Innumerable Forms – Frozen to Death (2012)

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Article by Lance Viggiano.

Innumerable Form’s Frozen to Death is a compelling and brief release which recalls Dark Descent’s roster yet avoids the calculated, clean retro nostalgia trips that mires their outfits. Motifs follow in the Darkthrone tradition of John Carpenter managing menace on a Casio. The melodic component of Innumerable Forms is steeped in Finnish death metal which delivered mystical melodies that sounded as if they were being recited by a saw blade descending into steel. Here the effect greater resembles mental anguish as if one was forced to say, “Yes!” to an incomprehensibly vast and hostile existence. Frozen to Death distinguishes itself from its inspirations in this way.

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S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust (2003)

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Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for.  While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.

The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.

Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music  and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.

Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.

In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.

This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.

The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.

This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in  nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music.  Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.

The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.

“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer

This Ain’t No Fantasy: A History Of Punk’s Most Iconic Band, The Misfits

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Metalheads tend to be wary of punk, recognizing it only for its role as an influence on metal. This attitude obscures the fact that the best of punk is worth exploring on its own terms and merits, starting with perhaps the greatest influence of punk technique and heightened aesthetics in that genre, hardcore punk‘s The Misfits.

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Black Metal, God and Hitler

After something happens, people have to talk it to death to figure out what it meant. What they’re really asking is: What caused this, and what was its goal or ideal in response?

What they are looking for at that time is a summary, a “main point” which can be used to explain the movement in a broader historical context (most artistic and political movements being, only a few decades past their eventiture, minor footnotes in a larger narrative).

They want to know its relevance, in other words.

Napoleon attacked Russia? Fine: a battle; what caused it? Napoleon wanted to conquer Russia… to establish hegemony of the new post-monarchic order… and to ensure French imperial supremacy… which had fallen into disrepair… and been exploited by the monarchs… — so we have multiple factors here, centering on a restoration of power after a failure. Right, a desperate move. The significance is more than what Napoleon “wanted”; it’s the historical context in which he exists.

In the same way, we’re looking at black metal and our society offers a number of failure-prone ways to look at it. First there’s the rock-n-roll industry way, which is predictably airheaded: these dudes just wanted to make the most intense music ever, man, and so they turned to Satan and extremism. OK, that’s useless — only a true retard would accept that as a complete answer. Then there’s the inarticulate musician answer, which is that they were inspired by Venom and so copied their heroes. On top of that, we have the useless academic answer, which is that they were altering the heuristic of their neuro-linguistic token integration in order to re-interpret the world as simulacra through new, opened eyes — that’s crap. Then you have interesting side observations, like the Until the Light Takes Us filmmakers wanting to make a movie about the decomposition of an idea — that definitely happened, and it’s true, but tells us nothing about how the phenomenon came about.

And what might a historian or a philosopher say?

The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc fell in 1990-1991. That ended the post-WWII order, and the Communism-versus-Capitalism narrative which splintered off into many degrees of socialism, conservatism, greens and others duking it out. But even more, there was no longer a reason for society to strive. The war was over — what was left? The worst of the 1980s, except now we didn’t even have conservative politicians to reign us in. The McDonald’s, the Coca-Cola, the women turning themselves into plastic whores, the men living for novelty and not bravery, the large corporations controlling more of what we think, the democratic governments so easily purchased… that is the background to black metal.

And against all of these ideas, it offered a simple solution:

  • Modern society: Everyone is equal. Everyone is important. What is most valuable is not pushing yourself to new heights, but getting along with others. When everyone is included, there will be no war or suffering, and we can all live good lives thanks to these excessive rights and these plasticized corporate products.
  • Black metal: No peace can exist, and nothing is equal or pure. Morality is garbage invented by the weak. What matters is making yourself better, pushing yourself farther than ever before. War is our destiny, and this is good, because it cures stagnation and indecision. What matters most is the best rising, the supremacy of the conqueror and predator, so that we do not become weak.

In this rebellion, black metal was revolting against the beliefs of its parents, which were that once the evil Cold War was over, we would finally have reached the promised land.

This was a promised land, incidentally, that they started promising in 1914… or rather, in 1789, because it’s the same narrative. We beat back the privileged, make everything equal, all conflict ends, peace and justice reign, yay!

Except that every age has people that think this way, and they’re always wrong, in part because if you think about such a society, it would be miserable. Paralyzed, because avoiding conflict means not finding answers. Permissive, which both cheapens everything and makes sins not a pleasure but almost a mechanical duty, like our porn and its ever-expanding quest for new extremes (where do we go, really, after the A2M explosion, enema milkshake and 919 man gang bang followed by riot bukkake?).

It sounds like something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: an artificial, pandering, whorelike world without a soul, but you have no reason to object, because materially, you are provided for.

That’s kind of how Baby Boomer parents treated their Generation X (and black metal was a Gen X thing entirely) kids — here’s some money, you live in a nice house and have the best options our society can offer. What are you upset about? Oh the minor fact that we inherited a first-world nation and left you a third-world one, sheerly by our Idiocracy-style tolerance and in fact encouraging of the reproduction of idiots, our fast food, our television nation, and so? That’s a minor fact. Minor. Don’t complain. Kids in the third world don’t have toilet paper.

Black metal was throwing off all of this: the vapidity, the obliviousness, the guilt and the manipulation.

It was saying we cannot all get along; in fact, most of us are shitheads. We need natural selection. What matters most is not peace, happiness, love, etc. but a warlike desire to get things done right according to a higher standard, and along the way, a Romantic contemplation of what it is to be an individual in the world, melancholy and isolated from the false cheer of society.

This fits right in with what Wordsworth, Blake, Emerson, Keats, Byron, Sterne, Shelley (Mary) and other Romantics wrote about only 200 years earlier, during the last great outbreak of culture in the West.

It also fit into the narrative developed by Plato and expanded on by Oswald Spengler, which says that societies go through life cycles, and when they get corrupted by “too much socialization,” they die in slow passage into third world status: low hygiene, corruption, disorganization, dysfunction and immoralism. Remember that other great mystery figure from the 1990s, the Unabomber? He said similar things.

None of this stuff was new. It was what the foremost intellectuals talked about in the 1960s and 1970s, before they wrote the books and recorded the music that influenced the PARENTS of the black metal generation; these were the artifacts they found, wrapped away carefully as if treasured but denied in a quest to pursue “adult” responsibilities, in attics and garages. And absorbed wide-eyed, as children do.

From that we got black metal.

Is it nationalistic? (Nationalism = one nation, one ethnic group, with a single culture, religion and philosophy to match. Don’t confuse it with patriotism, which is political loyalty to whatever State happens to control the land you’re on right now.)

Yes, it is, as the Romantics were. Not in a bigoted way like the neo-Nazis, but proud of their nations, and aware of the need for each nation to fix itself. We can’t kumbaya, glom together and fix each other. We have to go it alone.

From this view, NSBM is what black metal degenerated into, not its ultimate expression. Of course, not everyone agrees — Alex Kurtagic has a different take on things:

Black Metal artists also emphasize nature and landscape, but a morbid and mystical sensibility is evident even here. Whether inspired by völkisch thought or mere Satanic occultism, nature is always conceived in spiritual, mystical, and Romantic terms. The Black Metal aesthetic dictactes that night and winter are eternal. Coniferous forests are preferred to tilled fields and manicured gardens. Where the glorification of war merges with nature mysticism, the emphasis remains on the latter. Viking and Folk Metal bands, in contrast, adopt a more obviously völkisch approach to nature, allowing daylight in their landscapes and generally emphasizing the idyllic as opposed to counter-Enlightenment Sturm und Drang.

The Black Metal sensibility does not reject culture in favor of nature, but instead valorizes culture and nature, both conceived organically, over civilization, which is conceived in mechanistic and materialistic terms. In the Black Metal universe, cities were never built, the Industrial Revolution never occurred, and modernity never arrived. For all its belligerence, Black Metal is inherently nostalgic, a comprehensive negation of modernity. – Alex Kurtagic at Counter-Currents

I find his second paragraph interesting: the enemy is the senescence of civilization itself, which is conceived — well, here I split — from a desire to please the herd. The herd doesn’t create civilization; it destroys it. Rare individuals overcoming their own dysfunction and rising above the herd, that’s what creates and maintains civilization. But then civilization suicides: in an effort to make life better, it protects those incompetents, and soon creates a giant herd of Homer Simpsons, all subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect where they reject anything more complex than they can understand, and are confident in that rejection.

But that’s a study of methods, not of cause.

The cause is a lack of spirit, and the solution is to reject “safety” and “peace,” and explore the edge of risk. Feel the terror, the pain, the glory and the joy, again. Right now, we’re a society on anti-depressants that barely feels a thing, glad for the comforting numbness but also missing out on lives that, if we were paying attention, offer a lot more than we partake. Instead we pursue the same mechanical pleasures.

We are scheming on modern society, cruising on the wealth of the industrial revolution, to make us all materially fat and happy by removing our fears; our Satans, our Hitlers, and even our fears that there is no moral God guiding us, or no Utopian moral Society guiding us, but only a space in which we must make what we desire. Because we have no idea what we desire. We are living in a plastic simulation of a real world, built from the memories of our media lords and writers of government pamphlets, based on a morality that is dysfunctional and a dream of an empty, sterile pointless existence that we desire because it is both safe and greedy, letting us indulge our fantasies. Yet all of this is part of a power structure that undermines us.

Black metal is a revolution in culture against economics, politics, popularity and other forms of deferring the ideal for the tangible:

Certain performers like Orkis and Bylsma are also preferred for their ability to interpret certain ideas that — like genres have ideas in common and as a result, sounds in common — composers explored as part of their collective membership in certain time periods or recurring ideas, like the Faustian, the Romantic and the reverent/sublime outlook, all of which are shared between metal and classical.

These similarities in composition explain why metal and classical have a lot in common — and this is why the correct interpretors are needed. Rock is harmonic-rhythmic, metal is phrasal-narrative. When making rock music, you pick a rhythm, and then use a standard song form or variation to fit it into a scale, which in turn determines harmony. Rock riffs are not as active or as shaped as metal riffs, because generally they are variations within a scale whose goal is to return to the chord being played; they are based around open chords and lead rhythm playing of the scale. Metal is phrasal, meaning that its riffs take the form of phrases made of power chords, and narrative, which means that metal song structure is determined by content of each song more than by a standard form — that’s the infamous “riff salad” rock musicians bemoan in metal.

Classical music also uses narrative composition. While imbeciles will focus on its fixed forms — sonata, fugue, aria — the more important idea here is that the song follows the poetic content being expressed. This mirrors the epic poetry of ancient European and Indian civilizations, where it was understood that each adventure had stages of ritual, much like we have stages in acceptance of death or change. As a result, there was a need for an overture, a reconsideration, some changes and a recapitulation and synthesis of themes, and these got formalized in the song structures that today imbeciles regard as iron laws. The narrative style however is the common thread in classical music from its beginning to the present.

In rock music, you write to fit the scale to the rhythm, and then melody is added to accentuate that. This is easier work because all of the real variables are defined by the form. Similarly, in jazz, the form is fixed and within it the player riffs off harmony and rhythm, and inserts fragments of melody to that end — this is why most jazz artists make thousands of recordings of a song, and only one or two are considered “the real deal” by collectors: without the artist making it happen, cerebrally, the pieces fit together by random convenience. Classical works by the opposite principle, which is creating or adapting a general form to the poetic needs of a piece — expressing the change in both listener and “actor” within the story or feeling being related — and then designing a combination of rhythm, melody, theme, motif and form to express it well.

Metal is similar, although less schooled in this regard, because it seeks to express a similar worldview — underlying philosophical assumptions about life — to that of classical. Metal is reverent for the sublime; it sees the power and the horror of nature as necessary for its perpetuation, and is like nature intolerant of the oblivious and unrealistic because they create a parasitic slowdown of the exciting experiences in life. It derives much of its thematic development from the pace of horror movies, in which a few “awakened” people realize that they face a supernatural — or invisible pattern underlying all reality — foe against which technology and their oblivious, unrealistic social partners are useless. Finally, metal like classical expresses the Faustian spirit, or a sense of struggling for the rare and inconvenient beauty life offers, and fighting back those who submit to static obedience or dogma; this sense of purity through struggle is called vir, or the virtuous warlike acts of ancient man. These themes repeat throughout classical music, like metal, and while there are exceptions, it’s more than a coincidence that the best among metal and classical use these themes repeatedly. – Classical Music for Metal Fans

It’s a philosophy of triumph through living not for safety, but for adventure:

Where modern society in a desire for safety imposes values designed for an average person onto all of us, and assumes that our material and humanist wellbeing constitutes meaning in life, Romanticism explodes from within. It is not a philosophy of cautions, but of desires for the intangible, and as so it worships risk and conquest and a lack of fear toward the karmic existence. It transcends the desire to either live karmically, or live akarmically, because it sees karmicism as a means to an end and concerns itself only with the end: the ideal.

In this, Romanticism constitutes a philosophy because it posits intangible ideals as a balance weight to the certainty of death. It seeks a sense of unfolding; the discovery of something new in a prismatic space hiding behind the mundane. In doing so, it renovates life itself by working from within and renewing the brain in its aspiration and heroic transcendence of the karmic drag, in the exact opposite principle to modernity, which is materialism/humanism as supported by technology and populist political systems. – Metal as Prismatic Motion

And although we can show how it is connected to Romanticism and classical music, its bigger connection is to an ideal of transcendentalism which has been discovered and forgotten innumerable times — when societies are healthy, they discover it; when they are not, they forget it. This is the Tradition that writers like Rene Guenon refer to:

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used movable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it. – Assimilation

Metal finds beauty in darkness.

Modern society tries to shut out darkness and, in doing so, removes beauty.

Coca-Cola or wandering in the woods, wondering if you’ll find fresh water or die of thirst.

One is safe, one is exciting.

Does black metal flirt with fascism? Black metal is conservative, and conservatism is a spectrum from libertarianism through national socialism, just like liberalism is a spectrum from anarchy through Communism.

Black metal implies that our modern time is as totalitarian as fascism or Communism, it’s just that the mechanisms are hidden from us. We are trapped in boring jobs, in ugly cities, in blight-ridden streets that are covered in commercial messages and obscene graffiti. We are not controlled directly; rather, we are sabotaged by society itself, which removes good options from us and replaces them with ever-lowering standards, so we both cannot rebel (hey, you can do ANYTHING, man) and cannot aspire. One way of doing things rules across the globe, and it controls our lives, even if it does so by making sure that the majority prefer dumb options and thus make those into law.

Modern society is a series of bad options because those are what the equal proles prefer; as the rot spreads, the controllers laugh from their ivory towers, watching civilization defeat itself because it cannot enact impulse control, and have preferences for long-term goods instead of short-term personal gain or recognition. We destroy ourselves. We do their work for them, and since most people are too dumb to figure this out, you can shout the truth on streetcorners and you will be ignored. It is a perfect system of control.

In the process we commit ecocide by growing like an obese cancer. Is black metal green? In a way that Garrett Hardin, Pentti Linkola and Arne Naess are green.

Is it fascist? In the way that Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were: when you are in a society of idiots, you might as well carve it up and do some conquering because these people will do nothing but pursue their hollow pleasures, live callow lives of pointless misery, and then blame whoever is in charge for their own failings.

Our world is stagnating; entropy is upon us. The old methods of 1968 will not work because they did not work, and never work. They sound good, but they, too, are hollow.

Black metal is many things. It is religious; in a pagan, transcendentalist sense that maybe the most profound Christian mystics (Eckhart, Emerson) would have understood. It is violent, and it is fascist, but not totalitarian. It is nationalist, but not racist, per se. It is an assertion of the inward spirit of humanity that wants to rise above its own fear and desire for safety, and carve from an empty wilderness of a world a new civilization, one that achieves love not by commanding it through law, but through creating it by making things worth loving.

Black metal is all that this world is not, and the order that will replace it. The next thousand years are ours.

Oh wait, I was supposed to write about NSBM. Well, it’s nothing, really. It’s what happens when the RAC people claim black metal for their own. The original bands — Burzum, Emperor, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Immortal — they all endorsed nationalism, like Bathory did. For them, the point was to rebuild culture; for others, the idea is to wage race war. You can see there’s a difference.

Interview: Lord Imperial (Krieg)

Krieg emerged at a time when few New World black metal bands had made a name for themselves, and none had come up with an iconic style to match the distinctively “Scandinavian” attributes of the founders. Raw and reckless, chaotic and vitriolic, early Krieg was like a fusion between primitive black metal and noise, but over time the band has matured and gotten closer to its shoegaze and drone-rock roots. Frontman Imperial gave us the skinny on life, the evolution of Krieg, and metal as an art form in this exclusive interview from his Western New Jersey headquarters, a former Nike missile site that’s now a converted studio and hydroponics lab.

How did you get involved in playing music?

When I was much younger I decided I didn’t really have the usual interests of cars, sports and television that the majority of American kids had so I started getting deeper and deeper into music. Both of my parents were very deeply into music and literature though neither of them played any sort of instrument that I know (they’re both dead so I can’t call and ask). I picked up the guitar around age 14, the same time death and black metal swiftly entered and controlled my life. I guess in the sense that the ’77 British movement said “if you think you can do better, start your own band” I had a similar mindset and started an early primitive project called Impaled which recorded a demo that would make Anal Cunt seem musical. After this I helped form Abominus which was a death metal band that with enough rehearsing could’ve sounded like Belial’s Never Again and Krieg’s first draft Imperial.

What got you into metal?

I always liked guitar oriented music and being a child in the 1980s it was either that or the tail end of the New Romantic movement which I didn’t like or understand. Deeper appreciation grew once I hit high school and discovered a college station that had a lot of harsher metal which opened a lot of doors for me mentally. I still vividly remember hearing Darkthrone and Samael for the first time through this show as a sophomore.

If you could identify your primary influences, what would those be?

It changes a lot. I soak up a lot of influence from the music I constantly listen to but I guess I’d say in the beginning it was mostly Beherit, Profanatica, Darkthrone, Forgotten Woods and the first few Demoncy records. These recordings still get a lot of play around my house. Judas Iscariot obviously became a strong reference point for me in the late 90s and since then I’ve added a lot of stuff like Black Flag, Public Image Ltd and The Velvet Underground into the writing.

Have the values and sound of metal music changed from the 1980s? How and why?

There seems to be more of an intellectual awakening amongst a majority of bands. The 1980s created the foundation and I guess stuff like Municipal Waste never really grew out of that. I want to say that something like the late 80s/early 90s indie and Sub Pop scene helped change a bit of that but a majority of metalheads abhor that stuff but you can clearly hear it in some of the newer bands that utilize more rock and roll or shoegaze soundscapes. Values have changed in that I feel a lot of the vapid ideas of the 1980s are disintegrating, people want more meaning out of their art and entertainment (though this is just a small grouping, this theory is obviously proved wrong via Hollywood, MTV and pop music which views art as commodity-an extension of the 1980s “Me Generation” that’s fucked things up for the rest of us). I personally think a lot of the US metal bands are starting to show this sort of introspection or are at least reaching for new heights with it.

Can you give us a run-down of your history as a musician?

I guess I’ll try to do it chronologically as best as I can: The early 1990s I spent failing at learning guitar and bass, which is obvious in my early records. I was a member of Abominus (94-97) Imperial/Krieg (95-current) Devotee (98-00) AngelKunt(00-02) Twilight (04-current) March Into the Sea (06-08) and N.i.l (06-current). These are all the projects I had something to do with the musical writing side of things. I’ve done lyrics and session work for several other bands as well.

Was early Krieg material actually improvised in the studio?

About 75% of it. The Imperial demo stuff was written beforehand but Rise of the Imperial Hordes we recorded without a drummer or a label. These were added later. Destruction Ritual, except for the older songs on the record, was all improvised in studio. Originally we did it because we didn’t know what to really do in a studio environment that wasn’t a 4 or 8 track. Destruction Ritual was just meant to be unlistenable and punishing.

Do you believe black metal is still a viable form of music?

Difficult question. With the advent of Myspace and computer recording you have a deluge of bullshit meaningless noise, moreso than the days of mp3.com and the initial CD-R craze. But there are still plenty of artists out there whom write and record with thoughtful intentions and sincerity, even if I don’t personally find their music interesting I still respect anyone dedicated truly to their art. You’ll always have throwaway bands who form clubs with other throwaway people and that exists in any genre of music. One man’s unlistenable derivative garbage is another’s kult ebay record. I don’t think black metal will ever be a shocking or culturally substantial form of expression to the multitudes since we have such a desensitized and moral society. Plus it’s still a fad to some kids who’ll move on to EBM or the Dave Mathews Band a few months later.

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence– even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

– F.W. Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882)

What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?

Technique is for school and Dream Theater. Some people find that sort of “note note note note solo note etc” music to be the greatest thing since the Fleshlight but I define great music as something that emotionally moves me, captivates me and forces repeated attention. Anyone can learn to play well, not everyone can write something worth hearing. We all learn to read and write but not everyone is Charles Bukowski or Knut Hamsun. Same goes for all art form.

Can a heavy metal culture augment or express aspects of a parent culture (like say, “American culture”), and have you seen examples of this?

I don’t know. Metal is an outsider thing for the most part, only recently has black metal spread outside its confines and a lot of that has to do with ironic hipsters and curiosity seekers. It seems metal goes two ways: one is that it expresses the “American dream” if you will, of loud music, lots of girls, alcoholism and patriotism which is normal American behavior (loud music turns to loud Bruce Springsteen, girls to either being a dead beat dad or responsible parent, alcoholism to your uncle who gets smashed at Thanksgiving and hits on the 15 year olds, patriotism to a belief that goverment is always correct = American as fucking McDonalds) or the other way which is an absolute rejection of societal norms, creativity not taught or nurtured at (public) schools and, if stuck with, a lot of interesting ideas and art which could one day channel into a real movement for change.

Did you ever study music theory or take lessons? Did this help you or slow you down in achieving your musical goals?

I’m horrible with math so theory always confused me. I did try lessons when I was younger and long time listeners see how that went. I’m more of the idea that self teaching and free form idealizing without the aid of constriction breeds the most challenging and interesting art and could lead to innovation. It also leads to horrible Myspace bands so this is more of a personal experience for me.

Some have said that rock music is about individualism, or escaping the rules of society and nature to do whatever the individual wants to do. However, some have also said that heavy metal breaks with that tradition with its “epic” and impersonal view of life. Where do you fit on the scale?

No one is still swinging hammers at invaders inside their castle walls. I’m more of the philosophy implied by the 1970s rock critics like Griel Marcus or Lester Bangs that rock (which all metal is derived from) should be more of a personal introspective experience. This is why a band like Amebix will always greatly fascinate me more than say Crass (which is a weak example but the first to come to mind) in that it’s more personal than collective. I have enough mental problems that don’t see to be going away anytime soon regardless of what new medicine my doctor switches me to every few months to keep my writing process outside of the open sphere of religious icons and impending doom for a long time. This wasn’t always the case since Rise of the Imperial Hordes and my demos were more based on traditional war topics, but I was only fucking 17 at the time.

When Hellhammer said, “Only Death is Real,” it launched legions of death metal and grindcore bands who showed us through sickness, misery and sudden doom (in their lyrics) that life is short, manipulations are false, and we need to get back to reality. Where should the genre go from there?

I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be fixated on. Looking at the majority of philosophy books in any chain store and you’ll see this topic isn’t restricted to metal alone and is something that will never be answered. I’d like to see the genre go into more of a intelligent approach but certain subgenres don’t allow that. Plus a lot of people would be at a loss if they couldn’t sing about goats.

Is there a relationship between how an artist sees the world, and the type of music he or she will then make? Do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music?

I think some of it has to do with age. When you’re young you are more rebellious and questioning and angry. Whether this subsides once life lines up for you with a mate, employment and house can say a lot about if an artist will even continue to create. Now once you’ve got that out of the way (or if it never lined up for you in the first place) and you still have those emotions and see the world the same (or if your worldview has grown with you and disgusts you ever more once you know more about it) then it definitely affects the way you make music. Personally in my close circle of friends who see the world in a similar grey light, we all tend to gravitate towards the same kind of ideas and music hence Twilight’s reformation or my strong involvement with certain people. Is this universal? I’m not sure, isn’t it how scenes are created?

Your music seems to attempt to be ritual music, where a play or ceremony shapes the transitions in each song. Did you have a ceremony in mind?

Emotional disrupting. Even more so now that I’m working with different time changes and unexpected stop/starts. The ritual of discomfort.

Within the tiny space occupied by a note or a colour in the sound- or colour-continuum, which corresponds to the identity-card for the note or the colour, timbre or nuance introduce a sort of infinity, the indeterminacy of the harmonics within the frame determined by this identity. Nunance or timbre are the distress and despair of the exact division and thus the clear composition of sounds and colours according to graded scales and harmonic temperaments…The matter I’m talking about is ‘immaterial,’ anobjectable, because it can only ‘take place’ or find its occasion at the price of suspending these active powres of mind. I’d say that it suspends them for at least ‘an instant.’ However, this instant in turn cannot be counted, since in order to count this time, even the time of an instant, the mind must be active.

So we must suggest that there is a state of mind which is a prey to a ‘presence’ (a presence which is in no way present in the sense of here-and-now, i.e. like that which is designated by the deictics of presentation), a mindless state of mind, which is required of mind not for matter to be perceived or conceived, given or grasped, but so that there be some something. And I use ‘matter’ to designate this ‘that there is’, this quod, because this presence in the absence of the active mind is and is never other than timbre, tone, nuance in one or other of the dispositions of sensibility, in one or other of the sensoria, in one or other of the passibilities through which mind is accessible to the material event, can be ‘touched’ by it: a singular, incomparable quality – unforgettable and immediately forgotten – of the grain of a skin or a piece of wood, the fragrance of an aroma, the savour of a secretion or a piece of flesh, as well as a timbre or a nuance. All these terms are interchangeable. They designate the event of a passion, a passibility for whih the mind will not have been prepared, which will hvae unsettled it, and of which it conserves only the feeling – anguish and jubilation – of an obscure debt.

– Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman (1991)

When you write your music, how do you avoid repeating the past 15 years of black metal?

I just don’t pay attention to it. I experiment with riffs and keep what I feel represents me as a whole. If someone feels it’s derivative or cliché it’s not my problem and they can go listen to something else. I havent bought any new black metal in close to a year outside of the new Urfaust and Vohlahn.

When you write songs, do you start with a visual concept, or a riff, or something else?

Overall I start with a visual idea of how I want to feel through what I’m writing. Mostly colours which explains the last two album names. Sometimes I’ll have a phrase in mind and I try to put the emotion behind the phrase to use through the guitar and if that doesn’t work I’ve regressed to using my power electronics setup to try to create a background that I can build a suitable song structure through. If that doesn’t work I get up, smoke a cigarette and find some coffee, sit down and start over again. There have been times when I’ve dreamt of ideas and had to rush out of bed at 4 am down to my rehearsal area and put it to work. Lyrics are done in a similar fashion though I generally these days write pages and pages of lyrics then using the cut up method piece them together into some sort of abstraction that may not make sense to others but perfectly suits what I’m thinking.

How has Krieg changed over the years? You as an artist have changed as well — can you give us a rundown on your newer projects, and what you’re attempting to do with each?

There has been three phases of Krieg: 1995-2002 which was more of a primitive beginning forged into a noise ending ala Whitehouse if they were a black metal band. Patrick Bateman was the end of this phase in which I felt I could do no better with creating harsh sounds. 2002-05 which might have been the busiest time for me was when I figured I could write emotive pieces but my guitar skills were lacking so I employed friends to help bring these visions to light.

Riffwise not a lot changed between Destruction Ritual and Black House, it’s just that with a full band and decent recording the music became its own new form. My interests in other music like the 1970s NYC art scene came pouring in and I stopped limiting myself to traditional black metal topics and focused on what was important to me. By 2005 I was an emotional wreck, ruined my label and reputation and went out in a drink fueled bang at Under the Black Sun. 07-now is phase three which is a melding of ugliness and beauty so far. I’ve only recorded two songs, the track for the split with Caina and a cover of the 1980s noise/punk band Flipper. We plan to record in 2010 depending on when the label is ready to announce shit and get the ball rolling.

Other projects: The only active ones are N.i.l which just finished recording a 3-song MCD which we’re shopping to labels once it’s mixed. Our first record came out on Battle Kommand in 2007 and I think a lot of people missed the point that we were actively emulating Strid and My Bloody Valentine. Most people thought it was just too simple or monotonous but that was the intention: it was more of a trance record than something to play at parties. We did get to play live with Profanatica last year but sound problems fucked up a bit of the show. Ledney and Gelso dug it though and that was important.

I’ve also just finished vocals and a majority of the lyrics for the new Twilight record which is worlds beyond our first effort. This time it was done in a real studio and the writing was mostly Blake Judd, Wrest and myself musically and lyrically. Vocally I’ll be a pretentious asshole and say it’s the best I’ve ever done.

I’m also doing vocals for John Gelso’s project Royal Arche Blaspheme which I’ve done three songs for so far. I think I’m still involved with The Red Cathedral which is myself and Andrew from Caina plus some others but it’s sporadic at best. Should be interesting when it’s completed.

I’m also working on Apothecary.Sound.Lodge which is power electronics and black metal but it’s taking forever and due to finances being what they are probably will take even longer.

What are the goals of your art? Is there a goal to art itself?

To keep me from killing myself. Artists may say their goal is to improve humanity’s thoughts and ideas but the cynic in me thinks it’s because they want something of theirs to remain when they’re dead. True immortality.

Jim Morrison (The Doors) sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a chaotic no man’s land where danger was everywhere, but it was also possible to get away from rules and fears. How does this apply to music like death metal, which seems to accept death and disease as a normal part of life?

I don’t think a lot of people who sing about this subject really desire it to be a normal part of life because they wouldn’t know how to deal with it. Everyone desires security to some extent (though I can’t speak for everyone) and to have that taken away, I don’t know how they would handle it. Jim Morrison on the other hand obviously lived this and died for it, proving that there are people living this idea. Utopia is just a manmade idea to try to comfort you when you’re going to sleep. Only desperate people really live to experience this idea.

Like in the late 1970s, metal feels to many people like it has lost direction and become hollow. Is a change in direction needed, and if so, will that come from within metal?

The late 70s also brought the creation of punk, post punk and some interesting literature and art. But this is different now with things like MTV reality TV and other forms of cheap entertainment to keep people from growing and realizing what a fucked up world they live in. The recession might spur some change in ideas but I’m afraid that in Western culture we might be too deeply embedded in instant gratification and plastic living to really benefit from such a shift in life’s paradigm. I think much of the world thought with last year’s presidential election we’d have some kind of light shed on us telling us where to go but this shit takes time.

I read an interesting essay a few weeks back about how people who are unemployed or poverty stricken (just above lower middle class, this obviously won’t account for homeless people or those on social support) should take this time to do what they truly love in life, start painting or writing like they always dreamt. It’s a beautiful sentiment but we as a culture are so dependent on building our DVD collection and buying a fucking hi def TV that we’re more concerned with that outlook.

I’ve strayed a bit from topic; will metal help change this? It gives people an outlet to express their rage at things they cannot control at a constructive level rather than turning to the bottle or needle. It can also help them look at things from a different perspective. Christ that’s a lot of positivity from me.

It seems obvious to me, when all factors are added up, that our society is in decline. However, this opinion is not widely shared. Why do you think this is?

To keep the suicide rate down so the IRS can collect more money.

William Blake says, in perhaps his most memorable line, “The cut worm forgives the plow.” What does this mean to you?

Sounds like turning the other cheek to me. In 9 out of 10 cases this is a worthless idea. There’s some specific people who rightfully deserve to knock my teeth out and there’s a few who deserve it from me. Forgiveness is a mostly outdated idea unless in minor cases, like someone accidentally broke something minor of yours or got drunk and said something they regret. I see no virtue in forgiving someone who robbed you, fucked your wife or killed your animals.

How has Krieg changed over the years? Is interest still high, and in what era of your material? What’s next for you and Krieg?

It’s evolved like I have. My writing style is still very similar and my aesthetic visually hasn’t changed. Interest I suppose is still strong though I haven’t paid much attention. We’ve done about 8 shows since reforming and some have been amazingly excellent events like our shows in Brooklyn and Rhode Island this past winter, others have been poorly put together messes like the fest we did over the summer. It seems people either love Black House/Blue Miasma or hate that and only want to hear Destruction Ritual. After close to 15 years you can’t really please everyone and it’s not my intent to do so. I’ve always done Krieg because it’s something I’m driven to do and I don’t see that drive going away soon.

Besides the aforementioned split 7 inch with Caina we’ve recorded songs for splits with Gravecode Nebula, an excellent doom band, and Shining. There have been two unofficial LP releases of Black House and Blue Miasma but the official Blue Miasma with bonus tracks, original artwork and linear notes will come from Hammer of Hate (FI) and we’re signed for our next record The Isolationist though the official announcement hasn’t been released yet. We have some shows coming up in the US and maybe in 2010 we’ll go back to Europe. Since these splits will be the last split releases we’re able to do, I’ll probably concentrate on other projects during the downtime between albums.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

As always thanks for the support!

Making time public does not occur occasionally and subsequently. Rather, since Da-sein is always already disclosed as ecstatic and temporal and because understanding and interpretation belong to existence, time has also already made itself public in taking care. One orients oneself toward it, so that it must somehow be available for everyone.

– Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1926)

Interview: Unknown I (Hammemit/Emit)

Emit creates ambient art for those off the beaten path and willing to indulge a contemplate, meditative, obscure trip through undefined sound, like a convergence of Lull, Final and Harold Budd. In addition to being musical, this project is produced by minds who have critically analyzed and chosen their path. We were lucky enough to capture this interview after being blindfolded, driven in circles in a 20-year-old Toyota Tercel, screamed at in Pashtu and Altedeutsch, and finally interrogated by Unknown I while we gobbled our rice rations of the day.

Do you believe that art requires an intention behind it?

Yes, but then all art has some sort of intention behind it. Even if the intention is purely a selfish one, like making money or seeking fame (or infamy), or taking the piss, there’s still a motive no matter how questionable. Deep down there’s a reason for every action made in this world. People complain of “mindless” vandalism but never think about why it is that an ugly steel and glass bus-shelter may seem like an affront or worthless object of derision to others. The fake surroundings we spend most of our lives in are so hideous in my eyes that it was natural to become involved with the courageous cultured barbarism of black/death metal, noise music and so on. To me, these music forms aren’t fantasy escapism but reflections and expressions of deep underlying truth and reality of existence. Most things seem to want to hide reality from you, i.e. your butchers and policemen as my old friend Joseph Conrad said, but certain art exposes inevitable death and reminds you that you’re actually alive and existing. A friend of mine used to badly cut himself on a regular basis, he said that people mainly did it (in black metal circles) because it was a brutal and “evil” thing to do to yourself, but he just did it because he liked it. I suspect that he did it because when seeing his own blood spewing everywhere and feeling the pain of it, he could taste mortality and thus found confirmation of his own existence within that. Do you truly feel that you exist until you realise that you’ll die one day? When you see what usually remains invisible (in this case, that which allows you to live; the internal organs, blood etc), the abyss between merely seeing and actually existing is crossed, said Yukio Mishima, loosely paraphrased.

If so, is art decoration? Is it propaganda? Is it communication? Please explain your choice.

All art communicates something, whether it communicates something worthwhile or not is another matter. The Greeks thought that the sheer craft of even an everyday object like a chair was art by itself, but then their furniture and so on was made by hand, not mass produced to a template by chinese industrial machinery. My own house is mostly purely functional, apart from a few choice objects here and there, the personal worth and interest of which are in my eyes therefore enhanced, or more accurately, are allowed their rightful place and not drowned out by crap. Owning and listening to too many albums, for instance, devalues the really great ones. So I don’t do it. If art doesn’t say anything to me (or if something else says it better) it’s probably useless and I’ve no time to waste on it. Propaganda is for tabloid newspaper readers and decoration as an end in itself only reflects the present culture it derives from, which in our case isn’t very good, from an aesthetic sense or any other. Ancient decorative art (from nearly all ancient cultures) glorifies all that’s great about their people, mythos and culture, truly aspiring towards and reflecting something divine and vital. The likes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (particularly the mediaeval revivalist offshoot led by William Morris and co), attempted to inject this old ethos back into the increasingly industrialised culture of the West, and with Hammemit’s crude neo-mediaeval music I follow humbly in their footsteps. By “neo-mediaeval”, I mean taking the past and adapting it to modernity, not wearing old clothes and fighting mock battles as if pretending it was still the year 1300. I don’t want to retreat back into the past, I’d rather bring the past into the present day.

Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a “canary in a coal mine”, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably Romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

I used to talk several years ago about “anti-art”, because I considered what I did to be partly a reaction against pretension and fakery where most “artists” claimed to be so very deep and meaningful, but in actual fact their art was nothing but shallow and cheap gimmickry, or entertainment. It’s easy to pretend to say a lot if you hide behind a fog of flashy imagery and other useless bric-a-brac. It’s also surprising to me how many are taken in by it, as I thought art was supposed to go beyond the superficial.

I would have laughed when I was a teenager if someone had said to me that art like that of black metal celebrated life. But ironically, being obsessed with death and general morbidity is actually a healthy state of mind in a society where no one wants to even think of the word DEATH. I found it empowering and strangely uplifting (though it didn’t occur to me that way, back then) to be thinking of death all the time and carrying bones about in my pockets, because it’s a taboo and forbidden realm not to be mentioned in polite cunting society. So to be allied to a “cult of nature processes” ironically made me feel more alive and allowed me to breathe in the cold night air more deeply. Possibly it’s why I found (and still do find) great pleasure in simple things which others don’t find particularly remarkable at all.

Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her — powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply. Unaksed and without warning she sweeps us away in the round of her dance and dances on until we fall exhausted from her arms.

She has brought me here, she will lead me away.
I trust myself to her. She may do as she will with me.
She will not hate her work. It is not I who have spoken of her.
No, what is true and what is false, all this she has spoken.
Hers is the blame, hers the glory.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nature, a Fragment

Quorthon of Bathory refers to his music as “atmospheric heavy metal.” What does atmospheric offer that the world of rock music, jazz, blues or techno cannot?

“Atmospheric music” as I would understand the term offers a means of connection with the hidden world beyond, the mysterious unknown. It allows the creation of certain moods, ideas and images within the mind of the imaginative listener. Certain key passages in this kind of music can suddenly infuse you with an almost indescribable transcendence from your surroundings. There are moments like this in Graveland’s “Barbarism Returns” and Enslaved’s “Heimdallr” (the demo version more so than on the album). Simple rock music or whatever is a mere temporary distraction and serves only as a kind of audial wallpaper. Rock music may passively reflect the time in which it was created and the base preoccupations of its creators but that’s it. Atmospheric music pointedly reflects the time in which it was created and also suggests possibilities for the future, or contemplation. That’s the difference between your example of Bathory (I would say spiritual music) and one of their contemporaries like Venom (secular music). Speaking of Hammemit & Emit, I’ve always wanted to create active music for active listening, not passive background decoration, as I listen to music as an activity in itself, not for any other reason. Sometimes if I’m in the car on my own I’ll listen to music to just pass the time on tedious journeys, or boost flagging spirits. I hate martial/military music (outside of its intended context the purpose and point is lost), but I have a tape of good driving tunes by the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler which encapsulates the optimistic atmosphere of the 1930’s. It makes me smile when crawling through some faceless city at 5 mph to consider that even a 25 ton Panzer IV had a top speed of 26 mph and could easily crush to pieces the cars in front and crash through the walls of the office blocks and shops lining the road, pedestrians scattering about like rural french peasants.

When you write music, do you aim for a completed concept, or develop a fragmentary concept and see where it goes?

I’ve always had a “concept” in mind but as the years went on it became more easily expressed. The Hammemit album is my most consistent work, and conveys my intended ideas simply and without any unnecessary ornamentation. My core beliefs haven’t changed radically but my opinions have changed somewhat from experience and such. I’m too young for my opinions to have fossilised into convictions yet. In order to communicate effectively, an artistic medium like an album of music needs to take a unified approach. It should have a distinct sound, a unique voice both visually and lyrically as well as musically. And this should all come naturally, not be forced in an unnatural, dishonest way like some calculated marketing campaign. A lot of bands understand this but only grasp it on the most superficial level; they have an “image” in promo photos, they use the same font on all their releases or whatever. They miss the point completely. What I want is for someone to look at the layout/images of the Hammemit album, read the lyrics, listen to the music and intuitively take from it something useful to them. That sounds dry and dull in words, but what I mean is that I ultimately aim to create with Hammemit the means for uplifting of spirit and transcendence in the listener that occurs when absorbing great art.

Many attack ambient music, like punk, for the relative lack of musical training or instrumental ability of its progenitors. Do you see this as an important criticism?

I doubt you’ll be surprised by my answer here, but no, of course it’s not at all important. Technique is merely a means through which you can express something. Lack of technique or limited musical ability just means you’re more restricted (or perhaps freer in some cases) about what you can do. Someone lacking musical ability or training couldn’t easily write or perform music like that of Morbid Angel for instance, but then some forms of expression don’t require that level of instrumental skill. Furthermore, technical ability is absolutely worthless if lacking any idea of composition. I think someone who has no real technical ability as such, may nevertheless still have an innate (possibly an unrealised, subconscious) understanding of melody and form, and thus be able to create good music. I don’t understand why it is that low technical skill is nearly always seen as a valid criticism by those who “know about music”. It’s like with these lists you see of “100 greatest guitarists ever”, ok, but how many of them made music that you actually give a shit about? Darkthrone were quite talented musicians but their best music isn’t hard to play to say the least. I bought a new guitar recently (an ostentatious act for me, but the model is not in itself ostentatious) and tried it out in the shop beforehand. I suppose that people usually have a long, showy masturbation session in music shops when trying out new instruments, but I just wanted to see how it felt to play and so on. I’ve never really wanted to drastically improve my playing skills, not through laziness or lack of ambition but because I actually fear losing my unfettered ability of expression. Over time I’ve improved gradually anyway as is natural, but I’m fond of the lack of refinement and “first take” freshness that can be found in recordings of people like Ildjarn or old Mutiilation. It lends a certain immediacy that becomes integral to the overall effect that the song produces upon the listener. For me it’s similar to the curious power of crude woodcut illustrations, which although primitive, nevertheless convey what is intended. I’m not advocating the old punk rock ethos of “anyone can have a go”, because plainly, not everyone has what it takes to create something meaningful or worthwhile. Indulge me and allow me to quote a favourite passage from a controversial figure of 1960’s England; “practically everyone believes they could write a book or compose a song if only they put their mind to it. They believe this simply because they can easily comprehend the finished products of others. It is not until they attempt the act of creation themselves that they become aware of their own limitations, lack of imagination, abysmal powers of self-expression and how unaccustomed they are to thinking deeply about anything at all. Becoming aware of the vast gap that exists between understanding and personal creativity – and the intellectual effort required to capture and express a complex idea in simple terms – is humiliating”. Technical prowess as such doesn’t necessarily hinder the creation of (good) art, but stupidity and a lack of anything to say certainly does. Just look at the music section of myspace.
black metal and ambient music seem similar in their use of layered motifs over a drone or constant beat in which syncopation is de-emphasized.

Is this from a similar world-outlook, or is it a megatrend passing through our time to aim for atmosphere instead of discrete conclusions?

In the first place that’s a really interesting hypothesis which makes a lot of sense to me, but I’m not sure if I know the answer to your question. I don’t really think that a similar world outlook necessarily leads to similar artistic output other than in terms of meaning, so it’s possible that intelligent artists who have something to communicate gravitate towards creating music that they feel speaks to the ancient man who finds himself living in the modern world.

EMIT has emitted (forgive me that) a series of releases, seeming with each to move farther from black metal in form and closer to black metal in spirit. Is that assessment correct? What has engendered this progression?

I think you’re right. With the Hammemit album, there are no percussion elements, no distorted guitar and mostly clean vocals. In previous releases there’s been a fair amount of variation with clean and distorted guitar, but ironically, I wanted to free myself from the conventions of what I used to do by limiting myself to a bare minimum as far as possible. It focused my mind and let me get to the core or essence of what I’ve already been doing for years. I believe I’m getting closer to an ideal stylistic approach, which has taken some time to reach. Now it’s a matter of utilising the approach in the most effective way possible.

When we speak of evil in music, what is its value? Is literal evil meant, or a mockery or evil, or is the metaphor being overloaded to take on new meanings? Are they recapturing the word “evil” like hip-hop groups have recaptured racial epithets? And finally, have you encountered any music you consider “evil” in the definition of your choice?

It seems to depend on whom you speak to. The religious bands of today mean literal evil in the biblical, moralistic sense. So-called “pagan” bands use the word as if to say “christianity turned our gods into devils”, recapturing the word, as you suggest. Overtly blasphemous bands like Havohej take delight in mocking the dualism and entire concept of evil with their crudely effective lyrics and stance. I don’t think I’ve come across any music that I find actually evil, only music seeking to portray that which is generally considered evil, and that isn’t the same thing as “evil music”. I said in another recent interview how I’ve never seen death and black metal as being much concerned with blaspheming, but rather praising or aspiring towards the numinous. That’s what I’ve always endeavoured to do with Emit and will continue to do with Hammemit.

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever crossover?

When I listen to Hammemit, what comes to my mind is the moors, woods, rural churches, stone circles and ancient places of England as I know it. It encapsulates what I begin to think about when visiting or visualising them, and I believe that music ultimately is an artistic manifestation of thoughts and ideas. For instance, the guy from Absurd used to say that black metal was “listenable ideology”. Taking this further, I would even say that music could be broken down to something like computer language, a series of 1’s and 0’s which look like gibberish but can be understood if you have sufficient knowledge or have trained yourself over time. If you look at guitar tablature, it’s basically a series of numbers telling you where to put your fingers on the fretboard, but when you follow this on an instrument it creates something which we can understand, much like 111110010100110001111 might be code that forms a program for a computer. So if you translate thoughts and interpretations of the world around you into music, it could be said that you’re creating a program which allows other people to experience those same ideas and thoughts. I dare say this makes the whole artistic process seem less “magical”, but I like to try to get to grips with the mechanics of how important phenomena work.

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

– F.W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

When you create music, do you narrow your perspective to find what you seek to express in life, and then translate it back to sound? Do you feel others do this? What are the ways an artist can approach the task of making art?

I feel I’ve sort of answered this above, but certain noise music to me, sounds like the breath of woodland in a heavy wind or even birdsong, if I’m in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure I’d actually call it music as such, in all fairness, but it’s interesting to think of these mechanistic, artificial sounds interpreted back into naturalistic ones, as if being reclaimed. Trees smashing Isengard. Any artist who wants to communicate something worthwhile will choose a form which he or she thinks is most suitable (and personally enjoys themselves). Usually I’d imagine it’s pretty much intuitive, not so much a conscious choice. I don’t know how other people might go about creating music or writing or whatever, but speaking for myself, it stems from a desire to encapsulate that initial inspiration and rush of ideas and feeling. It’s “just” a matter of working out a way in which to best make it communicable. Not being unique, I suppose this must be how it is for many others, as well.

What influences from the world of ambient music were inspirational for you?

The sound of nearby church bells, rain on the rooftops and wind in the trees is perhaps the greatest ambient music I’ve heard and has influenced me more than anything else. Some have said that the Hammemit album reminded them of work by Brian Eno and he is indeed quite a visionary, though I wouldn’t agree that he was much of an inspiration to me. I like Tangerine Dream a lot, and anything that I like a lot tends to be assimilated somehow into what I do, but there’s no conscious influence from them either. My music is mainly based around the guitar, so two particularly inspirational guitarists for me would be Snorre Ruch (of Thorns) and John Dowland, the latter being a lutenist rather than guitarist but the principle is similar. I think my influences are more in terms of ethos and aesthetic than anything concrete in form.

Like many others, you were influenced by the black metal movement coming out of Norway in the early 1990s. What did you see in that movement that inspired you artistically?

I saw another movement like that of the Pre-Raphaelites for whom “the past is alive”. The music, image, ideas and actions transcended the mundane shit of day-to-day life in the modern world, touching on things deeply buried. “How beautiful life is, now when my time has come”, sounds like a line Mishima might have written. Most black metal bands of today in comparison remind me of the difference between Dead Can Dance and fucking Cocteau Twins. In other words, idiots tell me that if I like Dead Can Dance, I’ll also like these other clowns, but I DO NOT.

The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest–who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the road through great Almenning — the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s land.

– Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil (1917)

Do you have any personal ideologies? Do these inform your approach to your music? Do they provide a groundwork for the content of your music?

I once began to distrust this word “ideology”, in black metal especially it became a word used to say whether a band was “true” or not. People began to talk about “ideological black metal”, which was used to draw a line between bands who stood for something and those newcomers or fakes who stood for nothing but making scary music to amuse themselves. But unfortunately in trying to emphasise the difference, a lot of bands started becoming overtly politically affiliated as if trying too hard to prove they had something serious and important to say. For example, the Polish bands of the mid-90s did this more and more as they saw the Norwegians becoming less interesting musically and much less radical in their statements and so on. I think it was good and necessary to start with, because the normal people refused to listen to politically-incorrect music like that of Veles or Graveland and stuck with safer bands. I gather that people even sent Veles CDs back to the record label because it had the word “aryan” printed in the booklet. It created a refreshing and stimulating, iconoclastic environment similar to that of the original outbreak. But there was a point where overt nationalism and political-incorrectness became sloganeering or even protest music and that’s where I lost interest. The point is that ideas don’t need to be expressed through some existing political party/system, or so obviously. It’s just cheap and vulgar and only appeals to idiots. To be silly for a moment, Hitler wouldn’t have listened to WAR88 but he might have given later Graveland a try. My own music says, “I would prefer to see a million people machinegunned than a forest put to the chainsaw to make room for their ugly houses”, but that isn’t the title of the album.

Do you believe objective reality exists?

Tell a class of schoolchildren to look out of the window and draw a specific tree and they’ll all draw something “treelike”. Therefore you can say that objective reality exists. But each child will probably come up with various subjective interpretations of the tree. Most will try and copy it as exactly as possible (and become frustrated when they fail to do so accurately), perhaps some will try and capture the spirit of the tree, others will not observe at all and draw a generic tree, etc. Personally, I always tried to be faithful to the object in question taking meticulous care over tiny details, usually running out of time and leaving it incomplete. Sometimes I found that when translated to paper, objects looked wrong, even though they had been accurately rendered, so I’d stop looking at what I was drawing and improvise or add what I wanted. I began to think at an early age, in the simple way that children do, that reality is something which although the same for everyone, reveals more to some than it does to others. It was hard not to feel superior when faced with the fact that those around me seemed totally blind to all but their most immediate surroundings. I find it stupid when people say their music is “inspired by nature”, because it seems to me that in nearly every case, they mean a picture postcard version of nature. They see nothing beyond the obvious, they just like the “dark atmosphere” of forests or the “inspiring” sight of distant mountains (what does it inspire them with I wonder). They might as well paint a drab watercolour picture because what they see around them has already been handily interpreted for them by TV and other mass media. We learn to interpret life vicariously through other people, so that when stood in a forest you should feel X, Y or Z, because that’s the limit of human understanding so why bother thinking any different. What’s the difference between visiting Stonehenge or a desert and watching some slickly edited footage of them on TV? I may see the same things such people do, but for all intents and purposes I’m not even on the same planet, my experience of life is not the same at all.

What consciousness if any exists to the cosmos? If one does exist, does it infuse you with a sense of purpose?

Well I certainly believe in a consciousness to the cosmos. But I don’t believe that you need the church or any organised religion as intermediary. In meditations and in my whole life I’ve tried to understand even a tiny piece of this existence and wondered often, and thought deeply about all of creation and the point of it all. My beliefs in recent years have more or less followed ancient gnostic ones, as I felt the closer you got to the beginning, the nearer you got to the truth, in opposition to modern thought, where it’s believed that with each new technological progression you come further to the truth and some ultimate, elusive satisfaction. In modern society people believe that with each passing second the world naturally progresses in a linear way. Well, it’s not “natural” that we should have an industrial revolution at a certain time and I don’t think all progression is necessarily good, or indeed real progression at all. If there’s an alien civilisation out there somewhere, it’s unlikely that they’d have developed the same as we’ve done. Terms like “the Stone Age” are very misleading. Having contemplated life in the modern world it’s very easy to conclude that absolutely everything is stacked against the deep thinking, spiritual person. When you come to this point it’s also very easy to think about suicide and I’ve had periods (now forever in the past) where I’ve vaguely entertained the notion. When I was younger I used to go on walks and towards dusk smell the summer air, listen to the last birdsong and I felt something huge missing within. I had no idea what this “something” was nor any idea of how to discover what it was, but it gave me a direction to strive towards. People always tell me that I think about things too much, but then I’m a spiritual person and contemplation seems to be a key to understanding. The consciousness (what people used to call god) that exists within and without this cosmos (and therefore us) does indeed infuse me with a sense of purpose. I think that changing yourself even at a solely physical level is not something as insignificant as it might seem, because everything is interconnected so such a change is nothing short of altering the entire universe piece by piece. Believing in the interrelation between microcosm/macrocosm as I do, I wonder how anyone can believe that the universe and cosmos will exist indefinitely. Is there any example in nature that suggests this is likely? Every living thing is just a miniature cosmos in itself, so therefore if every living thing has to die at some point, the cosmos itself must have to “die” as well. I personally don’t believe in death as a finite and permanent thing, but as a change in existence, energy moving elsewhere or eventually returning to the source. Worshipping death and the ultimate Death of everything in the way that I describe, makes existence tolerable by virtue of considering its otherwise total worthlessness. Life would be pointless without death after all, but Death still exists without life. It is therefore, the ultimate and oldest form of existence, coming both before and after material manifestations. Energy can’t be destroyed, it has to go somewhere and originate from somewhere, so death is evidently not a total nothingness in the way we might understand the word, despite not being able to comprehend it. There isn’t a dualism between death and life, death is actually a continuation of life in a different (higher) form. I don’t mean an afterlife as such in the sense of “heaven”, but I believe in continuation in different forms, though it isn’t comprehensible to us. You can say that as you can’t remember anything from before your birth, why should after death be any different? Well I imagine it isn’t, but non-awareness only means non-existence in the form that we know. Let’s say the cosmos came into being when it first became aware that it existed. On a microcosmic level, using a biblical metaphor, the first humans became aware when tasting the forbidden fruit and thus realised they were naked. Before that they still existed but were unaware of themselves as entities in their own right. Therefore going back to the cosmos as a whole, one can tentatively suggest that the cosmos existed before it came into physical manifestation, despite there being apparently “nothing”. Zero is still a digit (and a relatively recent concept at that), and there are also minus numbers, meaning you can go further back than nought. Death is a realm separate from the material one, therefore it isn’t possible to experience it by means of the senses or even deep thought – it’s outside of humanity. But it is real.

Nihilists tend to break the world into two groups, those who are looking forward in time toward something intangible that constitutes a purpose, and those who lack any such abstract goal so are focused on the tangible, both in physical and mental construct. Have you observed anything of this nature and, if so, what is it?

When you first look around at the world that surrounds you, you’ll obviously only see the immediate – buildings, people, trees, stars etc. Once you recognise these things and begin to file them away in your mind, you start to allocate meaning to them from further associations that link them and a million other things together build up into a massive network of meanings, memories and so on. Taking everything at face value would mean that none of these things you’ve observed have any intrinsic value whatsoever, other than those which you’ve learned or been conditioned to accept. You would understand for instance, that the paper notes used for currency, or even the shiny yellow metal called “gold”, are not worth anything, apart from the value society has given them. And so-called “human rights” is a meaningless, purely politically expedient concept. You’re then faced with a very difficult dilemma. You can either create or accept an existing mythology to explain the world you find yourself struggling to understand, or believe that you’re on your own and have been left to your own devices. Strangely, following on from gnostic beliefs, I’m actually somewhere in the middle, ha ha.

One of the fundamental divisions of our society is whether or not it can accept relativity. some turn it into relativism; others deny it and insist on “objectivism,” which is a rather rigorous form of scientific Social Darwinism. What do you think unites methods of relativity in linking together phenomena, and the human desire to make life easy and tangible and have us each perceive that reality is as we desire, even if contrary data exist?

It’s true that people prefer to see things as they’d like them to be, and hide away from what they really know is out there. That’s why D E A T H is such a taboo that people give it all these innumerable euphemisms. It obviously sounds like a much easier and “fairer” life if everyone decides to agree to disagree, because it means less conflict and less of people’s feelings being hurt. Unfortunately for utopia, people have a tendency of saying “no, we’re absolutely right in our beliefs, and you are heretics/infidels/cretins/gay for believing otherwise, and now we want to kill you”. You’ll often hear politicians and their ilk talking about how everyone should be able to live in harmony, not afraid to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Although of course, these same people will later go on to say they’re declaring war on another country to fight for what’s “right”. Opposing beliefs and ideas are always going to cause tensions when confronted with another, because to admit that they’re “both right”, or that “no one is wrong” is an admission of uncertainty and lack of faith in your convictions. It’s also blatantly stupid because both parties know that in truth, either one or both of them are utterly wrong. It’s like saying you know for certain that grass is green but accepting that some people think it’s blue. I believe that falling trees make a sound in the forest even if no one’s there to hear them, and that the world exists outside of our perception. It will still be here when I die. As usual, what unites all these things is a fear of death. The world is a frightening place if you suddenly take away everything that shields you from it. That’s why people allow themselves to be led down the garden path, willingly oblivious to the forest that lurks at its carefully trimmed and cultivated edges.

Did black metal die, and if so, what killed it and, has ambient/electronic music gone through similar cycles?

Everything has to die. I feel that like the world itself, black metal could have remained something brilliant, but stupid, shallow people and commerce ruined it. Concerning black metal (but not only that), I think most people including many who “were there” only see an idealised version of reality. Basically they see a relatively brief outburst of creativity and good intentions contained as a single neverending era and not as a finite period of innovation witnessed over time, followed by noticeable decline and inevitable death. I imagine citizens of the Roman Empire in its last days felt that way. Maybe Americans feel like that. People need a sense of continuity and belonging in order to feel secure and black metal is now a boring youth subculture like any other, not an evolutionary artistic movement. It’s about clothes, symbols, scene orthodoxy and total lack of substance for the most part. It’s hard to admit that the dream is over, that something has come to the end of its lifespan. The people who refuse to recognise that are usually those with the most to gain from its continuation and such people are dangerous because they prevent real progress from being made. But those who do acknowledge it are the first to rise from the ashes and forge something new. When an old, beautiful and much loved building falls down, the average guy says “I’ll rebuild this building, it’ll not be quite as good as before but it’ll keep the spirit of the old building alive”. But a radical, visionary architect says “I’ll rebuild this building, and I’ve a few ideas of my own this time”. However there are quite a few people out there who think of themselves as doing something new and original, but who actually aren’t. Playing a saxophone or tambourine or banjo or flute in a black metal context doesn’t necessarily make you a creative genius (in fact I’m damn sure it doesn’t). To cite an example I’ve used before, Darkthrone were obviously a positive evolution from Bathory and Celtic Frost, and to continue the architectural metaphor; are the difference between doric and ionic columns. In other words you don’t need to do anything completely new to be original, you just need to look at what came before in a new light, which is easier said than done of course.

What’s the status of EMIT, and when do we hear new material? What inspired this new material?

Emit has evolved into Hammemit; modern music for mediaeval sensibilities, by which I mean intended for those desensitised to the general chaos of modern life yet retaining a certain spiritual awareness and closeness to the world. The new direction isn’t a sudden development but a gradual progression where I began to lean more towards the calmer works than the noisier ones. The more consistent approach which can be seen in the Hammemit album stems from deep and prolonged contemplation flowing over into a group of connected lyrics. These lyrics really opened the way into a new holistic conception and execution of my musical work. I hope that as many people as possible will read the lyrics and that some will feel a deep affinity with the music, because I know that other people look at the world in the same way that I do. My intention is that people should feel the way I felt when I read “The Centaur” by Algernon Blackwood – that they’d found a kindred spirit. I feel I should elucidate further as Mr. Blackwood isn’t well known anymore, though I believe he deserves to be. He used to be quite a popular figure in his time, and would read his stories on BBC radio and even appeared on the then new cursed medium of TV (when it was basically still radio but with pictures). Yet his books are mostly out of print nowadays and his best works can generally only be found in secondhand bookshops or not at all. Lovecraft was a fervent admirer of his work, though this wasn’t reciprocated and Lovecraft’s writing unfortunately is largely still seen as pulp trash while Blackwood’s is just forgotten. His one major attempt at fully explaining his worldview came with a full-length novel, the aforementioned “The Centaur”. His preferred medium was the short story and it becomes readily apparent when reading it, but despite its very occasional failings as literature, I found it interesting and even exciting reading. What he proposed was not new, but the manner in which he set about describing the idea that the world was a living being and everything living on it were part of one entity, made it sound like perfect sense. This being because I could clearly identify with the two main characters, both of whom seemed to articulate exactly what I myself thought and had constantly struggled with. Blackwood would have as a basis for many of his stories a central character who was enthralled so much with primal nature that they “risked” being consumed by it utterly. This is best seen in his short stories such as “The Trod”, “The Touch of Pan”, “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” and of course “The Centaur”, all of which I recommend reading. As I said, I hope to do with music and lyrics what Blackwood did with his writing, I feel a real calling to do so.

If you were able to make an album that would be given mainstream radio airplay, would you choose to make your music closer to mass tastes but subversive, or attempt to wallop people with something very far from current mass tastes?

I wouldn’t do anything different from what I’m doing now. Why would I want to water down what I do in order to get the interest of shallow people who have nothing in common with the meaning of the music? I’d just be wasting everyone’s time. Look at Dissection and their “Reinkaos” album or Watain’s new one. Why even bother? Seeds on barren rocks. Good luck to them if they think their message will be spread further by simplifying ther music, but I’d rather not pander to the lowest common denominator. I don’t see myself as some supreme and elite being, not through modesty but through thinking about it. I aspire to better myself and to achieve certain goals, and I look at myself therefore as what a human should be like, it’s those falling under that who are below human. There’s only human and underhuman, everything else is aspiration for now. I understand the limitations of the masses and know that difficult concepts are totally beyond them, not always beyond their capacity to understand, but certainly beyond their attention span. The masses are guided by base instinct and self-interest and to make them otherwise is impossible. It’s easy to trick them into believing that something bad for them is actually good for them and vice-versa. As long as they think it serves their own interests they’ll be happy. They’re mere empty vessels who’ve allowed themselves to become corrupted and mindless, a bit like Tolkien’s orcs or the zombies from “Dawn of the Living Dead”. Their greatest and apparently only desires are to eat/consume, fuck and destroy everything beautiful. The individual I quoted earlier once said that serial killers acted the way they did because they were either consciously or unconsciously deeply aware of time passing by and wanted to take action while they could, to live each moment as much as possible and push the limits of experience. The masses are not in the least aware of time passing them by, they don’t think death will happen to them. They imagine an afterlife paradise where all their sickening desires and lusts will be fulfilled for them, so might as well sit and wait for it. A consolation for me is that they will all eventually be reclaimed, as into an amorphous jigsaw with billions of missing pieces…

DEATH DEATH

If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence.

– Meister Johannes Eckhart

Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ in Houston, Texas

Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
March 2, 2008
The Meridian
1503 Chartres
Houston, Texas 77003

Long ago, before heavy metal was even a glimmer in the eyes of King Crimson and Black Sabbath, when the land of south central Texas had nothing on its pan-flat surface but swamp and hogs, a developer’s eye gleamed and soon a city was being sold to northern suburbanites as a green, natural, sunny and pleasant place. To this day developers continue to create it, sprawling across the humid plane like pancake batter, and so the city pulses through a serpentine mesh of freeways which converge at various points, some forgotten and some celebrated.

At one of these convergences, to the northeast of downtown, an innumerable series of obstacles prevented our reviewer from hearing the Gates of Enoch set and the first four bars of Averse Sefira. Having just released their fourth album (you probably have the MP3s already) Averse Sefira from Austin showed fine form on the end of this tour of established acts. In all fairness, every band on the tour showed massively professional performance ability, so what distinguished one from the next was showmanship and songwriting. In these crucial areas a separation occurred but proved itself to be so messy that few want to untangle its inextricable threads.

Averse Sefira

Averse Sefira took to the stage with the power of those who carve a place for themselves by both fighting the status quo and not fighting the reality of what will be eternally rewarded; they mix traditionalist black metal with the aggressive machine motion of death metal in its peak years, relegating the latter to rhythm with the former insurgent within it as leadership of each song. This enables them to preserve the mystique of underground metal which is the fusion of seemingly random bits into a whole order, an occult process in itself during a time of linear causal logic. Their rhythmic composition comes straight from the halcyon days of early Deicide and Incantation, but their melodies, fusing Graveland and Enslaved and something as uniquely American as Thomas Wolfe recalled a graveyard angel, surge straight from the heart of black metal.

Advent Parallax, the newest from Averse Sefira, steps forward in technique and adjusts the previous sense of concept albums into a new lexicon, where the concept is revealed in serialized views of a prismatic, untouchable reality. They did not back down; they made it more technical, shaped the songs from less obvious shadow forms of structure; gave themselves license to play with elements that dour conventionalists might find threatening, yet kept them in the spirit of the most traditional of all underground black and death metal. Not surprisingly, the album sounds better live, because its synthesis is new and still supple, and putting it to a click track (or even the knowledge that it would be recorded) could dim some of that resonant light.

Mixing two songs each from their last three albums, Averse Sefira delivered a set with more technical verve than previous adventures. Where some shows had been chaotic and organic, and others sniper-precise, the fusion of the two is a grand adventure in pushing things out of control and then with the paranoia of a sentry snapping it back under control. This delightful duality shadowed not only the playful but militant spirit of their music, but also the fusion of ludic black metal and mechanistic mimetic death metal. The triumph came in not only holding together these raging daemonic tendencies but pouring them into form, using the crucible of the classics and an exploratory fire of the now.

Setlist:

A Shower of Idols (Advent Parallax)
Descension (Advent Parallax)
Nascent Ones (Battle’s Clarion)
Helix in Audience (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
Battle’s Clarion (Battle’s Clarion)
Plagabraha (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)

Belphegor

After Averse Sefira, Belphegor played a super-competent set of ultra-generic black/death metal. There is no way to criticize it, like most modern travesties. No notes were missed. Rhythms were exact. The crowd loved it and bought tshirts. Yet it did not recommend itself, either. It is as one critic has said of life itself: “The problem is not in being mediocre. The problem lies in not being great, because that is all that stays the memory once the last royalty check is cashed.” Indeed — we move away from this artefact of history and the juncture of styles at this point in metal’s career, a conjunction that has mastered the aesthetics of these intrusions without knowing in any way their derivation, significance, or even that they could form a language and not a procession of forms cut from whole shadow shapes.

Immolation

Immolation played the most varied set of the evening, comprising one simple song from their first album (“Those Left Behind”), several from their most recent entitled Shadows in the Light, one from the nu-metal influenced Harnessing Ruin, and a smattering from other albums, priming us for their epicenter with “Nailed to Gold” from Here in After, probably their most ambitious and engaged moments of the night. Relentlessly professional, they played both exactly and with a good deal of the microscopic re-evaluation of intention shared between individuals in a musical outfit that encloses “feeling,” giving the energies of the crowd and the band a chance for chiasmatic influence within the rhythms of what was played. Their material improves greatly with the new album. Retrospective analysis suggests this band, formed in 1986, never fully left behind the ambition to join Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer in the speed metal camp, and they have filtered through underground death metal their impulse to write surging rhythm riffs with an accelerated rock beat ever since.

The result, a trademark anticipative recursion and complementary unison offset by a shuttling opposite architectural closure, called by fans “that Immolation riff,” shows up too much in their work; some hypothesize that it began with the use of pinched harmonics to accentuate an expected rhythmic closure, which showed this band how much the dimly lit faces glow when presented with something so digestible. Since that time, Immolation have fought their impulse to write bouncy technical rock, and struggled for death metal. They come farthest on Shadows in the Light. They still could benefit from more diligent staging of their work, so that when they crash into a gratifying chorus or transition, it is rarer and so purer in context though less pure in immediate essence. Their set was as solid as any in metal, rock, jazz or blues, but with a good deal more energy. They could learn a great deal from the first Metallica album if they wish to continue this course.

Setlist:

Passion Kill (Shadows in the Light)
Swarm of Terror (Harnessing Ruin)
Burial Ground (Dawn of Possession)
Nailed to Gold (Here In After)
Son if Iniquity (Harnessing Ruin)
Hate’s Plague (Shadows in the Light)
Immolation (Dawn of Possession)
Lying with Demons (Shadows in the Light)
World Agony (Shadows in the Light)
Bring Them Down (Unholy Cult)

Rotting Christ

Rotting Christ showed this audience the greatest technical performance of the evening. They not only played difficult material. They played it as if it was no big deal. Their problem is that while they write beautiful choruses, and have many creative riff ideas, they like writing boring songs. A two-part stomp beat, a trudging power chord ride that shifts position upward like the “after” part of a weight-loss commercial, and in the ensuing mixture whatever beauty is created is crushed under the weight of the trudge. Beauty is what they aimed for, and what they created at rare times, mainly through an excellent knowledge of harmony and a willingness to write melodic lead rhythm picked riffs and harmonize them. One participant put it best when he said this band have become generic metal. There are black metal vocals, speed metal drums, death metal strumming, power metal choruses, and heavy metal rundown verses. It was both inspiring and the greatest disappointment one could have. Caught in the veil of humanism, which presupposes personhood to supplant nature’s judgement of skill in presenting the dynamism which drives the universe away from entropy, this band played to please an idealized, averaged, mythical crowd and as a result they had people standing in cadence during verses and becoming animated for choruses. Guys, take a risk — write something from your minds and not your hearts.

Conclusion

The show proved an adventure worthy of undertaking for the power of Averse Sefira and Immolation. All things considered, Averse Sefira impressed most, because their set was the least contrived with honest and goofy joy and worship of the power of their own music replacing a more serious mien. Immolation played as well and with more technicality, and also took great gleeful pleasure in their songs, but that performance proved more self-cognizant and less self-reflective, as if they were watching themselves from the audience. The musicians of Averse Sefira were less aware they were onstage and playing music, and seemed to be lost (60%) in the music they clearly enjoyed hearing and (40%) in the emotional and energetic tides of the crowd, although a scan of the audience revealed they appealed to a portion of the audience more likely to watch intently than drink, “mosh,” or chant only the choruses  they knew the verses also. Even more importantly, their songs are written less from a template, and retain the chaotic inspiration that their wide-ranging lyrics bring. Yet neither Immolation nor Averse Sefira were justifiably missed, as both delivered top-notch performances upholding the distinctive DNA of underground death metal.

(Thanks to Cynical and M.S. for the setlists.)

Bands:
Gates of Enoch
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
The Meridian, Houston Texas