by Niklas Göransson
Skeleton keys and abominable riddles – Escumergamënt is a faceless convergence of black metal veterans, paying homage to ancient forces by reviving archaic methods.
– The idea behind what ultimately became ESCUMERGAMËNT took shape about five years ago. Four individuals – all of whom had independently recorded several albums with other black metal bands in the past – felt an urge to work alongside people on the same musical and spiritual wavelength. We wanted to create something infused with that eerie old sombre atmosphere… think early MANES, STRID, mid-90s ABIGOR, and so on. Add to that lyrical content inspired by authors such as Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson, and Arthur Machen.
Since ESCUMERGAMËNT is very different from its members’ previous work, it was decided to keep their identities and nationalities hidden. The point being to give those who discover their music an opportunity to immerse themselves in the material without distractions or preconceptions stemming from earlier releases.
– Each of us have our natural roles in the band, but we’re all multi-instrumentalists so exactly who plays what is quite fleeting. Admittedly, it’s pretty much unfeasible to keep a line-up secret in 2021, but we’re doing our best to keep a low profile. I personally don’t care about the real names or identities of people involved in the bands I like. Actually – the less I know, the better. It promotes a sense of mystery and draws focus to the important parts, such as the music and lyrics. Had I, in a highly theoretical setting, kept listening to BEHEMOTH post-1999, I cannot imagine I’d have survived the inevitable stroke from bearing witness to the frontman peddling dogfood and teaching yoga over Facebook. There are days when I honestly think that some bands who used to be great in the past are actively trying to shit on their own legacy. Same thing with these ‘Featuring members of…’ stickers; that’s just embarrassing.
Most of the project’s fundamentals had already been fleshed out well-before ESCUMERGAMËNT rehearsed for the first time, which allowed for them to fully focus on the music. They rented a small cottage in the woods, brought along the necessary gear, and laid down the foundations for an album via several cassette rehearsal recordings.
– Snowfall, darkness, rats in the walls, and exactly zero computers – all this converging with a gathering of broken souls under heavy intoxication paved the way for something highly creative and volatile. Early in the process, we decided that our focus should lie on song arrangements and tempos. It was of the highest importance that there were no click-tracks or other trickery involved. We held the tempo back, made it uncomfortable, and let the different parts go on and on until we found that magic number of times where everything is arranged and played for maximum impact. Restriction became a rule of sorts: no unnecessary cymbals or fills, no palm-muting on the guitars, bass subdued except when it was time to pay homage to “De mysteriis dom Sathanas”, and no safe tactics for the vocals. It’s sickening to hear people talk about ‘safe vocal techniques’ in the context of extreme music; unbridled and destructive fanaticism will always sound better!
Is this a studio-only project, or do you have live plans as well?
– Actually, we have performed live once already but not yet truly decided whether we will do it again. Personally, I hate both playing and watching live shows; it’s almost always a complete waste of time for everyone involved. With that said, performing or watching a set where everything is perfectly aligned – when you are wholly absorbed by the current – is unlike anything else. Normally, I only reach that level beyond human during the creative phase. Our first attempt was an experiment. ESCUMERGAMËNT is a black metal band, but for this special occasion we decided to perform our songs using only synthesisers, samples, vocals, and percussion: somewhere in-between ambient and power electronics, with a heavy emphasis on improvisation. We’d already talked about trying out our material in a radically different setting, so this was a good opportunity to do so.
One of the members owns a small cabin village which is host to an obscure annual festival. ESCUMERGAMËNT were invited to play its sixth edition, in September 2019. One of the wooden buildings on the property is known as Chapel of the Wanderer, and this is where the performance took place.
– During our preparations, the bass player placed on the chapel altar a handmade terracotta icon: a gift from a rather notorious devoted Satanist. Much to our surprise, it flew off the altar and created this strange, small vibration. Being a cynical bastard, this left me quite perplexed but not really surprised. Nonetheless, my expectations were rather tepid as the venue filled up with people, many of them intoxicated by all sorts of natural and unnatural substances. But it didn’t take long until everyone in there was engulfed by trance-like darkness. Many of the impromptu vocal parts were later incorporated into our songs; one could say it was a night of channelling. A number of participants who were under the influence left the building, citing an inability to, quote, ‘handle the darkness, because it got too intense’. Towards the end of our set, we put out all the candles – the room’s sole source of illumination. We figured the audience would just make their way out by their own accord… but all of them stayed, in deafening silence, for fifteen or so minutes. It was an extremely powerful experience, having evoked such dread that we paralysed the entire attendance. The festival was, in many ways, over. The next day, an old couple visited the chapel and were not at all pleased with our redecorations. They contacted the church and … well, it was quite a ride. In the end, the chapel was dechristianized.
So, needless to say, they decided to use the same facility for the recording of their debut album. Come winter, beneath the second full moon of the third decade of the third millennium, ESCUMERGAMËNT gathered once again.
– More snowfall, more darkness, and more rats in the walls: haunting the chapel! The guitars, bass, drums, keys, vocals, and field recordings were recorded in or just outside the building. Rhythm guitars and bass all in one take. The drums were tracked in one go, no cuts or punch-ins. The vocals – all of which were performed from the pulpit exclusively – took about three hours to lay down. We recorded on reel-to-reel tape, without triggers or click tracks. It’s a very analogue recording, something that was of the highest importance. What you hear is what we play, mistakes and all. Why spend weeks or even months in a digital studio to record an album completely devoid of feeling? Why are so many bands more concerned with sounding tight than creating something with this special atmosphere that’s unique to black metal? We weren’t especially diligent with tuning the strings either; some musicians insist on pacing back and forth like speed-freaks, checking the tuning every other second using all manner of technical equipment… but then again, they tend to play technical death metal, sport flannel shirts and short hair, and worship life. In my world, you get farther with good ears, synchronicity, and sheer devotion.
What is that keyboard sound that veritably reeks of early 90s Norwegian black metal?
– That’s a vintage Roland RS-09, a synth from the late 70s and early 80s. Absolutely insane machine! You need only touch the damn thing for it to emanate something that sounds straight out of BURZUM or ISENGARD. I’ve been trying to acquire one myself, but they tend to be very expensive and rarely in good condition. The only downside is that it has no save function for the soundbank; once you’ve found something so good that you faint when hitting the keys, you basically have no choice but to cordon it off. Highly impractical, but there’s also something beautiful about this… even if the identical settings could be restored – if one is diligent in documenting everything with photos and notes – it will never sound the exact same. Whatever sound you’ve found exists only there and then: touch the controls and it’s gone forever. The fourth song, “I Sang of Murder” features the chapel organ which, besides serving as a rat’s nest, offers many gloomy tones. We just mic’d it up and channelled freely.
The recording was wrapped up in three days’ time. Additional mixing took place during summer, managed entirely in-house. Necromorbus handled the mastering.
– Having worked with Necromorbus several times in the past, we knew he has the right understanding for this kind of music. He is extremely talented, so it was him or no one else. We wanted lots of space in our sound, not this dreadful over-mastered garbage that’s plagued so many recordings this side of the millennium. It was equally important for the visuals to match the music, so we took care of the layout ourselves too. The end-result is eerie, cryptic, chaotic, beautiful, and drenched in symbolism – everything imbued with an ominous sense that all is not well. For example, details have been intentionally placed slightly uncentered, the CD version has all the lyrics placed on the booklet’s left side, and so on. The album cover shows a photograph taken by an old relative. We wanted something potent enough to capture the imagination of the beholder. When picking up the record out of curiosity, one is literally drawn deeper into this world we created.
Whilst the front and back covers carry a very distinct mid-90s feeling, the actual booklet is far more ambitious than was the norm back then – each lyric has matching artwork, and clues for how to decipher the overall concept are strewn across its pages.
– When it came to choosing a suitable record label, we were in quite the predicament. Our goal was to create an album that sounded as if it could’ve been released on Misanthropy or Malicious Records in the 90s. With both labels long-since defunct, we sent Avantgarde Music a two-song promo and Roberto responded only three hours later. A good sign, since none of us had worked with him in the past. Avantgarde is perfect for our vision, as well as a label with numerous highly influential releases: “Live in Leipzig”, early CARPATHIAN FOREST, KVIST, KATATONIA, DOLORIAN, OBTAINED ENSLAVEMENT, MONUMENTUM, and TORMENTOR, just to name a few. Artists and albums which have meant a lot to us.
Roberto Mammarella is an underground veteran with deeply rooted connections to Scandinavian black metal. Besides Avantgarde, Mammarella is also the mastermind behind MONUMENTUM – an Italian cult band whose debut album, “In Absentia Christi”, was originally meant to be released by Deathlike Silence Productions.
– So far, our greatest battles have been contested over vinyl; we are a bunch of die-hard traditionalists, so this ghastly trend of multi-coloured splatter LPs… the mere thought makes my skin crawl. Even worse: a million different versions in various colours which serve no purpose other than milking the audience. If there’s no thematic reason for your vinyl to be anything but black, it just gets sad. You know, I recently came across an ad for the latest CANNIBAL CORPSE album. Guess what, there are twenty… yes, twenty! different coloured vinyl. What a paragon of pointlessness. That said, Roberto talked us into an extremely limited LP version which matches the colour of the artwork. I guess it looks great, but… well, you win some, you lose some.
As such, ESCUMERGAMËNT’s “...ni degu fazentz escumergamënt e mesorga...” is set to be released by Avantgarde Music on March 12, 2021.
– The album title, which also contains our name, is in Occitan – a language mainly used around France during the medieval era, but which is now slowly fading from existence. I doubt Occitan is used in written form to any greater extent nowadays; it’s mainly spoken by older people in the countryside. There is something highly compelling about a dying tongue. How a language, something that we take for granted, can just wither away and die. The actual lyrics are in English though; the reason being that when it comes to singing or expressing yourselves in a language you don’t really master, chances are high that you’ll make a damn fool out of yourself. There are plenty of Russian bands singing in Swedish or Norwegian who constitute perfect examples of that. Escumergamënt means ‘abomination’ and the album title is a passage from the Book of Revelation. People who are interested in old languages and solving riddles could decipher this and figure out certain parts of our overall concept.
How would you describe this concept in general terms?
– Eerie and obscure, but with a different kind of darkness than your typical juvenile Wikipedia-satanism. We work with riddles and clues, inspired by authors such as Arthur Machen and Clark Ashton Smith. We want the listener to receive something far more substantial than just a slab of music with lyrics and layout that are there just to be there. Secrets and insights can be found by those interested in delving deeper into the abyss. For instance, both the first and last lyric – “Of Old Night and Winter”, and “Black Ash and Ruin”, respectively – are a beginning and an end of this cycle. Whereas the first song depicts an earnest wish to extinguish all the stars in the universe, the album’s closer tells a story about the final remaining souls lingering in a universe devoid of all light and life. I like to work with the loudest ideas in my head; notions that, at first glance, maybe makes little to no sense… only to realise how it’s all connected once the puzzle starts solving itself. Sometimes it just takes a couple of hours to get what the idea is trying to tell me, or it might take years.
Can you mention an example?
– Take the song “Antediluvium”; when writing it over a year ago, I was clueless as to how the lyric connected. I just had the gut feeling that it did. One week ago, it came to me. During the process when I wrote it, the line ‘There is a wind that blows between the worlds. It screams silently through the empty places travelling from nowhere to nowhere in the uncreated wastes… I am so cold…’ got thoroughly stuck in my head. This snippet is found on the second album of the Norwegian band ENTHRAL. I took some inspiration from it and the lyric essentially wrote itself. When I was doing some band-related stuff recently, that line got lodged in my head once again. I had a sneaking suspicion that ENTHRAL did not write that part themselves… so I searched on the Internet and, lo and behold, I found it on this obscure page called the SAN∂MAN– Tågens Årstid – some kind of Neil Gaiman-related text. I also found this:
On which the lord of Dreams returns to Hell, and his confrontation with the Lord of that realm; in which a number of doors are closed for the last time; and concerning the strange disposition of knife and a key.
– This likely makes zero sense to most people but, for me, it was quite uncanny. Our songs are referred to as keys, each of which made to unlock a certain sequence in a far grander concept. I finally understood what the idea was trying to tell me. And on a related note, since all four of us involved in ESCUMERGAMËNT have extremely strong opinions about most things in both life and death, I figured that there would be conflict; but it is almost eerie how easy things have gone. Before we recorded the album, we rehearsed for one weekend – and that was approximately a year before the recording took place. Same with our first live appearance: we did not practise a single time and that special event was performed in a completely new approach. Sure, experience is one factor, but there is more in the works here. Something that’s never happened before. Usually, I can only enter this state of hyper awareness in complete solitude, so, to be able to trigger that sensation with other people… it is quite remarkable.