by Niklas Göransson
The faceless solo artist behind Swedish black metal project Panphage declares the end of a thirteen-year lifespan. His swansong, “Jord”, revolves around the covenant of blood – hereditary duties to forefathers and the soil which hosts their bones.
– “Jord” was recorded following my usual routine, the only difference being that I worked more with recycling riffs – structuring the songs around a few basic elements which were then reused and played with slight alterations. As such, song arrangements evolved in a more organic fashion compared to previous releases. For example, both “Odalmarkerna” and “Den tyste åsen” basically consist of two riffs, which is unusually few for a PANPHAGE song.
In preparation for the album launch, the anonymous sole member took the somewhat surprising decision of shutting down the PANPHAGE Facebook page.
– Closing it was part of the ongoing process of putting PANPHAGE to rest. It was a natural step to take since the page served no purpose whatsoever, besides giving me occasional notifications announcing that ’another random asshole likes your page’. My social media presence was established in 2005 when I started a MySpace page – I hated it, but had little choice since no one beyond my brothers in arms would ever have known about PANPHAGE otherwise. The underground networks of fanzines and tape-trading were basically gone by that point. The situation is obviously different now; announcing the final album is all that remains and my guess is that anyone who gives a fuck will find out anyway.
The aforementioned swansong, “Jord”, is set for release in January 2018 – a mere year and two months after the previous album, “Drengskapr”.
– Reasons for the short timespan between releases remain the same as before; once the artistic process is underway, concluding it as soon as possible is of utmost importance. If creation takes too long, there’s always a risk of being spread too thin and losing one’s initial momentum, motivation, or vision – the intricate threads intended to weave an album together will start to become undone. All forms of energy decrease the longer they travel across a mediator, and I can’t ever let that happen to PANPHAGE. What characterises this band is its intensity, the force through which each of my works strike.
He points out how working this way would be too stressful if the creative process wasn’t divided into different phases.
– First, I write all the riffs and lyrics and only then worry about the rest. One advantage to working in intense increments is that once I begin writing new material, six months or so may have passed since I last composed, which allows for my motivation to become revitalised. This typically happens at summer’s end, but autumn 2017 was the first time I didn’t feel the call – this only confirmed what I already knew, that the right thing to do is simply allowing the haunted spirit of PANPHAGE to rest in peace.
It sounds like a bit of an overreaction to be honest, simply dissolving the band in the immediate wake of a presumably temporary creative cessation – one that after fourteen releases in thirteen years shouldn’t be entirely unexpected.
– I realise this might seem drastic but it really wasn’t. The process leading up to my decision has been in motion for several years now. My interest in PANPHAGE has been gradually waning over an extended period of time until fading into veritable nothingness. I finished most of “Jord” this past spring, and PANPHAGE has for all intents and purposes been dead ever since. This interview is the first band-related activity all year, it’ll also be the last I ever do.
Are you really as certain about that as you say?
– Music has taken up a lot of my efforts and energy, and I seriously doubt it’s been time particularly well-spent. Ever since closing PANPHAGE as an inspirational channel, I’ve noticed how this force has been trickling down into new, non-musical outputs in other and significantly more fruitful aspects of life.
He adds that the prime reason for his waning commitment to PANPHAGE stems from having lost all interest in black metal.
– I don’t think this genre speaks to the most noble aspects in man, to put it mildly. I’ve been trying to transform shit into gold with my last two albums, but I don’t see any purpose or benefit in continuing. With “Jord”, I believe myself to have reached the limit of what I can accomplish within this framework. I don’t deny the potential for achieving greatness through black metal, there are definitely those capable of this but PANPHAGE isn’t the right instrument and I’m not the man to do it. Therefore, I’d rather end this now – continuing from this point would turn the project into something it’s not, likely ending in failure.
The previous album, “Drengskapr”, was meant to inspire listeners and instil upon them a certain ambience. As he mentioned in our previous conversation, this would ultimately come to wield significant influence over both soundscape and music. I’m curious if “Jord” had any similar designs.
– “Drengskapr” was an intentionally impersonal album, written with the listener’s reception in mind – it definitely served its purpose in this regard. However, I find “Jord” to be a purer form of artistic expression; it’s an introverted record written by me, for me. The material is minimalistic and demands more from the listener; it’s left up to him whether he understands or not, though I really couldn’t be bothered either way. I wrote something of which final result I’m satisfied with, and that’s that. The only reason for even releasing “Jord” is because it’s the last PANPHAGE album, a marker showing where journey’s end has brought me.
What are your fondest accomplishments?
– Impact is the best assessment of an artist’s achievements and I honestly have no idea what bearing, if any, my work might have had. I’ve never cared much for reading reviews or other people’s opinions in general, but from a personal perspective I believe myself to have developed a unique style of black metal while still adhering to genre traditions. I would therefore say that one of my best memories is the recording of the 2010 “Ursvöl” demo. Not that it’s better than any of my other creations – quite the contrary – but because this was when I truly cracked the code of PANPHAGE.
While there were traces throughout his earliest material, and certainly on the 2009 “Ætt Loka” demo tape, it was on “Ursvöl” where he really began showcasing the sonic concoction that has since permeated his work – this dark and dreamy nature-romantic black metal with catchy melodies interwoven with blitzes of speed metal aggression.
– It was while trying out new approaches for writing riffs that I stumbled upon this strange atmosphere which would come to characterise my music from that moment on. I’ve been drawing inspiration from this vast abyss of creativity ever since. The winter that year was an unusually harsh one – I can still vividly recall the sense of possession I felt every night while travelling home from the DOMGÅRD rehearsal place, where the recording took place.
If you re-visit the lyrics of your various releases, how accurate of a roadmap over your personal development are they?
– Of course, the lyrics mirror my own progression. “Jord” espouses ideologies which are essentially the exact opposite from those expressed through my earliest works. Still, lyrical content aside, I think PANPHAGE has been surprisingly consistent through its entire lifespan. I’ve come to regard it as a long path of initiation, similar to classic motifs of gods who must descend deep into the underworld before being able to re-ascend to the heavens, wiser and stronger than before. “Jord” leaves us at the last moments of Ragnarök and much like the last stanzas of Völuspa, it ends with a cliff-hanger – a glimpse into a world reborn behind the veils of mystery.
He explains how his interest in spiritual matters remains as vibrant as ever, but that it’s now channelled somewhat differently compared to a decade ago.
– A lot of time has passed since I believed in separate dimensions of reality – it’s all one world to me. But of course, the human mind isn’t designed to comprehend the totality of existence, our psyches have adapted to focus on whatever primary duties are laid out in front of us. We wouldn’t function otherwise. You won’t be able to focus on hammering a nail while lost in existential contemplation or somehow communing with the highest manifestation of God. My point is that the act of pounding the nail with a hammer is by no means any less spiritual.
As an example of a suitable archetype one could look to for guidance in leading a righteous life, he refers to the North Germanic god Týr.
– While presiding over mortal laws, a fairly ‘mundane’ matter, he’s also a god of the sky – governing its solar laws and temporal rhythms, the movements of sun and moon. What we see here is the concept of rule applied to remote and higher aspects of existence. And still there are skies above our own heavens, laws governing the whole universe, even clusters of multiverses. This concept is so vast that if we were to experience the entirety of the god I call Týr, it would fry our minds. What I call spirituality is really an awareness of the greater implications our actions have in the here and now, that everything we do is in some way or another related to principles so vast and all-encompassing we could never even begin to comprehend them.
As was the case with “Drengskapr”, the lyrics are obviously an aspect which have received significant efforts. In a general sense, they seem to carry an air of melancholic national romanticism.
– “Jord” was composed during one of those transitional phases where life forces you to venture out into unfamiliar territory, and my personal departure point was the creation of this album. Seeing as how large parts of the world appear to be undergoing some sort of rite of passage right now, I suspect many can relate to this. In times of unrest, man tends to drift towards that which is certain – clinging onto something familiar for guidance through the unknown. For me, that anchor is heritage; the past we still carry within us.
Therefore, “Jord” is an album largely dealing with the concept of time. The title translates to ’soil’, which he considers an appropriate metaphor for the intended sentiments.
– In an agricultural society, one would inherit soil through blood relations – passed down by ancestors who’d struggled with nurturing and developing it for future generations, perhaps even having to fight someone for it. Consequently, those of us who live in the present owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who came before. We repay this by showing the land bestowed upon us an equal degree of devotion, by keeping the soil fertile as its temporary custodians. This is a task laid upon us by unborn kin, for they are the ones who’ll be made to suffer for our mistakes. Their judgement will surely be severe, should we prove to be the weak link in the chain of time.
I noticed that the lyrics differ somewhat in tone from song to song; whereas some are more agitating and inspirational, others leave a significantly more pessimistic impression.
– The present day is full of foulness and festering rot in great abundance. Remaining within agricultural metaphors, one could say it’s extremely hard to find a piece of land fertile enough to cultivate and pass down to our children. That said, I advise all those who display defeatist attitudes to without further ado seek out a sturdy tree and hang themselves from it. They have no reason to keep breathing other than the pure decadence in pleasing themselves and ’living for the moment’, which is a despicable mode of existence.
He says that standing upright might entail having to fight, even being prepared to lose.
– Should the world turn to shit, then it’s our hereditary duty to shield everything worth preserving; keeping it safe from havoc but prepared for the birth of a new tomorrow. This goes back to Norse mythology, where there’s this story about Lif and Lifthrasir – Life and The One Striving After Life – hidden away in a forest during Ragnarök, remaining there until the world resurfaces from the sea.
A cursory glance through our January conversation reminded me of the following:
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.
How have you been fairing in the metaphysical regards since then?
– To be honest, there hasn’t been much of this at all; paradoxically because of my desire to incorporate spiritual values into my life. Each day, I try to crush the last lingering traces of the Abrahamitic thought-poison that seemingly infects every man born into our part of the world. The root problem is its dualistic mindset stating that truth – the spirit – is ’out there’, far from our everyday lives. Granted, I can see how easily one could buy into such notions when living in our rootless and often ugly post-modern society where most people seem completely devoid of any direction and purpose. But life is truth, and life is not you meditating on a hilltop whilst having zero impact on the real world.
While the act of meditation itself might not stir the physical surroundings, there’s an argument to be made that it can have a beneficial impact on the meditator – in turn driving innovation or inspiration to greatness, the very definition of change starting from within. Even though the term itself has Eastern implications to most, meditative techniques certainly existed in the north. Útiseta, which literally translates to ‘sitting out’, appears to have been a sort of vision quest in which the practitioner sought out remote wilderness and tried to remain still in body and mind for longer periods of time, presumably seeking transcendental introspection. The primary source material about it stems from a thirteenth-century Icelandic law which prohibits ‘the act of sitting out to wake trolls and practice paganism’.
– Balance is key, especially in this day and age where nothing is sacred. What I’m getting at is this contemporary tendency to turn faith into escapism. Concepts such as útiseta are of course interesting but these things would have been reserved for mystics rather than the common man. There’s plenty of evidence that our ancestors had very personal relationships with their gods – notions which obviously resonate with the modern man who obsesses over finding and fulfilling his own self – but the vast majority of our pre-Christian religious activities were communal. Rites were led by worldly leaders and would have been mostly related to practical matters such as ensuring a good harvest, victory in war, avoiding plagues, or whatever.
He adds that these kinds of ritual practices have to some extent survived, but more as echoes and abstractions.
– Spirituality has become a private and often individualistic matter, where the practitioner is separated from the world he resides in. This is of course a tragedy and hopefully subject to change. But until then, the priority should be bringing the gods outside; finding ways of making these ancient principles guide and motivate our earthly actions. This is no easy thing – after all, society has undergone significant changes the past two-thousand years – but facing this challenge will bring about practical rewards as opposed to vapid escapism.
In the carrying out of these principles, he describes his own existence as somewhat akin to an endless series of grey Tuesdays.
– Most days start off with lifting weights at the gym, seeking to embody the archetype of Thor by building the strength required to face daytime demons. Then, watching the radiant red eye of Odin rising in the West, I go about my day. I work hard until evening time, when I return to the home my toiling has paid for and count the blessings Freyr has granted me. The next day, I repeat this process; not because it’s fun, gives some higher insight, or that I particularly want to; I do so out of duty to my kinsmen.
What of those who want more from life than being shackled to the traditional employment cycle?
– Then I bid you the best of luck, but my guess is that you’re spoiled and will remain miserable. Taking time-outs, venturing into the wilderness, visiting ancient grave-sites to contemplate what the hell you’re doing with your life… all that’s great, as long as it serves as a reminder of why you do what you do, or as inspiration to bring about positive changes. However, the main focus must be on our everyday existence – where real life plays out; it’s in this level of reality things must be turned around for the better.