I’m especially into one-man black metal project Annihilus, helmed by Chicago’s Luca Cimarusti, because of its relationship to comic books. In the Marvel universe, Annihilus is a recurring villain who rules the anti-matter universe called the Negative Zone. He frequently positions himself in opposition to The Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and is generally up to shenanigans at the cosmic level. Cimarusti’s project, named after the character, takes words from Marvel’s pages and implants them into sludgy black metal to pummelling and cinematic results. His new 3-song EP Eternal Winter begins with two classically-written black metal tracks that could easily fit alongside Bone Awl or Ildjarn, albeit with higher sound quality and perhaps more maniacal vocals – villain shit. The third song – “So This Is What It Feels Like” – is more of a soundscape, sampling 2017’s Logan, a stand out in superhero movies, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve known Luca for a minute, and we’ve talked shop on comics to a not inconsequential degree – he’s routinely given me great advice on series to get into – most recently some classic X-men titles. It was a pleasure getting to read his thoughts on marvel, black metal, and having fun with music, even when it means upending genre conventions.
Jordan Reyes: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became interested in underground music, and black metal as well?
Luca Cimarusti: I first found weird, more underground music in the same fashion that most people like me did…it was a sort of way to rebel against the norm. It was something dangerous, something kind of different and challenging. I think my first introduction to that sort of thing was back when I was super young, like seven, and all the older kids on the street I grew up on were passing around a mixtape with tracks on it from Black Sunday, The Chronic, and Doggystyle. I guess in that sense hip-hop was my gateway to seeing music as a form of rebellion and individualism. I remember feeling a sort of thrill when I saw what a reaction it got out of my dad when he caught me listening to it. He also confiscated the tape, swiftly ending the Driftwood Lane hip-hop black market on 1993. A few years after that, a friend’s older brother showed us a Screeching Weasel CD and it was all over for me.
LC: On the surface, I got interested in black metal because I just like it…I like the mood and feel of low-fi black metal. It’s creepy and spooky but there’s an undeniable beauty in the darkness. But I think I’ve always been drawn to music that is surrounded by a sensational cult-like following. I love bands like Guided by Voices, Grateful Dead, and Kiss, bands whose fans have a larger-than-life devotion. Black metal is the same way. It’s a cultural movement….just a weird, creepy one.
JR: What about comic books? When did you become magnetized by them?
LC: When Jim Lee rebooted the X-Men in ’91 I was six, the perfect age to be grabbed by something like that. The extreme world-building, the twisted timelines, the bright colors, the over-the-top characters; it was all so fun and so easy to get completely lost in. This came along with a moment of X-Men mania..in ’92 the incredible animated series started, then there was the arcade game, so many comic series–and I was all in, buying books, collecting trading cards, watching the cartoons religiously. The Marvel Universe is such an endless, complex thing, getting stuck in its vastness was so exciting and rewarding. It’s just a really unique thing to get immersed in. Nearly thirty years later I’m still obsessed. Catch me at every MCU movie opening night.
JR: Your project is named after a Marvel comic – how did you decide on the name?
LC: A lot of black metal is Satanic or political. It was really important for me to keep this project free of either of those things. I’m about as atheist as it gets, so the evil darkness in this project isn’t going to come from the devil. Annihilus is a terrifying, indestructible, mysterious character from the Marvel Universe: an extra-dimensional insect monster bent on the destruction of humanity. To me, that’s scarier and meaner than the idea of Satan.
JR: What about basing your project’s lyrics off of comics?
LC: It’s the same sort of idea. A way to tap into something massive and epic and poweful, something that I’m really, really connected to without having to sing about something political or personal. The world of comics is huge and heavy, and I’ve devoted so much of my life to it, so pulling emotional energy out of it makes sense to me.
LC: For example, I think the most emotionally moving song I’ve done is “An Entire World,” and those aren’t even words I wrote. It’s a monologue from The Dark Phoenix Saga where Jean Grey looks back at the atrocities her newfound evil power made her commit, and her coming to terms with the fact that in order to stop it from ever happening again, she would have to destroy herself. It’s an incredibly sad page of comics, and I think it makes for a really sad song.
JR: Is there any humor in what you’re trying to do with the project? How does that feel in regards to existing in a genre that can be comically grim?
LC: Trust me, I realize how hilarious it is for a 34-year-old adult man to wear corpsepaint and scream his head off about Captain America.
JR: How do you record your project? What is the songwriting process like?
LC: I usually come up with song ideas just from plunking around on my guitar while sitting on the couch. I’ll come up with parts and put together a loose arrangement in my head. For all the Annihilus recordings so far I’ve linked up with my friend (and Luggage bandmate) MJ Grant in our practice space. He has a nice minimal recording setup, and he’s gotten pretty good at using it over the years. I’ll record drums first then layer everything else on top of it, trying to get it done in as few takes as possible. Capturing a ratty, raw vibe is more important to me than playing everything perfectly. When I record the songs, it’s my first time playing them on all instruments, up until that point I’ve only played it on my guitar. I kinda figure it all out as I go, which lends itself to an almost improvised vibe. This is my first time ever putting together a solo project, so navigating this sort of thing by myself is a really exciting new experience for me.
JR: Can you tell me a bit about the new 3-track EP? Why do you hate the elderly so much?
LC: This new EP is the third Annihilus release, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I think I was able to conjure up a bit more depth on these tracks. In the current social climate, I’ve found myself really exhausted by and resentful of entitled old white men, so that’s where the song idea for “Eradicate the Elderly” came from. I was just kind of reading the news, looking around at the current world, and it was just like a “ugh thanks boomer” moment. The drone track on side B is more in line with other Annihilus songs subject-wise, though. It’s about Wolverine, and that sample is an incredible monologue from the movie Logan.
JR: Perhaps most importantly, which comics do you read these days? What would you recommend?
LC: The ongoing series I’ve been keeping up with recently are Saga, Outcast, Southern Bastards…kind of a wide range of feeling good and feeling bad in those titles. My favorite series of the past few years has been Vision by Tom King. Such a bizarre, sad, heavy run of comics, I can’t get over it. Definitely not one to be missed if you’re a fan of Marvel-lore. It’s beautiful and gutting. I have a handful of good friends who keep telling me to read this current X-Men run too, apparently it’s excellent. So that’s on my to-do list.
JR: What all is coming up for Annihilus?
LC: Next up is writing and recording a full-length. I have all sorts of ideas laying around, and I’m going to start piecing them all together once the new year hits. I’m the most productive during the winter. I have a handful of friends who are pushing me to make it a live band…it’s something I’ve been toying with a bit in my head, maybe that’ll happen too, although it’s not top priority.