INTERVIEW: Theophilos of Serpent Column on ‘Invicta’ (2018)

What binds a man to his personal artistic vision is as diverse as the contents of his genetic code. That is to say that the pieces that would auto-build life from protein programming and distribution are the same feed for humanity’s random number generation outside of womb and fleshy confine. Decay, strife, malice, sickness, defeat, madness, etc. all appear as -forces- that push the artist to create due to whatever grand defect allows it. This is only rarely the source of elevation, though. Those who work and train themselves with a craft and muse over lasting creations provide the standard with informed and beauteous works. Surely what draws me to the works of Serpent Column is the greater picture illustrated through the music itself, which now finds a second, markedly transitional, recording (‘Invicta’) releasing soon as an EP; Hierarchical thinking offers a sort of ‘proof’ of higher standards as the duo paint with a nigh epicurean stroke. The creator’s scholarly drive and sense of great works brings grand prose to fittingly grand musical gesture that is high concept, and able to shed elitist thought for the sake of all things resonant and lasting.

I was granted early access to ‘Invicta’ and in discussion of my earliest impressions I gained insight into my own process, where ‘expectation’ is sometimes too proudly a driver of discerning meaning. My initial thoughts: “So far I think lyrics could convey some post-apocalyptic eulogy, some sect/faction resisting annihilation, maybe a drying of resources or a last stand. Possibly in that order. Some of this is based on what you’d said about the first album and some from researching terms used. The music feels like you’ve braided those progressive influences into something with more ‘open space’ and “Asphodel” is appreciably emotive and not just chaotic and furious. The first thing that came to mind was … a metamorphosis that pushes the limits of Hasjarl’s dissonant fury and Driver’s structured bursts of consciousness. Well, I could ramble on but at a base level ‘Invicta’ appears as if you’d cranked up the dramatic tension tenfold.

Theophilos‘ response culled all expectations with a different level of humanity than previous, revealing a shift from the doom of mankind post-apocalypse and the irreversible toxic death we all face… If you’ll allow me to poorly paraphrase the themes of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’. His response: “Interesting – it is quite abstract, so we are not surprised to see listeners interpreting creatively. Basically we have just refined what we were doing originally, allowing for more expression. We think of ‘Invicta’ as a sort of “philosophy in action” more than a story or anything concrete – a philosophy of living in our times without turning to idiotic traditions nor isolation from the influence of the modern world, but rather harnessing fragments of past and present cultures at whim to make a future direction possible.” Of course this comes with an additional punch to the stomach for folks who delight in the pomposity of high-concept art. “We wanted to salvage what we could from modernism without making something that’s just a bunch of useless fucking reference points for intellectuals to masturbate over, something that can actually cut across and communicate to people without presupposing they have any idea where we’re coming from.” So, this changes the tone of shouts of “Invicta!” from domination to repentant survival and pride in the ongoing will of man’s existence. Though it would seem odd to suggest a humanist perspective this sort of shift in purpose comes with an admirable shift in approach. Thus, I wanted to learn more and thankfully Theophilos was kind enough to answer a short series of questions pertaining to the band, the album, inspiration, and the future.

NOTE: If you missed the previous interview with Theophilos for ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ in 2017 and would like a closer look at the project’s formation, inspiration, and first album [Click/Tap Here to Read it].


Grizzly Butts: Was collaboration different for this release? / What parties were involved? 

Theophilos: Roles have changed. Maya did the tempo track by hand, and I fleshed out the rest of the instrumentation afterwards.

GB: What was the timeline for writing, recording, finalizing the release?

T: ‘Invicta’ was written around the time ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ was completed. It took half a year to record.

GB: I found it hard to initially distance my thought process from ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ when approaching ‘Invicta’. Was it simply a matter of ‘switching gears’ in moving on from that first release? / Is there some additional pressure in realizing a second record, that it must live up to the quality of, or continue a stylistic relation to, previous work?  

T: Yes, and yes to pressure but from entirely internal standards. OT was a paradigm. We don’t stay in them, because that would be a waste of power. And where we’re at now – we’ve already abandoned Invicta’s. Why? Think of it from our perspective. If you had the ability to make leaps and were entirely disinterested in the repercussions, why wouldn’t you?

GB: What prompted ‘Invicta’? Any larger concept, theme or inspiration? Please give some details about the album artwork if possible.

T: Fluidity of form and organic accretion (though not without extremely high standards of selection). Purification of sound elements down to their essence. The city of Rome, and Roman civilization in general (hence its patron goddess Aphrodite/Venus on the cover). A vision of modernity that was poorly realized by modernists.

Two major influences were Pound’s ‘Pisan cantos‘ and Antoni Gaudi’s ‘Sagrada Familia‘. I was fascinated by the way each were lifegiving accretions (Gaudi moreso than Pound). I think Gaudi was more brilliant, because just about anybody can see what was going on in his architecture without having to know every world civilization’s classic works of literature and twelve languages (and without having to share the same idiocies as Pound). I wanted to do the same with an SC album – all you need are decent headphones and an attention span.

GB: Are you pleased with ‘Invicta’ as a work that would speak for itself?

T: Too early to tell, but so far yes.

GB: Has your approach to writing/composition changed? Were you aiming for greater complexity, emotive quality?

T: We aimed for more fluidity. The major problem with ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ was it lacked a cinematic quality. This was due to the simplicity of the tempo map. Making up for the absence of a live drummer while making things sound good is and will continue to be a major hurdle.

GB: Are the musical influences for ‘Invicta’ divergent from those of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’?

T: No – however, I learned a thing or two about Elvin Jones’ drumming.

GB: There is a sense of comparative rhythmic decongestion on ‘Invicta’. Jones is known for flow, soloing, and polyrythmic ability. Does this study come from the aforementioned goal of fluidity of form?

T: It just comes from pure interest and the power to steal and repurpose, as does every aspect of SC.

GB: Is the interpretation of the listener important or interesting to you? / Does it blur the importance or message of your theme(s)?

T: No – either you’re a captive, attentive audience member or just wasting your time.

GB: Has your philosophy towards music (in general) changed through the process of creating these two Serpent Column releases?

T: Absolutely. A Serpent Column album, at this point, is a demonstration of how I listen. Headphones are strongly encouraged.

GB: What inspiration drives the narrative this time? / Is the theme relevant to the previous album?

T: ‘Invicta’ is not narrative in the way that ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ told a story marred by a very negative, stupid ideology. ‘Invicta’’s lyrics more or less accompany the form of the entire piece and were written after it was complete.

GB: Would it be fair to say that your own ideological shift accompanied the expanding idiom of Serpent Column’s music? / Does this heightened expression I perceive reflect pointed personal change, or simply offer a glimpse at an expansion of artistic voice?

T: Yes and yes – though it is certainly temporary, and needed to be abandoned due to its… psychological blowback. I almost didn’t return. As it turns out, A cannot equal not-A without some strain on the user. But, anyway, as we’d said – we’ve already moved on. Until death, disability, or untreatable madness, this can be an near-infinite game.

GB: Are further Serpent Column releases planned? / Will you seek a new label/representation now that Fallen Empire is shutting down beyond 2018?

T: At the moment, two more releases are foreseeable. We will accept a new label if approached, and if the label has the right audience.

Thank you for your time.

T: Likewise.


PREVIEW/LISTEN to “Decursio” on Bandcamp

BUY Serpent Column‘s ‘Invicta’ EP from Fallen Empire Records [December 26th, 2018]