Local Metal Label Flenser Is a One-Man Pursuit of Quality Doom
Many local labels are offering obscure reissues and innovative new releases on all conceivable formats. Label Sampler will profile a different Bay Area record company every other week.
Headquarters: San Francisco
Owner: Jonathan Flenser
Origin of label name: A flenser is a person who cuts blubber from a whale carcass. There is a tradition of using words that evoke gore and violence to describe extreme music, and Jonathan was clever enough to find a thoroughly antiquated, archaic one to name his label after. The word "flense" is etymologically rooted in Danish, a language spoken in Nordic countries where black metal originated. Jonathan could have simply named his label after a song, so its impressive that he found such an evocative term appropriate on so many levels.
Musical focus: In short, Flenser releases black metal and doom, although there are artists on the roster that don't fit neatly within those subgenres of metal. Jonathan is specifically interested in bands that deliberately cultivate a bleak and dark aesthetic, especially if those bands somehow rebel against the common trappings of their particular variety of metal. Flenser's 20 releases since 2010 have been characterized by bands that are ostensibly metal, but have strains of minimalism, ambient, goth, and atmospheric experimentalism as well.
Balan of Palace of Worms, whose album was Fenser's first release.
Jonathan comically related the stereotypical misconceptions of a metal label with the following anecdote. "The other day I was at Death Angel show and realized that when I tell people I run a metal label, they think I deal with head-banging and guitar solos all day long. Those things are great, but that's not really the kind of music we deal with at Flenser."
Headquarters: Jonathan's garage, San Francisco. Flenser is still a one-man operation, but it has become successful enough to justify acquiring a remote office in the near future.
Creation story: Initially, Flenser was conceived to release the LP version of Ghast's May the Curse Bind, which further evidences Jonathan's vinyl preference. Flenser's first catalog number was not assigned to Ghast, however. A chance encounter with the elusive Balan would change the label's early history.
When Jonathan heard Palace of Worms' first CD, The Decaying Despot, he was shocked to discover that such realized and tight black metal was not already on a label. He learned that POW was a one-man black metal project of Balan, who had only been distributing his album at one local record store and amongst friends, and Jonathan resolved to facilitate a proper release. After a chance meeting with Balan at what they agreed was a horrible local metal show, Flenser had arranged its first release.
Most recent release: Flenser's most recent release is from local atmospheric black metal band Obolus and entitled Lament. Jonathan asserts that the record falls within the Bay Area's tradition of innovative, atmospheric black metal, as established by groups like Weakling, Leviathan, and Crebain. Flenser prides itself on releasing metal records that break boundaries within their respective subgenres, and the depressive black metal of Obolus certainly does that within its peer group. The record interestingly returns to the sonic motif of water throughout its dense tracks, and the harsh passages are often punctuated with surprising melodies that shine through the mire.
Primary format: Jonathan confidently asserts that "people buy this music on vinyl because of the sound, look, and collectibility." The compression that occurs with mastering for vinyl lends itself well to the dense, textured metal that Flenser releases, although the label also puts out cassettes and CDs, depending on the project. The elaborate packaging on Flenser's vinyl releases clearly illustrates the label's affinity for the format. You will find colored vinyl and lavish gatefold packaging, often with intricate artwork adorning every printable inch.
On the Internet: Jonathan has a very practical attitude toward the prevalence of piracy and the Internet becoming the primary means of consumers discovering new music. In the case of Flenser's most recent release, Obolus, the only available material from that group was a two-song demo that had been released the previous year. The demo was very well received, but the group did not have enough of a reputation to sell records without more convincing. The solution, to a pragmatic business owner like Jonathan, was to stream the album online for free prior to its release on vinyl. After all, fans of this genre aren't content to own quality music on their computers. Black metal obsessives buy their favorite albums on vinyl.
On running an independent record label in San Francisco: "The type of metal that has evolved here has greatly influenced myself and the label's output. It's hard for me to imagine Flenser existing outside of the Bay Area." Flenser's distributor and vinyl manufacturer are both located in San Francisco, and Jonathan relishes the opportunity to deal with such crucial facets of his business face-to-face. Flenser wasn't specifically founded to release local music, but the sheer amount of quality music in the Bay Area has led to many local signings. Additionally, the reviews and guidance provided by local institution Aquarius Records endears Jonathan to the city alone.