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