by Niklas Göransson
Truly understanding the French black metal fury that is Antaeus means learning what’s fuelled it. Through parted flesh, mental scars and waning health – from misfortune and adversity that would have broken lesser men, comes “Condemnation”.
Vocalist MkM and guitar player Set have historically been the foundation of ANTAEUS. Today, they are the only members.
– After a few years you realise that working as a full band is just fucking annoying, says MkM, we’d rather not have to get approval from anyone else to do what we want. It’s a simple arrangement; Set makes the music, we then talk about it and I do the rest.
ANTAEUS have previously stated that there will be no new releases until it rivals the intensity of “Blood Libels” from 2006.
– “Condemnation” has eight tracks and the music is even more brutal than the last album. Set’s riffs sound like anger captured in distortion, so they are the perfect channel for my voice.
A session drummer was recruited for the album; Menthor, from NIGHTBRINGER and LUCIFYRE.
– He did a great job, especially considering that he was given no freedom to play the way he initially proposed. Set was very detailed in his instructions for the drum patterns.
Presenting an album seemingly out of nowhere is quite impressive and calculating statistically, one would have assumed there was another split coming – seeing how they have released no less than seven of them thus far.
– Is it that many? There are some sentimental bonds to this format, it’s been my favourite since before I was a musician myself. I liked the discovery aspect – knowing that two bands wanted to be on the same piece of wax, presenting something together.
Which one is your favourite?
– Releasing that split EP with KATHARSIS in 2009 was a great honour for me. On the other hand I hate our track on it, really despise it.
The song is aptly named “Misery to the Defeated” and is ANTAEUS’ latest studio release.
– It catches our mood after the 2006 tour with SECRETS OF THE MOON perfectly – and that’s an ordeal I‘d prefer to have purged from my memory rather than portrayed through our music.
I recall running into MkM on the London date of this tour, and he was not exactly ecstatic over the way things had gone up until that point.
– We got the offer from Steve Kuhr – a good friend and amazing tour-captain, then Phil from SECRETS OF THE MOON encouraged us to accept. Since we all knew each other from before, it made sense at the time.
Shortly before hitting the road however, they found themselves without a drummer.
– Zvn couldn’t see the point of playing with people that had so much tension between them. In his other bands, they would apparently stick together and not destroy themselves from the inside with alcohol, drugs, violence and uncontrolled anger. It took me a long time to accept that, but I suppose it makes sense.
Hell-bent on going forward with the tour, they recruited a late replacement.
– What sounded okay in rehearsal came out fucked up in a live situation. We performed like shit and to be honest, I think we probably killed all the work we put into “Blood Libels”. It made me feel like a complete fraud.
There is at least one noteworthy memory, from the Italian date of the tour.
– Not for the worst catering ever, the one place in the entire world where they shouldn’t be allowed to ruin a simple pasta dish – but due to the intense crowd that night.
By the end of the tour, the band members had completely ceased speaking to each other.
– We also left our second guitar player in Germany.
As in, threw him off the bus?
– No need, he was on so much drugs that he stayed behind at a party in Berlin. This is a guy that spent five years on a degree in chemistry only to fry his brain with home-made pharmaceuticals. A few months after we returned he contacted Set to ask for his amp back, that’s the last we heard of him
The collaboration between Set and MkM is a companionship that’s seen a fair bit of strain over the years.
– He is a storm of rage, operating through impulse and compulsion. Set has a temper and you do not want to piss him off – add to this my myriad of issues and the fact that people bore me real easy; I’m not the most laidback guy and will get angry over nothing. The same goes for him, but to a far higher degree.
I’d have thought that he might have calmed down with age, but no.
– An ever-glowing seething anger, that’s the charm of the man and the reason why he still composes these furious riffs and structures.
Didn’t he clobber a certain German black metal personality at a gig in Belgium?
– Sadly, it only went as far as ‘almost’. For some reason and despite tons of bullshit surrounding this band, we ended up performing as openers for them in 2002. They only had two albums out at the time, and of course those demos with coins from 1988.
The frontman in question is known for having utilised highly inventive yet comically unconvincing tactics in order to corroborate his backstory of being a relic from a forgotten black metal underground of ages past.
– We had to wait until the end of the night to collect our gear and when we finally got stage access, this guy was still performing his show – setting things on fire and carrying on. He was waving around one of these self-defence teargas guns, I assume it was part of creating some fear or stress.
In the dramatic climax while leaving the stage, the gentleman in question made the unfortunate decision of discharging the teargas gun towards the back exit. Alas, the gas grenade ended up next to ANTAEUS’ car parked outside – where Set was loading his amp.
– That didn’t take long. He went berserk – red-eyed and coughing, and started screaming in French. He then took a bicycle chain and went straight for this genius, who grabbed his wife and held her in front of him while repeatedly shouting ‘sorry’.
Fortunately, Set’s proclivity for blunt force trauma does not extend to the fairer sex.
– It was broken up by people who came to see what the screaming was about. What I remember most clearly are this guy’s 17 year-old fans, patiently holding their vinyl while waiting for their idol to step out from behind his wife.
Set was originally recruited as session bass player for ANTAEUS’s very first gig back in 1998.
– He was moved to guitar after I kicked out the band-leader.
– I thought ANTAEUS could do better than a guy who didn’t seem to give a shit. He got involved in some serious issues – then bragged about it and so was caught. To protect himself he asked us to lie in court, which in turn got two of my friends sent to jail on perjury charges.
He declines to comment further on the aftermath since it’s ‘kind of private’.
MkM and his confidants used to be pretty marginalised in the Parisian metal scene, with a lot of conflicts being contested on the internet and at local venues.
– Gigs in Paris during the nineties had an overwhelming mood of tension and violence; this was black metal to me. From beer bottles being thrown at us on stage and so on to various threats.
Have these grudges been settled by now?
– No clue, there’s neither need nor will to speak to people with whom one had issues in the past. We had different points of view then, I’d presume we still do now. To be honest, most of them have disappeared and are probably enjoying weekends in the garden with their children and golden retrievers. Perhaps having a picture LP hanging on the wall as a display of nostalgia.
Somehow, ANTAEUS managed to cultivate at least a few cordial relations.
– There are some that are still in the scene that we’ve had no problems with, I tend to pay more attention to them. Though some are way too fucking active, who the hell has time for six bands?
MkM points to the fact that being in just one can be exhausting enough.
– If you manage to make it last without losing your energy or even the initial goal; congratulations. Seriously – congratulations, well done. Some even grow stronger and improve their conditions with time. Getting some constructive rewards out of it, I bet that helps in coping with all the bullshit.
I can’t help but wonder if this is what he expected when embarking on a career as a musician.
– Not likely, no. I used to think that being in a band meant gathering people with a desire to work together. Everyone would get involved – be it on composition, sharing expenses, fixing up the rehearsal room, driving or whatever else.
I’m getting the distinct impression that this is not always the case.
– Barely ever. There are always some leaders and those either interested in only being part of it for a while, or these music-mercenaries that play in as many bands as possible to be on the road all the time.
ANTAEUS is the very definition of a metal band that’s best experienced live, which makes it ironic how much the universe seems to conspire against them performing.
– If something can go wrong, rest assured that it will – I can’t think of a single gig that went ahead without major disasters. Every single one had some fuckups that would ruin the whole thing for us, be it music-wise or just the atmosphere. We’ve had tours cancelled in the last minute, drummers quitting before gigs, health issues, damaged cars – and strikes of course, the joy of France.
The last but not first time I was supposed to see ANTAEUS would have been Hell’s Pleasure in 2013.
– That time it was actually due to a German airline company. What have we come to if not even the Germans can be relied on?
Heading to a different festival they got the ‘airport surprise’; an extra fee of 700 Euros.
– Just for the instruments. Considering that we had only session-members, Set and I would have had to pay for everyone. No thanks – we cancelled. After that, we stopped selling merch.
Wait, what – stopped selling merch?
– We stopped. Why bother? It costs a lot and we’re not one of those fancy acts selling 50 shirts.
Having such a résumé in mishaps, I shudder to imagine what the worst of the lot might be.
– Maybe Eugene, Oregon, with DEMONCY and THE HIDING. Instead of having the whole gig cancelled, we ended up playing in a coffeehouse.
What, like Starbucks?
– More like the café you’d have at the end of your street. My voice was dead due to rain, humidity and touring, so the gig was quite painful to do. Crazy turnout in the end though, which was surprising.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the strangest venue that’s hosted ANTAEUS.
– We once performed at the back of a kebab shop in Portugal. Which reminds me; a few years later in the same country when we opened for TESTAMENT… yeah – go figure, our second guitar player for some reason decided to head-butt me in the face half-way through the set.
Ah, this tale sounds familiar. This is the same guitarist that was later abandoned in Berlin.
– Yeah, I still get asked about this. Since I didn’t really understand what the fuck was happening, the remaining set was quite weird. LSK saw what happened and didn’t move for the rest of the gig so she would see him coming in case he’d try something on her.
Marianne ‘LSK’ Séjourné (ex-HELL MILITA, SECRETS OF THE MOON) was the ANTAEUS bass player from 2003 to 2008. Five years later, in 2013, Séjourné ended her own life.
– Set was really affected when that happened – I’d known her for some years prior to the ANTAEUS experience so can’t say I was all that surprised. Several people from my past, all roughly the same age, decided to end it around those years.
What are your strongest memories of her?
– Apart from all the alcohol and drug abuse, I always found it fascinating what little attachment she had to material things. She kept forgetting everything, everywhere. On the tour with SECRETS OF THE MOON, not a day went by without her misplacing passport, bag, wallet or cables.
It became their nightly task to conduct a thorough search of the venue for anything she might have left behind.
– In 2003 when we were performing in New York – she arrived at the airport without her instrument, like a tourist. Luckily the guy who dropped her off had his own bass in his car, so we didn’t have to borrow anything over there.
AOSOTH is another band in which MkM performs vocals, one that’s been significantly more active the past few years.
– Same thing there really, every time we try to do something it is constant chaos. Like the gig in Russia; their embassy in Paris is almost a cliché, speaking neither English nor French – diplomacy at its best. The country itself is everything you’d expect and more. Greg, the promoter, has his insane side and we could see it in action.
I can attest to the latter claim.
– I predicted people passing out, bad drugs, weird security and global racism – we got it all. Bouncers in suits while we performed on stage, but afterwards anyone carrying a knife could enter the backstage without any issue.
Fortunately, the blades were primarily turned on the ones who brought them.
– I recall many bloodstains on the walls, plus a great artist – one who made designs for THE DEVIL’S BLOOD if I’m not mistaken, ended up slashing himself wide open. Good souvenirs, worst vodka ever though – and liquor that made us spit blood the day after.
This parting of the flesh is a well-documented former past-time of MkM‘s.
– I try to get it inked more lately, which is still damaging the skin for the same purpose.
And to what purpose is this?
– The healing process is the reward, as well as damage inflicted and felt. I never did it out of anger or anything, it was mostly when feeling calm and at ease. Besides, there’s something magical about blood – it’s almost a fetish of mine. Really, the only thing that’s permanently altered by this would be the softness of the skin.
That, and the massive scarring that covers his limbs.
– They wouldn’t be especially good for Braille reading, no. Sickness made everything more complicated and not getting younger is for sure not helping either.
MkM suffers from diabetes and has not always been on top of his condition, even neglecting to take his medicine at times.
– Yeah and that made it worse obviously. Damage to the peripheral nerves have been my main concern the past three years, as well as eye-aneurysms and atrophy in my right eye. One of the results of not taking care of myself with this disease.
I trust you’ve come to your senses by now?
– Even if I try to handle those four injections per day, I’ve never gotten stabilised in the past 20 years. Now I even have to undergo check-ups to get my driving license renewed every two years. Feeling old yet?
Bitter old men with receding hairlines stand united.
– Nights are always a problem for me. I’m not able to sleep at all without pills, but if I take a Stilnox I can at least get four hours or so.
Meditation is a subject I’ve discussed with artists on a number of occasions recently, a proven remedy for insomnia.
– I’ve tried that. Nowadays I can at least disconnect whereas in the past, stilling my mind would just make my anger boil and I’d feel trapped.
I doubt the lifestyle he’s known for has helped.
– I’ve cut down on discount alcohol these days. No more drinking a bottle of vodka per day either, same for wine and drugs. I’d rather enjoy a dark stout than get wasted with cheap shit from the supermarket.
Has your love-life been as tumultuous as everything else?
– Depends entirely what feelings are ascribed to lust or to love. The way some people explain love to me … I’ve never felt anything like it, nor would I ever want to.
A passionate individual, he says, living a different way of life and under far less boundaries than most; there will most assuredly be issues. These things are not subject to rational thought, which can be a bit tricky to navigate for someone who is highly subject to impulse.
– I have of course had every imaginable scenario of drama happen to me. Some hated me for things that transpired but I suppose hurting each other is what one resonates with. But this was never done on purpose. Maybe not enough reflection, and these things also involved a younger me.
Health concerns aside, MkM’s life as a touring musician has done no wonders for his corporate career.
– I’ve only ever managed to work for companies with mandatory holidays, unlike some friends who’ve had the luxury of choosing whatever days they wanted. Never even been able to take unpaid vacation days.
Each time he’d try to negotiate for at least two weeks off to go on tour, his requests would be denied.
– I had to resign, ahead of time too for the month of notice. They were usually quite surprised and tried convincing me to postpone the days off, which obviously wasn’t possible.
To add insult to injury, on one of these occasions the tour didn’t even end up happening.
– We were signed to Osmose Productions back then, in order to promote “De Principii Evangelikum” (2002) they got us the slot as supporting act to DEICIDE’s European tour. Everything was settled with the touring agent, Metalysée. Some weeks before the tour however, we got dropped after both…
He pauses and takes a breath.
– MYSTIC CIRCLE and CENTINEX were given the slots. I was quite bitter about it and after one drunken night of talking online with Patrick from American label Red Stream, I decided to go to the States and work for them.
After a few months in Pennsylvania, he went to New Jersey to stay with Neill Jameson from KRIEG. In retrospect, perhaps not the healthiest environment at the time.
– Lots of fucked up memories from those months.
The last time he was forced to terminate an employment was earlier this year, for an AOSOTH tour with MGLA and DEUS MORTEM.
– I regret doing that now. The tour itself went great, sold out almost every night and the Polish guys were perfect to get along with on the bus.
Alas, too many issues with his own performance each night sapped his motivation and killed his interest.
– One good gig – Ettlingen in Germany, then two okay ones in Paris and Colmar. The rest were perhaps the worst I’ve ever had to experience in regards to my own performance. This is strictly my view though, the others were quite satisfied.
It’s honestly difficult to see why he subjects himself to all of this, for something he never seems to enjoy.
– A fine paradox. I’ve never liked touring yet I keep trying to. Perhaps I want to experience this ‘life on the road’ that others describe with such enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t want to be away from the daily routine; no laundry, no dishes – nothing to tidy up?
A slightly overly-romanticised picture, I take it.
– You end up in a different world alright, one where all the day’s hours are linked to the bus or its driver. I cannot think of a single tour that was even remotely worth it.
July 2015; a few days after cancelling their Metal Magic appearance due to overbooked flights, ANTAEUS announced the complete cessation of live activity.
– It ended that day, as we were doing our best to find another flight. I knew something was wrong or off as soon as we arrived to the airport. It was only 8 in the morning and Set was beyond pissed off, plus hung over on whiskey. Add to that being trapped in an overcrowded place with the stress and physical pain he was in due to an illness. He lost it and told us that it was all over for him.
This was the climax of a reluctance that had been gradually building up to eruption.
– He kept it to himself during the US tour, but we knew of course. We just didn’t approach him about it; we thought that maybe things would get better over time. Needless to say, we were wrong. That was the last time all of us in that line-up were together.
This decision meant that their remaining live dates were cancelled.
– I’m still bitter that we didn’t get to do Nidrosian Black Mass in Brussels. That would’ve been the only gig in Belgium I would have wanted to perform.
It was actually in Belgium where I first met MkM in person. In Waregem on October 31 in the year 2000, there was a bizarre indoor festival featuring among others ROTTING CHRIST, ANTAEUS, ARKHON INFAUSTUS as well as Swedish TRIUMPHATOR’s first and only gig. Another band performing, one that had just put out their debut album, was WATAIN; their set was later released on the “The Ritual Macabre” live tape.
– It was promoted by that guy from Tragic Empire touring agency, in cooperation with Drakkar. Terribly organised, always having a victim to blame instead of admitting their own mistakes. They arrived late, venue wasn’t paid for, sound guy wasn’t paid. And, of course – neither were the bands.
I know one band that was paid.
– Ah, yes. I remember Arioch (TRIUMPHATOR, FUNERAL MIST) and Tena (TRIUMPHATOR) having a delicate talk with that Tragic Empire guy about the money they were owed.
The first thing I laid eyes on when I got there was a drum-kit being loaded into a car and then driven away.
– A local band had been added to the bill, just to provide a backline for everyone else to use – though no one had bothered telling them this. When that realisation hit them they just packed up and left.
In all fairness, not all mischief that night was caused by the promoters – a number of unsavoury bands made various contributions. I left the venue for a few hours and when I got back in the afternoon, the first thing I saw was a huge mayonnaise jar come flying from the backstage window on the top floor and crash into the asphalt below.
– I recall the mess in the backstage, that Swedish guy and the broken glass table. From our set I have some memory flashes of that ‘Mad Max’ Varnier guy, smoking cigarettes at the front and using both of our arms as ashtrays – as well as smashing his head against my shoes.
There was also a special guest appearance on one song – Nord from MALIGN and OFERMOD. A few hours prior, he introduced MkM to Swedish friends with the words ‘This guy is brilliant, he’s just like us!’
– The reverse voice of Dead (ex-MAYHEM, MORBID), he got pissed off on stage and threw the mic-stand into the audience. Some very polite guy at the front brought it back to him, as thanks for getting it in his face. Very awkward.
I still recall a remark someone made as ANTAEUS were on stage that night; ‘This is the only black metal band in the world that gets away with saying ‘Go’ in a song.’
– All vocals on “Cut your Flesh and Worship Satan” (the 2000 debut) were recorded in one or two takes, max. It was spontaneous and could have been any word – ‘fire’, ‘fuck’, ‘death’ … but ended up being ‘go’. Not a second thought was ever given.
The song in question, “Inner War”, was covered by AOSOTH on the 2009 “Ashes of Angels”.
– I can no longer stand my vocals on the first two ANTAEUS albums. “Devotee” and “Inner War” are tracks I should be proud of but hearing the original versions makes me grind my teeth. With ANTAEUS on hold at the time, AOSOTH was performing this track live and it made sense to redo it in the studio. In the end though, the live version is still superior.
MkM does not foresee that live activity will be resumed once “Condemnation” is out; which is November 18 and by Norma Evangelium Diaboli.
– Considering Set’s health, coupled with the fact that he made it perfectly clear that he never wants to be on stage again – I somehow doubt it. It wouldn’t make sense playing without him either, nor do I think he’d ever approve of anyone else performing his songs.
What is your current relationship to black metal?
– I’ve kept my vision as pure as it was in the early days; the trick is to avoid dealing with idiots and parasites. All scenes have their leeches – any fucking scene, any field or any job. Anything can be ruined, all should be ruined.
With such a sordid past, predicting the future can’t be easy – but I’m deathly curious how the perpetual pessimist envisions it.
– Yeah, he says, I’ll be wise for once and shut up instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Too many factors that could take place, time will tell.