By Niklas Göransson
Dutch black metal project Vaal conveys visions and sounds from realms beyond – its founder and creative force, The Specter, speaks about the judgement of mankind, settled in nature’s courthouse.
– The most important difference with my new album, as compared to the debut, is the attitude. When VAAL first came into existence, in 2016, it was during a hectic period of my life. I wasn’t aware of it back then, but I had drifted into a world completely dominated by negativity, hatred, and self-loathing. It all seemed normal at the time – black metal was a dominant factor in my life and the constant negativity felt like part of the game. I became a resentful human being and reacted to a world that had done me wrong. Hatred became my motivation, and it was through this tunnel-vision VAAL was born. But, at some point, I burned out. However, this is certainly not to say that the old flame has been extinguished; I think it burns brighter now than ever before.
The second studio album by VAAL, “Visioen van het verborgen land”, was released by New Era Productions in November 2019.
– These days, my vision is clearer and less clouded by the dominant and distracting thoughts that made me stray from a path which represented the band in an honest way. “Visioen van het verborgen land” is an album I can connect to on multiple levels; I tried to infuse it with everything that black metal means to me. This time, instead of going outwards, I travelled within and results were far more satisfying. This is what black metal means to me – a deeply introverted experience and a total shut-out of undesired elements.
You mentioned that ‘many negative associations’ stick to the previous album – is this on a personal level, or in terms of public perception?
– Both, but mostly on a personal level. It’s a long and, for the most part, rather pathetic story so I’ll spare you the details. I was depressed; I also made decisions in the art itself that actually went against my own values and ideas of what I want to see in a band, artist, or even person. That was one of the signs from which I sensed something was wrong. But it is what it is, there’s no excuse. I now move on with renewed energy on a different spiritual path.
Do you ever listen to it these days?
– No. I don’t really like the recording itself. We do play some songs off the album and demos live – it works in this context because they are given a new life.
Whereas The Specter’s work in dungeon synth project OLD TOWER is quite otherworldly in sound and feel, VAAL has more of that cold and eerie medieval ambience found in a very specific strain of Scandinavian black metal – as perfected on SATYRICON‘s debut album and GEHENNA’s “First Spell”.
– I was definitely inspired by the albums you mention, but my intention is pretty much the same as with my synth works. I suppose it was different in the early days of the project, but I now try to place more emphasis on creating worlds and albums for both myself and others to get lost in. I personally don’t see any of my work as some kind of escapist nostalgia – it’s just my interpretation of how I think black metal should be, and how I’ve experienced the phenomenon from the time of first contact. I’m sure that, for some people, this perception takes different forms further down the road, but it never changed for me. For that matter, I definitely prefer dwelling in the past.
I discovered that VAAL has now performed live. I’ve only found a few photos, none of which were especially revealing, but it’s hard not to get curious when it’s described as ‘everything that black metal should be: wild, loose, yet completely structured, vicious, and utterly demented.’
– I’m not sure what gave the audience this impression but if that’s what we conveyed, it’s a great compliment. This was probably in reference to our show in Denmark, which was a pretty insane night altogether due to other events happening. I remember having trouble breathing about three songs into the set, because the whole venue was filled with incense and cigarette smoke. People were in a violent mood as well, regarding the circumstances. All in all, I think it was a perfect night of black metal – one I won’t easily forget. Much of the inspiration for my stage performance comes from Pest of GORGOROTH, especially his early days. Most black metal bands have a somewhat static and posturing live appearance whereas I want VAAL to be mad, vicious, and hostile. Some songs are better suited for this than others, but I think the setlist now has a good combination of atmosphere and fury. We don’t do anything out of the ordinary in a live setting, just trying to keep the visual and aural tradition alive.
VAAL are unlikely to be performing live very much in the foreseeable future, yet this does not bother The Specter. I believe he’s the first musician I’ve spoken to who finds this a welcome turn of events. Then again, he’s not in a touring band or dependant on shipping parcels to feed himself.
– The virus turned the world completely upside down. Seeing the reactions of some of the troglodytes walking this planet just shows you how rotten humanity has become. The lockdowns are forcing people to be confronted with themselves; for many of them, going from an extrovert society to a quarantine society was probably quite the shock. But for me, this is a rather welcome development. I certainly feel for those close to me who’ve been hit hard in this crisis – like some musician friends who make their living from touring and are now dealing with a tonne of trouble, such as missing a great portion of their yearly income. However, I’ve also seen a shift in spirit. For example, the loss of gigs and the responsibilities that come with them also relieved said persons from a lot of stress. They are now looking into other and more creative ways of earning their income through art and music. And, I must say, they’re doing a great job at it. I do hope they won’t lose this good spirit because, judging by the current state of things, it will certainly be needed for some time.
Even if one still has an income and is content with staying indoors, these are not the only complaints being bandied about. For example, many have voiced concerns that perceived Orwellian measures being rolled out to halt the infection rate will become mainstay.
– I try to remain positive and not dwell too much on all this ‘Orwellian’ babbling you’re talking about. Sure, politicians and such scum will definitely take advantage of the situation to push whatever agenda they may have, but they’ll be given no choice but to accept that things will need to fundamentally change. How we use our planet’s resources, how we deal with overpopulation, and – most importantly – the results of having a society based solely on over-consumption. Actually, related to this subject, I’ve recently been listening to lectures and workshops by Terence McKenna.
The late American ethnobotanist, author, and psychedelic adventurer Terence McKenna has, since his death in the year 2000, gone from being an obscure counterculture figure to a philosophical icon in the realms of plant sacraments, shamanism, and metaphysics. A major motion picture named True Hallucinations, starring Jim Carrey, is currently underway.
– Over the last months, I’ve been getting back into the science and philosophies behind psychedelics. I don’t use hallucinogens anymore, but I can get enough out of the insights and ideas that come from working with them. What Terence said about biology was quite interesting to me. He said that it always strives for the best possible results; meaning, that evolution is constant. I reflected this idea upon our current world, and it seems phenomena like the coronavirus – and possibly more of such events – will become increasingly common. The virus is a wake-up call in that sense. It’s as if nature is telling us, ‘Wake up, you’re going in the wrong direction!’ And so, we must change our course. We have to listen to what nature tells us. Without her call, we are lost.
Dwelling on the notion that the current pandemic is indeed orchestrated by nature in order to chastise mankind – compared to other events which upended human existence, a respiratory virus almost seems a little tame. When significant changes in the food chain are introduced, nature is not exactly known to be subtle; ask the dinosaurs. In order for this thesis to be correct, it would also imply that nature has not only sentience but also some concept of moral.
– Nature having a moral is an interesting thing. In my opinion, morality is a human concept. We can decide what is ‘right’ or what is ‘wrong’. But, our problem is that we still have members in our society who believe exploiting the earth is the ‘right’ thing to do. I think nature, if she would have a moral, would say that this is wrong in every aspect. And it is, because it’s definitely not helping us in the long run. I’m not sure if natures ‘cares’ about us at all. I think she just cares about maintaining equilibrium. It’s up to us to pay our respects. If we take from nature, she will give something in return. But right now, we’re not giving back enough – hence the balance is being disturbed. We are reaping what we’ve sown, which is death and destruction.