by Niklas Göransson
Fusing legend with history through the lens of epic metal, Atlantean Kodex sing of the sons of God who took the daughters of men and brought knowledge to mortal kind.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is almost twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, Mortiis, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.
– I understand people who find our musical and lyrical approach overblown, I really do, but this just happens to be my artistic vision. I sometimes feel that our music is in direct opposition to the rational and standardised aesthetic ideals of the modern world. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier once said, ’The less ornaments a society uses, the more civilised it is.’ To me, ATLANTEAN KODEX is all about the ornaments: the grandiosity, the spiritual, or, if you will, ’uncivilised’ side of things. The further we move from habitation, the larger the stars get. You can also think of this in terms of the ’Near’ and the ’Far’, where the former represents the mundane tasks of everyday life that keep us occupied and distracted. ATLANTEAN KODEX is all about the ’Far’ – the gateways leading us beyond these trivial matters to the realms of imagination and spiritual apprehension. We’re looking for ways to encounter the ’Far’ in our lives. The extravagant aesthetics, the golden veil we cast over mundane history, and the ’ornaments’ in our sound are all means of discovering the strangeness and delights of this world.
ATLANTEAN KODEX’s third album, “The Course of Empire”, was released by Ván Records in September 2019. It retains many of the elements which made their 2013 “The White Goddess” such a special release – that epically ecclesial and fateful atmosphere, with lyrics stirring both intellect and emotion. Perhaps part of the reason why this grandiose soundscape comes across so efficiently is the use of fantastical concepts presented in a solemn and serious tone. The use of half-history half-fiction hybrid lyrics remind me a bit of MANILLA ROAD.
– That’s a huge compliment, of course. MANILLA ROAD were one of the main influences in the conception of ATLANTEAN KODEX. In fact, they helped bring me back into traditional heavy metal in the early 2000s, after a period of listening mostly to black metal. I love the way their lyrics conjured up archaic atmospheres without any traces of dragons and faeries and unicorn kitsch, just gritty old-school sword and sorcery. But yes, MANILLA ROAD really were hugely influential, I can’t stress that enough. ’In the crypts of Atlantean kings, I found what I was looking for…’
Besides a heavy metal guitarist, PD Dr. Manuel Trummer is also an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology with expertise in folklore. Manuel’s academic acumen has led to some concerned parties questioning the suitability of blending the imaginary with the factual.
– Although we, from the very first day, made it perfectly clear that our lyrics are no history lectures but rather exercises in storytelling and aestheticism, some people insist on taking them literally. I don’t really know why – perhaps they’re looking for a reason to show off their own knowledge about certain themes. Maybe they’re just frustrated and want to take a stab at me personally? There was this one especially annoying guy on a German forum, he repeatedly took some of my interview quotes and lyrics out of context to criticise me. It was along the lines of, ’Manuel is a professor and should know better than writing something like that’, and so on. All the while claiming ’I know about these things, I’m an academic myself’ and some other self-important drivel. I don’t particularly care if people can’t stand our lyrics or music but shit like that makes me furious.
But why do you lean more towards fantasy than actual history?
– Back in 2005, when we first started writing lyrics, authors like H.P. Lovecraft, R.E. Howard, and J.R.R. Tolkien were of great importance to us. I found it very intriguing how they managed to lend such depth to their stories by mixing up elements from the real world with fiction. On the one hand, it makes their vision more convincing and, on the other, it adds to the mystery. Up until I was sixteen years old or so, before the internet made us omniscient, I actually thought the Necronomicon was a real book. I was obviously mistaken, but it made my small world a little more magical and exciting – this notion that there could be some truth to Lovecraft’s tales and occult tomes brought a feeling of wonder into my life, with all its mundane chores, as did the archaeological vistas of Howard’s Hyborian Age.
The late American author Robert E. Howard is mostly known for epic sagas such as his Conan the Cimmerian book series, but he also wrote poetry. The song “People of the Moon” is adapted from one of his poems: People of the Shadows. As I was reading the lyrics while listening to the record, I noticed that the booklet contains a verse about Stonehenge which seems to be missing from the actual song.
– When we first recorded the demo version, this Stonehenge verse was still included. We were quite happy with the flow of the song and so continued working on other tracks. We’re always in close contact with our artwork guy, Ben Harff, the absolute genius who paints our booklets, and we forwarded the lyrics to him so he could start working on the design. A couple of months later, during the final listening sessions, we thought the song felt a bit too long, dragging on endlessly, which is why we, shortly before the final mix, decided to throw out the last verse and re-arrange the closing section. By then, Ben had already finished drawing the lyrics – an unbelievably strenuous and time-consuming work, with no possibility of erasing them. So, we just left them in the booklet as a small homage to R.E. Howard, and to provide the reader with a little more context, atmosphere, and background.
Why did you change the title?
– I exchanged the word ‘shadows’ for ‘moon’ to give a hint at how significant the night sky was for these early bands of hunter-gatherers, as well as the Neolithic and earliest Bronze Age farmers. Not only regarding the hunt itself; keeping track of the stars was absolutely vital in knowing the right time for sowing and harvesting. They truly were people of the moon, men of the night-time shadows. I found it a rather intriguing notion, that the importance of the dark hours – the night, the moon, and the stars – began fading more and more as the ‘light’ of civilisation grew brighter.
The Stonehenge mention reminded me of a conversation I had with Dan Capp of WOLCENSMEN, who once interviewed Manuel for Heathen Harvest. In 2014, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project announced the result of a four-year study, during which ground-penetrating radar and magnetometers had revealed how the iconic stone circle was, in fact, but one small part in a massive ceremonial landscape. Among the subterranean finds were hundreds of burial mounds, what appears to be a procession route, and seventeen different ritual shrines. They have yet to be properly excavated, but it is already clear that many of the monuments are both older and more impressive than what we presently know as Stonehenge. Once again, I find myself infinitely impressed by these highly industrious Stone Age people – hunting, gathering, and erecting structural wonders.
– This idea that the builders of Stonehenge were a bunch of savages, isolated within their own small communities, is plain wrong. We now know that, even back then, people were mobile in huge numbers with migration movements, spreading both ideas and goods. I think we can safely assume there to have been a really strong connection among the Atlantic cultures of the megalithic and early Bronze Age, which very likely means people from nowadays Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England, and northern France were in touch, exchanging innovations and, of course, religious beliefs. Researchers are already discussing the European scope of this civilisation. But these networks were probably even more far-ranging, reaching North Africa, Malta, and probably even the Minoans and Egypt. There was clearly an extended ceremonial landscape made up of many sites like Stonehenge within the British Isles, spanning from Sussex to the Orkneys.
Excavations have been unearthing a massive ceremonial complex on the Brodgar peninsula, a thin strip of land separating two lakes in the Orkney archipelago just north of the Scottish coast. The site, now known as the Ness of Brodgar, was built in the centre of a natural cauldron formed by the surrounding hills of Orkney’s West Mainland. Construction is estimated to have started around 3300 BC, if you can believe it, though for what purpose or within which religious tradition is not clear. Little is known about the site’s builders, besides that they arrived at the archipelago around six thousand years ago. They worked the land, thereby becoming the first farmers in what’s now called the United Kingdom, and then, within a few centuries, erected gigantic temples with workmanship skills that would not be seen again in the region for thousands of years. Note that this is a site with architecture almost rivalling Hellenic wonders such as the Acropolis, but 2,500 years older. In Scotland. The dozen or so huge sanctuaries, one of them is the largest Neolithic structure ever discovered in the British Isles, were surrounded by several hundred metres of stone wall. Not only has the site yielded the first evidence for the use of roofing anywhere in the world, but also shows signs of painted walls – an innovation not replicated anywhere in northern Europe until a full millennia later. The buildings also had well over eight hundred meticulously decorated individual stones, a number of them facing wall interiors and thus not even meant to be seen. When it was discovered back in 2002, the site provided a context for the known landscape of prehistoric structures surrounding it: remarkable monuments such as the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. However, none of them are as impressive as the oldest, the grand ceremonial edifice in the middle. The remote island appears to have enjoyed great renown from all over the region; recovered artefacts imply connections as far away as Ireland and the Isle of Arran on the other side of Scotland. Even more exciting was the discovery of an incense cup in a style previously only found in the Stonehenge area. Adding further mystery is its decommission in 2200 BC. After a thousand years of unbroken use, maintenance, and improvements, the complex was razed and abandoned. Not in any great haste though, over six hundred cattle were slaughtered and then dined upon in one single event. After the feast, skeletal remains were placed outside the largest building, carcasses of red deer were placed on top of the mountain of bone, and the structure was then destroyed. Very similar modus operandi to when Göbekli Tepe in the Anatolia region of current-day Turkey was buried 5,800 years earlier.
– Göbekli Tepe, that whole site is absolutely mind-blowing – there’s simply nothing else like it anywhere in the world. It’s incredibly fascinating on so many different levels. It appeared around 10,000 BC, completely out of nowhere, and then, a couple of hundred years later, all this amassed knowledge seems to have disappeared again. It took five thousand years – an incredible timespan – until the Sumerians, Egyptians, and, later, the Babylonians developed comparable architectonical and astronomical skills. To me, as an absolute layman in terms of archaeology and palaeoanthropology, it sounds like complete science fiction. I’m quite sure something really, really important in terms of evolution must have happened. You don’t build temples and carve life-like sculptures like that out of nowhere. Really, I don’t know what it was.
The Neolithic Revolution is believed to have started in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, which is the same region where Göbekli Tepe was built, around 12,000 years ago. This also coincides with the end of the last ice age – a global event that saw vast amounts of meltwater raise sea levels by sixty metres and submerge enormous landmasses – and the subsequent start of our current geological epoch, the Holocene. One of the hallmarks of the Neolithic Revolution is the invention of agriculture, as hunter-gatherer communities in the Fertile Crescent began settling in villages. Exactly how or why this came to pass remains disputed within academia. What’s clear is that nomads became farmers who, over untold generations, grew increasingly skilled at agriculture, experimenting with irrigation and deforestation, eventually producing a mounting surplus. A surplus must be stored somewhere which, in turn, requires additional construction and administration, allowing for vocational specialisation in various parts of the chain, all the while supporting continued population growth. The area also boasts the first known instances of animal domestication for herding purposes; beasts were not only employed as farm labour, but also as an added source of nutrition by way of meat and milk. As tight-knit communities grew into societies we see the emergence of hierarchical structures, political organising, trade, and division of labour. Knowledge traditions in engineering, architecture, and art are kept alive and under constant development. Over the ages, this led to the first civilisation on record: Sumer, in nowadays southern Iraq. The 4500 BC rise of the Sumerians signifies the start of what we know as the Bronze Age. All this certainly sounds logical enough, but what’s peculiar is that Göbekli Tepe predates the entire development. There is no sign of a learning curve. And after its completion, all such knowledge seemingly vanished again. An extensive discussion about this site can be found in the THORYBOS interview.
– The late German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, who supervised excavations at Göbekli Tepe for years, theorised that these incredibly old temples were the start of modern civilisation and city culture. That the building of these shrines was the cause that, for the first time in human history, brought hundreds if not thousands of people together to work for a common, shared goal. It’s a fascinating idea – that not only is the earliest known building in the history of mankind a temple, but that the first cities grew around it. Seen this way, religion was not a by-product of civilisation but rather the very flame which sparked it in the first place. Interestingly, at both Göbekli Tepe and Çatal Hüyük there have been finds interpreted as evidence for sky burials, where the flesh of the deceased is eaten by vultures, as still practised around certain areas of Tibet and Nepal. This would explain the high symbolic value of vultures at these sites.
At its peak, Çatal Hüyük – the world’s oldest known Neolithic city, populated between 7100 to 5950 BC – was home to approximately eight thousand people. Vultures appear to have been connected to the cycle of death and rebirth at both Çatal Hüyük and Göbekli Tepe. For example, there is art in which vultures serve as guides to the afterlife, as well as depictions of half-human half-bird therianthropes; scholars interpret the latter as human shamans wearing vulture wings. The same cult appears to have thrived at Nevali Çori, a settlement founded in the Anatolia region around 8400 BC, known for the discovery of the oldest known domestication of wild wheat as well as spectacular sculptures, two of which depicts birdmen.
– Vultures would’ve been the sacred birds that freed the soul by picking at the deceased’s body, laid out on the stone pillars. They’ve found dozens of vulture wings in Çatal Hüyük, which might be a hint that its priesthood wore ceremonial garb made of feathers. In this reading, they would’ve been the ones to prepare the dead bodies for the rite of sky burial. In other words, the vulture-winged shamans were the ones who led the souls of the departed from this world into the next, like guardian angels. These sites give a whole new meaning to the biblical stories of the Garden of Eden and its angels. In fact, it was precisely musings like these that inspired “Lion of Chaldea” on the new album. I was playing around with the idea of the biblical Eden being a real historical site. There are some… esoteric theories linking the temples of Göbekli Tepe to the tale of Eden. These vulture priests are theorised to have been what the Old Testament calls the Sons of God, or angels – the ones who invented agriculture and thus kindled civilisation in the Fertile Crescent.
The theories Manuel refers to suggest that the birdmen shamans of this cult would, thousands of years later, come to be remembered first as Watchers in the Book of Enoch and then as the Old Testament Sons of God. The Watchers are said to have been heavenly beings who rebelled against God, taking human wives and teaching mankind the prohibited secrets of metaphysics and science. Metalworking, herblore, astronomy – even the wheel – are all innovations first evidenced in Mesopotamia. For a deep-dive into this topic, refer to the ANTEDILUVIAN interview. The Sumerians had a similar creation myth: the Anunnaki, gods who came to humankind and bestowed upon them the gift of civilisation. Regardless of their true nature, divine creatures or mortal men, they are said to have appeared in the region towards the end of the last ice age and managed to impress local bands of hunter-gatherers to the extent where they provided the extensive labour force required to build Göbekli Tepe, in turn sparking the Neolithic Revolution. We should perhaps reiterate here that this is the premise of “Lion of Chaldea”, not Manuel’s actual historical beliefs.
– I’m a complete amateur, but all this makes for great speculation. Maybe it was a cataclysmic event, like an asteroid impact, that first brought people together to join strengths and skills and form alliances? Maybe a devastating volcanic eruption around Lake Van – like the one pictured in Çatal Hüyük – which would also make for great inspiration in the tale of Adam and Eve’s banishing from Paradise by the flaming sword of the Watcher angel. Perhaps it was just the power of religion, facilitated by an elite priesthood with special skills and knowledge who managed to bring people together to work on a shared cause. Of course, the advent of agriculture must have been a key event in all these developments. With the cultivation of grain also came the brewing of beer, which might have opened the gates of perception to some, or at least sparked the idea of shared feasting and celebrations.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is almost twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, Mortiis, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.