Today we have the honor of premiering an impressive re-recording from CEREMONIAL CASTINGS, forgotten legends of independent pacific northwest United States black metal who’d self-release eight full-length albums between 1996 and 2014. They’ve chosen a timely and impressive piece to unearth and reinvigorate in ‘Salem 1692’ (2008) one of their most ambitious and satisfyingly melodic records that best showcases unique symphonic black metal style in a highly evolved state. A sophisticated but approachable album with a compelling theme, ‘Salem 1692 (MMXX)’ is the ideal unveiling of the depth their fine back catalog has to offer. There is much to delve into here and thankfully the band have been kind enough to answer a lengthy interview to accompany the exclusive full album stream ahead of its release date, this Friday November 27th through Eisenwald. Big thanks to the band, Eisenwald, and their representation. [Note: All questions answered by Jake Superchi, whom you will also recognize from Uada.]
First a brief historical description of Ceremonial Castings where, in hindsight, most would agree the band arrived upon a Scandinavian black metal influenced sound in the mid-90’s and would indulge some melodic black/death metal style by association over the course of eight independently released full-lengths. If you could recall the impetus of the project in 1996 and compare it with goals met in 2014, how would you frame the legacy of Ceremonial Castings’ discography today?
Over the many years that Ceremonial Castings was a band, we were caught in a web of life issues, rushing productions, and trying to really formulate our sound that was constantly changing. Looking back I think there were a lot of potentially great pieces of music as well as a lot of things that don’t make sense to us now in 2020. We were young and impressionable and drawing from many different types of music. Perhaps now it’s time to focus on recreating that legacy and giving some well deserved attention to what still resonates with us today.
No doubt we’ve all noticed a great resurgence of nostalgia for 90’s black metal in recent years, especially the North American/UK reaction to Scandinavian black metal popularity. Does this just happen to be the ideal time and, well, your main reason to revive Ceremonial Castings today?
Although that is a great point it was not in the back of our minds when reforming last year. I did seem to notice a lot of people asking about the band and if we’d see more music in the future. It seemed like there was a general interest but it wasn’t until the moment that the head of Eisenwald approached me asking if we should re-release some old material for the fans that I gave it some thought. When the label showed interest I reached out to the rest of the members to see if they’d be interested in re-recording ‘Salem 1692’ with a current feel and production that we could all be proud of instead of just rereleasing it as is. We all agreed that was the proper choice and were excited to revisit an album that means a lot to us. For me personally the most important thing is that the other musicians Nick and Matt are finally given a professional platform to be heard. They are amazing musicians and they deserve it more than many.
Having lived in the Portland/Vancouver area throughout the 2000’s I’ve found more folks today are curious enough about Ceremonial Castings in hindsight rather than at the time, perhaps due to the visibility of more popular projects beyond or black metal in general… So many would forget (or ever know) how debased the “symphonic black metal” tag would become during that decade. Have we reached a point of saturation where every niche of extreme metal could thrive in its own haven? Has black metal revealed itself wholly viable enough to the masses that this old ideology of USBM being mediocre fully (and man, finally) died off?
The 2000’s were definitely a strange and trying time for Metal and I do remember a lot of hate for any bands using keyboards during those times. So, you can imagine that being an American Symphonic Black Metal band would have its challenges as being accepted fitting two subgenres generally looked down upon. For us though, if it is more acceptable today it really makes no difference. We write the music that we feel and what we would want to hear as musicians ourselves. If people like it great, if not that’s ok too. It really doesn’t matter.
Although there is precedent in your discography (via ‘Into the Black Forest of Witchery’) but, why choose ‘Salem 1692’ to re-record? I’d personally seen the album as a paradigm shift beyond the sort of peaking forms achieved on ‘Barbaric is the Beast’, which I remember being well-mentioned at the time.
Of all the albums that we have written, ‘Salem 1692’ felt like it was the one that truly represented us and our sound. It is also a very special album for us and seeing that division and hatred is as strong as ever in 2020, we felt maybe it would be a good time to remind our country of some other dark histories we’ve seemed to forget about. The timing for it really seemed necessary and with the power of the message behind it we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it once again. Regardless of the year and world around us, this album still would have been chosen though as we feel front to back it is our strongest release and representation.
I absolutely love the use of keyboards/synth in this era of the band, and in reflection I would say it was just one element pointing towards the most original melodic touch of the band at that point. Can you help elucidate your mindset as a songwriter, and as a trio, when ‘Salem 1692’ was created? Where was the band in terms of creative process and writing/touring cycles? What were your major musical influences/interests circa 2008?
My brother Nick is an extremely talented pianist, and someone I consider to be a musical genius. Knowing his talent and what he is capable of, I purposefully like to leave room within my riffs for him to have some spotlight. It’s kind of funny because he is always wanting more extreme guitar riffs that would most likely leave less room for him to shine, so it’s a bit of a contrast we have to meet sometimes. I think this works well for our style though and helps keep us aware of when to let loose and when to keep things more subtle.
Back in those days, from the 90s and through the 00s, we were listening to a lot of black and death metal. Bands like Emperor, Gehenna, Abigor, Limbonic Art, Obtained Enslavement and (early) Cradle of Filth had some really big influences on our sound, but we also were allowing bands like Morbid Angel & Deicide as well as King Diamond and Mercyful Fate to inspire us as well. I think if you listen you can at times hear undertones of influences from bands like Type O Negative, My Dying Bride and other doom elements as well via Black Sabbath and Candlemass. Those roots have always been with us and still remain today.
Should we consider the re-recording a reintroduction to prime Ceremonial Castings? Or, a chance to bring clarity to a favorite achievement? Were any of the arrangements updated, or any of the performances/techniques vastly changed for this re-recording? The guitar work is immaculately textured from my point of view, a bit more storming and heated.
I would say so, I think we were reaching a prime height in our writing and a place where we were ready to excel. I do see this as a reintroduction to a new awakening and focus that will help us deliver our art as we had always intended, with proper support and knowledge. For the recording we tried to keep everything as close to the original as we possibly could, everything was redone as originally recorded for the most part. We didn’t want to change the album but did want to improve it so that everything was balanced and perfected as much as possible. There is a lot of fire within us and waiting to be released.
You’ve suggested some relation to Salem witch trials judge John Hawthorne and an infamous curse upon the family bloodline. Has knowing this affected your own personal spirituality or philosophy in life? Is there a sense of being cursed, doomed to struggle or fail? Or, conversely is there some magic you find within musing over this connection generations later?
I’d say a bit of both really. Learning this all at a very young age of 7 or 8, I was always fascinated with it. Especially growing up in Massachusetts where they would teach this in class every year. As far as a curse or failure goes, it’s really always their looming, but I think failure is something that all humans have to experience in order to grow from. We have to expect and accept our failures as a lesson in order to push ahead. If everything came easily it most likely wouldn’t bring a sense of accomplishment or worth in the end.
Magick is something I do believe in and have since a young age, although it took me many many years to really understand it, or to understand it as well as I can today. I don’t think it is something we can fully comprehend with the current evolution of the human mind but I’ve seen too much to not believe.
Although these witch trials are known as an exploitation for greedy land owners, I always looked at it in a light where these women may have been practicing in an old pagan tradition. It is most likely that they were involved in a spell or ceremony of manifestation and being that it took place outside of a church and inside a dark forest, it could be exploited by the Puritans for their own gain, even though they believe and practice in very similar ways. It’s easy to see such comparisons since a lot of pagan practices were stolen and renamed under the Christian banner. If speaking to a god in the sky while participating in rituals of drinking his blood and eating his body is not witchcraft, then I really don’t know what is. To me though, all religions date back to one far before any of us can remember. This ultimately makes me believe that whatever it is we choose to believe and call it, it really is all the same and within us all whether we care to admit it or not. We are made of all gods, and we are made of all devils. The power they have exists from the power we give them. Whether it is over ourselves or our entire world is up to us, but this gets into invocation vs evocation and that is a whole other topic.
I would say that the early findings of these events mixed with the experiences that I lived through have taught me a lot and given me the ability to keep an open mind as well as a philosophical approach to the situations I see in life. I’ve gone through many phases from being indoctrinated into Catholicism at a young age, to a pagan to an atheist to agnostic and now in a state where I know there are physical and maybe “spiritual” beings beyond our world and/or dimension. This has led from a number of experiences and sightings that I’ve had throughout my life. You could say it’s been interesting at least.
Was there any major lesson or fresh takeaway from revisiting the lyrics for this album? The narrative order and revelation of events still holds up quite well.
Being that I wrote these words and had performed many of these songs over the years, I can’t say there was anything fresh or surprising when revisiting, other than that it seems like history will just keep repeating itself since humans are human and will always be just that. Flawed by their own desires and greed.
A major lesson that doesn’t seem to be taught in today’s public curriculum any longer is critical thinking surrounding Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a play writ in the early 1950’s as a response to an era of paranoia and persecution of communism, speaking to the manipulation of -followers- set within a polarizing war of ideals and power. The piece’s invocation of the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism feels all the more relevant today albeit with the tables turned toward oddest angles. Point being, Miller (in 1996, actually) would write an essay detailing how by 1951 these accusations via mob rule would become so common that writers and artists would assume them and work around them while creating. Is this the fate of any black metal artist creating subversive or mysterious art today? To tiptoe around popular moralization for fear of Sauron’s eye noticing?
Well, as one great artist once said “I believe if you have an opinion and voice it, you will offend someone.” So, it is what it is, although I don’t feel the need to tiptoe around personal beliefs or thoughts within the artistic realm. Art should be a way for us to interpret information in different ways. If someone takes it personally, that is on them and their own responsibility to be able to enjoy others’ creations or not. When writing something that holds deep personal meaning I don’t think about how it will affect listeners, even if I’m aware of how each and every different interpretation may go. My goal as an artist is to stay true to myself above all and that’s all I’ve ever known and care to know.
If it isn’t squarely religion that finds metal fans/journalists pointing pitchforks at artists, what do you think drives this cancel culture? Is there some thrill that comes from paranoia and accusation, or is “cancelling” as close as some folks will ever come to their subconscious or repressed killing impulse?
That’s a great question and no doubt I’m sure there are some deeply repressed human traits that do lead to these actions. War is in all of us and where we choose to cast it is always interesting to watch. The whole “cancel culture” thing I think has gotten a bit out of control in the sense that you could really compare it to “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” most of the time. And when the antics or accusations become wrong on multiple occasions the credibility ends up flying out the window. It also leaves that window open for those unwanted or what they would most likely call the deservedly canceled, to come crawling back in.
With that said I have seen a lot of these types of accusers who stand tall online constantly typing out their moral stance, fail at being consistent with their own beliefs. It’s almost as if the ones who point the finger are most often doing so as a deflective tactic to keep the spotlight off of their own immoral acts. I’ve also seen some who live by the message of anti-oppression and anti-racism all while supporting a known neo-nazi band because they like the music. So, as always with humans, there is a lot of contradiction in this culture. At the end of the day it comes down to the individual and what they’re comfortable with supporting. Unfortunately most are falling into that herd mentality where they’ll go against their own morals just to fit in or look cool to the rest of their friends. The ever important need to be accepted seems to still reign supreme in a genre that should be celebrating individuality above all.
For me, if I can’t support something due to a moral stance, I won’t but at the same time that doesn’t mean I feel the need to try to ruin someone else’s name or career because we might disagree on something. If I were to do so, then I feel like I’d be no better than my ancestor who was responsible for hanging the girls of Salem. Although it is a drastically different outcome in today’s society, it still feels like a strange act to take especially without full knowledge or proof of a situation.
I would also add that music is a gift to us creative types and I could not imagine living without that in my life, so there is no need for me to try to take that gift away from someone else. Who am I to deny someone their right to express themselves?
As often as we see folks using “witch hunt” as a sort of buzzword to trigger folks these last several years I have seen such an increase in personal censorship, ironic episodes of self-persecution, and even a number of very public suicides (literal and social) as a result of accusations of immorality within mob-minded social media. Has any of this affected you as an artist or private citizen? Surely the irony of moralization via censorship of art has to be brutal for someone who’d grown up largely in the 80’s/90’s and squarely on the side of free, independent self expression.
I’m still trying to figure out what year it was when metal became about conformity instead of rebellion. Again, if you hold up the mirror to those casting accusations you’ll most likely see them fall short of being able to live up to the standards they’re trying to hold others to. Projection is something we have to consider when we see people jumping at the littlest of things to judge. Of course there are real situations where we should take moral stances and decide not to support an artist based on an action that does indeed cross some lines. Those lines I believe are the ones outside of art though. If I were to find out an artist is involved in pedophilia then I absolutely will not support that artist, just as I do not support the church. Any vulture like this physically preying upon the innocent and weak is a place where I easily draw my line. Now, unless I’m willing to put a bullet or an axe in this hypothetical person’s head myself, I can’t really control if they continue to make art or not but I can choose not to support it. So, I understand that side of the culture, what I don’t understand is the canceling of art based on certain topics that are not being promoted for a specific purpose other than the interest in said topic.
A lot of bands are singing about World War II, which doesn’t automatically make them out to be part of a faction one might decide to “cancel” them for. Just as we’re singing about the Witch Trials here, it doesn’t mean we are condoning the actions of our ancestor who hung the accused. In fact this album is for those who lost their lives in honor of their lives and in hopes of a historical teaching for the listener. To try and cancel certain historical topics is quite an interesting take, but even more so, for some to try and cancel non-historical topics becomes an even bigger threat as it crosses into a territory of policing imagination. Extreme metal has always held extreme topics and should continue to do so. Human history is very dark and a lot of us gravitate towards that darkness for a better understanding of and what we’re feeling within our own selves. Just as those feel that war inside that they want to project onto any band they disagree with.
What I personally find interesting is that the people involved with “cancel culture” are the ones who believe that people shouldn’t be imprisoned and instead rehabilitated. For me music is therapy in itself so canceling musicians seems quite contradictory. If they believe people deserve to be rehabilitated then that would mean they believe in second chances, right? So, where does the line get drawn? If we believe that people are able to turn themselves around then should we allow people to do so or condemn them and their art for eternity? It’s really an interesting topic and I don’t think anyone really has a grasp on the true depth of the situation. I suppose if everyone is to be “canceled” for the mistakes they’ve made in their lives, then it’s only a matter of time for the entire human race, because no human is perfect.
I believe all Ceremonial Castings records were released in one edition of a thousand copies by your own Dark Forest Productions imprint, so ‘Salem 1692 (MMXX)’ will be the first time the band is set to vinyl (and cassette, via Eisenwald)? Are you a big fan/collector of vinyl records?
Yes, it is true the original was only released on CD format and limited to 1,000 copies. I grew up in the tape age and transferred over to the convenience of CDs in the 90s. Vinyl is something that I love because I think it really has the best sound. I do have a small collection but it’s something I’ve purposely held off on getting into because it’s quite an expensive thing to collect. Being a musician is already hard enough and I’m constantly reinvesting into gear, so there is not much to spare for a robust record collection, but I do appreciate the quality and the nostalgia it represents. It will be a great achievement to see ‘Salem 1692 (MMXX)’ make its way to this format.
Can we expect more re-recordings in the future? Or, potential vinyl issues/remasters for past releases? Any chance of Mysticism Black on vinyl?
It is possible you will see more reworks in the future although we do not plan to re-record all of our albums. I do hope we will see Mysticism Black get some proper releases in the future as well.
Is the future of Ceremonial Castings dependent upon how ‘Salem 1692 (MMXX)’ is received?
Not necessarily, although if not well received that could have an impact with label support. Right now we’re just focused on re-establishing and re-introducing ourselves through some past works. We will see what the future brings.
What is the best way folks can show support for Ceremonial Castings?
People can follow us on Bandcamp, Facebook and Instagram right now. Those are the best places for updates. Of course those who enjoy our art can also support us by purchasing albums and merch through us and Eisenwald. Every bit will help us to push forward. Our deepest appreciation to those who do.
Per the press release:
EISENWALD is proud to present a special re-recording of CEREMONIAL CASTINGS’ lost classic Salem 1692 on CD, cassette and vinyl LP formats.
Formed in that fateful year of 1996, CEREMONIAL CASTINGS were a band of the times, a band later behind the times, and now a band ahead of the times once again. Many will belatedly be aware of the name CEREMONIAL CASTINGS due to the membership of future UADA founder Jake Superchi, alongside his brother Nick Superchi, who were later (and once again now) joined by drummer Matt Mattern. The band crafted a canon of symphonic black metal that was admirably ambitious and often brilliant but all too often overlooked. Until their eventual demise in 2014, CEREMONIAL CASTINGS created nine full-lengths and just as many demos/EPs that were all released on their own label. Their album covers were often graced with artwork courtesy of the masterful Kris Verwimp, who also created the band’s logo.
Of these, it’s arguably 2008’s Salem 1692 which is the most beloved of all CEREMONIAL CASTINGS recordings and the one which is most emblematic of the band’s “Bewitching Black Metal.” By this point, the band’s albums were easily topping an hour-plus in length, as their songwriting had become more ambitious as well as their lyrical themes in kind. Salem 1692 is distinct in this regard in that the lyrical theme directly ties into the Superchi brothers’ family history. As Jake explains, “Since the beginning of this band in 1996, this was the album we always wanted to make, as we have a deep tie to the events in Salem of 1692. Growing up just west of Salem, my brother Nick and I learned all about the events at a very young age, including that we are in fact direct descendants – however many great grandsons – of Judge John Hathorne, who had sentenced the witches to hang. It is said that one of the girls who was hung had cast a curse on our family’s bloodline.”
While it is still unclear whether CEREMONIAL CASTINGS have officially returned from the grave, this new re-recording of Salem 1692 sounds exceptionally fresh, richly detailed, and fully conveys the mysticism so crucial to their aesthetic. It’s as immersive as ever, if not more so due to the richly kaleidoscopic sound – organic, analog, but not once sacrificing any of the otherworldliness which endeared CEREMONIAL CASTINGS to so many. And now, in 2020, as more ancient and classicist styles of black metal take hold with a new generation, “symphonic black metal” need no longer be a dirty word: this re-recording of Salem 1692 is poignant proof of the subgenre’s inherent power to transport the listener to forgotten realms and dimensions far, far away from modernity.
“This is a record that holds a lot of mystical energy showcased within its eleven hymns, as they seamlessly weave and flow together as one harmonious entity,” explains Veiled founder and UADA bassist Nate Verschoor. “Taking into consideration the concept of the album, it’s as if the songs themselves were twisted into form to act as spells and incantations. I say this because the moment the album begins, a presence is immediately felt, and the journey into a time long ago begins to take shape.”
“With the turn of a new decade,” concludes Jake, “we who would be sentenced to hang by our own ancestor, felt that not only did this represent our craft best to reintroduce ourselves, but we also would like to remind the world in 2020 of where a witch-hunt can and will lead if not careful with unwise accusations. We are here to show that American black metal does have a history that is tied to a very dark and cruel past. We are here to turn the focus around upon those who would condemn us for who and what we are. This album is for all who still believe in the old ways and who understand the true nature of magick. Together, let us reverse the curse.”
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