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VASSAFOR walks an endless sinister path from unbeing to manifestation

Vassafor have been at the forefront of NZ Black Metal since their return in 2006 with the 7″ Southern Vassaforian Hell which was shortly followed up with self-titled EP Vassafor in 2007. Both releases broadened the band’s exposure and established them as fixtures within the underground. Since then, the output has been prolific with the release of several splits, a live album, and two acclaimed full lengths, the 2012 monolith Obsidian Codex and 2017’s Malediction.

Covenant caught up with the founder and creative conduit VK to discuss the history of the band, the driving purpose, and their forthcoming full length.

SINISTER ESSENCE

Founded in 1994, Vassafor has existed in numerous forms and iterations for over 25 years. 1997 saw the release of Demo I, subsequently after the band disappeared into obscurity and aether for a further 7 years.

“Those first demo songs were initially only shared with friends and allies as dubbed tapes. Then subsequently it got to people either we came in contact with or who were given it thru those already infected. Certainly, it was primitive and made with terrible gear, but it was an eruption of our ideas of BM that was already completely out of step with anyone around us. As for the break, it was only due to no other suitable members around me after DL and I were in different cities. Only a handful of people here in NZ seemed actually interested in non standard BM back then and half of us already hated each other. Not so different from today in some ways.”

Vassafor’s purpose is blunt and singular “To presence the sinister and venerate our Patron.” Driven as a conduit to and the fulfillment of sinister vision, the channels and methodologies for evocation have continued to evolve. VK recalls these foundations and the path tread thus far…

“Vassafor is still driven in the same direction as always, which is to be an offering and gateway/conduit, but it definitely has a more focused path now than any time previously. Like any art or skill, practice makes perfect. We are here to presence the sinister and do it as best we can.”

“From first encounter to today, the progress is clear and building on itself as an egregore gaining more and more mana as it is conjured from unbeing into reality, from the void-soaked sunya existing between the Aethyrs. It eternally IS, we just had to develop eyes to see and ears to hear.”

EMANATION AND CODEX

Delving further upon the discovery, inspiration and initiative which caused the band to materialise…

“I wanted to do my own thing not long after I first started playing in bands. Everything I wrote was Black Metal, but I was playing in a Death Metal band and a Rock band not a million miles away from Birthday Party type stuff. So even though I would write a bit in these bands, I was writing a lot of music which didn’t really suit the bands I was part of.

VK Recalls “People here in Auckland in the early 90s wanted to play like Carcass or a heavier thrash style for the most part. I was obsessed with the tapes that came via the mail and the BM records that would turn up in the record store in town that would stock extreme metal imports, and getting records like the Incubus 7” or the Necromantia, Samael, Masters Hammer LPs were massively influential in the early period of Vassafor for me and my bandmate DL who was literally the only other person in Auckland I knew into that style of dark, evil metal.

One of the defining characteristics Vassafor is their elaborate composition style. Typically drawing less from the conventional structure of modern music, their tracks are known to become formidable, manifold beasts changing and mutating throughout. VK considers the impact from atypical influences, how they have shaped his compositions and the organic metamorphosis Vassafor’s music has undergone as it forms and maintains its own identity.

“I’d grown up with classical music and 70s rock like King Crimson/ELP etc so I was familiar with symphonic length pieces of music or album tracks that might be 20 minutes long, and that was probably a subconscious influence on not having to be constricted by 3 min song lengths or a verse, chorus songwriting paradigm. But certainly currently, and for a long time, we have less external musical influences and more literary or artistic influences that refract internally to set tone or mood for material. If that makes sense.”

Divulging further on musical inspirations which serve the sinister purpose “Hard to separate myself to enough of a degree to answer accurately, but yeah, I think our roots are always fairly recognisable in our style of Black Metal. There’s always that primitivism of old (BM era) Darkthrone or Graveland or Beherit mixed with the pursuit of audial darkness and evil that can take us into many forms. So long as its sinister then it fits the Vassaforian paradigm.”

This dedication to the sinister reveals itself throughout Vassafor with a codified foundation established and fulfilled through music, lyrics and aesthetic. How important are those three elements to galvanise the creative process, presentation and essence?

“To me it’s of vital importance, if it’s your own paradigm that you are codifying. These 3 elements should be a reflection of the spirit of the band and should remain indivisible from it. That’s why when people think of bands “selling out” it generally is a band breaking their own covenant and rings false to people following the band.”

“As for Vassafor each are intertwined enough that a song can be started from any direction. It might be a song title or scrap of lyric, or a concept, or a chunk of music. 1 generally infuses the other if the ideas are strong enough to end up making it to song stage. Plenty of small chunks on rehearsal tapes of part songs of riffs or written lyrics that never developed into strong enough material to become a song. We usually throw away quite a large amount of material, if it doesn’t make the grade then we don’t save it for later, into the bin it goes.”

DIVINATION

Whilst intent has been singular with Vassafor, the bands delivery and tactics can vary to achieve this purpose, a rare feat to achieve whilst maintaining identity.

In May 2019 Vassafor commenced recording their 3rd album. Nearing completion, VK divulges on their forthcoming offering and provides pertinent details of what to expect.

“Yeah smashing through it now. There will be roughly 60 minutes of all new music. It will be released once again by Iron Bonehead who are the perfect label for us. There will be 6 main songs and a few intro and interlude pieces. We are at this time probably 2/3rds of the way through it all. We have a few outside allies involved in the record from the UK and Sweden that should change things up a bit.”

“I guess this record sounds more ancient than usual. The songs are perhaps a touch more primitive than usual in some respects and def more twisted in others. Probably more of our early influences like Temple of Full Moon/Polish BM style in places and in others quite old DM style. It should be completely out of step with current trend based cut ‘n’ paste, quantized click track, metal bullshit anyway!!”

With an impending album due from the eminent Iron Bonehead Productions in 2020, we asked what else lies ahead for Vassafor?

“Most important is the album. And doing a proper local ritual as opposed to gig in a bar supporting an international or whatever. Time for some Bones, Decay and Reverence the Vassaforian way…tentatively we are looking at early summer for it.”

EMANATION AND WILL

In 2016 Vassafor covered MZ.412 for Ancient Meat Revived, a tribute to seminal Death Industrial/Dark Ambient label Cold Meat Industry. Since, Vassafor was invited by the mastermind of that project to present an interpretation of Nordrvagr’s “At the Crossroads of Immortality” which featured on a collaborative album in May 2019

Whilst using disparate methods, it’s clear to see parallels between these entities and their respective genres.

“I’d like to think MZ.412 and Vassafor are essentially the same spirit via different instrumentation. Nordvargr is a total genius and it’s been great to strengthen ties with that conduit. I have always appreciated MZ.412 in particular from that wave of Cold Meat Industries and Death Industrial scene, but BP has come from that background rather than metal so has a much deeper appreciation for the musical sphere. He also has an industrial band he is part of currently that is working on material. That should be well worth checking out as the other guy he’s doing it with is a total maniac for that style as well.”

“These areas of Death Industrial and Black Metal seem to intersect especially when a dark spiritualism is involved. When looking at groups like Phurpa or Shibalba, they inhabit those same crossroads too.”

Audio engineering is another scope which VK operates within, covering his methods and criteria and the satisfaction of contributing to the achievement of a bands vision…

As for criteria for engineering in terms of mixing and mastering, it generally depends mostly on whether I enjoy the music or not, whether I consider it worthwhile & want to try and do what I can to help the vision of the band, but also of course if I have time. Lots of bands I say no to and even bands I’ll start working with and they start talking utter bullshit or want mainstream engineering and I suggest they use others. Plenty of other engineers for that kind of sound. I’m not interested in being associated with that kind of shit. Fuck that. And as a result I’m getting to work with many great bands that I’d be getting the record of anyway, but this way I get to help realize their vision properly. Some examples of recent mastering jobs I got to work on were the latest Hellvetron album and Tetragrammacide compilation LP. Both don’t want clean and nice standard mastering but for the right master to enhance the uniqueness of the bands. I’m totally into working with groups that want to forge their own path. Such as the latest Funereal Presence LP which was killer as he knew exactly what he was after, so I could help nail it down exactly in line with the initial vision. Very satisfying to get these records back and enjoy listening to them on my stereo.”

The involvement within these domains has provided exposure and insight to numerous countries, music and people. We asked VK where the vanguards were and thoughts on global Metal.

“I’ve been able to play a few places in South America and each one has been full of total fucking maniacs. Chile seems especially virulent, as it certainly seems like it has been for many years now. The crowds are absolute die hard metal beasts. Fucking hell, just the range of T-shirt’s in the crowds is fully mental and is full of ultra metal bands playing ugly as hell hateful shit. Perfect!”

“Seems like Asian crowds are super harsh and passionate as well. I’m into the Sri Lankan and Thai extreme metal scenes and looks like India is spawning some monster bands as well. I would really like to visit Japan to either or just see gigs there too…”

Considering the isolation of New Zealand, VK has been involved with several prominent bands within Black and Death Metal spheres across the globe as a live and recording artist. We discussed how these allegiances eventuated…

BLASPHEMY – “This year is my 10th year playing bass in Blasphemy. This came about during my tenure in Diocletian after I had worked out Weltering in Blood for a 7” we did and then sent copies to the Ross Bay Cult out of respect and heard back that they were into it and was in contact from then. Cut to 2009 and for whatever reason they were down to a 4 piece and had shows booked. Next thing I know I’m answering the War Command and rehearsing in Vancouver for a few weeks before Montreal and then Helsinki deathstrikes. And been there for most since.”

SINISTROUS DIABOLUS – “When I was younger, I would play in certain bands as a mercenary session player, but learned fairly early that I don’t belong on a stage if I don’t believe in the material I’m playing 100%. So the bands I’ve played for that I haven’t written or been part of are only bands I respect and will help out. An example is Sinistrous Diabolus who are our oldest and closest brother band to Vassafor. When/if asked to help with a live lineup I would always say yes to that without a second thought.”

TEMPLE NIGHTSIDE – “Since then I have been part of various bands but generally as a full member. One of those being Temple Nightside where I can focus on evil Death Metal guitar and not think of lyrics of vocals at all. TN is gearing up to record our next record which is the first to feature songwriting from all members of the band. So its been excellent going through the writing and demoing process of all the songs for the album. “


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GENOCIDE SHRINES, HERESIARCH, SERPENTS ATHIRST, & TREPANATION mean total war on “Scorn Coalesence”

In a conflict that spans continents, four players in a game of mutually assured destruction each set off their chosen salvo of concentrated hatred, leaving no victor, only an aftermath of desecration and ruin.

The four way split entitled, Scorn Coalescence serves as a kind of simulation of such a devastating, apocalyptic clash between forces. With every subsequent track, artillery shift their treads, altering firing patterns, as the calculated infantry that advance upon the enemy are suddenly replaced with frantic berserkers. Both within each track on this four part end times display, as well as between them, the aura of crossfire reigns supreme, and ultimate conflict is invoked.

Genocide Shrines

Scorn Coalescence is made up of four different bands, representing two very remote countries half a world away, and yet all bound together by the gnarled chains of the bestial style. Sri Lankan radicals and New Zealand maniacs pit themselves against one another in bitter, merciless struggle to the end. Here, the terrain of this battleground is borne of black and death metal, and each combatant navigates their own way. (editor’s note: N. from Heresiarch explains how the split came to be)

Sri Lanka has gained prominence in recent years within the underground for a burgeoning atmosphere of metal that is as acidic as it is brutally pummeling. So it is only logical that the Sri Lankan scene be represented by some of their strongest perpetrators. Serpents Athirst make the first move in “Poisoning The Seven”, which, from the chilling riff that begets the storm, exudes an air of dominating prowess and grandeur. Battle lines drawn and marching blocks of troop offensives emanate from Serpents Athirst in their playing. Never does the band lose control of the raw chaos they invoke, instead managing to keep it tightly bound within strict doctrine of warfare, only to let it loose in a concentrated blast of unremitting hellfire.

Serpents Athirst

Through the smoking rubble, following in the wake of their countryman, Genocide Shrines are not content to sweep up the survivors and straglers of the initial assault, but proceed to take the situation fully into their own grasp in the form of “All And/Or Nothing”.

It quickly becomes apparent that both bands out of Sri Lanka share a knack for calculated violence, as Genocide Shrines seem to have kept the thousand pound warbeast of their conjoined sound in check, directing it against the enemy lines. A bulbous, overripe bass tone undercuts the band’s sound, and paired with the abyssal howls of Tridenterrorcult, Genocide Shrines shakes the earth under treads of indominable, tyrannical iron. There is a sonic narrative trajectory that characterizes “All And/Or Nothing”, as the initial holocaust rises to a steadier, upward gaze of triumph, only to be cast back down into the maelstrom of eternal warfare once again. In its own way, Genocide Shrines are encapsulating the inevitable flat circle of the human race.

In opposition to the regimented attackers, New Zealand is embodied in twin engines of pandaemonium to offset the structure of the enemy. Out of the haze, Trepanation exact a blitzkrieg of psychotic violence, letting out manic screams of reckless abandon as they seem to flail themselves about at anything that moves. All the while, a seething tone of electronic noise pierces the fog, causing the listener to feel shell shocked and dazed, only to be hastily cut down by Trepanation’s frenetic dirging.

The decisive end comes with the arrival of Heresiarch and their warhead termination protocol through, “Dread Prophecy”. The Wellington horde intend to end everything, exhibiting aspects of ally and enemy alike through the lense of their own will. Subsequent barrages of blasting drums, rabidly squirming guitar, and barbaric gutturals turn any kind of foundations to dust. The bass reigns supreme in Heresiarch’s arsenal, looming like a sonic giant in the mix of their overall roar. When met with the drums and vocals, Heresiarch summon a tectonic scale of impact that one can only behold with despair and awe.

Heresiarch

In this war, no one wins. Such is the power of these four bands. As scathing as it is, Scorn Coalescence is an informative split in several ways. In the aftermath of it all, we can see overt similarities and differences between bands and the countries they come from through their respective sounds. And by doing this, it also goes to show the flexibility of the bestial war metal style. What is often relegated to a strict dogma of execution is, in regards to these four bands, made less cramped, and open to interpretation of the blueprint.

As is the nature and most effective application of the genre, Scorn Coalescence hits hard and fast, wasting no time to initiate the inevitable downfall of life. But with every song, we are propositioned with fire and poison by four different bands, and each one is befitting of further exploration and allegiance.


Available for mass consumption via CYCLOPEAN EYE PRODUCTIONS on CD format.

HERESIARCH
GENOCIDE SHRINES
SERPENTS ATHIRST
TREPANATION

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HERESIARCH: No Sanctum

Artists, theologians and philosophers have contemplated belief and ideology since time immemorial. These regimes of truth have been painted for us in many colours but, ideological or spiritual, all ultimately come back with the same motive – domination of the individual. Absolving us of personal responsibility through fate, diminishing the range of our free will through doctrine, eminence through order. 

New Zealand’s Heresiarch explores a chaos world devoid of these bodiless structures, where hope is rejected and the divine is meaningless. “Our scenarios are set in the fray of a power vacuum, amongst the twilight of beliefs, faiths and philosophies which have been made redundant. In their wake a new path is forged, detached from the aforementioned. It is a world of struggle, chaos and lawlessness where force and death reign supreme.” tells founding member and vocalist N.H. “It is situational to a world where the sacred cows have been put to pasture, so to speak. The twilight referenced reduces us to instinctual, animal survival from which an intangible, conquering way emerges as a consequence to this. There is no name or identifying tenets for this other than power itself. As it is far removed and has not yet occurred, it isn’t explored or described further.”

Heresiarch’s vision has honed since their first releases in 2011, a demo and EP (Obsecrating the Global Holocaust and Hammer of Intransigence, respectively). In these early days the annihilation of the gods and the rejection of hope and belief were already dominant themes in their work, drawing from concepts such as Ragnarok and over time fleshing them out further into their own narrative world on later works Wælwulf and the cyclopean sound of their 2017 full-length Death Ordinance. “There’s a continuation throughout which metamorphosises with each release – Wælwulf and Death Ordinance are set 1000 years apart. ‘Lupine Epoch’ references some of the earlier themes but is more solidified in the identity we have forged, which was built upon earlier Heresiarch narratives. Heresiarch means ‘a founder of heresy’ and is reflected through our music, lyrics and purpose. The death and conquest of gods within physical and metaphorical forms is a statement of absolute power. This conquest and murder of gods was built out and emphasised from our relatively primitive foundation, particularly with Wælwulf.”

“There are themes in our music relating to the conflict and balance of individual experience against the wider macrocosm,.” says N.H. “Our most recently released track ‘Dread Prophecy’, is a scenario where two adversaries fight to the death whilst the sun implodes. The outcome is futile but their action and conflict is the paramount objective and central focus. The defiance and conquest of faith, destiny, hope and belief itself is a part of this balance and by extension, struggle. Those phenomena mentioned are viewed as weapons of manipulation and control used against the individual, recurrent throughout history in numerous manifestations, environments and methodologies. Zealotry and wilful ignorance lauded as virtue aren’t exclusive to spiritual realms and are viewed as symptoms rather than the cause. Whether through doctrine, organised religion or other mass movements, people are validated and encouraged to seek refuge from their own limitations. ”

Throughout this time, Heresiarch has morphed slowly into the creature that it is today, under the guidance of N.H., the remaining founding member. “Though I consider the band as an entity outside of myself, it has been under my direction with contributions from key collaborators since formation,” he says. “Throughout, members have come from a range of personalities, backgrounds and perspectives working towards the common purpose and vision of the band. Line-up changes become less of a concern as this vision and identity is further established. Whilst ideas, methods and execution may change, consistency and honesty in the approach is most important. Early on, our music was inspired by the bands we drew immediate influence from, esoteric topics, warfare, mythos and the recurrence of conflict throughout history. Seeing and drawing parallels between those topics built the foundation of our themes which were documented from a cold and detached perspective, presented as timeless and universal, occurring throughout existence and to continue once we cease to exist. Outside sources became less important as the identity and purpose of Heresiarch is solidified and becomes self-propagating.”

© Odin Imaging

“Self-evolution is a part of the journey. Whilst having my own principles, goals and motivations, many of my perspectives and outlooks have changed throughout the years. Continued challenges, trials and evaluation bring about purposeful change and improvement. Heresiarch was my first “proper” band, founded in my late teens so naturally there will be some growth and discovery, the last 5 years have been particularly significant in terms of this.

He continues, “The above is applicable to the creative process as well as individual outlets. The ability to self-assess, critique and identify ways to improve is an important aspect of the band. This is paramount to the creative process, one of the few areas where an individual can truly have some semblance of control over their lives. With that, Heresiarch has continued to evolve with different iterations of members, collaborators and new objectives. To “settle” on our musical output or fall into the trap of absolutist belief, submission and obedience to scenes, ideologues and dogma would be the death of self-growth, stagnating creativity and contradicting the purpose of the band itself.”

Heresiarch’s music is reflective of their thematic universe, titanic blackened death metal bedlam that takes you into a desperate and irredeemable world. Their newest single, “Dread Prophecy” was released through Indian label Cyclopean Eye Productions on Scorn Coalescence to be released in late September by Dark Descent on LP, a vicious four-way split alongside Sri Lanka’s Genocide Shrines and Serpents Athirst as well as NZ compatriots Trepanation. This collaborative effort was conceived on a visit to Sri Lanka and took years to come to fruition.

“I travelled to Sri Lanka in 2016 and spent most of my time with the members of Genocide Shrines and Serpents Athirst as well as meeting the wider Pannipitiya collective,” says N.H. “We’d been in touch since 2011, shortly before the Genocide Shrines EP came out which I’d recommended to Iron Bonehead at the time. As such, we had a strong connection between both bands in our formative years which had strengthened since, so they were always a natural ally.”

“We had been considering putting out a short release of new material at the time to coincide with Death Ordinance planned for the following year. We discussed and agreed on a split release with Genocide Shrines and Serpents Athirst representing Sri Lanka with Trepanation joining us from New Zealand. 4 bands with different timelines didn’t work out as intended, the track we originally recorded was also on Death Ordinance and with shows, touring, line-up changes and other commitments we didn’t get to finish recording until returning from our second US tour in 2018.”

Over the years we’ve seen an influx of impressive extreme music coming from the scantily populated New Zealand. Being physically isolated from the rest of the world comes with its own set of challenges, but has made the sounds endemic to the island nation stand out amongst the crush. “The geographic isolation, relative youth as a nation, the intense nature of the New Zealand Wars (Kai Tangata was a key inspiration for ‘Carnivore’) and our surroundings have all been a source of inspiration,” he says. “How much so is intangible since I can only reference growing up in New Zealand and Australia but the differences are certainly noticeable when travelling abroad.”

“The logistics of touring and travel requires a lot of planning and coordination when looking outside of New Zealand and Australia. Potentially this has improved the standard of bands which have made it out of our country, particularly across Death and Black/Death Metal as it requires bands to be more purposeful, willful and self-determined,” he continues. “Living in Wellington had some more tedious obstacles, especially with forming a line-up to perform and record with. There were very few people interested in this type of music then and it was difficult finding suitable musicians within New Zealand. For the first 3 releases all other members’ lived in different cities to me.”

“Discovering and physically buying music at the time was expensive, having to pay ridiculous prices for imported releases and merchandise from retailers. Eventually I started Internecion Productions and began distributing, promoting and releasing material myself within NZ and abroad. One of the key points I’ve noticed about worthwhile New Zealand bands and people is an initiative to seek out and actualise what we want to happen ourselves.”

© Odin Imaging

The shift in extreme music towards bands having a comprehensive and total vision for their œuvres is not entirely recent, though we have come to see a lot more of this in the past decade, giving artists more of a guiding hand in how their work is taken in and perceived. Heresiarch’s partaking in this kind of artistic direction seems to have been innate, evident in the thread that runs through their music, artwork and presentation. “We are involved with all components of a release from artwork, writing, recording and mixing process. Initially this was with some brashness due to youth, limited reference, perspective and experience. Later this was achieved with a clearer vision and more focus, particularly with Wælwulf, Death Ordinance and material we have written since,” says N.H. “Ideas are fleshed out from the root level with a ‘holistic’ view of all mediums such as the broad lyrical content and narrative as well as delivery, role each instrument plays, atmosphere, aesthetics and how they all interrelate.” 

“Our music is often primitive to compliment the blunt and cruel nature of our topics, and the artwork should represent this on a grand scale. It’s important to envision how each component of the release represents itself, identify the suitable artist and then direct the vision until completion. Whether or not what we achieve is “ground-breaking” is of little concern. We write for our own satisfaction and have control, through that there is honesty and integrity to the vision which is crucial.”

After their performance at Covenant Festival III, Heresiarch’s 2018 US tour was their last stint on the road – besides the aforementioned split, they have been at work forming what’s to come. “We recently finished another split which is anticipated to be released 2020, whilst being true to our sound and delivery this also delves into newer territory for us. We are composing our second album with the conceptual direction and purpose of the release outlined; it will coincide with Death Ordinance but will be more bleak and violent. What we have set as objectives and written to date is a natural progression from previous releases though there will be emphasised regressions as well. This will be our primary focus for the foreseeable future.  South East Asia and Europe have been in our sights for some time, but we won’t be addressing this until after the second album.”

As they continue to dilate the abstract of their work, Heresiarch speaks to the confrontation of the individual against the powers of mass submission, and the many ways we’ve found to obscure true existence – a confrontation that we may never see to fulfillment. 

“Countless slaughters have occurred throughout millennia from those who believe they possessed knowledge of absolute truth and were wholly justified in their means and actions. The control that despots, hegemons and cults had in the previous centuries shattered power dynamics, resulting in myopic perspective, loss of individual autonomy and mass death via their ‘true believers’.” 

“It’s a recurrent theme throughout history and is highly likely to continue. Ultimately we are a Black/Death Metal band documenting the scenarios mentioned previously. Our ethos is much more detached and not directed towards a utopian ideal. As a witness to the last man and destruction of all life; struggle, force and death are the only truths Heresiarch can objectively see.”

“Homō hominī lupus” – Plautus

Daniel Bloxham art

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