by Niklas Göransson
Barshasketh is an international black metal project serving as the vehicle through which its participants can better know their selves. Guitarist GM discusses cultivating humility and discipline through repeated exercises in failure.
– There was a genuine desire to get back to some of the fundamentals in terms of themes that have inspired us, and what better way to do this than tackling the esoteric concept behind our band name? This was partly brought on by personal experiences we’d gone through since the previous album; razing old paradigms and habits and, through the sheer force of will, building upon them something new. This process resulted in a better understanding of what it is we do as a band. The name BARSHASKETH derives from the Hebrew term Be’er Shachat, which roughly translates as ‘Pit of Corruption’. It’s a multifaceted metaphysical idea related to the Qliphoth, concerning how the self exists in a cyclical process which undergoes phases of destruction, purification and rebirth.
In Jewish mysticism, the Qliphoth is the mirror image of the holy Sefirot and represents various dark and impure metaphysical forces.
– It was a highly deliberate attempt to create something with real coherence, from start to finish, held together by a tight structure illustrating each phase. Reinvigorated by new blood following the addition of MK on drums, the timing was right for an attempt to create the ‘definitive’ BARSHASKETH album – one that encapsulates our very essence, so to speak. As time has gone by, our compositions have incorporated increasingly technical elements; these have been woven into our material organically, without much conscious thought. It was simply the result of a heavy focus on song-writing in combination with reaching new levels of proficiency on our respective instruments.
The musicians who together constitute BARSHASKETH are spread out all over Europe. Bass player BB and my interviewee, guitarist GM, live in the UK whereas drummer MK is Finnish and Krigeist – vocals and guitar – a New Zealander residing in Serbia. Sounds bloody impractical.
– BARSHASKETH started off as a solo project and remained that way for quite some time. After Krigeist moved from New Zealand to Scotland, he gradually began assembling a live line-up from local musicians and eventually some of these became permanent. A full line-up was finally put together in 2013 and we started working on material together as a band from that point on. Unfortunately, just over a year later, Krigeist ended up having to leave the UK rather unexpectedly after his visa was revoked. When receiving the news, we were hard at work on our third album, “Ophidian Henosis”, with some of the songs not quite having found their final form. The thought of quitting or slowing down didn’t occur to us at the time so we redoubled our efforts in finalising everything within just three weeks. Looking back at all this now, it was a titanic effort which required almost daily rehearsals.
After completing the album BARSHASKETH continued operating remotely, with Krigeist flying over infrequently for shows and rehearsals. Then, in 2016, things got even more complicated when their drummer at the time had to leave the band due to some rather unfortunate family issues he was dealing with.
– Once again, we immediately began working on a solution. After drawing up a list of possible replacements, it was immediately clear to us who the right choice was and as a result we are now truly blessed to count MK among our ranks. We had already performed together as live members of DEVOURING STAR so I knew that both his playing and personality would be a perfect fit for BARSHASKETH, despite him being based in Finland. There were of course many names on the list which would’ve presented a more practical solution on accounts of being based in the UK but, in the end, we prioritised creative and personal affinity and I’m glad we did. Ultimately, all that’s required for a band to function as an effective unit is the correct mindset and requisite level of dedication. Everyone simply prepares the material individually; prior to a show we might get one or two rehearsals, or we might get none. Regardless, we find a way to make it work and, in a strange way, this makes the act of playing music and simply being in each other’s presence that bit more special.
What about the writing process?
– There’s a certain amount of demoing and sending things back and forth. If we’re lucky and there’s time during a pre-show rehearsal, we’ll have a chance to run through the material all together. Although the basic song structures always originate from one of the two main songwriters – myself and Krigeist – it’s fair to say that every member is a creative force who makes major contributions to the final product.
Reading the lyrics, I spotted quite a few references to doubt, fear, and what sounds like spiritual disorientation – a refreshing change in light of the usual avatar-like narrative typically permeating genre-typical occult lyrics.
– I’m generally rather sceptical to some of the more outlandish esoteric claims made by some artists and feel tempted to guess that, in many cases, they’re living out some manner of fantasy. My own experience is that profound insights are only gleaned though a certain amount of difficult and sometimes painful introspective work. I don’t claim to fully understand the process and these ephemeral glimpses of the bigger picture occur in various situations; meditation, psychedelics, or even doing something completely mundane can all bring about moments of clarity. Naturally this isn’t always a pleasant experience and can lead to periods of confusion and soul-searching. In addition, everything we believe ourselves to know must be constantly re-evaluated and obsolete ideas tossed out. If one doesn’t do this and simply accepts everything at face value, then how can one possibly put forward a hypothesis with any degree of certainty?
I noticed how a previous interviewer managed to interpret these sentiments as venting of personal despair, which I’d have to assume was not their intention.
– The kind of self-pity he was talking about is pretty much the epitome of everything we oppose; our goal is to strengthen the self through spiritual growth. There’s a kind of fetishization of helplessness and submission to worldly suffering in Christian thought – the idea that the more you accumulate, the better your prospects. This is both foolish and erroneous in our view because although suffering is sometimes necessary, it’s not intrinsically ‘sacred’ and not to be accepted without condition.
GM previously mentioned how BARSHASKETH have a rather different understanding of what constitutes magic and ritual than most of their musical contemporaries. He also mentioned sharing many ideas with British writer Alan Moore – mostly known for comics books such as Watchmen and V for Vendetta but also an accomplished mystic inspired by the likes of Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare. In his comic Promethea: Book Four, Moore gives readers a guided tour of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
– None of us are particularly interested in comic books, we discovered him as part of our research into the subject of magic. Alan Moore‘s understanding of the concept resonated with some of our – at that time rather nebulous – thoughts on the matter. It would be an overstatement to say that we are disciples of his or something silly like that, but he’s certainly been influential. We define magic as the manipulation of words, symbols, and images with intents of inducing a change in consciousness. With this understanding as our starting point, any escape from the mundane taking place by way of detachment from the ‘normal’ mental state can rightly be considered a magical process. Hocus pocus, grimoires, or robes are not mandatory for this and I can’t help but feel there’s been too much emphasis put on these more superficial aspects and too little on the more substantial intellectual basics underpinning the entire idea.
As for the concept of ritual?
– Again, this doesn’t necessarily need to be in line with some of the stereotypes which have circulated in the scene for some time. It can literally be any sequence of motions or words with meaning to the person performing them. For instance, in our case, playing music is a ‘ritual’ in and of itself, during which one can transcend the mundane. The musical performance is what puts us in touch with the other side. This doesn’t necessarily have to take place in front of an audience either – we’ve had the very same experience in the rehearsal room. Having said this, under the right conditions an audience can enhance the energy by either contributing to or drawing from it in a parasitic way. Sometimes it’s useful to employ certain visual aids – candles for example – to help create the right conditions for the mind to slip into the correct mental state, but they’re not absolutely essential and in general we tend to rely on these less than some of our peers. For me, personally, the practice of meditation has become a daily ritual.
GM recalls how meditation was once one of these things he considered to essentially be a load of shit – finding the concept rather off-putting, primarily as a result of its association with the new-age movement.
– Meditation is sometimes described as an esoteric process with a certain religious significance and so on but, in reality, it can be understood in far simpler terms. To my mind, it’s simply a process of shutting down your internal dialogue and other non-essential thought-processes ‘running in the background’, so to speak. This process allows for certain insights that were already present in your mind, whether consciously or subconsciously, to come into sharper focus. Oftentimes nothing of note happens at all and you end up just giving your brain a form of rest that’s much more beneficial than sleeping. I actually tried meditating a few times when I was much younger but just wasn’t getting any results from it whatsoever. It’s so easy to revert back to your normal mode of thinking so I was never able to get deep enough to reap any real benefit. Thus, I concluded that it didn’t work. Then, a few years ago, I gave it another try – this time having read up on different techniques a bit more. I found that what worked for me was meditating on the breath and, suddenly, I started to see what all the fuss was about.
Focusing on the breath can be a very efficient method for novice meditators who struggle with visualisation, which is another commonly recommended technique. One either counts the number of inhalations or the time it takes to complete one breathing cycle; the purpose being to maintain full concentration by placing mental and physical awareness on the breath.
– I wouldn’t say I’m especially good at it at this point, all things considered. I’m generally quite an analytical person who likes to plan everything out ahead of time and so on, so ‘going with the flow’ comes neither easy nor naturally to me at all. Meditation could be described as an exercise in repetitive failure that teaches you not only humility but also self-discipline, so that alone is worth the effort. Strangely enough, I sometimes enter a similar mental state while playing music – if I’ve reached a certain level of proficiency in a given song and I’m not worried about other things going on around me, my mind completely focusses on the sounds being created and shuts off any other conscious thoughts. You then start noticing small elements about the song or the sounds themselves that you might not have noticed before. In a sense, BARSHASKETH is the vehicle through which we can better know the self and everything that surrounds it. As you might have gathered, it’s not always easy or enjoyable to do what we do but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s as essential as breathing or eating.