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Interview Spirit

ASCENSION crosses the line between life and death, dream and truth

The crux of the Covenant has always been the synthesis of artwork with a much higher significance beyond what we can readily perceive. The ineffable. The liminal. The numinous. Call it what you will. Since the inception of this fledgling movement we have always championed music that sincerely presents a powerful spiritual current. A defiant devotion to something beyond the bounds of the mundane.

First and foremost we are FANS and DEVOTEES ourselves

So when the opportunity to interview ASCENSION arose, it was the most logical decision we could have made. Germany’s black metal saviours hopefully need little introduction to our readers and followers, as their steady literal ascension has made them one of the genre’s most respected acts. The anonymous force has released some of the most potent black metal to date through several full length albums and a demo that receives consistent praise nearly 10 years later. They very well could be the last hope left in this wasteland of imitators and ego maniacal phonies. ALL HAIL!

Our discussion is with a nameless entity speaking on behalf of Ascension, and, true to form, we focus less on individuals and their merits and more upon the ART. Discover the motivations and forces that guide the hands behind the veil, and dive into the process of creation that vomited forth the most recent full length UNDER ETHER. Enlighten thyself!

Where do you see Ascension in the grand arch of black metal evolution? Obviously you are tied to the crux of black metal, but is your work more intent towards “keeping the flame” or forging a new path?

I think the meaning or position of Ascension in a grand scheme is not for any of the band members to tell. That´s for other people to judge if they wish to do so. The thing we as a band are concerned about is that our releases are an expression of our innermost feelings, as unfiltered as possible. Ascension is a vessel to manifest the powers we are dealing with. The picture we paint so to speak, is our vision of the things we see. It may not be appealing to others and it may not be true for others. But as long as we represent OUR truth, we have not failed.That has always been the only goal. We never wanted to be avant-garde or retro or any of these labelings or categorizations. We certainly changed over the years, that’s kind of unavoidable and quite a natural evolution within a band that has lasted for 11 years now, given age and experience.

Having said all of this, we of course always had and still have a strong respect towards the genre of Black Metal. When we founded Ascension, we wanted it to be a band that treats Black Metal and its history with dignity and kind of a humble approach. Not necessarily all manifestations, but the divine core that lies at the heart of the genre. I think that all experiments that tried to shy away from the Satanic foundation of Black Metal have been futile and worthless in the end. The devil can not be fooled. So, HIS flame will forever be the fire that sets our hearts ablaze.

As one of the few voices of authenticity left, what parts of the “scene” do you consider worth paying attention to? Long gone are the days of a “movement” so to speak, but sparks of magic still exist. Do you give any attention to what’s going on at the moment or do you prefer to stay focused on your own creative outputs?

To be honest, I quite lost track on a lot of bands and things happening in and around the scene.

First of all, no one can really keep up with bands and albums popping up all the time from everywhere. With the rare time I have listening to music, it’s more of the old gods that lay on the spinning table. There are exceptions of course. But, I have quite a few spies here and there that share my taste in music, so the REALLY good things (for me) of course come to my intention. And, for example, the billing of the Chaos Descends festival is a good indicator each year for good, new talented bands. To answer your question, over all, it has always been about our own creative process. We never cared too much about other things that are going on.

Since the anonymity of the band has wavered slightly over the years (with involvement in more public projects), what value does the band still find in this egoless experiment?

You say it wavered, but it is important to understand what the initial goal with being anonymous was. Our approach has never been about being anonymous at any cost. What we decided from the beginning was, that the band shall not have a visual focus on certain members with names/pseudonyms etc. We wanted to see Ascension as one whole body that is presented by music, lyrics and artwork. People should be forced to concentrate on what we want to express. And in doing this we, as band members, must become shadows. Faceless acolytes to a greater power.

But while touring or playing at festivals, outside of the live ritual, we never gave a damn about anonymity. If someone asked if we are from Ascension we would never deny because that’s not the point. The point is what the essence of our releases and live shows is. And as far as we are concerned, this way of working always brought us nothing but respect from others. And we are in a way proud that, also for example in reviews, people try to deal with our lyrics. Something that, in my eyes, has been absent from Black Metal for a long time. Although lyrics are at least equally important than the music.

When writing for Ascension, do you go to a special spiritual place separated from any other projects, or does music simply come to you – only to be differentiated later? Do members’ involvement in other bands influence your creative process?

There is only one in Ascension who is involved in other projects. Since writing for the band is a team effort, for the lack of a better phrase, that doesn’t play any major role.But I like the idea of this special spiritual place. I strongly believe, since starting to deal with music in an active, creative way in 1996, that making music is a divine alchemical process. I guess, in the end that is what made us choose an art form that is focused on spiritual rather than entertainment matters. Although I am not quite sure if we ever had a choice.

However, to come back to your question: there is a special place in all of our hearts that resonates with what we want to express with Ascension. And that is not a matter of conscious differentiation. You simply feel in the very moment when you have created something for Ascension. We have a special sound (I am not specifically talking about the record sound), a special vibe that correlates with powers beyond the stars. We always considered us to be vessels, through which those powers speak.

How does producing and recording the music which the band writes influence the creative process in the studio? Do you usually already have a certain sound in mind, or do you keep an open approach?

The sound of a band is, among other things, defined by equipment, playing style and the individual unique skills each band member has. So, even if we would not record any albums we would have a certain sound. Apart from that, we are open to anything that correlates with our hearts and mind in a certain point in time. The sound of Ascension is almost entirely defined by the whole band. We would never ever let anyone decide how we sound.

On Under Ether, the approach seems to have shifted. Compositions are shorter, more primitive, darker, yet with more refinement, sophistication, and attention to detail. And yet presented with a challenging and organic production. Is this merely a natural evolution from past efforts, or is there a deeper reason behind this present sound?

It’s hard to analyze the things we did in the aftermath of a record accurately. Ascension as a band and Under Ether in particular work on a very subconscious level. You can call it natural evolution, but it is something that is not always dictated by us. Under Ether is a record that deals in most parts with dream-states and transition. And because of that, we wanted to create an atmosphere that is equivalent to someone that actually dreams in the moment and not to someone who speaks about the dream he or she had a while ago.


We wanted it to sound like being in the middle of it all, floating, crossing the line between life and death, dream and truth. Therefore we had to sound like a band that actually plays, a kind of a live setting.This initial idea led to what Under Ether sounds like. I spare you the dissent and fights and struggles we had with all this. But, actually, as a Black Metal band, you know you are on the right track when you feel something is working against you. A band that does not get opposition from the world is doing something wrong, I dare say.

In the end we succeeded with a record that makes us immensely proud and that doesn’t sound like generic shit like a lot of bands today. It was also great to be forced to play the songs as perfectly as you can on really good equipment in order to achieve such a sound with an almost unedited live feeling.


While Consolamentum had a very definite concept – With Burning Tongues and The Dead of the World seemed more like a collection of songs with several underlying subjects. How do you view the thematic approach on Under Ether?

Consolamentum, as the debut album, was meant to lay out the concept that kind of underlies Ascension, you are right. Under Ether and its predecessor are, as you pointed out, more a collection of songs that are loosely connected to a theme. In the case of Under Ether this is, as I previously stated: Transition and Dreams. It would be counter-effective trying to explain what we wanted to express with the lyrical side of the record. Dreams are, after all, a subconscious expression of the soul. There is no general explanation to such things that fits for everyone, the interpretation should be the task of the dreamer him/herself. Guidance is taking away the grandiose feeling of having explored something on his/her own terms. A feeling of empowerment, of accomplishment that some people forget while clicking through terabytes of mp3 files on the computer.

The lyrics to Under Ether place the listener in a very present moment – Almost as if they were dropped into the specific scenario described in each song. So much visceral description and references to eyes, vision & visibility: sights, textures, colours. As they say: The eyes are the windows to the soul. What do you wish listeners to SEE with Under Ether?

Sorry for the upcoming short answer, but the best thing that we could hope for is, that they see at least parts of their true self and draw the right consequences.

You mention in your recent Bardo Methodology interview about some of the unique forces that also feature in Under Ether: the expected heavy spirituality that exists alongside not-so-subtle Lynchian and Lovecraftian references. To me, this suggests the notion of using a wide “eclectic pantheon” of archetypes to enforce one’s spiritual view, similar to what modern Chaos Magicians espouse. Does this have a place within your metaphysical activity?

Lynch and Lovecraft created works of such brilliance and power that they transcend cultural specifics or individual standpoints. They attack the very core of mankind: its fears, but also its potentials. They dig deep and lay bare so much of the truth that surrounds us. Something that we as a band have always been interested in of course – the darkness from which we emerge. Speaking from a philosophical/theoretical standpoint: There are of course archetypes and deities that, essentially, speak of/are equivalent to the same power. I think that it is good to widen the view in order to see the parallels or similarities. The more we learn the stronger our faith can become. However, I want to emphasize again that this is more of a theoretical approach and not something connected to practical magic.

This shall have no place in an interview.

Each release is scheduled for a very specific date on the (pagan and Christian) Western calendar. Consolamentum on Xmas Eve (Dec 24), Deathless Light on Samhain (Oct 31), The Dead of The World on Xmas Eve again, and now Under Ether on Easter (March 30) … One could pick up a pattern here: Births, Deaths, and Rebirth. How do you decide which release receives which special date?

Well, certainly the first 2 albums had a pattern, as “Fire and Faith” the EP before Consolamentum was released on Samhain 2010 as well. Under Ether is kind of a landmark record for us personally. We put so much effort, will, literal blood and sweat into it. It had to be blessed with a sign of rebirth, or, one could also say retaliation. At the same time the date should speak of the pain and sorrow we had to cope with over the last 2 years making the record. But there is no overall plan for each of the releases beforehand. But obviously, the simple fact that we release the albums on special religious dates of the year should remind people of the fact that there are more important things in life than your everyday mundane struggle with human waste. Life is preparation for death.

At this point in your (pardon this term) “career”, after 3 dense full length records and over a decade worth of making this music, can you explain how (or if) the spiritual goals of Ascension have evolved?

I think, the overall goals of the band have not changed. But it seems that more and more things get clearer and clearer each day. We have grown mature in a way without leaving the original campfire where we come from. I think we have gathered enough experience, skills and madness over the years to start working on something huge, very huge, at least for us. But it’s wise to not let your heart move too far away. We take step after step.

Hail Lucifer.


The literal next step for Ascension is a European tour with NECROS CHRISTOS and VENENUM in February 2019.

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HARROW stream new EP “A Fire In The Mountains” destined to evoke & ignite the spirits of the land

Smoke rises from faraway peaks. The grey sky pours rain on moss, gravel, cedar, and stone. Our hearts are moulded by this landscape. Our souls survive in it.

As forest fires currently wrack and ravage Western Canada, a very timely and touching take on the flames from the peaks and valleys emerges. Serendipity and synchronicity sometimes comes from the strangest sources … Vancouver Island’s Harrow breaks a 3 year silence with A Fire in the Mountains, a meditation on solitude and transcendence recorded in the waning of 2017. Ian Campbell (aka Crooked Mouth) and Jacob Moyer have created an EP that is equal parts frenetic Cascadian black metal and meditative, psychedelic folk. Explosive energy outbursts meet with heartfelt, tranquil campfire song in a fusion indicative of the spirit of the land which wrought it.

Recorded by Campbell in a short live-off-the-floor session, A Fire In the Mountains is certainly the best representation of the band’s live sound captured thus far, and adds new elements like harmonium, cittern, and the poetry of Washington’s David Whyte.

With beautiful artwork by Markus Wolff (Agalloch, Lasher Keen, Antlers) and mastering by Studio Tehom (Gevurah, Night Profound) rounding it out, this release cries Harrow’s return from tops of distant peaks. The fire in the mountains is still burning strong.


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MATRON THORN: the void philosophy of magic and inverse creation from AEVANGELIST’s leading enigma

Today we have the unique pleasure of speaking with one of the most enigmatic figures in the extreme metal world. Coupling a bizarrely tangible aesthetic with exceptionally unforgiving, unapproachable music, Matron Thron has made a name for himself with a compelling and unique atmosphere in a genre that so often celebrates copying, and even direct clones.

Thorn is known most widely for his seminal work in Ævangelist, the entirely alien and unforgiving death metal entity that has been terrifying the world for 9 years now. Ævangelist rose to prominence for fusing the Morbid Angel school of jagged, fungal death metal, with overwhelming, foreboding gothic and post-punk sensibilities. Coated in a dense fog of reverb and paradoxically methodical yet uncaring production values, their sound quickly became instantly recognizable, and remains a love-it-or-hate-it subject to nearly all who have heard it.

Thorns origins in music available to the public, however, can be traced back to the equally outre and unnerving projects Midwinter Storm and Benighted in Sodom. It is from the seeds of these galvanizing, cold-hearted expressions of suffering that the root work for one of metal’s most important contemporary musicians have blossomed.

A second article, cataloging all of Thorns’ enormous past output will follow, but for today enjoy a mind-bending look at exactly what inspires Reuben Christopher Jordan.

The first thing I would like to know is the surroundings and influences that went in to the forming of Ævangelist as a vessel for manifestation. Paint a picture of that time in life for us.

Before Ævangelist, there was a void, a greater need for expression beyond avenues and concepts previously explored. The central idea was always to take some very real, almost tangibly real, facets of certain mental health disturbances that were emerging at the time and transmit their effects into audial frequencies as maybe experimentation, maybe therapy, maybe malice towards others. Either way, this transmission was received, and suddenly a broken world became a catalyst for the ultimate masterwork of art.

So in this context do you view Ævangelist as the lesser or greater of evils? Is it a therapeutic outlet, or is it something all together more abstract simply brought about through a liminal period?

In the beginning, our own motives were forced into question by the sheer volume of distressed and troubled reactions there were to our music and messages. It was, however, vital to preserve the authenticity of the art, and in doing so it required that we view the role of Ævangelist on this planet as something pure, something transcendent, something of evil in nature. Real evil is like an unstable chemical. It can’t be included and mixed with most things, and even to its admirers it is fearsome and caustic. Despite this, art is art, even if its visage is ugly. Ugliness can be next to godliness.

So, in regards to people’s responses to ugly art… this may be a futile case of overthinking, but there is a marked change in how… demented… Ævangelist’s sound became after Omen Ex Simulacra. What necessitated making such an obscure, impenetrable project even more abstract, and frankly insane?

Each release made us more self-aware, and the more self aware we became, the more reductive our efforts became to express something so profound; every release is only a starting point, a hurdle to jump, a summit to claim and surpass. After Omen Ex Simulacra, we began to understand the philosophy of inverse creation, creating the means to destroy, and how much freedom we actually had when we kept little commonality with others who simply want to have “a band”. Nothing to object with there, but that is simply not enough for us, simply not enough for the fullness of the glory of our sacred muse.

Now we’re really starting to get in to the things that I’d like to ask you. To me, Ævangelist has always had this feeling of an intrinsic set of laws within the madness, like an overarching and ever-present mythos of beings, rules, empires, magical workings, and detailed dynamics that exist only and exclusively within your music and art. With no explicit attempt to make it “logical” to anyone (though without going out of your way to convolute it) can you attempt to delineate some of the forces at work within your music?

We recognized early on that our cause was driven by a supernatural force we refer to only as “the muse”. Thus, it communicates through what we do, speaking through– or perhaps even in spite of –us, its origin is unknown and it appears to lack empathy for all but certain individuals that have chosen to hearken to the holy vibrations of it’s voice as it echoes throughout the universe. Certain images were designed on par with the constellations and a system of divination, even a language with an alphabet and syntax were invented from this lengthy series of divine inspirations.

From that last question, this feels like a good point to get in to Ævangelist’s sigilwork. Where many personal sigils have a clear line of influence (visibly) in line with the powers they call upon, Ævangelist’s sigils are as equally alien as the forces that they serve as the conduit for. What is going on here?

The muse that delivers inspiration through Ævangelist is formless and manifests in the cascading arabesques closest to my limited human comprehension of its ultimately praeternatural presence and ambiguity. It is utterly unknowable, however its emanations do affect us all as dreams, as deja vu, as premonitions, as near-death experiences. The sigils are a direct visual representation of that, straddling a line psychologically between eerie nostalgia and madness itself. And madness is profound as the firmament of the universe. Sigilwork draws upon these tenets of faith to create spiritually charged symbols to stoke the imagination and seize those emanations.

This hiraeth you’re speaking of… what is this forgotten time? What happened there? What is the primal impulse, and eventual objective of this gathering, charging momentum?

Creation


Does Ævangelist then hail the creating essence, or look for a weak link in the karmatic chain?

They, and I identify them as ‘they’ because their voices speak as many, they want us to construct their pantheon here in the Garden of Aidenn, perhaps to mock our Gods, perhaps to satisfy their own arrogance and erect in bravado a monolith to shadow over all others, and leave barren the soil from which fertile dreams once sprung, those same dreams that taught men that the universe was infinite and there were no absolutes; it seeks to rewrite creation and instill a primeval essence within man, and that is fear. Fear of true, radical evil as a living organism greater than ourselves. Perhaps the muse wants to warn us, or beckon our surrender out of mercy for our fate. Either way, what you may view as eternity is a looming shadow that bides it’s time on the fringes of the multiverse, writhing with an ever growing hunger for the very creation we seek.

Using creation as the bridge here, talk to me about your visual art work. As it is the medium more commonly associated with creating, as there is a physical end product, does any part of your process mirror the aforementioned metaphysical dynamic?

First, I would not want this to be understated; all creation is inherent magic, the origins of which we’ve adapted to use rationality and logic to explain through the sciences and mathematics, but to no discernible end. The unknown, the unknowable, the vast rift between us and divinity is bridged when we submit ourselves to the possibility of higher planes of immaterial existence that though do not govern us, they abide and coexist, occupying the same spacial realms and beyond. These are transcendent concepts that should be met with veneration and wonder, but also with humble fear. Creation of art is a mirror to these concepts, and in fact all art, before it is manifest, originates from the same hidden universe as the fruition of life itself, and it takes many forms dependent on the caliber of faith carried by the dreamer, the illusionist, the artist. Manifesting art is bringing something through a gateway into our tangible universe, the conjuration from one dimension to the next, this is one of the oldest and most fundamental forms of magic.

Something I want to ask you, in regards to magic in its fundamental forms, is who were the important magicians to you in your fundamental years? This could be more obvious (read: occultists) or the choices could be more clandestine (poets, writers, actors, painters, etc). Most importantly: why?

The symbols and glyphs occurred organically, before I had any context for their true strength or purpose. When I was about ten or so, I was already drawing them, and I attended a private Catholic school prior to being eventually expelled. One of my teachers was enamoured by my strange drawings and introduced the concepts of cosmology, skrying, and sigilcraft into my developing spirituality, something that would heroically eventually cost her employment there, it being a religious learning facility and all. Her name, fittingly, and most perplexingly to this day, Ms. Divine. Eventually, I satisfied my earliest curiosities vicariously through writer Grant Morrison, who, himself, has worked with sigils and magical symbols in his personal life, but also, most interestingly, in the framework of his creations; this is perhaps my greatest source of inspiration, and thus sigils are weaved into the fabric of all the music I create, all the writings I author, everything I wish to imbue with the frequencies of the great hidden yonder between the stars.

Well, we have a lot of fascinating things here, that while explanatory in nature, might shroud Ævangelist more than reveal. What should we close on?

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”


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PAUL RIEDL: how BLOOD INCANTATION’s restless cosmonaut evolved into the busiest man in death metal

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” -Carl Sagan

The dream of being a touring musician is an interesting one, and almost intrinsically demarcates a peculiar, singular soul. A perpetual outsider.

In exchange for many of the things valued in this society- security, wealth, stability, family- one lives out a considerably more Quixotic journey, and in return receives experiential knowledge, visions of far off lands, and the chance to mingle with a people alien, yet bound by common cause.

One such man, Paul Riedl, is on this journey, and is confident that somewhere, something incredible is waiting. We asked him about his musical endeavours with Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, and the umpteen other bands he helms; his future goals; and most importantly… what is really beneath Antarctica?

Watching BLOOD INCANTATION gestate in to the entity it has become has been a really crazy thing to watch. The band has accomplished so much in such a short period of time, and perhaps the most interesting part is to watch how excited people are to be a part of it. You seem to have really embraced letting people be part of the journey. What do you attribute this rare dynamic to?

Thanks man! First, let me first say HAILS to The Covenant and thank you for the interview and years of support to our bands. As for the journey, it has definitely been a crazy time getting from our rehearsal demos to where we are today, no doubt. I think part of the appeal for people is basically the transparency between the records, the people listening to them, and the people making them. You can see online and in person, through our tours and public adventures, the amount of effort being taken behind the scenes (though obviously it still looks much easier at a distance), and you can sort of see the weird personalities behind the bands. Humans in general love to observe and participate in group activities, so there is a sense of camaraderie between us and a lot of our fans who seem to know the backstories, see the legwork, and generally sympathize with the struggle of living for our music.

We are just trying to make the records as sick as we can. We want the shows to be powerful. We want the merch to be something we’d wear. Personally, I also prefer to see these human qualities in bands I like – I get a bit turned off by bands with too much art or mysticism piled on, who are ultimately just people who also check their phones and eat, have jobs etc. Anyway, I think people can see the human reality behind our endeavors; my hope would be that they resonate with that.

Let’s start with something pertinent. One of the first times that many Canadians heard the name BLOOD INCANTATION was at the totally chaotic COVENANT FESTIVAL II. The band was just starting to make waves with the excellent EP, and the full length had yet to drop. Since this was a formative time for the band becoming the touring force it is today, walk us through the period in time leading up to the summer of 2016.

Hah! Well, this was basically the most chaotic period of the band to be honest. All through 2015 we were rehearsing 4-5 times a week, often double-duty with SPECTRAL VOICE, and we had just convinced Jeff to come over on bass from SV into BI and were preparing for our first tour and the release of our first EP, which itself had been in development, hell, since Summer 2013 when we initially recorded it. We had the full length written well before “Interdimensional Extinction” came out, and were busy hand-assembling the SV/BI split 7″s right up until the hours before we left for the first tour in September. The 7″, EP and tour all happened around the same time and the waves had not really started happening yet.

We did sell out of our merch on the first tour (a harbinger of things to come), but that was more due to our inexperience and only making so much (not enough) merch. The shows themselves were mostly lackluster, except for one or two choice spots (Seattle, Salem, Oakland). We played on the floor a lot. When we went to New York for Martyrdoom Festival was when we first saw that people had bought the record and were anticipating the show. We probably sold more split 7″s at that one show than we did on our entire first tour.

Once we got back from New York we booked the studio time for recording the album. I can proudly say that when we finally went in we were razor sharp. The majority of the album was recorded in single takes – “Hidden Species” was the most with three takes. All of the initial tracking was done live in unison, with the only overdubs being vocals, synths, and occasional leads (as distinct from solos). For the duration of the experience we were completely immersed in psychedelic alien landscapes mostly of the 70s variety; vintage posters and esoteric books were strewn about the studio, with “Cosmos”, “Ancient Aliens” etc playing on loops on every screen in the house. We did the whole thing in 5 days if I remember. This was all in January 2016. Basically as soon as we left the studio we had all of the art and layout finished, so we just practiced and practiced and practiced until the Summer to prepare for the “Starspawn” release and subsequent tour.

Let me paint a picture. Summer of 2017: A lot had changed with both the band and the fest when you guys returned to headline the first night of Covenant Festival III. You put on a clinical performance (in a far more cooperative venue setting hahaha) and left the impression of being seasoned veterans as you kicked off your North American tour with QRIXKUOR. In retrospect, this was a pretty special tour package that well represents a moment in time of contemporary death metal scene. Tell us a little about this tour.

That tour was fucking sick!!! We had a great time teasing the Brits endless while they endured the record-setting heat that summer. There’s always a few days (sometimes weeks, heh) of awkward getting-to-know-you types of vibes, but this time everybody eased up pretty quickly and by the end of it were just a bunch of lads on tour having a laugh. Both bands slayed every night and got better with each show. I’ve also still never seen so many Ironbirds in one place!


We’ve run into Adam, Mike and Ryan multiples times in the years since that tour and it always feels like the tour was just the other week. They’re such great demons man, total support to them! I can’t really tell too many stories about this tour without incriminating a bunch of people, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Your start was playing funeral doom, noise ridden drone metal, and ambient, folkier metal. You still very vocally have the support of these scenes in your projects. At what point did you decide that the outlet you needed was something faster, thicker and altogether meaner like Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice?

Thanks for asking! I appreciate the look into those past projects, however briefly. The vast majority of interviews I’ve ever done seem to think I started playing underground music the day before “Starspawn” came out. Anyway, back in 2004-2008 I simply couldn’t play anything remotely technical, so drone, noise, and raw forest black metal are kinda of to be expected, heh. I’ve always liked experimental, psychedelic and atmospheric music, so naturally have always appreciated extreme bands that incorporate these elements.

I was in a death metal band in 2009 called Total Darkness that played more typical (but still heavy) death metal with both thrash and doom tendencies, but the only demo we managed to release just made me eager to start playing more complex riffs. Unfortunately the band dissolved when our other guitarist Joel moved to Oklahoma in 2010. From there I kept writing and practicing, trying to get my fingers to be able to match what my mind was hearing.

In Fall 2011 I moved to Colorado to start a new chapter in life. I was touring a lot and not really having to worry about writing material for my active band, so I had many hours of mixtape riffs and improvised jams to study and attempt to improve my compositional skills. I met most of the friends I play music with now during this time, and basically said to them “Hey, I’ve got these riffs, let’s start such and such band” and the few maniac demons who responded are now my bandmates and best friends.

It is always fascinating to watch a circle of musicians work. The listener gets to experience a wider interpretation of sounds they love through a slightly different lens. Between the 5 of you there is Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice, but also ABYSMAL DIMENSIONS, 2 of you have played in WAYFARER, and 3 of you have played in VELNIAS. What are the inner workings of this group that you attribute the success within it to?

Well, as much as it is a pain to only have 4 people to jam with, I do think it has enhanced our subconscious playing abilities and gotten us all onto a deeply tangible wavelength over the years. It’s crazy how specific a riff out of nowhere can be and how perfectly it will fit into our respective projects. We never write riffs for one band and then end up using them in another; it’s always very specific. Velnias was more of a starting point for our crew, as that was the vehicle through which I met Jeff, and Jeff and I met Isaac, Eli, and Morris. Morris has filled in on guitar for a Wayfarer tour, and Isaac has filled in on guitar for a Velnias tour, so everybody is still friends. Even our merch guy (and original SV vocalist) Casey was originally a Velnias roadie back in 2009, and played at my house in Salem way before I’d met any of these guys.


As far as our current bands’ successes, Jeff and I learned a lot about what we like and don’t like about band management during that time. Thankfully I’ve learned from those times and nowadays things operate much more smoothly. Everybody on board knows what we’re trying to do, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same goals.

Have you ever considered naming your coven of demons in order to really plant the flag in the ground?

Haha! Actually Eli and I have been trying to come up with a name since 2011 but all of them are too cheesy. Please do let us know if you think of something.

You’ve been quietly running your own label – Woodsmoke – for a long while now. Why did you start that, rather than let someone else do all the hard work?

Again, this gets back to 2004 and the fact that nobody in Salem, Oregon had any clue about extreme, underground metal, so we were ultimately left with no choice but to start our own imprint. We didn’t get anything released until 2007 for our first tour with Ancestortooth and Vault Dweller. We did a split CD-R as well as a reissue of LEECH’s “Against Leviathan!” demo on CD-R, but of course none of them sold and most were given away to the people who let us stay at their houses on the tour.

I’ve always loved DIY culture and self-released vinyl, home-dubbed tapes, silk-screened shirts, photocopied flyers, snail mail etc. Just the whole thing about the underground – it’s literally the SICKEST!!! So I just wanted to participate and do my best to contribute something to it. It took over a decade for me to get my shit together enough to release my first vinyl (the Spectral Voice/Blood Incantation split 7″) but even that was quite an ordeal and ended up disappearing into obscurity due to chaos and internet fuckery. Now that I’ve got a little more experience, I think the next Woodsmoke release will be really killer! It will just take some time, as the few WS fiends have come to expect anyway, heh. Nothing rests, everything moves…

With having accomplished so much in such a short period of time, what prospects excite you still?

I’m not sure 2002 (when I got my first guitar) to 2018 is considered so short of a period of time, heh, but at least as far as SV/BI are concerned, yeah, we’ve gotten quite a lot done in the last 5 years. Personally I’m endlessly excited about simply releasing records – the whole process is awesome to me, I love the writing, the studio, the layout, the touring, all of that shit. I only really hate the internet meaninglessness and impersonal pseudo-elitist douchery that most punishers think is somehow relevant.


I love touring, but I can’t wait until we get a break for a minute to get back to writing – to totally immerse ourselves and pursue the next records (for both bands). We’ve basically been on the road for two years straight; BI have done 7 tours and SV have done 5 tours in the past three years, in addition to our other bands’ tours like SCOLEX and Wayfarer. I love traveling and can’t wait to see where the bands bring us next.

I just always want to improve; I want the next records to be heavier, the next tapes to be culter, the next shirts to be sicker, etc. There’s no real point in life other than evolution and refinement. Even anthropologically, stasis is death. I just want to explore and create new things that I think are more fitting to the ideas I’m trying to express.

What’s really underneath Antarctica?

Definitely archeological artifacts that will perturb the majority of the present human population’s worldview regarding the nature of their governments, their cultural and religious histories, and the origin of human consciousness.

What’s up next for Paul Riedl?

At the time of this writing I am preparing to leave tomorrow morning for a European festival tour with Blood Incantation. We’ll be playing Brutal Assault, Partysan Open Air, Beyond The Gates, Killtown Deathfest and many others. For KTDF I get to play with Blood Incantation, Scolex, and Spectral Voice – quite a weekend!


After that SV will embark on a full European tour with the mighty gods of DEMILICH!!!!!!! It’s going to be killer. When we get back both SV and BI are playing the Dark Descent 8th Anniversary show on October 20th here in Denver, alongside Cianide, Krypts, Sempiternal Dusk and Adversarial.


After that BI are going into the stargate to finish writing our next record. In the meantime we’re working on a live EP to be released in time for some BIG NEWS in early 2019. With that downtime we are going to start working on other projects like Abysmal Dimensions, Malibilis, Chthonic Deity.

Like I said, stasis is death…


All live photos taken by Factory Worker Media at Covenant Festival II and III

 

Categories
Editorial Festival

Fear & Loathing at COVENANT FESTIVAL IV: A Manic Retrospective

THE COVENANT LIVES!

Among all the things involved in putting together this account of Covenant 2018– the article outlining, the draft edits, the irreparable hearing loss and brain damage, etc. — the greatest challenge lay in deciding what I might say first about it. Not only that, but sheltering that choice from further urges to go back and revise. There was a lot packed into those three days, and so much of it is worth talking about. Such as things are, I doubt this article could ever feel satisfactorily comprehensive, never quite as good, as I’d like it to be. On the other hand, that brand of perfectionism tends to feel a lot like a dress rehearsal for one of the milder Circles of Hell, where it’s grey and nothing ever really happens– a quiet torment designed for those damned souls deemed too mediocre to even suffer fashionably.

With that in mind, I think the best thing to say first is that everything in this article is hideously limited in perspective, biased by design, and imperfect out of necessity. Of course all music writing is technically subjective to begin with, but with this article I wouldn’t try to have some pretence of authority– at least no more authority than anyone else that was present for it. The article’s scope is necessarily bound by my experience; at the same time I’ve done what I can to cover all of the broadest points as I saw them.

If anything at all, I hope I’ve been able to capture the broad spirit of what Covenant IV was like. I had a great time, and reflecting on the experience while writing only made the memories sweeter. Still, in the event I’ve made some grave sin of omission; I hope whichever Circle I’m banished to burns warm and snuggy.

Grab a drink.

PART I: PRELUDE TO COVENANT IV

Hours before the doors opened on Thursday, I was reminded of something obvious, though no less startling: Covenant Fest has been running now for four years. Four years is a long time. Counting the folk-oriented “Denouement” nights, there have now been enough Covenant Fests to fill out two weeks if you linked them up as one, and that’s without taking its younger Atlantic counterpart into consideration. I’ve had the good fortune of being there every year to date, and while the number might seem small in light of all the Covenant have achieved, it begged a moment’s pause when I realized how much else in life had changed in that time.

The Covenant has established itself by now as a Vancouver staple; certainly the most significant force in the local metal community, and wielding due respect from onlookers abroad. For myself and many others, it’s become a yearly tradition, a recurring madness to look forward to as the months grow hottest. Depending on who you ask, the Summertime could mean fun in the sun, beach parties, drinking iced tea, and mowing the lawn. For this circle in Vancouver, the summer schedule’s come to include shortening your life expectancy with unhinged mania and wargrinding fukk. In other words; business as fucking usual.

Anticipation for Covenant IV arguably started a few hours after Covenant III wrapped up last year. Although the success of Covenant Montreal has taken a share of the hype, it was fairly common for Covenant speculations to arise in conversation in the year in-between– particularly in the months leading up after bands had been announced. The festival’s (as always entertaining) Facebook event page always had something new to announce. The full lineup was impressive once fully revealed, and the fest headliners standing out as particularly strong catches.

As with previous years, there was a share of bands that had to cancel. The presence of Black Witchery was sorely missed, although Hacavitz, who took their place, actually turned out to be the highlight of CovIV. There’s always been an air of chance and uncertainty leading up to a Covenant. A few bands inevitably drop out, others surprisingly jump in. The best one can do is to keep fingers crossed for certain bands, but the end result’s never been anything short of outstanding.

By the week of the festival, it seemed to be all that people were talking about– that is the sort of hype that can’t be bought by PR or ad campaigning. There was a pre-fest vinyl night the weekend before at Pat’s Pub, right down the street from the venue. With all the buzz, I was surprised how empty it was. It turned out to be pretty fun regardless– it’s not every day you get to see a cozy pub cleared out with Triumph Through Spears of Sacrilege blasting at high volume. I guess that proves Walt Disney right: sometimes dreams do come true.

When the day finally arrived, we were all ready for chaos…


 

PART II: STORMING CHRIST’S KINGDOM

(THURSDAY, JUNE 21)

The first night felt surprisingly barren in the first half, though it might have seemed packed at the sort smaller venues Night I has usually been held in the past. Opening duties were entrusted to Vomiit– a name you can say with your hand in your mouth if you try hard enough. This was their first show as a band, though certainly not as musicians– for those sharing duties in Firecult, it’s not even their first time opening a Covenant.

Coming across essentially as “Finite does Arizmenda” musically, Vomiit kicked off the fest at some of its most physically animated. The music was good, but the performance is what sold it. Vomiit had a real will to provoke, beginning with Michael the vocalist writing a mean word on his stomach that looked an awful lot like “RAPE,” and arguably culminating when he started spitting fucking crickets at people like it was a Satanic LARP of Pinocchio or something. Is it silly? No shit it is, but it’s that same sort of self-conscious edge that’s been at the forefront of this music since people decided to start sniffing dead birds for fun– and long before that too. I give this emphasis because it’s that sort of no-fucks theatricality that makes for weird and twisted memories, and I kind of wish there had been more of that eccentricity at the fest.

The set from Victoria’s Human Agony was a closer indication of the general Covenant IV vibe. Gas masks and blasting noise following the footsteps of some of the bands later on that weekend. Graveolence after that were about as decent, although I found it interesting that the relatively slight difference of their deathgrind angle and plainclothes performance set them apart from the others.

Speaking relatively, Graveolence had a more lively, fun sort of tone that is maximized the times I’ve seen them on a small stage. It’s weird there’s such contrast in tone; the music itself ran fest par in chaotic noise.

I’m pretty sure Auroch is among very few bands I’ve probably seen ten times in about as many years. What I like is how they’ve managed to outdo the standard they set for themselves each time. There’s no doubt by this point they’re one of Vancouver’s world-class exports in death metal, like its companion project Mitochondrion in that regard, although with Mito I’ve never had the sense what it must be like to get rabies and attempt suicide-by-cop. Auroch’s material is a whirlwind already, and the stage presence translates it with greater viciousness.

Black Witchery’s cancellation meant the classic USBM fix rested ultimately with Profanatica. They’ve never really been my bag, but I was genuinely excited to see them. It’s something special when a band can come across as so fucking absurd, yet totally authentic. From the atmosphere to the performance, Profanatica exuded old school Satanic theatricality.

Although I figure they probably would have been booked for a club-sized venue at a standalone show, Profanatica do a surprisingly good job of making an open theatre space their own. One issue above any that bothered the first night was the shoddy sound quality. With Profanatica, whether the sound got better or worse depends on your view of guitar tones that sound like they’ve been implanted with wasp larvae. I think it was great, honestly, and I was surprised how well they culminated the first evening.


 

PART III: VANCOUVER BECOMING GOLGOTHA

(FRIDAY, JUNE 22)

By the point of arrival, Friday was already looking a lot bigger than the first night. Among all second night acts, I was most anticipating Sorguinazia, for reasons their 2016 demo could convey better than I ever could. The dread surreal imbalance come across immensely live, and I was reminded of the atmospheric effect during Sortilegia’s set from last year’s fest. The atmosphere returned to ground when Ahna took stage. I’ve always really liked them anytime I’ve seen them. I think the close quarters experience of their Red Gate show circa Covenant II was a better suit for the sort of death-infused crust they play, but they play fast and filthy enough to have fit right in with this year too.


Hellfire Deathcult deliver war metal in its straight, most unadulterated form. One of Covenant IV’s more distant visitors from Chicago, it wasn’t so long ago they played the same stage, having opened the historic Archgoat/Blasphemy show in 2017. The first time I saw them, I found them competent but inspired; I’d probably say the same thing about their Black Death Terroristic Onslaught from earlier this year as well.


I had to reconsider my stance after being really impressed by the wisdom and character of an interview they did some months back. I wouldn’t say my opinion on the music itself has changed much, although I was impressed this time by how well they command the stage.

Then a pair of witches. Portland’s Witchvomit was one of the bands I’d heard nothing from prior to going in, but their atmospheric take on old school death metal was a perfect fit for the curated style of Covenant– not to mention ideal support for Incantation. With Witches Hammer, I was thinking an old-school  speed metal band would feel out of place in the fest. Not so.

Like Ahna, Witches Hammer got over any chance of being singled out for their style on the merit of the sonic filth they inject into it. They had a ton of stage energy for a band that’s been gone so long. Covenant has been host to a few returning sleeping giants; even if I had no expectations from the band going in, special events like that are what make something like Covenant feel as significant as it does.

One way a festival might be judged lies in how the experience of the bands all come together. In this, Covenant IV struck gold getting Profanatica and Incantation under the same banner. Incantation have weathered the years the best of the old USDM heavyweights; John McEntee’s the only original member left but some Ship of Theseus argument needn’t apply when the authentic energy comes through as well as it did on the Friday.

Incantation’s performance felt like the biggest set the Covenant has ever put forward, the closest to the feeling of a classic fun metal show, without the usual underground severity.

I think part of the sense of “letting loose” stems from the fond memories listening to Incantation records as a teenager and subsequently losing my mind; the nostalgic charge gave it the feeling of something extra. Watching them within the context of the fest, too, underlined how legendary they really are. Many bands within Covenant owe something of their sound to Incantation’s — how fitting that the second night ended by returning to the source.


 

PART IV: FALLEN ANGEL OF DOOM RETURNS

(SATURDAY, JUNE 23)

I can always rely on Covenant Fest’s lineup for a list of superb black/death upcomers. Goathammer and Gloam were the two previously unknown newcomers that managed to knock me over unawares– I had a similar experience the year before with Brulvahnatu. Goathammer loaded their filthy black metal with some of the best stage presence of the fest. Gloam played a noticeably more melodic strain of black metal with unexpected progressive undertones. Both bands were further proof that it pays to be there from the start for these bills. The theatre was already pretty packed by the start of the third night.

Next was Weregoat, who have become a frequent sight in Vancouver, not least of all through their participation in Covenants past. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen them at this point, but they’ve been consistently successful in bringing about their murderous caveman atmosphere. They would get my vote as the most musical and enjoyably listenable band in the current wave of war metal– and that doesn’t mean a whiff against their violent atmosphere.

Antichrist helped stoked the flames of Covenant as a fest of rare appearances; a local name whose limited recorded output made them underground legends. That history is a lot like Witches Hammer. The music’s a lot more like Blasphemy though– something that applies to several in CovIV’s lineup (not least its headliner!) Antichrist did a solid job, although I wonder if the concentration of war bands made their set less punishing than it might have otherwise. I actually think their Sacrament of Blood LP is the strongest release to come from RBC; but when it comes to playing live, there’s not some unique angle to Antichrist’s performance like I can pinpoint for Weregoat or Blasphemy. All the same, it was satisfying to have seen them play.

Hacavitz were announced shortly after Black Witchery dropped off the bill. Big shoes to fill. For a long time, I’d only been peripherally aware of them, and didn’t know much except that a) they’re from Mexico, and b) friends spoke well of their music. Fortune blows in mysterious ways. Their set turned out to be the best of the fest– in fact, one of the best Covenant has ever lay host to. Fucking phenomenal. I’ve since listened to a couple of their records and enjoyed them, but Hacavitz is clearly the sort of band that knows how to manifest real magic in their performances. Black and death done right.

Given the war metal throughline across every fest incarnation, there’s not a band in the world that fits the role of Covenant headliner as Blasphemy does. This was my third time in five years seeing them– once a year and a half ago in the same theatre with Archgoat, one back in 2013 in Calgary. They’ve always been the sort of band that commanded my respect for their history and authenticity; I could still never understand the rabid adulation fans have for Fallen Angel of Doom. Yeah; any reservations are out the fucking window anytime I’ve seen Blasphemy play live. They have a genuinely dangerous atmosphere on stage, and after a festival of bands owing much to them in style, the live energy reminds me what a unique entity they are. It’s probably best they played last too– the crowd went a notch up in mania and it all fed back into the atmosphere. This may have been the strongest set I’ve ever seen from Blasphemy– and that is saying a lot.


PART V: AS THE DUST SETTLES…

COVENANT IV HANGOVERVIEW

Following the three days of Covenant IV, the Lord’s Day of Rest was well-timed. I, like everyone else, spent the better part of Sunday scraping my brain off the floor after everything. Seventeen bands is a lot to take in one weekend, and even if I thought I’d had my fill by the end, that unique feeling of post-fest depression doesn’t take long to kick in and make you wish you were still in the midst of it.

What was Covenant IV in a word? Satisfying, for starters. It satisfied in all the ways I’ve come to expect from Covenant. Expectations were met, and a few pleasant surprises were tossed in for good measure. There is no doubt that it outreached the scope of the year before. A lot of the exhilaration arose from the jaw-dropping selection of headliners CovIV had on offer.

With Revenge headlining Covenant last year, booking Blasphemy clearly upped the ante. Profanatica and Incantation both felt perfectly attuned to the Covenant character; something feels inherently historic in bringing the two bands together under a common banner. Hacavitz perhaps felt most special of all; they’re not a band we probably would have seen here otherwise, and I found their set to be the most emotionally charged and significant of the entire fest.

There’s always the question with an event like this, how to improve and expand it each year. It can be tricky to pinpoint with something as underground-focused as this; increasingly “bigger bands” wouldn’t take long before it really deterred, and I doubt Covenant Fest is in the firing line for energy drink sponsorships. If judged by its cohesion and memorable tightness, Covenant IV succeeded, matched only by CovII in 2016.

If Covenant Montreal has benefited from a more metropolitan selection of bands, Vancouver’s edition is distinguished by its specialization. More than any one thing, Covenant IV felt like a veneration of the city’s scene itself. Witches Hammer, Antichrist and Blasphemy all shone light on the city’s legendary past, and the local younger blood proved a formidable force amidst the imported talent. Part of the promise of Covenant Fest lies in its effect on the notoriety of Vancouver’s scene to the underground abroad. Covenant IV served as reminder that the scene’s already plenty notorious as is.

PART VI: CRITICISMS AND OBSERVATIONS

There’s an element of the uncanny and miraculous behind any successful fest. Covenant is no different, though the miracle gets easier to predict every time they deliver an experience like this. The organizers’ increasing confidence in pooling these events together is apparent. From an outsider’s perspective, CovIV was the smoothest-running operation to date. I didn’t feel that CovIV was bogged down by anything too significant. The experience was great on the whole, so I thought it best to throw all criticisms and nitpicks here at once, all with the blanket understanding that they pale against all of the good. Add “Alas! No perfect vvorld…” to the start of following points wherever necessary.

One of the coolest things about Covenant in years past was its tradition of showcasing immersive ambient sets– a tradition CovIV broke away from to its own detriment. The ambient artists calibrated the festival’s atmosphere in a way that felt missing this year. I have strong past memories of sets from Randal Collier-Ford and The Nausea amidst the metal fare. For whatever reason it didn’t happen this time, I think the fest could have been more effective if they’d kept the ambient element. You don’t appreciate a respite fully until it’s gone.

Sound quality felt like a recurring issue over the weekend, most notably on the Thursday. I think there’s only so much you can expect from a venue that size. As noisy as this music is to begin with, it feels washed out further by the theatre resonance. Notably, although mixing was never great, it was significantly better by the third evening.

photo from Covenant team

Regarding the venue, I have a love-hate attitude towards the Rickshaw Theatre as the festival host. One the one, it’s comfortably spacious, easily accessible, with arguably the best staff in a Vancouver venue. The sound’s not even so bad with all factors considered, but totally lacks for atmosphere. The space is a deadzone for the sort of vibe Covenant aims to manifest with these shows, and the venue geography lacks a proper place for the fest vendors. I know that booking the Rickshaw makes the most sense from a business lens. I don’t think I’d even be thinking in terms of atmosphere outside the context of a festival. Still, there’s a side to Covenant that’s not being explored to its full potential.

PART VII: SOME CLOSING REMARKS

(OR, PERSONAL MUSINGS ON A WILD WEEKEND WITH A GOAT-WITCH VOMIITING)

photo from Covenant team

There’s a special satisfaction in having watched Covenant Fest grow and mutate over four years; like most great things, it’s more than the sum of its parts. Music aside, the fest has been a great place to congregate with friends and forge new alliances. Covenant brings with it a very specific sort of “fest mode” mindset that spurs adventure. I can’t comment on the nature of aftershow extracurriculars this time around, but there was plenty going on during the day. A lot of the best memories that weekend involved catching up with friends from out of town. On a side note, on Saturday afternoon before the third night, I hit up the Mountainview Cemetery (only a ten minute walk from home) and toured the crypts Blasphemy had posed photos with years before.

There was a slew of strong shows rounding the weeks after. As with last year, CovIV was rounded off with an acoustic denouement, headlined by Galician folk act Sangre de Muerdago. I wasn’t able to make it, but Sangre’s new LP is tied with albums by The Caretaker and Mournful Congregation for my current favourite of 2018. So I need not speculate on how bad I missed out.

The aftershocks of Covenant IV arguably climaxed with the “Clandestine Congregation” on July 13th, with Mitochondrion, Encoffinate, Akyros Expanse and Kanashibari– all of whom would have been formidable additions to the festival itself. Evenings like this offered some consolation for the inevitable post-fest depression. As the coming months return us back to the cold and dark, so we return to the state of gnawing anticipation. As for the future… there are predictably high standards for the inevitable Covenant V, but I know better than to have clear expectations on how they’ll achieve it. Some of the my favourite sets from the past four years have been bands I’d never heard of before, and I dare not speculate how they’ll push the envelope after a set of headliners like those they boasted with IV.

Onward and forward, then… No end in sight.

One last thing: a major “thank you” goes to all those involved in some capacity with bringing the Covenant Festival to being in Vancouver; again, and again, and again. I’d also like to extend my personal thanks to the festival’s organizers, who invited me to document the event as a third-party perspective. If it’s indeed true that a monkey unbound by time could compose the complete works of Shakespeare, I’m certain the same rule applies to underground black/death metal fest coverage.


All photos provided by Ndamato Photo (except where indicated)
http://ndamatophoto.com 
http://instagram.com/n.damatophoto