by Niklas Göransson
Skin Stone Blood Bone – Ifernach is a black metal solo project from north-eastern Canada, dedicated to ancestral revival and spiritual vengeance by reconnecting with heritage and soil.
– I’m giving away very few details about what’s going on within the music for this release: no lyric sheet, chaotic song arrangements… or, should I say, a very unorthodox way of composing. It’s an adventure you’ll have to undergo multiple times, each and every listen can be entirely different. Just as when you set out on a forest trail – it’s the same old path you’ve walked before, but always in a different atmosphere, aura, or perspective. Let the magic do its trick.
The new IFERNACH album is called “The Green Enchanted Forest of the Druid Wizard”. I must say, this sounds to me a bit like some kind of attempted black metal parody; I would expect such a title from Seth Putnam’s IMPALED NORTHERN MOONFOREST.
– Of course, to some people it might sound cheesy. It’s really none of my business if you can’t take my work seriously, but I’m offering an experience to anyone who’s willing to travel with me. When you’re enchanted by the riffing, melodies, and atmosphere, there are no other words worthy to use as a title for this work. Not everyone has the will required to kick-open their spiritual doors; imagination might not be a place they like to dwell in. The first idea of an ‘enchanted forest’ came from the land where I go hunting in October… there are still places out there they didn’t touch. It’s the same woods I dwelled in when I was young and learning how to hunt, the bullet holes are still visible in the trees. This forest is magic to me, I am truly travelling time within its green enclosure. It is one of my favourite places in life – I go there and stay for hours.
You’ve been trained in classical music, correct?
– Yes. When I was younger, my parents took me to guitar classes; I went through nine years of daily practising. I remember a song I used to play, “Concerto d’Aranjuez” – still to this day, it gives me the chills. I think it was the first time I felt my soul vibrating. I can compose songs in my head with no need of touching an instrument, which is a huge tool in my musical craft. I know where the notes are and how they sound without even playing them. I can read music. But I had to break this template when I did “Skin Stone Blood Bone” (2019): I just tuned my guitar to something really creepy that allowed me to explore different sounds. Most of the songs I’ve written are not over-worked, they came from free playing and feelings trapped within the moment. I have the option to record music all day, whenever I want, so I never lose any of the daily inspiration coming to me.
I read an amusing account of Finian’s home-recording setup; ‘Nothing is wireless, cables are all jammed up together, I can barely move my head when I record the drums because I’m losing signal with the headphones.’ One would at least surmise that this requires a fair bit of dedication.
– From my upbringing, I’ve been gifted with the mindset of getting things to work without the greatest tools for the craft; making the best out of whatever means are at my disposal. I’m still into this frame of mind. Recording under awful circumstances is the only way I know; it’s my way. No one but me touches the music, it’s recorded and then mixed by its creator. Regarding the sound of the new album: this is the first time I’m not drumming. I was practising daily last winter and ended up hurting my arm, then my back shoulder. I’m still dealing with these painful injuries when I play. I already had the drum samples in place – they were supposed to be overdubbed by real drumming – but, ultimately, I started mixing it and liked the result. The rest is history.
IFERNACH is a rather obscure one-man black metal band founded by Finian Patraic in 2014. Finian lives in Chandler, a small town on Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula. The debut album, “Maqtewek Nakuset” was released in 2016 – since then, he’s released one full-length record and at least one EP per year. The project has performed live once: at Messe des Morts VII in 2017, using session musicians.
– I don’t want to dig back inside the beginning, even though it was six years ago now. Some way, somehow, I have evolved into something more than just chaotic hate going nowhere. Hate is still what fuels IFERNACH, but I guess the fire coming out of it is something else. The main reason I do this is to put all the anger I harbour inside of me to good use, instead of hurting people. Sadly, in some way, I still feel gloomy and heavy going through this weird kind of life we lead now. My place in this world is fading. The more I connect with the otherworld, the less I want to be here. The longer I stay in the forest, the less time I want to spend in cities. The more you understand how people, media, society, and governments work, the harder it is to breathe. At the end of the day, I still give a piece of me to a world I despise and such feelings make me sick. It’s a pure disgust that I can feel hurting more and more. The people around me are all on drugs and pills which change how they react, behave, talk, and walk. This is crazy, I feel very alone here. I’m only happy for small periods of time, and it’s a kind of joy I couldn’t describe as just a smile on my face. It happens when I go hunting, or upon isolating myself in a small house by the sea; only then can I free my mind, read, and feel the connection with nature and my land. I can be. I can learn.
What about playing music?
– I wouldn’t say I’m happy doing black metal. It is a rough journey when you live your life on the wrong side of the tracks, not following the same directions as everyone else. To me, being a black metal artist has nothing to do with being happy, celebrating life, or collecting friends. This life I’ve chosen is a hard path and sometimes I really do want to leave everything behind. But I prefer being on the battlefield rather than pretending to be someone in a fake world with fake friends and a fake life. I used to play in bands with some people a few years ago, but they were just not on my level; music is sacred to me. I left the fake ones behind and started my own path with no help, comments, influences, or support from anyone. Fuck them. I will be the master of the forces which define me, and that feeling is greater than life and death combined.
Did I interpret you correctly, that discovering black metal made you re-connect with your ancestry?
– When I found BATHORY, I felt the Scandinavian landscape screaming through the music. This is what I try to achieve with IFERNACH: allowing my own land to speak through me. The listener sees my world from within my own two eyes. I’d never listened to music speaking about heritage before that, but it made total sense after all those years of getting into heavier music. Suddenly, everything became clear – it was a revelation. The answers were already right there in front of me, I was simply too blind to see. But now I remember. I know the land has been talking to me all this time. I can hear now. What a feeling! I lack the words to describe it myself, but my music manages this very well.
To my understanding, Finian is what’s called Métis – a descendant of both European settlers and the North American indigenous population, or the First Nations as they’re known in Canada. The native people of the Gaspé Peninsula are called the Miꞌkmaq.
– Métis? I guess this is the right term. More than half of the people living off-reserve here in Gespegewagi have native ancestry. They ignore it. They despise it. ‘Being’ is the freedom of life and a lot of people will never have a taste of it, and instead blindly follow whatever bullshit they sell on TV or Instagram. Shame on them. I know people with the native title who don’t even hunt! When the Métis people join the dying reservations, we will crush the barriers, erase territorial boundaries, and redefine it like it was back in the day: the Wabenaki Confederacy. Taking back the land, one step at a time.
In the early 1600s, as the North American continent was being increasingly colonised by Europeans, five tribes belonging to the Algonquian language group – the Miꞌkmaq being one of them – formed the Wabanaki Confederacy. It was named after their ancestral home, Wabanahkik, which means ‘Dawnland’ and encompassed parts of French Acadia and colonial New England. The natives had previously maintained a mostly peaceful relationship with the French settlers who preceded the British, so they formed a mutually protective alliance. The Wabanaki sought help in repelling the increasingly brazen raids by their ancient enemies, the Mohawk people, and the French were concerned about the growing English presence. Over the following centuries, the aboriginal-Franco alliance fought no less than six major wars together before being defeated by the British, who declared the Wabanaki Confederacy forcibly dissolved in 1862. However, all five tribes that once gathered under this name still exist today; in 1993, the Confederacy was formally re-established.
– But let us not get too political here. I feel the war is fought within us these days. It’s the same for the French: they hanged the Patriotes, and, guess what? We now have Metal Noir Québécois. All these years have passed, yet the flame still burns in 2020 – who would’ve imagined? It’s fulfilling to speak the native tongue on your land, to re-experience once-banned traditions. It must be a choice of your own, not a trend on social media or a protest in downtown Montréal. Learn the language, go into the forest, and speak to the ancients. Ask them. Gain access to forces you’ve always ignored. Break the chains of colonialism and just be. Just be. Alone, all by yourself. This is the greatest warfare you can wage against them; it is the greatest battle you’ll ever fight. The toughest opponent to fight is you, only you. The old gods will rise back from the dead, as predicted. The invaders have failed, General Wolfe turns in his grave. I am the son of all this, and I could’ve chosen any life I wanted. I could’ve been a British loyalist. I could have been a disciple of Jesus. I’ve been to church, I was baptised. I’ve been to English school as a teenager. This life was already built up for me, but I still managed to escape. The Great Manitou had other plans for me.
In the animist worldview of the Algonquian tribes, manitous are the energies and forces of life inherent in all things – plants, animals, weather phenomena, geological features, and so on. When appearing before and interacting with humans, manitous manifest as spirit-beings; they are led by Gitche-Manitou, or the Great Mantiou, who is described as a form of grand cosmic creator.
– I was ten years of age the first time I heard it, during a four-day journey on the river. This was my first real nature experience as a child. I was amazed by all these pure waterfalls, so abundant in fish. That feeling at dawn when the day begins: the heartbeat of the forest. Or even the stars dancing at night, between the war-chants and the orange sparks shooting into the air and smoke. The legends I’ve heard around the bonfires at night, the water from the green river I’d drink from, the landscape I used to admire, and the moose hunts with my father. I dreamed of it. I was born and gifted with the pride of being a child of Gespeg, and it’s the duty of a lifetime to connect with all of this and replant the roots which were ripped up from the land four hundred years ago.
Prior to the interview, when I first spoke to Finian, he mentioned that he encourages all residents of Québec to set aside other faiths and worship the forces which ruled the land before the God of Abraham moved in. He also thinks North American black metal bands should use thematic concepts built on their native gods, rather than pre-Christian European mythology.
– I wanna see Manitou shirts in the black metal scene, because it’s a pagan force you can connect with. America also has heathen gods, and it is time we go back to worshipping them; it’s the way of this land, always has been. When the thunder roars, I don’t hear Thor – I hear the mighty Bird of Fire flapping its wings. If I travel to Norway, I think I will hear Thor. Whatever name you give this force, you acknowledge the impact it has on your life; how you see the world. Wherever you are on earth, the forces of nature are alive and constantly speaking to those who are willing to listen. At the end of the day, regardless of what name they’ve been given, it’s pure pagan worshipping and that’s essential to our native lives. Furthermore, I’ve been reading some really interesting comparative religious analyses about Norsemen and Native American spirituality: Ragnarok and the Battle of the Giants, or when Odin meets the Wolf. Kluscap made men by taking up his bow and shooting arrows in the trunk of the ash tree, how can we not think about Yggdrasil?
There are many theories and much speculation about Norse colonisation of North America, though much of it is unproven. What we do know is that Greenland, which is a physiographical part of the North American continent, was settled by Norsemen from 986 until the 15th century when the Little Ice Age made conditions too harsh. It has also been confirmed that Icelandic explorer Leif Eriksson sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland in present-day Canada around the year 1000, thus becoming the first European on record to set foot on the continent’s mainland – five hundred years before Christopher Columbus.
– It’s been said that Norsemen passed on stories to the Innuits of Greenland and then further to the Indians. That notion gives me the chills, especially when I listen to bands like BILSKIRNIR. And yes, you can be an Indian metalhead and still blast some BILSKIRNIR. For those who don’t understand, just bear in mind that everything is linked. But on the day of wrath, when heaven and earth shall pass away with all things in blood and death and fire, everyone will battle for their own ancestral lineage and heritage. Then come the eternal happy hunting-grounds… it doesn’t matter from which background or whatever place in the world you’re from, as long as your people worship the powers that shaped their very essence; before we lost these great battles that forced us to live our lives in such shame and disgrace. The great bear – whether manifested as pursued by hunters, as an ancient war hero, or a star shining down at us – has a universal meaning and impacts the way we lead our lives. Total nature supremacy. When you worship forests, regardless if it’s American or Celtic, it takes time, practice, thinking, and over-thinking… one cannot just go there and connect to it, like a smartphone to a wi-fi. You must be grounded to different dimensions and, at the same time, embrace shamanic trance and visions.
Is there much lore preserved regarding local plants?
– From what I know, we were very close to nature – just like everyone else back then. Even though I’m not a herbal specialist and more of a hunter chasing animals in their own world, I know you can make soup by boiling the crushed bones of a moose. Canoes can be constructed from dried moose hide. The birch tree, with its many medicinal properties, was popular in the Mi’kmaq world; applied to the skin, chewed, or drunk as a tea infusion. Its sap also prevents tooth decay; I’ve seen some historians speaking of how beautiful and white the smiles of Native Americans were, which is a much different image from the portraits I was shown at school! Weaving baskets was also a great tradition. What else? The sauna. Throwing water on the hot rocks, to cleanse one’s body and soul from wrath and toxins.
Native tribes of North America would build sweat lodges, often simple and dome-shaped structures made of lumber and covered with animal skins – they were used both for purification ceremonies and simply getting a good sweat.
– Well, this is much more than just a sauna, of course. It’s used to travel within the soul – to descend into the elements of your own DNA and be reborn after this hard and painful journey. The fire needs to be made with logs cut from ancestral land. The boiling rocks act as the forefathers – the elders, or ancients. Also, as far as I know, the tobacco pipe was not as popular in the beginning as they say. We used to smoke the Kinnikinnick, which is a mixture of leaves, plants, and bark. Using this practice could make you communicate with the spirits, or request something by way of prayer. There’s so much more, let’s just say that the forest around here is literally a pharmacy. I’m not even going into the hallucinogen world of shamanic experiences. We no longer know how to handle drugs; we just use them in a very bad way. None of this makes any sense if you’re not grounded to the land. You need to prepare your soul and body, which might take a whole lifetime. This is quite a duty for us, the generations of today, but I believe it’s doable.
Hunting is a big part of Finian’s life. The moose was a highly treasured and revered animal among the Miꞌkmaq, employed both as a primary source of food and for protection against the elements. In pre-colonial days, the beasts would be hunted using bow and arrow, spears, and hunting dogs. Only after having slain his first moose did a Miꞌkmaq boy have the right to call himself a man and take a wife.
– Hunting is really important. You must slice open a moose at least once in your life, feel and taste the warm blood pouring from a heart that was beating just seconds before. These are the basics in native life. It’s not about the killing, it’s about understanding the animal and how it gives you something important. It’s a sad feeling when you must slay an entire family, but my elders didn’t even think twice about it. I want to be like them – they are my heroes in life. My father and uncle, they walk in the woods like animals. I can barely follow them, even though I’m in great shape. They see what I barely see. They don’t use flashlights but instead follow the moon. In the morning when we head out, you couldn’t see your hand out there. They could even shoot a moose going only by hearing, not seeing it. I want to be like that. Where we hunt, there are no satellite signals, no phones, no nothing. Only there can I get close to what it was like to live in Gespeg back in the day. Most of my songs are now written out there, where I can be free and away from any nuisance or toxic urban influences. I stay in this tiny cabin containing only a stove and a bed. Alone for ten days, barely seeing another human. We take hunting very seriously; only when we’ve taken down a moose are we allowed to see each other, feast together, and drink. The idea of doing “Skin Stone Blood Bone” came to me just before nightfall. I’d been waiting eight hours for a glimpse or a sound and, just before nightfall, when the clouds and mountains were beginning to change shape, I saw the horned beast and the spectacle begun. That feeling is quite hard to explain, but it was perfect for a music release. Alone in the forest, that’s when you know if you’re dealing well with survivalism.
Perhaps I’m just being dramatic, but, judging by how 2020 has developed thus far, having hunter-gatherer skills might not be a bad idea.
– Surviving in the woods is something we should learn at school. I hope we will change that for our children, because they’ll be the ones facing the last battle. If I’m still alive, I hope I can participate in some great war. You have to fight a war to enjoy peace. Or, at least, fight to get peace back. When you’re born peacefully, this is just not the right order of nature. Going into the forest for long periods of time will force you to challenge your fears and stir up a lot of things that lie dormant within. This is exactly what the system wants to prevent – they will never give you the weapons to fight. They will never let that happen.