by Niklas Göransson
Earthly manifestations of spiritual realities – “The Furnaces of Palingenesia” were lit one month ago to the day. After granting listeners ample time to engage from a blank slate, Deathspell Omega now break their decade-and-a-half long silence.
This interview is a one-time deviation from the standard Bardo Methodology approach, in that it was written up in classic Q/A format rather than a longform article.
Why speak out now, for the first time in fifteen years?
Because it’s 23:58 on the doomsday clock. It’s also a matter of overall internal coherence, as discussed with you before we entered the studio last year. All previous recordings demanded a presentation in absentia, any departure from that stance would’ve been treason towards their essence. “The Furnaces of Palingenesia”, on the other hand, is as concrete, material, palpable, and contemporary as possible. Hence, the modus operandi evolves and adapts. This interview can be regarded as an extension of the album and, on some select aspects, of our work over the last – well, you said it – fifteen years. It’s going to be dense so we’ll provide plenty of reading tips, should anyone in 2019 still want to read more than 140 characters, and cordially invite you to think – à la the ‘cowboy scene’ in Mulholland Drive.
“The Furnaces of Palingenesia” – your seventh studio album, was recorded and mixed using only analogue gear. Kindly fill us in on the relevancies?
The album was recorded at Kerwax Studio in Brittany with kind assistance from Christophe Chavanon and Marion of MÜTTERLEIN. We provided a description of the album which reads as follows: ‘Janus in the midst of the ninth circle of Hell; a prophetic abomination recorded on gear ante anno 1984 vomiting 2084 in the shadows of the horns.’
It might also be relevant to mention that we tried infusing “The Furnaces of Palingenesia” with that ominous sense of tragedy found in Furtwängler’s 1944 rendition of Brückner’s ninth symphony, as bombs were raining over Berlin and European civilisation as a whole was committing suicide under the impulse of those whom Nietzsche, with utmost disgust, called ‘the men of resentment’.
DEATHSPELL OMEGA’s earliest output was recorded on an eight-tracker in your rehearsal room – quite the contrast to this Kerwax Studios, judging by the photos on its website.
The equipment used during a recording session is, by definition, going to impact the result. The less distorted and more organic the production is, the more it will transpire. An eight-tracker was perfect for the early sectarian years, which were a rabid variation on the same theme, but when we attempted to record “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice” with the same equipment, its limitations became apparent – the potential of the songs remained unfulfilled and the vision we had, mutilated… we archived that version and adapted our modus operandi accordingly. Art, or at least honest art, is a lot of trial and error. A very humbling endeavour, even with years of experience under one’s belt. Case in point, our first attempt at making “The Synarchy of Molten Bones” as glacial and violent as we deemed necessary failed, resulting in a discarded recording and new song-writing session.
Were you able to recreate the same ambience in that posh chateau studio as you did in your old black-painted rehearsal room, illuminated only by candles?
It’s rather easy to conjure up the most sinister spirit in any place, at any time. There are mental techniques that, within seconds, will plunge you into the very depths of the abyss of this world. Practitioners use it as a means of projecting strength or apparent wellbeing in the face of adversity – you can also invert the process and summon abjection.
Seeing as how the songs are interconnected – did you record them individually, track-by-track, or several in one go? It must require a near-psychotic amount of rehearsing to perform even individual segments of this material to satisfactory tightness.
We recorded most songs a few times over the course of about a day and a half, then kept the most intense performance – or the one with most feeling. Not that the versions varied much; after months of preparation, entering the studio and nailing your material ought to be close to a mere formality, especially when playing to a metronome. Towards the end of the session, everything seemed to fall into place naturally and a rather complex song like “Absolutist Regeneration” was actually only recorded once.
Would you ever consider performing any of your material live in concert?
We wrote this record with the firm intention of performing it live in the studio. It’s also the first we considered suitable for a concert as its very nature would allow for, or even benefit from, such a context. However, it appeared that some musicians – shall we say, of the second circle – were in no position to dedicate the time such an ambitious project would require, so we simply buried the idea. Whether such an opportunity may arise again regarding future works will depend on their lyrical nature and on who’s invited to partake.
During the course of my research I came across quite a few forum debates whether your post-“SMRC” drums were performed by a human or not, with “Mass Grave Aesthetics” being the foremost referenced example. Could you shed some light over the matter – to what extent has your output featured humanoid percussion?
The only DEATHSPELL OMEGA recording to ever have featured a drum-machine were the four songs on side A of “Infernal Battles”. Isn’t that obvious?
Moving to the conceptual side of things, we begin with the title. Before commencing actual adult discourse on the topic, we might as well seize this chance to clarify for the confused. ‘How did DEATHSPELL OMEGA not think people would clock that obviously fascist title?’, stated one of many outraged Twitter voices. Clearly, you were naively unaware that Hellenic terms for rebirth are inseparable from the advocacy of totalitarian corporatism. Considering the times we live in, weren’t you expecting some turbulence over this?
It is our utmost conviction that the artist ought to stand beyond good or evil and that the pursuit of his or her artistic goals should therefore remain untouched by considerations pertaining to critical reception, the sensitivity of a potential audience, or anything that would detract from the full accomplishment of those artistic goals. Taking into creative consideration the very fragile current zeitgeist would render any piece of art absolutely harmless and devoid of worth – and by that we affirm that most of what’s considered art these days is a singularly watered-down version of what it should be. Lack of singularity or vision may be forgivable, bending the knee in front of your contemporaries – most of whom long to become what Zarathustra, with disbelief and horror, called ‘the last man’ – entails compromise without return and is, consequently, unforgivable.
Let’s reason in historical terms. Just look at the incredible vitality of Soviet art in the revolution’s early innings; all of which ended in stale conformism as soon as the party tightened its grip on intellectual life. Similarly, one shouldn’t be surprised that the geniuses in the Entartete Kunst exhibition of 1937 were, not exclusively but mostly, those the National Socialist authorities intended to ridicule. Rather… let us leave the world of binary thinking for a minute, concentrate solely on the individual of exceptional fabric, and dream aloud. What about a bold move instead? Say, the frictional ground of a meeting between the artistic work of Albert Speer and the artistic work of Otto Dix?
Let us expand on that. DEATHSPELL OMEGA, as a collective, works in circles. The French core of the collective – which, incidentally, is the creative core and source of music and lyrics – is Bataillian by definition and therefore completely immune to mundane politics, having deconstructed them a long time ago. For the layman: Bataille first fought the far-left when it was considered a promising horizon for mankind and then, shortly thereafter, fought the rise of the far-right when these movements began gaining traction – not least because Bataille was one of the most penetrant readers of Nietzsche and, eventually, stood worlds above such petty illusions. When the many were begging to drink the sweet milk of imposture, he could see the puppet strings and smell the rot.
A minority of the collective’s contributors – shall we say, parts of the second circle – who’ve been invited to partake because of their incredible talents as musicians are involved with earthly politics, but stand on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum and are therefore irreconcilable political foes. Were it not for dialogue on the grounds of transgressive art, they’d be shooting each other. That tension is what interests us. It’s also an echo of more complex days – times when childhood friends Aragon the communist, Malraux the Gaullist and Drieu La Rochelle the fascist, while never reneging on their respective irreconcilable combats, for years lost neither the ability for sincere and profound dialogue nor their admiration for each other’s unique talents.
If you make art ‘safe’, no matter your concerns – moral, aesthetic or otherwise – you sterilise it and, in the long run, with utmost certainty, kill it. If, on the contrary, you allow and even invite conflict and chaos at the core of the matrix, you enhance the possibilities infinitely. Ironically, by taking this approach – which in many ways mimics life itself – we espouse a Nietzschean life-affirming stance whilst potential detractors to our method stand within the ranks of those slowly choking the human mind, paving the way for the aforementioned ‘last man’. If only things were as simple as good and evil!
As an artist, you ought to be obsessed by cruelty. Cruelty towards yourself, as you ruthlessly discard works which don’t live up to your standards – standards which must be devoid of any complacency and in a constant and strenuous process of self-betterment, killing the mediocre material over and over again. Cruelty in the implacable execution of your art. Cruelty in the themes you consider unworthy and those you choose to convey. Let us summon Beth Gibbons here, performing Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, making the abominable mourning of a mother into a tangible reality for the whole audience – that’s the frontier. What lies beyond, or shall we say below, is of no interest to us because it cannot lead to the critical spasm, this distinctly otherworldly moment that makes art a communion with the gods.
Georges Bataille was obviously a massive influence on the thematic content of your trilogy and its appendixes. To what extent does his ideas tie in with the new era?
Bataille once stated that reading Marquis de Sade was not only a recommended but mandatory step for anyone whose purpose is to genuinely understand man. Reading Bataille is not only a recommended but mandatory step for anyone whose purpose is to genuinely understand the madness within God – the savage laughter bordering on absolute insanity which is concomitant with any absolutist religion. His thoughts shed a crucial light on the notion of transgression and how this may be a key element of self-discovery. One may also want to mention his theoretical experiments with a religion centred on the death of God. Of course, none of this would’ve been possible without his filiation with, and absolutely splendid interpretation of, Nietzsche. One can never really escape the shadow of Bataille, an intellectual and literary giant.
To my understanding, the overall lyrical theme is the alchemical process of transforming the modern human into a streamlined and malleable New Man. This furnace is perhaps the allegorical forging oven for said metamorphosis. Is that a half-way correct conclusion? This would also tie in with the title’s regenerative connotations.
The word palingenesia has multiple meanings, the biblical one being ‘Last Judgement’. The title of the record is therefore also an allusion to the fact that every rebirth, every revolution, already contains its own Last Judgement from the very beginning. That judgement is, as anyone who’s watched the video to “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!” knows: ‘Thou shalt scar the earth with barren furrows.’ A revolution starts with the incredible recklessness and optimism of youth, with an overload of energy – almost kinetic in nature – that may shatter the old world but, eventually, if history is any guide, will also devour its own children. It goes without saying that the judgement on our current world has already been uttered; it takes a lot of Valium to not hear the cracks, everywhere.
Palingenetic movements from both the left and right have, throughout history, shared a vivid interest – an ontological necessity even – for the advent of a New Man. Emerging either from a mythological past of unadulterated purity or from a new, apparently scientific, and therefore objective paradigm. In any case, getting rid of that which contradicted the flawless logic of ideology was a close next step; life rarely fits a mould made of such hubris. Particularly enlightening were practices under Mao and the Red Khmers where the victims, prior to being disposed of, were forced to revisit their lives by rewriting their biographies, again and again, either to acknowledge faults they hadn’t perpetrated in the least or to fit the paranoid needs of ideological superstructures which thrive on, and constantly require, enemies. The only certainty being that there is, as always, an impending purge.
In May 2019, you released the video for “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!” A powerful visual expression, one which makes far more sense to me now that I’ve familiarised myself with the lyrics. The alleged Irminsul gallows has, unsurprisingly, inflamed some suspicious minds so kindly explain its significance. To what extent did you give Dehn Sora free reign over the content – was he operating under detailed instructions or more through a general framework?
An Irminsul, really? Have we ever worked with the Norse tradition? Those gallows represent the scales of justice, based on Greek mythology – the filiation goes to Thémis, to be precise, and everyone knows the secular symbol of justice. You may also have noticed how the shirt design depicting these scales is named precisely that: Justice.
Dehn Sora was given the complete lyrics to the album, a detailed guide as to which aesthetics we wanted to pursue, and was then allowed to let his otherworldly talent roam free. Barely a single correction occurred; rarely have we witnessed someone so capable of turning words into pictures, basically reading from our minds. He was a key component in the process of incarnation that’s been so vital to the essence of this record.
“The Furnaces of Palingenesia” signifies a thematic re-orientation of sorts – from the heavily theologically laden “The Synarchy of Molten Bones” to a decidedly more grounded focus. At a cursory glance, some of it could even be read as social commentary. An almost irreligious turn, one could say, although presumably laden with a higher purpose. Was this development part of some far-reaching plan or a course decided-upon in recent years?
The attentive observer may have noticed a few scattered clues about the nature of what we were working on. The closing lyrics of “Synarchy…” are an evocation of a portion of Milton’s Paradise Lost, during which Death is set free to prey upon the Earth, and served to announce our intent of focusing on the earthly incarnations of certain spiritual realities. A t-shirt design was called The Forge – an artisanal version of the upcoming large-scale, industrial Furnaces, if you will. And there was more.
I couldn’t help but notice how your move from digital to analogue coincides with this conceptual reorientation, from the metaphysical to earthly matters.
One of our chief concerns is giving our work the most coherent incarnation possible. Every such decision depends on intricate internal factors. Recording the album outside of our usual facilities, in a place identifiable by the public – even this interview – all of this stems from the necessity of adapting our modus operandi to the earthly nature of that album’s essence, to best serve it. Recording with vintage analogue gear was another step we deemed necessary in order to escape from the abstract comfort of DAWs; a wonderful technology when your intent is to sculpt songs and sound but an inferior one if your focus is on capturing the raw energy of a glowing-red performance, in which less is more.
On “The Synarchy of Molten Bones”, most of the narrative voice is worded as ‘I’, as opposed to ‘we’ on the new album – the phrasing ‘believe me’ being a lone exception to this. Judging by their plans and designs, ‘the Order’ described in the lyrics sounds like what’s commonly referred to as the New World Order. The narration appears to speak of simultaneously fanning the flames of different radical collectivist currents, as if the same underlying interest is engineering rival factions to stir social unrest.
For instance, ‘Thou shalt not feel confused when our enemies begin to resemble us, mirroring us, mimicking us…’ And, “While we will pretend that there is but one leader, we will prepare a host of leaders, for every one of them is but one accident in a series. While the road is indeed straight, there is a multiplicity of them.’ Additionally, the multiple references to the works of Pierre Bayle could also be hinting towards this, since the philosophy behind what’s now known as the Bayle Enigma is presenting the best arguments from opposing sides.
As Erving Goffman or Howard Becker knew, there’s nothing more subversive than a good description. There can be no claims to absolute originality in our lyrics for this new album. The core structure, if not the language, is akin to a rather traditional agitating political pamphlet – in essence mirroring actual leaflets in circulation during the revolutionary undergrounds of the 20th century. That is, from the professional revolutionaries Lenin spoke of to relatively recent incarnations of similar aspirations from the 1970s, the Red or Black Brigades being an example thereof; the whole of which is twisted by our spiritual perspective and admiration for the rhetorical talent of pamphleteers such as Bloy or Céline, whose words burn no less than fire.
We cannot argue that our presentation is neutral – being a diagnosis, a mirror, and a piece of the game – but the main protagonist is, at the core of things, the reader. The intensity of the audience’s experience will depend on the energy and time they’re willing to invest in the exploration of a multi-faceted work. It was actually a sign of respect for the potential reader to present certain established events or processes, spiritual and theological, historical or psychological in such a way – eventually leaving him free to experiment and explore them based on his personality, knowledge, preferences and biases, or downright prejudices.
It acts like a mirror and some may, predictably, not like what they see – if they see anything at all – because it contributes to shatter a myth that’s so central to stability both on an individual and civilisational level: the impervious necessity to believe that what we do is just, that we are just, that good and evil in intent and deed are as distinct as night and day. That what we do is condoned either by God or whatever man-made order that’s taken precedence – whose exceptionalism is of course indisputable and acts like a secular religion. Those who missed the religious nature of the ideology of progress, nationalism, Marxism, basically any discourse based on a human collective from an essentialist point of view, up to Milton Friedman’s approach to capitalism and the potential of a good narrative to befuddle the masses, Pied Piper of Hamelin-style – haven’t been paying much attention to their surroundings. In short, one of the questions emerging at the end of the process reads as follows: how much have YOU already surrendered to the Devil? How many of the depicted mechanisms have YOU unconsciously made your own, thus how infected and corrupt are YOU? People often greatly overestimate their innocence – the louder the virtue signalling, the higher the odds – but it takes a frank and courageous character to admit to that.
The question of the narrator is indeed central. Winston Smith’s perspective is different from Maximilian Aue’s and the impact on the reader varies accordingly. Those perspectives we chose display the greatest revealing power – notably regarding processes of manipulation – akin to a chemical developer in the field of traditional photography, if you will.
While there’s a part of complete creation, it bears repeating that a lot of our narrative is based on the quintessence of actual historical writings: first and foremost, the voice of the utopians-turned-murderers and of their countless passive accomplices. Academic literature which coldly and scientifically dissected and deconstructed the mental patterns at work. The testimony of the victims, eventually, ghastly voices whose screams are today’s world whether you want to hear them or not. It’s striking, for example, to read Céline’s Bagatelles pour un massacre and then continue with Imre Kertész’s Kaddish for an Unborn Child – the way both writings echo over the ruins of a suicidal continent is haunting. Let us digress for a second and add that Imre Kertész was not only a brilliant writer but a crucial witness of the quintessence of 20th century Europe: born in Hungary, survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald only to face another form of oppression behind the Iron Curtain.
Parts of “Splinters from your Mother’s Spine” read almost like so-called conservative talking points – erosion of the nuclear family and traditional ideals, separation from cultural roots, and the state’s educational apparatus seizing control over children’s upbringing. Similar contemporary phenomena are found spread throughout the remaining tracks: feelings of overstated self-entitlement, outrage addiction, and victim culture. ‘The mere existence of conflicting opinions means that the Truth has yet to triumph’ stands as a salient observation of contemporary debate climate, where political opponents are habitually dehumanised. One could also say it highlights the similarities between religious zealots and political activists.
I also spotted what appears to various rabble-rousing rhetoric which appeals to the lowest common denominator, as perfected by various collectivist interests. As the story – if I may call it that – progresses we find even more familiar strategies such as fuelling safety concerns amongst the populace by orchestrating societal turmoil, to the severity where law-abiding citizens beg for the introduction of Orwellian police state measures. Did I lose my way in the labyrinthine narration here, or am I on the right track?
All of those are certainly pertinent observations. What may perhaps be of interest to the reader is the often surprising and counter-intuitive lineage of ideas, concepts or ethics over the centuries and through different cultures.
If we were to comment upon a mere fraction of your observations – it’s perfectly logical, by essence, that a revolutionary project would not meet its end by redefining what Hobbes called the Leviathan but, on the contrary, encompass every aspect of human life, even the structure of life as a whole. The intimate sphere… say, family or an individual’s mind, is often the ultimate retreat, last shelter. The state is the extension and even finality of every totalitarian movement – totalitarian being defined by the conjunction of any sort of structured ideology and its willingness to exert terror of some kind. The tentacles of the state will eventually find their way into that shelter, be it by apparent benevolence or in the name of a greater good. Karin Boye’s Kallocain is certainly as relevant today as it was in 1940, especially given the astounding capacities – notably of predictive nature – of recent surveillance technology by Palantir Technologies, or their Chinese counterparts. Let us also mention Shoshana Zuboff‘s theses on surveillance capitalism, something for interested parties to explore.
Ironically enough, people surrender their privacy voluntarily through social media as a means to exist socially or professionally. One could even make a point, alongside Roland Barthes who stated that fascism is not to hinder people from speaking but to force people to speak, that social media and related technology and how it extracts data – which is even more informative than language – from its oftentimes unwitting users is the quintessence of fascism. By engaging with that game, people have given renewed energy and a new battleground to what Hobbes called the war of all against all; the existence of the Leviathan is, by far, no longer sufficient to bring back peace. You end up with an official state of peace and an actual situation which mimics civil war underneath, waged online. Sooner or later with repercussions in the physical plane, as the digital world is devoid of institutions capable of making coexistence or de-escalation possible; the sole horizon being what Clausewitz called ‘a rise to the extremes’. Especially when militant factions use these new structural fragilities and their acute knowledge of the human psyche to enhance conflict. In a sense, we find it most revealing to scrutinise how these meta-structures diverge from recent utopias based on mésotès, such as Olivetti’s theoretical vision for the Italian city of Ivrea.
Researching “1523” sent me down quite the historical rabbit hole, reading about how what started in 1523 with Thomas Müntzer’s League of the Elect, in a mere decade, managed to touch the fate of so many people – and in such dramatic fashion – climaxing with the city of Münster being turned into New Jerusalem at the hands of Anabaptists. The ruling Council of 12 Elders picked up the pace even further by managing to transform rigid messianic puritanism into a regime of compulsory polygamic promiscuity within the space of only a few months. Does the lyric directly refer to these events or were the terms borrowed for metaphorical purposes?
Thomas Müntzer is interesting on two accounts. First, from a theological perspective, he was a central character during times of great doctrinal turmoil within Christianity, most notably with the rise of Luther. Secondly, he was also a key-part of the communist narrative – Friedrich Engels presented him as one of the ideology’s early revolutionary forerunners. Thus, Müntzer was a household name in the propaganda of the former DDR, while remaining largely unknown to BRD citizens with no particular penchant for history.
We intend to let the interested party explore the vertiginous ramifications, some of which you alluded to, but suffice to say that the seeds planted by Müntzer’s words and actions were manifold and predictive in nature.
The song “Neither Meaning nor Justice” ends with a modified quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 treatise Emile, or On Education: ‘Everything is degenerate as it leaves the hands of the Author of nature; everything becomes good in the hands of Man.’ Based on my understanding of the original version, your inverted perspective states that whilst God creates all things wretched, they become pure in human hands?
The idea of God had been retreating from public life for a while, and at an accelerated pace since the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon which, in many ways, marks the beginning of modernity – in the sense of a conscious separation of natural and moral evils. Rousseau, despite his doubts and optimistic assessment on the nature of man, paved the way for the Western anthropocentric worldview that’s still dominant to this day. Herein, though, lies the devilry. Homo sapiens is a particularly virulent species. Paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin’s most recent work on early hominids leads to the hypothesis that the early innings of the sixth mass-extinction of species, including Homo Luzonensis or Denisova, dates back to the very dawn of Homo sapiens’ emergence and rise to pre-eminence. Things have been accelerating at a frantic pace ever since, especially following the turning point which was industrialisation.
Lucid in some regards – Saint-Simon, Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte all knew that there had to be a derivative to man’s innate aggressive impulses and promoted industry as a means of channelling it and transforming this sinister energy into material progress for the collective. Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, author of La Marseillaise, wrote a chant to the glory of industry and productivism. Instead of conquering other people or other nations, man ought to conquer nature – to subjugate the natural world under his yoke. These murderous impulses were neither amended nor negated, simply directed at another target. However, as Spinoza wrote, Deus sive Natura (God or nature). Twice, man committed the highest of crimes: by waging an absolutist war against nature and, therefore, against life itself. And, secondly, by severing the bond to nature and forging an anthropocentric worldview that places man above everything else and, therefore, can be used to justify just about anything – no matter how short-sighted or ill-advised – so long as it appears to serve mankind’s interests. Extracting man from the natural order, by intent if not in effect, was a sign of hubris which remains literally without equivalent and whose resulting devastations will know no equivalent either. Listen carefully enough and you’ll hear demonic snigger.
Within years, an astute observer would’ve noticed what Günter Anders later called the ‘promethean gap’ between, on the one hand, ever-increasing technological prowess and, on the other hand, the astounding lack of moral progress of the species – feelings Anders so aptly named ‘promethean shame’. In parallel, as industry rapidly became an extension of mankind’s deadliest impulses directed toward his contemporaries, ideologies giving man the role of the Demiurge flourished and, predictably, ended in horrors on a scale which breaches the confines of imagination.
While it may appear counterintuitive at first glance, both Heidegger and Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that the events of the 20th century were predictable results, the logical continuation – the completion even – of humanism: Homo homini Deus est (‘The human being is a god to humanity’). Rousseau’s claim was all too soon shattered by the excesses of the French Revolution but, given how man’s grand enterprise is first and foremost a justification of himself, to proclaim and prove that he and his deeds are just, there’s no shortage of ideologues to herald that this time will be different and that – if there’s no other choice but to choose between different forms of violence – at least revolutionary violence may contain the seeds of hope.
However, despite all its complexities, man functions according to some very basic principles, one of which is arguably the mimetic desire as theorised by René Girard. Industrial capitalism which, in effect, constitutes the backbone of the contemporary world thrives on that mimetic desire. The recent omnipresence of social media has acted as an incredible force of acceleration for that never-ending cycle of frustration-consumption-frustration. As, a side-note, said platforms are also an extraordinary tool for the Great Solvent to work his magic and enhance polarisation to the point of imbecility, to silence the complexity of thought and let bare emotions reign under simplistic banners. Girard also pointed to the scapegoat mechanism – the primeval crime, if you will – which unites groups of humans for brief moments in time, until the maturation of the next cycle of violence is complete and new crimes becomes necessary for the collective exorcism, as a new bond. For so long as man’s goal is to hasten the advent of Paradise on Earth, to immanentize the Eschaton from a strictly materialistic perspective of comfort and wealth, disaster is all but certain. Voegelin argues that there’s more than Hegel’s responsibility at stake, that the whole precept of man-centred modernity is to blame. This, Niklas, in a nutshell, is the sense of the warped Rousseau quote.
Another recent development is that whereas some lyrical phrases are sung, most are only found in the booklet. What prompted this?
In the beginning was the Word. Our creative process always starts with the overall concept and it’s narrative, which is depicted through words – that language is then deciphered into a musical language. All are equally important, but not abiding by this order would yield the intolerable outcome of incoherence. When you lose the capability of describing the world, madness lies within reach.
The necessity of that coherence became obvious many years ago, whilst reading Paul Celan: how do you structure poetry – which, after all, is music – to truthfully reflect the world that yielded Auschwitz, the Gulags, Mao’s re-education camps and soon S-21? A world that’s currently pregnant with monstrosities poised to overshadow those of the past? And, in turn, what kind of harmonies or dynamics or plain riffs can truthfully reflect these words? We always found it highly revealing that the most criminal human regimes insisted on musical standards based on tonality, for example, a thin veil if there ever was one.
Barely a word from “Year ∞” made it to music – why is that?
“Year ∞” was supposed to be the album’s eleventh track but a mundane yet crucial point hindered its completion: as any audiophile knows, cram too much music on a vinyl record and the sound will eventually suffer no matter the quality of the cut. However, the lyrics, being an integral part of the whole, remained.
Your first two albums were initially only released on highly limited vinyl. It bears mentioning here that this was before the underground turned digital and just about anything obscure became available for streaming. In my understanding, this was a measure undertaken to keep non-devotees at bay? One would have to assume there to have been a policy shift around 2003, when both albums were issued on CD. Then, of course, followed one year later by the palingenesis of DEATHSPELL OMEGA with the ground-breaking “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice”. Tell me about the thought process leading up to this complete attitude reversal?
Those limited print runs some twenty years ago came from the elitist yet naive assessment of there being perhaps two hundred like-minded individuals in the entire world – a bunch of whom we corresponded with – and that our works were best-suited shared only with them. It soon appeared that greed is, as we should have known, ever present. Ending speculation by printing more was mere pragmatism and a quick lesson in underground ethics or, shall we say, a reminder of human nature. At the core of it, worrying about limitations is a distraction from the actual essence of the work and, as such, absolutely irrelevant. Elitism lies solely within the soul and execution of art; this can be tainted by no one and nothing.
How much of the composition process takes place in a so-called flow-state? This is especially interesting considering the intellectual – what I presume people refer to as mathematical – approach to riffs, drum patterns, and general song structures. Can such music be compiled without conscious influence?
The truth is that there’s a lot of old-fashioned, hard work behind all we do and such moments of grace – when music or lyrics seem to be channelled almost magically – are most likely just the result of a rumination that lasted for days, sometimes months, on a subconscious level. It’s not as if we get any rest, Niklas, all of this is a calling and therefore well beyond obsession. It’s the translation of both a Weltanschauung and the meticulous choice of a set of tools.
For example – microtonal works, highly unusual music by traditional Western standards, struck us for their ability at conveying a sense of impending malaise. Neue Musik also forged the understanding that one does not necessarily have to reason in terms of traditional melodies, riffs, or scales but that music can be the expression of pure abstract emotion; that the moment you turn organic instruments into animals screaming to the death, as Penderecki did with the “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”, you’ve reached a certain musical language that yields unadulterated truth. Add to that the absolute passion we have for a lot of radical music that emerged since the late 1960s – among which extreme metal and specifically black metal is, from the most primitive to the most ambitious, by essence a revolutionary and limitless genre – and you end up with a wide set of tools available during the song-writing process. Once the conceptual narrative is at our disposal, there are strong images and concepts we must convey. Here, our worldview plays a role in that we feel there’s a sense of responsibility in what we do. Let us refer to Paul Celan again for illustrative purposes: convoluted rhythms or numerical patterns, certain chord patterns, or either the use or rejection of melody are just a naturally occurring language as a means of expression for individuals without formal musical training such as ourselves. The basics for our songs are always written on an unplugged Gibson guitar, so as to hide behind neither distortion nor effects. Just the naked truth of an organic instrument. One might add that our whole equipment is actually pretty close to a typical 1970s hard-rock band. What you then hear and read is the projection of a vision.
While black metal is our beloved roots, the cement, and how we define our music, we certainly acknowledge every artist with the capability and, sometimes, courage to be a beacon of light in an ocean of conformity – be it only for a few years. We sometimes like to think there’s a dialogue within what we do, raging between select works by John Coltrane, BLACK SABBATH, Diamanda Galás, KING CRIMSON, JUDAS PRIEST, early DEAD CAN DANCE, CELTIC FROST, early KREATOR, NAPALM DEATH, early CARCASS – that bloody “Peel Sessions”… MAGMA, YACØPSÆ, early IMMOLATION, OXBOW, AMEBIX, Scelsi, early AUTOPSY, GENOCIDE ORGAN, BRIGHTER DEATH NOW and IN SLAUGHTER NATIVES, PORTISHEAD, Allan Holdsworth and early Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Scott Walker, Wyschnegradsky, Penderecki and Ligeti, JOY DIVISION… and there’d be so many more. Namedropping all these artists in one breath, as if this was an old fanzine interview from 1993, was a rare pleasure!
Most of those I knew who were wholeheartedly invested in satanic adulation around “SMRC” have evolved in various different directions as life goes on. The term ‘Devil worship’ was one you used in the 2004 Ajna Offensive interview; is it still applicable today? To what extent is Satan part of your life, and how has your view on and relationship with this metaphysical entity evolved since – if at all?
The black metal scene at that time and, in our circles, was… well, you were there Niklas and could testify to that – it was radical in opposition to what we perceived as the slow treason of second-wave bands becoming tamed and normal music. Violent as the ground of confrontation for radicalised alpha males, fanatic in its limitless desire for the absolute. It was boiling over with a certain youthful recklessness that is, on the one hand, admirable because it allows one to shoot for the stars, as our generation certainly did, by dragging black metal further down the abyss in both musical and conceptual terms. On the other hand, it was appalling because there was at times – and rather predictably so – far more arrogance, complete ignorance even, than substance or wisdom. It was indeed a permanent contest in misanthropy and, as any historian by profession knows, anyone trying to understand the nature of those formative years two decades ago would be well advised to keep this fanatically nihilistic context in mind. It was like taking a bath in lava; you’d either burn and run or be reborn, cleansed of all scoria, eventually knowing your true self. You could finally build on that which you decided was worthy and reject the rest with utmost confidence.
It takes time and sometimes multiple changes in personnel to right the course and let an idea blossom to attain full potential. When we started the decade-long work on what was to become the trilogy, we knew that our motto would henceforth be Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here). Our role – and let us not forget that it sometimes feels like a burden indeed – would, like Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy, be to present the curious and intrepid mind with an exploration of the radix malorum; a journey through the nine circles of Hell and to transmit, if you will, what we believe to be elements of gnosis that, from a certain perspective, shed light and understanding on our common reality. This was of course primarily an act of worship because, at the bottom of it, it’s a calling and that is indeed crucial. Facing something as unknowable and overwhelming as it is abominable – you wouldn’t try to negotiate with a tsunami, now would you?
You do not unlearn to perceive the world in a certain way, especially not when everything points towards the fact that we may well have been, ironically, optimists in our very early assessments. Those were the unstructured and rabid acknowledgments of the incredible force – the herculean Todestrieb (death drive) that’s part of our species – of the very thin layer separating the most refined civilisation from absolute barbarism, for man remains man.
Rather than the acts themselves, which are but a dull and uninspiring first-level reading of events, it’s their revealing power that’s of immense relevance. Hannah Arendt demonstrated during the 1950s that the death camp is the finality of all totalitarian regimes – which China, Cambodia, and others would soon corroborate to various degrees. It’s the death camp because the actual purpose of these regimes is the acknowledgment – no matter their apparent differences and official ideology – that the natural human being is superfluous. It’s too easy and comforting to reject them to the confines of history, as monstrosities even, as if they were not the expression of something deeply ingrained in the entire species. Here’s the leap: what is the implicit statement of transhumanism? What are the Silicon Valley billionaires saying with their funding of Mars exploration instead of channelling these funds towards the preservation of a habitable planet? That nine billion humans are superfluous and that the horizon, in time, is a global death camp. Anything that unveils these tectonic forces, that drive, be it historical events through the centuries or metaphysical speculation, anything laying bare these structures is a worthy consideration because it’s part of an Apocalypse; in other words, a revelation. “The Furnaces of Palingenesia” is mostly that, a revelation.
One ought to distinguish between that which is the Divine – which on one hand is and shall remain, by definition, unknowable to man – and how this principle manifests. The means, if you will. At the core of it, discussions regarding the existence or non-existence of divinity are about as irrelevant as Byzantine debates on the gender of angels. What matters is the conduit, man, and his biotope: this planet. At the very end of a superfluous process of vulgarisation, Satan is as undoubtedly real as man makes Him; an egregore, if you will, and its denomination is perfectly irrelevant so long as – after peeling layers and layers of dissimulation – the Accuser and the Adversary stare you in the eyes. The sceptic may want to keep in mind that it took the Red Khmers only a few years to give birth to an egregore, an entity called the Angkar, which possessed, at least in appearance, most traits of what we Westerners could call divinity. People lived and a fourth of all Cambodians died under the rule of the party’s spiritual emanation – a golden calf, perhaps, though no doubt deadly and real enough, should you ask the victims.
Bearing the collective’s name and past emanations in mind, do you still seek to detonate this world and put an end to all that we are?
No, we would not detonate the world because that’s not our role – rest assured there’s enough candidates for that, often by indirect yet very efficient means. Our role is – as stated previously – to document, lay bare, reflect, witness, and bow the head in awe; to build constellations for the intrepid to explore, the whole of which demands to be done with utmost artistic coherence, sincerity, and devotion. There’s a Chinese curse that says ‘may you live in interesting times’ and, at 23:58, we definitely are. Nukes would be a disappointing finale.
Judging from your lyrical work, you seem willing to kneel in reverence and awe before forces of divinity – but what of the natural world? Do you ever humble yourself before the elements of nature? Comparing the organic fallibility of your flesh to the stony eternity of a mountain, as it were.
Now this has some serious appeal, doesn’t it? Mountaineering is one of the few activities during which inner peace is almost within reach. It demands both physical and mental prowess – especially the latter, actually, a level of focus that’s almost meditative in nature. It is one of the most humbling experiences there is and possibly the best moral and mental compass. The history of mountaineering is full of truly singular men and women, very promethean in a sense and extremely inspirational.
Researching this interview, I have ploughed through an ungodly amount of online analyses of your lyrics and aesthetics. I initially dreaded this part of my preparations – fearing myself having to wade through torrents of pretentious twaddle – but was surprised to find many of them to be of seriously impressive quality. Leaps and bounds over what I was expecting, quite frankly.
People are analysing, cross-referencing, and comparing to other writers, as well as – perhaps more importantly – looking up source material. This must be a greatly satisfying accomplishment in these modern days of depleted attention spans? But, more importantly, I’m also suspecting this might even be part of the purpose? Meaning, to provide gateways into learning for followers dedicated enough to dig deeper beyond the vinyl booklet.
During our formative years, we searched to no avail for the equivalent of a relevant Index Librorum Prohibitorum. You can consider our work since “Si Monumentum…” as our Summa Diabolica, based on the idea behind Bataille’s Somme athéologique, which itself was an answer to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. A portion of that work has now been done; the corpus exists, albeit in cryptic fashion. It’s the constellations alluded to earlier, one sentence referring to a certain writing which, in turn, depending on the context may lead to another. Some quotes are unmistakable, others are deconstructed precisely to cause apparent contradictions or unintended consequences. Like vandals rummaging through the history of ideas, slowly sketching the contours of the Devil…
While a rather distant thought, our glances firmly stuck below in internal logic, it’s come to our attention over the years that some people lived up to parts of the hidden challenges – these clues we scattered all throughout our work. The first person to send us a thorough exploration of “Si Monumentum…” was probably Nasko of TEITANBLOOD, back in the day. The latest communication of a similar nature came from a student in philosophy with whom we had no prior connection.
See, we firmly believe in the motto of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. In other words, almost every great piece of art in history contains multiple worlds or interactions and the acknowledgment of the people who came before, those worthy of every praise and whose works scarred the world forevermore. It’s everything but the navel-gazing, frivolous narcissism our contemporaries revel in, because it demands that you humble yourself and learn and learn evermore. It is certainly not a matter of bland imitation but of paying your dues to people and works of exceptional fabric within the context of a work of singular nature which, unmistakenly, is your own. All the while paving the way for whatever or whoever may possibly come next. Within a line of work that primarily yields desolation, these transmissions of moments of grace are perhaps the only fully positive aspect – those rare moments during which some individuals rise to the firmament for a brief instant and the banal recedes in the face of a triumphant singularity.
A sequel to this interview – featuring questions courtesy of Roy Kristensen from Imhotep, among others – will be published at a later point in 2019.