An Interview with Irkallian Oracle
Irkallian Oracle is a black/death metal band hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden. It is a congregation of like-minded artists whom have created this entity as a musical vehicle for the spiritual exploration of the Void’s labyrinthine abyss. Their debut offering, entitled Grave Ekstasis, was released by Bolvärk on tape during March 2013. The album was recorded at Evil Grill Studios and mastered by Phil Kusabs of Diocletian fame. Ankit of Heathen Harvest recently conducted an in-depth interview with the band which provides a deep insight into the spiritual and aesthetic foundations upon which Irkallian Oracle is based. This conversation is presented below.
Heathen Harvest: Despite being a relatively new entity in the underground death/black metal realm, your debut album “Grave Ekstasis” has received an excellent response everywhere. It is now also completely sold out. Are there any plans to re-release the album in CD and vinyl formats?
Irkallian Oracle: That’s true. Although we obviously understood that we were on to something rather special while both composing and recording the album, we couldn’t wholly imagine that things would evolve so rapidly for us concerning the positive response and offers we got from it. In a certain sense, this might mean that we’ve done at least something right, although I believe we still have a lot more to offer and that these are but the first steps in the evolution of the band. We just signed a deal with Nuclear War Now! Records to release Grave Ekstasis on CD/LP which will hopefully be out in a few months from now.
HH: After a thorough assessment of the artistic prowess exhibited in “Grave Ekstasis”, I arrived at the conclusion that Irkallian Oracle was founded as a vessel to explore hidden realms of the supra-mundane consciousness through a venerable and arduous artistic odyssey with an aim to unlock the dark mysteries of the Void. The band name itself is quite suggestive of the gargantuan pursuit, as in my understanding Irkalla was the mythical underworld of the ancient Babylonians, ruled by the deity Ereshkigal. How is the allegory of this ancient myth used as a synonym for the metaphysical aims reflected in “Grave Ekstasis”?
IO: You have indeed understood things correctly when it comes to the underlying intentions and the mission we wish to pursue within our art and altogether as a band. As such, the concept of Irkalla has not yet been fully elaborated within the concept of the band though, if we only are to view it as identifiable with the traditional Babylonian mythological and main theological description. Yet we, as you propose, have thus far rather only spoken of it in allegorical terms as a manner of personifying the “Void”; as Irkalla is as much Ereshkigallu, as Erishkigallu is Irkalla. For instance, in the Gilgamesh epos, Irkalla is understood as the Queen of Darkness whose chthonic kingdom is “the land of no return”, where both kings and gods of old are but slaves to Her terrible divinity. We might also take the story of “Inanna’s descent into the underworld” into regard here, where the goddess is to move through the seven levels down to Irkalla, and at each of their gates remove one of her royal garments to finally stand naked before her dark sister in the seventh nethermost sphere. This movement downwards to us, through stations of spiritual deconstruction and purification, signify the initiatory steps of mystical transcendence where the soul is stripped of all illusory existential principles. The concepts found in the lyrics of Grave Ekstasis deal with various forms of this process, as in the praxis of moving “outside-of-itself”, meaning that to first be able to become, we must step beyond our own fixed yet at the same time very confused perception of self-hood that we these days in the traditions of the West usually define as “ego”. This should properly involve dissolution of aspects of reality and self, which usually is connected to death and the “grave”, as in facing everything that one is not, that which is existentially other, in order to reveal the potentiality that lies beyond the knowable and given. This, of course, is just a rather rough generalization of mine that deals with the overall philosophical theme of the album. For each song, lyric and image presented, we’ve tried to explore a number of quite varying understandings and revelatory perspectives that it is for the listener and reader to explore deeper into.
HH: Ever since the dawn of mankind, various metaphysical traditions have understood the importance of attaining spiritual equanimity, or “voidness”, which can be defined in different terminologies. In all these traditions – be it the yogic or tantric esotericism of ancient India, or Western Hermeticism – we find that art has played a predominant role in alluding to their complex ideas which could not be explained without a direct experience of the “self”. How important do you think this artistic allusion is in context with the modern understanding and portrayal of similar mystical experiences? Do you relate your own creative approach with this ideal?
IO: This is a very interesting matter, as so often it seems that aesthetics actually are the best way to express the aforementioned experiences. This is simply due to the fact that we are discussing states of awareness that surpass the normal human logical faculties as well as the capabilities that conventional semantics present to us. Both of these, I take it, are but means to consider and process the world in a fixed and formalized manner when instead poetic, mystical and aesthetic language works beyond reason as such and has always functioned as tools to restore the link to that which transcends our controlled perception of reality, moving it unto the grounds where possibilities are endless. The true artist and the mystic thus share the ability to tap into the “unknown” worlds that lie latent beyond the usual and given faculties that clouds the human psyche. It is not for nothing that so many of the great sages and mystics also were great poets and artists as well, or that art always has been associated with divine influences. We are then, here, talking of the ability to grasp and transfer the highly abstract in a very direct manner and not through a process that succumbs to shackles of logic. For instance, I always thought that as soon as John of the Cross started to explain his poem in La Noche Oscura del Alma, he kind of lost his whole point. With that said, I don’t believe I can explain myself any better than I do with Irkallian Oracle and other forms of art. As we seek to explore and communicate matters and aspects of existence/reality that are utterly abstract and ontologically transcend the grasp of lower self-awareness, we are more or less demanded to use this medium of expression. This is why I normally find it rather hard to actually give exhaustive explanations outside of the context of the recordings of the concepts involved in the band, as if there were some kind of hidden “code” that could be used to decipher it all just by some redefinition of the metaphorical content. As you hint at, supposedly the only way to really comprehend these things are connected to having direct empirical experience of them. But we can but speak of what we’ve known ourselves and others can but understand by their own measures of comprehension as well. So, let everyone approach the work by their own abilities and their own level of understanding. The Abyss always speaks; it is for all of us, rather, a matter of listening less or more to what It says.
HH: “Grave Ekstasis” is enriched with stunning graphic art that could be understood as extensions of the album’s lyrics. It adds another dimension to the richness of the aesthetic and the ideology that Irkallian Oracle embodies. How did the concept art of the album and the logo art of Irkallian Oracle substantiate? Did you give precise instructions to the artist for manifesting your visions or did he create these pieces as his personal understanding of the concepts?
IO: The artist, David Herrerias, has since many years been a close friend to us and very early in the process of writing the album we more or less understood that he was the person that best could deliver something fitting for our work. First of all, David shared our understanding that visual art should be yet one of the many channeling mediums through which the whole of the concept of a record can be presented, and, knowing his abilities as an artist, we could then give him quite free hands to translate his own vision behind the music and lyrics. Of course, we also had long sessions where we discussed the philosophical concepts that were touched upon especially in the lyrics, but mainly he used techniques of automatic and semi-automatic drawing that made the images speak a language of their own and open the whole experience of the songs to new dimensions and perspectives, aesthetically as well as philosophically. We will for sure cooperate with Mr. Herrerias yet again for our upcoming work.
HH: The musical aura of “Grave Ekstasis” is a far cry from the average run-of-the-mill black/death metal that is in vogue nowadays. In fact, there seems to be no conscious effort from the band to strictly categorize the music as most other bands often do. Even though the music is seemingly inspired by traditional death/black metal, the atmosphere that pervades throughout the tape is absolutely unique and phantasmal. What were the initial ideas in your head when you first got together with the rest of the Irkallian Oracle members regarding the style of compositions? How much time did it take to subsequently manifest your conceptual thesis in a broader musical spectrum?
IO: Ironically, I would actually say that the lack of “initial ideas” is most probably the main reason why the music could take flight so easily from the start. The sole intention musically was more or less simply to explore those elements in Death/Black Metal that we spontaneously find most appealing, which maybe not wholly by chance resulted in these dark, twisted and “ritualistic” forms of expression. And as the members of the band have known each other for several years and share more or less the exact same musical references, it wasn’t that hard to figure out where we were heading either. Parts of a few riffs used on the album had been written previous to the establishment of IO, but to put everything together, writing the lyrics and transforming them into what they actually became in the end (including the recording session) took us about 9 months. Over all, the whole process of composing and arranging the material felt very natural to us and this might have to do with that we, from the very beginning, made it clear that we shouldn’t set up any artistic boundaries for ourselves, but stay open for whatever influences that might further enforce our material and performance.
HH: Another factor that provided a ritualistic and “shamanic” aura to the music was the employment of ritual instruments like the shamanic drum, the tambourine, Tibetan singing bowl and various smaller bells from Tibet and India. How did you come to use these “exotic” instruments for the “Grave Ekstasis” album? What does the sigil drawn on the drum symbolize?
IO: Well, to us Death Metal is something that easily can be defined as “ritualistic” by its own virtue. Also, we are also working a lot with long repetitive passages that are mainly driven by the rhythm of the drums, giving room for the listener to fall deep into flow of sonic Darkness and hopefully into states of trance. So we simply wanted to enhance these elements further which led to us trying out how these kinds of percussion would go together with the overall sound. The result, I believe, was that it sounded so uncannily fitting in this type of music that it’s almost strange why no one actually had done it before to the same extent. So we will for sure continue to experiment with these sections in the future as well. As for the sigil painted on the drum, we must refrain from revealing its true meaning simply due to it being all too caught up in our personal esoteric praxis. The only thing I might say is that it’s constructed as to evoke a specific metaphysical space that is highly connected to what we aim at manifesting while performing our art. There are also certain details regarding the circumstances during which the sanctification of the drum came to happen and what particular “paint” that was used, that shall also remain publicly untold, yet also is of vital meaning for its ceremonial use.
HH: The next topic of our discussion is the live aesthetic of Irkallian Oracle. Whilst cloaked attires are not an oddity among black/death metal bands anymore, you seem to have managed your live appearance in a very effective and unique manner. It is noteworthy that you also use the ritual instruments during the band’s live performances to create a trance inducing atmosphere through them. The presence of the altar with the skull, bones and candle also provides a ceremonial atmosphere to your performances. Kindly explain the essence of these ‘tools’ that Irkallian Oracle uses to craft a bewitching aura on its audience during live rituals. Did you feel that the imagery was able to leave a profound impact upon the audiences in your recently conducted ceremonies?
IO: We believe in the importance of making the ritual intent to be present for all of the senses, to fully establish a communion between the forces evoked, us as mediums and the audience partaking. When performing live we want to do nothing else than to invite those present to the apocalyptic and mystical oration of the Abyss itself. So the use of hoods, incense, skulls and so on are mainly meant to set up the useful atmosphere for such an event, but they obviously carry symbolic virtues in themselves as well. For instance, the veiling of our faces signifies our role as the Oracle, being bereft of our individual human features and speaking the voices from beyond the fabric of illusion. The very evocative presence of animal and human remains and so on are of course linked to that which was said above concerning the transformative and ecstatic symbolism of necrotic and sepulchral elements, as in staring into the face of Otherness itself. There are then many more items present, connected with many other perspectives of our craft, still they all are featured to resonate with the initial energies that we try to evoke on stage.
HH: There is no doubt that allegory is the speech of the esoteric. “Twilight Language” is often used in esoteric traditions to hide the meaning of the texts from non-initiates and lay people. There is a strong resemblance to this approach in the lyrics of “Grave Ekstasis” too, wherein you have incorporated strong allegorical connotations to Biblical imagery in a surreal and exclusive style. Kindly shed light on the creative process involved in the construction of the lyrics for “Grave Ekstasis” and the work(s) that inspired their poetic demeanor.
IO: Esoteric language is usually extremely technical and it mostly relies on strict terminology and symbolism that is meant to function as archetypical which can only be reached by those whom have access to the underlying meaning of the terms. Obviously there are benefits to this approach, but when it comes to art, I believe it many times obscures the whole experience of it all since it simply limits the freedom of expression if the artist is all too caught up in theory and systematics. So, although the lyrics deal with various specific matters of esoteric philosophy and praxis, we mainly tried our best not to use as much traditional and context-bound terminology and instead let the words come out more spontaneously using a more arbitrary and poetical language. In trying to have our artwork as an oracular voice, I believe it is very important not to let the words come out burdened with excessive established, theoretical wording. Of course, this is extremely hard since the traditional systematic language is usually there for a reason as it contains very powerful metaphorical associations (and sometimes carries a universal significance), which we of course use now and then within the lyrics. Still, rehashing these very theoretical matters blindly are not of interest and do hardly make us experience the signified object any better than before. The lyrics can therefore be seen as poetic meditations on various subjects within esoteric philosophy, as means to gain deeper understanding and new perspectives on such matter by approaching them from a very personal (or rather impersonal?) and less theoretical point of view. So, the inspiration regarding style came more from writers of prose and poetry rather than theological and philosophical treatises. Or, to give an example: Although al-Iraqi was highly influenced by Ibn al-Arabi, I find the former’s poetic examinations of the very same theosophical and mystical concepts a lot more vivid and lucid compared to latter’s highly complex philosophical writing. But, of course, the one does not exclude the other.
HH: To my understanding, the culmination of “Grave Ekstasis” doesn’t simply aim at a soteriological goal but hints at attaining a higher level of “Selfhood”, when observed from a so-called “left hand” approach. Having said that, would it be safe to assume that a future album is bound to explore this level of self-realization on more advanced levels musically and conceptually?
IO: Although I can’t deny that there are marks of something of an expressed “soteriology” that can be found between the lines on the album (for instance on the song “Iconoclasm”), I would say that you are very right indeed. As explained before, Grave Ekstasis explores and describes the passages “outside-of-itself”, or if we are to use the language of the alchemists; the process of Solve, and being concerning with the lunar aspects of existence. The theme for the upcoming album will thus naturally deal with the stabilization of self as in the form of what can be called “solar-identity”. The first indicates an existential state of reflected awareness which can be somewhat defined as “fleeting” and constantly changing in appearance, while the second is perfected in itself, being utterly direct and without any mediator. The main theme concerning this state that is dealt with on the upcoming album is how it actually is to be understood in relation to anything else, as it is in itself a totality of its own potential and “devours” all aspects of itself, yet still maintains a very specific identity or singularity of its own that can only rise due to what actually is a relation to the something outside of it. The album will thus speak of the mysteries of the monstrosity of living individuality (from an “adverse” theurgical perspective) as well as exploring its nature in connection with the spheres below and above it.
HH: Even though death/black metal has existed for almost three decades now, I personally feel that its true potential is finally being explored by contemporary artists like yourself. A lot of effort has been made in the last decade to cultivate a sense of artistic and philosophical awareness within the genre and people seem to have gradually embraced this “renaissance”. However, when comparisons are drawn with other “dark” styles of music such as post-industrial and other avant-garde genres, we come to see that black and death metal still has a long way to go in embracing genuine artistic ideals on a holistic level. This is also a lot to do with the way the listeners approach the musical creations of artists operating within the aforementioned genres. What is your opinion of the current zeitgeist of the underground metal subcultures?
IO: I agree with you here, but we must remember that metal music, although having developed tremendously much during the last 40 years of its existence, paradoxically at the same time is a sub-culture that always valued tradition a lot more than progression. I believe you are very seldom to find bands in this kind of music that actually strive to do things completely different from their peers or sources of reference. The current scene is probably the most interesting and sincere one due to that it is upheld by individuals that never surrendered to current trends but held fast to the belief in the real potential of this kind of music. Black/Death Metal has in this sense been reclaimed by those few devoted that live and breathe it as well as know that this art-form never was about mere musical entertainment. Irkallian Oracle is not really about trying to be innovative and avant-garde for its own sake, but rather concerns our quest to reach the essence behind this music, as in a will to open whatever barrier that lies between us and the hidden source that lies beyond. I believe this is also what many other bands that we support in this genre have done, namely to firmly stand their ground but, at the same time, dig deeper and deeper towards the core of it all. So development should in this sense rather be understood as making the vision more clear and refining that which has always been there.
HH: In today’s day and age of skepticism and scientific warfare, man’s spiritual evolution has been obscured and dismissed as an irrational superstition. These turbulent times are surely a hint of the ancient prophecies that suspected the corruption and degeneration of spiritual traditions that primarily focused on man and his role in the cosmic scheme. How do you view the role of art as a refuge, or better, a source of enlightenment for the deteriorating spirit of the present aeon?
IO: As discussed above, I believe it is more than safe to say that true art can be viewed as more or less an anti-thesis to the materialistic world-view of our current age as it escapes the grip of crude intellectualism and logic, to offer us glimpses of something truly revelatory that shines through the cracks in the walls raised between the worlds. It demands direct experience through passionate involvement, and cares little for bystanders. As such, art must always stand opposed to the order of the masses, as a heretic movement that goes against the common and mundane; not merely to shock, but to progress and transgress the limitations that blur the rigid minds of man. For Truth in itself is careless, merciless and not open for discussion, and so is all art that really deserves so to be called. In this sense, it seems not strange at all that the rather grotesque and banal music genres known as Black and Death Metal have become vehicles for spiritual movements and a medium to explore such traditions that are usually shunned by the modern man. Art as such has a power that never should be underestimated.
HH: You are slated to perform with brilliant artists like Necros Christos and Grave Miasma during September this year. What are your expectations of this unique event? Are there any other live ceremonies planned in the near future?
IO: As both of them are temples we highly support, we obviously look forward to share a night of inhumane rituals with them and I believe myself when I say that the prophetic words of our three confraternities will make even the driest of bones awake from their sepulchral sleep.
There are a few plans of more performances that might come to take place next year, but it is too early to say anything further on that at the moment.
HH: With this we come to an end of this informative conversation with the help of which I could gather a deep insight into the philosophy and ethos of Irkallian Oracle. On behalf of Heathen Harvest, I wish you the very best for your future endeavors. The final space is yours.
IO: Thank you, Ankit and Heathen Harvest for the interesting interview.
May all remember that above the gates of Apollo’s temple in Delphi, where the Oracle Pythia resided, in golden letters it said: GNOTHI SEAUTON. And although the engraving might seem to be enshrouded in a thick black mist, know that the very same words are to be found above the entrance to the temple of the Irkallian Oracle.