.:.The Fiery Spirit.:.
An Interview with Arfsynd by
Aaron Woodall of Call from the Grave
Ankit Sinha of Heathen Harvest
Heathen Harvest presents an exclusive interview with Swedish one-man black metal band Arfsynd. This interview was jointly conducted by our staff member Ankit and guest contributor Aaron Woodall of ”Call From the Grave” magazine fame. Arfsynd was the brainchild of Perditor who is also known for the black metal band Orcivus. Two and a half years after releasing his debut album under this new moniker, Perditor returns with a sophomore entitled Hesychia. Inspired by the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it is a manifestation of the deepest pessimism and awareness of the inexorable Original Sin, that a man carries within. Recorded at Liesmia Studio in 2010-2012 and mastered at Necromorbus by Tore Stjerna, Hesychia adds new elements to the canvas of Arfsynd, yet the trademark riffing and style are unmistakably present. The album will be released by Daemon Worship Productions during March 2013. Read this enlightening conversation of the respective writers with Perditor below.
Aaron Woodall (Call from the Grave): Based on your previous works, I assume your ideology is aligned with the LHP. Tell me about your experience in the monastery. What inspired you to spend time there at all? How did your stay inform and enrich your spiritual path?
Arfsynd: I guess it’s up for others to think that ARFSYND is aligned with LHP. I will try to enlighten its complexity a little bit through this interview.
My experiences from the monastery taught me to become even more critical to the general Swedish absence of spiritual devotion and behavior, but also how hard it can be to avoid all (sinful?) temptations, that we all carry within us, and which we live out without blinking in daily life. There were mainly two reasons why I decided to spend some time there: the first was my strong desire to live as simple as possible, with God as the center of all, and to forget the normal life; the second was to work as a volunteer for the organic agriculture. In Romania they work with old, gentler methods. I thought it could be interesting to learn more about it, and to help them in harvesting and parboiling the vegetables etc.
CftG: Erik Danielsson (WATAIN) once said that the “other side” (God, Jesus, right hand path, etc.) can get overwhelming at times. How were you affected when the monks would worship and give praise? Did you join them in these rituals?
AR: They were very hospitable and treated me with all respect. They never tried to “save me” if that is what you mean. I became very good friends with a couple of them, and we discussed their faith and liturgy contra Protestantism, materialism, and secularization, from different perspectives. I only joined them in the chapel for regular worship with the rural population a couple of days per week. And their symbolism and asceticism is for sure very overwhelming, and spell-bounding in many ways. I would never disturb them in their closed holy rituals!
CftG: Why record and release a Black Metal album based on your insights and observations in a place cloistered away from the world? What do you wish others to take away from this recording? This seems like a deeply personal subject.
AR: Well, because Black Metal is a very limited medium, and often performed and received by narrow-minded clowns. I think it can be fascinating to do this ‘anti-thing’, in some way controversially. Yes, it is a deeply personal subject, but I guess in this case it must be a personal subject. With a risk of committing hubris, think about Dostojevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov or Ingmar Bergman‘s Winter Light without being personal, it will lose its nerve and credibility so to speak. I doubted this project from the start, and I think it’s good to be critical of it before you release something official. But remember, that the focus of this album is on the original sin, spiritual death and devotion to Him in absurdum. And these are the given topics for a Black Metal album, if anything is.
CftG: So, why is this album “Hesychia” important to you? The word refers to an ancient mystic tradition of solitude and prayer. Is it a study of devotion/fanaticism, an expression of personal faith or something else entirely?
AR: Yes, that’s right. It is a kind of spiritual condition which monks and hermits are trying to enter. On Mount Athos, the monks know much about this of course, and some of them have tried to express this in words, for example Starets Siluan (read his book for more insight). It is said that watchfulness and noetic hesychia are the essential prerequisite for knowing God. I witnessed some of this solitude in the monastery, which is a completely necessary kind of solitude. And yes, an interesting thing is when devotion turns over to fanaticism, and there is subtle difference there sometimes I think. I chose to call the album Hesychia because of its fundamental impact on higher spiritual devotion.
CftG: The lyrics on “Hesychia” are filled with visions of sin, and a god of harsh judgment and fire; somewhere between justice and cruelty. “We are bound by the five senses/But dream of predetermined freedom”. Tell me about this. Do you think you are enslaved to a deity from birth, without choice in the matter? Where does the act of creation (music, art) come into this worldview?
AR: Actually that is a reference to St. Augustine of Hippo, and his thoughts about predestination. What I mean with that phrase is that every man desires to reach freedom, but there are just a few chosen souls who are predestined for this kind of freedom (undefined paradise?), the rest dream in vain, according to Augustine. That is one of the most sinister thoughts about the original sin, I guess. As I mentioned earlier, the main focus on this record is not to raise the glorious parts of Christendom, there are too many others who can do that more credible then I can. So I focused on the other sides, which are equally important to discuss.
CftG: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your experience? How did it impact your life?
AR: As I said in my reply to your first question, it was to escape the secularization which has become a faith for most of the Swedes, and to try to live more simple and ascetic. But you have to live much longer in that kind state before it can really have an impact on you (see Job). And I guess it is impossible to do that if you don’t see a meaning in all evil (undefined). One of the hardest things to understand for an outsider is that you, as a person, must die before you can become a novice and later a monk. You must leave all materialism behind you, and decay as a mortal before you can be a servant to God, in an Orthodox monastery.
Ankit Sinha (Heathen Harvest): I am rather intrigued by your dedication towards art; that you decided to shun yourself from the material world for a while to embark on a spiritual journey, and portrayed your experiences through the medium of black metal is very inspiring. However controversial this topic of spiritual enlightenment may be, it undeniably raises an unavoidable question – how do humans possess the intrinsic quality to assess their spirituality and the relation with ‘God’?
AR: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” as the early Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote. Sorry, but I can’t answer a question like that; only speculate as an interested layman. I suppose it is all about subjective transcendental knowledge, which is impossible, for a person who dwells in deepest doubt and void like me, to understand. But the isolation at a monastery and the permanent Will to strive, to reach, and to be one with God, will set the Ego in a non-earthly state and transform you into something different. It is easy to forget that these servants to God always strive to develop as servants and not to become slaves of temptations, and that is a very hurtful process and development. That fascinates me, and what I searched for when I decided to try out monastery life, was to get a hint of this total devotion and to speak with them about the pain and pleasure they go through every day. Of course there are “bad” servants too, who can live pretty indulgent lives in the monastery without doing much work and practice, but I think they are pretty few.
HH: The tenets of Eastern Orthodox Christianity place their belief in Salvation – the saving of man from death, corruption and the fate of hell. If we were to ponder on the developments of civilization throughout the centuries which went by, we would come across numerous instances of the world being fed with grey evil; holocausts, genocides and atomic warfare abound. Isn’t it absurd to think that while the world religions have often offered to save mankind from sin, they have been used quite unlawfully, as weapons, by power-hungry wolves to enslave humanity with fear?
AR: I am as puzzled as you are, but when a theology turns into an ideology it has some other preferences and goals than faith. I don’t think that the majority of the true Orthodox believers accept or accepted the crusades and the genocides which were done in the name of God. Of course you can apply the theodicy paradigm on these evil acts throughout history, but it doesn’t affect the righteous belief in God at all. Fundamentalism is not the same as inexorable faith. Maybe the colonizing and enforced faith have their ground in the perfunctory way of seeing; where the majority thinks it’s so obvious that they are right just because it’s the norm. We can see that kind of thinking in our daily life and in political contexts every day. So the conclusion is that believers with power can manipulate the flock towards perfunctory fundamental faith, but perfunctory atheism can also do that, and so the holy / unholy mission and war stems from there.
HH: Musically, ‘Hesychia’ is a fiercer album than your self-titled debut, which was more primal in nature. Your vocal execution on the album makes the music all the more enjoyable. Instead of typical black metal shrieks, you have employed a unique ‘howling’ vocal style which resonates deeply with the theme of the album. As far as the instrumentation is concerned, the music, while resonating with the subtleties of traditional Swedish black metal, has more depth and maturity than your previous output. How was the task of composing an album as personal as Hesychia undertaken?
AR: When I decided to start a new band where I would sing and do everything, I felt that it had to be more direct and personal then my other bands. When I recorded the debut album, I felt that I could sing, or “howl” as you said, in a nearly possessed way. I screamed all I could, and the result became something unique in my opinion. I have always felt that crust singers can make the lyrics sound more “authentic” than most of the mediocre black metal singers out there, so I guess I was a bit inspired by, for example, Wolfbrigade when I found “my style” of howling. When I was in the monastery I felt that all impressions I have could be concentrated on the negative side, and thereby could express something new in the longtime conservative black metal genre. I thought that it could be interesting to expand the whole thing and show through empirical studies how the endeavor to become closer to God hurts and how full of sacrifices it is for the insignificant man. I concentrated on the ancient thoughts about the original sin, which is something true believers always wrestle with, and thought it could be an interesting topic for a new album. So the topic is of course highly affected by the negativity. I could have done a “positive” bias of this instead, but I chose the dark side.
HH: A few years ago, you were a part of the well-respected black metal band Orcivus and released two full lengths under that moniker. There was a strong religious theme going with Orcivus as well, although it seemed to differ from the themes which you are exploring now. Spiritual evolution is necessary, and I believe that you are exploring that through Arfsynd. How important do you think it is to be a non-conformist artist within the black metal spectrum; a genre which is infamous for being strictly puritanical?
AR: I’m still a part of Orcivus, and I have written all music and most of the lyrics for the band, but we don’t know how we will continue with the band, if we in fact will. For me it has been a natural evolution to make more personal things with Arfsynd. I have never felt that I belong to some “black metal brotherhood” with the “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality, so therefore I’m not afraid of losing status and dignity with what I’m doing, for I have nothing to lose. Actually I have never insisted upon calling Arfsynd a black metal band, but I realize that it is the most natural thing to call it, or at least the easiest thing. Maybe I have done something orthodox and puritanical in a new way with Arfsynd, but that is nothing compared to what Reverorum ib Malacht have done with their dark and weird in all its Catholic way stuff. But I don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel all the time, (maybe I have to do that for my own sake, haha) sometimes it is nice to hear black metal sound as it always did, with no new influences and ideas at all, with that lo-fi kind of sound and production. So, my view on black metal and how it should or shouldn’t is a little bit paradoxical.
HH: Daemon Worship Productions is a record label which strives for artistic and ideological excellence – something which most of the labels lack nowadays. Viktor possesses a genuine eye for spotting talent and I am glad that he offered Arfsynd a space on his indomitable roster. But I am also curious to know the details of this collaboration. How did you come in contact with DWP? Are you thoroughly satisfied with the label support/ promotion throughout these years?
AR: I think DWP is the perfect label for Arfsynd. They give me free reign to manifest Arfsynd the way I want it from music and lyrics to layouts. Viktor has been a good listener and coach throughout the entire process, and I think we understand each other very well after these years of cooperation. We’ve been in contact for several years now and we will continue to cooperate in the future.
HH: What does the future behold for Arfsynd? Once Hesychia is unleashed, there is obviously going to be a lot of talk about it, be it for the spiritual theme of the album, or the music alone. Are you considering live performances with session musicians or Arfsynd is supposed to be a studio project only?
AR: I don’t know if I will ever do another Arfsynd album. Every time I do a new recording I think it is the last thing I’d do. The Liesmia Studio I have used for demo and album recordings since 2002 is no more. And some things I recorded (a whole drone/sludge album and some other weird things) are gone away. So I don’t know yet how I will continue. I need to be alone when I record Arfsynd; that is a requirement for making new material. In my opinion Arfsynd is a band for loners to sit down and to listen to on their own. But some songs might be potentially very good live, so let us leave aside the possibility of live performances for now…
HH: I, on behalf of Heathen Harvest, wish to express my gratitude, that you took the time to answer this insightful questionnaire. In today’s time and age, it is rare to come across artists like you, who walk the extra mile in pursuit of excellence. We wish you the very best for the future and look forward to hearing your forthcoming releases. The final space is yours.
AR: Thanks a lot for laying down so much work with interesting questions and insightful thoughts! I don’t have much more to say, but I can recommend you some transcendental experiences. Watch a movie called Into Great Silence about some French monks’ daily lives. It is not about Orthodox Christian beliefs, but nevertheless it is about total devotion in its highest form. Listen to Hildegard von Bingen’s visions. The most transcendental a cappella you can hear. One of her visions provided basis for “The Fiery Spirit” on Hesychia.