Order From Chaos Interview
Conducted Fall 2014
Questions by J. Campbell
Answers by Chuck Keller
1. What catalyzed the creation of Order From Chaos? At the time you began working on the earliest tracks, you and Pete (Helmkamp) were quite young and had been playing in cover bands. Was there a moment or some significant event that took place at which time you and Pete realized that you had something more to achieve?
Yeah, Pete and I had been playing covers in a nameless band I had joined in September 1986. There was no single event that made us realize we wanted to do original songs, we just had similar ambitions. The other two guys in the band weren’t interested in doing anything significant, and so after a disastrous party in late July 1987, I left the band. I called and told him I had quite, and he said, ‘well, then so have I.’ OFC was born.
2. I think most people would agree that there are really no bands before or since that sound quite like OFC. Was there a particular motivation on your part to conquer new territory in metal or was OFC’s sound a purely organic development?
In the beginning we only knew we didn’t want to do the same thing other bands were doing. Conceptually we idolized what Voivod and Celtic Frost were doing, pretty much above all others. Musically we were also deeply inspired by those bands, plus Venom, Bathory, Sodom, Slaughter Lord, Mercyful Fate, etc, as well as many hardcore/punk bands. KC had/has a shit metal scene, but in the ‘80s the local hardcore scene was strong, so that was inspiring for us – not least for their passion and DIY work ethic.
3. How did you and Pete, the lyricists for the band, arrive at the thematic content that you relied upon for the band? Was it purely an outgrowth of your personal interests or was there a premeditated aspect to the content of your work?
Yeah, it was purely from our personal interests and experiences, and our lyrics quickly grew more confident and sophisticated. Though we both wrote about different subjects, we were very interested in the things the other was writing about.
4. From the time you and Pete recruited Mike Miller (who, if I recall correctly, was the first and only drummer you auditioned, right?), you never underwent any lineup changes and maintained a strict adherence to the three-piece model. Did you ever think about adding a second guitarist or otherwise augmenting the line up? All three members seem integral to the line up. Could OFC have been OFC but for the contributions of each member?
Yeah, Mike was the only drummer we ever considered. I’ve known him since we were five, and apart from playing in school bands together since 5th grade, we also had our own cover band in early 1986…which I was kicked out of by the other guitarist, ha ha. Anyway, in fall ’87 I played an old cassette of Mike and I playing covers for Pete. He agreed we should phone him up, get together and play him a crude guitar/bass/vocal demo we had recorded and see if he’d consider joining us. We did consider a second guitarist in the days before Mike joined, but while the guy could play like no one’s business, he also liked his drugs, and that kept him out.
5. Do you recall the songwriting process the band employed? Did members show up top rehearsal with songs already written or did someone come up with a riff and then you gradually built upon it?
In the earliest days it was more arranging a riff salad that stayed within the originator’s vision. For example, when Pete would ‘write a riff,’ it meant he wrote a killer bass line that became the foundation of that part of the song. Thing was, he was such an advanced player for his limited years that mimicking it on guitar usually sounded overly technical. Instead it was better for me to write a new and complimentary guitar riff to go over the top if his part. But we didn’t always compose by committee. We both wrote complete songs on our own, and altered them here and there as we rehearsed them as a band. Mike has this innate ability to alter the way you perceive your own compositions and inspire additional evolution. Ares Kingdom still uses this formula.
6. It seems that there was a very small, but tight knit community that revolved around OFC in the early days. Can you discuss the “Bastard Squad” and the camaraderie among the group of people surrounding OFC? Can you describe the Kansas City, MO scene at the time? There have been a handful of very impressive bands with very unique visions that emerged from Kansas City in OFC/s wake. It also seems that many if not most of the people involved in your group have remained loyal to the metal underground through the decades.
In the earliest days it was just our closest personal friends that hung around…essentially people that were our friends before or regardless of the band. It wasn’t until Mike and Pete rented what became known as the Roadhouse in spring 1989 that things began to change and strangers began to show up to see the band the local media usually saved their most scathing words for. Alex Blume showed up sometime in summer 1990 to see what the fuss was about. He endured an evening of OFC metal madness, and which also included Doug and Eric (who had since reconciled with us and moved in with Mike and Pete) trying to scare him and his friend away by drunkenly preaching at them like a pair of ridiculously foul-mouthed Rev. Robert Tiltons. Pete, Mike and I were sure we had seen the last of Alex and his friend…but both eagerly returned the very next week, so we began developing bonds, so you might say the Bastard Squad was born.
7. One of the most unique aspects of OFC is the idea that, early in the band’s existence, you all agreed that OFC would exist for a finite period of time and then terminate the project once you accomplished your goals. Can you describe how this planned expiration was conceived? Did it affect how you approached your work?
To our young minds in 1987 it had become apparent that bands of those days had a shelf life. Seemed like we watched almost all our favorite bands – some formative musical influences, splutter, falter and otherwise honk out to great fanfare some substandard heap of shit, usually stinking of vague commerciality, or at least an obvious attempt to win respect from an industry that really, truly, genuinely regarded them as freak-show curiosities. Of course we had no idea if anyone would ever actually care about what we did, but from the beginning we decided to limit our output to 2 or 3 albums, plus whatever EPs or other releases came along the way, and then split. Just seemed like the right thing to do. I don’t know if this kind of approach is even possible now, but the perception that even we ourselves had a shelf life did help us focus our energy starting with the first demo.
8. It is well-known that OFC had difficulty with finding a responsible and effective label to distribute your music. At that time, running an underground label seems like it was more difficult than it is now. And, yet, unlike today, it was almost impossible for a band to gain recognition without strong label backing. How do you think this affected OFC’s mission and the response the band received?
Looking back I don’t think it had as much to do with our being overlooked as the simple fact we didn’t conform to any specific genre. We saw ourselves as the musical and philosophical descendants of bands like Voivod and Celtic Frost, with musical values drawn from Sodom, Bathory, Venom, Slaughter Lord, et al. In fact I still see us in those terms. But by the time we had gained any sort of notoriety, the attention of the scene had shifted in a musical direction that was more extreme for its own sake. Today you might hear OFC mentioned in the same cultish breath as Blasphemy, Sarcofago, Beherit, but while we were fans and peers of those bands in their own time, musically and philosophically we had nothing in common with any of them. The only thing you might say we had in common was shit production on our albums, so maybe that’s where the association comes from!
In any case, it’s an odd phenomenon. We would have been the easiest and most loyal band in the world to work with had labels actually done what they promised, including release things on time – and as we designed them! Had a hell of a time with all that!
9. OFC’s debut LP, “Stillbirth Machine,” is regarded by many as a highly influential album, and it marks a definite shift in the maturation process of the band. After you received the deal with Wild Rags, what steps did you take to really hone your approach as you stepped up to the daunting task of writing and recording your debut LP?
We had started working toward recording what would become Stillbirth Machine around the same time as we recorded the Will to Power EP. In fact Putrefaction Records wanted to sign us for our first full length, but they wanted it to include the ‘Crushed Infamy’ demo, an idea we rejected. Apart from pushing forward with new material, we revisited our old demo song Golgotha (Second Death) and revised it as Forsake Me This Mortal Coil. In the end I think we came up with incredibly strong material that suffered from utterly atrocious production, which was wholly my fault.
10. The second OFC album, “Dawn Bringer,” is often overlooked due to being out of print. Why did this album remain so obscure for so long? How do you think it fits into the development of the band between “Stillbirth Machine” and the epic “An Ending in Fire”?
I see it as a sort of pre-production demo for An Ending in Fire, as well as a place for the old material we had recently revamped. By that time the Conqueror of Fear idea had solidified, and in fact we had recorded a version of Plateau of Invincibility earlier that year (1993). The rest was essentially revised old tracks – Crimes Against the State had become Labyrinthine Whispers, and Megalomania had become Ophiuchus Rex (He Who Plays With the Serpents), and then there was a long-winded version of Webs of Perdition that involved me cutting strings and prying out a pick up during the fading lead at the end as we recorded.
11. “An Ending in Fire” is clearly the culmination of all the various ideas presented up to that point. The first side consists entirely of the five part “Conqueror of Fear” suite. The second side contains the 12 minute “There Lies Your Lord, Father of Victories” and the three part “Somnium Helios” suite. The approach to this album was grandiose. What prompted you to take such an ambitious approach?
Simply it was our desire to forge our own path by doing things on our own terms. An Ending in Fire was indeed grandiose. It was ambitious. It was audacious. It’s what we had intended all along. Sadly though, even after it did finally find a release a few years later, it was largely ignored. However time was on our side.
12. After recording “AEiF,” OFC disbanded which was, as noted above, according to plan. Did all three of you agree that you accomplished what you set out to accomplish with OFC?
At the time it was hard to stick to the plan, but I think only because it meant giving up something that had become comfortable. It’s true we were still feeling creative individually and it seemed odd to walk away from something that at least a little momentum in favor of starting over. But we also knew OFC had run its course. Biggest compliment I ever received regarding our self-termination was when Quorthon told me he sometimes wished he’d have ended Bathory after Twilight of the Gods and kept going as something else. When you think about it, Twilight of the Gods lacked the normal promisory outro, so he was certainly thinking about it at the time.
13. How do you perceive OFC’s legacy? Is it in line with what you believed you were doing at that time?
Yes, definitely. I hear from people all the time about what an influence and/or inspiration we were. But even back during OFC’s time we heard from fans that said our albums had inspired them to dig deeper into themselves, or even helped them through a particularly difficult time in their lives. It’s always very rewarding to hear that sort of thing.
14. OFC is one of those sorts of bands that, although it never achieved wide recognition during its existence, has long been cited as a massive influence by numerous important bands. Do you feel the latter to be more significant than superficial widespread popularity?
Without a doubt. I’ve got to go back to the Voivod example again. They’re a band that influenced COUNTLESS – and I mean COUNTLESS – important musicians and bands, yet never saw the sort of commercial success you’d think such influence would bring. Put it this way, would any true musician really have wanted to play on Metallica’s black album if they could have instead had a hand in RRRoooaaarrr or Killing Technology!?
15. Can you describe the difference in your approach to recording versus how you played live? Were there elements of OFC’s catalog that could not be adequately performed live?
We approached recording very deliberately. Not that we ever went overboard with fluff or extraneous stuff, though. Frankly none of the studios we ever worked in had an overabundance of technology, anyway. But our live execution was always from the Venom Alive in ’85 school of OTT hellpaced savagery. Really it was another area where our hardcore/punk ‘attitude is everything’ was most evident.
16. What bands were you in contact with and did you feel the most kinship with during OFC’s existence? Can you discuss the influence that your friendship with Quorthon had on your approach to music and how it affected OFC?
Pete and I wrote to loads of bands back in those days. Had good friends in Samael, Rotting Christ, Varathron, Pentacle, Grave, Emperor, Abigail, Impaled Nazarene, and many more. And of course Quorthon. In terms of his influence on my music, it was very little – something even he noted, and was probably partly why we got close. I wasn’t just another metal cloner wanting to remake Under the Sign of the Black Mark ad nauseam. However he and I were known to seize on very similar ideas from time to time, but apart from me using a song title before he could, Blood and Thunder, we kept off one another’s toes, ha ha. He was very open about how he recorded Bathory albums whenever I asked, and I did take his ideas to heart when it came to recording OFC, mainly because we were always using similarly primitive studios for our sessions.
17. A few years ago your current band, Ares Kingdom, which also features Mike Miller on drums, went on tour with Pete’s band at that time, Angelcorpse. Every night on that tour after the AK set, Pete came out on stage and Doug and Alex (both of whom were vital members of the greater OFC community back in the day) left and OFC performed “Webs of Perdition.” How did that feel doing that track after so many years? Why did you select “Webs…” as the only song to perform then?
It felt to me like no time had passed. Mind you we had no OFC rehearsals with Pete before doing that tour, but Webs of Perdition was so ingrained in us all, not to mention the fact that Ares Kingdom’s musical style is virtually identical to OFC (Mike and I were 2/3 of the band after all) so it was an effortless transition. We chose to do it partly because it was a signature song for OFC, and also because of time constraints.
18. Those three or four shows precipitated a handful of full reunion sets a year or so later. But unlike most bands doing “reunions,” OFC was not interested in recording new material, altering the songs, or pressing on past the few shows that you lined up. Much like the band’s initial existence, it seems you all decided to terminate the reunion once you felt the mission had been completed. Is that true? What was your purpose in doing those reunion shows?
Yeah, it’s absolutely true. Once again we were doing things on our terms. The reunion happened because of the ever-growing popularity of the band, and in support of the NWN LP reissues of Stillbirth Machine and An Ending in Fire. We also realized we should give this new generation of metal heads a chance to see the band with all original members, playing the original songs without any sort of post-1995 revision. It was never intended to last and had its own culmination at the NWN Fest II in Berlin. Continuing on with OFC instead of pursuing the paths we’ve chosen since the band’s end would have undercut one of the fundamental messages of OFC – move forward. I’m not saying something like this couldn’t happen again in the distant future, but right now there is no need.
19. Can you discuss the current box set that NWN is releasing? Can you provide some thoughts about how it has felt to exhume the grave after all these years and conduct this elaborate post-mortem on OFC?
The scope of the project is beyond comprehensive, and it’s been a blast dredging up all the old material, photos, memories, anecdotes, etc. We’re including every recording the band released officially, as well as a few unreleased outtakes. For the ‘die hard’ set there are also some live and rehearsal tracks that even we hadn’t heard in 20+ years – one rehearsal in particular we thought had been lost. We’ve even bookended the die hard LP set chronologically with the first show from the 2010 reunion tour. The book accompanying the LP sets is, in a very real sense, a look into our personal archives. Each of us had stuff the others hadn’t seen in years, and now everyone will get to see it.
I’m currently working with NWN on putting together the CD box set, which will include all recordings featured on the ‘regular’ version of the LP set, as well as a DVD. Though it won’t be possible to include the book that comes with the LP box set, we will put a good amount of it into the CD booklets.
All three of us are quite satisfied with how it has turned out, and I’m convinced no one will walk away disappointed!