Kakophonix is a black metal cellist who has worked with the likes of Heljarmadr, Grave Gnosis and his own Hvile I Kaos. Here, he recounts his quarantine-related activities…
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent quarantine affected me in much the same way as they did other musicians, and indeed those of all disciplines. My teaching job closed its doors, my live gigs were canceled, and my band had a grand total of one rehearsal before such gatherings became obsolete. In short, I lost work and income, just like everyone else.
As such, I’ve fallen back on my ability to record and compose from home. I have worked as a session cellist, primarily in the black metal scene, for several years now, and writing for my own band has always been something I can do in isolation. The quarantine, however long it ends up lasting, has afforded me a unique opportunity not only to expand upon this essential aspect of my work, but also to reflect upon what makes my chosen artistic trajectory truly unique, from both a practical and spiritual standpoint.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of artists contacting me to contribute session cello to their projects. Many of my existing peers, such as Chrome Waves, Osi and the Jupiter, Abigail Williams, and Nightdrive, have seen fit to keep me and themselves busy with an onslaught of fresh music. I have received interest from new potential clients as well, which is pretty fantastic given the circumstances. This influx of session work has occupied me throughout the quarantine, for which I am exceedingly grateful.
Regardless of how long I’ve known or worked with an artist, there are three projects in particular worth focusing on, specifically for the strange occult relevance they hold to our present entrapment. Through my work with Heljarmadr, Grave Gnosis, and my own band Hvile I Kaos, I’ve begun to decipher some meaning out of a seemingly meaningless situation. And it is towards these emerging correlations between the pandemic and the work that we now turn our focus.
Among my new opportunities was one to contribute session cello to the new namesake band of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Heljarmadr, primarily known as the frontman of Dark Funeral and Grá. While the specific details of this project, such as the personnel and album title, are to remain closed to the public for now, I was given exclusive permission to discuss my experience with the music and its underlying meaning.
Heljarmadr sent me two songs to work on, primarily dealing with the Norse Goddess Hel. Hel rules over the underworld, Helheim, and her name and being are synonymous and interchangeable with her realm. Hel appears with one half of her face and body young and beautiful, the other dead and decaying. The music is intended as an ode to Hel as a patron deity. Fittingly, Heljarmadr translates directly to “man belonging to Hel.”
This is where the occult relevance of the music to the outbreak truly begins. The archetype of Hel is very much alive and at work today. Hel, and consequently Helheim, devour those who succumb to sickness and old age. We now find ourselves trapped in a land of sickness and death, from which there is no escape. As with the two-faced Goddess, our own beauty decays before our eyes. This is a horror we cannot bear to face, and in some rather prominent cases attempt in vain to deny. Hel rules over the face of the land, and the earth is now her domain.
I attempted to communicate these ideas with my cello through a few different musical approaches. In some sections I utilized a distinct droning style reminiscent of traditional Scandinavian folk instruments, such as the nyckelharpa or hardanger fiddle. In others I used eerie, ghostly overtones and plodding low melodies. In a driving Swedish black metal context, these techniques emphasize the aspects of Hel as she creeps ever nearer through the music.
GRAVE GNOSIS: THE PATH OF PESTILENCE CROWNED
Florida-based black metal outfit Grave Gnosis is a project I’ve been increasingly involved with over the last couple of years. I contributed session cello to their most recent full-length, Lux Nigredo, which still has yet to be released. However, the next album, Pestilence Crowned, is already in the works, and for this I’ve been commissioned not only to record cello but also to contribute to the initial composition.
Both albums draw on Grave Gnosis’ own unique occult system, described as Vedantic Nihilism and summed up in a forthcoming book entitled Codex Aversum. This method of practice essentially exists to cultivate Mastery of the Self through immersion in, and unity with, the Void, as presented through an extremely ordered system of distinct god forms and archetypes. One aspect of this system, known as the Path of Pestilence Crowned, is the focus of the album currently in the works, and serves as a nullifying force oddly appropriate for a world brought to its knees by plague.
According to Grave Gnosis and the Codex, the Path of Pestilence Crowned is one of growth through adversity, and is comprised of specified deities listed in complementary order to that end. With the present pandemic and quarantine we find ourselves at the level of Tathos, who represents “glorious rot and luxurious decay”, the downfall of pride and hubris. The workings of our bloated civilization have been ground to a halt. The Path then leads to Zathane (violent separation, division, and conflict, along with “indiscriminate punishment”) followed by Na’atzoth (“Spirit of Vengeance and Divine Wrath”), providing possible clues to a tentative aftermath. These are but three of the archetypes I’ve been given to work with for Grave Gnosis, but they provide a sufficient glimpse into the nature of the work.
My initial task for the “Pestilence Crowned” record was to communicate each archetype through a distinct motive, theme, or riff. Keys and time signatures were provided to me for each archetype, which assisted in the process. Depending on what each called for, I composed everything from vast orchestral textures to sparsely placed melodies to straightforward black metal riffs, even pressing my own very limited guitar playing abilities into service in a couple instances. The resulting music was surprising even to me, and accompanied some strange happenings in my daily life that need not be discussed here. Such has proven the rule and not the exception when working for Grave Gnosis and their chosen practice.
HVILE I KAOS: THE LOWER ORDER
I generally describe my main project Hvile I Kaos as “Black Ritual Chamber Musick.” I’ve maintained it since 2011 essentially as a solo venture, with live musicians filling out the lineup for performances. Hvile I Kaos serves as the central focus of my individual artistic trajectory and spiritual practice. While the next recorded release is complete (a split with Emerson Sinclair entitled “Never Without the Pentagram” is set for July 10th via Metal Assault), new music to follow is already being composed, and has occupied a distinct place in my quarantine recording schedule.
Over the last few years I’ve applied my work with Hvile I Kaos to a handful of different philosophies and practices, with varying degrees of success. At present, however, I’ve been working with the Grave Gnosis system, Codex Aversum, as this system has given me notably more effective results than many of my previous ventures. These results and experiences, while definitely unique in their own right, also make a strange degree of sense in the context of both the pandemic and my other aforementioned projects.
The aspect of the Codex I’m focusing with Hvile I Kaos is the Lower Order, a highly specified list of archetypes that correspond systematically to the greater pantheon. Here we find a crucial point of intersection. The themes these Lower Order archetypes embody – social upheaval, mass panic, collapse – lead to a greater understanding of the potential events that could unfold after a global pandemic, in accordance with the Path of Pestilence Crowned. The Lower Order leads progressively towards the Void. Towards Hel, who presently rules our Helheim. A larger picture is beginning to emerge, the exact nature of which remains to be seen.
The existing drafts of these new pieces, while in line with the trademark Hvile I Kaos sound, also introduce an array new of approaches to the project. Layers of sound mass cello tracking are employed when applied to the Lower Order entities Gazimah (“a veritable army of the hivemind”) and Meshahim (“a fount of panic energy and chaotic zeal”). Chant and call-and- response figures highlight the rollicking ode to Dechahim (“feelings of a righteous cause”). While still very much a work in progress, this forthcoming Hvile I Kaos material is beginning to connect a larger pattern with Heljarmadr, Grave Gnosis, and the pandemic itself. A pattern that may very well serve to illuminate a way forward.
This type of work leads to to a point of unification that is also one of separation, which falls on the individual observer to recognize. The work of Heljarmadr, Grave Gnosis, and Hvile I Kaos exemplifies a Black Metal tradition that has very little to do with humanity. And it is nothing human that now forces our world to its knees.