2016 has been a dismal year for metal in terms of albums one might want to carry with them for the rest of their aimless and futile material embodiment. Fortunately, other genres are not so bereft of endearing symbolic language. Kretchmer is an electro composer who draws from the “braindance” acid of middle period Aphex Twin and the romantic melodic sensibilities of Kraftwerk. Each track possess an underlying narrative whose structure reveals itself via the gradual buildup of layers to a moderate density. A primary motif is looped or varied upon through the course of a given track. To further fill space, chords occupy the background and often provide a resolve to the melody as it cycles. Par for the course for this music, the drum and synth bass tracks play with the open space in between musical themes and function as harmonic rather than strictly rhythmic components. The emergent polyphonic circuitry pays tribute to classical sensibilities but eschews the theatrical; drawing instead from the grounded drama of the moving body.
After a hiatus of some years, Burzum returns to the path that is intuitive and natural for composer Varg Vikernes, who drifted through a triplet of droning black metal albums before discarding the genre. Sôl austan, Mâni vestan picks up where Hlidskjalf left off, except that this new album uses a wider range of sounds and also covers a wider range of emotions.
The title, meaning “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” encompasses the cosmic music nature of this album. While the sounds are thoroughly contemporary, the spirit of this album is in the stargazing music of the 1970s that attempted to find divinity even as the world around it seemed in a state of total doubt. Having explored the darkness and alienation of the past, Vikernes increases his palette here to include the playful, mystical, mysterious and placid, and works them in contrast to one another so that no one dominates and becomes background noise, but he pushes right to that limit with not only direct repetition but allusion to very similar themes across songs. The result is like a hypnosis into which the listener slides, unaware that through this mundane noise a vision of great beauty and even metaphysical significance will be found.
As Vikernes said in a blog post, “We are all lost souls in a dying world, so to speak, stripped of all spiritual life and energy by the societies we live in, and left to find new spiritual life and energy on our own. We stumble, we fall and we get up again, as we progress, and black metal, although empty and hollow like most other things in this world, is actually a good gateway to the Divine Light. If nothing else black metal has been a way to find true meaning, a positive direction and new life for many.” This attitude pervades through Sôl austan, Mâni vestan which consistently uses simple and catchy sounds to introduce themes which gradually develop into something revelatory of the sublime, like a flower opening from a bud hidden under dirt.
Burzum showed its affinity for 1970s relaxing and New Age style music with classics like “Tomhet,” “Rundgang” and the cheerier parts of Hlidskjalf. This new album picks up from that influence and goes further, fusing the classic Burzum sound with a full range of moods as one might find on a professional ambient album from the heart of that genre. Unexpected technique, including duets with guitar and bass through which keyboards and sampled tones dive like seabirds in flight, and flair borrowed from rock, ambient and jazz, offset these fundamentally simple tunes and embed them in the kind of texture and nuance you might expect from an Autechre or Aphex Twin album.
In the meantime, although not only the black metal aesthetics but also the black metal voice have been cast aside, the uncanny sense of pacing remains which Vikernes uses to engage us, lull us, excite us and finally bring all of these things into collision. In many ways, this music is more black metal than his post-prison guitar albums because it has such a range of emotions, and such a vivid journey from start to finish. In that sense, Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice after many intervening years. It’s not black metal, but who cares? It’s excellent and relentlessly intriguing.
Xasthur’s reclusive and asocial Malefic gave us a few moments of time to ask some esoterica and rewarded his listeners with the following interview, in which he gives some analysis of the interconnectivity of thoughts inside and outside of the black metal “scene.”
When you first started Xasthur, what factor of the project made you most uncomfortable?
Hmmm, that’s a real good question. There were two times when I ‘first started Xasthur’, the first time was a failure…constant losers,liars,trendies for bandmates; I was very upset. I felt that nobody believed in how serious I was in bringing forth a horrifing aura of blackness. The second time was just the same, but on the other hand better. I had totally given up on people, I admit I was uncomfortable when I decided to get a drum machine and do it all on my own, I didn’t know if it was possible,and still alot of poser fuckers didn’t believe in me, they thought their party heavy metal parking lot bands were more meaningful..well,the good news is that I’m planning on, and will have the last laugh!!! Another factor was the vocals, I had never done that before, but I knew that I would have to force myself to…it was never in my plans, but as a one person band, it had to be; other than that, everythng fell into place and I learned how to overcome certian difficulties such as drum programming, vocals, humans etc…
Had you been in any bands or musical apparati before Xasthur?
Yes, a couple death metal bands, back in 94-95 here in So.Cal..didn’t really work out. There was always some differences, they wanted to be unoriginal, and at the time I thought it would have been quite possible to mix death metal with darkness and doom. I can’t really get along with anyone in a band-like environment.
At the time, what bands inspired and/or motivated you? Writers? Visual artists? Movies?
Mütiilation and the black legions, Burzum, Graveland (Thousand Swords), Manes, Shining, Forgotten Woods, Funeral Winds and too many to mention. Hmmm, I don’t watch movies much…my favorite movie is Carrie (the old one from the 70s) as far as Visual Artists are concerned, whoever made the Aphex Twin video, what a perfect vision of the remains of an apocalypse, I always have that video in my head…but like I said ,I don’t watch TV really…
Where were you when you first thought the project had longterm potential for you?
In my house, as usual…looking out my window and there was nothing there, When I was finishing a song and it actually disturbed me. That was like looking into a mirror and not liking what I saw….when it refected a nightmare, I thought it had some potential…but for what?”
Does anyone else work with you? Why or why not?
The only other person that really helped in the past was a good friend of mine, Mike/Draconis, but that was in ’99, before I just did this band on my own. Maybe it’s where I live that I can’t rely on ANYONE to help out…I don’t need anyones input, people here want to be famous like Cradle of Filth and write safe-normal riffs to impress their friends, get girls etc…that is all I have EVER seen…I don’t need that kind of input.
There is an obvious Burzum-influence (this is something of which to be proud, but hopefully you’re not going to be annoyed by it) in Xasthur’s music; what did Burzum do that no other bands have done?
No, I’m not annoyed by that…actually, thanks. Burzum is darkness, or has that word lost its meaning? All I know is that Burzum can take you anywhere but where you are…and it’s usually somewhere cold. I don’t want to be where I am, or anywhere for that matter.
A soldier once remarked, “we had to destroy the town to save it.” F.W. Nietzsche once offhandedly said that if Christianity had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it. Do you think all things on planet earth are bound up in their opposites?
Yes, that F.W. Nietzsche quote makes sense to me…just cause something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it needs to be invented…we would still have a broom, if the streetcleaner or vaccum wasn’t invented, the broom cost only 4-5 dollars and the others several dollars more, plus they’re noisy and don’t save that much time…according to that quote, I’m not disagreeing with it, the quote to me is just based on human nature and what people will predictably do….or…maybe I have no clue?
Most black metal bands seem to aim for linear expansion, namely, riffs that stretch out of 2-3 notes across 3-5 frets within the same chord form. This produces a very clear pattern that requires a counterpoint. Burzum and others, including Xasthur, seem to structure counterpoint within a recursive phrase, more like a fugue. Is this true in your view?
I try to not have such few notes per song/riff. My instincts tell me when or when not to have such few notes, when to be this simple or not to be,there’s a time to be repetative. For example, something with a hardcore upbeat (like you mentioned somewhere else in this interview) shouldn’t be repeated 8-12-16 times ect…Across 3-5 frets? I’d say you’d better add a bunch of other ideas to accompany that kind of simplicity or its gonna get boring…but like I said else where, there are no rules. Slightly rehearsed, last minute improv can not only fool thyself, but the listener as well…or at least I’d like to think. Don’t wanna come across as someone trying to be an expert, ’cause these are just instincts talking here…there’s not much theory behind what it is that I do, ’cause I basically had to learn anything I know on my own…on my own, that’s what life really comes down to, and death as well.
How much of the black metal community do you feel is social time for wayward youth? How much of it is artistic?
Too much social time! To play this music and make it as dark as you can, one has to give up alot…like friends,sleep,money etc…Alot of people will be too busy being a part of “life” to take it further than bass,guitar,drums,vocals,pentagram and then they’re done! When this kind of work is done, I’ll be social with others who are into what I’m into..who the hell am I?
Negativity seems to me like a mental forest fire; with everything reduced to ashes, any new ideas seem fresh and hopeful. What have your experiences on this topic been?
Well, negativity is all around, weather you want it or not…how can one rebuild when only ashes remain? Whenever I look at my scars…I remember where I’ve been and where my state of mind always takes me.
Many view Varg as duplicitous in his representation of his own beliefs, but in the first interview I have with him, he refers to himself as a theosophist, and on his first album, he has a lyric making reference to his socially unacceptable political views. Do you fear the same thing with your own music and later, views? is there any way around being called “inconsistent” as one grows?
is there any way to summarize what you’ve learned about music since starting xasthur, or to find a few central points of change, and if so, can you list them here?
I have learned alot,I have learned things that I already knew and felt. I have learned that playing music is like solving puzzles that have no direction and are certianly not flat like puzzles usually are. I learned that many riffs of songs have infinite possibilities for harmonies/dis-harmonies with all instruments, having 4 or 5 different sounds in different octaves (yet all slightly similar) coming together finding a way to let out all the thousands of ideas in my head…painting a mix of sounds with the most bleak of colours, what to do, or what to add that will reflect the exact mood….I learned that being unpredictable with the changes in the song can work for me, instead of against me i.e, one of my friends used to tell me that 2 certian parts wouldn’t/didn’t go together, I say bullshit, I’ll find a way, and the best way i possibly can…there are no rules, no rules…its the one thing that can keep it interesting to me…I don’t know if this is the kind of answer you were looking for…
What do you think – if any – is the relationship between radical, terroristic environmentalism and black metal?
Hate!! Downfall of urban culture (or lack there of)..if I’m understanding the question properly.
Do you have a preference for type of equipment? In your mind, how important is equipment to the production of music?
I’ll tell you that it makes a difference. When getting a good guitar sound, that’s when just anything WON’T do. On some old recordings,I used a dist.pedal and all it picked up was alot of noise I didn’t even know I was hearing, plus it was very weak ad thin…then I switched to an effects processer rack mod. and that really helped take away all the noise and added some fullness…a way of mixing is important too. A 4track with mixing capabilities included, the effects processer and a cd-r burner for bouncing tracks…these are all the essentials and main ingredients.These things made a difference and made recording easier for me.
When you first conceive of a song, or a riff, is your starting point a boundary or a direction?
Neither. I don’t want a limit, and boundary makes me think of that…if there was a direction then it wouldn’t come from within,plus predictability in music makes it boring to play after a while.
What are your thoughts on Hegel’s theory of dialectics, namely that each thing (“thesis”) has an antithesis, and eventually a compromise between the two leads to the next thesis?
As in hypothesis, an educated guess? A part of being psychic? A mathematical algebra-like theory of prediction? If 2+ _ = 8 then what’s blank? If someone/something does 2, but is hiding the truth, that being blank, then why does their face have 8 written all over it…I don’t know,I’m so tired right now I don’t even know…
Many people are saying “black metal is dead” right now, and, while I understand their saying so, it seems to me like they mean “most of black metal is dead” when they declare its demise. What do you think is the difference between “living” and “dead” in this context?
Yes, I agree “most of black metal is dead” because if it was all dead,I would have one of the last significant reasons not to live. There are still some bands out there that can save at least the feeling or that bring back some nostalgia of the way it once was. I don’t think war metal does…war metal is just some kind of retro protest towards the norweigians?? This negativity of black metal is the only thing that brings me any pleasure or excitement anymore…ironic,or a contradiction?? It was “living” in the early 90’s when it was more of a threat to society, I suppose.
What were your earliest metal influences?
In the 1982-84 era, is when I first discovered metal, I was a bit young at the time…I liked Motley Crue,Iron Maiden,Quiet Riot,AC/DC ect…I rarley listen to those bands anymore..sometimes. Later on in the later 80’s I got into Mercyful Fate,Dark Angel,Megadeth,Slayer.. then death metal,black metal then…??
How much of metal do you think is derived from hardcore?
Hmmm, some of the drum beats are similar to hardcore. However, I think metal bands did alot more with hardcore beats than the hardcore bands did themselves..
The gentleman from Axis of Advance probably thinks I’m a fag because so much of this interview does not address metal itself, but abstract and possibly unrelated thoughts. Do you think there is a link between the sound that is produced and the thoughts that occurred to prompt the attitudes, values and ideas expressed?
Well, talking about real life is probably more grim than death itself….and metal too. Axis of Advance?? That link you talk about, yes I think there is…that is, if you’re talking about a persons mental state of mind, if you can hear a persons mental state of mind…I could probably hear where the guys in Axis of Advance are coming from when I hear their songs and I would hope that one would be able to hear where I’m coming from with mine, also these are from two different planes….
Do you believe it is necessary, as Keats did, to desire the end for its cessation of the activity of life, before one can see what is of value remaining?
Darkling I listen, and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful death . . .
Now more than ever seems it reach to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain
If we could see the world through philosophical photonegative states of mind, what do you think would be the seat of evil? Would those who believe still conceive of “god” as an entity outside of this world?
Do you have any mystical belief?
Energy…hateful. Energy taken from souls. Believing in yourself,cause you can’t have faith in anything or anyone else
Many in black metal advocate a “fuck everything, do nothing” type political attitude that is more bitterness than ideology. Others overcorrect by becoming very-unliberal people with the liberal attitude that one “must” change the human situation. Where do you stand?
How about change the human situation for good by mass genocide since there’s no answer to everyone’s/anyone’s problems and everyone hates being alive, whether they can admit it or not. I’m sick of humans having so many rights…they just piss and shit on all that is given to them. To me, this is bitterness AND ideology.
What drugs do you think anus.com should explore as possible nutritional supplements for its writing staff?
“Explore the world of medication”
Please drop in here any additional comments, final words on this interview, or jokes about sodomy that you feel would fit.
Knock,knock. Who’s there? Clint. Clint who? Clint Torres….get it?! I am in the process of copyrightng this joke.
Thanks for the interview, Prozak…whether people know it or not you’re a pessimistic guy that goes back a long way…thanks to anyone that wastes their time reading this… suicide can be a relief.
Did we speak about “end” and “totality” in a way phenomenally apprporiate to Da-sein? Did the expression “death” have a biological significance or one that is existential and ontological, or indeed was it sufficiently and securely defined at all? And have we actually exhausted all the possibilities of making Da-sein accessible in its totality?
We have to answre these questions before the problem of the wholeness of Da-sein can be dismissed as nothing. The question of the wholeness of Da-sein, both the existentiell questiona bout a possible potentiality-for-being-a-whole, as well as the existential question about the constitution of being of “end” and “wholeness,” contain the task of a positive analysis of the phenomena of existence set aside up to now. In the center of these considerations we have the task of characterizing ontologically the being-toward-the-end of Da-sein and of achieving an existential concept of death.
– Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
I love cosmic music. When downtrodden 1970s Germany had to re-invent itself, it came up with this devotional, esoteric, futuristic, reverent and hopeful music.
Cluster – Zuckerzeit
This is one of those albums that gets pointed out to you by the sage music veteran in a corner at an impromptu house party. “Yeah, you like Tangerine Dream and Eno? Try this out. It’s the real deal. A big improvement over those.” So you get it from your record store or favorite blogspot, and throw it on the speakers, and listen. What will strike you quickly is how aesthetically powerful and diverse this is. Each song picks a different set of sounds, and as a result, stands apart from the others. How they did this with 1970s technology I will probably never know, but I can imagine it involved hours of painstaking work. You will not find this breadth of richness of experience and variety on a Tangerine Dream album, and Fripp/Eno loses its surface shine in comparison. For this reason alone, I can see why so many people swear by this album. For those who like mid-1990s ambient, you can hear how this album must have been a major influence on Aphex Twin and clearly was on Electric Company. The same zen for many different perspectives on the same object applies. However, all the effort went into the surface: melodic development is near non-existent, and song structures are linear or cyclic but embrace no particular narrative and go really nowhere. The result is a listening experience that’s all on the surface and misses the real point of music, which is composition: writing melodies and fitting them into songs that sound like the profound truth of some experience. “Zuckerzeit” doesn’t hold a candle to Tangerine Dream or Fripp/Eno in this regard. Those august composers can show the same view of many different experiences, while Cluster resort to many perspectives of what is essentially the same underlying experience.
Ash Ra Tempel – Inventions for Electric Guitar
This is another album favored by insiders. Unlike many of the more keyboard oriented sounds of the 1970s, this is pure guitar noise. Hazy, beautiful guitar noise in long sprawling compositions. At least a thousand notes get played on each, it seems, and the styles vary in a deep tapestry from fast and furious to slow and bluesy. You can see every part of the whole that is our modern world embedded in this album. Unfortunately, it’s also a surface treatment; these songs are wholly linear. Ash Ra Tempel have mastered the aesthetics of the cosmic bands and in fact best them in that regard, but have not plumbed the underlying composition. These songs use the right type of simple infective melody, both cheerful and slightly melancholic, and build intensity in the way way as a Tangerine Dream song with lots of chaotic noise harmonizing, but there’s nowhere to go. Songs gradually get more intense and then fade away. They resemble nothing, whether objects in reality or in the mind; their experience is evident from the first note and as the last falls, is fulfilled but without surprise and thus depth. At some point, it becomes clear that Ash Ra Tempel make these songs from a pastiche of influences taken to a new aesthetic extreme, but there may be no content, which is why this release falls short of the true cosmic bands.
Your local hipsters will not understand the points made in this article. Good — the Dunning-Kruger effect triumphs again.