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Contaminated Tones Fanzine

Jon "Orion" Norberg puts out an awesome web zine and also does a small record label and here is his story:


MC: What is the name of your web-zine and how long has it been around?


CT:          Thanks Chris for dropping the interview on me! Contaminated Tones started in 2008, basically just as a central place for my thoughts on albums, and live shows and whatnot. During college when I hosted my radio show, The Vault, I posted playlists and interviews up on the site as well. I posted a handful of stuff back at that time, mostly older reviews I had written for Metal Archives and then, after I was booted off air by radio management, the site went through a period of about a year with relatively little content being added. Currently though we've been getting a lot more content and material up on the site, particularly in the past year since I expanded Contaminated Tones into a small label. I've gotten a lot of review requests and promo stuff sent so, that all gets reviewed and added.

                Between this I did one issue of Contaminated Tones fanzine which has had about 150 copies  distributed around the world to traders and labels. I started work on a second issue but that was put off due to a lot of the material collected for the zine being out of date.


MC; Before you started this zine, did you do any prior writing for anything else?


CT:          Not particularly. Just some reviews on Metal Archives and also I was a frequent poster on the Zero Tolerance website for a period of about 4 years. I didn't write for any well known zines or sites though.


MC: How long did it take from the idea of doing one to actually getting some stuff on the internet?


CT:          Well, I made the whole web-zine relatively quickly. It was all templated out using the basic tools offered by the blogger website and I had already had a bunch of material written to add to the blog so, I just kind of did it on impulse.

                The immediacy of the internet offers really quick creation of content bearing sites without the real need to invest any money or research so, we see a lot of sites popping up similar to Contaminated Tones. It makes it difficult to offer thoughts and reviews of bands and stand out from other sites. The most popular sites that don't offer free downloads of music get relatively few hits and views each day. It's really difficult to create something that offers something different and that's what I've tried to do with Contaminated Tones. I don't know if I've succeeded or not but I try and always remain as objective as possible in reviews, offer my honest opinions. I think that's really what any honest musician would want as well. The site has dished out some harsh criticism and it's all honest and objective.


MC: Looking back was it easier or harder than you thought and why? Are you the only one that does the zine or do you have other people helping you out?


CT:          Well, I've always been an opinionated person and I've always enjoyed writing. I intended to double major in college with English being my second major but I just got too tired of the educational system's interest in stealing student's money by loading them down with classes irrelevant to their major instead of letting them spend that time honing their abilities within their career field. I've always loved to write and I've always loved music, especially Heavy Metal.

                My other major was Radio and Television Production, specifically audio production and engineering. It's easy for me to listen to and critique the production side of a release objectively from the standpoint of an engineer. Having experience with audio production and recording, I can usually pick out most of the stuff which artists don't want people to notice - copied and pasted sections of tracks, harsh edits, programmed drums... Often though, being a metal fan, particularly a fan of the old and grime-laden early black metal, death metal and speed metal, I'm able to put it in perspective. Production doesn't have to be pristine to be awesome. The sound and design of an album is often times just as important as the music itself - it's what invokes atmosphere. You can't build a towering monument on air... there has to be a landscape underneath it.

                As for other people helping me with the zine, I recently did get an additional writer for Contaminated Tones. Steve's in the same boat as I am in many cases as far as background in criticism. He has extensive knowledge of sound design and recording techniques. He's a great writer and opinionated. He's able to create unique opinions on albums and he's able to do it all without bias.


MC: Do you have a webmaster or do you post all the stuff up on the site yourself?


 CT:         Everything posted on the site is all done by either myself or Steve. I post all the udates on the Contaminated Tones Productions releases but as far as reviews, articles and interviews goes, both myself and Steve post what we write.



MC: About how often is the website updated?


 CT:         Well, it depends. Usually about two-three times a week but if we are both productive, it could be much more than that. Steve posted three reviews just today and I posted three updates earlier in the week; two reviews and some updates on local shows including Diamond Head, Midnite Hellion and Sacrificial Blood at the Brighton Bar and Oz, October 31, Attacker, Midnite Hellion and Contaminated Tones Productions' very own Maximum Oversatan at Championship Bar and Grill in Trenton, NJ in May. There really is not set update schedule but whenever the site is updated, I post on Contaminated Tones' facebook site and if you use Google+ you can get notifications as well.


MC: Now when people log onto your site, what will be some of the stuff they will see?


CT:          Well, right now we have a bunch of reviews up there. Steve just posted reviews of Vaporizer's EP, a scathing dismantling of the most recent In Flames album as well as thoughts on last year's All That Remains album. I just reviewed Aum's "Of Pestilence," which was very good. Quality Black Metal from Hong Kong. Also locals Sacristy's Masters of Baphometic Devastation. We've also recently reviewed Magnum Itiner Interius, Fates Warning, Nortt, Cyclone Temple and our most recent interview was with Philadelphia's awesome Infiltrator. Before that I did an interview with Tony Portaro of Whiplash which was really awesome.


MC: As far as reviews go, do you review unsigned bands as well as signed ones? How would a band go about sending you something to review?


CT:          We review any band, of any popularity and any status that has some sort of distributable release. If the band is signed, usually we'll get digital promos and occassionally physical promos. Physical promos are much better to review as we can actually see the packaging, see how much effort the label or band has put into the aspects of a release which are often forgotten about these days. It's much easier to get a real feeling for what a band is trying to convey when we have the full package. Unsigned bands usually are more likely to send us physical copies. It says something about the underground I think. Personally, I only send out physical promos for my releases.

                I don't believe in a difference between signed bands and unsigned bands. Often times signed bands don't impress me as much. They usually are a let down in reality. A band that is on a label has some expectations to go along with that status. Unsigned bands can be really awesome or really awful and that's much more fun for me. I'd rather hear those extremes than something just mediocre. Those are the most difficult reviews to write - the perfectly mediocre ones.

                If a band wants us to review their release, they can either contact me through the website by leaving a comment there with an email address, they can email me directly at Orion_metalhead@hotmail.com or they can contact me through the facebook page. If someone would like a review from either myself or Steve specifically, then they can mention that to me and I'll give them directions on where to send material. Often times, if I get a bunch of reviews from one label, I will split them in half and Steve will take some and I'll take some.


MC: So far around how many interviews are up on your site and is there any band or bands that you really want to interview someday?


CT:          So far, there are about ten interviews on the site with many more coming. Infiltrator, Whiplash, Desolate One, Speedwolf... I also have in the past posted audio files for my interviews that I did on my radio show which included interviews with Abazagorath, Faith or Fear, Bobby Lucas (Morbid Sin, Attacker, Seven Witches), Midnight Priest, Haethen... I'm awaiting interviews to come back to me from Steel Raiser, Lvcifyre and I was planning on interviewing Sinister Realm over the weekend but that was called off to be rescheduled. I prefer in person interviews so most of the more recent interviews I've done have been in person. The transcription is as close to the actual conversation as I could get.

                Well, the one band I really want to interview is Manilla Road and Mark Shelton agreed to do the interview at MDF this year so... that is one to cross off the list. Also I would love to interview Darkthrone, Aeternus and John Arch.


MC: Have you had any bands being a bunch of assholes and not wanting to do an interview with you so far?


CT:          Umm, not really. It's more of an issue just getting people to actually answer the questions and get interviews they've agreed to, back to me. I've given up on getting some interview questions back.


MC: As far as reviews go, have you ever had a band or label write you a nasty email about a bad review you did about the band?


CT:          Hahaha. YES! It's rather sad. I'm not going to name names. I did a review for one band, who asked me to review their release, who felt that I had made personal attacks at them in the review, which was not the case, and their fans spammed the comment section on the blog. It was rather humorous. They posted the link to the review on their facebook, laughing at the review condescendingly. I replied to the facebook post, which I do regret now, and it just caused a big mess which I still don't think they've gotten over. I probably didn't act as prudently as I should have in dealing with their immaturity as I responded in kind but you live and learn.

                Oddly enough, I look forward to hearing their next release and I do periodically check up on the band to see what they've been up to. My review wasn't intended to be mean spirited. I pointed out what I felt could be improved upong and it will be interesting to see where their next release takes them. I will probably review it when it comes out whether they like it or not. That's part of making your art public. Historically, bad press has often led to the cannonization of certain artists such as Wagner, Stravinsky and all the bands at the receiving end of the PMRC censorship hearings.


MC: Now when you started to get idea for your zine together what sites did you go and check out?


CT:          Umm, none really. Perhaps I had some sites in my mind subconsciously but the site wasn't really modelled after any one particular site.


MC: How did you come up with the name of your web zine and what are some styles of heavy metal music that you really aren’t a fan of?


CT:          I can't remember how I actually came up with the branding, Contaminated Tones. It actually dates back to the Eliminator, Breaking the Wheel album though. I did a lot of the recording for that album in my basement. Most of the rhythm guitars, vocals and bass tracking was done by myself and Warchild. When the album was being made he asked me what the name of my studio was and I just came up with it on the spot. I was trying to capture what Heavy Metal sounded like to me, particularly the recording of that album and I felt that the guitar tone was Contaminated sounding... like something was mutating it into this nasty aggressive mass. Contaminated Tones.

                As for styles of metal that I'm not a fan of... there really aren't any. I like a lot of albums from every genre. I'm not a huge fan of European Power Metal... you know... the lame kind of Power Metal. I'm not a huge fan of the keyboards in it. I like anything that has balls and some attitude. Thrash Metal is the most difficult genre to impress me in becuase it's so neutral in so many ways... It's neither extreme in any way. It's right in the middle of the spectrum between cheese and limp-wristed and ultra brutal barbarity. I love 80's US Power Metal like Jag Panzer, Crimson Glory, Fates Warning, Manilla Road and Omen. I love well done Black Metal like Aeternus, early Burzum, Darkthrone... Apolion is a favorite of mine recently.


MC: Do you go and read other webzines around and trade links with them?


 CT:         I read all sorts of stuff on the net... webzines, forums... I do have a couple links on the site up for those who have continuously supported Contaminated Tones and who carry some of the Contaminated Tones Productions releases.


MC: Have you ever read a fanzine and do you even know what a fanzine is?


CT:          You  know I read fanzines, Chris! I've posted scans of Metal Core #8 and #12 on my facebook! I've been a fanzine reader for a long time. I have some reviews of fanzines on the blog as well. I just finished reading Steel For An Age #2 which had a huge fourteen page interview with Manilla Road as well as interviews with some of my favorite bands now like Midnight Priest and Metal Inquisitor. Right now I just started reading a 1999 zine called Psychomantium which has an excellent interview with Morrigan from Aeternus. She seems indifferent in the interview which is really interesting considering she left the band shortly after. For me, I usually will buy any fanzine that interviews bands I really like, any zine that has interviews with bands from New Jersey in it or has interviews with bands who I know personally.


MC: If asked, would you do some writing for another webzine?


 CT:         I've considered it before but it's really a time thing for me. If I wasn't forced to fill any quotas, I might consider it if it was a respectable web-zine that isn't interested in giving all albums great reviews in return for promotional stuff.


MC: When you listen to a band for the 1st time what do you listen for and in your eyes and ears, what makes a good song?


CT:          I think it really is a matter of the character of the song itself. When I listen to one band, what makes their songs great isn't what makes another band's songs great. Different styles, genres, types of songs... they all are different. In general, for me, I want my Black Metal to have atmosphere, a bit of archaic distance and harsh yet with aggressive moments now and then. Death Metal I like to sound twisted and evil, with awesome memorable riffs and vocals that are engaged and unique. Thrash has to have memorable, aggressive and really pissed off riffs and vocals or the band has to lean towards a more traditional Heavy Metal style like on Flotsam and Jetsam's Doomsday for the Deceiver album. I love that style. Power Metal I like ballsy, with attitude and hints of progressiveness and epicness at times like Manilla Road's Open the Gates or Fates Warning's Awaken The Guardian.

                There isn't one thing that makes a song great for me. If everyone looked for the same thing in one song, that person would have very boring and close-minded listening habits.


MC: How did you end up discovering underground metal and what are some of your favorite bands?


 CT:         I grew up listening to Guns and Roses and Queen as a kid and moved on to Metallica and Megadeth in my early teen years. I think it just progressed like anyone else does. You just keep trying out new stuff. Metal Maniacs was big for me. I discovered a lot of stuff that way and when was able to start driving I would go to Vintage Vinyl during the week and pick up a few random albums I had heard or read about. I downloaded a ton of stuff in college too to pass the time.

                My favorite bands... Manilla Road, Fates Warning, Aeternus' first three albums, Holy Terror, Razor, Crimson Glory, Darkthrone, Overkill, Bolt Thrower, Anthem, Death... I like a lot of albums so much it would be difficult to really list them all. I think a lot of my favorites are the favorites of a lot of other people too. I never felt like I was part of contest to like the craziest most obscure stuff.


MC: Do you feel that there is way too many bands in the underground today and that too much is being released?


 CT:         You know... it really could be a double edged sword. On one hand it saturates the market and forces fans to support so many bands that not one band has the ability to actually create a movement. On the other hand... with so many bands, that's really an indication that there are all these people who are into Metal and who would go out to see a show and support other local acts - or so I would hope. I think it really comes down to the labels that are out there... labels should feel they have an obligation to really release only what they feel deserves to be released, especially on CD and LP. A lot of material gets released on formats without it proving it belongs there. I think the lack of any really excellent material is one of the reasons we see so many reissues coming out now. Overall it doesn't bother me because listeners have so many ways to comb through all the crap now with the internet and all these online resources.


MC: Tell me some of the best concerts you have been too and have you ever been to any of the big fests like ‘Wacken” or “Bang Your Head”, etc?


CT:          Best concerts I've ever been too... Iron Maiden/Motorhead/Dio at Madison Square Garden is definitely one of the best I've ever seen. Also, Bolt Thrower at MDF, four years ago was incredible. There are a lot of awesome local shows that I've seen lately that have surprised me. Whiplash at Dingbatz and also Attacker at Dingbats. I also just saw Overkill with Flotsam and Jetsam and Testament the other week and that was a really awesome show. In this area, SIgnature Riff puts on a ton of great shows in NYC. In a few weeks I'll be seeing Helstar, Attacker, Viking, Heretic and Wrath. That should be awesome. Also, Signature Riff is doing a 32 band festival in June called Martyrdoom... EVERYONE should go.

                I've been to Keep It True. I played Keep It True with my past band, Arctic Flame, which was an awesome experience. I hope to one day play again in Germany.


MC: If you could start your own label, what 5 bands would you like to have on it and why?


CT:          Well, Contaminated Tones is a label as well now, Contaminated Tones Productions. I've done a handful of cassette releases but I do have my first pro-CD release coming out in the next couple weeks. The masters are at the duplication plant and everything. It's going to be a long forgotten New Jersey Speed Metal band from Trenton called Master Fury. It's their entire discography together for the first time. Really wild speed metal for fans of Whiplash. Their first album, Hell Party, was released in 1988. Their second album Circles of Hate was in 1989. They've never been put on on CD before. The release is limited to 300 copies.

                My next release after that will be an excellent Black Metal band from South America called Forestfather and their debut album Hereafter. They sound like a mixture of early Arcturus, Empyrium and Burzum. Excellent, original and unique vocals delivered with emotion and strength unlike what you often times get. I think a really good vocal comparison would be the 1996 Mystifier album, The World Is So Good That Who Made It Doesn't Live Here. Really unique and haunting vocals.

                My other releases have sold well. The first tape I put out was the first Maximum Oversatan demo which is now sold out and also the fifth tape, Black Chalice's Submission. I have copies of the second and third releases; Diseased Oblivion's Portals of Past and Present - which you didn't like I may add - is harsh funeral doom with black metal elements while Okketaehm's Stones - which you were mightily impressed with -  is high caliber Black Metal in the vein of Arckanum or Taake.

                My newest release, Gates of Eternal Torment I'm really proud of taking part in. The project is the sole creation of Firthornn. He travels with his dog all across North America by hopping freight trains and all the music on this demo was recorded in different locations and pieced together over a period of a couple years. It's really a labor of love and perserverance. When I met him two years ago at MDF, he asked me if I would be interested in hearing the project. I said I was and he literally pulled a scratched, and cracked CDr out of the bottom of this giant dufflebag with all his belongings in it. Somehow, it played in my car CD player. It's really emotional, haunting stuff with melancholic melodies which he says are inspired by his train rides through the midwestern national parks of Canada and the USA in winter.

                Anyone who wants copies or pricing on the releases, or a list of distributed titles just email me.


MC: Where you are based out of, is there still many good heavy metal stores or is everything just on the internet now?


CT:          Dude... I live in the same state as you lol. I'm out of New Jersey and, in the past few years, we've seen a big increase, I think, in the metal scene here. I've lived here my whole life and am a proud resident of Old Bridge, probably the most important town in Metal history. Megaforce, Jon Zazula, Metallica, Rock and Roll Heaven... this is Heavy Metal History that everyone should be aware of, in my opinion.

                As a state there are some cool stores... Princetone Record Exchange though they are a bit overpriced. Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ is probably one of the best record stores in the country. 


MC: Speaking of, as far as reviews go, do you prefer getting a digital promo or you rather have the actual cd or either one is fine?


CT:          Definitely physical copies of promos, in any form are better than digital but if someone puts the effort into sending a digital copy, and not just linking to a bandcamp page or something, I'm cool with that. It's just nice to have the packaging and whatnot when reviewing a release.


MC: Do you have any “rare” stuff in your collection?


CT:          Rare? Ummm.. probably. Haha. I know some stuff I have is worth money like original Manilla Road LP's, old early 90's death metal demo tapes and some rare CDs...


MC: Plug any of your websites and also give an email where you can be reached at as well.


CT:          Sure. Anyone who wants to email me about copies of my releases, get on my mailing list, want their gig promoted or whatever, just email me at Orion_Metalhead@hotmail.com. Email me for a snail mail address also. Everything sent gets reviewed so labels and bands, if you want stuff reviewed honestly and openly, email me! Here are the websites:


Official Website: http://contaminatedtones.blogspot.com/

Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ContaminatedTones


MC: Any last words.

CT:          First off, I would like to thank you, Chris, for the opportunity to give Contaminated Tones a bit of space. It's a big world out there with a ton of competing sites and labels so every bit helps. It's also been nice talking to you at shows here and there and to have an outlet in such a well known and regarded old school rag is awesome. Metal-Core zine is definitely one of New Jersey's most important underground metal hallmarks and the review is an honor.

                There will be a lot of stuff coming out in the upcoming months from the label side of Contaminated Tones so anyone that wants to stay up to date, just email me or check out the website or facebook. My focus this year is going to be on reviewing as much of the material that comes out of New Jersey as I can while Steve, I know, is focused on what's coming out of Connecticut. I'm hoping that between the two of us, we can really offer a specific insight on the two states' Heavy Metal underground.

                Up The Hammers!