by Niklas Göransson
Heeding the call of the wild; Tobias Fongelius of Swedish black metal band Voodus discusses the woes and perils of navigating the perpetual struggle between personal responsibility and sinister wanderlust.
– Though one could easily get that impression, “Into the Wild” is not a concept album. The music and lyrics follow the same theme and most of them, at least the ones I’ve written, touch in some way upon the fear and exaltation of thrusting oneself headfirst into the unknown. They feel almost wild in a way – dark, and even somewhat romantic in their most epic moments. The record will be released by Shadow Records in conspiracy with Regain Records on November 26. It was recorded in Necromorbus Studio with Simon Wizén (VALKYRJA) behind the control board; Tore Stjerna handled mixing as well as mastering while Brazilian artist Ars Moriendee created the cover artwork.
Tobias exhibits an unmistakable enthusiasm when it comes to black metal. Contrary to most other interviewees, he believes the genre to be more alive now than ever before and, consequently, does not take kindly to talk of its demise.
– More often than not you’ll find it’s those who were around in the alleged glory days who wail on the most about all this – which I suppose is somewhat understandable. But as for the old black metal merits they’ve built their entire personas around, I have a feeling that most of them were nothing but a bunch of hormone-crazed adolescents trying to make everything as evil and cool as possible. I can’t imagine there to have much profound thought behind their visions for performing black metal, besides that of wanting to play in a band and raise some hell. Sure, it can be a very inspiring milieu to grow up in as one’s mental boundaries are constantly being pushed further and further into the extreme, but I doubt most of them approached these things quite as solemnly as they’d like us to think. However, those who actually did take it seriously have been tremendously important for the scene’s development; they led by example, paving the way for how a real black metal band should conduct itself. I mean, there’s nothing more off-putting than meeting and talking to someone who, based on albums and stage performance, seems really cool but in reality turns out to be a fucking wimp! When that happens, any respect they may have previously incurred is instantly lost. Haha! Juvenile as it might sound, it’s fucking important to me that only tough-guys perform the metal of Satan’s glory.
By now, I imagine VOODUS must’ve met quite a few bands that had a significant impact on them during formative years. I have it on good authority that such meetings are somewhat prone to exert a detrimental effect on one’s relationship with their music.
– That’s a pretty regular occurrence. Just about every time we’re out playing, I meet people or other bands which I’ve looked up to in some way or another throughout the years. Unfortunately, it’s extremely rare that these individuals live up to expectations. Perhaps it’s been reading interviews in which they come off as very knowledgeable and staunch – completely uncompromising with black metal values and absolutely vomiting on everyone who isn’t qualified to enter its circles – that set the bar too high. But I suppose that’s the state of things. The bigger your mouth is, the greater ideals there are to live up to; and if you know yourself incapable of doing so then I reckon you should just keep your mouth shut instead. Unfortunately, the black metal scene in general has cultivated a climate of bravado and condemnations left, right, and centre. The cooler you come off in interviews, the more drones flock to your banner. And when you have enough in your ranks… well, then you’ve made it. People are so fucking willing to let themselves be blinded because they so badly want to believe in the existence of bands that are ‘for real’. I wish I didn’t take this so intensely personal, that I could still enjoy the music of these individuals as it’s often really good. But I can’t! I take what people say seriously and if they turn out to be yet another empty shell hiding behind an act then I immediately wipe them from my world.
I’m curious how VOODUS, as a not-yet very prolific band, find the experience of navigating the contemporary black metal scene.
– It’s hard as hell, you wouldn’t believe how many mines there are to step on! Speaking of which, I’m going to tread on one now: honestly, it’s pretty ridiculous how vast parts of a scene that regards itself as elitist and pure is really nothing but a gathering of misguided and pathetic sheep. We have these keyboard knights who proud themselves with black metal expertise after reading up on the genre online – without ever actually having experienced it in the flesh – gathering in their obnoxious internet swarms to attack those who might just want to stick out somewhat from the murky middle-ground of political correctness. It’s an interesting phenomenon, I must say, that everyone struggles so hard to be as true as possible yet always prove themselves to be nothing but manacled slaves following only the staked-out course ahead. Straight as an arrow, lest you be burned at the stake by the all-knowing rabble. That’s why I think WATAIN are one of the absolute most important bands in the entire genre. They don’t give a fuck what these clever thinkers say and don’t seem to be in the least bit afraid to follow their own path; it’s really inspiring to see!
Is it compatible with your interpretation of black metal to actively promote VOODUS to people who don’t understand it?
– They will always be there anyway. Regarding social media, I’m somewhat torn when it comes to personal use but as a band it’s perfect! Had Facebook been around in the eighties I guarantee you that every fucking cult band in existence would’ve used it to promote themselves. Really, it’s idiotic not to take advantage of such a medium when it comes to spreading one’s music. To plant the seeds in people’s soul so they may grow into something greater – carving one’s way into their minds and from there using music to create cerebral crossroads – isn’t that one of the cornerstones of black metal? Spreading one’s venomous gospel and so recruiting as many as possible to the dark and truthful side? In order to achieve this we must dredge the soil of the unworthy, for there are many slumbering souls just waiting to be set alight by the liberating black flames. Anyway, there’s no point in just preaching to the already converted because developments will stagnate and we’ll wither and die.
Judging from both lyrics and music, I doubt it would be an especially contentious claim that DISSECTION are VOODUS’ single biggest influence.
– It wasn’t until hearing DISSECTION for the first time that I really felt as if I’d found my way home. The music, the ice-cold melodies, the harmonies, the voice, and not to mention the lyrics. I started reading and researching satanism in a more serious and structured fashion. It wasn’t only something cool anymore. I developed different ways of thinking and for that I’m eternally grateful! And then, in 2004, when Jon got out of prison and started up DISSECTION again, my world was complete. When “Reinkaos” came out I was utterly blown away by how good it was! And, once again, the lyrics made me change the nature of my searching. My focus became increasingly darker and more sinister. Like a man possessed, I immersed myself in everything I could find. But I was out in dangerous waters, to be honest, I had to slow down and seek guidance before something serious happened. But, as with my journey of discovery through black metal, there was no one in my surroundings similar to me so there was no choice but to get by on my own. I don’t know if there was some sort of subconscious self-preservation that made me take a few steps back, but I did and now I feel much more controlled and certain about what I’m doing. Just as it did me, I think the Satan-blessed music of black metal has left many susceptible to metaphysical thinking and injected into them an explorational lust for the unknown. Once again, evidence that one should relate to one’s black metal and the creation thereof with utmost gravity. This is for real. Music really has the power to change people’s lives and how they choose to live it, and if that isn’t magic then I honestly couldn’t tell you what is.
Have you ever been part of any magical orders or similar?
– No, even if I practice a lot of what I’ve found in books from Temple of Ascending Flames along with the writings of Temple of the Black Light and Dragon Rouge. I’ll try anything I feel able to handle but it’s primarily trance states and visualisation I work with. Certain directly focused rituals have been known to happen at certain occasions. Then charging ritual objects for use on stage, drawing from powers gained from meditation, bloodletting, and so on. All of my lyrics are based on experiences and feelings I perceive to have been under strong magical influence but also contain themes such as the fear certain powers can inflict on you. For instance, burnout could easily happen if one’s thirst for gnosis grows too strong – a longing for what lies beyond the unknown. Those are the type of topics my writings deal with. I wouldn’t call myself a great lyricist by any means but it feels far more honest and genuine to sing about matters one actually engages in and has a strong emotional connection to.
Leading up to the interview, Tobias mentioned having just returned home from hospital along with his partner and new-born second child. I’m curious if there’s any conflict to on the one hand being a responsible parent and the other a lawless devotee of the Devil’s metal.
– Oh yes! It’s a constant battle that occasionally leaves me imbalanced, stressed, and anguish-ridden. I remember when we were expecting, ever since the day my partner told me she was pregnant I felt threatened by the future – despite this having been a choice we made together. I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was going to turn out to be one irrevocable gargantuan mistake. My poor girlfriend, during the entire pregnancy I swung from joy and anticipation to depression and sheer horror! The fear most likely came from me being afraid of what a child would do to my quest into the wild, my satanic lifestyle. Would I suddenly become afraid and doubtful? Would my focus and decisiveness turn blurry and dark? Would my artistic creativity be lost? Or would everything go to hell due to a suddenly down-prioritising of music entirely, ultimately turning me into some fucking average joe? I had all of this constantly raging through my head until the day she was born, then everything instantly fell into place. The only thing which happened to me was that I suddenly loved another person, something incredibly boundlessly much! But I absolutely didn’t feel threatened by her presence or existence. However, it must have taken two full years before I really started finding my way back into the darkness of my soul again.
One would think that anyone who takes magic of the Western tradition seriously would acknowledge that there are perils involved, especially for unguided and novice experimentation. I’m wondering if Tobias takes this into consideration.
– Absolutely. That was a constant fear I carried. I don’t know how many passages one can experience but I’ve endured several very long dark and depressive periods in my life that I’m entirely convinced were a direct result of my esoteric work. However, I’ve always managed to claw myself out of that shit. Right now, I feel stronger and more balanced than ever and I don’t want that to change. As long as my daughters need me as a father, I aim to be there for them one hundred percent. But I do know that I can’t close my eyes to what is truly me, my self, for very long. I’ll definitely be finding a new path to tread soon enough. I’m pretty content with the equilibrium I’ve managed to maintain but sometimes, when the balance is out of tilt, I truly feel like a werewolf at full moon. I just want to abandon everything, leap into the darkness to get a taste of blood and then let the chips fall where they may. Commit a total revolt against myself. But that will simply have to wait; I soothe my inner dragon, feed him promises of a radiant tomorrow and it works for a little while longer, haha! And, if I’m not mistaken, didn’t Carl Jung write that one should wait until one’s thirties to really start exploring the dark? I don’t know if that’s true but for me it’s a rule of thumb that’s worked really well. I’m thirty-five today and feel more at peace and ready than ever to ‘depart’ when the time has come.