – they make the lines of race and then they divide us on it. Then they make the lines of sexuality, and they divide us on it. I don’t know who they are, you know what I mean. These things may crop up naturally, but those in power work to perpetuate it. You see that subtle propaganda stuff going around, and it’s really insidious. You can try to dive into it all you want – you can get tore apart from it by people needing proof. It starts to sound like conspiracy theorist stuff, but I’ll tell you what, you don’t have to look too far back into history to see governing bodies, or people with money/power, trying to make sure they stay in power and control the population by keeping them divided up. Whether it’s a social class system or something like that – they get the whole population to buy into these ideas and then keep them under thumb.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s really it. If you are divided and looking at something to be divided about, you aren’t really looking at whomever is in charge.
Kloeppel: That’s right – or the effects of those in charge and what it is effecting around you. Or what is keeping you from thriving or surviving even. It’s pervasive and its frightening. It’s not something that is stagnant, or that thing over there, you live it. You go out and you are talking to people on the street and you see this stuff pop up and you are like, “Man, that is some really dangerous shit.” You get enough people that subscribe to these categories and boxes, and hatred towards one or another box and you get this lynch mob effect, and it’s really not cool. Those people can go after you if they decide that you don’t fit. If the styles change or the fashion of the day and you are unfashionable [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy having people discuss some of these types of topics that the band explores with you guys at shows?
Kloeppel: I mean, if people want to talk about it yeah. We’ll go there. We think about this type of stuff, so we’ll talk about it. You aren’t going to force views on people, so we aren’t going to have unwanted conversations. We don’t need to preach. But if people want to know a view, we often get asked about political standing, if we are left-wing extremists [laughs]. We aren’t extremists. If you define an extremist, that is someone who doesn’t tolerate another person’s way of being. We are pretty much the opposite of that.
We always get asked endlessly, especially when we go to Europe, about the President. The President is always a piece of shit [laughs]. It doesn’t really matter who it is. They [Europeans] hate him. Before that, it was George W. Bush, and they hated him. I think there was even some talk about Obama. I feel like he did a much better job than our orange skinned man [laughs] at keeping up his appearances in public. This guy just doesn’t care at all. But we try to avoid clichéd politics like that. I will dive in if need be – I’ll just throw this out there since we are talking about it. Donald Trump – he is morally reprehensible; I think we can all agree on that. If you look at what he says in public, if you look at it on a piece of paper you would say, “Wow, that is awful!” But you know, he is a capitalist, and the capitalist system has dominated the way of the world, so he will probably fare well as a leader of the US, amongst other savage leaders [laughs]. There you go, there’s my opinion on that. I hope no one was to ask me that again.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as Misery Index’s role in the death metal scene?
Kloeppel: The death metal scene does a lot of embracing the abject. Something gory or ghoulish, and they have moved onto some sci-fi themes and this/that. We like to talk about real life, and take the grindcore/hardcore approach to lyric writing. Don’t get me wrong – what the rest of the community is doing is totally fine. There’s a place for that for sure. This is just what we like to do.
Dead Rhetoric: What plans do you once the album is released?
Kloeppel: Immediately after, we will be coming home from Japan. We will be over there with Napalm Death and EyeHateGod for a few shows. At the end of the month we will be going through Europe with Wormrot, The Lion’s Daughter, and Truth Corroded. We will follow that up with a US run that has not been announced, and then some European fests and get into the southern hemisphere. There’s a pretty big thing on the table for next year as well.