The avant-garde black metal band L’Acéphale began as the solo project of Portland, Oregon-based musician Set Sothis Nox La, but has now developed into a six-piece band, including military drumming from Markus Wolff of Waldteufel, who has also played with Blood Axis and NON. L’Acéphale’s debut release Mord Und Totschlag was self-released as a CD-R in 2005, before being re-released as a CD in deluxe packaging on the cult English label Aurora Borealis in 2007. Mord Und Totschlag features an intriguing and distinctive blend of terrifyingly raw black metal with dark folk and martial industrial elements, with the album booklet delineating some of the complex array of intellectual, occult and artistic influences that inform L’Acéphale’s work, ranging from the outré 1930s publication and secret society founded by Georges Bataille that the band takes its name from, through what could be considered more ‘mainstream’ black metal reference points such as H.P. Lovecraft. J.R.R. Tolkien, and Aleister Crowley, to the much more obscure figures mentioned on the band’s MySpace page, people such as super-sick Japanese manga artist Suehiro Maruo, Finnish folk painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, the eccentric Polish-American sculptor Stanislav Szukalski, Polish fantasy artist Zdzisław Beksiński and Alfred Schuler, founder of the Kosmiker Kreis, a mystical order in early 20th-century Munich. Little wonder that L’Acéphale describe their music as ‘Epistemic Terrorism and Bibliophilistic Atavism’.
2009 promises to see the release of two new L’Acéphale albums, Malefeasance on Aurora Borealis, and Stahlhartes Gehäuse on Parasitic Records.
Heathen Harvest: Let’s start by talking about your two impending new releases, Malefeasance and Stahlhartes Gehäuse. Which came first? I know that the release of Stahlhartes Gehäuse has been delayed for a while, so does this album feature earlier material? I believe that some of these recordings were solo recordings and some of them were created with the full six-member line-up. Can you give us a rundown of how the two albums developed and who did what on each?
Set Sothis Nox La: Sometime in 2004 Tim from Parasitic Records mentioned that he wanted to do a 7” of the song ‘Book Of Lies’ from the Mord Und Totschlag demo. He was the first person I had given the demo to, and in fact through him and his encouragement I decided that not only was it a worthy project, but that I should also go ahead and actually release the demo. We both were fanatics about black metal and we also had played music together before. Additionally, for Tim and his label, I had engineered the first Fall Of The Bastards LP and some material from Tim’s band Tusks Of Blood. For the Book Of Lies EP, I asked Jeff from Order Of The Vulture to record live drums for a new recording of the song. Within a week Jeff had recruited what became a full band. Through this, the Book Of Lies EP was recorded, and the start of a full band version of L’Acéphale was created.
In the meantime, I’d recorded ‘From A Miserable Abode’, and also a song I entitled at the time ‘Burzum-Nacht’. This song later changed its name to a more appropriate title ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’ since the song is based around some passages from the Kalevala about Väinämöinen. But before the Book Of Lies EP came out, Fall Of The Bastards went on tour. Since Kody was both in L’Acéphale and Bastards, he wanted to take the EP with him when they went on tour. So I made a few CD-Rs under the title Parasitic-Nacht so that he could take the EP with him in some format. This CD-R consisted of the two songs from the yet to be due out EP and these other two songs. These other two songs became the impetus for Malefeasance. With the possibility of a full band version of L’Acéphale, much of the solo recording work was set aside to pursue the new set of possibilities and perform live. As you can imagine, things changed and adapted to include the energy and ideas of the full group, though still generally led by my overall vision. At first I tried to let the band decide everything as a group and turn over the reins to everyone.
The live ensemble incarnation of L’Acéphale which led to the recording of Stahlhartes… consists of Jeff (Bloody Rich) on drums, Kody on guitar, Liz on bass and vocals, Markus on percussion and vocals, Jared (Scard) on samples, ambience and percussion, and myself on vocals and guitar. Kody, Liz and I also contribute to percussion elements and drum core-related elements present partially on the EP and more fully on Stahlhartes... We also recruited our friend Rachel Rustad to contribute violin on the recording.
After the EP, the band wrote music, performed live, and we eventually settled on the material to record Stahlhartes Gehäuse and entered the studio. During this time, we were asked to contribute to a tribute compilation to the Japanese ‘screaming philosopher’ Kazuki Tomokawa. When I pitched the idea to the full band they decided that they wanted to focus on recording Stahlhartes... The timeline for the compilation was short, so I recorded ‘Hitori Bon Odori’ by myself.
At this same time, Andrew from Aurora Borealis was working on re-releasing Mord Und Totschlag, but he also wanted to release something else, something new. I had given him the Parasitic-Nacht CD-R and asked if he was interested in the unreleased tracks from that. He liked it, and I talked with the full band about doing something with those tracks. They were excited about it but we were still headlong into the recording of Stahlhartes…, so they wanted to put it off until we finished with that release. As it turned out, Stahlhartes… took about a year to complete.
It was a very slow recording process due to many things: finances, a failed recording attempt at a too small studio and the snowballing nature of the recording itself. Meanwhile the Kazuki Tomokawa compilation failed and because it was taking forever to record Stahlhartes…, I decided to just make a separate release for Aurora Borealis on my own. taking ‘Hitori Bon Odori’, ‘From A Miserable Abode’ and ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’ for that. I had also wanted to do a cover of ‘A Burned Village’ by a brilliant and totally obscure French ‘Crimson Metal’ band A.A.A., who later changed their name to Sadastor. Markus had got their demo cassette from the members on the Blood Axis tour of Europe. He had lent it to me in 1999 when we were working on the band Hail. I had been obsessed by this demo for years, and ‘A Burned Village’ is so outstanding that I had wanted to cover the song for years. So I recorded that cover and felt that the release was complete.
Through this whole complex development, we were now somewhere in 2006-7 and we finished recording Stahlhartes... Artwork for both Stahlhartes… and Malefeasance was worked out and I sent the artwork and masters to both the labels. Andrew decided that he wanted to wait until Stahlhartes… comes out to put out Malefeasance. Which is also what the band preferred as well. Essentially, after this point things were further delayed for over a year at Parasitic, due to many reasons, of which we hold no fault to Tim, as he is our dear friend and his label is a small DIY label. During this delay, my wife and I moved away from Portland so that she could pursue her doctorate.
At this point L’Acéphale, as a full band, took a break from live shows and practicing. I pitched to Andrew the idea of adding two bonus songs to the vinyl version of Malefeasance – one that I’d recorded after moving to Corvallis, Oregon, called ‘Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted’ and then another song, a cover of Current 93’s ‘Sleep Has His House’ that I recorded in 2000. At that time I did a solo performance of noisescape/drone on both guitar and bass under the moniker of L’Acéphale . I thought that the track would fit nicely in with the other songs. Andrew decided that he felt that Malfeasance should include all six songs and convinced me of the worth of it. All the recordings on Malefeasance were recorded or manipulated by me alone.
As it turns out, both labels should be releasing the material at around the same time, which I think is fine. In the end, it does reflect how the band has been developing since Mord und Totschlag. Since the beginning, I wanted to have L’Acéphale be more than a ‘black metal’ project. As mentioned, I wanted to merge the music of bands like Toroidh and Les Joyaux De La Princesse with the black metal stylings of Drudkh and Hate Forest. ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’ was a direct attempt at creating the sort of ethnographic musique concrète of that style of neo-folk, but instead of focusing on WWII elements, broadening the narrative to reflect more mythology and cultural history, especially away from specifically Nazi ideology.
Malefeasance takes the black metal aesthetic and seeks out other expressions of that aesthetic, which were difficult to incorporate in a full band format. At least at the time L’Acéphale was developing Stahlhartes Gehäuse. Though I would like to think that Stahlhartes… does, in total, push some of the boundaries of black metal as well.
HH: What inspired the decision to expand L’Acéphale from a solo project to a full band? Do you intend to go on recording a mixture of solo tracks and band tracks? Is it very different working with the band line-up? In particular, has having two drummers made a big difference?
SSNL: I expect that there will be a mixture of both styles of recording in the future. I do want to incorporate them a bit more, so that instead of a release of solo work, then a release of band tracks, there will be a selection of both within a release. I’m strongly drawn in both directions. I love the process of writing and recording music on my own. Usually, the solo material is developed over a few days, spent listening to the track as it develops and following my instincts. Sort of like chiselling away at stone until the sculpture is complete, but in this case I am chiselling away at silence until the song is formed out of that silence through sound.
It is also true that I am very motivated by creating music within a collective of musicians. The ideas, elements and musical strategies each person brings to the process add more than one individual can alone. I have been very fortunate to be able to work with some amazing musicians thus far and hope that it continues. As mentioned, the development into a full band was a product of the Book Of Lies recording. The band line-up includes percussion from all the members at various times. Both Markus and Jared are involved in adding percussion live. But as evident with the beginning of Stahlhartes…, we have parts of our songs where all of the band members have percussive parts. The full band has a few more songs unrecorded thus far which feature this multi-percussive element. Sort of like mid-era Neurosis.
Incorporating Markus as a percussionist and vocalist more fully has been a great process. It has led to a difference in how songs are structured, and the way I will think about writing riffs and how we write the songs together. Jared usually runs the samples and also aids in percussion. But I think that we’re still just starting to really develop the style of the full band to include more multi-percussive elements. I certainly hope that we’ll have a chance to continue to develop this element further, but certainly it does impact the way songs are developed. Room must be given to add the second or third percussive elements.
Some things work better live than on recording. Trying to balance more drum-core/militaristic drumming with blazing black metal drumming is a challenge. What adds to the song and what detracts from the other drum parts or gets confusing to the ear and the other musicians have been the basis of many discussions in the band. For my own part, I always make matters worse, wanting choral samples and other sounds as well as these multi-percussive elements and several vocal layers and more… always more, more, more. It certainly complicates every step, and often in practice I feel like I must be more of a conductor. I try and balance the organic development of music with the full ensemble with my overarching lofty goals of mass orchestration. But this is really just my thoughts, in hindsight, looking back on the process. At the time, it was more that I found myself suggesting all these various things and pushing all the nebulous grand ideas with no real knowledge of how it would work.
HH: How do the two albums compare in feel and sound?
SSNL: Stahlhartes Gehäuse moves forward into a more developed multi-percussive pagan black metal direction with some folk elements, where Malefeasance reaches further into the musique concréte and neo-folk directions of the demo. I do not want to say that Stahlhartes is more traditional black metal, but it follows that tradition more fully than Malefeasance. The experimentation is more extreme on Malefeasance. I would say that both releases together take all the elements of the demo and amplify them several times.
HH: Can you explain the titles of the two albums? What do they mean, and are they quoted or otherwise derived from any particular sources?
SSNL: Malefeasance is an archaic spelling of ‘malfeasance’, which means evil-doing or wrongdoing, an illegal deed. In law, the performance of some injurious act which the party had been contracted not to do, or had no right to do. I like the relationship of this word to ‘malevolence’, and I do also think that as far as black metal is concerned the songs represented on that release do tend to be daggers intent on the ‘orthodox’ heart of black metal both philosophically and sonically.
Stahlhartes Gehäuse is based on the notable concept of the German sociologist Max Weber. Talcott Parsons translated this term in his 1958 translation of Weber’s The Spirit Of Capitalism And The Protestant Ethic as an ‘iron cage’. There is much debate about the accuracy of this translation, which could also mean ‘steel-hard casing/housing’ or a ‘shell as hard as steel’.
As our western society has developed, rationalization and bureaucracy have led to an imprisoning ‘iron cage’ which has bound us to rule-based rational control. Our destiny, Weber posits, is that of an impersonal, dehumanized life based on calculated goal-oriented rationalization, and a system of rules and regulations that are completely rigid and systematic, instead of being flexible to natural variation or circumstance. Order and structure begets further order and structure… ad nauseam.
This sort of structure lends itself to the development of an oligarchy and the consolidation of both political and economic power in the hands of a few people. This concept is explored in several ways throughout the title track, which can be seen as a song of many parts. Some of the art, samples and writings/lyrics throughout the track and album design support this exploration in contrast and response. The booklet for Stahlhartes… includes a essay in conjunction with these ideas.
HH: Malefeasance contains a number of cover versions and tributes – was this a deliberate decision, or did the album just come together that way?
SSNL: Originally Malefesance was intended to pull together various unreleased material, and as it happens the songs did have this underlying cohesion. Part of the lyrical directive of L’Acéphale is based on literary and philosophical elements and often when I am working on a more ambient piece, there’s some kind of sample or concept I am working from or working towards. Certainly after the release started heading in this direction, I focused on that element as a cohesive element.
HH: Are the tracks ‘Psalm Of Misery’ and ‘Book Of Lies – Seventh Gate’ on Stahlhartes Gehäuse reworked versions of the tracks which appeared on Mord Und Totschlag and the Book Of Lies EP?
SSNL: ‘Psalm Of Misery’ is a reworked version of the song from the demo. When the full band was developing after the recording of the EP, we chose that song from the demo to rework. It includes a new acoustic part with Markus singing and also some stunning violin by Rachel Rustad. We’ve tried working with other songs from the demo but we decided to move forward and not try and learn the songs from the demo. There have been a few attempts to rework ‘Terror Is Our Tenderness’ which still might surface… But I’m more interested in developing new material.
The combined tracks at the end of Stahlhartes…, ‘Book Of Lies’ and ‘Seventh Gate’ are a bonus/hidden track. These are the same songs from the EP. Due to the length of the songs and the sonic limitations of a 7” vinyl, I’d always wanted to release those songs in a digital format so that you could hear the songs better. They are so dense that all the nuances are not that clear on the vinyl version. These tracks were re-mastered for the CD version of Stahlhartes…, and will not be on the vinyl version when that comes out.
HH: What about live performances – have you done any shows yet, or do you have any plans to try that in the future?
SSNL: There have been several shows with various members, culminating with a six-piece line-up: Jeff/ Bloody Rich on drums; Kody on guitar and some percussion; Liz on bass, vocals, and some percussion; Jared on samples, ambience and percussion; Markus on percussion and vocals; and then myself on guitar, vocals and some percussion. All the shows have been in Portland. This of course was before I moved away from Portland. Now it is unclear what the status of live shows will be. Time will tell. I like live performance, but I am not interested in touring. If a few select tours were to develop, that would be fine but I do not want to become a touring act.
HH: Can you tell us something about your own musical background – were you active in other projects before L’Acéphale? Did you originally come from a non-metal scene, and if so, what drew you to black metal?
SSNL: I have played music since 1986 or so. I got my first guitar sometime in 1984. I bought a four-track in 1989 and have been recording ever since. I started listening to metal in 1981 or ‘82. The first record I got as a child was Queen’s News Of The World some time in 1978, and I remember that ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ was my favourite song. I told my mom I wanted to play acid guitar like that. My sister got the first two Ozzy Osbourne records for Christmas in 1981. At first, she didn’t want to listen to them because she thought they were Satanic, but I was fascinated. My stepfather had most of the Black Sabbath records and was soon thoroughly devoted to metal. However, I was also interested in other music as well. Having grown up in Los Angeles, my sister and I listened to Rodney on the ROQ and were exposed to new wave and punk. The first record I purposefully walked to the record store by myself to buy was Kings Of The Wild Frontier by Adam And The Ants, some time in 1980. So from the beginning, I was wildly divergent in my musical interests.
Being addicted to fast music, I migrated towards punk and early hardcore. Or what was called hardcore then, not the New York style, but DRI, MDC, Bad Brains, Septic Death and Infest. Through Pushead I found Siege, Sacrilege, Concrete Sox, Crucifix, Cryptic Slaughter, The Neos and other bands.
But I was also a metalhead, listening to Slayer, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Metallica and Death, but also not limited to these bands. My sister had a big part in guiding me. She was three years older, and also into very similar music. She also got me into industrial music in the late 80s, the usual Skinny Puppy and Ministry as well as more dark ambient and noise bands as well.
I stumbled across the Dry Lungs compilations, as I was living in Arizona at the time, and became interested in harsh noise bands like Merzbow and Paul Lemos, and also Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Missing Foundation, Coil and Current 93.
It was at this point that I had bought my first four-track in 1989. I’d been playing music in some punk metal bands in high school and college, but nothing really interesting or noteworthy. When I first started recording, it was soundscape ambient noise to harsh noise, and also distorted guitar and drum machine material. I was fascinated at the time with the Skinny Puppy song ‘Choralone’, so a lot of the early recordings had dark ambience with distorted vocals of some kind or detuned, distorted guitar with distorted drum machine. Out of the hours and hours of recordings that I did as ‘H6886Hate’ for over a decade, I only released one cassette that accompanied a pamphlet of writings that I did some time around ‘94. Only a few copies were made.
In the early 90s, most of the metal I heard was death metal. I was living in New Mexico and I was in college, studying sociology and the related fields of personal and social power dynamics (ethnic, feminist and queer studies), and was not really too excited about the lyrics of most of death metal.
I was however very much more excited about the occult, having been drawn to Crowley’s work since I was first exposed to him through the Diary Of A Madman LP. I was more interested in magickal studies as were being explored through Throbbing Gristle and the modern primitive/industrial culture at the time - Current 93, TOPY, Coil, Crash Worship and others. I was also a huge fan of Rudimentary Peni and was entranced by their record Cacophony, and thusly the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.
One memorable moment was taking my final in my Contemporary Social Theory class where I had first read Michel Foucault and my professor, who had met Foucault, was reading the George Hay fake Necronomicon published by Skoob Books. I was floored – trying to take my final but also trying to figure out what the book was that my professor was reading during this final.
For most of the early- to mid-90s, I listened to bands such as Neurosis, Swans, Unsane, Slug, crust punk, noise and industrial music, and I began to listen to more folk music like the Master Musicians Of Joujouka, atonal music and historical/archival music, while still playing in various no-name experimental punk and metal bands.
In 1995, I moved back to Arizona and I found my first Georges Bataille book, Tears Of Eros. I had also met a woman named Brianna Cross who lent me Story Of The Eye when I told her about the prior book. I was shattered.
My band had also played with Unruh, which was a metallish band also from Arizona. Which led me to the band Creation Is Crucifixion. These two bands re-sparked my interest in metal. Within the year, I moved to Portland, Oregon, all the while clawing my way through bookstores for more Bataille books. In Portland, I eventually got a job at Powell’s, the mainline for all my interests. I also was introduced to Lords Of Chaos just after it was published. Based on the main favourites of underground metal that I loved: Bathory, Celtic Frost, Venom, and to a lesser extent Slayer, and the fact that Mayhem wore the same Cryptic Slaughter shirt that I had, I had to check some of the Norwegian black metal music out. The first thing I could track down was Mayhem’s Wolf’s Lair Abyss. It was a torch to dry grass. It was everything I loved about music. Dark, foreboding, scathing, and as fast as possible without the ridiculous death metal breakdowns and fanfare.
It was around this time that a friend of mine from the gothic/industrial scene that I knew was also talking to me about black metal, knowing that I was a musician. Jason Fell and I worked on an idea of his to create a black metal band called Hexenhammer, based around some of the ideas of the Spanish Inquisition and the author of said tome. But the band was to be an acoustic band: two guitars and vocals. We played one show at a club for an annual Beltane festival and then two separate summer solstices at an abandoned stone cottage nicknamed Witches Castle, a quarter-mile hike along a trail next to a creek in the forest. We played at dusk by candlelight in corpse-paint and black cloaks, with the singer screaming in front of a small fire holding rusty daggers. We did one other show for Samhain, a catered wine dinner and performance where we served a faux human corpse. This was in 1998/99. There were no official releases, but a few videos of our performances were made.
HH: What inspired the formation of L’Acéphale – did you have any specific precedents in mind for that kind of blending of neo-folk, industrial and black metal?
SSNL: In 1999/2000, I worked on a project with my friend Carl Annala called Hail. This was a martial folk/black metal project, based around drum machine and guitars. We both knew and were friends with Markus Wolff, and Carl had recorded some trumpet and cello on the Waldteufel album Heimliches Deutschland. We asked Markus to join us on percussion. Carl had introduced me to the works of Krzysztof Penderecki, Veljo Tormis, Jean Sibelius and other avant-garde modern classical composers. We shared many interests: black metal, performance art, magick, world folk music, literature, philosophy, noise… you name it. Our intent was to mash all of our interests together in a music project. He’d already done some performances that I’d seen as Hail, merging metal, black metal aesthetics and performance art. We’d both recently seen Mortiis perform in Portland, which was inspiring but also fairly disappointing. We wanted to take some of the martial elements and also merge metal along with other samples. The intent was to be metal but also multi-percussive. We recorded a demo and performed once with Markus, at a celebration of a local Golden Dawn lodge opening. Due to technical problems with the drum machine, samples and gear, we took a break afterwards in order to rethink how live performances could be better and less dependent on potentially bad club sound systems. We later recruited Tim Call (who later formed Parasitic Records and Aldebaran) and developed a new sound, played a few shows and then disbanded when Carl went to graduate school. This in essence, was the precedent which informed L’Acéphale. Though with L’Acéphale, as opposed to Hail, I wanted to be more scathing.
I’d always thought that there was a close relationship between neo-folk, industrial and black metal. But it always seemed that one would focus on one or the other. Burzum crossed over between the two in many ways, as did Abruptum, MZ.412, Apollyon and Sadastor, as well as many others. But in particular I was reaching towards Toroidh, Les Joyaux de la Princesse, Hate Forest and Drudkh. Thematically and aesthetically there are many overarching similarities, which I think have blossomed further since I first started L’Acéphale. My whole introduction to black metal, as I am sure it was for many others, was from Michael Moynihan and Blood Axis, so obviously the threads were there.
HH: It’s evident that there are a lot of cultural and literary references in the music of L’Acéphale. Were there any particular bands that showed you that black metal was capable of conveying this kind of intellectual content? After all, in its early manifestations, black metal tended to be crude, visceral and nihilistic, rather than complex and cerebral.
SSNL: I think that Ulver most certainly stand out as clearly reaching towards something more. When I read Lords of Chaos I felt respect for them, I cannot say the same for many other people of that original scene. However, I do respect their musicianship. I think other bands that I listened to early on such as Empyrium, Sun Of The Sleepless, Apollyon, late Bathory and Celtic Frost in some ways were also torchbearers in this regard. But to me that was irrelevant, I would have put my own thoughts and ideas into it anyways because I always do that. It is my personal imperative. If I am going to write something, I have to honestly stand behind it and it has to be part of me and come from my interests and ideals. For me, what black metal is, is a sound. It is not Satanism or praise unto ‘Him,’ I was drawn to it sonically as a catharsis, as sonic vitriol. Now there are tons of bands delving into the complex and the cerebral, and it is great. When I got Deathspell Omega’s Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice I loved their mix of Bataille and Satanism and intellectualism. Others that I admire are Fauna, Helrunar, Wolfhetan, October Falls, Sigrblot and Funeral Mist. Those leap out, but I am sure I am forgetting some others.
HH: How does Georges Bataille fit into all this? What was it in his work that led you to connect it with black metal?
SSNL: In the previous question, you mentioned that early black metal was crude, visceral and nihilistic. Bataille is both profoundly crude, visceral and nihilistic, yet also in equal amounts cerebral and complex. He is fiercely Nietzschean, and yet does not fall victim to the false ‘Übermensch’ ideas of fascism. How perfect. How perfectly black metal to me, in my perverted conception of all things. Further than that, it is the logical extension of the main motivations for me to connect the two – my compulsion for the writings of Georges Bataille, some 13 years and counting, and the sonic assault that is black metal.
The most important writings of Bataille in regards to black metal are from the time of his work with the Acéphale group and the four journals they produced. This is also the time period where he was writing his Summa Atheologie (Inner Experience, Guilty, On Nietzsche and the untranslated Memorandum). He also wrote The Impossible and Madame Edwarda at this time. During this period, he’d given up on the direct political process of La Critique Sociale and Contre-Attaque and turned towards creating a new mythology, assaulting modernism, its mechanisation and its sterility, and simultaneously reaching backwards to our past and to our future. I still feel a strong kinship to the manifesto that they created for the Acéphale group. That’s why I have included it in the artwork on Mord…, Stahlhartes… and also Malefeasance. I believe that black metal at its best struggles towards what Bataille called ‘the Impossible’. I just completed a track of the same name for a split with The Austrasian Goat. When working on the vocals for that, I reread The Impossible by Bataille. It was originally titled The Hatred Of Poetry. Here’s a quote from the preface to the second edition:
“I first published this book fifteen years ago, giving it an obscure title: The Hatred Of Poetry. It seemed to me that true poetry was reached only by hatred. Poetry had no powerful meaning except in the violence of revolt. But poetry attains this violence only by evoking the impossible. Almost no one understood the meaning of the first title, which is why I prefer finally to speak of : The Impossible.
It’s true that this second title is far from being clearer.
But it may be one day…: I perceive the course of a convulsion that involves the whole movement of beings. This convulsion goes from death’s disappearance to that voluptuous rage which, perhaps, is the meaning of the disappearance.
Humanity is faced with a double perspective: in one direction, violent pleasure, horror and death – precisely the perspective of poetry – and in the opposite direction, that of science or the real world of utility. Only the useful, the real have a serious character. We are never within our rights in preferring seduction: truth has rights over us. Indeed it has every right. And yet we can, and indeed we must, respond to something which, not being God, is stronger than every right, that impossible to which we accede only by forgetting the truth of all these rights, only by accepting disappearance.”
(Translation by Robert Hurley)
The lure of black metal is the lure of violent pleasure, horror and death; it is this voluptuous rage that at its best, touches the impossible. It is also this lure that intersects Bataille and black metal.
HH: What about other literary, artistic and occult influences? Which other figures have been influential on the development of L’Acéphale’s sound and aesthetics? What about 20th-century classical music – has that been important to you?
SSNL: Any number of the following influences are all working together to influence the sound and aesthetic of L’Acéphale: Symbolism, heathenism and native tribal religions in general, Surrealism, atonal folk music from around the world, German Romanticism, industrial and noise music, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Jack Parsons and related magickal studies, Dada, Stefan George and the Georgekreis, Georg Heym and Expressionism. René Daumal, weird fiction (e.g. H.P. Lovecraft, Clarke Ashton Smith, Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, Hans Bellmer, Suehiro Maruo, James Havoc, late-era Swans, the photography of Desirée Dolron, critical theory, Radical Traditionalism… it is a Pandora’s box.
And yes, 20th-century classical composers like Krzystof Penderecki, Veljo Tormis, Arvo Pärt, Witold Lutosławski, Henryk Górecki, Kronos Quartet, Jean Sibelius and others (many of which have been included in the form of samples throughout the demo and the new releases). This is a strong influence from my friend and comrade in arms Carl Annala. He grew up with parents that taught classic music. He would bring over eastern European vinyl versions of Penderecki and Tormis, and we would listen to them and be highly influenced. We’d listen to these records and then put on Mayhem or Ulver and then listen to Tibetan Buddhist chanting, always enthralled. There are certain atonal elements to them all that bind them together in my mind.
HH: The graphics and artwork in the booklet for Stahlhartes Gehäuse show a much stronger affinity for Germanic heathenism and folklore than was evident on Mord Und Totschlag. Has the recruitment of Markus Wolff to L’Acéphale been influential in this regard?
SSNL: For Mord und Totschlag, I was more interested in focusing on imagery from the actual Acéphale journal mixed with more stark and visceral art. At the time, I was very interested in a book my friend J.J. from Order Of The Vulture introduced to me called Metamorphosis Of A Death Symbol: The Transi Tomb In The Late Middle Ages And The Renaissance by Kathleen Cohen. So, many of the images are from there. But my interest in ‘mythology’ has been long-standing. Similarly, Stahlhartes… is also heavily informed visually by two other books that I had acquired and was influenced by: Gypsy Sorcery And Fortune Telling by Charles Leland and De Edda, translated by Frans Berding with outstanding art by Gust van de Wall Perné. These two books set the stage for some of the booklet art. I wanted the booklet to be like an old illustrated book. The Edda translation is posted with some of the artwork at the fine website Asatru.. It is highly recommended, the book is perhaps one of the most beautiful books I know of.
Due to the nature of the artwork from that book, it certainly has an affinity to German heathenism as filtered through the Netherlands. There are a fair amount of similarities between many of the traditional religions of the European people. Religions all over the globe show this tendency. I think that in terms of German heathenism, the people north of the Rhine and into Scandinavia held off the religion of the Romans and Christians a bit longer than their southern kindred. In terms of your question, Markus and I certainly like to exchange ideas and books and he has certainly inspired me to research many interesting people and ideas. I would not say that his recruitment was directly influential in this specific context. We have been friends for quite a while and worked together before in Hail. I have also been a long-time fan of both Waldteufel and Crash Worship, so I think that this affinity in the artwork was more coincidental.
HH: On Malefeasance, the song ‘Hitori Bon Odori’ concerns a Japanese folk festival. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that L’Acéphale has referred to Japanese culture. Is this a subject that particularly interests you? Are there any Japanese artists, writers or musicians whose work is important to you?
SSNL: Along with ‘Hitori Bon Odori’, ‘From A Miserable Abode’ also references Japanese culture, in the sense that the lyrics were derived from a song by the band Corrupted. The inspiration for the lyrics was the song from Corrupted’s split 7” with Grief, a song entitled ‘Mi Pueblo’. I liked the idea of the song, so I rewrote the song in my own style keeping the basic theme. Corrupted have been and still remain a strong influence on me. I also believe that Corrupted also influence L’Acéphale to a great deal.
Llendose De Gusanos was the first Corrupted release that I heard. Tim Call from Parasitic Records played it for me one day after we had a practice together for a band that never had a name. I was devastated by it. The lulling beauty of the piano and mutterings that develop into a almost dark fairytale delirium that is then crushed by the heavy distorted guitar and drums, Hevi’s amazing vocals, the constant feedback during the whole recording and the aesthetic of the sound through to the piano dirge accompanying the song. I certainly merged their sound and scope of length and slow developing riffs and songwriting with what I would consider to be very similar, that of the work of Hate Forest and Drudkh. These three bands all utilize key riffs stretched out to maximum lengths to evoke a feeling a bleakness that is enthralling. Most of the black metal songs on Mord Und Totschlag utilize this approach to songwriting, and certainly owe a great deal to Corrupted.
‘Hitori Bon Odori’ arose from a request to partake in a black metal compilation tribute to Kazuki Tomokawa from Tim of The Tyrant Of Manchester. He was working on it with someone else, originally as a 7” of four bands, but later it was to be a CD-R that also included tracks from Dead Raven Choir, Caïna and Silvester Anfang among others. The tribute was eventually taken over by Dead Eternity Records and remains ‘coming soon’. I had not heard Kazuki Tomokawa up to this point, but he is known as the ‘Screaming Philosopher’, an acoustic musician who has roots in Butoh and 1920s Japanese Symbolist and Dada poet Chuya Nakahara. His vocal style can be soft and delicate and yet maniacal and chattering. I was hooked immediately upon listening to it. I originally wanted to record a black metal version of ‘Niatta Seishun’ with the full band but we were headlong into recording Stahlhartes... At some point there was pressure to finish the tribute track, so I created the rendition of ‘Hitori Bon Odori’ due to limitations that I had with recording equipment.
I am a big fan of Suehiro Maruo. His artwork is outrageous. Some of his work is more scatological manga, but other work is pure genius, merging classical horror motifs with compulsive and obsessive elements. His work in this regard blends a lot of the themes of Bataille and also Lovecraft.
I am also a fan of classic Japanese cinema. Akira Kurosawa is brilliant. But there are many others. Ai No Corrida (In The Realm Of The Senses) is also very Bataillian. Woman In The Dunes is a great novel by Kōbō Abe. Further than that, I have been interested in Japanese culture for a long time. My mom had a Japanese friend who taught her how to make sushi as a girl, my sister and I grew up making sushi with my mom, and all of our family birthday celebrations have been and continue to be at Japanese restaurants. My mom and stepdad are also big fans of archaeology, which led to a general interest in all cultures and history.
HH: I remember reading in an earlier interview with you that you used to work in Powell’s Books in Portland. Did you make a lot of discoveries during your time there? Did this have much effect on the development of the intellectual and aesthetic underpinnings of L’Acéphale?
SSNL: Yes, I worked at the ‘flagship’ Powell’s store in downtown Portland, which occupies a city block. It boasts of being the largest independent used and new bookstore in the U.S. I have visited a few of the other large bookstores in the United States, and it is the best in my opinion. My passion for books drew me there, and it has helped in tracking down and providing resources for all of my literary and bibliophilic drives. I worked there for ten years, and loved it. I was able to find and acquire all kinds of great books over the years. If I was not employed there, I doubt I would have been able to afford them, or even find them, as many employees get the true gems that find their way through there. I do think that working there had a profound impact upon me in a lot of ways. I would still be interested in the same things, but working there allowed me to better seek out my interests.
I made many discoveries through Powell’s. I was able to find out about Kenneth Grant there early on. I had been excited about Lovecraft’s writings for quite awhile, deeply inspired by Rudimentary Peni’s Cacophony, and then through some of the Skoob publications. But I was able to find a signed, blood-spattered, copy of The Magical Revival, as well as all the other books that Grant published through to The Ninth Arch. I suppose it’s hard to define how much the accessibility to books related to my interests found at Powell’s influence me. Certainly, having an interest and being able to find a wealth of resources on that interest made that working experience deeply transformative. That does not diminish the amount of time I spend researching ideas and topics at university libraries. I can spend all day at a good library. I find it astonishing that people are bored in life, or when people ask me where did you learn about this or that… I research it, I find it. I wish I could spend more time researching and reading, but alas… Be motivated, seek out and find your interests, engage in life.
HH: There are a lot of bands in and around the Portland area, e.g. Agalloch, Waldteufel, In Gowan Ring, A Minority Of One, and I’m sure a load of other people I’ve forgotten or never heard of. Obviously you have connections with Waldteufel and A Minority Of One, but are you in touch with many other bands in the Portland scene? As far as the wider Cascadian scene goes, I believe you’re in touch with Fauna – how about other Cascadian bands? It seems like there’s a pretty thriving black metal scene out there – is that your experience?
SSNL: Portland has been a great place to reside these past 13-odd years. For various reasons many great and interesting individuals have lived here or resided here that have created some outstanding music. I feel fortunate that I was able to finally meet Markus Wolff and share a friendship with him. Meeting Michael Moynihan and being able to see Blood Axis live in the classic era of the band as well as see In Gowan Ring over the years has been great too. Additionally, sharing space and ideas and friendship with Fauna and their predecessor Threnos has been enriching. Portland and the greater Cascadian northwest is a fairly small group of interrelated friends. It is large enough that I can’t say I know everyone, but most people know each other to some degree, even between scenes. There is a fair crossover between metal and punk kids, neo-folk, dark ambient, noise musicians and others. Suffice to say that most people know of each other and many people are friends or friends of friends.
I do think that there is a fairly good black metal scene. Many people are interested in it, coming from many different perspectives, and I think that this is what helped make it more than average. What I think is nice, is that having had some great musical entities not only coming from the area, but also performing locally has influenced others to create music that is something more than average. I do think that there is something to be said about cross-pollination within a community and how influences spread resultantly, and the fruit born of that process has the potential to bear great gifts. Some other bands of note from the area are Aldebaran, Oakhelm, Leech, The War Wolves, Ealdath, Mania, Scard, H.C. Minds, Ruhr Hunter, Blood Of The Black Owl, The Elemental Chrysalis, At The Head Of The Woods, Soriah and a host of others in many styles. One band from Portland that I have not met but like very much is Grails.
HH: There seems to be a distinct eastern European flavour to L’Acéphale – the music on Mord Und Totschlag has an evident resemblance to Hate Forest and Drudkh, and if I'm not mistaken, tracks like ‘Terror Is Our Tenderness’ and ‘Psalm Of Misery’ also display an acquaintance with the sound of Blazebirth Hall bands like Forest and Branikald, plus of course you’re interested in visual artists such as František Kupka and Zdzisław Beksiński. Is this all just coincidence, or do you feel a cultural affinity with eastern Europe? Are you in fact of eastern European extraction?
SSNL: I heard Hate Forest and Drudkh about the same time, some time in 2003. Purity and Forgotten Legends must have just come out and somehow I came across them. I remember that at first I really liked the vocals because they reminded me of the vocal style of a friend who was singing for Tusks of Blood. But soon I was fully addicted to both releases, and when I found Battlefields later that year I was completely hooked. I am a big fan of the constructions of their songs. The long repetitions of riffs and the slow development of the song structure, it reminds me of late-era Swans and Corrupted. Through this, you can hear the relationship to some of the songs on Mord… and from there into Stahlhartes... ‘Psalm Of Misery’ was deeply inspired by Drudkh in regards to its song structures, I am glad to see the song really come into bloom for Stahlhartes… Another element that I appreciate about Hate Forest’s Battlefields is the inclusion of the folk samples. To me, it elevates the form out of strict pastiche, though I suppose it creates another at the same time.
I am not of eastern European ancestry, though on my mom’s side there is a strand that was from Germany that emigrated to Russia and then across and into Alaska and down the west coast of the United States. I have been interested in various elements of eastern European cultural production, for lack of a better term, for quite a while. Some of these interests are drawn from the Russian ‘heritage’, others from the various threads of art history that interests me, Beksiński and Kupka as you mentioned but also Stanisław Szukalski and Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin. I also like writers like Stanisław Przybyszewski, who is very interesting and I wish more was published in English. I too am a fan of eastern European folk music, but more than that, I am a fan of any traditional style of music that explores micro-tonality or other ‘difficult’ sounds, be they Inuit chanting, Tibetan ritual music, Tuvan throat-singing, Balinese monkey chant or other traditional music from around the world. It is another thing that Markus Wolff and my other comrade in music, Carl Annala, have in connection; a deep interest in sound from all over the world, especially that which falls outside of the mainstream safe sounds.
I have only listened to a bit of Forest. I have a few releases, but for whatever reason they did not leap out to me when I first heard them, and I am only aware of Blazebirth Hall by name. Not much more than that. Perhaps I will have to check into it more. The Forest releases that I listened to were fairly primitive, and though I am as huge a fan of Transilvanian Hunger as the next guy, they did not equal half of that record in my opinion. But I am not a huge fan of ultra lo-fi ‘kvlt’ black metal. I like the tone of blown-out guitars,but I want something more than simple buzz and umpa umpa. I hope that as primitive as some of the material that I put out is, that it is more than that.
HH: How about American black metal? It seemed to take a while for the US to pick up on what was going on in Europe in the 1990s – what were the reasons for this? Are there any artists you particularly admire in the current American scene?
SSNL: I do think that as a whole, the American black metal scene took a while to reach a level of ‘authenticity’. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think that for one, the most previously known USBM outfits were more interested in replicating European black metal instead of trying to define a sound of their own. I also feel that what I would consider the best bands did not get the deserved attention in the media, or with metal fans in general, who thought it was impossible for the US to produce anything of worth outside of death metal or BM mimicry. I think there are two other reasons that contribute to the late development of black metal in the US.
The first is that I do believe that there is something to be said for a local ‘scene’. Perhaps it is the sociologist in me, but I do think there is something behind the fact that certain sounds develop in specific areas. We can talk about the Norwegian sound, the Swedish sound that goes along with Entombed, and also the Florida death metal scene. Also in other music – for example, the Seattle grunge sound, or the Manchester sound. I think people are inspired by direct experience and the collective experience of developing something together. The individuals may or may not recognize it in the moment, but by being in the environment, they are influenced by it nonetheless. Of course this does not explain everything, since some bands develop in relative isolation, or through intense correspondence and tape trading.
The second reason why there was a later development is exposure. Exposure coupled with the previous reasons I just mentioned conspire together. I think that it was more difficult to track down music in the 90s. Either you had to live near a great record store, or you had to do lots of mail order and research through zines. And getting the zines themselves was not always so easy. In the early- to mid-90s, you were pummelled with all the death metal and arena metal, but finding anything else was more difficult. Those kids that were raised in the era of the internet, MySpace and metal blogspots do not understand that a lot of this music was fairly impossible to find, even at decent record stores. Even in the late 90s when I was hunting BM down, it was still fairly difficult to find it locally in many cities in the US. So I think exposure and access played a key role in this late development.
When thinking back now about which US black metal bands influenced me most or really stood out, most were from around 1998-2000. That must be where USBM found its voice or sound. Locally, in the northwest, the two biggest bands at the time were Corvus Corax and Thy Infernal, both of whom opened for Blood Axis in 1998 in Portland. Thy Infernal are notable, but Corvus Corax were more special by far, mixing pagan and heathen elements into their performances. Their demo had a profound influence on me in those times, and their two releases are sorely underrated for what was going on at that time. They still hold up quite well.
Weakling, of course, are legendary. I stumbled on to them just after Dead As Dreams came out. Early on, I liked Xasthur quite a bit. I loved the Crebain demo; somehow the Night Of The Stormcrow demo CD-R, which was limited to 66 copies, ended up at a local Portland used record store just after it came out. I contacted him, and he eventually was a strong champion of the L’Acéphale demo CD-R that I released myself. He bought most of the copies for the San Francisco Amoeba store. I was also a big fan of Ludicra at the time and still like them. Fall Of The Bastards of course are dear friends as well. I helped engineer their first LP at Tim from Parasitic Records’ behest. I think both those bands had a huge impact on punks in black metal. I like the work of Wrest and Leviathan. Fauna of course are dear kindred; they have both helped or played in Waldteufel, which while not black metal was and is a huge influence. All of Markus’s projects and work are dear to me. Threnos was an earlier project of Fauna that are sadly entirely unheard of. I think they only released a CD-R of very limited quantities for their tour in 2004. I know they do not like the recording, but it is outstanding and I am sure that since they hail from the same town as Wolves In The Throne Room that it was an influence upon them. WITTR are good, certainly Two Hunters is outstanding. Agalloch are outstanding. The Mantle and the White EP are stellar. Local Cascadians Leech and Mania are very good too. These are the ones that come to mind offhand.
HH: Do you think it would be possible to trace the cultural, aesthetic and ideological antecedents of black metal back, in the way that Greil Marcus showed how punk rock derived from Situationism and Dada in his 1989 book Lipstick Traces, and if so, where do you consider the real roots of black metal to lie? German Expressionism, Symbolism, Romanticism, the Gothic Revival?
SSNL: I do think that one can trace back the roots of black metal. It would be quite an interesting project as well. Certainly you are on the mark with the all the movements you mention. But of course you can broaden that up quite a bit when you think of the antecedents before that and also what was inspired afterwards. I created a historical timeline of what I think are important developments that lead to the formation of black metal. Besides the obvious musical developments after Black Sabbath most notably described in Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind. The timeline is fairly rough and could be better detailed, but that would be a book in itself!
Other intersecting historical influences
‘Monstrous’ historical figures
Gilles de Rais
Marquis de Sade
20th-century classical music
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
influence on John Cage
, influenced by the Georgekreis
Anton Webern (1883-1945)
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-)
Veljo Tormis (1930-)
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-)
HH: Black metal tends to define itself in terms of elitism and exclusivity, which for some bands takes the form of embracing fascist and National Socialist ideology. Is this an inevitable consequence of pursuing these currents of anti-modernist, anti-democratic and anti-Christian thought?
SSNL: I do think that in some ways this is an inevitable ‘potential’ of the pursuit of anti-modernist ideas. I met some Partridge Family Temple kids in the late 90s, and what struck me at the time was that these kids, loosely attached to the temple, were rebelling against the whole PC punk / Riot Grrrrl scene happening at the time. They were in essence rebelling against what they saw as mainstream rebellion against the mainstream. I do think that for some people, the pursuit of ultimate evil (which I think characterizes certain elements of classic Norwegian black metal, which led to church burnings and murders in the first wave of the Norwegian black metal scene) can lead towards fascist and National Socialist ideology, because it plays the role within modern societies as the ultimate bogeyman idea.
Since murder, serial killers and random evil are already championed by death metal and goregrind, black metal tends towards Nazism, thanks in a large part to Varg Vikernes and Burzum. But certainly this is not limited to Varg’s influence alone, nor is it exclusively limited to black metal, as neo-folk artists can have this interest as well, for similar anti-modernist, anti-democratic and anti-Christian reasons. I think the tendency towards anti-democratic elements comes more from neo-folk communities, and not so much from black metal. I was recently reading a book on hero worship, and the tendencies of Nietzsche, Stefan George and others towards aristocratic thought. The ideas discussed in the book seemed to ring resoundingly true to the neo-folk community, whereas I do not think of black metal as aristocratic per se. I think that the ‘kvlt’ tendencies of black metal are more aimed at obscurity and ‘anti-trend’ (as paradoxical as that is to espouse at this point).
Touching on the draw towards fascism and NS ideology, I do not think that it is simply exclusivity or elitism. I think that black metal at its foundation is more anti-Christian, and the elitism you are referring to is a rejection of those Christian societal traits most of all. I think that the anti-modernist and anti-democratic elements in black metal have come from other influences, namely those ideas lifted from the neo-folk / industrial community.
Going back to the kids I met around the Partridge Family Temple, and what I would consider a general tendency within black metal, I think that the draw towards fascism was and is more about the pursuit of anti-Christian influences mixed with a desire for rebellion, more than a development of anti-modernist and anti-democratic thoughts or ideas. So no, I don’t think that it’s an inevitable consequence of those currents, but there are lots of interacting elements between those currents and the draw of fascism and elitism.
This is a good question, because I do think that there are slight differences between these ideas you are getting at in the question that are quite pertinent to black metal and neo-folk. It is important to consider the fact that these currents of anti-modernism, anti-democratic and anti-Christianity all have foundations well before the rise of fascism and the National Socialist party in Germany. In fact the Nazi party co-opted many of these ideas as well as the groups that were championing these ideas, only to then throw them out when they became inconvenient to maintaining their political monster.
Stefan George and the Cosmic Circle, Ludwig Fahrenkrog and the G.G.G. as well as the Lebensreform movement all championed these currents, which were co-opted by the Nazi party (in some ways), and then outlawed by the Nazis later on. So again, I do not think that it is an inevitable consequence but given the nature of the medium, that of an extreme form of music and expression, it is highly likely that given a certain action, some people will respond in one manner and others in another manner. Some with an anarchist bent, others with hedonism, some with complete rejection, some with escapism, some with a fascist response – one which I would consider an easy response and not worthwhile in any capacity.
HH: Is there a specific occult, magickal or pagan orientation to L’Acéphale, or do you just have a general interest in occultism? How does the elitism and exclusivity of occultism and secret societies tie in with fascism? What about Satanism – has that ever attracted you, either in its modern form in the Church of Satan, or as part of an older countercultural tradition?
SSNL: I’ve never been a particularly big Satanist, perhaps it was too much time as a kid listening to Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home either. My parents were more interested in archaeology. My stepfather was a Sufi in a very loose sense of the word, and in my teenage years he worked at a museum that focused on Native American archaeology, anthropology and paleontology from the southwestern United States, an area called the ‘Four Corners’, which is the area of northern Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Utah and Colorado. Through this, I developed a sort of spiritual relativism. Satanism is a bit lacklustre, especially since I’ve met several key Satanists, and have felt that the ‘Dark Path’ has provided them with relatively little, financially or spiritually. This has been my feeling towards the Church of Satan to this point, but I do like the Satan-as-Loki concept as a sort of countercultural tradition. But there are many flaws in this idea of Satanism as a countercultural tradition, in particular and most notably as it presupposes a general dichotomy. If Satanism is the counter-current, then of course some sort of Christianity is the main current, and I'd really rather not simplify things that much. I think it does more harm than good. I have tapped into this concept for artistic expression, but usually I prefer not to. I think the work I’ve done with Order Of The Vulture has worked with Satanism as a counter-current, with our ‘Manifesto For Evil’ that I wrote along with many lyrics, but this is influenced by the ideas that I am bouncing off of with the other main writer for that band and his personal interests.
There have been many interesting people to use this motif, for example Ludwig Fahrenkrog and his amazing book Lucifer, or Stanisław Przybyszewski and his history of Satanism that Runa Raven translated and printed, entitled The Synagogue Of Satan, which had a large impact on Hanns Heinz Ewers, who is also fairly fascinating. Others in the literary tradition are J.K. Huysmans, Charles Baudelaire, E.T.A. Hoffman, Max Stirner, William Beckford, Christopher Marlowe, Lautréamont and of course the more well-known, such as Poe, Goethe, and Milton. Some of these writers may not have believed fully in Satanism, yet they painted the tapestry to entice those to the ideas.
Then of course there is also the ‘Great Beast’ Crowley, who utilized Satanism for popularity and the many Thelemic disciplines that resulted from his work. I’ve had a long-term interest in Kenneth Grant, Jack Parsons and Austin Osman Spare, though I do not think of any of them as specifically Satanist. I find the transcendental elements that reach into the further mysteries of human nature and meaning more interesting than idolatry of the ‘Dark Lord’. I see the threads that led to the writings of Anton LaVey and their appeal, but I do not follow his path either.
I’m not a scholar of fascism, so it ‘s hard to make any clear statements about the relation of secret societies, occultism or elitism to fascism. I’ve been meaning to read some of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s work, who seems to be the best scholar on the subject, but as yet I have not.
As I mentioned earlier, I am strongly drawn towards mythology and spirituality, but having not been raised in any specific tradition I claim not to be aligned to any one path, but rather to a general illumination.
HH: Black metal in its current form is over 20 years old now. Do you think that its cultural critique remains relevant, or is it running out of steam? Is there any danger of black metal being co-opted by mainstream cultural discourse, or is it radical enough to resist assimilation and remain a truly underground scene?
SSNL: One of the fascinating things about any social phenomenon or cultural trend such as black metal is that it is made up of unique individuals. So despite any generalization, there remains at the heart individuals with their own passions and intents. When thinking about your question, I recall the people who called punk ‘dead’ in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s undeniable that many very interesting and socially important developments happened under the collectively defined banner of punk rock after its ‘death’. Certainly, the marketable elements of the black metal genre drive their way into absurdity and banality, and likewise as black metal gains international recognition to the point where there are millions of bedroom black metal ‘kvlt’ists, and each sub-genre of black metal becomes its own industry. Certainly one can say that in those instances, black metal is quite dead and that it is irrelevant. Then again, if you look at individual entities within the genre I think that in no way is that true.
Deathspell Omega, Watain, Horna, Antaeus and many others still carry the banner of orthodox black metal quite proudly. Other people such as Wolfhetan, October Falls, Helrunar and Cascadian entities, Fauna, Book Of Black Earth, Wolves In The Throne Room, Leech, Mania and others lesser known are channelling black metal in the post-Bathory / Ulver avenue, and are all brilliant. Drudkh as a reincarnation of Burzum’s Filosofem greatness and beyond into their own sound still seem quite vibrant. It’s also interesting to see this paganism spread into areas like Kyrgyzstan, which spawned Darkestrah. They’ve delved into their own roots with Epos and The Great Silk Road, which is outstanding. To a similar extent, ChthoniC also mine pre-Christian Taiwanese history as a result of black metal’s influence. There are black metal bands all over the world including Jerusalem and the Muslim middle east, as documented somewhat recently by Terrorizer magazine, which is quite fascinating, and is something of a testament to Euronymous in some ways. He seemed to reach out across the globe to hunt down fellow denizens. Most notable of the contacts he made during his life is the legendary Sigh from Japan.
So you have two dynamics, an individual and a societal development of black metal. On one level, anything new or ‘authentic’ gets co-opted by a consumer culture that has no identity on its own but exploitation. With this, you get the trend-hoppers who always want to stay one step ahead of everyone else to then be able to disregard the current ‘passion’ as passé. There are also those who turn over identities in a similar manner to stay chic, as well as the carbon-copy people who, although truly interested in the subject, contribute nothing new to anything. Yes, black metal is certainly co-opted by mainstream culture and most likely will be for some time to come. I am sure most people have seen the black metal KFC ad, which though hilarious is certainly a testament in this regard.
However, then there is the other dynamic, that of people or individuals who come to black metal as a revelatory experience, who see it as a radical discourse and they then take it and create their media from it, be it a band, a magazine, art, action or what have you. You also have people who already were on the same basic path as that of black metal and who are drawn to it as a kindred spirit or fellow in arms. These people will also keep the black metal flame alive. So I think that it really depends on perspective, intention and who pins the black metal tag onto something and what that means.
I have said before that I could care less if black metal is dead, or being co-opted. Black metal is corrupt in its very nature. It is the Darkness, or the dark path. So there is no real ‘saving it’, given this conception and regardless of whether black metal is still pure or not, shit is still shit. We all define what we like for ourselves and I think that what I would consider worthy music made by worthy individuals is easy enough to find. I could care less about black metal as a concept in itself. I identify with individuals that just happen to be working and creating within what others call black metal. I am not interested in saving it from the outside world, nor saving it from itself. Yet I must add that it is true, I am deeply entranced by it and I lovingly nurture a small black metal pyre in my heart.
HH: Well, this interview has certainly covered some ground! Anything else you want to add?
SSNL: I’ve been working on an extended remix of a song from Malefeasance entitled ‘Nothing Is True, Everything is Permitted’, the title of which stems from a saying that became popular after William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin falsely attributed it to Hassan-I Sabbah, the leader of the Assassins, a group from the late 11th century based in northern Iran in their fortress Alamut. Many wild things have been attributed to them. I have long been interested in Burroughs and Gysin, and appreciate in particular their ‘cut-up’ techniques. I’ve often utilized this approach when writing lyrics based on someone else’s writings. I suppose I’m doing a modified, applied version of their techniques, where I select random phrases or bits and then reformulate them in poetic form by aesthetically arranging the selections of words to my own ends.
The title of the song has been co-opted by some Chaos magickians, who deem it a logical extension of the Thelemic motto of Crowley, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will.’ In some ways it does have an associative property. Regardless of the actualities, it is an enticing title and concept, and in some ways fitted the psycho-acoustic elements of the song. The inception of the track originally was to be 23 minutes to fit in with the Law of Fives. Since there is the associative numeric 93 that also corresponds to the cover of Current 93 also on Malefeasance, I thought that it would be interesting to make a 93-minute Aiwass edition of ‘Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted’.
This has been completed, and is available as a free download through Radical Matters in Italy. Since 93 minutes is beyond standard CD time lengths and Radical Matters had asked to release something on the Web Editions subdivision of their label, the timing worked out well. The 93-minute extended version includes some elements from the past and the future – elements of various releases, or alternate tracking of elements that are woven into the larger narrative of the piece. I also included some recitations of the first two Enochian Aethers by Aleister Crowley to fit with the revision. I am quite pleased with the result, and hopefully others will be willing to digest the piece in total.
This interview with Set Sothis Nox La of L’Acéphale took place by email during February-May 2009.