by Niklas Göransson
Ancestral worship of the Mighty Dead – Finnish black metal duo Aethyrick close their album trilogy by tapping into wisdom coursing through an ancient bloodline.
– “Apotheosis” is the culmination of all the work we’ve carried out thus far. This does not mean I’m putting down “Praxis” or “Gnosis” – far from it – but I think the new one in many ways soars above our past accomplishments. It doesn’t leave the previous albums in its shadow, but rather shines a bit brighter and from a tad higher up than its predecessors. So, it’s safe to say I’m of the opinion that instead of churning out something easy and uninspired just for the sake of having a steady stream of releases, we’ve taken a big step forward with each record.
“Apotheosis” will be released by The Sinister Flame on January 22 – two days before the one-year anniversary of its predecessor, “Gnosis”. The debut, “Praxis”, came out in December 2018. The cover artwork was a pleasant surprise, its style being immediately recognisable as that of the late Timo Ketola. This painting would presumably have been one of his last.
– The initial spark came in the autumn of 2019 when I visited the William Blake exhibition in London and saw the piece titled The Casting of the Rebel Angels into Hell. Everything about it speaks of Archangel Michael’s resolute ‘get the fuck out’ mentality – paired with the positioning of the bow and arrow, this really resonated with me. If we discard the strictly biblical interpretation of this fall from Heaven and instead take the more esoteric route, we arrive at the concept of divine awareness descending by will into the world of matter. Seeing as how “Apotheosis” deals with processes and deeds which, in some sense, are the opposite of this, I immediately realised that the central elements would work perfectly if the setting was reversed.
After consultation with Gall, the other half of the duo that is AETHYRICK, they pieced together the accompanying imagery. NorthWind of The Sinister Flame then asked Ketola if he might be interested in the artwork commission.
– He had visited the Blake exhibition himself just a week before this proposal, which, I guess, gave his decision a little extra push. Most of the symbolism came from us, but Timo also took an active part. The painting depicts a satyr – half man, half beast – shooting the arrow of the soul directly upwards into the night sky. In the cover art for “Praxis”, the fourteen stars of the Draco constellation were displayed in their natural formation but here they are re-arranged in a circle: one is central whereas the rest form the ‘gate’ around it, further implying the practitioner’s conscious transformation of his own universe. Note the two upturned skulls on either side of the partly bestial figure… I wonder who they might have belonged to previously, wink. The smoke rising from them gives balance to the swift and direct ascent signified by the arrow, hinting at a slower, serpentine route to the halls above. The barely visible upright snake shape was Timo’s own addition; it ties in nicely with the overall concept, serving to illustrate the kundalini rising in the practitioner. As for the creation of the piece itself, the process was long and arduous, to say the least, and at times it felt as if he was never going to finish it… but when he finally did, we were blown away. It’s a true masterpiece in my book and a worthy addition to the vast legacy he left behind. Needless to say, it was completely surreal to learn only a week after getting the final scan that the man himself had died.
The term from which the last part of AETHYRICK’s album trilogy takes its name has a slightly different meaning depending on circumstance. Theologically speaking, apotheosis is the elevation of an individual to divine stature. In terms of art, it’s the framing of something – a person or collective, a painting or a music piece – as monumental or godly.
– The latter is certainly applicable here, but the title refers more to spiritual matters than it does to mere musical evolution. The general idea is to highlight the process of reaching apotheosis by applying wisdom accrued from magical practice. So, it’s not only about the state itself but also the chain through which it has been attained: praxis, gnosis, and apotheosis. Nothing strictly linear about this, though – instead, it’s essentially cyclical and even intertwining. A practitioner of the hidden art does not reach apotheosis and then just retire with a membership card in his pocket; he goes about his former ways with new insight and vigour.
When we spoke prior to the interview, Exile pointed out how our past two conversations each featured a key essence of Finland: rye bread and saunas, respectively. Admittedly, neither topic sound especially exciting in an arbitrary sense, but the context in which they were discussed made them rather interesting. He added that an additional trait in his countrymen is nudity – a propensity I dare say anyone who’s spent sufficient time amongst Finnish metalheads can attest to. Actually, I made the same observation in the 2019 HORNA feature:
Three dates into the tour, HORNA published a photo on Facebook depicting guitarist Infection sprawled across a bed, fully naked except for the load of cash covering his genitals. Defiance and nudity – two cornerstones of Finnish black metal captured in one image.
– I have no doubt the Finnish mindset of accepting the nude human body as it is stems from our age-old sauna culture. Of course, public exposure is frowned upon and prohibited here too – hence the persisting comical allure and effect of it, as seen in that HORNA photo. But the notion of being unable to take your clothes off for a group sauna is alien to most Finns. And for all this, I am downright grateful: it’s a clear sign of immunity from the shaming of the human body brought upon by religious dogma and chastisement. However, for the same reason, nudity in a ritual setting doesn’t quite hold the same rebellious and taboo-defying effect it does elsewhere. But missing this component isn’t that big of a deal for me, I prefer ritual nakedness for other reasons; it allows me to approach both the spirits and the altar in my utmost natural state, minimising all unwanted human influence originating outside myself, as well as granting incense smoke and candlelight direct access to the skin. That said, my disrobed ceremonial praxis is mainly reserved for indoors. Why? Try being butt-naked in wintry weather, or in the summer when a million and one mosquitos attack from all fronts. I don’t know about others, but I’m personally not ‘zen’ enough to remain focused under such circumstances.
As much as Exile values his cultural heritage, “Apotheosis” speaks, amongst other things, of a different kind of ancestral worship. He mentioned “In Blood Wisdom” as especially representative of this aspect.
– ‘In blood wisdom’ is another way of saying that in blood there is witchcraft. And even though the poem contains many allusions to blood as the physical menstruum coursing through our veins, its actual meaning goes beyond the idea of successive generations of witch-families. Instead, it’s based on the concept of witch-blood connecting all true practitioners of the art – past, present, and future. This also brings into play the veneration of, and interaction with, one’s ancestry. But even here we’re not necessarily talking about one’s biological antecedents, but rather the so-called Mighty Dead: those of the same spiritual tradition who have already gone beyond the veil, reaching back even to the First Sorcerer.
As was discussed in our previous conversations, Exile is an adherent of Sabbatic craft – an arcane system based primarily on European folk magic. The First Sorcerer is a reference to the figure known in a biblical context as Cain, son of Adam. To my understanding, the Mighty Dead are something similar to what’s known as Ascended Masters in the theosophical tradition: enlightened initiates who, prior to their spiritual transformation, used to be regular humans.
– Though the work is to a large extent solitary in nature, the rewards are not only for the individual to reap but the whole tradition or current. In this sense, it’s about the continuity of hidden knowledge. There’s a belief that even if such expertise, and the cultivation thereof, might be eradicated off the face of the earth, it still lies dormant in the aethyrs – even for centuries – and is eventually bound to resurface in new individuals. Regardless of whether one echoes these thoughts word-for-word or not, it’s nonetheless easy to grasp the inner meaning because there are, and always will be, certain unknown or obscure things in this world which have drawn people to the well of mystery since time immemorial.
What next – do you expect to keep up this pace of annual album releases?
– We never had a defined goal of releasing one record per year, but this was easy to foresee once our working cycle started to take a steady and predictable form. This pace is in no way forced or intentional, we just seem to do things effectively together and can rarely leave things hanging indefinitely. But, I must say, I kind of enjoy how the pauses between albums have been so brief – it makes the three chapters feel even more connected. We’ll probably break the pattern after “Apotheosis” though… but then again, if the embers have been stoked red-hot, is pouring a bucket of water over them really the most sensible thing to do?