Few bands will ever have what it takes to set the bar. Try as they may, a healthy dose of talent, clever compositions and memorable riffs simply aren’t enough. What sets the bar, separating the talented from the exemplary, is authenticity – something Quebec black metal band Gevurah possesses in spades.
It’s been six years since the release of their massively acclaimed debut album, Hallelujah! and four years since the release of the EP, Sulphur Soul, but the duo have been anything but idle. X.T. and A.L. have been tirelessly pouring their authenticity into the opus that is Gehinnom, and it is potent. In its wake, Gevurah established themselves as one of North America’s most formidable black metal acts of the last decade.
Gevurah is finally descending upon Vancouver’s Covenant Festival, where they will headline on Friday night and play the entirety of Gehinnom for one final time. In anticipation, X.T. and A.L. share some glimpses into the album’s production and the Work that inspires them.
Thank you, X.T. and A.L., for chatting with me ahead of Gevurah’s long-awaited appearance at Covenant Festival; it is an honour. I’m looking forward to discussing what was obviously a momentous year for Gevurah. 2022 marked the release of your second full-length Gehinnom, which became instantly celebrated as one of the year’s best black metal releases, as well as live performances playing the album in its entirety. I understand Gehinnom has been 4 years in the making – what parts of Gevurah’s sound were you looking to explore or expand on in Gehinnom that haven’t been touched before?
There weren’t any areas per se we were looking to expand or explore, Gehinnom was rather a condensing experience, trying to be as direct and focused as ever. No compromise, no fooling around. Only the purest essence was to be present on this record; our unhinged energy at maximum capacity. Gehinnom is the culmination of all our past efforts.
Thematically and musically, we wanted to plunge as deep as possible into the darkness, as far as we could, further than we ever did, and present an accurate depiction of spiritual damnation. It wasn’t an easy task but a year and a half after its completion, it seems to us we have accomplished what we set out to do.
I’d love to talk about the album themes in closer detail. Gehinnom traverses through the deepest pits of a spiritual death in order to become fully liberated and made anew. What prompted the decision to centre this album around exploring this dark part of one’s spiritual path?
The act of spiritual and physical death has always been at the centre of Gevurah, as such there is nothing new per say about this theme being used as the loom to weave this album, but what may have changed is our relation and our approach to it. Personal experiences, and perhaps a certain maturation, or at least a realisation that we who choose to walk this Left Hand Path are indeed dead to the world, and reborn in our own reality which we craft according to our own ethos and beliefs, all these put us on the path that eventually led to Gehinnom.
The concept of the scapegoat was chosen as the central point: a goat being filled with the sins of the world, and liberated into the desert to die as an offering, thus liberating the world of its sins, (interestingly, this practice was originally an offering to a Semitic demon – the Bible mentions Azazel, and other sources mention Baal). We have adapted it to our own views and we, by Will, became that goat, and ventured willingly into the desert, to die and be reborn anew, following our own True Will, freed from the burden of sin. In this, Gehinnom may be our most personal and honest release thus far.
Gehinnom explores the theme of atonement, explicitly so with the Leviticus references in the instrumental track “Lv 16:22.” How do you view the idea of atonement in relation to achieving transcendence?
Opening our eyes to sin, partaking in it consciously, becoming one with it and then living free from it, or from the perception of sin, is one of the hardest meander of the Path. This atonement must be in relation with ourselves and the divine only, not with society. Therefore, change must happen within ourselves, through personal and spiritual renewal, separated from the gaze of the herd. As we tread deeper into the abyss and the separation widens, our Will becomes clearer and our union with Him stronger.
You worked with the inimitable Denis Forkas for Gehinnom’s striking cover art, as you did for 2016’s Hallelujah! At face value, it seems to stand in contrast to the desolate, bone-riddled pit that “Gehinnom” generally calls to mind. Would you be able to shed some light on the significance of the art and perhaps what it’s like to work with Forkas in crafting your vision?
Denis Forkas works in a very specific way, which completely suits our needs: he does not take any artistic direction and only follows his artistic instinct. Thus, on both accounts, the paintings are his own representation of our concepts and themes. Being extremely well-versed in esoteric knowledge, as well as taking inspiration from dreams, we believe his art complements the music in a way no other artist could. His paintings are as much an artistic expression of our concepts and lyrics as the actual album itself, rather than simply being an accompanying piece or visual depiction.
In this particular case, his approach to our concepts is much more oriented towards the microcosmic aspect. He depicts the spiritual Gehinnom, a place of damnation within ourselves. Here the Sleepwalker looks within to his own darkness within, and perhaps is spoken to in dreams or visions. As all here must know, being interested at least to some degree in the darker aspects of life, we can often find inspiration, strength and wisdom in the darkest recesses of our soul. Of course these are all our interpretations, as Denis rarely gives a complete explanation of his works, but there is a direct complementarity between both works.
It’s evident that you structure each release to be experienced as a whole, with each track serving as a narrative guide through a journey of inner transmutation. What is the process like for composing something so interconnected? How did Gehinnom come together between the two of you, lyrically and compositionally?
That’s part of the mystery that each new release is for us; from a spark released by Him, form deep graves in our shadow selves, more and more of them turning to smoldering embers, lighting one another, and then coalescing to a raging, all-engulfing fire. We open the gates to our subconscious, and use that energy to then form a coherent whole. Therefore, there is both a causal and acausal work, as we develop the concepts that eventually form the direction of the release. It seems to us the only way to compose our music. From its inception, Gevurah was created to be a vehicle through which we could express and experience our spirituality and explore concepts deep with meaning. We merely pick every piece one by one and bring back together what was always there, unseen and broken.
I noticed that the instrumental tracks, the intro and “Lv 16:22,” have text that accompanies them in the vinyl booklet but don’t appear on the record itself. What prompted this?
The lyrics to the first song are actually recorded in the intro, but they are so buried in effects that you can’t discern them. It was meant as a prayer, and also as an opening hymn to the process. It is the first step, the awakening. Often times a special event will spark that awakening; it could be an experience, a dream, a whisper from beyond the grave… thus it seemed to be the proper way of presenting those lyrics. As for the interlude, this quote was actually the seed which inspired the whole album, it is the concept at its simplest essence, therefore, it is implied rather than spoken.
As has come to be expected with Gevurah, the musicianship on Gehinnom is incredibly tight; I can only imagine the hours that were put into rehearsing even small segments for recording. I understand that the recording and mixing process also happens in-house with X.T.’s Tehom Productions. Can you speak to the satisfaction that comes from being able to refine your creation with your own hands from the ground up?
Being in complete and absolute control of the physical manifestation of all that is Gevurah, especially with X.T. handling the production of our releases, certainly is a double edged sword. It allows complete control over every step, although it makes each work an excruciating effort every time. However, without that situation it would be completely impossible to achieve our Work in a way so close to our intent. There certainly is a personal satisfaction from achieving all the steps ourselves, being in full control of the whole process and its result. For Gehinnom, we have also spent a much more considerable time rehearsing and perfecting the songs before beginning the recording process. This has given the songs time to develop and a real chemistry to be built between the various instruments, something that we hadn’t done to this level since Necheshirion, if ever.
The Québec black metal scene is exceptionally strong, churning out some of North America’s best metal for the better part of a decade. Can you share a bit about what it’s like to be entrenched with fellow musicians who ignite a flame of strong inspiration?
It is strong, yes, and has been for a few decades now, but as far as Gevurah is concerned, we certainly stand out among our peers. That was also one of the main motivating factors for starting Gevurah, the fact that this type of black metal was completely absent in our surroundings. As far as outside influence from our peers, none is to be found in Gevurah. We are seldom talking about the creative process and actively banishing outside influence. All glory should be His.
You released the music video for “Blood-Soaked Katabasis” last September and I must say it’s been vividly stuck in my memory since, as I’m sure other viewers could attest to. What led to choosing this song as the visualizer to represent Gehinnom? Can you share any memorable experiences from the filming process?
We felt that for once this media needed to be approached to achieve the manifestation of this cycle, and “Blood-Soaked Katabasis” appeared to be at the same time the most complete and best representation of Gehinnom in isolation. It was the right song to also portray various concepts at the core of Gevurah: damnation, the destruction of the ego, of the flesh, through violence and blood-letting.
In between almost burning down a house, shooting the outside scenes on a wasteland which had became a worksite just two days prior to our shooting day, these complications forcing us to only one take of the cross-bearing scene to align with the setting sun, and being on the lookout for the authorities while burning down an eight feet cross, all the stars aligned. We have to give our respects and gratitude to the film crew, namely Fred Maheux and Luc Desjardins, for all their hard work, sweat and dedication.
As mentioned before, the amount of care that goes into immortalizing every detail in each Gevurah release is evident; The compositions feel nearly obsessive. This is especially apparent when you stand back and consider the shifting motifs that are seamlessly interwoven with some incredibly memorable melodies, which have really come to mark Gevurah’s signature sound. So, with that said, what is it like for you to let go of a controlled environment and perform these compositions live? How do you prepare your mind to play something this intense and intricate front to back?
We have always felt that Gevurah’s music was meant to be uncontrolled, unhinged. As obsessed as we might be with every detail on our albums, energy has always been the most important aspect of our live performances. Both environments require different approaches, and in a live setting, different angles of our performance need to be put upfront. In addition, we may rehearse for as long as we want, once on stage, Chaos takes hold, and we become one with Gevurah, and let the energy flow unhinged.
Gevurah recently did a series of shows playing Gehinnom in its entirety, which I understand is what we can look forward to at this year’s Covenant Fest. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Gevurah a few times and know that you open your set with a brief ritual. Has this ritual evolved over time? What energy are you hoping to invoke in the audience?
Ever since we started rehearsing and writing for Gevurah, we have begun our practices with a small ritual, to invoke the right energies, both within ourselves and without as well – to consecrate the space. It has always been a call, a bidding, an opening, a rip through the veil of Da’at. It is much the same now as it was then. In a live setting, it makes even more sense to us, as most people are treating concerts as a social event – chatting, joking, etc. This is also a moment to break that ambiance, and declare our own. We don’t believe everyone understands why we do this, but those with the right spirit certainly will. We are here for those few.
Thank you again for your time; Vancouver looks very forward to seeing you at Covenant. The final words are yours.
“Hear his footsteps, resonating through the empty halls…”
Gevurah will open a portal to the Other Side at Covenant Festival 2023. Be prepared to plunge into the depths: Secure a 2-day pass or languish in empty soullessness forever.