by Niklas Göransson
From Aztec burial ground comes Franco ‘Lugubrem’ Muñoz, frontman of Mexican black metal band Mordskog. Drunk from nectar of the angel’s trumpet and swallowed by mists of the diviner’s sage, he has seen Our Lady of the Holy Death return to exaltation.
– Initially founded as a tribute to certain Scandinavian acts who influenced me in my younger days, the story of MORDSKOG began in the winter of 2003 when Nihil and I were drinking straight vodka in a forest with extremely cold temperature… well, at least for Mexico. Concerning ideals and lifestyle, I was a typical black metal individual; everything done by impulse and not with the best conscience.
The same year, Jani Lehtosaari from Finnish death metal relics BELIAL found himself spontaneously recruited as bass player while on holiday in Mexico.
– Over the course of a weekend, we composed and recorded two songs. Everything was set up for an EP release when the others decided to leave me with the full package and focus on their own lives. I chose to continue on my own and released the material as a demo tape.
Franco set up a MORDSKOG MySpace profile and was surprised to find the songs drawing significant attention from abroad. Sensing a demand, he deemed it prudent to put a new band together.
– I recruited long-time comrades from cult Mexican acts to help me compose an album. We finished it in 2006 but due to various personal issues it never came out. I then assembled a new, reliable line-up which one year later recorded another few songs for an EP that also remains unreleased.
I sense a recurring theme here.
– Everything was as if I had a fucking curse. I led my existence with the typical anti-social and illegal activities involving more focused spiritual practices, and this devotion was calling for me to bring MORDSKOG into existence. After containing all this energy within myself, 2009 was the year I chose to open Pandora’s box.
Franco recruited two members who remain in the band to this day; Murmur and Occultus from Mexican black metal veterans HABORYM. He reports their contribution as ’strong ideals, uncompromise and brotherhood’.
– Immediately after forming this fiery trinity we started composing what would become our debut, “XIII”. We considered doing our first live performance and the best excuse came through an offer to support INQUISITION. The album was recorded shortly afterwards but, true to form, wasn’t released until seven years later, in early 2017. I wasn’t satisfied with the sound and hadn’t found a label that fulfilled my expectations.
Spotting Franco at underground festivals in mainland Europe was a regular occurrence in the latter 2000s. One could say he stuck out somewhat; a cocky Latino with the Mexican flag on his leather jacket, strutting around entirely unconcerned amidst the NSBM attendance.
– Fortunately, only a couple of times I had to deal with disrespectful individuals because of superficial things like my southern looks. I was normally in different European countries every year, especially Germany and Scandinavia. In 2005, the legendary logo lord Christophe Spajzdel booked my old band ERESHKIGAL to play with PENTACLE and TRIMONIUM in Belgium. I lived there for a couple of weeks around this time, sleeping in a club that cannot be named.
Dare I ask why?
– The owner was leading some Flemish skinhead organisation and used to make secret RAC parties in his hidden basement. I was lucky to have their empathy – don´t ask me why though because even I don´t know. A highlight for me was that one day in another Belgian city I saw, after more than a decade without performing live, the mighty ARCHGOAT.
ERESHKIGAL returned to Europe for a few dates the following year. While they were booked for a gig in Gothenburg, Franco’s bandmates ran out of funds and ended up stranded in Spain.
– Since my comrades couldn’t make it, I flew there by myself to tell people what happened and avoid putting our Mexican reputation down. I had an idea a few days before arriving in Sweden, so I spoke to my friend, Henke, asking for help to prepare something special for the audience, instead of giving this statement with my arms crossed. The infamous band MORBID INSULTER helped me set up some old covers of NIFELHEIM, VULCANO and SEPULTURA that I was proud to sing.
I noticed a few MORDSKOG promo shots which are rather different from the usual metal photography. Franco explains they were taken as part of an art project for a Mexican metal publication.
– In this picture, you can see representation of a prominent Aztec warrior – maybe Moctezuma – after having been victorious in battle against his opposer, Cortés, perhaps. I´m wearing a typical pre-Hispanic costume with specific details influenced by ritual currents I follow. You can determine ranking from the long and exotic feathers and specific details in the penacho (headdress). I added some modern things like spikes and a shirt, wanting to infuse some personal influences from one of my main passions.
The photos were taken at a pyramid replica erected in Mexico City as a commemoration of the country’s Aztec ancestry – Monumento a la Raza, or Monument to the Race. The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican culture which flourished in central Mexico until 1519, when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived to their shores.
– The pyramid has Mexico’s national emblem on top – an eagle devouring a serpent, and highly honours our roots and our race with pre-Hispanic culture. The photo is indeed my personal cosmovision about certain historical events I’d love to change.
Franco told me earlier how there’s a strong resentment towards the Spaniards in contemporary Mexico, stemming from their intercontinental annexation. I can’t help but wonder how peculiar it must feel to despise a people one shares both language and blood with.
– I believe many Mexicans feel an unconscious resentment through their generations since we experienced conquest and the atrocities Spaniards made to our ancestors. This bitterness manifests in many ways, such as judging persons by their colour, inferiority complex, respect and admiration for white skin, or simply being hateful to the black race. Look at television shows, soap operas, publicity and marketing over here… normally, all the biggest stars like famous actors and television hosts are exotic with different heritage. The standard Mexican types have lower positions and earn less for similar jobs.
Franco mentions a study performed in Mexico a few years ago, modelled after American psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark’s so-called doll experiment. The premise deals with children’s perception of race and is conducted with two dolls which are identical, besides their skin tone.
– There’s video of this experiment showing both dark and fair-skin kids with two dolls – one white and the other brown. The majority say white is the good, trustworthy, and beautiful one. When the psychologist asks the children which one looks like them, even brownskins choose white – mentioning unbelievable reasons like same coloured ears, having untanned pale legs, and so on. No one wants to be like the brown doll.
When the original experiments yielded similar results, Dr. Clark believed his findings to have demonstrated internalised racism and self-hatred among African-American children.
– Imagine what can be expected from these kids when they become adults in this society. After crossing the U.S. border, some even turn ’American’ in their ideologies and discriminate against their own people. The worst of them even voted for Trump! But I’ve seen their faces – those who were so proud to become American citizens but when treated like shit come back to their hometowns, full of rage to the Yankees and pretending to be ‘Mexican’ again.
I’ve only spent a few days in Mexico City, but my impression was that’s it a pretty rough place.
– The situation in this whole country has been getting gradually worse since the millennium-shift, currently positioning us as the world’s most violent place after Syria. Here it matters not which religion you preach or what role you have in life – evil and death surrounds all of us, day by day. You can’t trust in the police, politicians, priests, bankers, or sometimes even your own ’friends’.
Mexico recorded almost 10 000 murders during the first five months of 2017, a thirty percent increase from the same period last year. There are likewise staggering numbers of extortions and kidnappings, not to mention extreme corruption.
– Sometimes citizens who tire of being made victims make justice by their own hands – beating up or killing gangsters… and so becoming criminals themselves. Police abusing their charges face the same destiny, most people do not respect either authority or laws – we live in full stress and are defensive of each other every day. An excess of the negative aspects ruins us in some way, if we can’t control and learn to live with the chaos.
Franco has a few somewhat unorthodox ideas for the upcoming MORDSKOG album.
– The concept and lyrics are meant to be written during hallucinogenic experiences and using local shamanic instruments of the desert and forest. Some lyrics are already completed and Murmur and I recorded a pre-production of five songs, but I’ll re-work them after taking specific doses to compare the final result inflicted on me.
Conveniently, the world’s most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen is native to Mexico – Salvia divinorum, a mint plant which can only be found in an isolated cloud forest at the foot of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain ranges.
– I’m usually curious about any natural or synthetic mind-expander and during my life I’ve tried many different things for specific proposes – but Salvia is the only one that subjected me to a conscious nearly death experience. It’s a plant which thoroughly destroys all concept of time and space, the one that made me an eternal part of everything.
For the curious, the Ajna Offensive and ANILAH conversations feature close encounters with this enigmatic shrubbery. On a related note, I almost fainted from interest when Franco mentioned his drummer’s brugmansia cultivation. Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, is part of the nightshade plant family and shares the same psychoactive tropane alkaloids associated with classic witch herbs; henbane, monkshood, belladonna, mandrake, jimsonweed, and so forth.
– The family of my drummer is involved in certain religious practices since generations back, they make this exotic cultivation. Brugmansia unleashes a special smell during night-time, and when Occultus puts a few blossoms behind his pillow before sleep he has nightmares and spectral visions which turn the world upside down – just like the flower. All images become distorted, confusing, and chaotic.
Tyler Davis of Ajna recommends a similar scent-oriented application; making a garland out of thirteen flowers freshly harvested from a tree in full bloom and then seeing how long one can wear it. Quote, ‘Within twenty minutes, you’ll start to succumb to the omnipotent effects of the fragrance.’
– Occultus explained to me that he likes brugmansia because of its vivid colours and how the flower grows downwards instead of the normal way. In my opinion, his mind was unconsciously programmed to develop and perceive a personal connection with the plant.
It should perhaps be noted that while infusions prepared from nightshades are highly efficient and fully legal avenues for black metal musicians who seek empirical knowledge of the demonic elements in their lyrics, extreme caution is advised. This is vegetation of boundless power, capable of dragging the unwary into truly nightmarish experiences which leave deep mental scars, physical ailments, and even death. In 2003, an eighteen-year-old German who drank tea made of angel’s trumpet went out into his parents’ garage and procured a garden shears with which he snipped off both his penis and tongue, neither of which could be reattached.
– Definitely not a party drug. My experiences with brugmansia are for conjuring, divination, hypnosis, communication and work with dead spirits, but also healing and facing my own demons – including the ’ego’. Everything in low doses because it’s extremely dangerous and toxic. I think practices such as herbalism are beneficial for occultists and I’ve seen lately how people in the scene are developing interest in cultivation of magical plants, so these few individuals are breaking the paradigm of black metal being strictly confined to music and pretending.
He proclaims himself still open to all manner of mind-warping exploration, and also acts as guide for friends who engage in vegetation-induced transcendence.
– Tolerance, resistance, and side-effects are obviously different for each individual. It’s always comforting to know your temple of flesh really well from head to toe, so start with low doses to see the reactions. Especially when using substances for spiritual nightwork, it’s important to have an experienced initiate by your side for the first few attempts – to supervise the journey and aftermath. You know; telling reality from fantasy, explaining concepts of space and time, maintaining sanity and preventing death attempting.
Franco deems these activities to have had a large bearing on the individual he is today – having lived largely by instinct with little afterthought, dragging his self along the path of primeval chaos.
– Nowadays, my impulsive side is more relaxed than back in the day. Like every being who searches for evolution and liberation, this meant hard work and many sacrifices. In this process, many highs and lows happened; I even died by accident a couple of times, literally, but for some reason I came back…
Halt, ’died literally’ will have to be explained before we proceed?
– When I was five years old, I went into a pool – everyone was having a party so no one was there to save me immediately. I remember being in the depth of the water in foetal position, like inside the womb, when a friend of my mother rescued me. He brought me to the hospital and a doctor said I was already dead – but then when my mom arrived and charged me in her arms, I went back to life. I remember everything, including my whole life flashing by in seconds like a reel of old vintage film.
Another time was when he ’performed self-mutilation’, some fifteen years ago.
– It was bleeding a lot – same story with my whole life passing before my eyes – then I saw a light and woke up in a lake of blood. I had to walk to the hospital on my own, like a zombie, and then get my arm stitched back together. This has played a large role in my ’deathvotion’, and after this suffering of life impacts; determined wisdom and progress occurred. I’m in the process of writing a book about my magickal practices, especially with the deities which are part of my culture. I hope this publication will one day see the light before my patrona tells me it’s getting late.
The patroness in question would be the Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, or Our Lady of the Holy Death – a saint from Mexican folk religion which can be traced back to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl; queen of the underworld and mistress of the afterlife. The cult of Santa Muerte first came to public perception in 1998, when police found a shrine dedicated to her in the home of a notorious gangster. At the time, she was virtually unheard of. In 2014, as the fastest growing religion in the Americas, she had an estimated ten to twelve million followers across Mexico and other places with a high Latino population.
– There are rumours about this devotion having been hidden for centuries, and I have no doubts about it as normally every cult moves in the underground until discovered by wrong individuals and becoming trendy. The first provable traces of modern Santa Muerte worship appeared in the sixties, expanding to Central and South America where they created their own skeleton saints.
The lady of divine bereavement was at first, and still is to some degree, associated with outlaws and societal outsiders. A big part of her appeal is believed to be the fact that she’s regarded as a non-judgemental saint, who takes no ethical consideration when beseeched.
– Around the year 2000, Mexico descended into a serious crisis in every sense – financial, political, and social. As a result, many individuals chose to involve themselves in illegal activities. I believe they felt called to take the black path of Santa Muerte, so the cult started to grow and expand like a pest. But many were just searching for an escape from their negative feelings, hoping to find ’peace’ by worshipping death.
The main Santa Muerte temple is located in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Mexico City – which, needless to say, is saying something. The area also has a large Catholic presence, which Franco says has sparked theological conflict in which leaders and followers of the Holy Death have been both arrested and murdered.
– Back when the cult was legally registered as a faith, there was a lot of controversy from the church. One part of our Spanish inheritance is a Catholic infestation of about eighty-five percent. They decided to persecute Santa Muerte devotees and cancel the legal registration, so we are no longer good-looking by normal conservative society. This is really fine for me, so long as they don’t t block my path.
The nature of his adulation differs somewhat from the general perception, which borrows heavily from and to a certain extent combines Santa Muerte worship with Catholicism. Franco regards it primarily as an ancestral cult.
– Celebrations are meant as gratitude for favours granted or success desired. Altars are adorned with tequila, different coloured votive candles, cocaine, meth, cigars, silver items, cemetery earth, blood, bones, etcetera. This is a path for the heinous; the lawless, sinister, and solitary – the magus who avenges with magickal and ritualistic purpose. It could be either beneficial or destructive to the initiate and should be taken seriously, so be careful what you wish for.