by Niklas Göransson
Dautha is a musical outlet with which to savour human tragedy. Swedish doom metal fundamentalist and plague aficionado Ola Blomkvist talks about the music of spiritual rebellion that stirred within him the courage to expel the ghost of Jehova.
The following is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #5. The same issue also includes conversations with BLASPHEMY, CLANDESTINE BLAZE, ACRIMONIOUS, LYCHGATE, MORBOSIDAD, NUCLEAR WAR NOW!, CULT NEVER DIES, MYSTIFIER, ROME ,W.A.I.L., WINTERFYLLETH, and PHURPA.
– “Brethren of the Black Soil” contains six tracks of epic doom metal interspersed with subtle folk and medieval influences. Thematically, it moves between antiquity and late medieval times and tackles subjects such as funerary art, feudal slavery, the equalising power of the bubonic plague, a certain acromegalic Roman emperor, the Children’s Crusade of 1212, Boccaccian hedonism in the wake of the Black Death, as well as bog bodies. The album was recorded in Studio Hufvudstaden in Söderkoping, Sweden, by Kristian Karlsson who also co-produced and mixed it. Kristian also contributed choirs on several tracks. Thomas Sabbathi of YEAR OF THE GOAT and GRIFTEGÅRD also laid down vocals on the record – in the chorus of “Bog Bodies” – as did Rikard Larsson, who’s responsible for most of the fantastic choir work. Rikard has since become a full member of the band, something we’re delighted about. And just like on the demo, all violins were performed by Åsa Ericksson-Wärnberg.
There might be a few lingering elements from previous projects but DAUTHA have undoubtedly created something unique. “Brethren of the Black Soil” sounds to me like passionate doom with hints of a darker and more ecclesiastical take on MANOWAR’s “Bridge of Death”.
– I can certainly live with the MANOWAR comparison because, spiritually and subconsciously, they are with me in everything I do. That said, no one has ever mentioned my old heroes in connection with DAUTHA before. There’s certainly been no lack of CANDLEMASS referencing, however, and it would seem as if we’ve struck a chord with people who hold “Nightfall” highly. Very humbling, of course, but I’m even happier to learn that many believe us to have raised a doomunculus capable of standing firmly on its own two clay feet.
Given the conceptual smorgasbord on display in “Brethren of the Black Soil” it’s almost difficult to decide where to begin, but let’s go for the track “Maximinus Thrax”. Also known as Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus, this extraordinary specimen is believed to have been born in Thrace, an area spread out over what today is Bulgaria and Turkey, around the year 173 AD. Originally a shepherd by trade, Maximinus enlisted in the Imperial Roman army where he soon became renowned for his seemingly superhuman strength and size. Just how big he was is a matter of dispute but contemporary accounts note that he wore his wife’s bracelet as a thumb ring. Based on ancient depictions of the man’s facial features it’s been suggested that he was stricken by acromegaly, a physical disorder resulting from an excess of growth hormone. He rose quickly through the ranks and in the year 235 found himself commander of the Legio IV Italica. Whilst campaigning in the Rhineland, the Praetorian Guard murdered Emperor Severus Alexander and then installed the stern-mannered Thracian in his stead. Back in Rome, the senate was made to grudgingly accept the nomination although were none too pleased with the notion of a sheepherder as their new emperor. The dislike was thoroughly mutual as Maximinus hated the nobility with a passion. He was known to be particularly merciless with those suspected of conspiring against him, and rightfully so as two plots had reached an advanced stage before being foiled. Still, the reign of the half-barbarian emperor was not very long and Maximinus spent most of it in the same region he was crowned, repelling the constantly marauding Germanic tribes. Perpetual warfare is a costly affair, especially since Maximinus doubled the soldier’s pay which, in turn, forced significant tax-increases upon the Roman populace. The plebeians who first hailed him as one of their own changed their tune once his tax-collectors resorted to asset seizures in enforcing taxation. The third year since his ascension saw a chain of political intrigue hallmarked by such complexity that I’m not even going to try describe it; to give you a hint, 238 AD has since become known as Year of the Six Emperors. Anyway, as Maximinus marched back to Rome to lay down the law, he was denied passage at Aquileia. Stranded outside the gates, disgruntled elements from the Legio IV Parthica killed their emperor and subsequently sent his head on a stake to Rome. The imperial decapitation did little to soothe the general situation as the period from 238 to 284 is now referred to as the Crisis of the Third Century. Increasingly uncontested foreign invasions, widespread civil strife, along with economic collapse resulted in the almost complete ruin of the Roman Empire.
– I stumbled upon this fine gentleman during a search for information about the biblical Nephilim. I instantly knew I had to write a song about him as he’s truly a character who is larger than life in every aspect, and one that’s strangely forgotten. In fact, just as I’d finished the lyrics for the song, the first-ever book exclusively dedicated to him came out: Maximinus Thrax – Strongman Emperor of Rome by Paul N. Pearson. However, since my lyric pre-dates the book I had to rely on the antique Historia Augusta when creating it.
Another song deals with a 13th century tragedy known as Peregrinatio Puerorum, the Children’s Crusade. I was quite surprised I’d never heard of this; it’s almost astonishing that out of the numerous grisly episodes throughout European history, something like the Children’s Crusade remains little more than a curious footnote.
– It wasn’t really an exclusively children’s affair, since among the enthusiastic small crusaders there were all manner of people with nothing to lose – beggars, gamblers, drinkers, prostitutes, and other outcasts. My narrative draws from the popular version of the story, so I don’t mention the grown derelicts but focus on the children because, after all, I’m not out to lecture but tell tales of maximum woe. Thus, droves of our ‘children’ leave their homes in Northern France and Germany; all called by two charismatic leaders, the prophesying shepherd boys Stephen of Cloyes and Nicholas of Cologne, in a quest to take back the Holy Land from the Saracens. These masses of children, some sources speak of 7,000 while others claim 30,000, were called Pueri by their contemporaries. It was believed, both by the host themselves and the good Christian commoners, that they would succeed in their quest by virtue of innocence alone.
Ola notes drily that where mighty knights and kings along with the celestially well-connected had failed, the Pueri would emerge victorious – peacefully, through love.
– It’s like its 1968 all over again, only in 1212 with a pinch of Jeanne d’Arc and a dash of children perishing en masse thrown in for good measure. Anyway, the plan was to march to Genoa in Italy where the spiritual shepherds had told their flock that God would part the sea – Exodus-style – allowing his children to tread dry-shod over the Mediterranean seabed. However, on the way down from Germany and France, many of the Pueri ended up lost or dead either through disease, scorching heat, or outright assaults. Out of those who eventually made it to Italy, a great number were captured by slave traders and shipped off to Africa. The scattered survivors were forced to return home, broken and ridiculed. The thing that struck me the most about this story, besides the great mortality attached to it, is the archetypal qualities of its myth-historical imagery. I mean, just its popular denomination, the Children’s Crusade, could work as a poetic metaphor for all futile ventures undertaken by the meek and naive. The name also immediately appeals to one’s empathy, because who in their right mind wouldn’t feel for children out on such a dangerous mission?
Ola says that, come to think of it, he believes his choice of subject and spin thereof taps into the same sentimental vein CANDLEMASS feeds from in “Mourner’s Lament” on the aforementioned “Nightfall” album.
– But as explained earlier, the Pueri were, in reality, a motley crew so shedding tears for the loss of a great herd of youthful innocents would be uncalled for. Regardless, it truly is a multi-layered grand-scale tragedy we’re looking at here. Which brings me to another thing which gripped me about this whole spectacle: the huge disappointment and grief of the survivors who had to return home to humiliation and shame. For the first time in their lives, these trampled unfortunates had actually been acknowledged as something other than human trash. By taking up the cross under these circumstances they, who would’ve had no chance of becoming regular crusaders, had been granted social status while being washed clean of their past. For a while their name flew high, the Pueri really were on everyone’s lips as they gathered followers and gained momentum. Even the pope himself got involved and expressed his disapproval, as did others in power. But the populace at large cheered the Pueri on, regarding them as the last hope of a Christendom defeated in the Holy Land at the hands of Muslims. Then reality caught up with the feverish, or to paraphrase 2 Samuel 1:25 – how the meek have fallen in battle! The Pueri were the original Children of Doom.
I read that DAUTHA pride themselves with the moniker ‘bubonostalgic doom’, which I found brilliant.
– There’s a certain appeal to the idea of monumental reboots of society like the one the bubonic plague wrought upon Europe. Just imagine waking up to the morning in which reality truly is a tabula rasa, where all the usual rules and regulations, social structures and hierarchies… the entire facade is gone and we’re alone at our worst, or best. The terror, the cleansing. However, people rarely learn and, once crisis has been replaced by complacency, we soon find new destructive routines to further our own demise. True change begins within.
What is it you find so compelling about the Black Death?
– The entire body of myth and folklore arising out of sheer desperation as the plague crept across the land is utterly compelling. Flagellants – repentant sinners whipping themselves to appease God, as portrayed in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal – along with legends such as those about the boy with his rake and the girl with her broom. If the boy appeared in the village, the plague would kill many but if the girl was sighted then none would be spared. Then of course the rat saint Kakwkylla and the pseudo-Christian spells cast in her name to ward off rats, the bird-like plague masks of the ‘doctors’, the burying of living children to placate the plague… it’s all a carnival bizarre, a feverish Hieronymus Bosch dream, only far too real. Today we regard all this from a safe distance, which in turn creates a certain emotional detachment; one I’ve worked hard to cleanse from DAUTHA. This disaster of disasters truly offers a treasure-trove for doomsters… still, one must not forget that the victims were people of flesh and blood, like us, so a certain degree of respect is called for when exploiting the plague and its consequences. What I also find so interesting with the Black Death is how it, through all the documentation left behind, gives us a snapshot of 14th century medieval society and its values and priorities in such dire times. What and whom should be saved, and why? Crisis shows the true and very often hideous face of man.
It would be interesting to know what this great appeal of ages past is to Ola – might it be some manner of escapism? Perhaps a longing for times when there seemed to be more magic left in the world, before just about everything could be explained in science.
– Many people, myself included, feel alienated in today’s world due to secularism, blind belief in scientific advancement, globalism, and mass-consumerism. Our spirits do indeed grow nostalgic when our minds and bodies get to rule the day unchallenged and our built-in craving for mystery is quenched. I guess my eagerness to dwell in times long-gone stems from my religious upbringing. From a very young age I was told there was no future, at least not for sinners, so rather than spend all my time pondering the coming of Armageddon, books allowed me to gaze back through the lens of history to a more beautiful – at least in my youthfully romantic mind – and safe time. I also cultivated my escapism through fantasy books. By the time I turned twelve the grip of religion, for various reasons, loosened around our family and I could add metal to my means of escape.
Ola grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses – something he’s discussed in great detail through many previous interviews. I’ve always been fascinated by cults, especially the devotional fervour they manage to induce in modern Westerners who are generally rather lazy in matters of consciousness. I remember the Jehovah’s weirdos in high school; they kept mostly to themselves but what struck me the most was that they were seemingly impervious to all of their peers’ attempts at ridiculing and taunting them.
– They’re taught that the entire world is against them, how almost everything outside the congregation is a different manifestation of evil; that they have to be prepared for physical and spiritual attacks at all times. However, they are also taught that Christ will arrive any minute now to kill the bullies and chain the Beast. This conviction lends many the strength to roll over and take it. Not everyone though – I, for one, did not roll over despite constant bullying. I singled out my tormentors after they were done with me and beat the shit out of them. The reason why I was able to hit back was that I, luckily, was extremely big compared to my classmates and already used to heavy farm-labour at home. It wasn’t until I reached high school that some of them started catching up to me in size, but by that time I’d hooked up with the cool hard-rockers and my Jehovah’s Witnesses past was forgotten. I might not have been very Christian when it came to non-violence but in other ways I was completely brainwashed, holding doomsday sermons in the schoolyard and so forth. This, I learned the hard way, was not the right way to get the girls, influence people, or become popular.
Unless one breaks, it must foster some serious mental strength being communally isolated like that.
– Being brought up a Jehovah’s Witness does harden you mentally and socially; I’ve never really cared what people think about me and certainly not back in school-hell… because, why would the opinions of walking corpses concern me? Then again, I find myself harbouring similar sentiments as a middle-aged man. Anyway, this feeling of indifferent alienation has made me more or less immune to herd mentalities and I’ve never felt the great need many people seem to have for fitting in and belonging to something – and for this I am eternally grateful.
As peculiar as it may sound, I find myself wondering if Ola misses any of it. The internal loyalty is obviously total and as a believer it must be very empowering being surrounded with fellow initiates, united against the outside world by what would appear to be sacred truths.
– Sure, some aspects. Not necessarily being surrounded by believers but rather dwelling in the absolute conviction that God sees us. Now, as a Jehovah’s Witness, God’s all-seeing eye was my greatest source of fear. But, at least, I knew there was a slight chance that I’d pass the eye of his needle if I acted in accordance to his will. What’s more, I knew without shadow of a doubt that he existed. I would trade everything of mine for someone to take away my doubt because – however tempering it may be – hanging in the balance is the most exquisite of soul tortures. That said, joining a cult or any other form of organised worship is out of the question, I could never go back.
I was quite intrigued by the fact that Ola has credited metal music as partly responsible for prying him away from the sect and that he, as a result, regards it as something intensely spiritual.
– It’s hard to put into words the effect metal can have on a young man as impressionable as I was, spoon-fed since birth an utterly warped metaphysical doctrine. When I was twelve, metal came as somewhat of a revelation; because spiritual this awakening was, on so many levels. Being a Jehovah’s Witness, I knew God wasn’t exactly approving of my new devotion. I had yet to tap into the blaze of rage that would later, at least temporarily, expel the ghost of Jehovah. That’s what made metal feel truly dangerous to me at the time, and not in a mild, spine-tingling manner. No, listening to metal is, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a way of opening the door for demons to enter your life and, as such, the gravest sin. If not repented, it leads to a physical and spiritual death sentence. Christ will surely kill you both ways from Sunday when Armageddon is upon us… and the end would come ‘as a thief in the night’ – suddenly, unexpected, and very soon.
So, in his early teens, Ola was simultaneously engulfed by the ecstatic power of DIO, MANOWAR, and IRON MAIDEN while the glory of his Old Testament God gradually faded.
– Still, I was terrified by the jealousy I could sense from Him as I was enthralled by “Holy Diver”. Hell, with some gallows humour I guess one could say I was a ‘holy diver’, sinking fast into metal and away from God… a definite threshold experience for me was when I, at fourteen years of age, had a powerful inner vision in which God literally turned his face away from me and, from then on, I thought there was no way back. However, the old fear of Jehovah remained, so PTSD’ed and spiritually suicidal I went on to explore a new universe by adding cornerstones to substitute for my old religion in the shape of KING DIAMOND, SABBATH, JUDAS PRIEST, BATHORY, and HELLOWEEN until I, in 1989, finally came upon the foundation itself in the shape of epic doom metal: CANDLEMASS, COUNT RAVEN, TROUBLE, SOLITUDE AETERNUS and then later the Peaceville three. Of course, having been born into doomsday fanaticism I was highly susceptible to becoming a doom metal maniac from the very start. I believe that GRIFTEGÅRD coming out the way it did was inevitable, being a synthesis between my troublesome relation to, and longing for, God along with the music which stills the trembling and fills me. However, and quite accordingly, there are no happy endings to doom, and the longing to belong again never truly expired.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #5. The same issue also includes conversations with BLASPHEMY, CLANDESTINE BLAZE, ACRIMONIOUS, LYCHGATE, MORBOSIDAD, NUCLEAR WAR NOW!, CULT NEVER DIES, MYSTIFIER, ROME ,W.A.I.L., WINTERFYLLETH, and PHURPA.