TenHornedBeast is the solo project of Christopher Walton, a musician based in County Durham in north-eastern England. Chris was formerly a member of the dark ambient duo Endvra a.k.a. Endura (Stephen Pennick, the other half of Endvra, went on to record as Ontario Blue). The music of TenHornedBeast can be described as extreme drone-based dark ambient, with a heavy doom metal influence and occult overtones. A self-released CD-R, Ten Stars, Ten Horns, appeared in 2004, followed by the limited-edition CD-R, Woe to You, Oh Earth and Sea, released in 2005 by Belgian label NOTHingness REcords. TenHornedBeast’s first CD album, The Sacred Truth, was released by Cold Spring Records in 2007. In 2008, TenHornedBeast released a split CD with Marzuraan on Aurora Borealis, and Titan Death, another self-released CD-R. My Horns Are a Flame to Draw Down the Truth, a companion album to The Sacred Truth, has just been released on Cold Spring.
Heathen Harvest: Hello, Chris. Perhaps we should begin by talking about the new release, My Horns Are a Flame to Draw Down the Truth, which is mostly a reworking of material from your previous album, The Sacred Truth. What made you want to revisit this material? Were you unhappy with the way that The Sacred Truth turned out? Can you describe the changes you wrought on the music to create the new album?
I wasn’t unhappy with The Sacred Truth, but when I came to look at the composition and the mixing in the cold light of day I realised that there was a lot that had been lost, and that other strands could be developed and brought out. In the summer of 2007 Cold Spring asked me to consider remixing some of the tracks from The Sacred Truth, which became My Horns Are A Flame To Draw Down The Truth. These aren’t straight remixes, rather they’re re-recordings, or even totally new tracks using sounds from the earlier pieces. During the recording of The Sacred Truth some of those tracks grew into monsters and became difficult to control. For instance, the track ‘In The Teeth Of The Wolf’ just took months and months to mix down. I was happy with the final version in the end, but there were so many things buried in the mix that when I stripped them away and opened the track up so that the two duelling lead guitars could be heard, I realised that by contracting and deconstructing the pieces something new could be made, so ‘In The Teeth Of The Wolf’ was taken to bits and rebuilt into ‘Fenris-Wolf’.
Other pieces were totally new recordings but in the ‘spirit’ of the original themes and tone of The Sacred Truth. I had some parts that had not been used on the first album and saw the chance to develop those into new ideas – ‘The Sword Was Our Pope’ is one of these pieces. I spoke to Justin at Cold Spring about this and we both wanted the releases to complement one another, to be seen as parts of a whole, which is why we used Niko Skorpio
to design the cover again, and why both covers draw on the same imagery.
HH: Do you have any plans to re-release the earliest TenHornedBeast CD-R recordings, Ten Stars, Ten Horns and Woe To You, Oh Earth And Sea, which were produced in very limited quantities and are now unobtainable?
I really don’t want to do that, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I feel that those recordings are documents of where I was at then, in 2003 to 2005, and to re-press them onto CD would be a cheap and quite brainless release. I don’t disown those records, but I do want to focus on the future, not the past. It would also be a bit of a slap in the chops to those people who bought them at the time, and I enjoy the idea of their scarcity and exclusivity, although I’m sure they are freely available to download on the web.
A much more creative use of the material is to remix and re-record it – which I have done on several occasions. I feel that songs are never truly finished, and that they can be changed and reworked again and again to say and mean different things. On the Hunts & Wars album I have re-recorded the track ‘Father Of The Frosts’ from the Woe To You…CD-R and made it tighter and heavier, although it’s still recognisably the same song, or at least a similar song, to the one that I recorded in 2005.
HH: How did the split release you did with Marzuraan last year come about? Do you have plans for any more split releases or collaborations? Is there anyone else you’d really like to work with?
I first encountered Marzuraan when Pete Burn, the guitar player, bought a Skullflower
record from me via eBay in 2003. At this point I was quite isolated from the ‘local scene’ as it existed in the Newcastle area, mainly because I live about 25 miles away in the sticks, and because there was nothing going on – at least that I was aware of – that interested me. Pete mentioned that his band Marzuraan were playing a gig in Newcastle with Boris
and Skullflower, and although I’ve never been a fan of Boris I went along. Marzuraan were quite rough round the edges and noisy, but I really enjoyed their set. From that time, I went to a lot of gigs where Marzuraan were either supporting or headlining, and they kept getting better and better, but the real turning point for me was the release of their Solid State CD in the summer of 2004. I can remember driving backwards and forwards to hospital just after the birth of my youngest daughter listening to that album in the car, and revelling in how heavy yet psychedelic and in a strange way melodic it was. My favourite Marzuraan moment was seeing them open for Khanate
in Newcastle in 2005 – they were on fire and played the best set I ever saw them play, a total flow moment.
We’d been discussing doing either a split release or a collaborative release for a while, and when Pete sold the idea to Aurora Borealis we went for it. As it turned out, Marzuraan delivered a very different track to what I was expecting, but I think that’s one of the strengths of the band – their unpredictability and fuck-it attitude. There’s a wealth of creative talent in that band – Pete does some excellent dark-ambient/drone material with his project RYN
, Lee Stokoe records as Culver
and is now a member of Skullflower, and Rob Woodcock drums for a lot of great metal/punk/noise bands in Newcastle.
I really like the idea of split releases or collaborating with other like-minded artists. Because I record at home, I’m sometimes in the position of having material ready for release but no label to do so, or recording pieces that I like but which in terms of sound and theme do not fit easily within an album, and a split release would be the ideal vehicle, but in reality it’s not that simple. Finding artists that I respect and enjoy enough to want to work with is a big problem, let alone convincing a label to put it out. Even so, there are a few people I’d like to work with, but I’d rather not say who for fear of jinxing the chances.
HH: Do you perceive TenHornedBeast to have common ground with any other contemporary projects, either musically or ideologically, or are you very much on your own in what you’re doing?
I think when all the fluff and posturing is blown away, I’m on my own. I’m not making a claim to be alone in some unique, exalted position that others are unable to attain to, but it’s a fact that no two people experience the world in the same way and when you’re making music or expressing any kind of artistic impulse you are, or should be, doing that as an extension of yourself.
I hear a lot about the so-called Cascadian Scene in Washington State
– bands like Ruhr Hunter
and Wolves In The Throne Room
, and how they’re linked to their landscape, how they express a view that is anti-modern and anti-global, and I can applaud a lot of what they say and I enjoy some of the music, especially Ruhr Hunter, but I don’t see any real ‘common ground’ – except in very broad terms. A very obvious difference is that I still live in the same islands that my ancestors have lived in for thousands of years and I am aware of its cultures and traditions, rather than living on somebody else’s land. But anyway, I’m not the kind of person that wants to be a part of a club or a scene, I’m much happier being on my own.
HH: Drone instruments and tones are often associated with the sacred and spiritual, whether you think of church organs, Gregorian chant, bagpipes at funerals and state occasions, Tibetan Buddhist chanting, didgeridoos or bullroarers. Why do you think this is, and does it have any relevance to the music of TenHornedBeast?
It’s the quality of stillness and simplicity that the music expresses. John Tavener
, the composer and Orthodox mystic, said that sacred music has much of stillness and silence in it, and he likened it to the serenity found in ikons. I think droning tones are very natural sounds, reminiscent of the constant flow of wind or water, and instruments that produce such sounds are amongst the earliest musical instruments, but this is not music as entertainment, it is sound as a gateway.
I have been asked before if I feel TenHornedBeast is music for ritual, or whether I record with any magickal purpose, and the answer is that the recording process is a meditation and a realisation of will, but for me that’s where it ends. I do not record with the intention of my music being used in ritual because, practically, I can’t see how that would be possible or even desirable.
I feel strongly that magick is something that is best done outdoors – those afraid of the cold and the dirt are best advised to limit themselves to the Judeo-Christian pantomime of ritual magick with its crutch of robes and incense. I do my magick in the heart of the woods where the only electricity is in the sky and where I want all my senses alert and sharp, not baffled and mazed by music. The music I record as TenHornedBeast is a reflection and illustration of these processes, but it should not be confused for the real thing.
HH: You are also working on a new album, Hunts & Wars. How’s that coming along? Do you have a release date in mind for that yet? Does the new material sound very different from previous TenHornedBeast releases?
Hunts & Wars is something quite different from the material on The Sacred Truth and My Horns Are A Flame To Draw Down The Truth. If I was a synaesthetic, I would describe The Sacred Truth in very earthy and telluric terms, it reminds me of blacks and browns and very deep shades, whereas Hunts & Wars – to me at least – is much more epic and golden. With Hunts & Wars, I was influenced to a large extent by the writings of Lord Dunsany
and Robert E. Howard
, the creator of Conan the Barbarian
. The phrase Hunts & Wars is taken from Howard’s poem ‘Cimmeria’, where he describes a dream-memory of a land of dark wooded hills. I tried to capture the grandeur and sense of scale of these writers in the music, and I also set out to allow the music to be much more ‘progressive’ and structured. I used a lot of percussion, gongs, drums and bass, and whilst the music has ambient textures, it is not a dark ambient album. I ‘finished’ the album in early January 2009 – you never really finish recording anything, but at least I came to a point where I felt that any further work would do more harm than good.
This will be released on Cold Spring Records as soon as they are pleased to do so. I would like it out tomorrow, but the reality of being a small artist releasing product on an independent label means that it will probably have to wait until the end of the year, if not next year.
HH: I believe you also have a couple of other recording projects in the pipeline, called The Holy Order Of Faust and Valka. What’s the state of play with these projects? How do they differ from TenHornedBeast? Are there likely to be any releases from either of them in the near future?
Valka is the most developed of these ‘projects’ – it consists of minimal ambient recordings that try to act as soundtracks to imaginary places, almost music that isn’t really there, fluttering on the very edge of hearing and consciousness. It differs from TenHornedBeast in the absence of distortion and the simplicity of the composition, although that might be stretching the term ‘composition’ to transparency. I suppose a vague pointer might be the mid-90s dark ambient projects that came out via Malignant Records
– people like Caul
or Yen Pox
, but paler and less intrusive. I’ve always been impressed by the sense of delicacy in Caul’s music, its barely-thereness. I really don’t know when this will be finished. I have two long tracks in progress at the moment, but whether anybody would want to listen to or release such a project is another matter.
The Holy Order Of Faust is a completely different kettle of fish – a ‘black noise’, almost death industrial-sounding project. The problem is that to be successful, these projects need to have their own sound and identity, rather than just sounding like a slightly different TenHornedBeast release. If I can’t breathe that uniqueness into them they won’t be released – I’m not a big fan of the multiple-identity artists who knock off a release a month.
HH: How about your earlier project Endvra? The last time we talked, you mentioned plans for a retrospective collection of non-album tracks to be released by Cold Spring – is that still on the cards? Is there any unreleased material which may yet see the light of day? Are you still in contact with Stephen Pennick? Is there any possibility of a resurrection of Endvra?
Well, it still remains on the cards. Unfortunately it has not progressed much beyond that. It probably will happen, but at the moment my focus and energies are taken up by my own projects, and I really can’t be bothered to invest time and effort in the past. I don’t think there is any unreleased material – maybe a few alternate versions/mixes of some songs but nothing major. We were very economical in our use of material and usually found somewhere to release it.
I still see Stephen occasionally, but as far as I can tell he has no interest in making music anymore, so there’s little chance of an Endvra resurrection – it’s not like Harvey Goldsmith
is offering us megabucks for a one-off performance at the Albert Hall
HH: TenHornedBeast has not as yet given any live performances. Is this something you’d like to do in the future, or is TenHornedBeast essentially a studio project?
At the moment it’s wholly a studio project, and maybe it always will be. I’m in no rush to perform live – the commitment and resources that would be needed to make a live performance work are currently beyond me. I’m very time-poor, and if it’s going to happen it has to be done right. I have no interest in sitting in the back room of a pub with a laptop whilst people mutter about the price of lager.
HH: You’ve already mentioned the Robert E. Howard connection to Hunts & Wars. Have Howard’s writings been a big influence on you? Who else would you consider to be your literary and artistic mentors?
Howard has been a massive influence on me, but he’s somebody to whom I have come quite late. Most people come to Howard via Conan, and whilst some of those stories are among his best work, he was so prolific and his output covered so many genres of fiction it would be unfair to judge him only by the Cimmerian. I always favoured Clark Ashton Smith
over either Howard or H.P. Lovecraft
because, to be frank, Smith is a far better writer in terms of style than either of them, but if one is willing to overlook some of Howard’s pulpier tendencies, there are some remarkable and uncomfortable ideas in his fiction.
I would hesitate to burden Robert E. Howard with the title ‘serious thinker’. He was a hack writer of pulp fiction and yes, blowing your brains out at 30 years of age probably does qualify as a ‘short and troubled life’ but, and I feel it’s a big but, in amongst the weird fiction and paint-by-numbers westerns, there are some flashes of genius that suggest a real talent was trying to break through.
The major theme that runs through Howard’s fiction is the triumph of the ‘Barbarian’ over civilisation. Obviously this is writ large in the Conan stories, where he rises from orphan to king, but many of Howard’s other characters share the same barbaric will-to-power, such as Kull, Bran Mac Morn and his various Gaelic, Viking and medieval heroes. Even his more ‘modern’ characters like Breckinridge Elkins, Steve Costigan, El Borak and Solomon Kane are pretty wild and untamed.
But it’s not just that Howard’s heroes are wild – I think he wanted them to actually be an embodiment of The Wilderness. To appreciate the depth of Howard’s creation, you need to approach his characters on equal terms and view them through the concept of Physis
rather than Nomos. ‘Nomos’ is order, society, modernity, civilisation, rationality, collectivism and artifice. Howard plays upon the artifice of civilised culture, and always presents it as being corruptible and in decline due to ennui and decadence. This decadence brings about a weakness in the race that hastens its inevitable downfall – and waiting to take advantage is the Barbarian. In medieval poetry, civilisation was represented by the garden – ordered and controlled. This was always juxtaposed with the wasteland, the wilderness that was untamed and dangerous, irrational and uncontrollable, the place of Pan(ic)
and the Wild Hunt
In ‘Black Colossus’ Howard says of Conan, ‘He was not merely a wild man; he was part of the wild, one with untameable elements of life; in his veins ran the blood of the wolf-pack; in his brain lurked the brooding depths of the northern night; his heart throbbed with the fire of blazing forests.’ Conan is instinct as opposed to intellect, individualism not collectivism, primeval not modern, barbaric not civilised, Physis not Nomos.
Howard was also openly racialist (as distinct from racist). Lovecraft may have made the odd comment about ‘aliens’ on the wharfs of Boston, and saw no difficulty in naming a cat ‘Nigger-Man’, but Howard seems to have been consumed with the idea of Aryanism
and the ‘triumph’ of the Aryan barbarian. He writes again and again of white races ‘drifting’ across the world in vast migrations, conquering and subduing, of Celts and Gaels and Picts, Vikings and nameless barbarian tribes emerging from the icy forests to shake the world. To a modern reader this can appear ridiculous or unacceptable (or both) but it ties in with his central theme – that civilisation is corrupt, alien and unnatural and must ultimately fall to the sword. ‘The ancient empires fall, the dark-skinned peoples fade and even the demons of antiquity gasp their last, but over all stands the Aryan barbarian, white-skinned, cold-eyed, dominant, the supreme fighting man of the earth.’
It is worth noting that Howard shot himself in June 1936, and thus did not live long enough to see how Aryanism would lead to the destruction of Europe, but I don’t think that was his message. It is not a political doctrine or ideology, but rather an invocation of the ideals and values of the deep past into the modern world, which is something that I feel Howard shares with J.R.R. Tolkien
, who has been another key influence on me. I’m something of a Tolkien fundamentalist, in as much as I am only interested in his texts – not films, video games, bubble-gum cards, action figures or calendars. Reading Tolkien as a small boy tapped into an already existing sense of mysticism and love of the woodlands, but it also exposed me to the ancient language and literature of Europe and set me on my own course of study which would result in gaining a (worthless!) degree in medieval literature.
Obviously Professor Tolkien actually was an academic linguist and professional critic, as opposed to Howard being a pulp writer living with his parents. Tolkien had also been through the maelstrom of the Great War and had much greater experience of life than Howard, but although Tolkien was a much more grave and elegant writer, drawing directly from sources that Howard was either ignorant of or knew only third-hand, there’s a common theme to their fiction – the rejection of the isolation and squalor of the modern world, and the idea that physical courage and strength of will can prevail.
Even so, it’s obvious that Tolkien was able to develop his themes to a much greater depth than Howard. As a socially conservative Catholic, Tolkien’s work has much to say about the concepts of duty, obligation and ‘the Fall’, but at its heart Tolkien’s fiction is an attempt to create an alternate history for Europe that sought to align his Christian faith with his heathen passions, just as Howard was writing alternate histories for Europe and the old world – albeit through the eyes of a modern, dust-bowl era American.
I’m also influenced to a large degree by the writing of Lord Dunsany, who was massively popular in the Edwardian era but now seems to be remembered only by weird-fiction nerds, and only then as a precursor to Lovecraft. In reality, Dunsany was much more than this, and was possessed of a genius for expression that dwarfs anything that any of the American Weird Tales
writers achieved. In common with Tolkien, Dunsany had a deep love of the rural landscapes of Britain. He also served and wrote about his time as an officer in the Great War, but there’s a sardonic, maybe even sarcastic humour to Dunsany’s work that is absent from Tolkien or Howard. He actually was a patrician, a true aristocrat, who didn’t despise the lower orders, but hated the mediocrity and stupidity that was forced on them in the name of commerce and modernity. Howard, Tolkien and Dunsany can be seen as writers of ‘Tradition’, to use a term of Julius Evola
’s, and whilst the things they wrote about may not be literally true there is a great truth contained within, which is much better.
HH: I know that, like me, you grew up amidst the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and that you still have great affection and respect for metal from the 70s and 80s, including bands such as Rainbow, Pentagram, Michael Schenker Group, Cirith Ungol, Angel Witch, Witchfinder General, Saint Vitus, Celtic Frost and Venom. Can you say something about the musical evolution that led you from there to here? How come you’re doing your dark ambient drone thing and not playing in a pub band doing Judas Priest and Saxon covers?!
I certainly would be in a Saxon/Priest covers band if I thought I was good enough! In late 2008 I saw three of my favourite bands in the space of a few weeks – Y&T
, The Scorpions
and Michael Schenker Group. I was blown away by the sounds Dave Meniketti
and Michael Schenker
were making. I know the songs off by heart, and I probably know every note they played, but I couldn’t begin to understand how they played it, how the music had such fluency and emotion. Listening to their playing was an amazing and humbling experience, and made me realise how meagre my own ‘musical’ talents are.
I’ve always wanted music to be heavier. Initially this led me to bands like Venom and Motörhead
. I can remember getting so much shit from other ‘heavies’ circa 1982-3 for liking Venom, who were considered a joke band, whereas my friends thought KISS
and Van Halen
were metal. I spent most of the 1980s in a metal ghetto. I was rabidly tribal, and I remember the tangible feeling of betrayal I felt when I saw a picture of James Hetfield
in a GBH
shirt, because that was ‘punk’ and we were ‘metal’. I had a very blinkered and intolerant view of music, I was not at all open-minded or accepting, and even when thrash metal merged into crossover, and I was exposed to punkier bands like Black Flag
or The Accused
, I remained focused on metal.
The thing that changed was that, as I got older, I found that metal was no longer delivering the goods, to paraphrase Rob Halford
. It was no longer heavy enough for me. Almost like poly-drug users looking for stronger and stronger drugs, I was looking for heavier and heavier music. Looking back, I think I had been curious as to what was happening outside of metal-land, but I was too loyal to defect. I can remember watching The Tube
around 1984, probably to see Gary Moore
or Twisted Sister
, and instead seeing Diamanda Galás
perform a piece from Saint Of The Pit live in the studio. As a 14-year-old, I had no cultural compass to understand Diamanda Galás, but I can remember that it gave me the same feelings as listening Venom or Celtic Frost. By 1988-9, I was listening to bands like Saint Vitus, Morbid Angel
, but I was also becoming aware of bands like Killdozer
, The Melvins
, Splintered and Skullflower. These bands were using guitars to make very heavy music, but they weren’t metal bands. I initially felt no kinship with them, but I found the music made me feel like I had first felt listening to Iron Maiden
and Saxon in 1981.
I then developed a twin-track and often conflicting musical taste, probably initiated by reading the excellent Spiral Scratch
and Forced Exposure
magazines. Around 1990, I heard UK industrial projects like Lustmord
and The Grey Wolves
, but I was still listening to Deep Purple
and Rainbow albums from the 70s. I first heard Cold Meat Industry
bands in 1991 on the Dimensions Of A Coffin album, and discovered stuff like MZ.412
and Brighter Death Now
at the same time as I was listening to classic American doom metal like Pentagram and The Obsessed
I published a fanzine in 1991 that reflected these tastes. On the one hand it had interviews with UK noise artists Smell & Quim
, and on the other interviews with Eyehategod
and Solitude Aeturnus
. When Stephen and I began recording as Endvra in January 1993, I wanted to do something that captured the arcane bleakness of Radio Werewolf
’s Songs For The End Of The World album or Archon Satani
, coupled with the eloquence of Dead Can Dance
, but we found that we shared a musical heritage in Whitesnake
records. Even when Endvra was at its most flowery and neo-classical, we were still listening to dumb heavy rock and sitting in pubs in denim jackets. I can remember a friend of Stephen’s came to visit us, a Polish guy who ran the Fluttering Dragon
label, so we took him to a metal pub in Durham and spent all night putting Thin Lizzy
, Ted Nugent
songs on the jukebox. He was totally disillusioned – I think he expected us to be strutting about in strange uniforms and reading difficult books by middle-European philosophers!
For me, it’s all about expressing myself, and much as I love heavy metal, I don’t see my musical world that way and I can’t make that music myself. I also think that heavy metal reached its creative zenith between 1978 and 1988, and everything that has come after that has been either a retrograde step away from the ideal sound or a recreation of that ideal sound. I’m in no way criticising bands who recreate the ‘ideal sound’ of classic heavy metal – I don’t think it’s a creative dead end, but rather an endless source of inspiration and empowerment. There’s more creativity in bands like Portrait
or Reverend Bizarre
who set themselves the goal of recording new, exciting music within the boundaries of a delineated sound than in all the nu-metal-rap-metal-emo-metal scenes. I think heavy metal is one of the best mediums there is for delivering the truth. It’s something that I have been listening to and been passionately involved with since 1981, and I feel that heavy metal is where my heart is. However, I also feel that it’s been done far, far better by other people than I could ever hope to, and as such I prefer to make my own music, heavy and quite metallic in parts but definitely not heavy metal.
HH: It's interesting that you felt so humbled by these musicians' technique. Certainly, in what I suppose you could call 'trad metal' circles, musicianship has always been prized above all – who's the fastest drummer, who can get the most notes into a guitar solo etc. – whereas industrial and post-industrial musicians have always taken a more utilitarian approach. Genesis P-Orridge famously declared, 'The future of music belongs to non-musicians’, and in a previous interview I did for Heathen Harvest, Dimo Dimov of Svarrogh – a musician, like you, with one foot in heavy metal and the other in industrial music – said, '...most of the people in metal bands are musicians, but they are not artists, and on the other hand you see other musical styles (for example neo-folk) where most of the people are artists, but they are not musicians! The best mixture of these two elements is the basis for a good band.' Where do you stand on the dividing line between craftsmanship and conceptual art?
I think both Mr Orridge and Mr Dimov have hit the nail on the head – music does not necessarily need to be made by ‘musicians’, and the best possible combination is one where both creativity and craftsmanship combine in harmony.
Heavy metal has certainly borrowed a lot from the virtuoso performers of 1970s progressive rock – arguably a movement where proficiency outweighed passion – and if you look back to the ‘founding fathers’ of metal, people like Jimmy Page
and Ritchie Blackmore
, there was a sense of otherness about them, a sense that they were somehow superhuman and better than mortal humans. When I got into metal in the early 80s, there was a magazine called Guitar Hero, which says it all really – Eddie Van Halen
, Michael Schenker, Rory Gallagher
, Gary Moore, Randy Rhoads
etc. etc. which did feed into a nerdy, almost trainspotter attitude about who was the best, the fastest or had the most amps.
I can remember reading an article in The New Statesman
, of all places, around 1989. This was when Napalm Death
were making a splash with their three-second songs, and serious cultural commentators were taking one of their once-every-two-decades look at alternative music. The article had several quotes from Jello Biafra
, and one that struck a chord with me was his statement that punk was about bands giving off sparks to ignite the audience into participation, whilst metal was about audiences absorbing the experience in a much more passive, Nuremberg rally-like experience. Biafra’s Nazi-centric analogy aside, I think this was correct, and anybody who went to a traditional metal gig in the 1980s will have experienced the hero-worship and ritual supplication of the audience. When Wayne and Garth
said ‘We’re not worthy!’ they were expressing a very powerful sentiment.
Traditional metal has always retained this focus on musicianship because the music is actually quite complex and difficult to play, but the best bands can successfully weld proficiency to exciting, memorable songs. I’m thinking about modern metal artists like Slough Feg
, for instance, but it’s a fine line to tread, and one that easily slips over into the abomination of the operatic widdly-widdly of European power metal. And who the hell thought ‘technical death metal’ would be a good thing?
However, I think there’s more than one strand to this. Venom invented what I’ve termed ‘the cult of incompetence’ in metal. They actually were, unconsciously, manifesting Genesis P-Orridge’s statement that the future of music belonged to non-musicians, but not through choice, rather because whilst they might have wanted to play like K.K. Downing
or Cozy Powell
, they were woefully unable to. This incompetence did not stand in the way of their artistic expression, and whilst they were derided and mocked at the time, history has proven that Venom were a far larger influence on the course of metal than Heavy Pettin
or Rough Cutt
I’m aware that I have a hangover from my metal roots and that sometimes, when I am standing in front of Dave Meniketti in full flight, it is easy to be quelled and to feel that the music I make is of less value, but on reflection I feel that I put as much craftsmanship and passion into making my own music as anybody else (perhaps more if you’ve ever heard any of Schenker’s later albums with UFO
!). I flatter myself that in my chosen style – dark ambient/drone or whatever you want to call it – I’m as good as anybody else. I understand the need for the darkness to be textured and dynamic, and have become proficient in getting the sounds I hear in my head out onto disc. The technology I use may challenge ideas about the nature of what it is to be a ‘musician’, and the sounds I make might bring into question whether TenHornedBeast actually is ‘music’, but I’ve never pretended to be a musician. I don’t read music, I don’t understand scales, tunings or any of that bullshit, and I don’t need to because I know what sounds right and I know what sounds wrong – just like Cronos
HH: What about later developments in extreme metal, such as Norwegian black metal and modern doom metal? Have they had any influence on you?
Modern doom has had a massive influence on me, although I would question just how ‘modern’ much of it is. I’ve always enjoyed slower music, it has a symmetry and stillness to it that evokes the sacred, and this is as true of Black Sabbath
’s Heaven & Hell album as it is of John Tavener. The faster and more frenetic music gets, the less it appeals to me. I enjoy space and expression in music, and the best doom metal has this quality. A song like Saint Vitus’ ‘Shooting Gallery’ is as emotionally harrowing as anything you will hear in any style of music.
My three favourite metal releases of 2008 were The Gates of Slumber
’s album Conqueror, Grand Magus
’ Iron Will and Portents, Omens And Dooms by The Lamp Of Thoth
, all brilliant albums with a very classic 1980s sound, and similarly the best gigs I saw in 2008 were by Pagan Altar
and the Maltese epic doom band Forsaken
. This goes back to what I said above – it takes a great deal of creativity to get something new and exciting from a style of music that is at best three, possibly four decades old, but there are still people playing trad jazz
and composers writing music today in the style of Thomas Tallis
, so I’m sure that traditional heavy metal, with all its idioms and stylistic tropes, has a long future.
Black metal, at least post-1990 black metal, has passed me by. I’m old enough to remember when Darkthrone
were a death metal band and nobody would admit to liking Venom, so the rise of black metal in the 1990s as some sort of autonomous music scene didn’t wash with me. Firstly, I don’t like the sound of modern black metal – the trebly, buzzy guitar sound gets on my nerves. The shrill high-pitched vocals and the often intentionally poor production values piss me off. Venom, Bathory
sounded like that because they were incompetent musicians with a non-existent budget, not because they thought it was some sort of revolutionary artistic statement. As soon as they got better and found a label that would pay for studio time, they started to make much more complex, expansive records. Well, not Venom obviously!
Given that Endvra worked with black metal-orientated labels like Misanthropy
and Red Stream
in the 90s, I was exposed to a lot of black metal but it just didn’t click with me. I found their imagery silly rather than threatening, their music shrill and irritating rather than heavy and absorbing, and their ideological references paper-thin. I also find the concept put forward by some black metal artists that the scene is self-created and self-perpetuating to be utter bollocks. There is a clear evolutionary line from the most ‘kult’, ‘elite’ black metal being played today straight back to W.A.S.P.
and Mötley Crüe
. At least doom does not deny its roots in heavy rock/metal, or make claims to artistic credibility that are just not warranted.
HH: You also have a deep interest in survivalism and bushcraft, knives, prehistoric technologies and the like. How does this manifest itself in the music of TenHornedBeast?
I’ve always been interested in these things because they are fun! I’m lucky enough to be from a generation that didn’t have broadband, mobile phones or video games – we were forced to play outdoors and use our imaginations. My playground was the local woods and hills, and long before ‘bushcraft’ was a lifestyle hobby practised by fat IT managers in £300 jackets driving massive Landrovers, I was doing all these things for myself, learning through trial and error, but more importantly learning how to be comfortable, physically and mentally, alone in the woods.
So much of modern life is lived indoors, in air-conditioned cars and offices. People never feel cold, wet or hungry. They never need to think for themselves, to decide which course of action will result in success and comfort and which will result in failure and misery. Life is handed to them on a plate, with curly fries, and as such we have a nation of sheeple. But this is all very recent – I grew up in a street with outside toilets and no central heating, my family grew its own food on an allotment and many people in our village snared rabbits and gathered wild food from hedges and lanes. I’m not talking about life on the Victorian farm – this was County Durham in the 1970s and 80s!
Bushcraft, or rather the many areas of knowledge and skill that are grouped together under that heading, provides a route away from modernity back to the ancient past. If you’ve never had to make a fire to keep warm on a cold night, how can you appreciate the warmth of your home? If you’ve never learned the names of the animals and plants you live alongside, how can you understand your own sense of identity and presence?
These things are a kind of literacy, just as the modern world requires people to be ‘computer literate’. Knowing about the wider world we live in opens up insights into other kinds of consciousness. I’m very interested in tracking, which is another aspect of this lost set of literacy skills, because it is a form of meditation, but one that requires physical activity and a heightened awareness of the weather, landscape, local flora and fauna and the behaviour patterns of the quarry. It’s fairly easy to spot animal tracks and signs, just as it’s relatively easy to distinguish a book from a bucket, but being able to read the signs, to be able tell how old the sign is, what the sex of the animal that made it was, what gait the animal used in making the track, and what that tells us about that individual animal’s behaviour at that specific point in time, and how that behaviour fits into the wider context of species, habitat and ecosystem, is a much bigger task. Learning to track is actually learning to see the world from a non-human perspective, and that provides a window onto a deeply ancient and creative mindset that has been lost by almost every modern human in the developed world.
I have a friend who has learned to track with the San bushmen
, and even their tracking skills are being lost. Several generations ago, people could tell which animals were moving through the bush by listening to the various alarm calls of birds, and as every bird species had several different alarm calls for different kinds of predator, a bushman who knew that ‘language’ could accurately deduce that a lion or a black mamba was somewhere in the vicinity by listening to which birds were making which calls. Today, the bushmen have all but lost this knowledge. Obviously they can tell an alarm call when they hear it, but they’ve lost the knowledge to link the specific call to the specific predator behaviour that caused it. I’m sure our Mesolithic
ancestors also knew these languages, but they’ve become lost to us through thousands of years of ‘civilisation’. Trying to re-learn them is a slow and painstaking process.
When the name TenHornedBeast was revealed to me, I didn’t know what it meant. I understood the exoteric meaning of the words, but I didn’t understand the deeper meaning behind the message. It nagged at me and wouldn’t let me go, until I began to work with the current that it contained, and began to understand and appreciate its meaning.
I’m interested in tracking things back to their roots, back to the beginning when there was no separation between man, beast and god – when these things were the same. I believe that the books we call The Bible, especially the Pentateuch
, have echoes and traces of this original and sacred truth. Obviously these texts have been revised and edited so many times to fit in with so many political and social exigencies that it’s now barely possible to find the truth, but if you look hard and critically, and with your heart as well as your brain, things will be revealed.
Why did the later Hebrew prophets such as Daniel
and John of Patmos
use the imagery of horned beasts to portray earthly power and menace? What is it about horns, horned animals and horned beings that so frightened and upset these people? I believe they were exorcising something from their own history and culture that caused them great distress. The God of the Old Testament is not the kindly, benevolent father or the Good Shepherd, he’s a vengeful and baleful storm-god worshipped in mountain-top wildernesses by shaman-prophets. He’s a god of massacres, plagues and holocausts. A god of the Tophet
pit, who’s appeased by human sacrifice. When Moses
spoke with God on the mountain, he was marked by horns. When he descended with the Law, he found the people worshipping a golden calf. The shadow of the horns is long and dark, and when YHWH
was changed into a god of the Covenant
, worshipped inside a closed temple by a professional caste of priests, these former signs and symbols were cast off, demonised and made unclean. Just as archaeologists find more in middens than in palaces, I believe that we should look closely at what has been thrown away and discarded if we would find the truth, and the best way to find it is to reconnect with our past.
HH: Do you spend a lot of time outdoors? Are nature and landscape a big influence on THB?
I don’t spend nearly as much time outdoors as I would wish. I’m as much of a wage-slave as anybody else in modern Britain, I get up about 6.30 a.m. and don’t get home until the evening. At weekends, any free time I have for recording or sneaking about other people’s woodland has to be taken after I’ve considered the needs of my family, so in reality I’m lucky if I get a few hours outdoors a week, and until I win the lottery I don’t see that changing.
But it’s not so much quantity as quality. The American tracker and naturalist Mark Elbroch
describes an exercise whereby you lie flat on the forest floor with your face literally in the dirt and don’t get up until you’ve found at least three pieces of mammal hair. He says that he has yet to find an area of woodland that has not yielded up the minimum three strands of hair, although he’s sometimes spent three, four or five hours on his belly carrying out minute fingertip searches of the leaf litter. If I only have a few hours in the woods, I like to focus on a specific exercise – tracking foxes or deer, or following small streams and drainage ditches along their course to find where the water actually comes from – rather than trying to fit in everything I’d like to do if time was not a problem.
I’m reluctant to say that TenHornedBeast is influenced by nature or landscape, because I’ve seen too many shitty black metal CDs with pictures of forest-clad mountain slopes brooding in the misty Nordic twilight, only to find that the music sounds like three dolts in a garage, but I’m very interested in the natural world and landscape. I dream in ‘landscapes’, in as much as I often dream of flying or running across landscapes that I know, or even ones that are strange to me. If I’m planning a trip to an area that I don’t know, I spend a long time looking at maps and satellite images, almost meditating over them until I know them intimately. I then ‘dream’ these landscapes and internalise them, so that when I’m on the ground it looks familiar and I ‘know’ where I am and how to get where I want to be.
I think these memory skills and visualisation techniques have always been practised through human and pre-human history, although previously they would have used song-lines and stories about the landscape to transmit the information rather than Ordnance Survey maps
and Google Earth
. I feel connected to this ‘land’ – by which I mean the part of the country that I live in. My mother has been doing some research into our family history, which she has traced back to 1826 – the interesting thing is for the last 183 years my family have lived within about five miles of where I live now. The Germans call this ‘Heimat’. These things certainly form a part of my worldview, and as such find their way, perhaps indirectly, into the music of TenHornedBeast.
HH: You’re a self-declared misanthropist, with a dislike of anthropomorphic belief systems and intellectual ideologies, and THB attempts to access atavistic thought patterns and primordial, even pre-human, existence. Is this a quixotic, doomed gesture against the modern world, or do you believe that being able to think outside the bubble of modern culture is essential if humanity is to survive? What are the dangers of pursuing this line of thought?
Probably a bit of both. I can see the dangers of my misanthropy very clearly, and I have to rein myself in on a daily basis, because despite how irritated I am about some of the dipshits I am called on to work with, I know that I need to present a sufficiently bright veneer of socialisation to ensure that I don’t get sacked so that I’m able to pay all the bills at the end of the month, but it is always there. I’ve always been intolerant, as my story above about James Hetfield’s choice of T-shirt might well illustrate, and I find that as I get older this is becoming more entrenched. It’s as if I’ve seen the way that my life must go, and I’m now unwilling to let anything else get in the way of that ‘truth’.
I called the first TenHornedBeast album The Sacred Truth for a very good reason. It encapsulated my views about will, identity and purpose – all those things that are supposedly addressed by ‘Magick’, but which ‘Magick’ so often fails to illuminate. I’m interested in origins and beginnings, how things came to be, not necessarily how things are today. I feel that there was a point in ‘human’ history when people did not differentiate between gods, men and beasts – these things were all one in a primal pre-Edenic state that existed in the morning of the ‘wer-eld’, the Man-Age. There are echoes of this in the cave paintings of Europe and the horned-god jades of the neolithic Hongshan
culture of north-eastern China, and there are fainter echoes in Indo-European and near-Eastern myths and legends, but these truths are so far hidden beneath centuries of over-intellectualised humanistic claptrap that it’s often too difficult for many people to grasp their essence, and instead they become ensnared in the mummery of religions and paganisms that separate them from the truth, rather than uniting them.
It may well be a quixotic, two-fingers-to-the-modern-world attitude, but I’m not at all bothered about ‘humanity’, which is already doomed. Thinking outside the box, learning forgotten lessons and understanding the hubris of considering humanity to be the pinnacle of Earth’s creation is all well and good, but it’s no good if you can’t make a fire, source clean water or provide enough to eat. All you can do is take care of yourself and those you love. Everybody else has to learn to knap their own flint.
HH: Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, listen to Asomvel
This interview with Chris Walton of TenHornedBeast took place by email during February 2009.