by Niklas Göransson
Daylight raging and sleepless nights; Kingdom Comes to the beating pulse of madness never-ending. Cerastes of industrial black metal pioneers Mysticum recalls mayhem and calamity throughout this world and the next.
The following is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #6. The same issue also includes conversations with FUNERAL MIST, DEAD CAN DANCE, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, SUNN O))), ADORIOR, Metalion, Dave Haley, OFDRYKKJA, Michael Denner, NECROS CHRISTOS, TEITANBLOOD, and Wim Hof.
– Coming across a drum machine around the same time as our drummer left was really just sheer coincidence; after trying it out there was an immediate feeling of, ‘Oh, this is the way.’ We were instantly captivated by its cold and sterile feeling. Trying out computerised drums wasn’t too strange of an idea for us – besides black metal, we were also heavily into the sounds of early minimal techno. Throughout the 90s we’d constantly be hanging out at different kinds of underground parties, so we already had a good connection with the digital rhythm universe.
Among the still-active bands from MYSTICUM’s generation of Norwegian black metal, I can’t immediately recall any others who’ve made a return and been so widely embraced back into the underground fold. And taken seriously.
– I’m not sure I can come up with a clear answer to that. Perhaps those who followed us and waited for our second album ever since the 90s felt that “Planet Satan” (2014) was somehow in line with what they’d been hoping for? Of course, it could also be because we kind of left the whole black metal scene before it turned into a complete circus and, consequently, never ended up embarrassing ourselves.
When MAYHEM guitarist Euronymous was slain in August 1993, the ensuing police investigation pried open the entire Norwegian black metal scene – multiple arrests and widespread scrutiny followed. It’s been said that pretty much everyone even remotely affiliated was aware of what had been going on with the church burnings, the Lillehammer murder, and so on.
– More or less, yeah, I guess you could say that. I don’t wanna go too deeply into this though. I spent a few hours at the police station but was phased out of that investigation pretty quickly, they just needed my fingerprints to match against those found in Euronymous’ apartment.
Was it as a direct result of his murder that you never recorded “Where the Raven Flies”?
– Uh, no, I don’t think that had anything to do with it. But, to be honest, some parts of this particular point in time are quite blurry to me. I think… yeah, the original plan was to call the second album “Where the Raven Flies”. Wait, no – that’s not right, is it?
Not quite. After listening to their 1993 “Medusa’s Tears” demo on his car stereo whilst driving to Bergen for the recording of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, Euronymous signed MYSTICUM to Deathlike Silence Productions. Flyers heralding the coming of their debut album, “Where the Raven Flies”, began circulating.
– Ah, yeah, exactly – that’s correct. As you can see, my recollections are a bit vague. Those times were… well, let’s just say black metal was combined with some extreme lifestyles so my memory might not quite contain every single finer detail from this era.
That cross you wear in old promo photos looks familiar, is that Euronymous’ crucifix?
– Yes, that’s true, he gave it to me along with some records. Actually, something gravely embarrassing about this, I traded both the albums and his cross for some drugs later on. That’s fucking terrible, man, but that’s how it was.
MYSTICUM had MAYHEM drummer Hellhammer as percussionist for a few months in 1996, just before American label Full Moon Productions released their debut album, “In the Streams of Inferno”. It’s interesting to ponder how things might have gone, had this collaboration persisted. MYSTICUM’s DSP lineage and Euronymous’ endorsement along with Hellhammer on drums – in the wake of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” no less – would likely have propelled MYSTICUM into black metal stardom.
– Who knows what might’ve happened if we’d proceeded, especially since Hellhammer and I had kind of the same spirit and attitude towards partying and substances back then. Mean Malmberg and Prime Evil were still a bit apprehensive and, I think in their view, if this was the way forward then it would be without them. We were a bit more extreme than those two at the time, so I know for sure that’s part of the reason why the others wanted to escape the return to human drumming. As for myself, I was of course impressed with the skills of Hellhammer – not to mention him being able to play whatever we programmed – but still, it’s the ice-cold sound and binary feel of the drum machine that is MYSTICUM. During our months of rehearsing, myself and Hellhammer went a bit off the deep end. We were kind of lost somewhere there. Good times though, but it couldn’t last.
Didn’t he invite you to join MAYHEM at some point?
– Well, I was asked… when, I don’t exactly remember, to take on a guitar role in MAYHEM, yes. But I didn’t wanna mix or be in two bands; I wanted to go on with MYSTICUM and so just declined, period.
In past interviews Cerastes has mentioned leading a pretty wild existence for quite a few years, with long stretches of amphetamines and LSD on a daily basis.
– I have big gaps… there are several years I can’t remember all that much of, but I definitely recall the feeling of staying awake for a very long time. I sort of made a sport of it, not sleeping; I had this idea that you have to keep going for at least a week to get the proper mindset of a true amphetamine high. I was out, man, silly young times – I don’t know exactly how to word this but it wasn’t too smart. From the time I was… say, late sixteen or seventeen until almost twenty-eight it was kind of full-speed ahead. There were some breaks here and there but it was mostly just throttle to the bottom and I couldn’t care less.
Sleep deprivation is serious business, did it ever get to the point where you were worried about losing your mind?
– I think, at times, I really did lose my mind and rebooted or whatever… because you come to a point when the drugs simply don’t work any longer and then you’re either forced to quit for a while or go to the next level – which I never did. I always avoided the minus sides, heroin and the like; never went that far, neither did any of the other guys. It’s a loser’s drug, I’d say. We kept our heads out of that but, you know, when you’re eating several tablespoons of the purest amphetamine and it hardly affects you… yeah. I’d say getting to where I was supposed to be probably took me a couple of years. I don’t know, man, it’s all very blurry. Dire times. I prefer to believe that in the back of my mind, I always knew I’d come out of it. I strongly believe that.
With the gift of hindsight, I’m starting to think that MYSTICUM never attaining major commercial success might actually have been for the best. I mean, as prosperous touring musicians, at least one of them would surely have suffered a fatal heart attack by now.
– Yeah, I think you’re spot on there. Some of us wouldn’t have survived, it’s as easy as that. It was pretty hard-core and many people close to us are no longer here, so… but fate wanted MYSTICUM to keep going. I don’t know, I suppose it was what it was – we’re still here and those guys who are not will always be remembered. There were many deaths in our surroundings, mostly by overdoses and mishaps during the influence of heavy substances.
Speaking of which, I once heard an anecdote that someone in MYSTICUM worked the nightshift at a hospital and, after getting home one morning, consumed copious amounts of drugs and subsequently opted for a little snuggle with his poisonous snakes. Cerastes bursts out laughing at the mere mention.
– It’s true! Somebody did indeed and ended up bitten by a baby diamond cobra… so it went a bit sideways, one would have to say. Off to the hospital in an ambulance and then they had to fly in some anti-venom from Sweden. He was sent home after a few days.
The part of the tale I found even harder to believe pertains to history supposedly repeating itself shortly thereafter. Surely, this must’ve been an embellishment.
– No! He did, it’s actually true – two weeks later. But the second time was, if I recall correctly, after a night out… just pissed-out drunk and decided to cuddle some palm viper thingy; super venomous of course. After that, he was forced to put his snake hobby on hold for some period.
In December 2017, the Norwegian parliament voted to adopt the Portuguese model of decriminalising all drugs. Here in the caliphate of Sweden, policies for illicit substances are closer to Saudi Arabia than Norway and Denmark, so we’ve been told that our neighbourly nation now stands before imminent social collapse. I wish to know if Cerastes has noticed any signs of the endtimes.
– To be honest, I didn’t know it was decriminalised. Is it really, in this country? That’s quite embarrassing actually, me of all people should probably have known about this but I don’t follow… news. All that much. But I’m happy to hear this, great – the Norwegian government has always been draconic in their approach to these matters so this comes as a pleasant surprise.
It’s interesting how Cerastes has, by his own admission, gone utterly all-in with various chemical psychotropics for well over a decade, yet he strikes me as being in far better shape – mentally as well as physically – than a lot of veteran musicians I know who stuck exclusively to booze and cigarettes.
– I think that’s a correct observation. Continuous soaking of alcohol through months and months doesn’t have the best effect on a person’s psyche; some can take it but many can’t. People turn into clowns and become shadows of their former selves. I prefer… well, preferred, other means of obtaining whatever state was sought. In later years, my approach to working with substances has been far more constructive.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #6. The same issue also includes conversations with FUNERAL MIST, DEAD CAN DANCE, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, SUNN O))), ADORIOR, Metalion, Dave Haley, OFDRYKKJA, Michael Denner, NECROS CHRISTOS, TEITANBLOOD, and Wim Hof.