“…life is death and we live in hell”
Interview by Jason Guest
Hi Dave. Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Quaternity, again, another engaging and interesting piece of work.
The musicians on Quaternity are very diverse, with members of Pinkish Black, Gorguts, Hexvessel, Sunn O))), Behold… The Arctopus, and Negative Plane – all very different to what you’d expect from most if not all of these musicians – performing on the album. Why did you choose to work with these musicians in particular for Quaternity? And what did they bring to the recordings?
Every record is a product of the chemistry of the participants. I learned this in the past from working with people who are excellent musicians but just don’t have a feel for the end goal. So all the right notes get played, but the spirit is lacking. So the collection of participants on Quaternity is really special, and particular. It’s important to me that Sabbath Assembly stay rooted in metal, so most anyone who’s on the records has some background in the hard & heavy. Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston are probably the best metal musicians in NYC, with a solid historical knowledge and extreme technical ability. We know we’re playing metal even when it doesn’t sound exactly like metal, if you know what I mean. That’s the concept that Mat from Hexvessel has as well. Daron from Pinkish Black has just about the scariest singing voice of any human I’ve encountered thus far; when he sings lines like “life is death and we live in hell,” it’s apparent he believes it.
The artwork for Quaternity is different to the first two albums. Can you tell us about the design, how it’s composed, and what each of the symbols represent?
The pyramid is taken from the Process Church of the Final Judgment’s diagram illustrating how Jehovah, Lucifer, Christ and Satan are all linked, with Christ at the center and the other three deities surrounding. You can see their original concept inside the record. We changed that up for the Quaternity cover and illustrated the properties of each deity with symbols around the pyramid, giving them more of a sense of equality. The eye is Jehovah, the triangle-ish one is Lucifer, the inverted cross is Satan, and the other Christ.
In my interview in August 2012 (here), you said that the artwork of the first two albums was “not meant to reflect the nature of one album versus the other, but simply to have them offset each other when considered in tandem.” Was there a similar approach with the artwork for Quaternity?
Well, we’re using the same logo and title fonts and basic layout to link them together, but it felt necessary to have some art on Quaternity that would express something about the contents, especially because this album is so conceptual I wanted the message to be as apparent as possible.
Where the material on the previous two albums was based directly on Process hymns, this album has more original music on it. Why is this? Were the hymns limiting your creativity?
Yeah, the hymns start to sound the same after a while, and they are mostly similar in structure. This is not to take away from the power of these songs, but they all have one specific purpose – liturgical praise – and as musicians we want to expand beyond this function. The original Process material has been so inspiring for us that we’re just more excited about applying what we’ve learned from the Church and their idea of devotion to our own music.
(Ed: See Jason’s review of Ye Are Gods here)
You were contacted by Processian Anthony D’Andrea who said that you were not “getting the hymns right”. What did he mean by this? How did you feel about what he said? And did his comments affect how you approached Quaternity?
That was another bit of encouragement to start working more on original material. Anthony was concerned that we were appropriating their hymns for our own purposes, rather than being faithful to the purpose of the Church. And he was 100% correct! Talking with him I really felt the gravity of his critique and realized it was time to move on from the Process hymns.
There is more original material on Quaternity than on the first two albums. Does that mean that you’re veering from the Church’s teachings and constructing or developing your own philosophy?
Part of the reason I was attracted to the Process material in the first place is because their theological ideas resonated strongly with my own, particular the concept of accommodating evil at least as far as personal expression goes. When asked my religion I used to say I was a “Christian Satanist,” ha, so when I saw a Process hymn called “Christ and Satan Joined in Unity,” I knew I had found my Church. Too bad they didn’t exist anymore! So yes I can say we’re going into something like the ‘discipleship’ phase, meaning we are taking the Process teachings and combining them with our own experience with the intent to continue sharing the concepts, but in a more personalized way.
Side B, the eighteen-minute track ‘The Four Horsemen’, was conceived in anticipation of December 21, 2012, a date anticipated by ancient Mayan societies that many an author and scholar debated the meaning of (with “end of the world” narratives again rearing their familiar, sensationalist head). What did this date mean to you to inspire the writing of this track?
Personally it doesn’t mean that much to me – I mean I’m not a scholar about that date or anything – but the zeitgeist of it was so strong, particularly in NYC where people really do fear disaster because geographically it is so incredibly vulnerable. After living through 9/11 there, a hurricane and some blackouts, the 12/21 thing had us all a bit on edge, I suppose, so the Four Horsemen seemed like an appropriate song to have ready, just in case any of them showed up at my door…
You reference William Blake’s “fourfold nature of man and his relationship to the divine” from his Proverbs of Hell in your definition of the missing element that makes up your Quaternity. What is it about Blake’s poetry that you find appealing?
In reading theology generally but especially from Blake’s time, I sense such a fear to really tackle the tough questions from outside the prevailing paradigm of Biblical scholarship. So Blake has always been inspiring for me because his connection to God seemed so immediate, and yet his poetry drew from outside the box of the traditional understanding of the Testaments Old and New. He trusted his own intuition and artistic sense, and with this he flavoured the words of those texts so that they really came alive in his hands. I feel like he read the book of Proverbs in the Bible and thought, “well that was OK for some people in the middle east a few thousand years ago, but I’m going to write my own,” and thus emerged the Proverbs of Hell. And going forward, that is what Sabbath Assembly will continue to do with the Robert de Grimston’s writings in the Process; they are appropriate for his time, and now we will present our own Testaments.
Though we live in a secular age, people continue to turn to spiritual and religious institutions for reassurance. Why do you think there remains this need for religion? Is it, as Freud argues, a product of infantile neurosis, a fantasy to alleviate existential anxiety?
Yes, definitely! I believe that the more comfortable we become with uncertainty, the less function dogma in any form serves. Any parent knows that kids need limits and guides as they mature, but as a child individuates the less they need to follow the rule book and can devise rules for themselves. I can see that religious institutions are important for community and providing sacred space, but for providing ‘answers to life’s difficult questions’, I can see them only doing harm.
If it is as Freud believes, why has this figure taken a masculine form?
Because the masculine is traditionally authoritarian and cold, while the feminine is traditionally nourishing and warm. And when life gets confusing we want someone to really define things and that is the masculine role. If Freud was writing in 2014 I think it would be different because gender roles and identification are (happily) so unclear these dates.
In Christianity, evil has been long been associated with the feminine, yet from a feminist perspective, where Adam was content to live in the shadow of the Father God, it’s Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit that liberated humanity from his tyrannical rule. Where does this fear of the feminine arise? And why does it pose such a threat that it has come to be demonised?
Precisely because of what you point out about the creation myth. The role of the feminine archetype, I feel, is to encourage us to step outside our narrow intellectual and analytical frames to experience magic. Everyone woman I’ve ever been intimately involved with has done that for me, and Jamie does that for this band. She brings the ‘humanity’ to the project, whereas I completely live in my brain. Hundreds of years ago I was probably an administrator in the Inquisition and sentenced her to be burned, and now she’s back tormenting me by forcing me to open my heart to write this music, haha. For men like me, women are dangerous that way.
Why does the idea of a matriarchal society – one that encourages nurture, care, and creativity – pose such a problem for the modern world?
Well that’s the question of our time, isn’t it? The more independent and self-serving we all become, the less nurturing we imagine we have time for. We’ll have to re-visit this question in 10 years, but one thing that’s coming to mind is that the ‘need for speed’ which we all seem to have now due to technology is seriously inhibiting our nurturing side. Caring and nurturing takes time, and that’s something that most of us are unwilling to give. Do you know how long I put off answering this interview because I saw how long your questions were? haha. That’s part of the reason I wanted to get “The Four Horsemen” on this record – 18 minutes of a really slowly developing acoustic piece; I wondered, would anyone have the patience for this?
With such a semantic and ideological construct perpetuating patriarchal domination, is there an aspect of humanity that remains unexplored and misunderstood? Is our understanding of human nature – if there is such a thing – incomplete?
Thank goodness for music and art and poetry because that’s where we have the chance to dig in to life’s riddles. I certainly feel there are huge aspects of humanity still to be explored, both analytically and creatively because in this realm nothing is ever really ‘solved.’ However, I should say that I almost stopped making music after I heard Magma’s Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh because I thought that was basically the perfect album. What else is left to say after that? Ha, of course there is more to do. And I am amazed over the last couple of decades at the disintegration of the patriarchal concepts you refer to, aren’t you? We seem to be making fast social progress in this area.
Back to the album. Are there any tracks that stand out for you as a favourite or as the most significant in either Sabbath Assembly’s or its philosophical development?
Well I like a song like ‘The Burning Cross of Christ’ because it’s such a strong departure from anything that preceded it on earlier albums, in that it’s basically a love song, and hopefully anyone who’s loved and lost can relate to it. I’ve got a whole concept behind it that involves Rudolf Steiner’s ideas, and applying that to the Christ/Satan trip of the Process, but at the base of this tune is a simple message about the pain of losing someone we love. That song will open the doors to future songwriting for us being able to steer away from philosophy a bit and re-connect with more emotional subjects.
Do you have any shows planned for Quaternity? Will we be seeing you in the UK?
We tour Northern Europe in May but no plans for the UK. However we would love to return there so please be in touch if you have ideas!
Will the musicians on the album be the live band?
Jamie and I will be there live, and then we have a different guitarist and string players. The live show will have some of the songs on Quaternity turned into rock, but with the string moments preserved.
What does the future hold for Sabbath Assembly? Do you have plans for another album? if so, there are about 60 hymns by the Church. Will you be returning to them for future material?
We are already writing and demo-ing for the next record, and it seems the next album will be 100% original!
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Thank you for taking the time to explore these ideas with us, and we hope you find this music inspiring.