by Niklas Göransson
The grand plans of a simple man – primordial inspiration led by example; Swedish solo project Panphage have roots that grow deep into the dirt of traditional Scandinavian black metal, and a concept based on the eternal law of club and fang.
– My ambitions with “Drengskapr” were to inspire the listener, says the band’s sole member who declines to use his real name but can’t be bothered to invent a pseudonym, which is why I focused on the atmospheric aspects – on instilling a certain ambience. This resulted in a slightly thinner and more airy production than usual, I also had to downplay some of the aggressive elements.
While 2015 debut “Storm” was an attempt to sum up everything PANPHAGE in one record, “Drengskapr” had a narrower focus. He wanted something impersonal and accessible that anyone could tap into, which is why he chose to make it a conceptual album based on the tale of Grettir Ásmundarson – an Icelandic outlaw from around the 10th century.
– It was also a way to break new ground, and broaden my spectrum of sentiments. This is an album I had wanted to make for a long time – but whenever I started, some manner of distraction would appear early in the creative process and it would turn into something else.
These aborted attempts can be found strewn across the remaining eight demo tapes and two split albums released since the project’s inception in 2005.
– This time around, my heart was one hundred percent in it. The music was written in less than six months and I’m very pleased with the final result; the album truly serves its purpose and is everything I wanted it to be.
While researching this interview, I noticed that the most recent PANPHAGE promo photos were the source of much online commotion. It seems the faceless musician stands accused of wearing apparel deemed inappropriate for a black metal artist.
– Seeing as I haven’t worn the black metal uniform for more than ten years, I can’t for the life of me see why I should dress up for a photo shoot. Isn’t that the very definition of a poser? I really don’t put all that much effort into the photos. I’ll head out into the forest dressed in whatever I’m wearing on a daily basis, put the balaclava on, place the camera somewhere, take the photos and go home. It’s a ten-minute project.
To him, black metal is about the agony of worlds colliding; the urbane against the wilderness, the sacred versus the profane – and subcultural dogmas are not to be spared.
– PANPHAGE is built upon the grand ideas of a rather simple man. That’s the contrast I’d like to portray, so dressing up like a forest troll would serve no purpose. I actually think these clothes add something to the imagery. Perhaps it’s slightly unorthodox, but that’s a liberty I can allow myself thanks to my deep musical roots in black metal.
Had he instead been performing – and I quote, ’avantgarde shit’, it would have been a different story.
– I make Scandinavian black metal, and I’m confident enough in my tribute to that tradition that a personal approach to the band photos is warranted.
While some chose to lament his fashion sense, others were aghast at the choice of headwear.
I take it you were unaware that the ski-mask – or should I say sturmhaube, is only worn by neo-nazis?
– Indeed I was, likewise so with the AK-47’s on my debut album. They emanate a ’faint whiff of suspect sympathies’, as one reviewer put it. I honestly can’t say this bothers me to any great extent these days. Not since earlier this year when I read an article about black metal in a Swedish left-wing magazine, with the socially aware urban middle class as target audience.
After conducting the interview I read said article for myself, and was subsequently forced to concede that there was much I didn’t know about the genre. If it’s any indication to the reader, it presents VELVET CACOON as one of the forerunners in this exciting new wave of thematically acceptable black metal.
– It explains that this style is no longer for reactionary assholes, but more of a gluten free, eco-friendly vegan thing. Now, I’m not a nazi by any stretch of the imagination – but looking at what’s going on with the genre I can’t quite envision myself in foetal position, weeping through the night, at the notion of someone mistaking me for one. Maybe it will keep the hippies away.
Are you a ’misanthrope’ then?
– No. Metal misanthropy is only a charade, their hatred for mankind is riddled with exceptions. To be honest, I don’t really see the point of it. I understand the wish for the man of this age to die, but that’s not what the word means.
It’s a hatred for that which is essential to mankind, he says, contempt for everything from Palaeolithic caveman to the modern cosmopolite.
– Scorn for characteristics that have been with us since the dawn of human time. Even if I’m not a big fan of the mankind from this day and age, I would be hesitant to use that term.
He does however think that many who suffer from misanthropic misidentification do so out of awe for all that which is not human, rather than genuine hatred for the fellow man.
– I have a lot of respect for this admiration. The non-human is a huge source of inspiration and wisdom, and that which lies beyond mortal experience has always been appealing. Looking back in history, there are numerous cultures with ritualistic elements of dressing up as animals or gods.
He believes that the people of our past were more open to abstract elements, and that adapting to our modern environment has left us anthropocentrically inclined. Animals, forces of nature, and even gods have lost their reverence to us.
– Many of us feel claustrophobic – as if trapped in a small man-made box, unable to see the world outside. We should be engaging in spiritual activities, spending time in nature, watching the stars and so forth; various techniques to broaden our horizons beyond the simple eyes of man.
To what purpose?
– To face things that don’t share our mortal fragility, whose existence are based on traits and values completely foreign to our own. It can be as frightening as it is rewarding, as well as a source of inspiration – and if we’re lucky it might even make us better men.
Had our ancestors been running around being misanthropes, he adds, there would be neither a civilisation nor metal scene.
– I find that when evolution is discussed, there’s often a focus on the survival of the fittest. We forget that the key to our success as a species lies in our ability to cooperate in the various complex ways required of us.
It’s interesting trying to imagine life after the collapse, whatever shape it takes. I imagine it would be fair to say that the domesticated westerner would be at a slight disadvantage without a metropolitan infrastructure.
– Modern man would have severe difficulties just adapting to something as simple as a tribal community. Our ways of thinking and feeling, our understanding of how the world works -everything is an adaptation to our current mode of existence.
What about you, solo artist and all?
– I’m definitely no exception, being more of a self-reliant lone-wolf. I find very little comfort in packs. A new world, however, would require a new man and I’m certain one would arise quickly.
Humans possess an innate potential, he says, to mould themselves after changes in their natural surroundings. This is something he tries to encourage with PANPHAGE, to stir the primordial urges within.
– The music is meant to draw out certain traits from both listener and composer. The sentiments I try to convey have no place in the modern world, it’s something of the past – or perhaps the future.
Since he mentioned contrasts of nature to the urban, I’m curious if he’s the city-slicker type, or more of a countryside yokel.
– I don’t really subscribe to the theory of a nature-culture divide; that’s a human construct we employ to make sense of the world, and has little basis in reality. We generally don’t consider the bird’s nest as something cultural, and the birds themselves are unlikely to. The same should go for our cities.
It’s human arrogance, he proclaims, to say that the communities we build are of another cultural dimension than that of the ant or bee.
– I don’t see the urban setting as something unnatural. Admittedly, that doesn’t make it a sustainable or inspiring environment – I tend to gravitate towards spending as much time as I can in the forest or nearby rocky coastal landscapes, they are like monasteries of solace to me.
The lack of both humanoids and reminders thereof enables contemplation with a higher degree of clarity.
– It instils a sense of wilderness, which to me is not necessarily a place as much as a concept encompassing everything beyond human control. The same arrogance that elevates us above nature – which convinced us that we, unlike animals, are cultural beings; it shields us from everything that defies rational explanation.
We simply don’t want to think about it, he says, since we loathe the notion of there being something greater than ourselves.
– Modern atheism, in contrast to older conceptions of a world ruled by gods, is in many ways an expression of this. In woodland sanctuaries, I find myself able to contemplate with clarity all matters which we can’t influence or comprehend. It allows me to see my life from a broader perspective where I, the human, am neither a god nor the cosmic centre-point.
Human impact on and interaction with the eco-system is a frequently occurring topic of conversation on Bardo Methodology, and I’m curious about my interviewee’s stance on it.
– I hear a lot of talk about us not living ‘in harmony’ with nature – there is no such thing. Man stands in innate opposition to both surroundings and the remaining species inhabiting our territory. The same applies to every other living thing.
As in, the wolf is far more concerned with feeding than he is maintaining an organic equilibrium.
– Man is a powerful animal though, and there’s no doubt that we have a destructive impact on our environment. It’s in our essence, our basic characteristics have paved the way for this behaviour. The problem is that we are chopping off the branch on which we sit. In order for our species to survive, we’ll have to try to uphold a more sustainable way of living.
The human intellect is our biological niche, he says, as it enables us to reason about the way we live.
– It will be a true test of this capability to see if we can change our ways to the extent that we stay alive, or if this trait will ultimately prove to be our genetic weakness. If we’re unable to change and adapt, then evolution will kick our ass. If proven unequipped to deal with this, then we have no right to remain in the eco-system.
Much of what he says about the nature of man, beast, and wilderness sounds reminiscent of ‘the law of the club and fang’, as classic author Jack London put it in his seminal work, The Call of the Wild.
– It’s funny you should bring this up, I read that book a number of years ago and really enjoyed it. I remember feeling greatly inspired by it and sensing that his writing expressed similar sentiments to what I was trying to convey with my music.
’There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise’, wrote Jack London, describing the rapture of living to the fullest while paradoxically being unaware that one is alive. This amnesic haze is what ’comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter’.
– That’s eerily familiar to what I feel when composing, and precisely what I seek to pass on to the listener. This state is closely connected with memory and knowledge – where one and the same idea or thought fills every fibre of the body. I relate this to Odin; the god of wisdom, and personification of the divine intellect, whose very name means both rage and ecstasy.
The sensation as depicted by both PANPHAGE and Jack London sounds precisely like ’flow states’, as they’re known today, or being ‘in the zone’. It’s a phenomenon where the purveyor is so immersed in the creative, combative or athletic process that the mind is stilled – total absorption, and surrender to the craft.
– Music can in parts be seen as means of escapism, yet ironically I feel as if some aspects of its creation are like experiencing higher forms of reality. Moment of clarity indeed, like waking from dreams of everyday life and suddenly seeing the world behind our shut eyelids.
The grand mystery is from whence the surge of cerebrally inactive output derives.
– I often wonder about that actually, I don’t really understand it. Oftentimes, I’ll come up with ideas I can’t trace back to anything in relation to my own life. The aggressive and antagonistic riffs are probably reflections of my own sentiments, but sometimes I’ll write a melody that I really have no idea where the hell it came from. It feels like I’m possessed, as if there’s something inside of me.
The inspiration you can trace then, where does it come from?
– It varies – I might have read something inspirational, or it could be a rousing idea that has occupied me for a while. Sometimes it’s an ambience; sensations such as the smell outside on the first morning of autumn can give me an urge to pick up the guitar, and from there all kinds of strange things happen. That embryo of a feeling can develop into an epic scene in ways I have no control over.
In stark disparity to divinations with The Muse, PANPHAGE has long drawn prominent influence from the esteemed art of speed metal.
– I’m not really a devout fan of the genre, but these elements serve some purpose in the context I use them. As mentioned before, I work with a lot of contrasts – at some point I discovered that these elements inject aggression and energy into my sound.
When using a lot of melodic riffs, he says there’s always a risk that the music becomes too ’fluffy and dreamy’. While emotions are an important aspect, this is still unapologetically metal.
– The speed metal stuff adds an edge to it, like a fist reaching out from the mist of atmosphere and punching the listener in the face. It commands focus, a reminder that this is serious business.
He recalls a phase when he studied old thrash and speed metal in an almost academic way. Not really for enthusiasm over the music, rather he wanted to learn and understand so he could better incorporate some of it into his own composing.
– Nowadays, I don’t have the time or energy to listen to music I’m not truly passionate about, just to study it. As an unfortunate result, the speed metal thing has somewhat faded away. Hopefully, there’s enough of it left in the DNA of PANPHAGE that I can keep developing this aspect in the future.
During his early career, he dealt with some of the darker esoteric aspects associated with black metal. Now, many years later, they appear to have been entirely abandoned.
– I can’t point to any specific event which triggered this development. Like most transformations, it was a gradual, multi-year process of which I wasn’t consciously aware. It’s quite evident, looking at my discography.
He mentions that the esoteric aspects of PANPHAGE were strongest around the 2009 “Ætt Loka” demo tape. The following works see a gradual and subliminal shift towards other subject matter – leading us to what we’ve just been discussing.
– As humans we fear letting go of what provides a foothold in this world, so it took me some time to admit to myself that my path had brought me to unexplored terrain. It was a somewhat revolutionary time for me, initiated by the need to move past soil where nothing grows any more.
Sounds like a fairly classic story of black metal youth getting older if you ask me.
– To some extent, possibly – but I see it as more of an initiatory personal evolution rather than a maturing process. That wording would also imply that those who still practise these things are immature, and that might not always be the case.
Has this period had much bearing on the person you are today?
– Difficult to say. I’m the same being that I was when first attracted to those ideas, they resonated with something sinister and antagonistic inside me. These aspects are still there, but their manifestations take on a different expression.
The difference today is that he doesn’t exclusively affirm the violent aspects of his being, and instead chooses to cultivate a greater variety of philosophical concepts. There is, however, not much interest in darkness and evil left.
– In some ways, the urge to be ‘evil’ among grown men might, if one is lucky, be a way to shatter the ego moulded for them by society. In the sense of breaking taboos, they could be seen as juvenile light-versions of the Aghori (Hindu ascetics).
Observing many of the prominent acts these days, it could be argued that the abandonment of evil as a creed is an ongoing scene-wide development.
– Perhaps. There are many bands in this current era of black metal whom I find interesting, yet I worry for the new generation – those who discover the genre today. There should always be an extremist and fanatic side to it, and I think a lot of recent acts really lack the edge necessary to evoke that black metal magic.
What’s next for PANPHAGE?
– First and foremost I’m looking to finish the third album, most of the music is already written. Expect a somewhat melancholic and spiritual record – I think it’s my deepest creation yet.
He adds that the concepts will focus on soil and heritage, as well as the future of humanity.
– The material follows the same path I started on ”Drengskapr”, but is far from identical, they belong to the same era. When this is done I think I’ll have to take PANPHAGE in a different direction, an exploration I hope to commence later this year.