by Niklas Göransson
Endless serenade of moribund stars – S of British death metal band Qrixkuor discusses their much-anticipated debut, Poison Palinopsia. Five long years in the making; hear the album in full through an exclusive stream.
– We got there in the end, just like I said we would, even though it took much longer than expected and a lot of people gave up along the way. If you can detect a note of triumph here, it’s because there is certainly one present. This record required QRIXKUOR to be rebuilt almost from the ground up, culminating in vindication for my resolute confidence that the present and impending future would tower above the past.
The last time S and I spoke, QRIXKUOR consisted of four individuals. The band had garnered significant momentum in the wake of their 2016 EP, “Three Devils Dance”, as well as a number of impressive live performances. Now, five years later, only S remains from the original quartet.
– The line-up responsible for the demos and the mini-LP fell apart over the course of a few months, starting towards the end of 2016 as we were planning the following summer’s US tour with BLOOD INCANTATION. In relative terms, at least compared to many equivalent stories I’ve heard from other bands, this happened largely without bad blood. The rest were all simply done, for a variety of reasons unique to each individual – some of which I could completely sympathise with and others that I still absolutely can’t, none warranting discussion in an interview. Everyone else felt as if they’d gone as far as they wanted to, in their own way, and so had no interest in continuing with the new material I’d started presenting.
S originally intended to try out the new songs live, beginning with their late-2016 mini-tour with SADISTIC INTENT. However, this would instead turn out to be the breaking point between the past and the future.
– There was a shared mind that we should fulfil our remaining live obligations and now mostly-arranged tour, as a sort of final hurrah for that line-up. As you can imagine, this evoked somewhat of a strange feeling in me – and I’m still not quite sure I understand the mentality involved – but the shows were positive and successful and passed largely without incident. Once the tour was over, we said our goodbyes and I became the sole member of QRIXKUOR. Only geography prevents us from sitting at the same table at the pub these days, but sharing war stories over a pint is not the same thing as creative collaboration.
S has described himself as ‘ruthless in self-criticism and self-evaluation’. This is a personal trait which often entails a tendency to hold whoever one works with to the same standards.
– Yes, absolutely. During our initial period of activity – with myself being between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, as well as an extremely chaotic and conflicted individual – there were many situations in which this manifested in ways that I don’t look back on with a huge amount of pride. I’m sure it created a very unpleasant environment at times.
Any regrets about your conduct?
– Not in terms of any efforts made to push the limits of the band’s capabilities and involved personnel, no. I don’t believe we’d have reached the relative heights we did without this drive, and the resulting work will long outlive any animosities created. I want to ultimately look back on all of this with a satisfaction in knowing that every possible boundary had been thoroughly traversed, and no stone left unturned. To achieve this, you need a certain unhinged and remorseless focus. Of course, it might be better if everything was carried out with all parties’ content and contributing, but either way it must be done. However, it’s true that my methodology was completely untested and unrefined in those formative years, and such ideas could probably have been expressed more efficiently and eloquently. Like I said, I don’t look upon these as some of my proudest moments – nor should they be my defining moments. A mistake is only such if one refuses to learn from it. Impeccable leaders at that age are rare, and I was no exception. Moving forward, I hope we all took something from this; I myself am a slightly more nuanced tyrant these days, and am now actually able to drive home points and co-exist within a project without ruining the fun for everyone else.
His former bandmates may all have been done – S, on the other hand, was just getting started. Still, it sounds like a nasty setback after getting so far in a relatively short amount of time. Very few European underground newcomers are sent off to tour the states with only a mini-LP to their name.
– Yes, it did feel spectacularly shit at the time, because – in hindsight – I had very naively neglected to see this coming. However, after a period of reflection I began to fathom the endless realm of possibilities which had now opened. That line-up was not entirely without issues from my point of view either, and any lingering disappointment was accompanied by a growing sense of release. Stopping was never an option. I was already too far into the process of creating new material and too convinced of its burgeoning quality to simply park it.
Did you ever consider releasing the material under a different name?
– No. I had an overwhelming sense that this still felt like QRIXKUOR, even with me as the sole member, which left me strongly disinclined to call it anything else. Back in 2016 I told you that the energy and focus had been significantly heightened following “Three Devils Dance”; I felt no differently and aimed to capture it, even if others fell by the wayside in the process. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that the support of certain people got me off my ass quicker than I otherwise might have; I was not alone in this for very long. I’ll always be grateful to Darragh at Invictus Productions for his unwavering confidence in the project, in spite of the complete personnel change and the time it eventually took for this to see the light of day. The same applies to other individuals for whom the stars did not ultimately align to be a part of this record, but whose faith and encouragement in the times of its conception helped stoke the fires that fuelled its eventual completion.
So, you tried out a few different line-ups?
– There were a few false starts, yes, which contributed to the length of time it took to finally get it right. Nonetheless, although several options could’ve been considered to complete the record, everything worked out the way it was supposed to. I believe that such prestigious, unique, and experienced musicians being not only interested but also eager to collaborate with myself and contribute to QRIXKUOR is a testament to the legitimacy of the aforementioned attitudes, and their shining through the veil of any past poor execution.
Recruiting DBH of GRAVE MIASMA as drummer makes sense, since they already play together in ADORIOR. But as great of a bass player as VASSAFOR’s Phil Kusabs is, I’m thinking that someone based in New Zealand might not have been S’ first choice.
– Actually, Phil was my first and only choice; I wanted the interpretation and perspective of a bass player’s mind. I don’t think it would be remiss to say that a great many bassists in metal would rather have been guitarists and, therefore, approach their instrument accordingly. Of course, there are genuinely skilled and unique bass players out there, but not many in my network. If that option hadn’t been available, and it had to be a musician who thought like a guitarist, I probably would’ve just handled it myself. Back when the line-up was disintegrating, Phil offered his assistance in any way needed; so, I simply decided to hold him to it. I saved my proposal for when we next met in person, at Never Surrender in Berlin towards the end of 2018, so he couldn’t change his mind, hah! Afterwards, I sent him the most recent demo version and he was immediately on board.
In retrospect, and geographical concerns aside, Phil was clearly the right choice for this material.
– It’s an idea that I’ll forever be grateful to myself for being mad enough to come up with, and to Phil for being mad enough to accept. It’s endlessly rewarding and affirming to meet people who, despite being generations apart and from opposite sides of the world – with different influences, inspirations, and backstories – have landed at so many of the same conclusions and convictions… to the point where the synergies are so clear in their artistic output that verbal discussion becomes almost obsolete. The list of musicians I’d trust to submit their parts so late in the process, with basically no possibility of making any changes, pretty much starts and ends with Phil. I’m certain there is not a single other bassist in the world who would’ve interpreted the material in this way, and his contributions surpassed my already sky-high expectations. Mine and Greg’s jaw-dropping first listen through to the isolated assault of the snorting rhino with the drums will live as one of my most treasured memories of the entire process.
That would be Greg Chandler of ESOTERIC and Priory Studios, where QRIXKUOR’s debut album, “Poison Palinopsia” – which is due for an August 13 release by Ireland’s Invictus Productions – was recorded in November 2020. This production really is something; I cannot imagine that many of these instances of refined cacophony would’ve come to their full right through a home recording, even with someone who knows what he’s doing.
– Greg’s attention to detail and proficiency is essentially second to none, and he truly excelled with this; his prowess and input proved invaluable for the final outcome. I initially decided on working with him when the recording was tentatively planned for 2017. Greg came highly recommended by comrades, and I knew – from prior studio work, not to mention his audial and compositional genius in ESOTERIC – that he would ‘get it,’ so to speak. Alas, with the death of every plan that year, this one moved to the back of my mind. After regrouping, my idea was to first track everything in the UK and then fly to New Zealand for bass recording and mixing with Phil in person.
Phil has a studio operation called VK Sound. Besides “Three Devils Dance”, he’s done regular mixing and mastering work for labels such as Iron Bonehead, Invictus, and Sepulchral Voice.
– While we were both happy with the result, I think all involved parties would agree that the process of mixing “Three Devils Dance” remotely was quite exhausting. It could’ve been achieved in a quarter of the time if there was an easy way for us to be in the same room together. Given that the plague situation would’ve completely ruined this, I’m glad I ultimately decided to keep the base of operations closer to home and try to make at least one aspect of the record something other than the most difficult option. For now, at least; I’d still like to realise this idea at some point in the future. Considering the overly drawn-out process of recording and mixing the mini-LP, I decided that I wanted to do the opposite for “Poison Palinopsia”: to enter a studio for ten days and walk out with the album done. So, I returned to my original gut feeling of working with Greg. Also, by that point I’d moved to the West Midlands, about forty minutes’ drive from his studio, so this made sense from every point of view and worked out perfectly.
For how long had the material been ready when you recorded it?
– In its initial form, as four defined tracks of sixteen to eighteen minutes in length – which ended up being Frankensteined to curate the record for a single LP vinyl format and achieve the desired impact and flow – a lot of the material has been around since 2017, and some even predates that. I was hoping to test a significant amount of it live on the US tour, and actually went so far as to contact Greg to discuss scheduling possibilities for recording it pretty much immediately following our return. Obviously, that never came to pass.
I’m wondering if the end result might not have benefitted from this involuntary delay. For example, take these highly ambitious orchestral interludes. At first, I assumed they were sampled from somewhere – as is the norm – but this is not the case. S composed and scored the music and then commissioned nine different musicians to separately record their contributions: piano, timpani, trombone, violin, and so forth.
– QRIXKUOR’s history has been riddled with forced delays of all kinds – from cancelled shows to postponed recordings and releases. I’ve now had to force myself to stop bemoaning this, because it has turned out for the better every single time. As it should, if you’re constantly evolving and improving. In this case, I almost dread to think how the record would’ve sounded, had we gone ahead and recorded it in 2017. You’re correct in the assumption that those interludes took considerable time and effort to perfect; I might have considered such a task beyond my reach back then.
Did the end result match your expectations?
– Yes, it certainly is as good of a representation of the chaotic period that inspired it as could be achieved with the available resources – and capturing that moment in time was always the endgame. My favourite review of the record so far came from our former guitarist and vocalist, A, who told me, ‘There is nothing holding you back here, and this has allowed you to express yourself without any contradictions or limitations.’ I think that’s an accurate and insightful summary which succinctly captures my intention, for better or worse. “Poison Palinopsia” pushed me about as far as I could go, and I have even considered the possibility that perhaps it was ultimately too far… but fuck, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only truly failed art is art which lacks ambition. I am confident that with all this behind us, QRIXKUOR can now go even further.
At the time of this conversation, the album promo has been in circulation for quite a while and generated plenty of reviews and press reactions. Quite a bit of focus appears to be placed on the length of the songs, as well as their unconventional format – even by death metal standards.
– “Poison Palinopsia” is intended to be the audiation of a seemingly endless nightmare: poisonous penance in the eye of a relentless tempest, while balancing on the razor’s edge between the land of the living and that of the dead. In what way would it make sense to structure any of this conventionally? Like it or not, it is the medium which was required for this work. I don’t give a fuck, quite frankly, whether it’s easily digestible or not. In fact, should this be the case, I’d be thinking that something had gone very wrong. A record should demand attention – not request it. Complaints only serve to give me a small pang of wistful regret at not pushing through with the initial draft, which was double the length. The next ADORIOR record will show that I am fully capable of writing songs comprised of actual riffs, and which cut to the chase more promptly when the situation dictates it, for anyone who still doubts this.
I’ve watched a few clips of QRIXKUOR‘s past concert appearances and noticed that they take a similar approach live as on record, in tying all the songs together without silent breaks.
– Continuous live performances were always meant to maintain the trance state. Now, I can deal with clapping or roaring in breaks. Headbanging is fine, as is standing still. Silence, fine. Eyes closed or open, I don’t care. But what I fucking despise is attendees talking to the person next to them, all the while claiming to be engrossed in the performance. I also hate hearing people ordering drinks at the bar. The feedback and interlude arrangements between tracks were designed to drown out idiots as much as anything else, for both our and the audience’s sakes. My father – who is a multi-instrumentalist and composer in his own right – has previously argued to me that silence allows the listener’s ear to reset. Well, that’s the point: I don’t want to give anyone time to reset. Submerge yourself and submit. When I first started attending extreme metal shows as a young teen, such was the effect of an especially powerful set that I felt unable to speak; I’d have to step outside and calm down before any social interaction. While this is now a much rarer occurrence than those days of virgin over-exuberance, I will forever long for this feeling and seek to evoke it with both studio recordings and live performances.
Do you plan to return to the stage?
– Eventually, although I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the live arena. While we indeed had some exceptionally profound experiences that will stay with me forever… as a perfectionist, the mundane frustrations were too regular not to bother me. I often think I prefer studio recordings in which I have more control, but that of course presents annoyances of its own. I live to create and have never felt much like a performer, but I am as liable as anyone to get swept up in the energy of the moment. I suppose I prefer whichever one has more recently gone well.
Are you hoping to have Phil along, or will you bring in someone else?
– Given his playing on the record, I cannot see how we could perform that material without him. He simply made himself indispensable to a level I wasn’t even expecting; sorry, Phil! So, this adds another obstacle to the many that would need be overcome to make it happen. However, it would be prudent to note that such was the focus of this album, and also given the schedules of those involved – myself included – I have not yet gone so far as to seriously discuss either concerts or future recordings. Currently, I’m more than happy to remain the sole active member, thankful to be in a position where I can call upon trusted reinforcements whenever necessary. I could not be more satisfied with the musicians who participated on the album, and they appear to have found great value in it too, but the line-up will remain open to all worthy contributors and perhaps never truly be completely set.
The music in general has a distinctly psychedelic feel – although more in the sense of a suffocating bad trip than anything PINK FLOYD related – and the aesthetic design certainly solidifies this impression. In particular the cover artwork, courtesy of Chilean artist Daniel Corcuera. The grid and clusters of eyes leads me to believe that this portrays the DMT realm.
– I wanted to make sure that no part of this release was a comfortable experience. All Daniel was provided with were the lyrics and a few brief elaborations concerning scenarios described within visionary states, both self-induced and otherwise. The former partially came from ayahuasca: so, yes, the DMT realm as you state. I also gave him some rough outlines regarding the potential perspective and placement of elements in the image, which he then proceeded to completely ignore. And I’m very glad for that; clearly, I should stick to what I’m good at. I have Daniel’s original painting hanging above my desk here, and I literally notice new details each and every time I glance up at it. Ironically, this is an observation I’ve heard many times in an auditory sense regarding QRIXKUOR – there is a theme here, I think. To me, it is a masterwork, and perfect for this album.
In an email exchange leading up to this conversation, I told S that the cover looks as if Alex Grey – an American painter known for his psychedelic artwork, used by bands such as TOOL – was having a Lovecraftian nightmare.
– Being sane of mind and thus sharing what should be the common opinion that TOOL are absolute garbage, I wasn’t aware of Alex Grey beforehand. But I’m delighted to be a part of showing the very real presence of the darker and more sinister side of the common forces portrayed. Some of his other pieces are also very interesting and resonate with images forever burnt into my mind’s eye.
What does the black sun beach represent?
– That photograph has great significance within the album’s context. The figure is depicted as drawn to the glare of a distant, dazzling black sun to his left – through the sea and its many dangers – while ignoring the light, warmth, and nourishment of the closer rays to the right. The picture was taken in a specific area on the far west coast of the British Isles: a place which is deeply inspiring on every level, including all of my creative work. I have returned there at least once per year throughout my entire life. In recent times, it’s been a mandatory reset of reflection and introspection: essential fuel for the feverish fecundity of the remaining months. Nature’s ability to humble the soul should never be underestimated.
What’s next for QRIXKUOR?
– Over the past few years, and up until this day, I’ve constantly been juggling multiple creative pursuits, and – having considered this album very much as unfinished business for several years – I felt there may be a question to answer as far as continuing once it was completed… but rest assured that this ridiculous folly has already been thoroughly dispelled. Plans are already underway: ones I hope will take far less time than five years to come to fruition. One chapter closes and another opens.