2012 has been more stressful than a motherfucker; probably one of the most all-around stressful years of my life. Buying a house + assorted family and work-related issues that I wouldn’t even dream of getting into here managed to turn the year into a goddamn pressure-cooker. I’m pretty sure the only things that kept me alive were my wife’s unwavering love (and limitless patience) and an avalanche of incredible music. In 2011 I was feeling pretty jaded and dissatisfied with the state of heavy metal, this year I found myself feeling better about things than I have in years. That isn’t to say there weren’t great albums released in 2011, there were, but in 2012 I felt like there was so much greatness that I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all.
Aluk Todolo’s Occult Rock is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year; a monolithic double LP of blackened experimentation of the highest order. With help from the incomparable Nathan T. Birk, I contacted the band via e-mail to gain some insight into their instrumental alchemy. The following interrogation transpired…
I don’t get the “female fronted occult rock” trend that has come out of the metal underground in the past few years. To these ears, there’s nothing even remotely evil, let alone “occult” about ripping off Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac and Heart. Okay, this is the part where someone brings up Coven and I roll my eyes. I’m not saying the music is particularly bad, it just isn’t my thing, and it definitely isn’t Satanic. I mean, isn’t it really just revisiting the hippie-dippy horseshit that early heavy metal set out to stomp to bits at the end of the ’60’s, only with a quasi-diabolic lyrical bent?
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, metal gave me the strength to accept my budding Atheism during my youth. I wish I could say there was some epiphanic moment that came late one night while listening to Reign in Blood, but the truth is that metal’s part in the formation of my beliefs was much more subtle. Reflecting back on those times, I’ve come to realize that my Atheism manifested itself long before my love of metal did, and that metal only helped to cement those beliefs.
I went to Catholic school from kindergarten all the way up through my senior year of high school. A lot of people still have some interesting ideas of what Catholic school is like, but I can assure you there were no draconian nuns in black lording over us with yardsticks and paddles, nor were we forced to go to church every day. That doesn’t mean that the presence of the almighty didn’t loom over us on a daily basis. We did have an extra period for religion class, and although we didn’t go to church every day, there were still multiple opportunities to kneel before the saviour, any excuse to have a mass in the gymnasium or set up confessionals in the auditorium.
I tried my damnedest to believe. I folded my hands, closed my eyes, drank the grape juice, ate the stale crackers (why does the body of Christ taste like cardboard and glue?), and none of it worked. I participated willingly in the three c’s, communion, confirmation and confession, but felt no closer to any “God”. For the longest time, I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was the only one in the world that didn’t believe. There was nothing I could do about it, no one I was comfortable talking to. If there were others like me, they were keeping it well hidden.
Raw, primal, hypnotic. These terms describe the hellish, killing floor blues of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf just as aptly as they do the grim, violent black metal stylings of Darkthrone and Mayhem. And yet the two genres are complete polar opposites. Or are they? French black metal quartet Glorior Belli doesn’t think so. Beginning on 2009’s Meet Us at the Southern Sign, the band began experimenting with combining black metal and the blues, to devastating effect. On The Great Southern Darkness, the devastation is complete, resulting a in sound that brings to mind a whiskey ‘n’ weed-fueled musical brawl between Eyehategod, Pepper Keenan-era COC, and the aforementioned Darkthrone and Mayhem. I met Glorior Belli guitarist vocalist J. at the crossroads of black metal and the blues to discuss the making of the new album, the French BM scene and other esoteric subjects.
THKD: First of all, tell us a little about the making of the new album, The Great Southern Darkness. What were you looking to accomplish with this release? How would you describe the album’s conception?
J: Same motivation as usual, we always aim to top our past efforts, this time by going even further into incorporating those Americana/Southern/Blues sounds that we cherish. Our last record “Meet Us At The Southern Sign” left me with a feeling of non-achievement, sort of, it’s still a good album but feels like a transition record while “The Great Southern Darkness” emphasizes all the best of Glorior Belli elements into a monolith of Deep NOLA grooves and blazing darkness. The entire process of creation went smooth, took us about half a year from the very first riff ’til we could hold the Master CD in our hands.
THKD: Unfortunately, my digital copy of The Great Southern Darkness did not include lyrics. What can you tell us about the lyrical themes being explored on the album?
J: Well, it took me longer to write the lyrics than the damn music as I’ve spent a lot of time studying and arranging the texts in a poetic way, like I always did in the past. A French guy rhyming in English and singing about the forces of the nightside, it can’t get any better. It’s really important for me that people understand the lyrics, as my ultimate goal is to give them the opportunity to forge the weapons of their own liberation, yet my words will confuse the weaker minds just like the fire of Lucifer can both illuminate and destroy. This is one of my favorite parts (taken from ‘Negative Incarnate’): “From behind the nervous curtains of my trembling cosmic prison, the dark Gods are firmly waiting filled with hatred for the cosmos; outside the frame of creation lies the darkest of all secrets, the magic of the queen dragon waits for us to crush the gates!”.
THKD: You started incorporating blues elements into your sound on Meet Us At the Southern Sign and have continued to refine your fusion of black metal and blues on The Great Southern Darkness. What for you personally is the connection between the two genres? How are they alike and how do they differ from one another in your eyes?
J: It’s kinda like playing with what may seem like 2 opposite elements but in the end they interact with each other. The very first thought that comes to mind when you think about a desert for instance would be the heat… Yet if you go further more into the reflexion, you’ll realize that it can also be deadly cold at night time. Just like the Blues can be devilishly attractive and hypnotizing too. It’s nothing complicated to mix up the genres if you keep in mind what you’re going for in the end. I wanted this record to be almost inviting but still dark and this duality, that could apply to any other life situation, is what keeps the balance in the right position.
THKD: Is blues music popular in France? How did you discover the blues and what prompted you to attempt combining it with black metal? What classic blues artists have influenced you over the years and more specifically your work on the new album?
J: I wouldn’t say it’s really popular as in “trendy” but lots of musicians of course enjoy it. I personally have a thing for Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson obviously, John Lee Hooker, also some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best hits, more or less all the classics. I’m really in love with a record called ‘Negro Prison Blues’, the convicts were singing over a beat that they actually made while breaking rocks at the penitentiary. Primal, deep and going straight to your gut and soul. That’s how I like my Blues.
THKD: Which genre do you feel a closer kinship with, black metal or the blues? Has your work in Glorior Belli influenced you more in one direction than the other or have you found a balance between the two styles?
J: Like I said earlier, I think I found the right balance now. Made peace with my past, I’m not fighting against Black Metal anymore now and I don’t want to be influenced in one direction more than the other but rather maintain that balance.
THKD: Black Sabbath started out as a blues band. Do you think heavy metal has always been some sort of mutant form of the blues at its core? Do you think Robert Johnson and Leadbelly would’ve invented heavy metal if electric instruments had been around back then?
J: Now come on! Basically all the genres are some sort of mutant family tree. People experimenting, mixing, giving birth to a new sub-category and so on. But those things take time and Robert Johnson would still have been Robert Johson even if the devil had given him an electrical 8-string Meshuggah guitar.
THKD: Many black metal bands I’ve interviewed believe that the genre is an inherently Satanic form of music. Do you agree with this and why or why not? Is blues music also Satanic? Certainly the legend of Robert Johnson would seem to support this. Is Glorior Belli a Satanic band?
J: I think we’ve been talking about Johnson a bit too much already. Anyway, Glorior Belli is a satanic band if you base your definition on the fact that we are fighting against the lies of the Demiurge, for our essence is to defy and challenge the bastard gods and to pierce through the walls of our cosmic jails. On a more personal note I have been gathering knowledge over the past 10 years or so and experiencing my own path through practices that you wouldn’t even dare to dream about. I don’t think it’s mandatory to sing about Satan when you’re in a Black Metal band as evil can be found in many forms and most certainly in our very own essence.
THKD: Are you at all influenced by any of the bluesier metal bands that have come before, such as Danzig, Corrosion of Conformity or Eyehategod? Why do you think the incorporation of the blues into metal has been mostly an American trait in recent years?
J: CoC and Eyehategod are amongst my top favorite bands. I don’t think Metal bands in France/Europe understand exactly how to incorporate Blues elements into their sound, it’s more like they’re trying to get as close as possible to the American Stoner Rock scene but fail at defining their own identity, at least for the most parts.
THKD: Glorior Belli recently released a music video for the song “They Call Me Black Devil”. What made you choose this particular song for the video? How would you describe the experience?
J: Well basically, there’s a lot of humor in that video, starting with a fake budget-denied letter that I made myself underlining the cheapness of what’s to come. It’s kind of a fuck off to the music industry that echoes to the Red Fang video clip “Wires” where they waste $5,000.00 on trashing random stuff with a car. I understand it can be confusing but that was the whole point of the video clip anyway. The rest is just really random, as I did it on my own with just a small camera. The most important thing here is the music, and they actually call me Black Devil for a good reason.
THKD: The Great Southern Darkness is your first album for Metal Blade. How did you hook up with the label and how has the partnership been so far? At first glance it seems like kind of a strange pairing.
J: I got to know Andreas from Metal Blade ‘Europe’ by some contacts/friends. But it’s not like we had a special pass or whatever. Sent the new record, they loved it and super agent Ula from Clandestine Music helped us seal the contract. being signed on Metal Blade is definitely the greatest achievement for what started 10 years ago as a small yet ambitious band. I only expect the best out of this collaboration as we are absolutely determined to do what we have to in order to promote our new record the way it should be. I can feel that not a single drop of energy is being wasted and there’s a cool symbiosis in the collaboration. I’ve never been confronted by such professional and yet really supportive people, they know how to take care of business with high levels of passion and perseverance. So that’s one less thing I need to worry about as a musician, and it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders to be honest.
THKD: Will you be doing any touring in support of The Great Southern Darkness? How would you describe the Glorior Belli live experience to someone who hasn’t seen you? Any chance you’ll make it over to the US?
J: Nothing confirmed yet, besides an Australian tour next year with friends from The House of Capricorn that should happen in early 2012. Got a couple of shows in November booked in Belgium/Holland/Germany and an exclusive Canadian date in Montreal on November 25th. Basically you will experience the sense of trekking through dark deserts and evil fields with Lucifer as personal guide.
THKD: The French black metal scene has always been strong and extremely diverse. Why do you think this is? How do your surroundings influence your music, if at all?
J: I’ve never been one to believe that actual geographical frontiers could be determinant in the creative process. I don’t even feel like I belong to any kind of scene, if you close your eyes for a minute and listen to the CD, well except maybe for my ugly accent, I dare you to say this is French BM. What? You did?! Alright then. I guess it must be well-deserved somehow. It’s true we have a bunch great bands around here, but mostly great individuals who don’t care about limitations, just like me. Guys who don’t have to pretend.
THKD: What are you currently listening to? Do you have any recommendations for THKD readers?
J: Lately I’ve been listening to The Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch, Rome, 16HP/Woven Hand, Down, Alice In Chains, Neurosis, Mastodon, Acid Bath, Kyuss…
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
J: We will defeat and bring down the cosmic scheme! See you all Frogerz somewhere down the road.
There are many metal bands out there claiming to tap into mystical, esoteric energies. But how many actually conjure that feeling within the listener? How many bands successfully fill your ears with that sense of unnameable crawling cosmic chaos that HP Lovecraft so easily invoked on the printed page, that feeling that can only be described as “the occult”? Australian death metal trio StarGazer is one of those bands. Their sound is mesmerizing; the music is technical and progressive without ever forgetting the importance of the song. Listening to their latest album, A Great Work of Ages / A Work of Great Ages (Profound Lore, 2010) feels like unearthing some obscure musical grimoire that had been previously lost to the sands of antiquity. I contacted guitarist/vocalist The Serpent Inquisitor to discuss the inner workings of StarGazer and various arcane subjects.
THKD: It has been five years since the last StarGazer full length. Why the long wait between albums?
The Serpent Inquisitor: There had been many hurdles in the intervening years. Initially there was the training of the new drummer, Selenium, towards local, national and a Japanese tour. The onus had been then set on finding a new record label whom would believe and support the band, which was achieved with the empirical Profound Lore Productions. Lastly, as an album that had incubated so long had to be mediated correctly, a thorough amount of time was drafted to all aspects of the package.
THKD: How did you come to release A Great Work of Ages on Profound Lore? Were you a fan of the label beforehand?
TSI: Yes. We were fans of the label and vice versa. Profound Lore harbor a slew of unique bands and seems to love them all like their little children.
THKD: How do you think the band has progressed since The Scream that Tore the Sky and how was this progression incorporated into A Great Work of Ages?
TSI: Whether StarGazer has progressed or not is a curious question. Our songs progress in myriad ways. One man’s progression is another man’s regression. I believe we have captured the ubiquitous nature of the band on this new album more obviously than the last. Half of the songs are old enough to have been on our debut too. The 3rd album will no doubt stunt expectations of progression further. That would be the aim anyway!
THKD: How would you describe your songwriting/compositional approach? Is it a group effort or does the band have a “main composer”?
TSI: I am the primary composer, inasmuch as the crux of the song (guitars/lyrics/some drumming etc), but the group melds them to varying degrees. All bass lines are written by T.G.R.D, and as the listener knows, they are paramount to the overall feel of every song.
THKD: You recorded/produced A Great Work of Ages yourselves. What made you decide to do this and are you pleased with the results?
TSI: Should we be pleased with the results? T.G.R.D is an experienced engineer so the bulk of the technical work was adopted by his hands and ears. He and I were the producers, with the drummer stepping in with advice hither and thither.
THKD: What are some of the lyrical themes explored on A Great Work of Ages? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
TSI: Dimensional Apocalypse, Inner Earth Races, Harmonic Nature, the Karma and Magic of Thought, a Myth of Race Origin and the Serpents, Demons, Multi-dimensionality of the Hue-Man, Ley Lines and Conjunctions empowering Portals.
As the album goes, the subjects are in that order.
Everything, and I mean everything drives my inspirations. How can it be any one, or even a few things, when so many things are interconnected?
THKD: What does “the occult” mean to you? How does your interpretation of the occult inform StarGazer’s music?
TSI: The occult is obscuration, both to the benefit and detriment to the hue-man condition. The correct definition of the occult is supposedly ‘the secret origin of mankind’. Now, the history of the race of man has been obscured and certain ‘theological’ sects hide this for the particularly ‘initiated’. Would we, as a race benefit from the privation of our true and aeon spanning heritage? Probably. Would it suit vested financial, spiritual, media, financial interests (all interconnected mind you)? Definitely not.
The human race is enslaved and that’s how it is desired it should stay. Freedom is a finer goal to strive for. Enlightenment and wisdom is freedom. Freedom of unaffected Thought, unaffected Will, unaffected Love.
That is the True Occult.
THKD: StarGazer’s music is quite technical and progressive, but also sounds very earthy and organic. Is it difficult to keep such complex music emotive and engaging for the listener?
TSI: We aren’t writing ‘for the listener’ so I would say that when we are no longer achieving those tenets, then it has become hard!! What you have just asked defines our approach to the music well.
THKD: With that said, why do you think so much modern technical metal comes off as clinical and soulless?
TSI: I understand what you infer and I believe it relates to a lack of ‘song’. There were plenty of technical bands from the 70’s (and let’s not forget classical, latin, and jazz; all technical as fuck!), whom were careful to write ‘songs’. I don’t know how else to frame this. The studio productions are also cold aren’t they? When drums are triggered, guitars overproduced and there is no room made for integrating frequencies, then where to go??
THKD: Are you at all influenced by the “classic” technical death metal bands such as Atheist and Cynic? What about the progressive rock of the 1970s?
TSI: Not just technical death metal bands, but technical rock, heavy metal, speed metal etc. What modern band is more extreme than WatchTower’s ‘Control and Resistance’?? Not every bit of StarGazer is brazenly technical, we just procure ideas that are somewhat unexplored in the modern metal scene.
I listened to the Cynic demos in High School, not a fan of the albums though. Atheist, well, deathrash masters unbridled!!! Progressive rock I enjoy to a degree, mostly a handful of select albums by select bands.
TSI: Being a prime representation of the Golden Mean, the nautilus represents the logistics of our immediate creation and materiality. The Hydrae personify the obscuration, it’s 7 maws devouring truth and synergy.
THKD: The full title of the album is A Great Work of Ages / A Work of Great Ages. Can you explain the meaning/meanings behind it?
TSI: ‘A Great Work of Ages’ was originally the sole title. It’s reference is two-fold without resorting to any dualistic concepts. It implies the enfeebling, misleading and subsequent enslavement of our known human race. The second title denotes this album to be a tribute and attribute to a greater age to come.
THKD: There is a quote from Francis Bacon on your myspace page: “He That Will Not Apply New Remedies Must Expect New Evils; For Time Is The Greatest Innovator”. What does this quotation mean to you and how does it tie into StarGazer?
TSI: The beauty of quotes like that above is that it generally means much the same to everyone whom resonates to its premise. I understand it as you understand it, that is why it could be considered ‘profound’.
Francis Bacon also had some interesting ties to various cults/groups, so his words could hide or infer something more. Time is not on our side; all truths are concurrently being raked like a Japanese stone garden, to whatever patterns the rake-wielder deigns. As time wears on, these truths will become completely lost and enslavement complete.
THKD: Do you have any touring plans for A Great Work of Ages?
TSI: We would have it so. There will be shows initially within Australia and further into time, overseas. Where we tour will depend largely on whom could raise their hands to aide in structuring said events.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
TSI: I don’t like hip-hop, I don’t dance and I don’t offer final words.
Spain is not the first place I think of when it comes to metal. Hell, it isn’t even the 20th place. But one of the gnarliest bands to come along in years hails from the land of bullfighting and Salvador Dali. The band is Teitanblood, who released the brilliant Seven Chalices in 2009… and I slept on it. Yes, I somehow managed to miss out on the duo’s eerie, crushing, miasmal black/death assault until early 2010, but once I did finally hear it, I became obsessed. Had I heard the album sooner, it would have given my 2009 top ten black/death albums (as seen in Dethroned Emperor #25) a run for their money, to say the very least.
What is most interesting about Teitanblood’s assault is how difficult it is to categorize. Elements of black metal, death metal, doom and even a hint of crust all rear their ugly heads throughout Seven Chalice’s lengthy duration, creating a sound that is extremely enjoyable in it’s fetid, suffocating noxiousness, but also extremely difficult to pin down. The picture becomes even more hazy when you consider the numerous ambient/atmospheric interludes (which sound like orchestral maneuvers in hell) that pop up throughout the album. It is almost as if the band distilled everything that makes 4 decades worth (if the release of Black Sabbath’s s/t marks year one) of dark and evil sounding music great and out came the vile afterbirth that is Seven Chalices.
There is a very ritualistic quality to the album and an emphasis on atmosphere characteristic of black metal, but the crushing and cavernous guitar tones are pure oldschool death. Indeed, this is what is missing from so much modern so-called extreme metal, the average big budget death metal album is about as nauseatingly squeaky clean and sterile as the average Disney film. I sincerely doubt anyone believes the true purveyors of the coming apocalypse will use Pro Tools to deliver their message of destruction. Seven Chalices sounds like it was recorded in a dank garage by people that are actually possessed, but instead of doing crab-walks and 360 degree head-spins, Satan is compelling them to beat the living shit out of their instruments.
Bands that take this violent/primitive/lo-fi approach often forget about two of the most important aspects of good metal, guitar riffs and leads. This is not the case with Teitanblood. There is some killer sludge-ridden buzzsaw guitar-work going on throughout the album, and the leads are psychotic, atonal spasms of distortion that conjure images of early Slayer on a crack binge. The drums are a bit buried in the album’s deep, dark mix, but they perfectly suit each song and have a punk/d-beat quality to them at times that makes the record feel like Teitanblood could fly right off the rails at any moment, impaling your skull with projectile guitar necks and drumsticks. But they keep it together even when the songs reach a psycho-Satanic fever-pitch, always managing to return from the brink of total chaos.
It seems as though there is a return to the primitive happening in the metal underground and Teitanblood are arguably the focal point of this movement along with a handful of bands such as the mighty Vasaeleth, Blasphemophagher, Diocletian, Deiphago, Impetuous Ritual and Proclamation (who shares a member with Teitanblood). As someone who has recently grown increasingly fed up with the pap the “bigger” metal labels are attempting to cram down our throats under the guise of death metal, Teitanblood is a breath of fresh air… even if I am kicking myself for not discovering them sooner. If you share these feelings and have yet to check out Seven Chalices, I strongly recommend you rectify the situation at any and all costs.