Categories
Review

COVENANT Magazine’s Favourite Aural Abominations of 2019

One of the greatest things about toiling away in music is the privilege to be exposed to such a colossal amount of record releases up to the minute. A single glance at Covenant’s musical activity over the years reflects a diverse juxtaposition of genres and sounds. Our greater collective and associates are an eclectic bunch. Between the festivals and magazine, we try to keep a keen eye (and ear) on everything under the umbrellas of extreme metal and goth music of all kinds. Though the sounds vary, the essence remains the same.

It may be indulgent, but since we added a bit of value to the world of music journalism this past year, we are also contributing our voices to the surmounting lists that attempt to summarize the last 365 days in music. Our overall top 10 is an attempt to be objective, as it represents just about everything we could all agree on. Below that we asked our staff and various members of the greater collective to lend their individual voices. The results are about as wildly diverse as it gets.

Let us collectively banish the year that was 2019 by celebrating the fruits it produced, and look toward the future of greater things to come!


1 // Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race

Surprised? Of course you aren’t. For most bands, touring with Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, and Immolation would not only be high points of their year, but would most likely go on to define their careers. For Blood Incantation, it will probably go down as a foot-note of their 2019, right under the part that says ‘released Hidden History Of The Human Race‘. It is that grandiose of an accomplishment, and a couple paragraphs here cannot hope to begin to encapsulate the grandeur it holds, or do it justice. It enters a rare pantheon of modern records that will be enshrined as all-time classics.

Read the FULL REVIEW

2 // Volahn – El Tigre Del Sur

If a band ever needed a strong statement to not just return to the forefront of attention, but to also crush the lies of doubters and naysayers, it was Volahn, and they have done just that with El Tigre Del Sur. The fact that it is a powerful and proud Zapatista declaration that is so passionately Mexican and anti-colonial makes it very easy to lose sight of perhaps the most important factor when observing this as a recording of music: it is their best material to date. Overflowing with beautiful melodies of blatant Latin influence that are rarely heard in metal music, it often sounds more like the score to a Sergio Leone film than it does to what we think as being “black metal”. Complete with athletic and bombastic drumming, and a brilliant ending that will be remembered for all time, El Tigre Del Sur stands triumphant against all who would attempt to besmirch his name!

3 // Ioanna Gika – Thalassa

Sometimes a record honestly comes out of nowhere and blindsides you like a wayward sucker punch. Thalassa was an unexpected game changer: A shadowy siren from a foreign land with a name that’s even hard to pronounce, crafting a genre that practically doesn’t exist. Ioanna Gika creates a stunning blend of sounds that defy absolutely any categorization. Wavey, ethereal pop that contorts into a fractal of stunning beauty. Certainly not your usual scheduled programming. Hers is a voice from another realm of existence, and the echoes that remain resound through the chamber of your very soul. Keeping up with this album is an exciting exercise, as practically no two moments sound the same. “Interesting” is a cruel understatement. “Masterpiece” is closer to the mark.

4 // Misþyrming – Algleymi

Discarding the melancholy and mystery of 2015’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu, Iceland’s most depraved return on the infamous Norma Evangelium Diaboli label with the indeed orgiastic and ecstatic Algleymi. For a band who had so quickly announced themselves on the world stage with a powerful album and performances at esteemed festivals such as Roadburn just 4 years ago, it is startling to see them kick in to an even higher gear, and return with such vitriol. The future of Misþyrming is all at once a promising and intimidating prospect!

5 // Funereal Presence – Achatius

An archaic crypt flung open earlier this year and the miasma of Funereal Presence enveloped us all once again. The solo project of Negative Plane’s batterer crafted a timeless piece of timelessness. Finally the project fiercely declared independence and boldly stepped out of the shadow. As a tandem release between two of the most clandestine forces in black metal, Sepulchral Voice Records and The Ajna Offensive, the stage was already set for something potent. The first since 2014’s The Archer Takes Aim, the next chapter Achatius dove deeper into a unique sound that manages to amalgamate everything magical about 80’s black metal. An infectious dose of marathon length songs comprising swirling, subaquatic guitar tones, echoing pounding percussion, shimmering leads, and a folkloric spectre ever looming.

Read the FULL REVIEW

6 // L’Epee – Diabolique

Fall back into a twisting, psychedelic void. A wormhole directly back to an imagined 1960’s where devilish French women sing you songs of danger, lust, and abandon. Psyche garage rock never was so delicious. L’Eppe is a combined project featuring the mastermind behind Brian Jonestown Massacre, the husband and wife juggernaut The Limiñanas, and the perfect voice of Emmanuelle Seigner (better known as Green Eyes from the film The Ninth Gate). Imagine the lush tapestry of The Velvet Underground with the indulgent pop sensibility of Serge Gainsbourg and the bouncy irreverence of the ye-ye movement. Now turn it up to a soul-rattling volume as you drive headlong into a night-cloaked desert. You have some idea of what Diabolique feels like.

7 // Drab Majesty – Modern Mirror

The aliens have landed again and this time they brought us another gift from the cosmos: A shady synth pop observation of modern decay. Whereas the universally adored The Demonstration presented delightfully infectious darkness and melancholy, the lens through which Modern Mirror gazes is one of brighter optimism. The hooks are diabolically addictive and the melodies are nearly parasitic. Deb Demure proves once again to be one of the most accomplished songwriters of our age – the arpeggios, the dense layers, the driving rhythms, the sorrowful vocals. Yet in this iteration, Mona D makes his full presence known, taking lead vocals on the album highlight “Oxytocin”. Perhaps slightly less of a heart-wrenching, life-altering affair, Modern Mirror provides a more whimsical exploration, but has launched the space invaders to another level of successful infiltration. A masterful concoction such as this proves that it doesn’t take a human mind to craft a perfect pop album.

Read the FULL REVIEW

8 // Superstition – The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation

Death metal is in a serious renaissance. Superstition is at the vanguard. With a sound that we have championed from the earliest murmurs, Superstition finally struck the essence of pure old(est) school death metal with their first full length. The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation is an endless smothering flow of forgotten ideas channeled straight from the late 80’s Floridian swamps and New York back alleys. Somewhere the disembodied brain of Mike Browning is emanating riffs and structures to a demented quartet in the deserts of New Mexico. It can be the only feasible explanation for a sound that is so wholly unique and realized while also being a perfect homage to an earlier age. So rarely have an absolutely barrage of riffs marched on the listener in all out spiritual attack formation like this. It’s well-worth the possessing enchantment!

Read the FULL REVIEW

9 // Bolzer – Lese Majesty

With the release of Bolzer’s Lese Majesty, we have seen the band through their social media outlets begin to refer to their discography in a different way. Instead of reflecting on it as a demo and two EPs that gradually paved the way for Hero, which indeed at the time did seem like the long awaited full length offering, Bolzer has began referring to each release as an album. Indeed, this may seem bizarre to many, but for a band that has such a concise, quality, and meticulously controlled output- a band that did indeed rise to notable prominence off of the strength of a 15 minute release – it provides a unique lens to look at the band’s discography. This latest release is their second longest, clocking in just under 30 minutes, and it is the the sound of a more mature Bolzer. The scathing black metal of Zeus, Seducer Of Hearts is at the forefront, the muscular death metal of Aura and Soma are omnipresent, and of course the progressive nature and booming clean vocals of ‘Hero’ are applied all at once freely and with a tactical caution. For the past 8 years, we have all witnessed a band gestate and try new ideas while all at once stay within their egregore. Now it is time to witness that band arise to their height.

10 // Camp.30 – Eyes Only

Having risen to notoriety through his work on the enigmatic PLAZA’s Shadow EP (perhaps the single best dark R&B record of all time), Camp.30 is a man unhappy with thought of resting on his laurels. While that project takes what course it might, Camp.30 has branched out and shown that he is capable of the same, if not even richer atmosphere without any vocalist. Eyes Only is rare melody after rare melody, strange harmonies aplenty, and a level of production in electronic music that we at this publication believe is unparalleled. Somewhere between that late-night Toronto r&b sound, and a deeper, more sinister and introspective dark ambient sound lies Camp.30’s magnificent Eyes Only.

Read the FULL REVIEW


COVENANT STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS

Doomscribe

  1. Drab Majesty – Modern Mirror
  2. Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation
  3. Teitanblood – The Baneful Choir
  4. Funereal Presence – Achatius
  5. Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent Into Decay
  6. Witch Vomit – Buried Deep In A Bottomless Grave
  7. Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling
  8. Departure Chandelier – Antichrist Rise To Power
  9. Devil Master – Satan Spits On Children Of Light
  10. Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race

Colin Scott

  1. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
  2. Diocletian – Amongst the Flames of a Burning God
  3. Formless Master – First Strike
  4. Abysmal Lord – Exaltation of the Infernal Cabal
  5. Deafkids – Metaprogramação
  6. Peter Bjargo – Structures and Downfall
  7. Undeath – Sentient Autolitisys
  8. Baneblade – Oblivion Death March
  9. Mefitis – Emberdawn
  10. Bolzer – Lese Majesty

Loke Atropus

  1. Black Earth – Gnarled Ritual of Self Annihilation
  2. Aesthetic Meat Front – Essence of Rituals
  3. Trepaneringsritualen – ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave
  4. Teitanblood – The Baneful Choir
  5. Nordvargr – Daath
  6. Halo Manash – Unetar
  7. The Caretaker – Everywhere an Empty Bliss
  8. Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio – Let’s Play (Two Girls & a Goat)
  9. Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows – Death and Flamingos
  10. Rattenfanger – Geisserlieder

Ana Krunic

  1. Schammasch – Hearts of No Light
  2. Thee Oh Sees – Face Stabber
  3. Lingua Ignota – Caligula
  4. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
  5. Sunn O))) – Life Metal
  6. Vitriol – To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice
  7. Yawning Man – Macedonian Lines
  8. Russian Circles – Blood Year
  9. Mgla – Age of Excuse
  10. Vastum – Orificial Purge

N.H.

  1. Consummation – The Great Solar Hunter
  2. Antichrist Siege Machine – Schism Perpetration
  3. Trench Warfare – Hatred Prayer
  4. HAR – Anti-Shechinah
  5. Deathspell Omega – The Furnaces of Palingenesia
  6. Bolzer – Lesse Majesty
  7. Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
  8. Kapala – Termination Apex

Jon Krieger

  1. Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
  2. Schammasch – Hearts of no Light
  3. Mgla – Age of Excuse
  4. Misþyrming – Algeymi
  5. Feif – V
  6. Ultar – Pantheon MMXIX
  7. Zuriaake – Resentment in the ancient courtyard
  8. Aoratos – Gods Without Name
  9. Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
  10. Falls of Rauros – Patterns in Mythology

Shawn Hache
(Mitochondrion, Auroch, Night Profound)

  1. Rome – Le Ceneri di Heliodoro
  2. Funereal Presence – Achatius
  3. Chthonic Deity – Reassembled in Pain
  4. Ioanna Gika – Thalassa
  5. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
  6. Dreams of the Drowned – S/T
  7. Warmoon Lord – Burning Banners of the Funereal War
  8. L’Epee – Diabolique
  9. Fetid – Steeping Corporeal Mess
  10. Ateiggar – Us d‘r Höll chunnt nume Zyt

Sebastian Montesi
(Mitochondrion, Auroch)

  1. Volahn – El Tigre Del Sur
  2. Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race
  3. Ioanna Gika – Thalassa
  4. Camp.30 – Eyes Only
  5. Bölzer – Lese Majesty
  6. Freddie Joachim – Beyond The Sea Of Trees
  7. Misþyrming – Algleymi
  8. Deiphago – I, The Devil
  9. Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
  10. Totaled – Lament

Zack Chandler
(Auroch)

  1. Witch Vomit – Buried Deep In a Bottomless Grave
  2. Nails – I Dont Want To Know You
  3. Downswing – Frequency
  4. Boy Harsher – Careful
  5. Aphex Twin – Peel Session 2
  6. Suffering Hour – Dwell
  7. Drab Majesty – Modern Mirror
  8. VR Sex – Horseplay/Human Traffic Jam
  9. Mgła – Age of Excuse
  10. Morrissey – California Son

Ian Campbell
(Crooked Mouth)

  1. Drab Majesty – Modern Mirror
  2. Lankum – The Livelong Day
  3. By the Spirits – Visions
  4. Destroying Angel – Making Beds in a Burning House
  5. L’Acephale – S/T
  6. Kinit Her- Fire Returns to Heaven
  7. VR Sex – Human Traffic Jam
  8. Witch Bottle – Forest Spell

Xavier Berthiaume
(Gevurah)

  1. Drastus – La Croix de Sang
  2. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
  3. Teitanblood – The Baneful Choir
  4. Deathspell Omega – The Furnaces of Palingenesia
  5. Mayhem – Daemon
  6. Vargrav – Reign in Supreme Darkness
  7. Departure Chandelier – Antichrist Rise to Power
  8. Krypts – Cadaver Circulation
  9. Blue Hummingbird on the Left – Atl Tlachinolli
  10. Mgla – Age of Excuse
Categories
Interview

GENE PALUBICKI (Angelcorpse, Perdition Temple, etc): Antichrist Victorious! Full Video Interview

Needing very little introduction, Gene Palubicki stands upon a great legacy of black/death metal supremacy. Founder of the almighty Angelcorpse, Gene has since been responsible for a constant track record of total savagery with his current band Perdition Temple and past and present projects Blasphemic Cruelty and Apocalypse Command. The binding force in Gene’s body of work is utterly uncompromising consistency and mastery of a razor sharp sound. Having just wrapped up a massive tour opening for Cannibal Corpse, Gene is atop the world of extreme metal as a legend in his own right.

On October 30th, Covenant Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with Palubicki after Perdition Temple opened for Cannibal Corpse at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver. He spoke about his past and present dedication to death metal, plans for future domination, as well as his growing film career.

Watch the full interview:

Or listen in higher quality audio:

PERDITION TEMPLE
ANGELCORPSE
BLASPHEMIC CRUELTY
APOCALYPSE COMMAND

Categories
Premiere

ESPEJO DEL DIABLO craft an olde world witchery with “Dos Oraciones”

It is at this time that Covenant Records is proud of unveil the debut demo of Espejo Del Diablo, concisely titled “Dos Oraciones”. Espejo Del Diablo is all at once familiar and unique for us as a label, blending an esoteric dark folk sound with a traditional Latin sound inspired heavily by Buena Vista Social Club, Carlos Puebla, and Victor Jara.

No less steeped in the black magic that weighs a heavy fog on the rest of the projects to emerge from the Covenant Circle, Espejo Del Diablo approaches this sorcery through a different conduit. Relying on intuition, and following an ancestral path, “Dos Oraciones” prays to the daemons that haunt our worlds, reconciles hidden tragedy, and cries out to a beleaguered people, exclaiming “ARISE!”

Categories
Interview

OF FEATHER AND BONE complete the feral metamorphosis

With the American death metal renaissance in full swing, it seems that at every moment a new band that one cannot afford to miss arises immediately to the forefront of the scene. With intuitively anthemic songs, exciting merchandise options, and legion of adoring fans, these bands seem to wield a growing notoriety that you would expect of old veterans.

With more interest in the genre, and specifically subgenre, than in many years, it often looks from the outside that a measure of success in this field is nearly a predetermined act of cause and effect simply through starting a grimy, slimy, crawling, drooling death metal band within the USA in this interstice.

One band uncomfortable with resting on their laurels is Denver’s Of Feather And Bone. The band has taken the professional and stoic stance of remaining suspicious of their own achievements. Born through years of musical gestation, independent touring, hard-grinding work ethic, and strong self-belief, the trio has gone from being a rising prospect to a legitimate contender. In what seems like short order, but after this simple conversation with frontman Alvino Salcedo, you will be convinced otherwise in no time at all.

We interviewed Salcedo in the weeks leading up to Of Feather And Bone’s first European tour as a death metal band, under the venerable Killtown Bookings banner, and alongside Ritual Necromancy, a favourite at the Covenant HQ, and Tomb Mold. Encapsulated within are the words of a band on a rapid upward trajectory.

ORIGIN EVOLUTION

At this point it should come as no surprise that Of Feather And Bone started off as a more hardcore/punk oriented band that would slowly morph into a death metal band over the years. This has left many people not knowing the band’s origin story or finer details. For a genre’s fans that are historically obsessed with detail and factoid, this is an extreme rarity indeed. With a blank slate situation before us, we prodded Salcedo to provide us with an explanation of this often controversial origin story.

The assumption that the band took up death metal overnight is patently false. Of Feather and Bone has been a band since 2012, and at that younger stage they presented a sound was very rooted in grind, crust, dbeat, punk and even death metal and black metal. Alvino claims, “We learned very early that it was hard for us to completely immerse ourselves in any scene. Hardcore hated every second of us. Again, we have always played blast beats and that always went over poorly.” However, the band continued touring, knowing that if they were to be respected it was going have to be in the live arena. Of Feather and Bone had to prove that they, “aren’t a flash in the pan or to be taken for granted,” with what they do best.

Having first cut their teeth in the Denver metal scene, audiences stood up and took notice of their talent, live shows, drive, and intense motivation. Their specific sound became irrelevant in a scene as diverse as Denver’s, with no two bands sounding the same. He adds, “that diversity and openness made it easier for us to ease the transition of the new material.”

Up until that point, he continues that the earliest material was written in a, “formative period of the band where we were still figuring out where this band would play its role in all of our lives. We were still getting used to writing with one another for a style we were trying to form. By the time all of the old stuff and even the first LP was readily available to a larger audience, we had written those songs so long ago. We sat on those recordings for over a year. Then it was finally released and we had to tour on them.”

Not writing was not an option. The gears started to change and an evolution was afoot. “We were already in the skeleton stages of writing the Pious Abnormality demo. We were tired of playing the style we had. We evolved, which honestly, if anyone can’t understand that evolution aspect as an artist, then it must be a charmed life being born with Altars of Madness in your hand as you came out of the womb,” Alvino admonishes. The man has a strong point. In this light, he argues, the band has never disrespected death metal in any way. Rather, as he continues, “we have had to scrape from the bottom of the abyss to be where we are. We put our own take on a genre that can very formulaic and obsessive with a classic sound. We just want to play the music we like to listen to.”

ACCUSATIONS & NON-APOLOGIES

It’s eternally important to give a platform to the accused. Let the individual argue his case and let the chips fall where they may. Witch hunts have run amok lately, and the importance of putting a stop to an unjust one cannot be overstated.

There has, of late, been a large sample size of bands that formerly played hardcore transitioning into playing death metal, with varying degrees of both sincerity and success, of course. People who are deeply bothered by this could be accused of gate-keeping, or having a “nimby” attitude. There’s something legitimate to wanting one’s food to come directly from the source, and not from a processing plant catching on to the latest trend.

With the hot seat light on him, Alvino answers without apology, “I guess a lot of people could throw us into there if they wanted to. I understand wanting to keep your music genre community elite.” Understandable indeed, but he continues, “when one or a few bands are insincere in their motives, I feel that can leave the impression that all bands doing the jump to the next trend are also just looking to get popular or whatever motive they may have. I think I leave it all to the substance of the band. The caliber of playing and the creativity of the songs and riffs and structures. These true aspects can’t be hidden.” No they cannot.

In fact, there is a weakness that prevents true sincerity from ever shining through. “A lack of absolute and true visceral passion and sacrifice to this [music] is not for the weak. When those who seek to exploit don’t receive immediate praise and ‘hype’, it’s off to the next trend”. Essentially, the argument is that the scene should organically weed itself out. That’s the theory at least, and it’s a powerful one at that.

THE SUBSTANCE

After giving the man a chance to fight back against the accusers and state his case, we are more than satisfied. So it’s time to move on and let the music speak for itself. The band’s seminal death metal debut, Bestial Hymns Of Perversion, was met with a rabid out-pour of support and has become an immediate favourite in much of the underground. It finally let the band do, “what we have wanted to do for so long. We wanted to just write punishing and unrelenting songs with a touch of somber and sad tones”, he tells us. Mission accomplished, as the album is intense, utterly merciless, and completely unforgiving, yet it remains difficult to place one’s finger on exactly what makes it so interesting.

What ingredients exist in the formula that  made this take on a classic sound as potent as it is? Alvino responds, “the record is raw because that’s how we approached it. Just a blast of everything we have held in. We got criticized for the album being too blast heavy. Not enough dynamics. Not enough absolute cave man shit. We succeeded at what we wanted. We want people to feel uncomfortable while they listen to it. We don’t want to give gratuitous groove to anyone. We want you to stand there and become exhausted.”

Right, right – and it shows! Where does this rageful inspiration come from during this process, we wonder. There has to be a specific source feeding this beast. It’s always interesting to understand a band’s melting pot of influences specifically, but more so how it interacts with the artistic process.

Alvino indulges and reveals that, “if I had to say anything or anyone in particular; we turn to Temple Nightside, Impetuous Ritual, Portal, Dead Congregation, and Morbid Angel to name a few.” Really there should be no surprise there, however, more than just emulation, “it involves referring to them as a whole and how they tend to write.” Are there specific songs you can cite that speak to you? He mentions, “when it comes to writing lyrics or trying to do different dynamics with my voice, I do refer to songs such as “Serpentskin” by Dead Congregation (editor’s note: nice job, Tim!), “The Cornucopian” by Abyssal, or “Entrantment of Evil” by Incantation. It’s mainly the way the syncopation of the vocals to, in particular, blast and fast parts help me to try and stay creative and ensure not every blast section has the same type of vocals over it.” After a quick check of our recent playlist, yep most of those are there. We’re in good company.

RIDING THE WAVES OF DEATH

In an effort to touch on something earlier mentioned, we push to dissect how fever-hot the American revival of nasty, rotting, OSDM is right now. It seems every couple of years there is a certain sound that takes the epicentre of extreme metal focus. From the shuffling hordes of Incantation clones in the late aughts; to the swirly, technical death metal craze influenced by Gorguts, Deathspell Omega, and Portal; to the utter tsunami of so-called Nidrosian black metal sound-alikes, all micro-movements have yielded particularly potent results. It must be thrilling and challenging to be a band at the forefront of this movement at any given time.

Alvino echoes that sentiment, “some of the challenges of course are being under an intense scrutiny of every action you make. The music you write is under strict review in every action from tone, to approach, to arrangement, to every little bit of it,” he states. Nearly sounding exhausted already, he reveals, “You can kind of get lost focusing and thinking when you approach writing that you may want to write to cater to such punishment from people who aren’t even in bands. But with that said, it’s a centering feeling. It helps you remember why you started writing and playing in a band.”

Undoubtedly the benefits outweigh the hardships. Any band is lucky to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats, and this is not lost on Alvino, “we have made a name for ourselves and the people who do truly like us and follow us will hopefully be excited to see us evolve into new material. The support up until now has been amazing and we couldn’t be more grateful.” There’s a reason for this. He chalks it up to the fact that, “we try to define our own take on a genre that is being defined, so maybe one day someone looks back on our band and appreciates that we did it our way and brought a flavor to it that wasn’t typical or cliche or boring.”


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Categories
Interview Spirit

ANATHEMA PUBLISHING shines light into the uncoloured spaces

As admirers and readers of the work released by Montreal based Anathema Publishing, it was a long time coming to finally form a friendly relationship with the man behind the operation. What started as a social media video on the Covenant Instagram to show off the utter brilliance of one of the PILLARS journals, developed into a correspondence and ultimately into this interview you see before you.

Gabriel McCaughry is a man of many, potent words, who publishes the works of other men and women of many, potent words. His small, but fierce, publishing house works with esteemed authors of many paradigms. The talismanic, ornate nature of these books often are the first telling signs that you are indeed holding an Anathema release.

Through the course of questions between Gabriel and Covenant’s Thor Dehr, we received more insight than we could have imagined! There is a deep wisdom to his words that feel beyond his years. We are privileged to preserve most of the conversation below. Steady the senses and dig in …

INITIATION

Origin stories are as varied as the individuals behind them. Nothing could be more true in the context of a small-batch publishing house dedicated to obscure tomes. To dig into the grassroots of Anathema’s manifestation, we prod McCaughry to divulge the spark of his fire. Consistent with our metaphor, he explains, “I’ve always been one to fan the flames of my creative impulses, and I’ve always enjoyed following my passions wherever they lead me.” Unrestricted to just the medium of publishing, this level of abandon extended to all areas of his becoming; whether “starting a metal band, designing a product, planning events, or rallying people around a certain plan or idea,” he carries that same passion. In that same vein, Anathema Publishing also came to be.

The whole idea and impetus behind Anathema really felt like answering a certain ‘call’ as a ‘duty,’ less so than just another pastime, or artistic project.

After several years of playing in extreme metal bands, beginning with Unquintessence and Trails of Anguish in the late nineties and early 2000’s, and touring intensely with Ion Dissonance and Vatican, Gabriel soon realized that as fun as it was, there was a creative and spiritual void that needed to be addressed. “Since I’ve always been hugely fascinated by the mysteries, I decided to start investigating the occult in a more serious manner … Enough so that years afterward, I was able to share my findings, deductions, and to a certain extent personal practice via articles I wrote between 2008-2009.” 

This formative exploration culminated and exploded into a three-month trip throughout Asia Minor to discover first-hand the power behind the mysteries in their place of origin. “The circumambient spiritual quality of the place truly impacted me,” he reveals. “Then everything came together: the name, the intent behind it all, and the main seal/symbol I would end up using — everything.” Returning home, the work to bring it all to life began.

A sincere love of quality books has followed Gabriel throughout his life. However, the jump from book-lover to proprietor of fine pieces of literary art was another step entirely. Things had to start small out of necessity, “I had no clue how to start any business by myself, and knew relatively few people with relevant experience; I had no resources but my own to invest. However, what I did have was experience as a graduated and professional graphic designer by trade who’s worked in the pre-press field for over 20 years now,” he tells us. Not a bad start at all. Add in a fiery passion for collecting limited edition printed books, rarities, and beautifully bound books, and the path was cleared for his developing endeavour.

SEEDS

Before any beginning, there is a blank canvass of potential waiting to be painted by a wide range of influential colours. With any individual involved in matters of the spirit, the inevitable question arises: What brought your curiosity to the subject of the occult as a point of practice and study? 

“This may sound a bit dry, but often people are interested in knowing how it ‘starts’ rather than how things evolve, which I usually find more interesting; one retroactively embellishes and romanticizes how his relationship with the occult actually started to make it sound more epic than it truly was. This is something I’ve been guilty of doing more than once.”

It is true that most interviewers seem to want a list of arcane secrets and wild personalities to lump the practitioner into a neat compartmentalization. In fact, anyone can certainly name influences that made an early impact, although “for the most part, I probably have moved away from them as things unfolded and as my understanding of the material evolved”, he says. 

Unsurprisingly, we find that some of the texts and authors that first left their indelible impression were “Andrew D. Chumbley’s corpus of work, Crowley of course, various classical grimoires (such as the Grimorium Verum, of the Book of Abramelin, etc.), some theological work by Blavatski, mystical poetry à la Rumi or Omar Khayyam, Gibran, various classical Alchemy works (Flamel, Paracelsus, Agrippa, etc.), numerous Gnostic texts (which I study to this day), along with Robert Cochrane/Evan John Jones/Shani Oates and the Clan of Tubal Cain’s material (which lead to me publishing Shani, of course).” Not so secretly, we wanted to be indulged with such a list, and after this revelation we know we’re in very good company.

SONAR SECRETS

Of course we require Gabriel’s take on the role of music in occult study. There seems to be a growing schism with some specific currents intertwined with musicians trying to distance themselves from music as a tool in ritual praxis. Meanwhile, other prominent writers have literally written grimoires with companion albums or expand their messages into specific albums themselves.

His opinion is just about as expected: “Music is an integral part of life, and quite the primordial tool for opening minds — which ties in to the importance of experience in the world of phenomena. Certainly, music has been a great passion of mine for years”, he explains. As the frontman and lyricist for many musical projects over the years, McCaughry sees music as “a vehicle moving emotions back and forth, and intuiting (or pointing towards) certain doorways warranting further investigation.” The musician can channel this energy in a very primal, quasi-shamanistic way to great effect.

… as a ritual aid, certain types of music can help regulate breath, help to focus during contemplative work (so long as one is able to sweep aside the imagery that may unfold during the listening of music), and in certain specific — dare I say radically-challenging — ritual works, music can enhance the overall ambience to a point of saturation, thereby strengthening one’s resolve to a breaking point and then bringing forth a subsequent clarity.

It is a very primal tool that we can see from the ancients, to the so-called primitives, to modern practice of all sorts. This is most readily found, “with certain drone-like rhythms of handmade drums, bells, singing bowls, liturgical chants, and the repetitive uttering of mantras, or galdrs (throat vibrations in specific words, runes, or ‘keys’), performed around a fire during a ritual.” Gabriel seems to speak from experience.

And your listening habits as of late?

“Personally, I have my favorites which I will listen to during times like my morning meditation. But these are neither required per se, nor do I necessarily advocate such a practice as being mandatory by any means. If it works for you, fine; if it is in any way distracting, perhaps it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Ambient music and some instrumental folk seem to be particularly conducive to proper mind states. I very much appreciate the work of: Sounds of Isha, Arktau Eos, Alone In The Hollow Garden, Sacra Fern, O Saala Sakraal, CHVE, and Visions.

Now, when it comes to music which can take you to distant lands, engages the very root of imagination, and stimulates inspiration (music I will often listen to during writing process, for instance), I very much enjoy the work of: Ulver, Goran Bregovic, Hexvessel, Cities Last Broadcast, Levon Minassian, Atrium Carceri, Gurdjieff/De Hartmann, Érik Satie, Beyond Sensory Experience, Marconi Union, John Coltrane, Death & Vanilla, L’enfant De La Forêt, and Wardruna… but admittedly these days I do listen to quite a lot of podcasts as well.”

Let’s not dance around the elephant in the room here (after all this is primarily an extreme metal music zine), and Gabriel gets us back on course. “It would be somewhat disingenuous of me not to mention black metal, or metal in general, since I’ve been part of that scene and have been very fond of since I first heard Necrophobic’s Nocturnal Silence in 1994.” Now we know we’re in even better company.

“My view on it, however, has changed through the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of bands that have toured extensively, recording numerous records in the studio, travelled and ‘lived’ off music for a while, etc. A couple of years back, I would’ve probably gone on and on about the revelatory aspects of music and of performing live.

But as things progressed, and my occult, or contemplative, practice developed, deeper considerations altered how I viewed metal music in the regard. The raw immediacy and sharpness of it all is quite efficient as a wind blow/breath enlivening the flames of Nigredo. And so, with proper technique and dedication one can use this art as a catalyst for ‘surviving’ the Calcination process. Of course, a lot of people get wholly consume by the flame and are bound to remain at this Nigredo level, but that’s another story in and of itself.”

Anyone interested in this wider world of oddities, spiritual conduits, and dark delights, usually can trace a path back to a teenagehood of heavy metal, industrial, goth, or punk worship. We love what we love, and we always will. Though we need to be realistic here, and Gabriel again brings us down to Earth:

“[L]et’s face it: most ‘occult-looking’ bands out there are just plastering symbols they do not fully understand one on top of the other. They present a facade of esotericism which is quite superficial at best, and plain fallacious at worst. That does not mean their music is not masterfully executed – and the whole aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, in a very idiosyncratic way.”

“But nonetheless, for younger people this music can open their eyes to the possibility that there is something more out there in the wild that is worth investigating further. For this reason, it’ll take more than engaging with the music or the imagery, or even starting your own project; it’ll require you to completely rehaul your life, re-evaluate your values, and push against your limitations — even outside of your ‘comfort zone’ of Metal music (or any kind of music or art done for the sake of enjoying art).”

Well said.

At the moment Gabriel is the vocalist of BLIGHTa black metal band who has recently finished recording a new album entitled Temple of Wounds – a direct conceptual continuation of his first book h)AuroraeThe record will ultimately bridge to what will be a second book, currently in progress. Something to keep a keen eye on.

ERECTING THE PILLARS

Anathema Publishing perhaps is best known for the unparalleled journal series PILLARS. Currently, the first issue of the second volume has been released, with the first volume having three issues itself, and each issue thus far having many different contributors. Each issue selects a greater focus topic and prompts writers to deliver their submissions free of restraint, be it time, opinion, or paradigm. It is a swarm of ideas and opinions from many of the most prominent, challenging, and unique voices in the occult zeitgeist.

With so many different minds approaching similar subjects, the clash of ideas must be inevitable and cause conflict on some level. The widely different viewpoints next to each other for the reader’s context is curious.

“I’d say that precisely the whole pointy of this exercise is to have a meeting of minds, which can harmoniously tie to one another — or clash and create an interesting dichotomy when exploring a particular facet of the Arte Magickal or mystical inquiry.”

The freedom given to authors must be a refreshing blank-slate. Gabriel further elucidates that, “the idea is not to direct the minds, nor to have a single viewpoint,” in fact, because of the general nature of the theme, “it is explored via the different lenses of the individual authors and artists, who of course distill a theme through their perceptual and practical filter: i.e. tradition, lineage, system, and philosophy”. Even among perceived duality and ‘clashing’ viewpoints, often there is a singular thread running across the whole, and further points of connection are made or realized.

MATERIALISM

Even in a niche subculture that attempts to shatter the ego, the lure of materialism and stamp-collecting is all pervasive. The world of 2nd hand rarity books has only expanded more aggressively as time goes on. On one hand, it seems some people see higher prices on used books as a signal of that specific publication’s Gnostic value and usefulness, while others see it as a source of profiteering.

In Gabriel’s opinion, the idea that higher cost could be indicative of a ‘greater’ Gnostic value is a sad thing to even discuss and wholly ridiculous. He tries to help us understand the ‘collector’s impulse,’ and, in fact, he is even guilty of “paying extraordinary amounts of money to complete a collection, or acquire a specific, hard to find tome. But of course, the second-hand market is often out of control and makes no sense whatsoever.” It’s based upon a rabid, all-too-human impulse perhaps. 

Yes, beautifully bound books in small-run batches, with incredible materials and design, will fetch higher prices by default — these are harder and harder to make as time goes by and as printed and properly bound publications go out of style in the general populace. It is what it is, and should not otherwise impact primary or secondary markets, but in the Occult world it verily seems that presentation is often mistaken for quality of content as well.

To a publisher like Gabriel, both are equally important and should be complimentary. Prices often need to reflect production costs and support future projects. It’s as simple as that. The disrespect of reselling a piece of art for nothing more than profit affects the producers in the first place and the genuine seekers as well. Quite often this is case with books that are not even sold-out and still available from the publisher or first-hand distro. To him, this is a much worse practice.

What do we do about it? He tells us, “to eradicate this problem, buyers should go about truly researching more if ever they want to acquire a specific title and check with the publisher first if they know of a certain place where they can acquire it at a relatively fair price.”

INSPIRING IDEAS

Running a publishing house must be an incredible way to open the self to a stunning array of different esoteric influences, origins, goals, ritual settings, and so on. We are curious if this time and dedication to Anathema has altered Gabriel’s own path by showing him something he may not have otherwise seen.

“Absolutely, and irreversibly so, yes.” Having been in a sort of metaphysical isolation in Montreal, Gabriel as a self practitioner remained “singularly alone in having this deep interest and propensity for the mysteries and for esoteric studies.”

(h)Aurorae by Gabriel McCaughry

“Via Anathema, I was able to connect with much more knowledgeable characters as I ever was, and this ‘association’ (and given the fact that I often incorporate new material into my own), has propelled my writings and inquiries much further — deepening my devotion to a considerable degree as well.”

His pursuits were refined – sharpening the blade so to speak. “Being shown different methodologies, points of view, and philosophies, [revealed to] me that, in essence, specialization trumps generalization, but that at the most subtle levels, all such dichotomies and distinction vanishes — only language at the surface is different, and even then — but the ground of reality is verily all-encompassing and all-emptying.”

The opposite must be true as well. With such a flood of ideas and submissions of text, there must be a number of red flags that one knows to avoid.

In fact they are, “too numerous for me to list here. I get all sorts of manuscripts in the ol’ inbox, ranging from the purely fantastical, to the outright insane, but mostly, and sadly, they are just unprofessional and unfocused,” he reveals. “Which, at least, as a silver lining, makes it a bit easier to determine those that are genuine and interesting enough to warrant publication. Alas, these are very few and far between.” The cream always rises to the top.

To maintain a certain level of commitment to quality, whilst working on fresh material and finding new authors and illustrators to work with, is a struggle. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one, Gabriel insists. “As time flies by and the reputation of Anathema grows, then new exciting projects can emerge, and new relationships can develop.”

TALISMANS

One of the best advantages that the small, passion-driven occult publishing house has is often a higher quality: clothbound hard covers, beautiful and simplified artwork, hand numbering, and other traits to make long-lasting, personally valuable works, let alone the actual content included. This must be a thrilling and daunting process. How on Earth do you keep up this high standard of quality?

Time is of the essence, money is always a stress and a gamble, delays are enormous, and every step of the way, whether it be editing/correcting, layout and design, revisions, proofing, artworks, promotion, events, all of it needs to be meticulously addressed whilst maintaining due course ahead, and making everyone engaged in the process (readers/customers included) happy and calm.

With each release potentially being a make-or-break situation for the company, every product requires the extra mile, the sleepless nights, the needed moments of meditation to stay sane, and the utmost high standards – that goes without saying. The catch 22 is that this required attention to detail is what makes it all the most challenging.

It sounds like a dangerous dance of balance that Gabriel masters tome by tome.

TRADITION

All currents have quite clearly defined methodology: days of the year, ingredients, mantras, formulas of calling, and so on. With these workings becoming more widespread, a person in Canada for instance, may not be able to gather an ingredient only found in parts of Africa or small parts of Europe in the original intended tradition.

With the opportunity before us, we ask Gabriel if he believes that magical traditions should hold fast, or is there room for development beyond the constrains of strict boundaries.

My opinion on the matter is quite irrelevant as I do not hold the ‘truth’ in the palm of my hand when it comes to such specifics. I do have a practice which encompasses various elements some people would agree should probably not be mixed, and yet I prefer holding a viewpoint that is perennial rather than believe in the degradation of the source by the very act of it passing through different vessels. But that matter is entirely personal for now and what matters for me is how the results shape and manifest in my life.

When it comes down to it, Gabriel sees all of these as, “equally superfluous as they can be most important — context often determines the angle of observation.” Overall, he tells us that, “I am more interested in the roots of it all — or rather rootlessness of it all — rather than seeing the mysteries through a certain lens. That being said, I have chosen to express the mysteries in a language which resonates with me at a deeper level, that is: Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Luciferian Gnosticism.” He stresses that these are not closed circles, and in fact, they are transparent systems, which in themselves have the capacity to colour the world with light in a myriad of ways. Similar to a prism. Without making claims of support to a particular tradition over another, he prefers to bring the whole of the work down to the direct experience level, to observe the spontaneous unfolding and outpouring of reality.

“In the words of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, ‘to witness and accomplish the miracles of the One thing.'” Amen.


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Premiere

CROOKED MOUTH descends from the mountains to embark across the sea with “Coastal”

An ever enigmatic character, forging a singular path, living and breathing the land, Crooked Mouth is the contemporary bard we dearly need in our sterile age. Somewhere between the mountains, forests, and sea in a liminal place between places, the sound of Coastal crashes upon the rocks of spiritually-dead modernity to cleanse a moment in time. Open your ears to the next chapter in the journey.

Stand on the beach on a grey morning in the Pacific Northwest, gaze out across the rolling waves, and imagine a sound. Crooked Mouth’s latest is the closest approximation of the melancholic, crisp freedom that exists nowhere else but here.

Replete with the elements as expected: a driving 12 string acoustic backbone, tinkling bells, obscure strings, dense layers, and that unmistakable soaring voice. Although, always one step ahead, the dreary tones on display push the lush darkfolk sound to another level entirely. Folk traditions meet shades of post-industrial darkness colliding with early Sub Pop sensibilities, in an aural tapestry that is quintessentially bound to place.

Always infused with an esoteric nature, the music of Ian Campbell’s Crooked Mouth is the result of an adept balance between the deeply spiritual and the utterly personal. The essence of Coastal takes on an even more internal journey, using the map of the British Columbian wilderness to chart the inner being. A man torn between the light and the dark – not unlike wandering the impenetrable coastal forest.


Recently released by the perennially unique BRAVE MYSTERIES RECORDING CO., Coastal is now available on digital and cassette format.

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TO END IT ALL reveal the morose & mythical machinations behind their fresh Hell

Evading the specific confinements of any genre, To End It All are often described as death industrial, though ex-classical, dungeon synth, and harsh noise all make their appearance as well. After a pleasurable haunting by their performance at Covenant Festival V, we decided to reach out to see what’s behind the enchantment. Joy Von Spain and Masaaki Masao’s 12 year relationship as collaborators allows for a beauteous synthesis of artistic vision and aural inspiration, while maintaining distinct individual contributions.

I was fortunate enough to Skype with Von Spain and Masao of To End It All, based out of Seattle, Washington. What follows are segments from the transcript of this real-time dialogue.

Indu Iyer: Seattle is so renowned for grunge and rock, like Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana –  is there any influence there for you? 

Joy Von Spain: Not so much for me. I actually moved to Seattle in 2004, and I was more involved in the electronic and noise scene there, and you [Masao] were making electronic music mostly. I feel like there’s definitely the ghosts from the 90’s around, but like any city that has a lot of new people moving there all the time, the face of it changes every few years. 

Masaaki Masao: I’ve lived in Seattle for 21 years and did listen to some of that music, but I don’t know how much of that has influenced what I’ve ended up making. I was making Noisy Drum ’n’ Bass when I met Joy.

JVS: I was doing a lot more synthesizer oriented music [when we] started playing together. At some point I started doing some vocals which I hadn’t done for a really long time. I would say that there’s another vein to the Pacfific Northwest, extending down to the Bay area. There’s a whole Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Oakland-San Francisco connection of harsh noise, experimental, industrial. We have more influence coming from that kind of scene. 

II: Do you feel like the weather and the climate have any influence over the type of music that’s come out of this region? Compared to the rest of the US and Canada, it’s just so grey, so dark.

JVS: Absolutely, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a matter of influencing from within. I myself was attracted to the place because of that. [Masao’s] basically from the desert, I’m from Florida originally, so we kind of gravitated here because of the climate in some ways. And that’s why we stayed…there’s something to be said for the actual sound of the rain in the Northwest in that it creates this wash in the back of your mind.

**

I consider the difference between growing up nestled in a suburban cul-de-sac, versus the bustling mainstreet where I currently dwell, and the constant sound of traffic is akin to Von Spain’s rain-wash. The Pacific Northwest, though renowned for its scenic beauty, is known by locals for perpetually monochrome seasons and drab vibrance, something akin to London greyness. The dense forests have allowed it to be a hub for forestry, and its various waterways allowed for many port cities and trade centres. Noisy places of industry. Just as environment influences sound, environment influences economy, which links back to sound. Informal instruction from the world.

**

II: What’s your background with music and art? Do you have formal training, did both of you study music by yourselves, a bit of both? 

JVS: We definitely both have a background in studying instrumental music. I studied voice a little bit and I did some theatre when I was younger.  A little bit. I feel bad even saying that [laughs]. I studied music composition and theory mostly, big nerd on that front for sure. It’s kind of nice because when you learn the language of rehearsal as a young person, it makes it so much easier and faster to communicate and collaborate with other people in that environment. I don’t think it’s necessary because people have many different ways of communicating. [Masaaki and I] had enough of that background where it’s just easy for us to communicate our ideas quickly and try a lot of different things, than to try and reinvent the wheel.

II: Language of rehearsal, that’s interesting. I feel like intuitively I know what you mean, but how would you describe it?

JVS: Being able to try many different things in a short amount of time, or repeat the same thing. It’s kind of like a scientific experiment, you keep repeating it to see if you could get the same result, or if maybe some new information comes to you.

II: It requires a lot of openness and experimenting. You have to be willing to throw out an idea even if you like it, to cooperate a bit, things like that.

JVS: I think that’s definitely one side. Another side is the ability to not be irritated or upset in the repetition. I think that’s the discipline of the rehearsal. The language but also the discipline, both of those together are necessary. 

**

I have flashbacks of navigating creative terrain in theatre school, largely similar for any collaborative process: the frustration when others denied the necessity of repetition, or the shame when I looked lazy in thinking five from the top’s were enough. Then the shock and awe when improvised bullshit actually turned out better than anything rehearsed to supposed perfection. Honing the ability to move from dog-and-tennis ball type focus to open receptivity is but one challenge of the artist.

**

II: What do your lives look like as artists? Is all your work in music?

MM: Pretty much [laughs]. That’s all we do.

JVS: We have to make money with jobs, but then after that, there’s usually rehearsal a few times a week. We’re totally engaged in writing, performing and rehearsing, and going to other people’s events as well.

MM: It’s basically working on music for a few different projects and then going out to shows and then figuring out other aspects like videos and the visual element. 

JVS: We’ve also worked a lot with Butoh dancers. About 11 years ago, we started working with Vanessa Skantze, who’s a very interesting movement performer who has studied Butoh extensively and works with other practices as well, so some of that is present in our work. I did a modern dance minor when I was going to school, but I was mostly focusing on the collaboration between choreographers and composers and how dance and music work together. The field of study of dance expresses the same kind of emotions that we are doing with To End It All. 

**

I gasp at the mention of Butoh, and we share a moment of enthusiasm for having found fellow admirers of the avant-garde Japanese dance tradition. Butoh emerged post-WWII, and it’s founders  Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno sought to rebel against the subtlety of traditional Japanese dance forms like kabuki and noh. Though very diverse in how individual practitioners personalize Butoh, it is often performed in only white body paint and a loincloth, and involves a juxtaposition of slow, delicate movements, accompanied by sudden bursts of wild energetic displays. Thematically, Butoh explores the grotesque and taboo, something very inline with To End It All’s interests.

II: How about Scourge of Woman? It has such an amazing title and album cover, very evocative to the experience of being a woman, and has really powerful, visceral song titles like “Burning Rapists” and “In Cases of Incest and Rape.” Where does the conceptual side of things come into play? 

JVS: I write lyrics or snippets of things, and a lot of things can’t be expressed properly with our other band, Eye of Nix. It needs a different kind of intensity that’s a lot more personal, or even political in nature. There’s many, many, many things that we’re extremely enraged about, and have been our whole lives, so when we see these same things coming up over and over again, I don’t really know what else to do about it. Those are the sort of pieces that we’re reflecting with this music. With the album art for this particular album, I worked with Anima Noctura, who’s an artist who we work with a lot for album art and photography. We would just listen to the music and then look at the imagery we had created, and this was the perfect expression. It was like the Cassandra myth from Greek mythology. She could see the future, but no one would believe her. I feel very close to that story, I think all of us women do.

**

Daughter of the royals of Troy, Cassandra was gifted with clairvoyance by Apollo, on the agreement to be his. Shortly after being bestowed with Sight, however, she revoked this promise, and he cursed that her prophecies never be believed. The story is told as betrayal on Cassandra’s part, but who knows. Perhaps Apollo had a Weinstein streak, and merely used Blue-Balls rhetoric to silence a woman.

**

JVS: A lot of us have grown up with [beliefs like] we have the right to reproductive freedom, we have the right to autonomy, and to go around saying  “hey, if you don’t do this, or if you let this happen, this is what’s gonna come come next. I see the future.” Then, to not be believed. That was her curse. I feel like a lot of us walk around in our daily lives in that state. People, regardless of their gender, if they happen to be identifying as male or happen to be identifying as female, feel the same way. The alliance that we create together in our anger can be expressed in the sound, can be expressed in the visual representation of it. That’s the long answer of it.

**

Clearly moved by turmoils of the American zeitgeist, and by the private witnessing of the world around them, To End It All takes the scum of sexism and creates a bizarre yet resilient paste with which they mold meaning. The long answer is great. 

II: And what is it like for you Masaaki, what’s your experience or perspective as a male working with what Joy is talking about?

MM: I just try to support what she’s trying to say and get out there, and I completely agree. I try to be there to support the art of it. 

II: One thing I’m curious about is what it’s like to collaborate. Joy, do you strictly do vocals, and Masaaki, you strictly do the instrumental side of things? What’s that process like for you, do you both direct or influence each other?

MM: We definitely work together on all the music, but she comes up with all the vocals by herself. We talk about deciding which types of samples and how it’s going to be played, so we collaborate on music. All the keyboard parts.

JVS: Sometimes he’ll be delving for sounds out there in the world, and I’ll hear something and then want to record it, or he’ll hear something and go “oh we should use that sound.” Then we go to the rehearsal space and figure out how this sound is best showcased to be the meat of this piece. And then our keyboards are kind of … the supporting role a lot of the time. I feel like a lot of the time [Masao’s] doing the whole rhythm section and at times creating a whole environment. Then the voice will be one character walking into this whole space.

**

There is a theatrical quality to their sound, and it makes sense when considering this perspective on their work. The variety present in a set is like watching Chekhov: First Masha enters, then Olga, then Irina, each with their own worries, frustrations, sorrows. A single voice plays many characters, while still being part of a greater story-line. 

II: Something that struck me most was the vocal variety. Plain speaking, operatic singing, screaming, everything in between. What inspires or necessitates this?

JVS: It’s impossible to stick to one range, to one formula. It doesn’t seem possible to fit what we’re hearing in our minds into one cube.

**

Instead of a cube, a multifaceted crystal. To End It All is the kind of salt-of-the-earth artist that often gets lost in pretension and self-importance that contaminate the creative sphere. Articulate, passionate, and completely committed to their craft. If there was any hope to end Cassandra’s curse, this is it.


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Covenant Records Premiere

SATURN’S CROSS EP ‘Possession’ unleashed now on Covenant Records – Listen to the full stream

Covenant Records is proud to debut the digital release of Saturn’s Cross EP Possession (CVNNT007). Written and recorded across the winter and spring of this year, the EP represents an enormous step-up in songwriting and production quality from the Vancouver-based musician.

As was the case with 2018’s This Is Going To End In Blood (also available digitally through Covenant Records), all visuals were produced by visionary photographer and film-maker artist Max Montesi, and an intense master was given to the songs by infamous Toronto-based producer and musician Camp.30.

Possession is not easy to penetrate. It takes an honest, galvanizing look at our inescapable flaws and faults in enormous wrong-doing. Drawing as much from a retro 80’s sound as a modern R&B sound, and combining it with intense industrial and ambient elements, Possession is sure to sound unlike anything else you’ll hear this year.


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HERUKA unveil sacred, wrathful chants in ode to the realized tāntrik sages with “བརྟུལ་ཞུགས་སྤྱོད་པ་ (Tulzhug Chöpa)”

On this particularly auspicious day, Covenant presents the yet unknown and shadowy entity known as Heruka. While grounded in Kathmandu, Nepal, the project reaches far beyond the limits of the material plane striving towards the greater work at hand. Taking inspiration from the ancient Indo-Tibetan Vajrayāna tradition, Heruka’s demo entitled, བརྟུལ་ཞུགས་སྤྱོད་པ་ (Tulzhug Chöpa), is an ode to the realized tāntrik sages of this specific sacred landscape, whose wisdom minds dwell in the indivisibility of bliss and emptiness.

While seemingly brief, the demo itself contains a potency rarely experienced in wholly realized albums and musical projects all together. At only two tracks, the first “དུས་གསུམ་སངས་ (Dusum Sangye)”, is a ritual ambient hymn sung in the Tibetan language, paying homage to Guru Padmasambhava, an 8th century Indian Mahāsiddha (Great Adept), who is credited with establishing Vajrayāna in Tibet. The second, “བརྟུལ་ཞུགས་སྤྱོད་པ་ (Tulzhug Chöpa)”, is a death/doom and ritual ambient track, which pays homage to the inner and secret aspects of the philosophy, path, unconventional behaviour, and appearance of a realized tāntrik yogin. The track is sung in a mix of Sanskrit, English and Tibetan languages, and it utilizes actual tāntrik ritual implements such as a damaru (hand-held drum), drilbu (ritual bell) and pre-recorded samples of rolmo (‘fierce’ cymbal) and (dung chen) trumpet, which are generally used by practitioners during tāntrik ceremonies in Vajrayāna monasteries or at hermitages. 

First initiated over two years ago, the project’s research work involved an in-depth study of the existing Vajrayāna tradition in the Tibetan lineages that currently thrive in India and Nepal along with a sincere inquiry in its Indic roots. The research work behind the lyrics and ideological concept behind Heruka included a thorough study of different complex aspects of the tradition’s philosophy and soteriology, which was further strengthened after receiving transmissions and teachings from various contemporary Vajrayāna masters hailing from India, Tibet and Bhutan who have meticulously preserved and mastered several outer, inner and secret aspects of the tāntrik path.


We spoke with the figure behind the voice, Padma Vajra. Previously known for his advisory role and vocal contribution to Cult of Fire‘s मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान (Ascetic Meditation of Death) album, the vocalist has since fully immersed himself in research and exploration of the enigmatic Tibetan Vajrayāna tradition and its Indian antecedents.

In the face of flippant misuse of these wisdom traditions in so much modern extreme metal, Padma decided action was needed. “During recent years, it has become somewhat of a trend in the underground metal scene, particularly black metal, to flirt with Eastern mysticism, but unfortunately most acts lack a proper exposure and understanding of the philosophy, soteriology, and symbolism of the myriad traditions, practices and deities that exist in our part of the world,” he states. Padma Vajra is no new comer to metal music nor the spiritual currents of which he delves, he clarifies that “as a student of the Vajrayāna tradition of Tibet, and as someone truly invested in the underground music scene, I felt an urge to create an honest and true-to-the-roots musical project to pay homage to the spirit of the Tantric Buddhist tradition for kindred spirits who are equally interested in the mystical and the obscure.”

Despite its brevity, བརྟུལ་ཞུགས་སྤྱོད་པ་ (Tulzhug Chöpa) represents the culmination of years of research, dedication, and hard work. “A lot of work went behind the research and understanding required for a project dealing with the inner aspects of Vajrayāna,” he says. “It involved visiting Tantric temples, monasteries and power places, understanding Tibetan ritual, academic research, and most importantly meeting authentic Vajrayāna masters in India and Nepal and receiving their precious teachings and blessings.” Padma tells us that the influence of these teachings are leveraged in Heruka’s music to “pay homage to the ‘male’ aspect of Vajrayāna tradition and especially to Guru Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian Tantric master, who established Vajrayāna in Tibet.” In fact, even this exact unveiling is calculated to infuse even greater potency, as he explains, “the digital release of the demo also coincides with the 10th day of the current Tibetan month, as per its lunar calendar. This date is very special as its connected with Guru Padmasambhava, commonly known as Guru Rinpoche in Tibet and in the Himalayan tradition in general, and broadly the male aspect of Vajrayāna tantra.”


Soon to be released into physical format through SERPENTS HEAD REPRISAL on tape cassette.

The cover art was drawn by Visionis Phosphorescent, paying ode to the Indian style of Vajrayāna sculpture, which was prevalant in the epochal Pala Empire (8th-12th centuries). Vocals and ambient tracks/recording in conjunction with SISTER

Categories
Festival Review

COVENANT FESTIVAL V RETROSPECTIVE: Congregation of Timeless Deathcraft

You see them. Your people. A few on the bus, all exit at the same stop, start the walk up the hill. Hoodies with patches adorned, the tell-tale scrawl hieroglyphics of black and death metal bands. Long, long hair. That calm yet commanding demeanour of metalheads and those of similar ilk. Feels like a pilgrimage. It is. But there is nothing holy here; I am no virginal disciple. I am a heap of rotten flesh stuffed into a young body-bag, flailing frantically to find the zipper and release the truth of what I am: putrefact. This gathering is the hand that reaches around, finds the pull and undoes the row of meeting teeth that hold you together. Welcome to your wretched undoing. Welcome to Covenant.


COVENANT V – NIGHT 1

The moment I walk in, I can’t stop smiling. Perfection chants in my head. This is perfection. A long rectangular hall, stage at the far end. A woman stands on stage, screaming. Not hysteria but perfect control. A focused scream. Perfection. The hall is gymnasium style, flashbacks of grade seven dances certainly tenable. But that is utterly forgotten. Smoke floods the space, ghosts of incense commemorate the evening. Everyone draped in black, a band shirt plethora, the visual currency of outcastery. There are generations here: some white beards dyed only by decades, some soft faces newly escaped from the Mordor of adolescence. Whatever it is that births people like us, the millenial age and the tech revolution have not destroyed it.

Vendors line the hall, lamps shining onto the desecrated objects for sale, be it esoterica or band merch. In this unworldly marketplace I feel as much awe as I have at the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, or the crowded markets of rural Kerala. I have taken the bus 20 minutes but may as well be abroad, and surely there are stranger objects here: animal skulls, books on alchemy and dark magick, human ribs and vertebrae. You forget it’s a warm summer evening in an expensive city populated by hipsters and rich yoga moms. In this relaxed air, people are at home. We cannot separate the sameness of opposites. In sacrilege we find the sacred. Pilgrimage indeed. Whether you know it or not, you yearn for this.

The vocalist on stage keeps screaming, the accompanying keyboardist devout. They have ended my enshacklement to the tedium of the everyday. I surrender to the Truth of Howl. Oh to hear a woman scream. I mean this with affection for her sacrifice, not sadism for her agony. She screams on my behalf. The vibration is intense, my neck shakes, and is sliced. Ah, she screams. We share an aural umbilical cord and she’s voicing all my horrors. The beautiful smell of smoke, the candelabra on stage aside the singer glowing, ah. Eventually, her voice becomes operatic. The lyrics love is disillusion singe the air. My throat is tight. A synth organ sounds. This music wouldn’t be out of place in a cathedral. Isn’t that the Wise Hall tonight? Cathedral Damnation. The Covenant flag hangs humble behind the performers. How is it one feels so at home amid terror and darkness than pop melodies and sunshine? The Mother Tongue of so many strangers: screams.
*
They finish. I make my way to the washrooms. I worry my festival bracelet absorbs a drop of piss as I pat myself dry. Well, Hail Satan. I open the door quickly, surprising a beautiful bald woman, face luminous as a full moon, she smiles in surprise. The smile of this she-devil is glorious.

A new act. This is seduction. This is a lovers tongue entering your dark rose-wet cave. Yes my friends, music can feel like this. They collectively caress that clitoral audience before them, rhythmic bodies shaking with the songs they have necromanced. The ground reverberates beneath me. Another feeling emerges, one of pride. I look upon these creatures, grown men, so committed to their craft, smiths forging gold from their own turbulent viscera. I am swept away on the wings of these dragons, I am riding through the sky. Cerulean world abounds, coniferous forest beneath.
*
Someone throws a can into the bin beside me. He walks over to check that it didn’t ricochet onto the ground. I am touched. Who says social degenerates aren’t considerate? I look across the crowd, faces entranced, death disciples receiving condemned communion. Brilliance.

The difference between listening to metal live versus recorded is perhaps a greater gulf than any other genre of music. It is a corporeal genre. Feel. Feel. To know you are real requires being physically moved. This is why abuse is often preferable to solitude. Here, instead of harm, instead of drawing blood, it is kept inside and rumbled with sonic waves. I press my body against the stage. The drums play me.
*
I blink. It is late. I work in the morning. I am back in the world, the fluorescent lighting of a city bus guiding my eyes around the normalcy. Someone yells out the window at a pedestrian. A hunched over man in a camouflage bomber jacket eats Doritos out of the bag. He has worn out Coach running shoes that scream stolen. The world where I return.
*
COVENANT V – NIGHT 2

Before the music, people chat, shop the market. Yet many stand facing the stage, just waiting. Such obedience in such a defiant culture. In the end, I suppose it’s just choose your altar. A woman paints on a canvas propped on the stage as a band plays. An eye? A volcano? The minutes upcoming will tell. (Isn’t that all Time does: tell?) Performers are blindfolded with black gauze/mesh. Though the painting has evolved, the surroundings could be lashes or shrubbery. It is an eye or a mountain? Mountains, the earth gazing upwards to the stars. Are mountains not the eyes of the world? (Am I really this pretentious?)
*
I step outside for fresh air and remnants of light. The walk up to the Wise Hall is one of my favourite parts. Apt that it is atop a hill, the urban coven a little removed from busling hippie streets of this neighbourhood. At the park a block down, children and parents play. It is strange to think of childhood, a time before the life that mutilated me. Run, sweet gremlins, run now in your gleeful play, laugh and be free, because one day this ends. Lifes’ fire will disfigure you. And maybe then, they will join us, will they play on the Wise Hall stage at Covenant XVI? I end my demented musings and head back up the hill, the sky turning amethyst. “He puked on the painting.” someone says, walking out of the hall. Eye or mountain, I will never know.

The night gets going with the second act. Killer drums is the first thing you notice. Pearl kit, a cinderblock affront the main drum. I feel the tormented corpse in me awaken, this dancer on coals, she moves through me and I am ignited. The inner realm is vast and though our own, always needs initiation from an external summoning. Only the stage holds to magic to unblock my dark channels. Beside me, an ocean of delicate, appreciative head nods, quite different than headbanging.

These are sorcerers admiring skilled incantation. The guitarist plants his feet flat, he does not move or shuffle around. Absorbing power through rooting himself to the altar. The guitar ceases to be separate from the musician, and he sings with his hand and metallic vocal chords. He has a face-mouth and a hand-mouth. The incense begins to burn. Covenant V is getting closer to its zenith.
*
Summoning ancestors, ancient tongues. What a gift. A group which summoned itself back from near disappearance. Communion with the audience, inviting, sharing, feeding us hungry souls the spoils of their tilled and stolen soil. Audience yells “time for another album.” Everyone basks in affection.

Again, smiths at the forge, male bodies electric. Violent, tantric, you are with devil spirit. They come from caves with armies, soldiers rhythmic assault. War and orgy. A mucosal feeling in the crowd, in that we are brought together in some mordial ooze. There is fucking inside your heart, your heart pounded upon by phallus of collective creation. Somehow, you feel hands caress your face. The chest cavity shakes. Then the ground like a death rattle. If this is death, let me transcend. Sweat soaking their hair, the scent fills the hall, merges with incense.

I move from the front to the centre of the crowd. They look calm yet possessed. Ascended disciples. Darkness enshrouds each player, emitting not light, but something as visible and entrancing.
*
There is something undeniably tender in all this. Family coming home.
*
I am beheaded over and over again, my body command a head grow in order to enjoy the honour of decapitation. Suddenly the sensation transforms: now swords push through my neck and body, I am kept in tact, but spliced from many angles. To be stabbed again and again, yes, we can enjoy pleasures of the flesh without the physical harm – only metaphysical harm. But it is not harm. How can destruction make you feel whole?

The clink/chime of cymbals are as though pins pushed into you, perfect sharpness. Nothing is blunt, mutilation is perfection. Easy peasy. Pins. Voices are duct tape over your eyes and mouth. The relief from the senses! Instead, only shock. The shock of experiencing the bellowing bowels of another. Rollercoaster of intestines. We become shit and are grateful, because it is greater than the singular quotidian bodies we regularly are.

The shock of being saved when you didn’t expect it, it didn’t realize you needed it. Projections, cloaks, green, camo, where am I? Where are they? Like being launched into space, and through suffocation, a part of you breathes for the first time.
*

COVENANT V – NIGHT III

Tonight is different. The creature has emerged from the mucus fully formed, like Saurons’ Uruk Hai, ready to be harvested and summoned. But we are not warriors organizing ourselves for battle. Mundane daily life is the battle. This is congregating after the fact to honour the sacrifice and celebrate the spoils. Less and less, this feels demonic. Or my flimsy idea of what demonic is no longer serves. Such comfort among the citizens of this underworld. The benefits of a small city, a small scene, but also I think a universal understanding exists in metal and underground: the genres are universal orphanages. We know each other.

The long slow rousing drum, vibrations lull you, walking, wading into still water. We stand and dark liquid envelopes us. Body temperature, you can barely tell that you’re surrounded. I wish I could be set afloat on this strange river, the birthplace I never knew I had.
*
Discoballs, chandeliers, fernels. String lights.

Young women ponder buying human bones. I fear such an investment myself, who knows whose they were, how they died. I do not need a vertebrae or jaw at home resenting me. My own flesh bears enough hatred.

Backstage. I have never seen drummers warm-up. It’s a beautiful thing. A large bald man in a wife beater closes his eyes and drums in the air. Later I see him with a small drum pad. He is serene, the focus of a child, the focus of a master. The champion shadow boxing before the bout. This is human worship at its finest.
*
Oh, backstage is backstage. Theatre or music, high school or professional, it’s the same. My heart explodes. Chatter, anxiety, flirting, chips, mismatched tables and cabinets, an old piano, stacks of chairs, coats and bags flung around, an ocean of instruments, half-empty cans, a mini fridge, dressing mirrors, always the same.

This abrasive music has the comfort of a warm bed and soft sheets. Why does it feel like love?
*
They are a crucifix for us upon which to nail our horrors. Thank you.
*
Appreciation. Flawlessness. The cervical vetebrae of the hall undulating like a pendulum. Megalith of sound. Genuine cadence, the architecture of velocity, rage, and chaos, all these elements compliment by discerning choice. Dew of morning.

Backstage. Surprising absence of coffee, a few takeout cups on the table. They emit their beautiful scent, couvetted elixir brought forth from scalding water and crushed powder of earth pods. Is this not art, not music, the scalding passage of time extracting from us something bitter yet valuable? I scan the green room. Some organizers take a well earned selfie. The room itself is nearly empty. Beyond the wall, the ceremony endures. Sagging leather couches, bottles, cans, chips, amps, guitars that have travelled the world, tables pushed to one side. Backstage is backstage.

Near the end, I am overcome with sadness. Dead Congregation instills the lifeforce with stamina, whereas each day in the office, on the train, in the true dead congregation of society at large, we must endure our corpse laiden lives. Bursts of death-life of black metal amid quotidian decay. I must wait another year to breathe. The ultimate mediation.

Yet sadness is given comfort in knowing I can keep this moment inside of me, the sealed sarcophagus of Covenant, until again revived. This is beyond a good memory. I can hold the very thing itself precious and dear.
*
Applause, smoke, the peeling away of the event at large. All I am left with: gratitude.


Observed, written, and wordcrafted by Indu Iyer – Homepage | Instagram
All photography by Chelsea Mandziuk – Homepage | Instagram