Interview by Jamie Grimes
Death Metal’s resurgence in the last decade has provided at times something that the initial 80s and 90s wave often lacked – a solid and serious spiritual base. The cartoon occultism of many a great demo and death metal band from the days of yore no doubt planted the seed, but perhaps it’s the more devotional bent of black metal that has given rise to this more serious approach to the dark in the genre.
One need only look to the likes of Necros Christos, Teitanblood et al to experience the intense darkness that modern DM has become invested with instead of the sheer brutality for the sake of it of the past. While there are still plenty of bands screaming forth blasphemy for shock value or because it’s traditionally what the genre talks about, a dedicated core of bands have explored a genuinely sinister path through the underground. Sweden’s IRKALLIAN ORACLE can be added to this elite crew, their debut release – the devastating and labyrinthine album length “Grave Ekstasis” demo – having just crawled from the blackest pits of the void. I caught up with them to find out more.
The band is relatively new having only begun last year. Unlike many in this age of instant gratification via internet (where bands seem to have a facebook page before they’ve even written a note), you kept your existence very quiet until recently, and have revealed little about the members involved in the project bar that you are based in Gothenburg. What sparked the initial drive to create Irkallian Oracle? Would it be true to say that perhaps it was something that began out of a personal need rather than the usual “let’s start a band” urge of most acts? I take it there was a strong ideology in place from the beginning?
Very much so. The members have known each other for several years and we all have been active in various bands throughout our adult lives, so to simply form a new one just for the sake of doing it was not really of interest. Instead we initially knew that what we as a community could be capable of presenting something very special or even original, if you will. Actually I wouldn’t say that it was due to any specific underlying “ideological” conviction in the more obvious sense of the word. Rather, we simply just wished to explore certain forms of aesthetic and philosophical expressions of art to the fullest and the nature of these were quite made clear from the beginning. We summed this up from the very start with the quite humbly ambition to “open black holes”. By this, there is no other really formulated agenda of Irkallian Oracle, apart from something like a pursuit to communicate with such forces that we innately feel ourselves connected to, both musically and spiritually.
Has this decision not to reveal any of the information about the personalities involved in the band been a deliberate decision? Do you feel creating an air of mystery in this way around the project helps amplify that atmosphere put across in the music? Or is this something you even thought about before now?
There actually is no real “secrecy ” to talk about, as I’m sure a lot of people already are well aware of who the individuals behind the band really are. But we simply find it superfluous and ultimately irrelevant to expose such information and discuss such matters openly, mainly due to that we wish Irkallian Oracle to be approached without our egos getting in the way of the experience of the listener/beholder. Our aim is to express something utterly inhuman, faceless and transcendental and then it would be nothing but counter-productive if we were to display such things more. So it is mainly a way for us to make the band speak for itself, rather than to uphold some type of anonymity. Never the less, this of course may also in some manner create a certain aura of “mystique” and to that degree it suits us fine, as what we try to explore in our over-all aesthetics is something wholly mystical (in the words original meaning).
So please correct me if I’m wrong..but Irkala in mythology was an Underworld or land of the dead, and obviously the word “oracle”suggests someone who is a pinnacle of wisdom. You describe yourselves
as being a “musical vehicle for the void”. How do you personally relate to the concept of “void” in your everyday existence? What is it that compels you to offer yourselves up as a vessel for transmitting
this dark energy through music and art?
You are correct; Irkalla is a name the ancient Babylonians gave the nethermost sphere of the underworld or the realm encountered when the living had travelled through the seven chthonic gates and had been stripped of all their existential belongings. This reminds us in many ways of the process of initiation or transcendence of the spirit from the material into its absolute primordial state, like a reversion of emanation in seven degrees (which may call to mind many other traditions that includes similar elements). Now, the oracle was the medium through which the gods spoke in the ancient temples, the Pythia of Delphi being the most famous of examples which both high and low searched out for counsel on matters of great importance. With that said to fully explain the name of the band, and maybe to a certain extent also our vision of our practice, I must say that it’s not as easy to answer the latter part of your question as it might carry me all too much into the domains of my own individual beliefs and understandings, as well as the topic is so extremely complex that it can’t be summarized in a few lines. So I will simply state that what we here refer to as “void” can in a certain manner be understood as this absolute and initial “nakedness” of the spirit that was referred to before and as such this means that we are trying our best to communicate something that is incomprehensible and ultimately undefinable. So it can be seen as a way to deconstruct the limited understanding of our world and being by opening it towards that which is truly limitless and ungraspable, pure in the words most accurate sense. And if I may say so; is that not what all true art always has been about?
Perhaps a trivial question but one I always feel interested in asking artists whose music has a strong trace of the occult within it: obviously it’s a tradition within Black and Death Metal to deal with occult topics, and many involved in one often sympathise to some degree with the other: which came first for you? Was there a link between your interest in metal and your interest in the occult? And if so which came first? Is there a specific party in each area (ie perhaps one band/musician and one writer/philosopher) who was a particular inspiration or influence for you?
As we for the reasons explained previously try to keep each of our personal histories out of the frame of Irkallian Oracle as much as possible, I wish not to talk too much about my personal experiences surrounding things either of a musical or spiritual nature. But returning somewhat to the last question answered, I may say that I’ve always understood art (and in this case especially Black/Death metal music) to be tightly connected with esoterism/spirituality/magio-mystical thought and practice in the sense that they are both means to establish links and communicate with dimensions of reality that lay hidden from the conventional and logical states of perception. To a certain level I would even go as far as to say that music, when performed in the right manner, is nothing but yet another practice to explore the hidden domains of reality and has functioned as such throughout history of mankind. In this way, it’s not always the easiest to separate the one from the other, as in a sense I simply understand music as one of many sub-groups of the magical and theurgical practices that consume more or less the whole of my life. From an existential perspective both practices seem to concern the same initial purposes, as in the will to explore the unknown, the seemingly forbidden and dangerous from which one is able to draw the highest forms of power, beauty and wisdom. Somehow then it might not be all too strange if I for example were to say that the lyrics for written for “Grave Ekstasis” actually were highly influenced by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf (1907-1968), who himself had very little to do with “occultism” at all, but whose work somehow reflect many similar themes as we wished to deal with for this release.
The “Grave Ekstatis” tape is your first releases obviously. I know you’ve mentioned the five tracks are circa 45 minutes long in total and the samples I’ve encountered were both around the 8/9 minute mark.
With the long track lengths, extremely low, heavy guitar tuning and repetetive rythyms in a song such as “Ekstasis”, I was curious if you feel Irkallian Oracle attempts to invoke a kind of trance in the listener? What kind of reaction are you hoping to inspire in the listener with the music?
I’ll here refrain myself from going into talking too much about “trance” as such and the various levels such a state might entail, but yes, to some degree we wish to help our listener going into forms of altered mental states. To my knowledge trance-states can more or less only occur if the subject is actually willing to submit under them hirself, so we mainly can function as a catalyst of sorts in this case. For example, during rehearsals and live-performances we take use of a lot of improvisation and have several passages where we have no specified limit of duration, which might enable those who approach the music with an open mind to become more absorbed into the moment. Hopefully our music can therefore function as a means for the listener to let go of themselves for a while and integrate with the great unknown that lies beyond the rigid states of the ego.
I know the initial copies of the tape come with a booklet containing drawings related to the tracks on the tape. Can you perhaps outline what the themes at work in the songs are? I presume there is a link between all the lyrics? And tell us more about the booklet: was the art produced by the member of the band or do you have someone else who channels the visual side for you?
As the lyrics that appear on the tape were the first ones I wrote for the band I must admit that they were somewhat reflections of me trying to figure out a path that the band could onwards tread on. But to a certain extent unconsciously there were some aspects that were explored that I later found to be a pattern throughout them. This I mainly recognized as various forms of what could be described as acts of “Ekstasis”, understood to mean “Outside-of-itself”. As in various processes to move out of the normative structures of psyche/self-awareness and partake in what could be called existential otherness or practices of mystical initiation and transgression. Each lyric obviously have a specific meaning of its own, but instead of trying to give any exhaustive explanation or analysis here, I see it as up to the reader to make their own opinion out of them.
All art on the tape, as well as the logo, was made by an artist named David Herrerias after long and exhaustive discussions regarding the philosophical concepts dealt within the lyrics. So the drawings can in some sense be thought of as extensions of the lyrics and music itself, made to further give depth and dimension to the whole experience. Obviously, we are more than pleased with the outcome of this cooperation.
In the write up/biography I’ve seen posted in a few places, you outline that you see yourselves as “a message to all those who wish to enslave Death and Black Metal to purposeless retrospection, mediocrity and shallow ideals. ” an admirable sentiment of course. I’ve noticed that the recent “retro” death metal band craze of the last few years is slowly perhaps starting to give way to bands maturing and taking the sonic path of Death Metal in particular into more sophisticated areas – it’s reminiscent to me in some ways of when bands such as Tiamat, Samael or Sentenced (circa “North From Here”) took a similar leap twenty years
ago after the glut of Nihilist rip off bands began to oversaturate the scene.How,if it all, do you feel Death/Black Metal in this current generation of bands needs to progress in order to remain vital for the
near future? Do you feel perhaps that looking at this point in the genre’s history, the collapse of the scene is something that we’re on the verge of again? And obviously being from Sweden, does Irkallian Oracle feel much of a connection to the heritage your country has in terms of being both an originator and innovator within the underground metal scene? Are their any of your countrymen you feel allied with in your attempts to present a more serious take on the Metal of Death?
I would actually say that we’re really not all too interested in being “progressive” in the words more usual sense, rather we are trying to properly cultivate such elements that we see as essential in this type of music as much as possible. I think that each of the bands you mentioned above felt themselves creatively stuck within the boundaries of this type of music and thus searched in different genres to make something different, but to us the absolute potential of Death/Black Metal is bottomless in itself. We are not here to re-invent anything or try to make it into something it is not. We simply wish to refine things, to deepen the vision of what Death/Black metal is about and do this without looking too much in the direction of others. When starting out we made it very clear that it was of highly important to stay wholly open to new ideas and ways to compose and present the material. Maybe some new aspect of this music might emerge by this, but that is not really our main mission. And as for kinship with other Swedish acts, well, not really. Sure, nothing just comes out of a vacuum, but I would even find it quite strange and even ignorant if someone was to say that there was anything particularly Swedish about how we sound.
You’re playing in the Utmarken space as well I notice which I guess is more known for being associated with the noise/electronics/experimental scene. My knowledge of some of the Swedish underground for that kind of stuff is that again, there is a strong hint of occult atmosphere with acts like Trepaningsritualen or some of the Attestupa material. Do you feel in any way connected to that scene?
You are correct. Our choice to do our first live performance there was that we wanted to make a point out it not being a typical heavy metal show or whatever you want to call it. To a certain degree we actually feel that we have more in common with the art of some of these artists than with the local metal community, although we obviously can’t deny that we firmly rooted in the underground metal tradition. Within the extreme industrial/electronic scene we’ve found many artists that seem to share the same understanding concerning aesthetics that also can be found within the type of extreme metal we endorse. Anyone that has heard for example the two artists you here mentioned should at least to some degree be able to discern the connection that I hear speak of. Actually, the intro for the tape was made by Kristian Olsson who is well known for his (excellent) work in such extreme industrial/power electronics acts as Alfarmania, Blood of thee Christ and Ghoulbog. So I don’t believe it is the last time you will hear of us cooperating with artists and individuals who are involved in this scene, as it all in all have felt very natural to do so from the start.
You will perform your first live show this weekend – how do you plan to present Irkallian Oracle live? For example will there be the standard “four guys headbanging” approach or is there a visual aspect (stage settings, lighting, etc) you plan to use to help enhance the live performance?
We mainly wish that witnessing us live should be the best way to experience our music and by this we try our best to make the whole performance go align with our vision of how the music is more properly presented. So the initial thought is to welcome the audience into the dreary depths of the Irkallian Oracle, into black apocalyptic brilliance and the terrors of the unknown worlds. So it is then important for us to create an environment that may give rise such states of mind.
Finally..I believe there is some hope that the “Grave Ekstatis”recording will also come out later on vinyl or cd – is there any further information on that yet? And has work begun on any new material?
Thank you for the interesting interview. For now we are looking for proper labels to release the tape on CD and Vinyl. More information about this will hopefully be made public soon. Two live performances in July will be made in Stockholm and Gothenburg together with the great Australian bands Portal and Vomitor. We have also begun to compose material for an upcoming Ep, but it is all too early to say more about it than that…