by Niklas Göransson
Praising the Great Death with echoes of genocide; Pestifier of Transylvanian black metal duo Siculicidium talks about the horrors lurking behind reality’s veil.
– SICULICIDIUM is Transylvanian black steel with lyrics in ancient Hungarian. Most reviews seem to place us in the ‘Eastern black metal’ category, drawing comparisons to TORMENTOR, MASTER’S HAMMER, and so on. Fine by me, of course: when you discover a new band, a new city, or a new experience you will always want to tie it to something familiar. But once you’ve been submerged into our concept, you’ll see that the music lives a life of its own. Or dies a singular death. We don’t play very fast, mostly mid-tempo, and sometimes we have slow, doomy parts. There are many acoustic interludes which occasionally carry a dark and folky vibe, but we’re certainly not ‘pagan metal’, nor ‘folk’… we live and create in the present, using the past only as one of several inspirational components. The present times and the possibilities of the future inspire us just as much. We know our history, we are aware of our heritage, but we’re not especially nostalgic about it.
Admittedly, I myself drew conclusions similar to these reviews. SICULICIDIUM come across precisely as how one would hope an Eastern European black metal band would – strange, original, atmospheric, and without a semblance of the Scandinavian sound.
– I don’t know what kind of ‘hopes’ anyone has regarding Eastern black metal. For sure, we’ve never tried to sound ‘different’, or like something exotic, bizarre, or mysterious. But I don’t think a band from our lands should sound like one from Norway, Finland, Brazil, or Canada. What we do stems from the core of who we are – our unique temperament and upbringing. The creations of Lugosi and myself are imprints marked by our geography, history, behaviour, DNA, personality, and life experience. We are children of the post-Soviet era; we were born into the communist regime, but our youth bloomed in wild neo-capitalism. Strange enough?
Pestifer and Lugosi are from Harghita County, Romania – a mountainous region in eastern Transylvania which belonged to Hungary until the First World War. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, both Romania and Hungary were part of the Eastern Bloc and, as such, offered very little access to modern Western culture such as metal.
– 1989 was the time of great change. It was a gasp of fresh air: there was so much more music available but still not that easy to find. I listened to a lot of night-time metal shows on the radio and recorded music on cassette from there. The other source was the tape-trading scene, which we became deeply involved in. I was insanely into trying to find the most extreme bands from all over the globe. It was a very great period of my life, I really enjoyed it! Music had more value back then; listening to an album for the first time was a special event, almost like a ceremony. You would receive a tape in an envelope from the other side of the world, then sit down in front of your cassette player and listen all day. Sometimes all night! I’m nostalgic about those great times, waiting months to get new music. Our borders were closed until 1990 – after that we had the chance to go abroad, which became another source of getting your dose of underground metal. I was shocked when visiting Budapest for the first time! It was a completely new world, totally new experience. The city had lots of metal shops with tonnes of vinyl, cassettes, and shirts with the bands I loved.
SICULICIDIUM is the result of Pestifer meeting Lugosi at a metal bar in the year 2000. At the time, both of them were university students in Cluj-Napoca – the biggest city in Transylvania, regarded as the region’s unofficial capital.
– After some drinks and deep talks, it was clear we were on the same wavelength. I mentioned to Lugosi that I kind of play guitar and am into black metal. Years passed, then in 2003 Lugosi told me about a project he’d been working on. The first demo was set to be recorded the upcoming weekend, using a session guitarist, so he asked me to play an intro or a solo for it. Everything went fine and we began working together. This was back in 2003, since then we’ve recorded three albums and several EPs using various session drummers. However, from 2018 and onwards it’s just been the two of us – besides vocals, Lugosi now handles drums whereas I play guitar, bass, keys, and organ. For rehearsals, our long-time friend NKF steps in on bass; he also mixes and masters all SICULICIDIUM recordings. NKF is very active with DEATH NÖIZE and also has another band with Lugosi called WOLFSGREY.
Where did the inspiration for this strange singing style come from?
– When Lugosi recorded his vocals for the early recordings, he used alcohol and even some drugs to enter the perfect mood. His style is a special combination of throat chanting mixed with screams, narrated parts, and hellish laughing. He used to drink a special cocktail: three-quarters high-quality bourbon, one-quarter genuine absinthe and tea. Then, some years ago, he met a real shaman in a very abandoned Transylvanian village. This man taught him a shamanic technique for entering trance states without using any kind of stimulants. So, Lugosi decided to skip this hard combination of alcohol, which just kills the mind and spirit, and now uses this technique instead. It’s based on a primaeval Hungarian mantra featuring repetitive percussion and monotonous throat singing – if applied correctly, you no longer need any drugs to enter a trance. Sounds fabled but, in reality, works insanely fine!
These vocals are on full display on the new album, “Az alámerülés lárvái”, which was released in November 2020 by Sun & Moon Records. The third full-length of SICULICIDIUM comes seven years and two EPs after its predecessor.
– “Az alámerülés lárvái” emerged from a time of great struggle and anguish; I regard it as a pressure relief. Although it’s very dark for most of the time, I can still feel a certain element of ‘hope’ in some of the themes. Even if it’s a dark album, there are rays of light to be found here and there. The material is not new; I composed most of it a few years ago, during a very difficult period of my life. Our intention was to re-write everything but, after some months of work, Lugosi came up with an idea how to finish it. He also thought of a lyrical theme to make it into a concept album.
“Az alámerülés lárvái” means ‘larvae of immersion’. The story is based on the writings of Hungarian writer and philosopher Hamvas Béla and Japanese author Murakami Haruki, as well as esoteric literature from the middle ages.
– It’s an insane tale, a never-ending journey in the Tartarean world and beyond; the oath has been made and you need to respect the deal. The concept can be interpreted on many different levels: personal, metaphysical, social, or sacral. The album has a common theme, but it’s not the usual approach with too much storytelling and boring stuff – even if you’re not into the details, you can still enjoy it track by track. Also, the whole narrative is in Hungarian so it’s almost impossible for those who are not familiar with this language to understand the story. We tried translating the lyrics, but all of Lugosi’s poems turned into some incomprehensible mess. Perhaps, at some point in the future, a good translation will be made.
Whilst a lot of SICULICIDIUM’s lyrical content is rooted in fantastical realms, the band name is taken from an actual historical event in their home region: the 1764 Massacre at Madéfalva. At the time, Transylvania was ruled by the Habsburg Monarchy out of the Court of Vienna. The local Szekler populace revolted against a forced military draft, thus drawing the ire of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. On the night of January 7 – as Szekler leaders were convening in the village of Csík-Mádéfalva – Habsburg soldiers arrived and slaughtered an estimated four hundred men, women, and children.
– Madéfalva is called Siculeni today; the first is the original Hungarian name and the second is Romanian. The majority of Szeklerland are Hungarian people. ‘Siculicidium’ is a Latin word which means ‘Szekler genocide’. Szeklers are an ancient Hungarian tribe, all of us are sons of Attila the Hun… his blood is ourselves, clean Hungarian blood. The history of Eastern Europe – especially in the Carpathian region – is very difficult and diversified, not so easy to understand for someone who isn’t familiar with the region’s geopolitical and historical past. This part of Europe has a very unfair history ever since the middle ages: lots of anger, frustration, and unresolved cases. Transylvania was a place of continuous oppression, war, and struggle for centuries and centuries. No doubt, history will repeat itself!
In 1905, to commemorate those who were murdered, an obelisk was erected in Madéfalva. A Turul bird, which is a mythological creature of central importance to the Hungarian tradition, stands on top, spreading its wings. The monument’s base has a plate with ‘SICVLICIDIVM’ etched in it. Curiously, if one counts each individual letter as a Roman numeral – I as 1, C as 100, M as 1,000, and so forth – and adds them up, the sum lands at 1,746. Meaning, the exact year of the massacre. There is not much information about this in English, but the few articles I’ve found describe it as a ‘happy accident’.
– It’s a chronogram, not a happy accident! Pure myth and magic. We adopted this word out of respect for our ancestors – also, we didn’t want a name in English or other any other common tongue. A dead language is perfect for a black metal band that worships and venerates the passing of time and the Great Death itself!
Do you partake in the January 7 memorial events?
– No, because it attracts far too many useless people; mostly politicians and priests with their useless speeches. Instead, we go there when no one else is around. We’ve made one exception: in 2014, for the 250th anniversary, when SICULICIDIUM won the grand award for audio and visuals in the ‘modern arts’ category. We received full marks for our videos from the “Hosszú út az örökkévalóságba” album. The curator of this event, who was not into metal or rock music, accidentally came across them on YouTube and decided that not only sculptors and painters should be awarded, but also ‘modern artists’. Lugosi and NKF attended the official celebration and everything was totally surreal. The lobby of the great exhibition hall, which was full of paintings and sculptures, had a huge projection playing all SICULICIDIUM clips on repeat. Okay, fine, I know this is a common occurrence in Norway, but not in a small Transylvanian village! Black metal is not well-known over here, so when the curator presented info about our band and a little genre history before handing out the award, the entire audience – full of politicians and village people – was shocked!
It’s interesting to note how what started off with a crude and partly improvised demo in 2003 has since grown into an ambitious creative outlet, both in terms of music as well as visual representation and thematic content.
– I always had this urge to bring out through music all the chaos and torment within me. The whole process of making these sounds that – once Lugosi has added his concepts and lyrics – become SICULICIDIUM songs is very healing for us. We sing about the metaphysical and surreal, even the grotesque and incomprehensible… praising the Great Death and worshipping Left-Hand Path esoterica. All our lyrical ideas come from books; Lugosi and I are both obsessed with literature and philosophy and read as much as possible. From Hamvas, Castaneda, Evola, Jung, Eco, Marquez, Borges, Llosa, Cortazar, and Kafka to Japanese literature such as Mishima, Murakami, and Cobo plus various occult books.
Do you only read about the arcane or is there a practical element to this interest?
– I tried some spiritual and occultist practices in my youth… mostly mystical sessions and gatherings. All my life I’ve been interested in the paranormal: the occult and hidden knowledge. But, as they say, be careful what you wish for! A local woman who was considered some kind of clairvoyant taught me some practices mostly related to divination with the dead, but not only. It may sound amusing to some, but these youthful years left me with absolute horror. Even now, thinking back on those experiences sends shivers down my spine. Call them dead spirits, demons – as you wish – but all of it is real. And once you open that door, it’s hard to throw out your guests. There is the world you behold with your eyes… and most people will only ever know about this normal life, but then there is a whole lot beyond our grey, physical reality. Certain things should never be accessed, some seals should not be broken. Awakening the underworld, more recently called the subconscious, is not always a great idea. What is in the dark should perhaps stay in the dark; you have to be very well-trained to delve deep into the catacombs of your hidden regions. Just like people who try ayahuasca or LSD, for example. Such experiences are not for the average mortal man, and nobody can access secret knowledge without consequences. Even our latest album is about experiencing a new world, or underworld… one which seems exciting, but once you enter the portal there are new rules and you may find yourself in a much worse place.
Unsurprisingly, Pestifer is also acquainted with the sleep paralysis phenomenon. By now, I have lost count over how many black metal artists I’ve spoken to who’ve undergone such experiences in their childhood. One aspect I find intriguing is how most of them say that this is what first sparked both their interest and belief in the supernatural – the so-called spirit world.
– I know a lot of people have talked about similar involvements, mostly in their youth. I can’t recall if it ignited my interest in the supernatural though. But yes, sleep paralysis was a recurring incident in my childhood. Other times, I had the feeling of strangers visiting my room and trying to communicate with me through something I would now describe as telepathy. I discussed my experiences with someone older than me and he recommended the books of Carlos Castaneda, so I read a lot of literature around these topics. I also tried astral projection and out-of-body experiences, but it’s hard to put it in words: it is like describing architecture with dancing. These days, I limit myself to reading about the supernatural. Sometimes I simply meditate or do the fashionable yoga thing, mixed with some stretching and work-out. I have seen things in my life which disturbed me greatly. I learned from it, so I want to do real things in the present time. Life is for the living and the dead should have a very limited place in it.