Fury and Valor of Unrelenting Indigenious Spirits – interview w/ Pan-Amerikan Native Front

To honor the battle cries and ancestors’ blood that still boil in contemporary Native Americans’ veins, Chicago-based Pan-Amerikan Native Front aim to push the boundary of extreme music by infusing elements of indignious spirits and histories of Native Americans’ struggles with classic Black Death violence. It’s our great pleasure to have this realy in-depth conversation with the mastermind behind this project, Kurator of War, in disucssing PANF’s music and writing processes, as well as the necessity for Native Americans today to remember their ancestors’ legacy and sacrifice.

Interviewed by Aymparch

Aymparch: Greetings Kurator of War! I hope you are doing well my friend. It’s our pleasure that you agreed to take this interview. Right before we started, why not do a short intro for our Chinese underground readers: how would you describe PANF as a project to someone has no knowledge regarding to it?

Kurator of War: The pleasure is mine my friend! In short, Pan-Amerikan Native Front is total native black metal warfare! The project is a story, a teaching, much like the oral tradition carried through generations. The story is an attempt to give breath and vigor to the  indigenous experiences and history through the sounds of black metal. War and battles are a major focus because of their historical significance; the music can be aggressive, ugly, battering, militant, faint, melodic… the musical style compliments the real experiences felt and lived through blood and battle, but also through trauma and lament.The story and music comes from the heart, and as such a voice to the ancestors.

AP: Personally the first time I heard about this project was when RedRiverFamily announced the first few rounds of bands for 2017’s RRFF – the name and logo of PANF instantly caught my attention, as its always thrilled to see new black metal bands sharing Native American origins: the usage of Cherokee syllabary and the obvious symbolism of Thunderbird in your logo, can you share with us some of your intentions in making the name/logo for PANF? Also according to MA, the Thunderbird logo was inspired by the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, why did you choose this particular design, any personal reasons?

KoW: The very mention of that fest brings lots of nostalgia for me! The project is founded on a vision I developed when I was young. When I was about 17 years old, I reflected deeply on identity and the current state of indigenous space, voice and existence. I knew indigenous folk across all of North America shared a similar identity and history, and in a similar vein the people of South America as well.  In a sense, we are one. This is why I named the project “Pan-Amerikan.”

45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma Army National Guard sleeve insignia

The same goes for the graphic logo, the intent is twofold. The story and symbolism of the thunderbird was common across long distances from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes region in the United States. Plus it intersected effectively within black metal, consider how widely used eagles are in black metal culture. There are many design styles of the thunderbird, but I thought the one depicted by the 45th infantry division held a special significance. To me, this meant a recognizable native symbol made its way to Europe to fight in the biggest war in history. Plus it offers a teaching moment, a curious mind may dive into the history of the 45th Infantry Division and learn more about their selection of the symbol as their insignia.

AP: Lets talk about your first and only release so far – Tecumseh’s War. For me this is not an album that sounds “particularly innovative”, but as an honest tribute to the dirty and straightforward black metal echoing from late 80s/early 90s, old school, aggressive, blending death metal and sometimes punkish vibes, with few triumphant melodies passages lurking underneath – I absolutely enjoy this record. So I’m curious to know your musical influences prior to start PANF as a project, and what is your mindset when composing this album: in other word, were you deliberately trying to shape a unique sound for PANF? One may argue that this album doesn’t sound like “Native American” as comparing to those arts of Black Twilight Circle and many others with similar themes, who often incorporate indigenous folkish and tribal elements into the music.

KoW:During the songwriting process, I had full intention to construct the album like a book, to storytell. The historical content is chronological, the album starts with a preview of the urgency to fight back and assert indigenous sovereignty in Indigenous Blood Revival. On a sidenote, Indigenous Blood Revival is the only song on the album that does not reference Tecumseh’s War, this was also the first song I wrote for the album. That song was meant to be larger than the album itself, as the first song it sets the tone for the entirety of the PANF discography.  Tecumseh’s War ends with the death of the great leader Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames.

In the early stages of the album, I really wanted to anchor the sound with the mid-paced thirds blasts popularized by bands like Archgoat, or normal mid-paced blasting to capture a dragging war intensity, militant if you will. And riffing with dark, furious tones, but also of other expressions–frustration, hope, uncertainty. That anchor is what you hear when Indigenous Blood Revival vocals kick in, or much of the drumming in Raising the War Club. I really enjoy the intensity of the War Metal or Black/Death sound, I modified it to make it sound less death and more black. I developed a wide range of riffing styles. Whether it was the fast-melodic picking of Raising the War Club or the strung out power chords of Tenskwatawa, the sound I was trying to anchor in the early stages expanded to include a variety of styles and emotional expressions. Other sounds include the dizzying and maddening atonal blasts of Anti-Expansionist Diplomacy or the melodic depth of sweat and blood during the second half of Battle of the Thames. Believe me, I thought a lot about wanting to include Native musical elements, in the end I decided to focus on the black metal aesthetic and less on trying to incorporate indigenous sounds. Instead, I added these cultural sounds in other subtle ways. Writing that album was like giving birth for the first time. I carried that baby to term and once it came out I was completely exhausted, I think I had to put music down for at least 2-3 months.

AP: The Cover art of Tecumseh’s War for me did a lot in capturing the atmosphere of this record, as well as some of the arts you put on Facebook and Bandcamp page – depicting wars from the perspective of Native Tribes and honoring the forefathers’ military triumphs (and defeats maybe). Tell us more about the reason why you chose these arts and aesthetics and how they associated with PANF’s music.

KoW: Cohesion was a critical component for PANF in creating a powerful and effective message and theme. I try to be as well-rounded as possible and reinforce the focus of the project, hit it with the logo, lyrics, images, art, delivery, the Kurator of War appearance as well. These images capture each thematic element in the name PANF. We’re talking about war here, Tecumseh’s War, Let’s see the indigenous fighters who battled courageously, this means all involved, the Lenape, Wyandot, Shawnee, Potawotami, etc there were many great fighters representing these nations. This is Tecumseh’s Confederacy. These images are an additional source of breath into giving life to the histories and experiences of indigenous peoples of these lands. A very powerful tool.

AP: Tecumseh’s War not surprisingly, deals with the legend warchief Tecumseh and the Battle of the Thames. If one are acknowledge of this history, it makes perfect senses then why PANF would choose to incorporate Tecumseh and his heritage into their release. But why don’t you share some insights in regard to this particular war? How important is Tecumseh to you (not only as a musician, but as one Native American)?

Tecumseh (1768-1813)

KoW: For the record, Tecumseh was not a chief. The principal chief during much of his adulthood was Black Hoof (Catecahassa), who adamantly disagreed with Tecumseh’s plans to fight the Americans. Lots of inner politics involved within the Shawnee, and indigenous peoples were deeply divided about Tecumseh’s warnings of the foreign invasion. Personally, I empathize with both sides. If Tecumseh’s War was won, I believe there would be a United States of Indigenous Nations, perhaps like the federalism we have today in USA, and Tecumseh would have been the first president. Tecumseh’s vision is the engine for PANF, in my mind, arguably,  he is the most important indigenous figure in North American history. He had the wit to understand the games the Americans were playing when they would engage to negotiate treaties, and he used that knowledge to create political power and leverage. His skills were legendary, his oratory, combat, hunting, intelligence–he learned English at a young age when Stephen Ruddell was captured and adopted as Tecumseh’s brother. His influence was immeasurable, what he did to build up an army was unprecedented. From his homelands in Ohio, he traveled far distances to warn of the coming of the Whites. He visited the lands in current Minnesota, down to Cherokee territory, his name spread far and wide. When I reflect on my indigenous ancestry, Tecumseh’s message resonates profoundly. He saw all indigenous people as one, who share land, lifestyle, philosophy, thought etc. Of course, there are variations, localism and regionalism are inevitable. Yet, Tecumseh remains deep in my heart and a hero for all indigenous people.

AP: When reading the lyrics, I could feel the entire album following a consistent narrative of Tecumseh’s rising against colonial forces and tragic death at the Battle of the Thames. So I’m curious to know how closely the music was tied with the theme here: does each track composed particularly for one section of this narrative? By the way, I’m not sure if you are aware of this but, Nechochwen’s Heart of Arkamon also dealt with this particular battle, I wonder if you have heard of this brilliant gem and if that record or Nechochwen in general have inspired the birth of Tecumseh’s War.

KoW: Each song has a mood written to reflect the events and conditions of the time. I may have had a clear idea about what I wanted to do with a song, at other times it was a matter of playing some riffs and see what sounds fitting! For example, in Raising the War Club I had full intention on hitting the listener with an abrasive blast and vocal opener, as the song was developing I decided to retain the snare blast for the verses for that relentless continuation, a motif to anchor the song. Another example would be the ending song, Battle of the Thames. Again, I knew the formation of the song would exhibit the intensity of war, musically the first half of the song. I want the listener to really lean in for it, during the second half of the song with the slowed down riffing and lead guitar it was meant to have the listener take a step back and emotionally process the stakes involved, a kind of melancholic period of introspection knowing how this was going to end.

Oh, I am absolutely familiar with Nechochwen. I bought Heart of Akamon on CD from Bindrune Recordings sometime in 2016 during the writing of Tecumseh’s War. Definitely, one of my favorite albums. The most inspiring thing about that album and the project as a whole for me is the storytelling creation, extremely well put together and the historical and cultural depth is immeasurable.

AP: Many of those arts that associated with Indigenous related themes would often choose related mythology and legends as their main themes, while PANF is among the few who deal with more direct and traumatic theme – the war and sacrifices of forefathers. I’m curious to know your opinion/fascination about “Wars” and military culture of Native Americans in general, why did you choose to depict them in your music?

KoW: Before I started the project, I was in a band with friends I’ve known for years called Terranaut.. While with the band, I developed a strong desire to play harder and heavier music, a style that I wasn’t getting from the band. That’s when I decided to leave and focus on writing my own material. Naturally, with my cultural and historical interests, war and battle was a fitting subject for the material.  In a sense, you could say the musical writing chose the theme! Wars are truly historically changing events in time, emotionally riveting and exhausting, a crisis for those involved. There were many great indigenous figures who organized to fight back the encroaching Europeans. For many, their efforts have gone unnoticed, and I wish to give voice and honor those before us who gave their lives to defend the families, land and traditions.

Kurator of War

AP: I’m thinking about the importance of languages. Many of bands sharing Native American/Indigenous origins sometimes prefer using their own native languages in their music, while PANF mainly uses English. Why is that the case? and do you have any plans increasing the usage of your own native tongues in future releases?

KoW: I truly admire indigenous artists who use a native tongue in their lyrics! The answer for me is simple, I do not speak one. My upbringing was largely absent of indigenous culture and language, my personal journey has been to reclaim and adopt the teachings of the relatives here in the Great Lakes region. While I do not speak a native tongue, I am making it a lifelong goal to learn the native languages in the area. As for future releases, I do plan on selectively incorporating indigenous language into songs, slowly but with certainty. I’m finding that native words in black metal is truly fucking powerful!

AP: Lets shift back to the name of your project, Pan-Amerikan Native Front. Thanks to my anthropologic studies and past researches on Native American’s struggles for human rights in the late half of last century, the Red Power movement in 70s and particularly American Indian Movement (AIM), how people from various tribes urged a union of Pan-American identity, like what Tecumseh envisioned, and how this movement eventually led to musicians like XIT that using music as a way to reclaim the history and fight for Native Americans’ own rights. Decades have passed but the situation in many reservations are still not optimistic for Native Americans today. I’m interested in knowing if this has any influence on you growing up and eventually make you decide to become a musician. How important is the concept of “Pan-American” for you?

KoW: Modern political movements are not a focus of the project, and while a very important subject, not something I can say I am well-versed in. You do make a highly relevant connection between Tecumseh’s cause and political indigenous organizations of the 20th century. As you suggested, what the project has in common with these organizations is the strong value of pan-indigenousism. Even before the AIM, there was a prominent early native rights organization called the Society of American Indians founded in 1911. Native peoples have understood the value of allying with one another with the coming of European attacks, strength in solidarity. The concept of “pan-american” is central to Tecumseh’s vision, and from his vision to the motivation for Pan-Amerikan Native Front. It’s at the very heart of the project.

AP: You will release a split with Ifernach via GoatowaRex this year and the premiere track is awesome: as straightforward as before and even more aggressive and mature, the Pow-Wow interlude clearly built up atmosphere. Do you mind sharing some info regarding the writing process of this split? How did this collaboration with Ifernach happen? And why GoatowaRex? To be honest I am surprised to see you guys sign with Dani, will this be a long-term collaboration then?

KoW:Miigwech for those kind words my friend! The concept of the songs are based on Great Lakes indigenous peoples with each song touching on a variety of subjects. The first song is a traditional PANF track, highlighting the battles Obwandiyag led and inspired against British territorial control. The second song is a little different from what I typically write, Blazing Winds of the Three Fires has myth and legend based on Anishinaabe story. Generally speaking, the songs on the split continue the relentless energy from Tecumseh’s War, with some percussive and melodic variety in parts. A majority of the material is old, written shortly after Tecumseh’s War was released so probably around 2016/2017 and I was just sitting on them for a while.

Ifernach and I connected over social media, obviously we were like-minded and deeply respected each other’s work. You don’t see too many metal musicians revive native traditions into their music east of the Mississippi River, it was a “meant to be” situation and we’re extremely content of how everything came out. My connection with Goatowarex is simple, Ifernach already had a working relationship with Dani when he released Skin Stone Blood Bone on vinyl so he kept that up with me this time. Obviously, Dani does incredible work for his releases and works very hard at it. I’m not exclusively tied to one label, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if you see another PANF release under Goatowarex.

AP: I also want to briefly talked about you guys’ live performances. Your set at RRFF 2017 was among the best, alongside with some BTC legends like Volahn and Arizmenda – easily one of my best memories from that festival. I would say performing live indeed injects new life into the music itself, as I witnessed the dynamic on stage and your outfit in particular – an unforgettable experience. What do you think of performing live and how important it is for PANF? Also about your war paints and outfits, can you share the meaning behind those symbols and cloths you chose to present on stage?

KoW: I truly have Red River Family fest to thank here for the opportunity to play that fest. There were some incredible things said about the PANF performance, very honored as well to hear that directly from you my friend. I’ve done live performances on and off since I was 19. The experience is both tiring and energizing, but I do mostly enjoy it. Taking PANF to the stage was something I felt I seed during the song-writing process. When writing songs, I actively practice lyrics while playing the guitar to see if I can pull it off for when I perform on stage. I try to have fun with it! Live performances are powerful, to hear it directly from the artist, something I do value and wish to continue doing. The presentation with war paint and garb is meant to express indigenousness on a macro level. The garb I wear is a serape commonly worn in Mesoamerican indigenous culture. The headwear is a chullo, commonly worn in Andean indigenous culture. These two pieces combine the solidarity I have for indigenous culture in North and South America. Again, reconciling the idea of pan-indigenousness.

AP: Well, what lies in the future for PANF? Have you already got in mind the themes for next full length and started to composed new materials?

KoW: At this time, things have been busy! The new full length album is in the middle of recording, guitars, vocals and bass are complete. In a week, the drums will be complete. Death Kvlt Productions out of UK will release a European version, and I will self-release for USA/Canada. Tecumseh’s War is about to be reissued on cassette under Le Fleurs du Mal from Montreal. While the new full length is currently in production, I am already looking ahead at the following release, an EP that will take me to other territory. Most importantly, PANF is confirmed to perform Gathering of the Eagle and Condor next October 2021 in Tongva territory (Los Angeles)! This will be the first indigenous black metal festival in the world. So far only Ixachitlan is the other confirmed band, and there will be many more announcements. Follow Night of the Pale Moon on social media to follow the great news!

AP: Again, thanks again for accepting this interview. Lets end this one with one of our records’ tradition – What are your favorite booze that you might want to recommend to our readers in China? Anyways, our best wishes to your life and looking forward to more materials from PANF! 

KoW: Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed! A couple of my favorite beers of all time are Newcastle Brown Ale, goes down so smooth, and if they are feeling for stronger drink then I say Dragon’s Milk. Best wishes to you as well with future publications! In Solidarity, In War!!!

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