To be torn away from ones own tunnel vision of psychotic self-direction and taken for a ride of reconstitution is a gift I’d never take in lightly. This sort of lesson bestowed by the ‘random’ nature of another’s artistic inspiration glinting upon the helmet the swollen skull provides is increasingly valuable as one advances in age and to be sure I’d been struck by a bolt askew when ‘Mirror in Darkness’ was passed my way. If only because it’d arrived a few months earlier than was the case the prior year with ‘Invicta’. A mind constantly shifting for perspective, growth, and deeper artistic expansion must be admired for its well-wrinkled forms and as such I’d posited the necessity of context and provenance in terms decoding this dizzying second full-length from musician Theophonos (formerly Theophilos) under the name Serpent Column. Before you set upon this interview make sure you’ve afforded yourself the context of listening to the album, which is readily available on Bandcamp– If there are any missing pieces refer to the interviews conducted for ‘Ornuthi Thalassa‘ (2017) and ‘Invicta‘ (2018). Additionally, reviews for each of Serpent Column‘s three releases can be sourced through this site’s search function.
-As you might expect, change and its effect upon your modus/collaboration is my first inquiry. Practically speaking, what has changed in terms of staff and the recording process? How did the collaboration with [session vocalist] D.L. (Glass Shrine, Kostnatění) come about? Did the completion of composition again precede the lyrics and vocal work?
SC: Practically speaking, this is a bedroom album by a lone actor. D.L. provided a sounding board and also some guest vox, which are blended across a few tracks. Between the development of lyrics and music, there was more of a back-and-forth.
-Is this lone actor status a method of maintaining unperturbed vision? What does independence mean to you personally as an artist?
SC: Part necessity, due to relocating. It isn’t really a matter of purity – I’m open to collaborating, but it just doesn’t happen due to lack of… well, necessity.
-For anyone, such as myself, who’d run with the idea that the ‘Invicta’ EP was a complete [transformative] evolution of Serpent Column, could you clarify its relation in transit between the debut (‘Ornuthi Thalassa‘) and this new full-length ‘Mirror in Darkness’?
SC: A complete evolution? Interesting. At the core of SC’s method is the idea that there is no completion – only iteration. This idea is adapted from Heidegger – that the universe tends to disclose itself in helical artifacts, at once a glimpse of everything and also, in part, an illusion. As for a transition between releases, it was only natural that we’d return to something aggressive and st00pid, at times, after a more delicate sound. We will continue with this direction on MiD’s followup EP, to be released sometime next year on a split with an unannounced co-conspirator.
-Is aggression included merely for the sake of dynamic? Does ‘the riff’ still interest you as an insular (memorable) point or is the bigger picture increasingly important in terms of personal goals?
SC: The feel of a particular passage is the only essential thing. This is what ‘Paracletus’ taught me. The riff can basically be a nu-metal riff. It doesn’t matter.
Secondly, the bigger picture is more important. I spend way less time crafting riffs nowadays, let alone full songs. On the followup EP, that’s been condensed even more.
-In terms of lyrics, “Promise of the Polis” appears to corroborate the main focus of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’, or at the very least your influences express from a similar point of view. Is this too superficial an observation on my part, or is there some intentioned relation or acknowledgement between prose past and present?
SC: For sure, it’s a callback. You might think of it as another “mourning” song – mourning, that is, the transition to late modernity.
-Do you feel out of place in today’s world? Temporally misplaced? Or is this mourning a matter of knowing more enlightened times existed prior? I felt like this could tie into Heidegger’s ‘alone in a crowd’ paradox of presence and being.
SC: Well… absolutely, but also grateful, but also full of a smoldering, unquenchable hatred for our culture, myself, and everything in between. First, I am not a successful artist, in the sense that I’ve been able to lead a mostly unfragmented life. This album contains more than a shred of anger and resentment at God, for lack of a better placeholder.
Secondly, it is a privilege to have access to an entire studio in a piece of tech that fits into your lap, and also every possible influence an artist could ever want. However, so far I’ve used all of that mainly to express exasperation at being born here and now. And one fourth of the industrialized world wants to kill itself. Go figure.
As for more ‘enlightened times’ – sure, this is the Kali Yuga, the Great Cleansing, or whatever. The transition we’re going through is a culling – pretty good fuel for metal, eh? Go figure.
-Though I might’ve been derailed by the “Ogygia in perpetuum” line I’ve gotten the sense that much of ‘Mirror in Darkness’ deals with the daunting challenge of the ‘captor’s embrace’, releasing comfortable bindings in life even if that means reconsidering spirituality. Does personal spirituality eek into your work in this way? Or, does that feeling stem entirely from academic thought?
SC: The “Ogygia in Perpetuum” deal is, without being too explicit, an expression of exasperation at living in the here and now.
Spirituality is absolutely a focus, as always – this time mourning the loss of its blinding excesses, both historically and personally. The idea here is that finding an equilibrium between spiritual excesses and the rest of life is nearly impossible.
-Is that balance, equilibrium as you put it, intended to preserve spirituality? The self?
SC: It’s a practical necessity. You can choose the ashram or the smoldering dungheap of inescapable internment in environments deeply hostile to our being that we all shuffle through before dying. Supposedly the ashram is out here as well. I haven’t found it.
-Were there particular great works in mind, or imbued in tandem, when composing ‘Mirror in Darkness’, as in the past?
SC: Heidegger‘s Contributions to Philosophy was pretty influential on this one. It came from a similar time, place, and mindset, and so some passages naturally lent themselves to lyrics.
-Is a genuine ‘shift in thinking’ the goal (beyond stated iteration)? I get the sense that any notion of secured limitations acts the opposing force within your process.
SC: The goal is not really conscious. The shift in thinking that occurs is merely a byproduct of more unconscious, st00pid forces. To be honest, I just listened to a lot of that Sectioned LP [‘Annihilated‘, 2018]. That shit rips.
-So, a reference to the lineage of Botch (in terms of your subconscious emanations) isn’t too out of line? Or is that too primitive a point of view at this point?
SC: I love that shit, dude. I could namedrop hundreds of those bands here: The End, Knut, Destroyer Destroyer, As the Sun Sets…
Secondly, SC has always been a neoprimitive band. Stupid-smart is how I describe it. So regression is part of our aesthetic and MO. Our next EP might even have a slam or two.
-You’ve remarked about the importance of fluidity in creation prior, that a fearless leap is almost a duty to those capable. Would you consider this second full-length a new paradigm for the project? Does it satisfy the balance of fluidity and cinematic value intended?
SC: For sure – though it’s just another paradigm. As a whole, it’s more like an album this time – though extremely bookended. We played around a bit with that, seeing how extreme the bookending could actually get.
-Was ‘bookending’ the record for the sake of dramatic effect, or emphasizing the midsection?
SC: We were trying to effect a total experience.
-Are you in a comfortable place in terms of songwriting? The density and aggression of ‘Mirror in Darkness’ suggests the need to push limits yet there are clearly some lessons derived from the six months spent on ‘Invicta’; Is the intent cumulative? Progressive?
SC: Our songs and albums tend to write themselves, so yes. The intent was probably both – it is a statement, of sorts.
-Is the process [more] intuitive now compared to 2017? Needled over? From the listeners point of view the compositions are no less intense but, with the shoulders relaxed a bit. The ever-shifting tempo of ‘Mirror In Darkness’ appears deeply complex, is this a continued point of study on your part?
SC: It is more intuitive, like I mentioned earlier. I spend far less time on everything due to pretty mundane reasons (experience, access to necessary tech, etc).
Secondly, it’s probably a byproduct of prioritizing the feel of a passage.
-Do you have many ‘go to’ records where the connection to the feeling of the music is utmost? ‘Far Away From the Sun’ is probably the easiest example for my tastes.
SC: Well… If I understand your question, I’d include SMRC [‘Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice’], ‘Paracletus’, ‘Bergtatt’, ‘Sun Ship’, ‘A Love Supreme’, ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’, ‘Under a Funeral Moon’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘We Are the Romans’, ‘The Mandé Variations’, ‘Apocalypse Across the Sky’..
-Alignment with Mystískaos seems like a natural fit, and so far we’ve seen collaboration with H.V. Lyngdahl on the first audio-visual treatment of Serpent Column with “Amphiclasm“. Is further collaboration within that circle in the works?
SC: Further collaboration is already in the works. As mentioned, expect a followup EP/split with an unannounced co-conspirator sometime next year.
-Is there any possibility that you’ll agree to Cassette or CD versions of Serpent Column releases in the future?
SC: CD versions are a possibility. Cassette won’t translate well.
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