by Niklas Göransson
This a death notice, as well as an exercise in cyclic law. He dreams of the skies but digs in the soil, and now speaks for the last time. A scholar of the past evaluates the present; how the black sun sets on the horizon and gold turns into lead.
– This will be my final NÅSTROND interview, says guitarist and vocalist Karl NE, our work is coming to an end. Everything is changing as we now find ourselves at the point where death has become the way forward.
While the reasons leading up to this are several; foremost cited is the distance that has grown within the band, as well as the need for liberation and progression. Regardless, it can’t have been an easy decision, given that the band has been a part of his and drummer Arganas’ lives for 23 years now.
– True, but you should never get so attached to things that you can’t handle losing them – it will become your mind’s prison. I have outgrown my teenage self, so there is no further need to keep carrying the past on my shoulders.
He adds that there will be no new releases, no more merchandise, nor any re-releases of past material.
– This will also be my final commentary on the matter, for now we leave NÅSTROND to the void.
And so we turn from the finale to the beginning. NÅSTROND’s debut ”Toteslaut” came out in 1995; one of the most polarising albums I can recall, hated by most but hailed by many. An acquired taste, but disregarding preference it was at least completely different from everything else coming out of Sweden at the time.
Is that a Hellenic influence I detect?
– Yes, definitely. I still enjoy some of the music I listened to a lot back then, like the early ROTTING CHRIST albums and the NECROMANTIA demo tapes. The Greek vibe was even stronger in my first band TRIDENT, which became NÅSTROND in 1993. Listen to “The Slaughterhouse” by BRIGHTER DEATH NOW and you’ll hear where the industrial influences came from.
Instead of the usual screaming, the lyrics are orated in an agitated type of guttural rasp.
– Some of the influences were not even from music; the vocals are one such example. They were inspired by horror movies, especially Nosferatu set the tone of the album and is to this day one of my favourite films.
I also must ask, what the hell is going on with the drums?
– Suggesting what, exactly?
A diplomatic objection that comes to mind is that they leave a bit to be desired in terms of power and organic feel.
– It might be best to leave this question open, since the percussion is for the most part nothing I’ve been involved in. Let me just say that we had different ideas of where to take this, and this is one reason the collaboration is ending.
‘Don’t much care for the music but the interviews are always interesting’ is a verdict of NÅSTROND I’ve come across a few times now.
– The concept of intent and meaning was always of greater importance than the actual music. This was clear to me at an early stage, when I realised that I could use NÅSTROND to transmit certain ideas or even propaganda. Art has always explored matters of depth, ideas wanting to be brought forth – be it the love of violence or the lure in darkness.
I notice that you keep mentioning ‘music’ and ‘art’, but not ‘metal’?
– Honestly, metal to me these days speaks more of limitations than the power I felt in the beginning. I’ve lost touch to the extent that I’d prefer to just distance myself from this whole farce of reproduction and commerce.
Karl says that he’s crossed the threshold where he feels any kinship to either the culture or the people it attracts.
– It’s immediately evident to me as soon as I find myself in the midst of such people, grazing the festival pastures like branded cattle with their logos and patches. As if their personality is reduced to flaunting the name of someone else’s creation – as if that gives them individuality? It’s all fake to me.
And you hover aloft in subcultural nirvana, eyeing down at the rabble?
– Not at all, I am also guilty of this – I too have produced a lot of nonsense. A young man can easily fall victim to such things, as there is a need within this scene to uphold certain stereotypes.
Most of all, it’s the lack of sincerity that bothers him. In reality, he says, most of those who enjoy metal prominence have very little personal connection to the image they want to convey.
– They eat at McDonald’s, get drunk at parties, and watch television series. They like to hang out and have a good time while not bothering to put too much thought into life. In a bid to spice up their mundane lives, they wear inverted crosses and believe that makes them the opposer – an adversary.
He likens the various decorative accessories to birds fanning their feathers in courtship – all show and little foundation.
– These aren’t real ‘individuals’. They want to be, but were never truly tested and have yet to even become adults. Pain, boredom or whatever other neurotic ailments they struggle with are numbed by drinking and smoking. A war, now that would be a real test – to kill a man in front of you.
Once more he points out that while this may sound arrogant; he’s not trying to put himself above anyone else.
– I’m full of self-criticism, but this needed to be said. Really, I urge people to think about it – what isn’t fake in your life? Take a long and hard look at yourself. We need a rite of passage.
The proverbial coming of age is not merely an initiation into the adult world, but also the breaking point where one phase is left behind in favour of a new. In certain parts of the Amazon jungle, tribesmen attain manhood by undergoing what is regarded as the most painful experience documented; wearing gloves full of bullet ants.
– Suffering drives evolution – if you push through the gruelling hours of intense pain with no help but your own fortitude, you won’t come back the same person that woke up that morning. The essence of rite is to manifest, to change.
– This is something lost to our society. We have no trials, no opportunity to test your mettle through solitary survival like the Spartans did. Instead, it seems that we should experience life without pain, setbacks or real strife.
Karl stresses the importance for ritual and ceremony in the daily routine, claiming them to bring a certain order within one’s world.
– Throughout history, ritual has often been about birth, becoming a man or woman, and finally – death. Another interesting application is that of a weapon, like certain Mesoamerican cultures that sacrificed enemies as part of their warfare strategy.
For religious holidays such as their abbatorial revelries, the Aztec nobility would consume teonanácatl, or ‘flesh of the gods’; the divine mushroom. During the 1487 reconsecration of the Tenochtitlan pyramid, dedicated to the war god Huitzilopochtli – or ‘Hummingbird of the Left’, the Aztecs themselves documented that they sacrificed 20 400 prisoners over the course of four days.
– Just imagine the frenzy of this blood ceremony. I find many of the Aztec religious practices fascinating, such as the use of the pyramid as a connection to the gods or heavens. Comparably gruesome spectacles were held in the Roman Colosseum, it would seem the shedding of blood binds large communities together.
Montezuma, the last emperor of the Aztecs, is said to have used the sacrosanct fungus to commune with Huitzilopochtli. Interestingly, the psilocybin mushroom – the western name for teonanácatl, is known to induce a sense of communication with the user at sufficiently high dosages.
– There’s obviously a connection between the gods and the different plants that were used for communication, as well as a source of life. Maize was among those considered sacred, and also has many interesting connotations.
An indication of how important the maize plant was to Aztec society is its prevalent role in their mythology, even enjoying some influence in the arenas of ritual sacrifice.
– They would remove the skin from a person, like that of a maize, followed by decapitation and dismemberment. The god Xolotl – master of transformation, would also take the shape of a maize plant.
Incidentally, “Xolotl” is a song from the “Toteslaut” album.
– His was the name of death; he was the psychopomp that led the soul on its journey to the underworld. He was also the god of fire and lightning.
Psychopomp is a term used for mythological figures that escort the newly deceased to the afterlife. The Grim Reaper is the most recognisable contemporary cultural icon, other examples are Hermes and Hecate of ancient Greece, Mercury in the Roman pantheon, and Anubis from the Egypt of old.
– This ties in with the shore from the Nåstrond concept, which is symbolic in itself – comparable with the passing over the river Styx. Charon the ferryman acts as mediator between the waking and unconscious realms, but passes no judgement in the process.
In Hel, the realm of the dead in Norse mythology, there is a shore covered in corpses. This is Nåstrond – the afterlife that awaits adulterers, murderers and worst of all; oath-breakers, the most reviled of offenders in the North.
– It’s clear to me that the shore represents a symbolic land that must be left behind as one transcends, hence these heathen ship burials and funeral pyres on boats. The body has become redundant and is returned to the elements.
These waters require no vessel, for the flesh is of the land – the shore. Fully disengaged from the corporeal anchor, whatever remains crosses the oceans into the unknown.
– There might be no ‘hell’ to speak of, but being trapped in a limbo of nothingness would be a terrible punishment.
He mentions that these states of in-between have been part of NÅSTROND’s concept since the beginning, explored in themes like vampirism and lycanthropy.
– The mysteries of transformation and immortality have been very important; the life eternal and transient passage, the tragedy of the undead.
Karl also points out a connection between Nåstrond and the bardo concept.
– Bardo is precisely the intermediate space I’ve been talking about; the void between lives, waking and sleep, or the mundane and meditation. Nåstrond could therefore be interpreted as being confined within the bardo state, unable to proceed into your next life.
On the subject of Norse mythology, Karl notes that so-called ‘Asatru’ is currently enjoying somewhat of a bureaucratic renaissance in Sweden. The most prominent such group has recently been awarded official status as a religious congregation, and being theologically corroborated by the secular state is apparently seen a paramount victory for heathendom.
– This modern form is garbled nonsense that’s lost itself in the details and disregarded the essence. I seek a purer form of archaic Indo-European religious belief, for this is the kernel of our being.
He describes a pagan outlook where all is connected within the mystical and everything organic is part of the universal web of fate.
– I see this sanctity within all life, even the living stone and its formation to deterioration – its transformation. It’s strange, but I can find beauty and happiness within this wheel of birth and dying.
Life is obviously indisputable, but what do you think of sentience in nature?
– Certainly, he says, but not in the manner we’re familiar with. This would be the essence of a pantheist perspective; one which I might add is supported by the study of ecology.
Karl is referring to recent scientific discoveries in which forests have shown to be entwined in a sort of hive mind, linked through a network of fungus connected to the roots. Different species of trees, previously assumed to compete for resources and sunlight, have instead been proven to share them. This chthonic grid is used to transport nutrients between those with a surplus and ones with a deficiency, and if a tree is dying it will send its remaining carbon to neighbours.
– Perhaps everything organic is joined in the same type of web that binds these trees together; we can see how they are all connected and that they can speak to one another.
Biologists were stunned to learn that the trees use this subterranean linkage to broadcast distress signals, announcing the detection of enemy intruders.
– If a bark-eating bug is discovered as having made its way into the forest, the surrounding trees will begin producing a foul-tasting chemical to keep it away.
The fungus also absorbs essential minerals from the soil and, quite extraordinary, even hunts and kills insects to harvest for nutrients that are then delivered to the tree via its roots. The fungal network grows its body with the significant amount of photosynthesised sugars given by the trees in return. Karl suggests that we might benefit from a similar synergistic relationship, rather than a purely exploitative one.
– Nature holds value on her own and does not exist for our sake, as the Judeo-Christian and related world-views would have us think. We are very much part of nature and should strive not to harm her.
Whether or not the distribution is masterminded by the fungi or some manner of natural intelligence is still unknown, though it’s clear that the forests act as one big organism.
– Somewhat related, I can’t help but wonder how this ties in with ideas of ley-lines; patterns in the earth, connecting places of what we could call numinous importance.
Ley-lines are a phenomenon found in various cultures, from the Australian Aboriginals to the Nazca valley in Peru. They are geographical alignments that run over long stretches of landscape, binding together various prehistoric structures.
– Our forefathers clearly understood these connections, as well as their importance. This begs the question if their ceremonial sites were built on locations filled with energy? Natural nexions of the earth so to speak, places that were already sacred before man proclaimed them so.
Studying the cycle of life and death is not only preparation for what lies ahead, it also anchors one to the present. Karl says that the older he gets, the stronger he feels the urge to deepen his connection with the wilderness.
– Modern life has come between me and my self, it has distorted what’s real and natural. I need to be out there, to feel and experience it – even the harshness and the cold. This is to be alive, to be connected and aware.
Karl points out that humans evolve in accordance with their surroundings and interactions with the elements – laws of nature that form solid bonds between the hammer and anvil. A people shaped from toiling in a harsh and unforgiving climate will see their character shaped accordingly. The terrain that shaped, sheltered and fed our forefathers becomes the framework for who we are.
– These lands show me where I belong in this world, and this is where my remains will eventually be laid to rest when this chapter of me is closed. We could perhaps speak of a sort of nationalism unbound to any nation or state; the connection of being lies in the soil itself.
A people out of touch with the nature that shaped them, he suggests, will become separate from their very being – rootless in more ways than one.
– We have become disconnected where we were connected only a few generations back, this has of course reshaped everything. After all, a culture is just that; reflections in customs of a people and their environment.
He says the Norsemen didn’t exhibit their prowess with massive constructions such as the Romans did – but in their art, ships and poems.
– That connection with nature is critical, and now we’re suddenly in a state of confused detachment. We have been blinded by the mirages in a world of clay and Hollywood sorcery, and this will crack open when the giant falls.
Karl believes us to be moving from a spiritually enlightened state towards one of smothered degeneration.
– This is in full accordance with the ideas of Yugas or Ages; from times of gold into days of lesser metal. Today’s degeneration sets in motion a natural will of sorts, a development towards uniqueness – the refining of culture and people.
This ‘natural will’, he says, is in fact a honing process.
– Nature wants us to separate in order to become whole again. She wants us to develop further and return to her order; to become more distinct and discriminate and advance ourselves. We should strive towards the purification that will eventually lead us towards the stars.
I’m assuming you’re speaking metaphorically here, but what do you think of space travel; is outer exploration as interesting as the within?
– I am actually being literal, in the sense that I believe us destined to venture out into space and towards the stars.
He says there are surely other worlds both within and outside ourselves, and that we should try to reach them.
– To leave the earth would mentally be a giant step, it’s the destiny of our civilisation to attain the capacity to explore the universe. However, we have strayed from this as our culture is being destroyed from within. Gone is the Faustian hunger for crossing new boundaries, we have lost our brutality and pride.
While dreaming of worlds above, much of his waking time is spent on what lies buried below. Karl has a master’s degree in archaeology and has in this capacity worked at excavation sites in Sweden, Italy and Greece.
– I’ve studied both Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. This is very stimulating and rewarding for me, especially comparing the religious practices of the ancient world.
The last time I interviewed someone working in this field, Andy Cunningham of MALTHUSIAN, I torpedoed him with plenty of questions challenging archaeological orthodoxy. As to not repeat myself, we take a more philosophical route here.
You speak of the significance of death and rebirth for the individual, does the same apply to civilisation itself?
– I believe so. My stance is similar to that of Oswald Spengler, regarding the organic shape of civilisation and need for rejuvenation. Rebirth is a weapon and a privilege obtained only by the destruction of the old; the death and the becoming.
Simply put, die in order to live – another pagan concept echoed in science, which teaches that all carbon based lifeforms are made from remnants of dead stars. One day the star that warms our earth will turn cold, and there is no life under a black sun.
– There lie strange truths in the cyclical nature of organic life. Regarding the cataclysm you’re on about – sure, certainly possible. Traces of this can be found in myths such as the biblical and Babylonian great floods, and the destruction of Atlantis.
He’s referring to the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis, a global cataclysm in the shape of a comet roughly 12 800 years ago. Peer-reviewed science incriminates it as responsible for countless animal species going extinct and almost wiping humans off the face of the planet. It rose sea water levels over 60 meters, or 200 feet, which means that anything even remotely in the vicinity of a coastline would have been submerged.
– It clearly destroyed much of what culture might have been developed before it. It allows much speculation of course, and I believe ‘science’ is often too sure about the answers.
Karl is also part of the otherwise Greek ritualistic ambient project SHIBALBA, which also features a member of black metal band ACHERONTAS.
– It’s much in response to my own eclectic ideas of joining different esoteric traditions in a sort of working with forces. SHIBALBA also takes shape in live performances, something I have chosen not to do with NÅSTROND.
Will this be your sole musical focus now that NÅSTROND has come to an end?
– No, there is continuation for me in the shape of what I call THE SILENT MISTERY. It’s a name with a multi-faceted meaning, it captures the essence of where I’m going.
The cyclic law of nature at work once more. Karl states that this will be a solitary working, one where there is no room for superficial imagery.
– I will further ideas I’ve had – things I’ve felt and touched upon with previous work. I will also move away from everything related to metal. The ‘666’ is of the past – it is the tool of children, of a blasphemy that I have no further need of. I bid goodbye to the teenager within and embrace the man of my self.