INTERVIEW: An in-depth conversation with Theophilos of Serpent Column (2017)

‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ the debut album from Serpent Column is a masterwork of modern black metal inspired music. It remains one of the most intricate and expressive extreme metal albums of 2017. Though mystery surrounding creators within the black metal ecosystem is often superficially compelling, what draws me back to this release is its detailed conceptual vision and the personal ‘outsider’ philosophies reflected within its inspired artistry. What makes ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ special is its singular torrent of consciousness that feels both organic and forcefully ‘metal’ backed by a true epic poetic edict expressing the end of civilization. Through my own communication with Serpent Column guitarist, vocalist and writer Theophilos aimed at elucidating the themes and concepts of the album it became prudent to explore the genesis and ethos of his impressive work.

GB: Can you start by exploring what brought about Serpent Column as a project?

THEOPHILOS: Serpent Column began after a long period of training and writing. Certain motifs predate OT by many years.

Learning material by Suffocation, the Finns (Sargeist, Horna, and Vitsaus), and Kayo Dot provided us much of the machinery to write OT, though we did not know it at the time. Deathspell Omega, while obviously being an influence on our work, did not directly influence our musical vocabulary until long after OT was released.

A long study of Homer, Heidegger, and Nietzsche led us to reject our civilization, and to enkindle hatred of it in other minds.

You can also understand OT as a reaction to contemporary art and its appalling, vacuous ideology, which is infecting and debilitating extreme metal – though perhaps a fitting end to a vulgar artform that should have ceased to exist two decades ago.

Ornuthi Thalassa’ has a clarity, a focused energy that resembles a project ‘masterminded’. Did collaboration begin before the album was conceived, drafted? How did Serpent Column first form as an entity?

Serpent Column formed by accident and necessity, as we responded to the call of the forces that we enshrine in our work.

Much could be said here, though crossing that boundary would ruin the work. Know that the process was arduous and draining, yet entirely instinctual.

What inspired the lyrical content and symbolism of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’?

On every front, OT is an attempt to reorient the listener in preparation and in cultivation for the aftermath of our civilization. It calls upon the listener to take part in the destruction of the polis, in whatever way possible.

The Iliad is crucial to OT, because it is a mind-shattering window onto an ancient mode of understanding. Gods are not merely personified forces – this cannot be said enough. Gods are forces themselves, and are made present in sites such as works of art, and entire cultures.

With that in mind, we are calling upon the ocean – the creator of life – to tell the story of life itself, and – ultimately – to extinguish our civilization.

The story of OT is told from the standpoint of this ancient yet futural orientation (rooted in Heidegger’s fundamental ontology), and is supposed to model its unfolding. First, we literally reorient the listener – we call for a restoration of sight itself. This is absolutely key, and without understanding this piece the rest of our work will make absolutely no sense.

Once the listener is prepared to see correctly, we embrace and update the ancients’ understanding of Biogenesis through will to power philosophy, the birth of man and his ancient standing in Being and orientation towards beings, his fall into urban civilization and decadence, and possibilities for reorientation and rebirth as well as the preparatory annihilation of our polis.

Such a catastrophe may be self-inflicted and thus inevitable, if the 21st and 22nd centuries are scorched the meatgrinders of climate catastrophe, mass migration, and genocide we suspect they will be, save for a technological miracle at the last second and/or the birth of technogod…ornuthi thalassa [ὄρνυθι θάλασσα], “rise, ocean.” We want to ensure this inevitability.

Is dystopia possible before self-annihilation and the consequences of nuclear war?

In all likelihood we will never lite the nuclear fuse – it’s the solar fuse, and its aftermath, that OT primarily deals with.

The album has a very organic, poetic unfurl to begin with and later lyrically shifts toward engaging the listener as it progresses. In lieu of diluting the listener’s curiosity about the album’s symbolism itself, can you talk a bit about what releasing ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ to the public means to you?

The riffs should be enough, and our reticence should point the listener to the work itself. This interview, moreover, should nudge the inquisitive listener in the right direction – towards Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Homer.

The public is not interested in our work, and we would like to keep it that way.

Yet it we succeed in engendering even one theophany – one moment where the gleaming of a god is revealed, anew, to a single pair of eyes – then we have achieved our task, and passed the torch of the ancient world along to a generation sorely lacking that experience.

Few things intrigue me more than examining how admirable guitarists express their ‘philosophy of the riff’. What was your personal approach on OT?

Necessity. Nothing in OT is extraneous.

Our current philosophy, which you will see unveiled in the years to come, prioritizes fluidity. Form will no longer be constrained by an eye towards totality, though resonances will most certainly occur and drive the pieces “forward.”

Better writers than I posit a great deal of ‘classical’ music influence and structural dynamic in ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’; Each movement seems conscious of carrying central melodic themes through the piece without obvious ‘callbacks’ seen in typical romanticism. Can you speak to your methods of composition? In terms of guitar riffs and transitional movement, is the final product formed organically, or carefully labored for effect? How do you approach writing guitar music?

Most of everything on OT was written in pairs first, and then updated in tandem from a god’s eye view. Sometimes the recurrence of themes is accidental. The same process occurs with the lyrics.

A huge corpus of musical material, as well as lyrical material, is first generated by a very long process of intuitive grasping and revelation. This is a very intensive experiential process.

And let us reiterate: the work itself lets us know when it has been formed.

How would you characterize yourself as a music listener? For example I’m the eternal analyst, inspired by both emotional resonance and made inquisitive by artist’s higher conceptions.

We appreciate many forms of art – and in music (outside of metal and classical Western music), particularly indigenous music.

Again, art is a site where gods let themselves be present – not where humans exhibit their paltry inner lives. This is, in part, what we are reacting against in contemporary art, and what we find sorely lacking from contemporary music – unfortunately the same fate has befallen metal, save for DsO and perhaps acts like Wulkanaz.

You’ve referenced influences extensively so far, but can you speak to your typical metal/non-metal listening habits?

The music of deeply religious composers in the West – particularly Machaut, Tallis, Bach, and Bruckner. Bruckner’s 8th symphony is an extremely important influence upon our work.

As for what I am calling indigenous music, Master Musicians of Joujouka, Niekku, and Toumani Diabaté have recorded absolutely mind-shattering works.

Are you a well entrenched ‘fanatic’ or is black metal simply the most necessary label for your music?

Certainly not. Black metal truly began and ended with DsO – there is nothing more to be said under its auspices.

Have further releases reached conception yet? 

We’re far past that point for the next two.

Ornuthi Thalassa’ has been available digitally since July. Any plans for CD and Vinyl issues? 

OT vinyl out now.

Any live performance aspirations?

Absolutely not.

I really appreciate the illumination and discussion, thank you.

Thank you for your interest.

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Theophilos/Serpent Column can be reached at serpentcolumn@gmail.com

‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ is available digitally at Serpent Column’s Bandcamp

Get the Vinyl release through Fallen Empire records.