A series of intensifying waves set in motion by one inspirational pillar, the ever exploratory yet self-securing will of “avant-garde/progressive” black metal project SERPENT COLUMN simply cannot speak for itself without creating cause for new questions and answers — Not by virtue of complexity alone but by virtue of the beauteous independent acts captured therein. These are neither cubist nor primal scrawled and splattered cave paintings rutted over in modern art galleria but, intensely considered and artfully strung images requiring larger and more texturally collaborative canvas with each piece. On ‘Kathodos‘ the medium yet expands and the experience is all the more blinding in scope and statement. Just as I was left in awe and wonder of this expansion in the past so came a fourth flood of questions that begin with symbolism and existential philosophy, my own uncouth iterations. By the end of the interview the hope is that the point becomes clearer, and perhaps the ability to infer and puzzle becomes less important than recapturing the ability to feel art rather than simply stare at it like a fucking boob in quandary. You are more than capable. If you are missing context, and you are, direct thy self to relevant interviews from 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Φ Taking some direction from the careful choice of Heidegger portmanteau “seinsverlassenheit” (and with ‘Kathodos’ taken to mean descent) is this symbolic suggestion that late modernity now lands civilization at its most dire? Is humanity in full nihilistic eclipse, Heidegger’s vision of a terminal nightside where we’ve lost our sense of Being?
Our work is intended to relieve an excess of thought, so we will not do too much explanation for the listener. Moreover, we are quite blind to our own work. However, we will comment that for Heidegger, the apocalypse of Being probably began with the birth of Socrates. Wouldn’t the terminal nightside you speak of be a great opportunity? Don’t conquerors often emerge from the steppe with no notice, as empires are rotting – or out of the darkness of a revolution turned against itself?
That being said, it is worth noting that “Kathodos” can mean descent as much as it can mean recurrence and regeneration. Such is the richness of ancient cognition, unburdened by dualistic metaphysics.
Φ When I’d done some deeper study, as I am still cracking away at basic Heidegger, I’d almost found “seinsvergessenheit” more fitting for symbolic ‘black metal’ mindset — The sense of forgotten intelligence (an innate sense of self and others, the acknowledgement of existence between actors) as mass society sprawls beyond reason. In this case is it even important what is ‘forgotten’ versus ‘abandoned’?
I believe that whatever can be sifted through, thanks to today, can be a window onto infinite possibilities for whoever has the vision and the will for a new arrangement of things. God, if He exists, is also a god of the desert. That distinction is not at all important to this project. What matters is what follows. Will it be the will to a new day, or the will to eternal night?
Φ Is ‘Kathodos’ presented as descent in motion? As foreshadowing, or a description of this latest work? I suppose I am curious of symbolic choices that may direct emotion. The whole of ‘Kathodos’ presents a balance of fluidity, aggression, and resignation (or, respite) that could be experienced in stages, a staircase descending, even without the suggestion of descending movement.
As, mentioned, “Kathodos” can mean descent as much as it can mean cycle or recurrence. It was a working title that fit, for whatever reason, and became embedded, as all things do in a finalized work. It is also worth noting that Heidegger has much to say on the misconception of art as symbolic or representative rather than actualizing something before your eyes. For Serpent Column, this was by and large our aesthetic.
Φ I suppose The Origin of the Work of Art would be more concerned with how the world shaped the art rather than how the artist shaped the work? I get the feeling I’ve answered a lot of questions here or vaguely misunderstood a large portion of the book itself.
We are no Heidegger scholars – but that does seem like a faithful interpretation.
Φ Should art “belong to the audience”? in the sense that many academics have long suggested its definition is really in the hands of the user. More artists than academics believe art is either a piece of themselves set free, to burn like an ember, whereas others remain entirely silent in fulfilling only their own purpose, providing work that speaks for its own sense of meaning. I find the idea that black metal belongs to the folks who buy it a bit disgusting, even as a longtime fan.
When you leave an artifact in the world, it doesn’t belong to anybody in particular. At that point, it is not important for an artist to consider. As for Serpent Column, the most important thing is that, internally speaking, whoever comes across our material should not be considered with much importance. Nobody even loosely affiliated with the tradition of black metal should be concerned with, say, the reactions of their audiences.
Φ When do you feel like you truly know a piece of music? Or rather, does ‘knowing’ an artists work amount to egotism? An adherence to something imagined?
The greatest works, in our opinion, are works that one never truly knows, works that can be returned to across time and yield something new in every engagement.
Φ ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ springs to mind here a few years later and in sitting with ‘Kathodos’, not only for some slight returning motif in some of the earlier pieces but for the dire mood likewise sprawling across ‘Invicta’. Does this relate to intensifying nihilistic thoughts or, moods cycling back to a darker ‘bigger picture’ in 2020? Or, is ‘Kathodos’ yet another point of punctuation within the greater stream?
Internally, it seems that this LP and its followup EP are arbitrary ends to the cycle started in 2017. It could have just been another punctuation, as the project falls farther and farther from its point of departure. In reality, this LP and its follow-up form a natural boundary.
Φ Ailing futurism, world in collapse, primitivism and regression, and all manner of exciting paradigm shifts and points of thematic excess in extreme music spheres. I regularly fight Heidegger’s observation of “acceleration”, the manic response of the public to that which is surprising and “new” in terms of technology or expression via technique where it seems public groups exist off of light fumes of greatness, slivers of feigned progress so that they might feel anything but meaningless. So many are struggling with the torpor of unresolvable absurdism today. Is it best to be left unguided, and figure ones way forward? Does your work in Serpent Column create a existential clarity or, at least reimburse time invested with some purpose or satisfaction?
There is a great ontological danger in leaving ideas on an empty throne. The same goes for unbridled growth and proliferation, however exciting. The key philosophers and texts in our pantheon have already pointed at this. People with vision and will are usually best left to their own devices, and usually prefer it this way, despite inevitably having a master (and hoping for an excellent one, who lets them unleash their potential). Something similar might be said for individuals who more or less just staff this world. We all just need better masters.
One problem posed by this modernity is that it threatens the inculcation of artists operating under the sign of traditional, ancient cognition. Schizophrenia only became a pathology when it became pathological. Again, we all require better masters.
Φ ‘Endless Detainment’ was quite well-received by a (seemingly) broader audience for its even more direct exploration of mathcore beyond ‘Mirror in Darkness’ and though I knew to assume it was a but a wave of exploration, an addition to ouevre, due to past conversations it does seem you’ve pulled back on the sheer density of at least some of those elements for ‘Kathodos’. Was this for the sake of a more holistically representative sound on this third full-length?
We couldn’t have said it better than “a wave of exploration.” It was the real-world playing-out of what was set forth in Ornuthi Thalassa. That being said, we do not look back on that phase without some regret for drawing unnecessary attention to this project and coming close to exactly what this project had set out in reaction against.
Φ Of course I know what you mean but do you mind illustrating more broadly the displeasure or lack of certain art that’d incited the project? Or, has the “fit” of the catalyst evolved along with the project?
Without repeating ourselves too much from 2017, contemporary art is by-and-large unnecessary – much like the civilization, our civilization, that bore it. It can and ought to be done away with. That was our starting point.
Internally speaking, nothing that has been released was unnecessary. That being said, did it really do anybody any good to listen to “Pantheoclasm” or “Promise of the Polis” on shuffle, or on a playlist? While we might think so with great reluctance, it is out of our hands at that point. Yet the erasure of attention spans is one of the main weapons of the current world-order against – to borrow Deathspell Omega’s phrasing – the “vocation of man,” and not something we would like to exacerbate any more than is absolutely necessary.
Φ Your methods are largely self-contained and ‘do it yourself’ from what I’ve gathered over the years. Has isolation really changed any of your methodology? Incited new collaborations? Or, lead to a quicker completion of the album than expected? You’ve typically released just one work per year.
Starting with Invicta, we have been working on a 6-7 month timetable between releases. That was when the circle tightened, so to speak. As mentioned, a natural boundary has been reached.
Φ ‘Kathodos’ is not devoid of chaos but it does feel much more composed with a lighter hand upon layers, particularly in terms of the guitar work. Is this a conscious decision for the sake of communication? It appears emotionally guided yet in a different mindset, pulling away from the furioso of machination.
Everything done under our name was necessary, and thus hardly conscious. The reason behind any apparent decision may not be clear, presently – and perhaps for good reason.
Φ I hear some bits of post-hardcore, mathcore, and even a moment nearing atmospheric rock crescendo across ‘Kathodos’. Hell, “Offering of Tongues” almost has a moment of Glorior Belli-esque swing to it. I suppose I’m curious of these observations resonate at all with your intended hand in ‘Kathodos’, if the intent is this broadening of stylistic touches via divergent “emotionally resonant” voicing. More importantly does this reflect any changes within your personal spiritual/musical connection in recent years? The hypothesis on my end is that ‘Kathodos’ is more of a ‘black metal’ record than it initially lets on via both riff and its loudest resonances.
Whatever appears to happen genre-wise is incidental. The spiritual core of this project was and is best exemplified by the first two records. As for this record, we cannot offer much of an explanation, partly due to lack of insight into the work, and also out of a reluctance to do potential harm for our listeners’ growth processes. The demand placed on those with potential is to back-engineer an artifact, in any and all areas of life. We are curious what you mean by “more of a ‘black metal’ record.”
Φ Ah, instead of unwinding the watch and stressing the gears I’d ask more broadly what you think of the guitar as an outlet these days. In terms of self-extension, a means, a muse, or perhaps a combatant as compositions become increasingly complex and nuanced. I’ve some sense that there are orchestrations in mind that distortion potentially enhances or distracts. In terms of “black metal” sensation, I’m referring to a personal connection to the instrument rather than technique — A defiance.
The guitar is a scaffold, yet also – since we are in no small way within the tradition of black metal – part of the fabric of the work. And yes, we would agree with that observation that it has become more and more “transparent,” so to speak.
Φ The use of repetition on “Desertification” feels like an emotionally symbolic choice where abandonment, desolation, hypnosis, and mourning spring to mind. A 9+ minute song that is so inherently simple is a bold choice. Did you have any reservations about ending the album with it?
Presently, there are no reservations. Especially within black metal, there is a precedent, which was in no small way influential.
Φ Has the design of this album strayed from the intent of ideal headphone listening? Or do you wish to prescribe basically anything to the listener this time around? I get the sense that “letting it breathe” so to speak is an important sentiment this time around.
It has not at all strayed from that intent. Yet it is certainly more versatile than, say, a record like Invicta.
Φ Circling back around to the idea of relieving an excess of thought — I suppose my mind takes this as a suggestion to simply sit and absorb resonance and inherent emotion (or lack thereof) conveyed
within ‘Kathodos’. Is the listener lost in approaching too quickly with critical thought?
So much is at stake, phenomenologically – namely the possibility of the experience of Being itself. The greatest lesson we have ever learned – and wish to impart – is that the world will lay itself bare infinitely, yet only if one engages with it on its terms. This means putting consciousness – and conscious thought – in its place.
Today, the university may give you the key, but merely as a passing comment, as a footnote in an article you are encouraged to skim, anyway. It is an enemy that we are fighting against, here: namely, the current world order. Among its many goals, it wants to destroy the possibility of the experience of beauty itself. One can walk through the miserly corridors of our world without having really lived at all. This is exactly what it wants, and why one must swim upstream at all costs, why one must not give it one single iota more than what it demands. It wants to destroy the possibility of the experience of anything at all…
Find a CD/LP copy of ‘Kathodos‘ in your territory via this multi-distributor link for Mystískaos releases [HERE]
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