by Niklas Göransson
Emerging British death metal band Qrixkuor boasts an impressive acumen of classical training in the musical arts. Alas, these scholars of composition disregard academia and fuel their fire with visions of the demonic.
The name is taken from the Qrixkuor-bird in the Ninth Arch of Kenneth Grant’s book, “Against The Light”: “It is without a Name because born of the Aeon without a Word outside the circles of time … and of the Tangled Light, Qrixkuor.”
I tend to get suspicious when wizardrous writers, especially native English-speaking ones, start capitalising certain words at their own behest. To me, it comes off as a subtle attempt at implying themselves in possession of some manner of timeless insight, far above the benighted plebs and therefore not subject to the linguistic rules of the Queen’s English.
– I honestly can’t claim to have considered it that much, says the somewhat bemused guitar player S, nor to take any real issue with authors capitalising their writing as they see fit. A subjective point no doubt, and perhaps your assessment carries some value but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen things that way.
This book, Against the Light, is described by the author as ‘quasi-autobiographical’.
Does that mean this ‘Ninth Arch’ actually exists, and that some manner of celestial fowl resides there?
– I assume that only Mr. Grant himself would’ve been able to answer this, since it is not clear which parts of his novels are based on fact or fiction. I’d rather take it as an interesting and vivid concept from which to draw creatively than spend a lot of time considering questions such as that.
If the band was named after it, I’d have to presume it’s been rather influential. Now I have yet to read this literary work myself, but I have managed to get through most of a rather lengthy review and, I quote:
Spicing this delirious broth, characteristically we come across bewildering yet urgent outbursts in which Grant repeatedly protests that the eleventh degree ritual of the OTO involves no homosexual practices, or jaw-dropping accounts of magic workings that defy all credibility, with live baboons dragged screeching into nothingness by extra-human forces, this delivered casually, almost as after-dinner anecdote.
I’ve always found the absence of buggery at level 11 quite upsetting myself.
– As stated on previous occasions, I am interested in the writings of Grant and also to some extent the workings of the Ordo Templi Orientis and accompanying figures. Parts of this could be said to have been influential to certain aspects of QRIXKUOR, but I’m not going to claim that we are some vehicle for this philosophy.
Now quoting a QRIXKUOR interview with webzine Toward the Inevitable.
Therefore, we do our best to present the music in as demonic a way as we can, given that we are ultimately just men playing instruments. Wearing all black, jackets and hoods, we are faceless, indistinguishable and uniform.
When bands beseech demons, I invariably find myself curious about how the invoker would handle genuine infernal interactions. I also wonder about the allure to this being-of-fire-and-sulphur business.
– I suppose it’s the sense of mystery, myth and magic that surrounds them, in addition to the aesthetic elements and a natural affinity towards darker and more esoteric paths. Their supposed qualities and powers are also extremely attractive.
Have you ever encountered anything of the kind, in either this plane or ethereal ones?
– Yes, both in lucid dream states and also with the aid of certain mind-opening substances. Many of them have been extremely impressionable and powerful experiences.
Fair enough. I also can’t help but wonder what on earth is ‘demonic’ about black clothes, jackets and hoods.
– I understand your assertion but in combination with lighting, smoke, incense and other distortions of the senses, our indistinguishable black figures commanding the stage have demonic connotations to me.
Ultimately, we agree that like the topic of lawless capitalisation, this is subjective matter.
– Perhaps I’m talking more about the altered headspace promoted by the attire, which to me is reminiscent of the experiences I mentioned. As long as the stage wear is effective in its purpose, it could be anything from robes to jackets, corpse paint to hoods, at the discretion of the performer. And by that I mean; not at the discretion of the audience, much as a disturbing amount of them seem to believe the opposite.
Finally, I’m quoting a musician I recently interviewed:
Nameless Void from Negative Plane is a master guitarist, as is Mors Dalos Ra from Necros Christos. S will definitely become one – he’s bloody good now but he’s also only 23. When he’s 30, he’s going to be fully mental on guitar I reckon.
– That’s certainly high praise, and humbling company to be included in. I was probably a more technically proficient guitarist a couple of years ago than I am now, but I’d say that I’ve since refined my creative voice and attempted to work towards a sound that is mine alone – much like the two musicians referenced. That’s the part of the statement I’d seek to aspire to.
S points out that he is not the only guitarist in QRIXKUOR.
– More often than not we’re playing the same thing, on top of which A has to add vocals to the mix as well. How effective my lead parts are is subject to opinion, but I wouldn’t consider anything recorded thus far to be technically extraordinary. The one I’d say who’s dedicated the most hours to mastering his instrument is actually our drummer, M.
Bold claim, since all members have undergone musical educations.
– I have a degree in music with a focus on guitar; bass player R and drummer M were both in the year below me in university, studying drums as their main instrument. This is the reason the three of us moved to London, whereas A already lived there.
S also has a master’s degree in composing music for film and television.
– I’ve always been interested in the coordination of sound and visual art, it’s even a line of work I’m looking to break into at some point. Studying sound design and deployment of texture and timbre to sway the listener’s perception has definitely influenced my work with QRIXKUOR.
Timbre, or tone colour, is the unique quality of the sound generated by each individual instrument or voice.
– Most of my musical work has a cinematic quality to it. If you look within the structures of my music, at the way tension is built up and released, it’s often reminiscent of a film soundtrack. This has been observed on more than one occasion by listeners with absolutely zero knowledge of death metal.
S attributes much of their compositional strength to the strong bonds between the members, forged during a series of formative experiences they shared as they were coming together as a band. This would also tie in with the consciousness-warping compounds of demonic visitation mentioned previously.
– ‘Rituals’ might not be the right term to use, but they were certainly extremely powerful events that took on a ceremonial nature. They helped shape QRIXKUOR on a cooperative and singular level, nurturing and strengthening the resolve.
Present also were a few individuals with varying degrees of involvement in the band.
– They fulfil roles ranging from supervising the graphic side of things to helping maintain the lead guitarist’s sanity. Considering our expression as one uniform ‘sum of the parts,’ then expanding those parts would make for more than the four musicians.
While having a mystical experience on your own can be awe-inspiring in itself, he says, sharing it with people close to you opens another layer to the profundity.
– All plunged headfirst into the same abyss, while simultaneously ensuring that none drifted too far. A flame was… perhaps not lit so much as discovered, and it burns just as bright while relationships and roles within the group evolve.
S states that these gatherings ignited a fire that drives everything from QRIXKUOR’s music and lyrics to each single participant’s perception of all aspects of reality.
– Many of the developments on both a musical and lyrical front in the time between the demo and mini-LP can be attributed to these events, directly or indirectly.
Where was this going on?
– Most of them took place in our bassist’s old flat, where I’d stay sporadically during a period of living outside of London. This is also where I experienced the previously mentioned dream state visions.
The ‘dream states’ S refers to are what’s clinically referred to as sleep paralysis; a phenomenon where one suffers a temporary but complete inability to move. It only occurs during the transitionary state between awake and sleep, either when drifting off or rising from slumber. As if that doesn’t sound unappealing enough, WikiPedia:
It is often accompanied by hallucinations to which one is unable to react due to paralysis, and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body). These hallucinations often involve a person or supernatural creature suffocating or terrifying the individual, accompanied by a feeling of pressure on one’s chest and difficulty breathing.
– I’d had them before in early childhood and then a series of such events while living in that place. The visions I had while that lasted could unquestionably be described as demonic. This happened around ten of the approximately forty nights I stayed in the flat – weird energy there.
After two demos released independently, QRIXKUOR partnered up with Ireland’s Invictus Productions.
– Darragh (O’Laoghaire, label manager) was one of the first outsiders to hear the demo, as we were looking to start playing shows. He was sufficiently impressed to make it clear that he’d be interested in releasing something by us in the future, should we have wanted to.
Did you entertain other offers?
– I won’t claim we were fighting them off, but there were some flattering ones. All interested parties were told that we would consider our options only once we had enough material fit for release, compositions we were confident would be a big enough step up from the demo.
When their paths crossed again at a gig in Germany in the end of 2014, O’Laoghaire asked if there was any update to the situation.
– By this point we’d accumulated material good enough to warrant discussions about releasing something. Darragh proceeded to spend quite an impressive amount of time basically selling Invictus to me – his ethos, practices and aspirations for our music.
QRIXKUOR’s mini-LP, “Three Devil’s Dance”, was released by Invictus Productions in April 2016.
– We are extremely happy with our relationship at this point and I can’t see any reason to change the formula any time soon.
Three songs – 38 minutes in total, and woven in-between the abysmally reverberating death metal are interludes serving as intros and outros. S tells me they were created using instruments such as Tibetan bowls, gongs, drums, human and animal bones, voices and natural sounds.
– The instrumentation isn’t particularly significant in terms of concept, it’s more the bizarre and unusual way they were used together and the effect it ultimately created. There is the odd keyboard drone but otherwise everything was originally played and recorded live.
S mentions having a great interest in electronic music and sound manipulation, though he’s never studied it academically.
– Most of my results stem from trial and error. This idea of working on a sound and then moulding it into an entirely different shape is very compelling to me.
This fascination was awakened in his student days, during which he was subjected to the ‘genius of Stockhausen’. Karlheinz Stockhausen was an academically controversial German composer who is widely acknowledged for his importance to electronic music. He died in 2007 at the age of 79.
– I’ve always loved the dissonant, ethereal sound of bowls ringing together. In a similar application as when used in meditation, their purpose is to guide the listener into the desired mind-set and then further into our world. They also serve in encouraging a sense of calm before the storm.
The intros adapt melodies from the actual songs, which S says is to help tie the tracks together; to create a sense of uninterrupted continuance.
– It was also very rewarding to hear them portrayed that way. The introduction to “The Divine Architect” might be my favourite passage of music that we’ve recorded at this point. It begs the question of what a full release of that nature would be like? Perhaps too much.
How important is academic theory for a musician?
– There are benefits to learning music theory, just as there are disadvantages. For a band or musician trying to go their own way – especially in heavy metal, probably more of the latter.
S believes that the quality of music is far closer linked to the musician’s character rather than extent of academic knowledge.
– Having experienced it; I’m of the belief that an education leaves a person in no better stead to compose something unique than one who spends the same amount of time developing their ear and mind, by figuring out music through records and exploring the universe.
Another deterrence he mentions is the education system’s tendencies to play it safe.
– Teaching you how to play cover tunes authentically enough to pull a hundred people into a bar and make your cash at the end of the night. You’re rewarded for sounding like everyone else, some students might be content with that, but it’s not my way. I think that the more I was taught, the more I believed that none of it was as important as the instinctive creative spark.
Music theory, he says, can be engaged with in different ways. S is still struggling to train himself out of ‘half the shit’ he learned at university – guitar theory such as scale patterns and arpeggios; claiming them to be more hindrance than asset.
– If you approach this by first making a sound that you identify by name, then figure out what can be added or otherwise used to manipulate it into sounding differently; that can be useful for composition. In a sense, you will have a better idea of how to translate imagination into music.
S says that most classical music theory is about following various rules, an approach that might not be entirely compatible with death metal. In order to create something interesting, one has to be rid of constraints.
– As for knowing theory; the question is really if it makes much difference whether you’re aware of the rules you’re breaking, if they were going to be broken either way?
In an earlier conversation I had with a mastering engineer, he spoke about how his brain processes all audible impressions in frequencies, since that’s what he’s trained to listen for. I wonder if a music scholar experiences something similar.
– Through forced study I have developed quite a good ear for many different tones. I mean, not just power chords on a distorted guitar – I often pick out rhythms and melodic intervals throughout daily life from anything from machinery to singing birds.
What do they sound like?
– Every now and again I’ll definitely get asked what the fuck I’m talking about after pointing out that an interval coming from a non-musical source is the same as the opening interval from some old riff…
After a few listens to “Three Devils Dance”, what at first might sound like reverb-drenched chaos starts unfolding in a rather notable scope of audio detail.
– Hypnotic and violent are apt adjectives. The many layers within the music are meant to induce a trance-like quality, to completely immerse the curious listener in the sound while they are trying to figure out what’s going on.
The aim is to entrance the recipients and completely draw them into the vortex of sound.
– Then crush and batter their mind over and over again, with respite only used to intensify the pummelling when it returns. If the listener allows themselves to be carried away into that world, it makes for an incredibly intense experience.
This sounds exactly like what Phil Kusabs of VASSAFOR said when we spoke a few weeks ago. Only fitting then, that he mixed and mastered the MLP via his company VK Sound.
– Shortly after the release of our first demo, Phil got in touch to buy a tape and a shirt, and generally seemed very enthusiastic about the material. Very humbling given his résumé – and this was echoed when I met him in person.
It turned out they were both fans of certain releases that Kusabs had mixed and mastered, so he become the obvious choice to bring in audible structure to sonic chaos.
– I emailed him a massive blurb outlining my vision for the release and for the mix, to which he replied that he’d be keen to do it. This was some months before the recording took place and we agreed to stay in contact.
S sent Kusabs a few rehearsal demos to give him an idea of where the material was going. When the final product was delivered, the accompanying instructions were of both conceptual and technical nature.
– I recall describing one of the tail-offs to a guitar lead along the lines of ‘screaming off into the abyss,’ which Phil understood and appreciated. Though perhaps not quite so much when I made him do it to most of the leads on the record.
S has previously stated that the aim is for QRIXKUOR to sound utterly inhuman. Reading this reminded me of the roving Tantric ensemble PHURPA, whose very purpose is to chant without mortal emotion.
– I saw them live in a tiny church crypt in Bristol with probably eighty or so other people. A once in a lifetime experience, quite remarkable.
Curious to know if it would be possible to interpret PHURPA with an electric guitar in replacement for the throat chanting, I asked S to try it out before the interview took place. I’d imagined it to sound something like SUNN O))).
– It was a pretty interesting experience, he says. With low-tuned strings and using bends and vibrato in such a way that imitates the melodic contour of the voice, you can probably get even closer than drone metal.
Needless to say – a cover version would never do the source any justice, so no one is proposing that this actually be done.
– The beauty in such a piece comes from the timbre created by the voices, something that I’ve rarely heard satisfyingly replicated on a guitar.
He mentions SINISTROUS DIABOLUS’ cover of “The Host of Seraphim” by DEAD CAN DANCE as one of few examples of successful attempts.
– That’s obviously a totally different type of voice. Just literally thinking on the fly here on the idea of replicating throat singing on a guitar, you could simultaneously catch some overtones with natural harmonics too. It takes some getting used to, but it could be quite an interesting effect. This needs further exploration.
What is the current status of QRIXKUOR?
– There is certainly more material in the works, and whether it will manifest in the form of a full-length album or not has yet to be decided. We won’t follow the classic demo-EP-album pattern if the next material doesn’t feel right for an LP.
S says that it feels as if they are finally gaining some momentum.
– In contrast to when we released the demo, and all of us immediately moved to four different cities and didn’t rehearse for 6 months. I wasn’t even convinced that the material we had at the time was going to outshine the previous. Gatherings are still unfortunately infrequent but there’s a completely different energy in the air now, at least to me.
He claims QRIXKUOR is many times more powerful at this point, despite the persistent geographical issue, and that this will soon show.
– If we feel we cannot do a significant amount better than the MLP then there will be no release. However, the early indications are that we still have a long way to go before we reach our peak, so it’s unlikely that you’ve heard the last from us yet. Attendees of our shows with SADISTIC INTENT over New Year will get the first glimpse of this.