by Niklas Göransson
Death has, in various forms, permeated the entire existence of Australia’s Grave Upheaval. As the necromantic chants of their second album grow louder, the surviving two original members grant exclusive insight into its inner workings.
– We initially formed as a bestial death-band under a different name back in 2008 – however, as soon as we started rehearsing, the music progressed naturally into something slower, darker, and heavier. This prompted the name-change to GRAVE UPHEAVAL. We recorded various rehearsal demos around this time, all of which remain unreleased. Then, in early 2009, some members went to Mexico to follow a tour with MORBOSIDAD and MANTICORE.
Wait, you actually went to Mexico to join a black metal tour?
– Yes, a few of us flew over and had a wild time – made some lifelong mates and returned with a lot of crazy memories. To mention a few… small underground venues packed to the brim with dedicated maniacs, cheap-as-fuck beer, violence, people wearing spiked gauntlets in the pits with blood going everywhere as a result, etcetera. Hanging out on the streets with the SHUB NIGGURATH guys, drinking while blasting the VOMITOR demo out of their car. Fights breaking out during the bands, windows smashed on the streets and both police and military taking people away. We also got to see UNHOLIER play their last-ever show, were pulled out of the car by checkpoint authorities with machine guns aimed at us, and had to bribe police to avoid going to jail…
The Aussies also got a taste of Mexico’s staggering homicide rates, as discussed in the MORDSKOG conversation.
– As we were crossing the border, there was a massive shoot-out between police and cartel members that left dead bodies strewn all across the street. Then the cops raided the venue while bands were playing. Corpse Romancer (guitars) was robbed of a CD by a homeless man, laughing non-stop while it was happening of course. A last-minute venue-change ended upstairs of a gay bar where the only available toilet was full of guys in their underwear, covered in foam and trying to size you up – and not in the fighting manner. This turned out to be one of the funniest nights of our lives, with Corpse Romancer‘s antics.
He mentions having previously visited Mexico to check out the pyramids, temples and historical sites – tourist attractions, more or less – which is why it was of particular interest to see an entirely different face of the country.
– We drove basically all over Mexico to get to the shows, which meant we were lucky enough to see and experience many of its different facets. Small traditional villages, old dilapidated churches and buildings, and a more humbling way of life; stuff you wouldn’t normally get to see as a foreigner. Once back in Australia, we recorded our first demo. During that time, Goat Destroyer – the MORBOSIDAD drummer for that tour – died. I’m not sure what happened but I think he fell from a building, I don’t know if he was partying or if it was work-related; we’ve heard different accounts. We’d grown close with those guys during our time there, so it was decided to release a split with MANTICORE as a tribute to him. When we’d finished composing our contribution, Corpse Romancer died under very similar circumstances; he fell off a cliff while we were drinking on top of a mountain.
As a result, the 2011 split with MANTICORE became a homage to both MORBOSIDAD’s Goat Destroyer and the original guitarist of GRAVE UPHEAVAL.
– Corpse Romancer never heard his music put onto tape, CD, or vinyl; we received the physical copies of our demo around the time of his funeral. Nevertheless, this hasn’t prevented him from being part of all of our releases in one way or another – be it a riff or lyric he’d written or vocal lines he recorded.
With regards to the thematic concepts of their new album – more about this later – I wonder if their experience with bereavement within the band has in any way influenced their views on human mortality.
– In a sense you can say it has, just as everything experienced in life will exert some sort of influence over you. But realistically, all of us were already at this mindset for many years before Corpse Romancer died, so I’d potentially say no – or at least not as big of an influence as it might have had on others. We’ve all been around death in various situations even before the band’s conception. Perhaps some of those situations have shaped our views?
GRAVE UPHEAVAL features a perfect example of something that was discussed in the NEGATIVE PLANE article – drummers who are originally guitar players. I remember listening to an album of another band he plays with while in the company of a professional percussionist; my friend simply shook his head in confusion and noted that no ’real drummer’ would ever come up with anything of the kind. I should add that this was meant as a compliment.
– I’d be keen to know what part he was talking about as I don’t consider my playing overly creative at all. I do have a different way of subdividing beats and thinking about rhythm in general, but I don’t think it’s anything complex. Maybe more expressive? What I do, that I don’t hear a lot of metal drummers doing, is playing riffs on the drums instead of just ’keeping time’. So, when something bizarre is happening on the drums – there tends to be equal peculiarity emanating from the guitar. I think drummers who lack understanding of string instruments usually don’t pick up on the subtleties involved in certain riffs and only create beats based off their rhythm.
GRAVE UPHEAVAL’s music is minimalistic, so the drums are minimalistic.
– I developed my style out of frustration from hearing drummers ruin riffs by over-playing, throwing in off-beat and ’groovy’ wankery, or playing too mechanically. I learned by watching footage of and listening to drummers whose sound I wanted to emulate, which at first were Alex Hernandez (FALLEN CHRIST, IMMOLATION) and Kyle Severn (INCANTATION). I didn’t pick these guys because I thought they were the best, but rather because there was high-quality drum-cam footage of them performing songs I knew really well. They also play a style I thought would be appropriate for what I wanted to achieve. Drummers who’ve been influential to GRAVE UPHEAVAL are Jeff Nardone (GOAT LORD) Satyricon (GOAT SEMEN) Snake (VON), as well as Sadomatic Slaughter and Necroperversor (both formerly of BEHERIT).
Through conversation, the nameless drummer has proven to be rather knowledgeable about music theory. I’m curious if scholarly tutelage has much potential benefit for metal percussion.
– I was self-taught on guitar for fifteen years before I started formal training and I’ve never taken any drum lessons, so I don’t think that knowledge had much bearing. One thing I’ve noticed is how I now have better understanding of what playing on top, in front of, or behind the beat can achieve in certain situations – I use this knowledge to manipulate and enhance the overall feeling of a riff.
Revisiting mental notes from my first listening session, I recall observing about halfway-through that GRAVE UPHEAVAL’s most recent effort sounds reminiscent of droning death metal performed by the bastard offspring of “Drawing Down the Moon” and “Worship Him”. The production is appropriately abysmal and, I believe, engineered entirely by their own hands. Despite relative minimalism, I’d say the music is rather multi-faceted in the sense that there’s a lot going on – just not usually at once.
– Our material might be simplistic in a musical sense, yet it still carries significant depth and many different sides you can discover or delve into – depending on what you’re looking for. We’ve always recorded, mixed and mastered everything ourselves. If you have the means and ability to do so, you should be able to get far closer to what’s in your head than by going to a ‘professional’ studio with an engineer that may not understand what you’re trying to achieve or be willing to do things in an unorthodox way. There are many times in the recording and mixing process where we go about things in an unconventional manner, techniques ‘professionals’ would consider completely wrong. You don’t always have to follow the path that’s been laid out before you.
As an example, he mentions that the vocals on their untitled 2013 debut were recorded through an old pair of headphones instead of a microphone.
– We stayed up all night in preparation – drinking and listening to BEHERIT, DEMONCY, DISEMBOWELMENT and BRIGHTER DEATH NOW – until the bottle-o opened so we could buy more liquor and get started. The album was conceived in utter darkness and completed in twenty-four hours.
He adds that the songs themselves tend to take life of their own, changing form organically as they’re rehearsed or performed live.
– Not because we want to play them a certain way from one time to another or that they ‘evolve’, it’s more that we don’t think about what we’re doing or what’s happening. Our composition is performed intuitively, which allows for the piece itself to dictate where it’s going – following whatever atmosphere it emanates from one moment to the next. When the latest member was brought into the fold, he asked how many times a certain part should be played and the rest of us just looked at each other, having no idea since we’d never taken notice.
They explain that much like the actual music of GRAVE UPHEAVAL’s new record, its oration derives from ritualistic meditation. The lyrics are spelled out in a writing system of their own creation – somewhat inspired by languages such as Ogham, Theban and Enochian.
– Certain elements need to have conscious thought involved, but the majority comes about in the opposite – we want them to manifest for themselves. With this new album we tried to have as little conscious input as possible, so the writing had a pure connection with the original ritual and our musical and lyrical interpretations thereof. These lyrics were then written in ’code’ on scrolls of parchment which have been compiled and bound into a book to accompany this release; our very own grimoire. Only those versed in the language can understand it, similar to how Theban was originally used.
Theban, also known as the witches’ alphabet, is a writing system of unknown origin. Its first documented use was in a 16th century cryptographic publication called Polygraphia, in which it’s attributed to one Honorius of Thebes. Not much is known about this mythic character, besides that he allegedly curated the Sworn Book of Honorius – a medieval grimoire containing some of the oldest and most influential esoteric writing of its kind. The Liber Juratus Honorii, which is its original name, purports to stem from a conference of magicians who’d all agreed to siphon their combined knowledge into one tome. Through its ninety-three chapters, the book contains tips and tricks for the afterlife as well as instructions about everything from unearthing treasure to summoning demons and practicing necromancy. It also features intricate descriptions of rituals and illustrated examples of symbols used therein.
– These writings are accompanied by a talismanic sigil used during each ritual. The images are part of the instructions, revealing which instruments are required and how to use them. We’ve never published lyrics before and wanted to reveal our conceptual themes while still remaining shrouded in obscurity. The letters resemble the Egyptian approach to hieroglyphs in that their typography had a direct link to theology – the writing itself is the spell, so it’s not necessary to understand in order to use. It’s the underlying intention that’s most important, so in a way the script itself is talismanic too.
Is there any chance for a dedicated listener to decipher the writing?
– Sure, the glyphs could be transcribed. However, I’d say it would be extremely hard to do so. They’re primarily meant to be kept inside the band. We never granted any insight to the lyrics in our songs, although we’ve found many people capable of picking up on the general theme. Our previous album dealt with the atmosphere or vibe surrounding a certain matter, as opposed to the subject itself.
He adds that fans have often asked for lyrics, so this time they decided to at least offer them a glimpse into the world of GRAVE UPHEAVAL.
– If not truly what they’re after then at least something for their mind or subconscious to ruminate. Admittedly, this has been done many times before and trying to be mysterious has become some sort of trend these days. For us, the underlying reason is completely different – our intent is to influence the listener’s thoughts or subconscious the least amount we can, instead leaving them at the mercy of their own imagination. Employing your mind to illustrate whatever it is you seek from the music allows for a more powerful and memorable experience, as opposed to letting the musicians act as guides.
Would you say that your music has any metaphysical properties?
– I don’t think the themes are philosophical enough for it to be considered metaphysical. The lyrics aren’t concerned with questions or answers about spirituality – they’re quite blunt and to the point – but being old spells recorded in trance-like meditative states, there’s obviously the possibility that we’ve imprinted something subconsciously. I’m no expert in these matters but I could see how it would be possible for something to be infused into the recording, either through our own psyches or from beyond. That’s the point of using verses from real incantations recorded in this fashion, to give the themes and music more meaning and legitimacy. If something wants to fuck with us and our listeners during this process, that’s great!
Can sonically-charged sorcery endure digitalisation then, I ponder. Besides the perceptible audio difference, one could ask what else changes when analogue music is converted to virtual data; into ones and zeros.
– That’s a very interesting question. My initial response would be to say no, as it sounds unlikely that anything organic could survive intact in the digital realm. However, the more you think about it, the chance of saying yes to this question increases. Even if the digital version lacks the ‘charge’ of the original piece – once it’s played and certain words, vocals or structures of music which resemble specific formulas are broadcast through the speakers and become analogue again, it could serve to re-ignite whatever ethereal elements were there in the first place. Say you were playing a CD with specific magical imagery printed on top – could spinning the disc begin powering the forces its sigils represent?
They suggest we consider this in terms of quantum physics – if everything in the universe is energy, one could think of the original rituals, spells, and sorcery as being either movements or a redistribution thereof.
– If you hold to that frame of thought as those spells enter the digital realm, if those ones and zeros are a part of the universe – then they’d also be regarded as energy. Essentially, if both are the same thing, it would lend thought to the idea of magic being able to withstand digitisation. Could be a far stretch, but something to contemplate. Another aspect to reflect on would be the potential use of 3D-printing technology. Could you somehow in the future email the schematics and digitised information of an analogue recording on tape reel to someone and then have them replicate it with a 3D printer from their end? Would it just duplicate the tape reel or could it also preserve the music recorded on it?
The songs on their latest offering are all based on concepts of necromancy; they describe the rites and then carry them out. These spells as well as the chanting are direct copies of ritual incantations they came across while conducting research.
– The first spell is the cursing of a priest’s grave. When a clergyman is buried in accordance to Christian tradition, he’s put to rest facing eastwards; this practice stems from the belief that when God decides to end the world, Christ will come from Megiddo in the east to raise his followers from the dead. The priests would be the first to rise, aiding the Messiah in rousing the remaining flock. This song casts a spell on the priest’s grave, so he’s no longer regarded as pious and thus unable to rise. Then follows the ritual of sciomancy – a different form of necromancy where instead of raising the hollow corpse, its former spirit is called back from the dead and then prevented from returning to its body. Once drawn out, typically lured with vapours and lights, the spirit is shown the rotten appendage of its own body which repulses it to the extent where it refuses to go back.
This leads us to the next step: infernal necromancy and possession – calling a demon to possess someone. In this case, the priest’s vacant corpse.
– A blood sacrifice is required and the ritual needs to be carried out between midnight and 1.00am. With the corpse now under possession, it’s raised by means of traditional necromancy followed by a spell of obedience – allowing for control over the awoken corpse using a wand with the Tetragrammaton carved into it.
The first edition of the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, which is a language entirely without vowels – consonant-only. When the god of the Israelites takes written form, his name transliterates to YHWH in the Roman alphabet. This formation of the original four Hebrew letters which spell out the name of God is known as the Tetragrammaton.
– So, to sum up the procedure – it’s invoking the spirit from a corpse, forcing it away from its physical vessel, enticing a demon into the body, raising the cadaver and then placing it under a spell to do your bidding; essentially assuming control of the demon’s power. This procedure is described throughout our lyrics.
I’m deathly curious to know if they actually believe in any of this necromancy business. Quite frankly, it’s beyond my understanding why someone who takes it seriously would be experimenting with anything of the kind without having attained magus-level aptitude – even as part of an artistic expression. If much of the source literature is to be believed, communing with the dead seems fraught with peril. I’m reminded of something Dr. Schitz said in the MORBID article, ’If you keep making prank calls on the astral line, sooner or later someone will pick up.’
– We’re wise enough to realise that dabbling in these matters can be potentially dangerous, but a belief in necromancy is irrelevant since universal truths prevail regardless of what people believe. This isn’t to deny the reality of matters beyond our human understanding, they exist autonomously whether we acknowledge them or not. Most of the source material outlines the ritual process and verses uttered therein, but doesn’t say a word about if it actually ‘works’ or not. I definitely have more of a psychological approach to the black arts, and bearing in mind that some occult writings are in code – written purely to unlock certain parts of the human psyche – who’s to say these aren’t metaphoric too? What’s important to us is the atmosphere of death, and everything about necromancy fully embodies that.