by Niklas Göransson
In the wake of their new album, French black metal band Aosoth have closed a decade-long era. A candid conversation with founder and frontman MkM grants insight into the proverbial bitter end.
– Oh yes, bitter indeed. You know, like when you hear that someone you hate has cancer but then, in the end, he’s okay and has won the lottery. Yeah, that kind of bitterness. I dissolved AOSOTH back in June, but it was decided to keep this information suppressed until the album came out. I initially wanted the entire record cancelled altogether; there was simply too much bullshit surrounding me at that point, some of it involving individuals who’d managed to trick me into trusting them. I’m still on good terms with BST (guitars), and he talked me into going through with the release. In all fairness though, he did spend countless hours on this album – as did the drummer, both of them putting in amazing work.
If I’m not mistaken, you started recording this in 2015 already – why did it take so long?
– Perception-wise, it didn’t feel all that long to me… there was so much going on during those years that releasing it earlier would’ve meant rushing certain aspects, and not giving others enough time to mature and reach full potential. The first riffs had already been written when “IV: An Arrow in Heart” (2013) finally came out, after the usual delays in-between finishing an album and the label actually managing to release it. At least we were able to put out those Appendix-tracks as a bridge between the two albums.
In 2015, AOSOTH recorded three new songs and spread them over three different vinyl; “Appendix A” on a split seven-inch with KOMMANDANT, “Appendix B” on a twelve-inch with ORDER OF ORIAS, and “Appendix C” on a ten-inch called “IV”. All of them were later collected and released as the “IV / Appendixes” cassette by Cloven Hoof, a combined label and brewery in Czech Republic.
– As per usual, all vocal tracks were completed in two takes maximum. They were performed live, from start to finish, in order to capture impulse and authenticity. I don’t rehearse anger, it’s either there or it isn’t. Art-wise, it’s been quite complicated for Somnyum – the artist who created the layout and inside picture. At least the guy never surrenders and kept working until we were entirely satisfied. I’d have broken plenty of stuff around me, had I undergone all he endured for that design.
MkM says all that’s left now, at the time of this November 2017 conversation, is awaiting the physical copy of the album to find out which of their instructions have been ignored.
– Such suspense; what’s been misprinted this time around? Will the colours have the impact we wanted, the gold print and black levels respected on both vinyl and digi-CD? I don’t know! Those might be simple details to most but I want everything the way it was intended. For instance, the inside gatefold of “Arrow in Heart” was supposed to have Braille on the right panel – which of course didn’t happen – instead a white sheet was printed and inserted. This is a ’detail’ to everyone else in the band but certainly not to me, it got me pissed off to this day….
He points out how AOSOTH’s latest line-up was in fact its third manifestation. The first era, which began in 2002, consisted almost entirely of ANTAEUS members. Its second phase saw MkM and a friend of his creating mostly ambient noise. Then, in 2006, he invited BST to help him revive the project as more of a traditional black metal band.
– I no longer care for the first two albums at all. “III: Violence & Variations” (2011) has to be my pride, especially the fifth song. Also, I should point out that I really cannot stand “IV: Arrow in Heart” any more, apart from the title track and “Ritual Marks of Penitence”. The rest I wish I could bury and never, ever hear again. Out of the Appendixes, C has to be the highlight – but sadly, it’s bound to never get much exposure and instead remain a ’side-track’. Too bad… a really good example of how a band should end a set or even a career. As we prepared to follow it up with an album, there was this feeling of, ’Can we match it? Can we do something that’s really worthwhile and enough to be proud of?’ I wasn’t sure at first, listening to the pre-production demo. I even thought that perhaps it shouldn’t be made. But then it took a different shape, more structure and with real drums added, some parts changed and then – yes, yes – there’s something going on. It’s genuine and I do feel it.
“The Inside Scriptures” is AOSOTH’s first studio recording to boast humanoid percussion, courtesy of a man known only as T, since the 2002 ANTAEUS split. All previous albums featured percussion programmed by BST. However, they’ve always employed live drummers and were using two different ones per availability during their final period of concert activity.
– Ah, the joy of having two session drummers. You know, these impossible-to-get musicians who as soon as they’ve made their names known end up whoring themselves out in a billion bands – gravitating towards whoever can provide the most cash. Both of them were valuable on a personal level and highly skilled musicians. T has been with us since the third album, right after the tour with WATAIN and SHINING … and damn I wish we had him with us then, always irritating to look back on dysfunctional tour line-ups. He’s a close friend of ours and wasn’t even a drummer at first; he took it up as a new challenge when his previous band ended, so congrats to him. I doubt he’ll be involved in any more musical projects though, we do share the same view on the scene and both got fed up with many aspects linked to it.
I have a fair idea, but which aspects would that be?
– The answer I’d give now might differ from a few years ago. Back then I still cared and was way more present at gigs, as well as active with Spikekult Rekords – dealing with individuals, labels, and ‘zines. They all made me sick. You can easily tell that numerous acts are just frauds; there’s nothing genuine behind them, just well-executed music performed by musicians draped in whatever black metal visual codes are currently in fashion. The most important aspect is often missing, rarely do I find that unbound insanity I so crave… but when it happens, yes, I get the fire in my eyes and there is resonance within me. Ninety-five percent of the time though, either I’m not receptive or simply belong to another ’age’.
These days, MkM sticks to bands whose members he knows, and will generally only seek out previously unknown acts based on recommendations from trustworthy associates.
– Of course, my collection is smaller but I don’t really need more. There are obviously still the classics – those not damaged by the lame ’evolution’ of certain bands – and from time to time there are new revelations or older acts I missed at some point and then rediscovered with proper knowledge. But no need to pile up a heap of issues, I simply can’t relate to the values of today’s scene. What I would seek in the past has now been dissolved through a stream of individuals I have nothing to do with, and I’m all the better off for it. I go on with my own ’expression’ and in accordance to my vision of ’how things should be’, and that’s it.
The lyrics for the album’s first song, “A Heart to Judge”, leaves me with the distinct impression that trust is not something MkM places in people on a mere whim.
– Accurate as fuck. I’m the type of guy who trusts nothing and instinctively thinks of every single potential bad ending to any decision taken. I’ll typically expect the worst so I can prepare myself accordingly. Navigating life is much like a game of chess, constantly planning several moves ahead. Surprises are never a good thing and most have a negative or damaging impact, so better make sure that everything goes as planned and no time is wasted.
MkM claims inability to name more than three individuals he could really depend upon with any degree of reliability.
– Just like promises, trust only implicates those who actually believe in it. Gaining my confidence would require numerous events during which one proves oneself worthy of attention. Some individuals you barely see but still trust on some level, while others you could confess the worst to. But as for most people, I’d council restraint from divulging even your positive experiences.
He explains that an inherently trusting soul is highly indicative of someone who hasn’t had much interaction with fellow humans.
– I don’t even trust myself! Especially considering some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past, such as hope misplaced in projects or individuals. If there’s anything to be built, I advise you to do so on your own – and rest assured that any outsider is there only to take credit and reap rewards, or simply try to bring the whole thing down.
I’m getting the feeling that this seething vitriol is somehow connected to the sudden demise of AOSOTH.
– It wasn’t really all that sudden to be honest, such thoughts had already been floating around in my head for a while. Ultimately, two incidents related to the same individual who was part of that line-up drove me to rush the decision. Last year, many sacrifices were made on my end regarding a project involving this person; nearly ten months were devoted to our joint venture, without any income and living on personal savings. It ended up being an utter waste of time as well as a backstabbing situation… I got fooled and didn’t see it coming.
He informed the remaining line-up that going on with this gentleman in AOSOTH was not an option. However, this was an individual with whom other members had a deep bond – allegiances going back considerably longer than their relations to MkM.
– There’s ’friendship’ on their end and they’ve stood by one another in the past, I get that. Not that I can relate to any of it, since I don’t imagine anyone would ever have done the same for me. They made their decision about whom they’d rather stand with, and so it became impossible to go on. There’s no bad blood – after all, they’re simply staying ’true’ to their friend. We met at the BLACK WITCHERY, POSSESSION, and HEXEN HOLOCAUST gig in Paris and all was fine. I know at least two of them are really looking forward to receiving the finished album, as am I.
One would think that ten years of playing together would have forged a rather strong union, but MkM says it was more the case of simply happening to be involved in the same band. As he explained in our previous conversation, all orchestral undertakings in his past have been fraught with turbulence – and whilst on tour he’s often found himself studying with fascination how seemingly functional bands operate.
– On the one hand, there are bands like WATAIN who have their trinity, their core – you know, they stand by each other. The same obviously goes for Set Teitan, Alvaro, and I guess the new drummer. You can see that they work as a pack and there’s somehow unity without forcing anything. And then there are acts you wonder how they can even do or create anything since you wouldn’t be able to imagine them being in the same room as each other.
MkM adds that being in a band is for the most part nothing like what people think it is, at least not from his experience.
– Once and once only have I been part of a musical project displaying some sort of strong bond, and I really didn’t enjoy the experience – it felt wrong, as if I didn’t belong at all. I was so used to ANTAEUS and anything else I’d ever done, it was way too intrusive being among individuals willing to spend time with me. It made no sense. When I choose musicians to work with, I decide based upon their skills, background and whether I respect them. Not their drinking abilities, party mode, or family values.
I must say that it would truly be a shame if this was the end of MkM’s live activity. In the rare occasion where unforeseen mishaps of varying severity didn’t prevent him from taking the stage, it was entirely clear that this is where he was in his artistic element. Last we heard from him in Bardo Methodology was the print-exclusive addendum to the ANTAEUS interview in #1; he’d just arrived at Iceland’s Oration Festival to perform live with AOSOTH.
– Amazing location, a festival well-worth attending. Oration was also our final performance, we were forced to cancel our remaining festival appearances and gigs due to this project I mentioned. Which is good! Better to end on that note than a show in a middle of nowhere with bands I couldn’t care less for.
Dares one hope that ANTAEUS guitarist Set has had a change of heart in recent times? Perhaps a few years away from what performing live with this band entails will have been enough to forget why he gave it up in the first place.
– And now you’ll get the answer you wouldn’t have expected; out of us two, Set has been the one talking about possibly performing live in our area. He can’t do long-distance trips due to his pain. His condition has improved since we stopped performing, and I know he attended more gigs than myself lately and that people approached him regarding this. To be honest, out of ten shows, maybe one would’ve had ’okay’ conditions and didn’t end with us pissed off afterwards. I also have to manage the band, its line-up and all the usual bullshit – it’s a waste of precious time that I don’t have, and the cost is beyond my current budget.
Judging by feedback, it would appear as if much of the readership found significant entertainment value in my interviewee’s various misfortunate escapades and recollections thereof. However, I can only imagine that the man himself finds it significantly easier to contain his laughter. From my anecdotal recollection, it seems as if this almost transcendental ill luck has been a permanent feature throughout his entire earthly existence.
– Kind of… as far as I can remember, since well around teenage years. But who knows – perhaps we’re now seeing the end of a dark forty-two-year-old cycle, giving way to the dawning golden age? You did teach me how to view things in a more constructive manner, so my heart is firmly set on a brighter tomorrow. Such as death, and preferably soon.
I can’t help but think that this must get bloody tedious after a while.
– Yes, it gets tiresome at some point – yet there’s so many twists and turns that life is rarely dull. You can always speculate about the worst possible problems to come, and discuss which solutions might prove necessary. All the while, people in your surroundings wonder why you always think the worst of everything… only to find events transpiring which were too improbable to even have been considered. I suppose this is what keeps me going really, life is just full of these nasty little surprises. Ah, but another positive: my ailments allow me to regularly go through MRIs, the quietest place ever and a veritable dream for anyone who suffers from anxiety and stress.
MkM deals with a myriad of quite serious health issues – mostly stemming from periodically untreated diabetes and many years of intensely self-destructive living. He adds dryly that if genetics are any indication, there simply has to be cancer of some kind lurking in his future. Judging from family history, there are several different varieties to choose from.
– Which one will it be, I wonder? Lung cancer as a non-smoker would be an exciting anomaly, but throat cancer is perhaps more appropriate? Why not – no longer being able to sing would surely spare me a lot of hassle. The melanoma in my eye was removed already and no sign of regression; maybe that was a karmic sign letting me know that I still get to experience things?
Insomnia is another condition MkM has long struggled with. I doubt someone who’s never dealt with sleeping disorders over an extended period of time, myself included, can really fathom the drawn-out torture of never being able to find proper recuperation.
– It started in my early twenties, and while somehow manageable during the first years… yes, sleeplessness is indeed torture in the long run. I also lived a very different lifestyle back then, with more energy and still not too damaged from diabetes side-effects. I had the vigour of youth, plus alcohol and any substances that came after. At some point during the day, often while driving, I’d just crash, completely exhausted and blurry. When I first got sleeping aids prescribed, I was taking the whole pill-combo; anxiety inhibitors, antidepressants, and so on. I can still vividly recall the morning after my first night of being able to sleep five to seven hours in a row. I woke up in tears of relief – couldn’t help it, at that point it had been years since I last felt that way.
After making this discovery, about a decade ago, he’s been relying on Stilnox for sleep. As far as sleeping pills go, these are the proverbial big guns.
– My few attempts of lowering the dosages were not really successful, but I never did increase it either. Well, of course, I once had the stupid idea to take a few extra just to see what would happen – results were… let’s say, ‘unconvincing’. Guess you’d have beheld a not-so-smart looking zombie stumbling around drooling, gazing with the empty eyes of a wasted German thrash metal fan at any random festival.
This lasted until April 2017 when Stilnox was classified as a drug in France and made available only in hospitals, psych wards, and the like. Some of the more serious complications from reported side-effects include cognitive alterations, memory issues, personality changes, and hallucinations. In what was considered uncharacteristically lucky before he was denied access to them, MkM experienced no adverse effects at all.
– I had to switch to different ones, without ever getting the same result. Transitioning to another pill made things really difficult for me – I really don’t function properly without sleep. And after days of being awake and yet unable to do anything, plus roller-coaster results with my sugar levels; it’s absolutely unbearable.
What are your future plans, music-wise?
– The physical copies of the album have yet to arrive, so we’re still focusing on closing this chapter of AOSOTH. As for ANTAEUS, time will tell – first Set has to finish an EP with his death metal project and deal with a few personal matters, then we’ll see how it goes. With MARTRÖÐ, composing for the new release has already started but it’s impossible to predict anything or set deadlines with those guys. This is of course fine by me; as long as nothing gets announced and then delayed, like the first release.
MkM adds what an amazing relief it is not to have any live gigs planned – in fact, it’s some of the best and most pleasing news he could offer himself.
– No longer having to manage line-ups, logistics, and the associated problems – all in an everlasting circle of bullshit for the sake of forty minutes on stage. But who knows, if I manage to get back on my feet and can afford the luxury of playing live again… I might agree to something in a nearby location, as there would at least not be any travel costs to cover. So far, I celebrate being able to enjoy concerts without having to perform myself; it’s far cheaper, less stressful, and I’m free to leave whenever the fuck I want.