by Niklas Göransson
Hanged at the crossroads of wakefulness and dreams, guided by the power of belief – Exile of Finnish black metal band Aethyrick discusses the second chapter of their album trilogy.
– “Gnosis” is the second pillar in our full-length trilogy. Just like on the debut, the lyrics do not form a linear narrative but are instead separate poems tied together with the red thread that is the album title – building on the concept of divine enlightenment gained through esoteric praxis. Musically, we didn’t set our sails towards completely unknown waters this time either but focused more on perfecting the approach employed on the first demo tape already.
Do you think musicians are obliged to develop their style between records?
– Ideally, creating art comes with the freedom to decide for yourself how, when, and in what form you want to create it; music is no exception. I know some bands are obsessed with completely shedding their skin on each release – and that’s perfectly fine by me – but such notions have no bearing whatsoever on us. Should it happen naturally, as a by-product, then so be it but in no way is this our objective. The worthiness of an AETHYRICK track is not measured by its qualities as a compositional trailblazer, which sounds like an absolute joke in our case, but rather by assessing whether the atmosphere is sufficiently compelling. Our personal taste in black metal tends to lean towards the non-innovative and this is heavily reflected in what we create. Whether we might be repeating ourselves isn’t much of a concern; after all, we don’t set out to replicate our previous works and therefore the outcome will always be different enough. I liken this approach to a five-course menu built around classic ingredients, executed with love and finesse. If you want molecular gastronomy and mind-jobs on your plate, we recommend the restaurant next door. Damn it, this analogy is making me hungry.
That was quick. By the time “Gnosis” was fully completed, artwork and all, not even a full year had passed since “Praxis” came out.
– We seem to work fast, yes. Our pace has been pretty much the same since the beginning and it would appear as if this is unlikely to undergo any drastic changes between “Gnosis” and the third full-length. The cup of inspiration is not exactly overflowing but it’s quite frequently filled to the brim, so the music and lyrics keep manifesting in a somewhat steady stream. Some might think that we’re rushing things, but it simply boils down to the fact that we don’t monkey around once we get going. Ideas are bounced back and forth almost in real-time and, before you know it, another song has been finished. It’s the rediscovered youth-like enthusiasm that whips us forward and, once we get started on a new track, we rarely leave anything halfway done because we’re just too eager to hear the end result.
Tell me about the cover artwork?
– It portrays a feverish vision of an initiate being transformed through the acquisition of godly knowledge. It’s a near-abstract image, the sole reason for this being that the gift of gnosis is for the aspirant to actually experience as opposed to merely being told about. These things defy words and logical reasoning, which is why it’s depicted as a dream-like glimpse beyond the veil. There are, of course, a myriad of details but the central ones are the feather cape of rainbow hues denoting the Peacock Angel in this context and the crescent-shaped horns crowning the figure with wisdom. He faces a coffin-shaped shadow on the wall, which connects this cover to that of our debut in the sense that the aspirant has now passed through the grave-gate depicted on “Praxis”; it’s now regarded as a shadow of the past, albeit an important one.
Exile says that further links to the previous album can be found in the line-up photo. In the promo shot for their debut, the duo stood side-by-side in a shallow river surrounded by intensely green forest on both sides. They carried torches burning in broad daylight, as to indicate that the flames are not being meant to chase away the darkness but rather commemorate the fire of divine knowledge.
– The torches from that river photo now burn at the heart of the sacred circle. They are arranged in an X-shape, signifying the crossroads at the centre, and their illuminating flames cast our shadows beyond the circle’s perimeter. We stand at the stations of east and west, making the hand gesture of an upright pentalpha toward the rising and setting sun. At the northern point of the circle, the so-called place of power, a human skull rests atop a wooden stang; traditionally, this symbolises Cain as the hidden intercessor and lord of the Blood Acre, ruling over the rites conducted therein. So, there are quite a few symbolic features planted on purpose, but what I especially love about this particular photo is how the flames happened to dance at that very moment – they seem to form two devil-like shapes which look as if they’re doubles for both of us. Needless to say, this may just be in the eye of the beholder but it certainly works for me.
In the full printed version of last week’s W.A.I.L. feature, available in Bardo Methodology #5, the fellow Finns discussed the sauna – an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage. Throughout the conversation, I learned it had several esoteric aspects I was previously unaware of. Since Exile is heavily into regionally oriented metaphysics, I’m wondering if he has any thoughts on the matter.
– I assume it’s quite common knowledge that, in addition to its most obvious use, the sauna was where the deceased were washed and where babies were born. And this is not even a thing of the ancient past: for example, my father was born in their family sauna. It’s a perfect symbol for the whole spectrum of life, not just birth and death; the sauna is a place where you can rejoice or mourn, sit in solitude or with friends and kin, be completely silent or engage in endless debate, wash the dirt and sweat from your skin after some hard labour or simply relax in both mind and body. Due to all of the above, the sauna is also perfectly suited for purely ritual-oriented use – but for that purpose, it must be equipped with a wood-burning stove. I don’t mean to sound like a purist asshole, but electrical saunas are just for the lighter aspects and ill-suited for ritual purposes. I think it’s quite evident if you stop and think about it.
Besides the actual construction, the main difference between the two is said to lie in the heat generated. Whereas the electrical sauna primarily heats up the air and produces steam from water thrown on the rocks, the stove also radiates warmth from the burning wood and cement-laced stove. Sauna aficionados claim the difference is palpable – that the former only warms the skin whereas the latter is felt deep into one’s bones. The same principle applies to homes, where radiators bring the temperature up more efficiently and evenly than electrical heaters bellowing out hot air. One could also compare the heat from a hairdryer, of which output is usually at sixty degrees Celsius (140°F), to a stovetop or similar set on the same temperature.
– As for the spiritual aspects, there is of course the old and widely-known folkish plant magic element of using various whisks to drive out harmful spirits from the body – although nowadays they’re mostly used as a mere mundane commodity – but in regards to working with plant spirits, the possibilities saunas offer can be harnessed in more potent ways. Heat opens one’s pores, making the skin more receptive, and when plants are in steam-form their essence not only enters via inhalation but also by coating the entire body. This makes the process far more effective than exposure only to incense smoke. To give a practical example, when preparing for a recent bigger rite I cleansed my whole being in the sauna by casting a mixture of juniper berries and thunderstorm rainwater on the thoroughly heated rocks. I also filled the space with juniper needle incense, all the while calling upon the genius of the plant itself. The effect was very intense, to say the least.
When we last spoke, Exile discussed his dedication to Sabbatic craft – an esoteric system based on various lineages of European folk magic and arcane lore such as witchcraft.
– I haven’t expanded my praxis into new areas that much, but rather continued my devotional observance and further deepened my connection to – and understanding of – the tradition itself. Being unable to dedicate all my energy and waking hours to these esoteric pursuits of mine dictates that I must advance at a slightly slower pace than I’d prefer but, then again, I’m relatively at peace with this since it’s a result of my own choices.
“Oneiric Portals”, is this one about some manner of alchemically induced dreaming?
– Well, the lyrics kick off with the protagonist being hanged at the crossroads. This is not a depiction of a death scene but that of the silencing of one’s daytime consciousness and awakening to nocturnal awareness. The act of being suspended in mid-air implies an in-between state that, in this case, signifies travelling the borderlands of our world and the next. The core idea of that poem is based on the interplay of esoteric activity in both the conscious state and the world of dreams, which essentially means you employ waking-state ritual techniques whilst dreaming but also incorporate what’s learnt in the dreamworld into your regular praxis.
Using plants for various purposes is a big part of Sabbatic craft, which is why I’m curious if Exile has explored any of the dream-enhancing flora. If not, I’d highly recommend Calea zacatechichi, also known as Mexican dream-herb; quite possibly the most vile-tasting vegetation I’ve ever ingested, but immensely powerful. I gave some to my friend who has an interest in the subject; he tried it two nights in a row but found the effects too intense for comfort.
– I have not yet tried inducing lucid dreaming states through the assistance of any herbs but this sounds deeply interesting, I will make a mental note of it! However, I’m still more inclined to use only plants I’m able to harvest myself, at least in a magical context. Not to go too deeply into personal details, my dream-related workings during the past year have instead included the use of a talisman devised for this very purpose – and for strengthening that aforementioned connection between my waking and dreaming self.
In the MORBID article from Bardo Methodology #1, Dr. Schitz and I had an interesting discussion about dreams as a component to esoteric practice. He mentioned that a grand lucid dream stood at the very top of his mystical experiences, stating, ’Being fully present in a reality conjured only by my own subconscious made me realise the scope of the mortal mind.’
– The mind is indeed a marvellous machine. Far more so than we often give it credit for. However, especially when it comes to our Western mindset that is becoming increasingly detached from spirituality, the mind needs to be trained and even re-programmed in this respect. In order to bring the mind into focus and align it with esoteric objectives, we can utilise belief. When this is done successfully and maintained further, the mind becomes god-like, creating what’s being willed and re-arranging the existent. For example, belief will give ’life’ to effigies and idols – turning them into functioning interfaces between material reality and the world of spirit. Without it, such objects will remain inanimate and devoid of the powers approached through them. In a similar sense, spells and invocations and the like are not ’Candyman, Candyman, Candyman’ automatic, but to a large extent specifically employed to direct the flow of mental energy and activate the mind to be receptive to the powers called upon. Without belief, they will be little more than half-passionate lines echoing through a one-man amateur theatre.
Belief – you mean a firm conviction that the magic ‘works’, not as in adherence to any spiritual creed?
– In common language use, the word ’belief’ usually comes with unwanted connotations; you know, the ones that make the believer a passive pawn in an endgame beyond his or her comprehension. And this is, of course, generally true when talking about the sheep who fill temples all over the world – but I feel that instead of being merely a prolonged act of optimistic trust in something you don’t know for certain, belief should be seen more as a tool of creation. To put it in the words of a truly wise man, ‘Do not believe in a thing because you think it to be true, but to make it so.’