Ty Williams explores Indigenous histories in black metal project

The poet and writer created Manawydan as part of an Ohio State class and has since inked a distribution deal with Liminal Dread Productions, which released his ‘Wabash’ EP in late May.
Ty Williams of Manawydan
Ty Williams of ManawydanCourtesy the artist

During Ty Williams' last semester at Ohio State, he took an English class centered on current topics in punk, riot grrrl and black metal. For his final project in the course, Williams created a black metal band, writing and recording a three-song cassette under the name Manawydan.

“And I opened a Bandcamp account and put it up on Spotify,” said Williams, who received an A grade from his professor for his work. “And then there was a little bit of traction, and some people expressed interest in it. And I started to think, well, I could actually do this.”

Earlier this year, Williams inked a distribution deal with Liminal Dread Productions, which first reissued the Gnadenhutten cassette he created at OSU, and on May 26 released the Wabash EP, centered on the 1791 Battle of the Wabash, in which Indigenous forces launched a successful attack on the United States Army.

Part pummeling black metal odyssey, part history lesson, Manawydan finds Williams digging into Indigenous history, speaking “to [his] people,” as he put it, in an effort to bring attention to voices and accounts that have been traditionally overlooked. 

Williams traced his interest in Indigenous culture to childhood, where he grew up searching for arrowheads in freshly plowed fields. In more recent years, Williams has sought out Indigenous writings. He also started making yearly treks to the Gnadenhutten Day of Remembrance, held each March in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, and commemorating the 1782 massacre of nearly 100 Indigenous people, where he’s been able to meet and speak with descendants of those killed. A couple of years ago, Williams spoke with Chief Denise Stonefish of the Delaware Nation, who traveled with a contingent from Moraviantown, Ontario, for the memorial, during which organizers played a recording of the Lord’s Prayer read in the Lenape language. 

“And Chief Stonefish said that was the first time in 200 years that the Lenape language had been heard in these hills and in this river valley. And that floored me,” Williams said. “So, as you grow older, you learn, and you see that a lot of that history is told from the perspective of the settlers, and that the things you learned about these people growing up are wrong.”

In Manawydan, Williams said he is careful to never sing from an Indigenous perspective. On one song, he embodies an eagle soaring over the battlefield, while on “Wabash” he adopts the point of view of William Wells, a white frontiersman taken in by the Miami people and given the name Apekonit. “With this music and the writing, I’m trying to go talk to my people. I definitely don’t want to speak on behalf of Indigenous folks,” Williams said. “But I want to tell these stories and help get them out. And then if people have more interest, I can point them to the Indigenous folks who know more and probably have more interesting things to say than I do.”

While Williams has long been a fan of black metal, he had no experience with the music prior to launching Manawydan, having come up largely in the punk scene. “And where I was from, the punk and metal scenes were not connected,” he said. “But I think the combination of doing that deep dive study of the genre, and then just being old and not really giving a fuck about that kind of thing anymore really opened the door. I mean, I can riff. I can record. I can produce. I can do this.”

Williams also found the genre well-suited to the brutality of the histories on which he centered his writings, his songs lingering on forgotten massacres (“Gnadenhutten”) and bloody battles (“Wabash”). “And what better way to talk about the horrors of war than through black metal,” said Williams, a poet and writer who is currently mulling ideas for historical texts he hopes to one day author. “I have every intention of telling these stories in different mediums as I grow in my writing. … These are histories that need to be revived and talked about.”

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