We promote the triumph of the individual over the collective…
30 July 2015 sees Barshasketh release their third album, Ophidian Henosis through Blut&Eisen Productions (with the vinyl version appearing through WTC sometime in the near future). Here, Krigeist (guitar, vocals) and GM (guitar) talk to MR’s Jason Guest on a number of topics including the album’s title and themes and the progression the work marks for the band. They also discuss the band’s history, its development and the members’ devotion to the black art as well as black metal’s evolution, the adaptation of the Lords of Chaos book, the occult and, of course, the Übermensch…
Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Ophidian Henosis, an incredible piece of work. To begin, can you tell us about the album title and its meaning?
GM: Ophidia refers to a group of reptiles which is mostly composed of snakes and snake-like creatures. Henosis is a Greek term which signifies ‘oneness’ or ‘unity’. Combining these, we have the concept of becoming one with the snake. Snakes traditionally symbolize evil in Western Society. The root of this lies in large part in the depiction of snakes in biblical texts, with Satan taking on the form of a serpent to tempt Eve in the Old Testament, triggering humanity’s downfall to eternal damnation and servitude. Yet, these creatures also symbolise rebirth, through the shedding of their skin. This duality was interesting to us and encapsulated what we wanted to say with the album, which is to embrace the impure and to emerge reborn, with one’s power decupled.
Is there a theme or concept behind the album? If so, can you tell us about it? And where did inspiration come from?
GM: The broad strokes of the concept are outlined in our answer to the previous question. In terms of inspiration, I guess that the philosophical impetus stems from our everyday experiences. On the whole, it is a reaction to the widespread values of modern society.
Krigeist: Lyrically, this album begins from a perspective of complacence and lost faith in one’s own path. By exploring personal weakness and depravity, renewed spiritual strength and an affirmation of spiritual direction are achieved. Ideas of dualistic, opposing forces are prevalent throughout the album. These ideas are not only present in the lyrics, but are reflected in the balance of speed and slower sections, and melodicism and discordance in the music itself.
What kind of progression does it mark for the band?
GM: We believe that we have improved virtually every facet of the band. This includes the musicianship, the production, the songwriting and the intellectual basis for the lyrics. We managed to put together a lineup that gels very well together in the run up to the album, which gave us the stability and confidence that we needed to put together an album of this quality.
KG: As our music is representative of our paths through life, self-advancement is always central to what we do. All four of us strive to improve musically on a daily basis as individuals and this is apparent in the progression from Sitra Achra to Ophidian Henosis, and even the splits between. Complacency can only mean creative stagnation, which is something we want to avoid at any cost.
What did you want to achieve with the album?
GM: The principal ambition that we had was to craft something to the highest standard that was possible within our means, from every point of view. This required a significant investment in time and money from all of us, but the final result could not be more satisfactory as far as we are concerned, so we would do it again in a heartbeat.
KG: Speaking from a personal perspective, I really wanted to create a cohesive set of lyrics which tied in with the music and reflected the spiritual struggles faced and overcome throughout the writing process. The lyrics were written after the music, and I wanted to capture the energies that went into composing the music in the texts. The lyrics should always mirror the music, and vice versa.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the album to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
GM: Yes, I think that we started to get ideas about the general production that we should opt for as we were writing and arranging the material. In a sense this was helpful in making everything fit together in a cohesive way. There were a group of songs that were written in a similar style, with a similar mood and we kind of saw where we needed to go from there in terms of completing the album.
How long were you working on the material?
KG: Material for this album actually developed over a very long period. Some of the basic pieces were composed before Sitra Achra had been released. GM and I wrote the guitar parts over perhaps two years, and then drums and bass were composed and arrangements finalised over the course of three or so months.
Can you tell us about the artwork and how it relates to the music?
GM: The artwork is intended to give a visual representation of the concept presented in the album. This approach ties in with the Wagnerian mindset of creating a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, using more than one method to express an idea.
Who’s the artist? And how much direction was given in its design?
GM: We collaborated with Daniel Valencia to create the artwork; he’s a designer and art director from Chile who has worked with many great bands such as Blut aus Nord, Merrimack, Demonical, Glorior Belli etc… Daniel really did a good job in getting to grips with the concept to create the visual representation that we were looking for. Not a lot of specific instruction was given once we laid out the basic concept; he sort of ran with it and surprised us with the result in the best way possible.
I believe Barshasketh formed in 2009, yes? What drew you together to form Barshasketh?
KG: Barshasketh was actually formed slightly earlier than that. The first two demos were recorded in 2007 and 2008, but were not released until 2009. It was formed as a solo project when I first began to discover black metal music. It conveyed concepts and ideas I had had for many years and evoked a strong emotional response in me, and I felt I needed to create my own take on the genre immediately. I relocated to Scotland from New Zealand in 2010 and met GM through a mutual friend, and in time he became a permanent member. After a year or so, BH joined the band as drummer to record Sitra Achra and in 2013 BB joined on bass to complete the lineup. We were drawn to create music together under this name by shared visions of the role music plays in our lives, dedication to its creation and strong personal bonds.
How has the band developed since its formation?
KG: One of the most important developments since the early days is the transition from a studio-only solo project, to a fully-realized live band. The addition of GM, BH and BB has had an immeasurably positive effect on the band, and I feel we have reached a standard that would be inconceivable if I had continued Barshasketh as a solo endeavor. As stated in an earlier question, we have strived to improve musically and conceptually on every release, but the reasons why we create this art have changed very little since the band’s inception.
Black metal: music, art, ritual?
GM: Ideally, yes. Although, consuming art is a ritual in itself, the ritual of introspection, so one follows from the other naturally. I’m sure that I’m not saying anything controversial when I say that the black metal genre is flooded with vacuous, disposable bands whose only ambition is to entertain their audience, at best, rather than challenging it. It is important to make this distinction between art and entertainment as the two are not equivalent, despite the interchangeable usage of the terms that is common in contemporary discourse. We reject the post-modern mantra of equivalency in general and the post-structural ideals in particular. The form does matter, very much so.
Many argue that black metal has become commercial in the sense that, because anyone can access the music, the true spirit of black metal has become diluted and dulled. Do you agree?
GM: The premise of this question is rather nebulous – what does the ‘true spirit of black metal’ signify, precisely? I am not convinced that ease of access has any bearing on one’s experience and reading of the music itself, although it could be argued that there is now less emphasis on a respect for the physical product itself, which is seen as disposable or unnecessary.
KG: As GM has said, I’m not sure if the commerciality of black metal has affected the music too greatly. There may be an over-saturation of mediocre bands and fickle fans, but those who approach this art form from an honest perspective, whether that be as listeners or musicians, will continue as they have with complete indifference to ephemeral fans and insincere musicians.
What’s your opinion of the film adaptation of the Lords of Chaos book? Is it the death knell of black metal as art and an underground phenomenon?
GM: Our understanding is that this film is not being produced by people from within the black metal movement and is simply a commodification of the controversial aspect of black metal, cynically seized upon by outsiders. This should be of no real concern, as it has no real bearing on the quality of the music being created within the genre itself. It’s not as if Mozart’s body of work was cheapened the instant that his life story was dramatized in the film ‘Amadeus’.
KG: There is already a breed of casual black metal listeners who delve no deeper than the bigger second-wave or Norsecore names, so I don’t think this film will really attract many viewers to underground black metal. As GM stated, this production is nothing more than crass sensationalism and shouldn’t be of much concern. I can’t help but feel that those who are concerned that this film, or the accessibility of black metal in general, will have a detrimental effect on the ‘true’ essence of black metal have too little faith in their own creations and experiences within the genre…
What is your opinion on the intellectualisation of black metal? Is black metal something that can – and perhaps should – be rationalised and understood?
GM: Allow me to make a wider statement about art. It is possible to enjoy a work of art on a purely visceral level, but it is also possible to marvel at its structural intricacy and to find that satisfying. Neither of these should be considered the correct way to interact with artistic expression and as such a debate on the relative merits of each is not worth pursuing.
The occult and metal – black metal in particular – have become almost synonymous. Has it become cliché or is the occult still relevant?
GM: This is all a matter of perception. I would say that there is a wide current within black metal which seeks to tap into something that transcends the drab quotidian. The occult is a good way to connect with this and is enshrined within human culture, so it’s not entirely surprising that bands turn to it time and time again.
KG: Occultism within black metal is still relevant if it is approached with honesty and genuine interest, but it is all too often used as a veil for mediocrity. It seems increasingly common for bands to use altars, skulls, candles, robes and ‘occult’ lyrics as a substitute for conviction, passion and genuinely moving art.
Organised religion has for centuries, millennia even, relied on the oppression of the feminine and the exaltation of the masculine, whether symbolic, psychological, sexual, etc. Does the occult offer a viable alternative to this binary opposition?
GM: Again, there is a problem in defining the occult as a monolithic set of principles, in practice; we are talking about an extremely diffuse set of values, which is open to interpretation. In terms of our perspective, I doubt anyone will be surprised to find out that we oppose the religious power structures that you refer to in your question and their values along with this. We promote the triumph of the individual over the collective, we wish to become the Übermensch and reject any notion of such group mentality out of hand. On the subject of gender, this is not something that is present in our philosophical discourse, because we consider it to be irrelevant for the most part. It is self-evident that the genders complement each other and it would be absurd to promote the interests of one over another when they are part of a larger whole, in a Hegelian sense.
The album is to be released through WTC (vinyl) and Blut & Eisen Productions (CD). Why did you choose to work with these labels for the release of Ophidian Henosis?
GM: We felt that working with these labels was the most logical thing for the band, our admiration for them aside, it seems like there is a real confluence in mindset between us. In fact, we didn’t consider any other labels since we made collaborating with them our priority. We did have the option of going down the road of a large, commercial label, but we chose not to pursue this due to philosophical differences. Our relationship with B&E and W.T.C has been fruitful so far and we plan to collaborate further with them for the foreseeable future. It really feels as if Barshasketh has found its home.
Any plans to tour in support of Ophidian Henosis?
GM: There are a small number of live shows planned for the rest of the year and there is a larger tour in the works, alongside our brothers in Devouring Star (DWP, Iron Bonehead) for 2016 although we cannot say which shape this will take exactly at this point in time.
KG: This year we will see us perform in Glasgow alongside Devouring Star, Funeral Throne, Vacivus and Grave Miasma in July, at Gathering of the Morbid in Bristol in October and Byker Grave festival in Newcastle in November.
What would be the ideal setting for a Barshasketh performance?
KG: This is something that is difficult to specify in exact terms. We prefer intimate settings, on a floor, or very low stage, with very minimal lighting (usually one unchanging colour). We opt to avoid too many visual aids so that the responsibility to create a powerful atmosphere lies solely on our music, presence and energy. But in terms of the ideal setting, it’s really difficult to pinpoint. Some of our most powerful performances were in completely nondescript clubs, but the tension and energy between ourselves and the audience were extremely strong.
What does the future hold for Barshasketh? Early days I know as the album is yet to be released, but is there more music in the pipeline?
GM: Yes, absolutely. We have plans for a split with Poland’s Outre (interviewed here; their latest, Ghost Chants, reviewed here) which is the next project we are looking to complete. The next full length has already been written and awaits our attention in terms of arrangements and fine tuning.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Thank you for this interesting interview and your interest in Barshasketh. Onward to blacker hells, to conquer misery!