Written by S. Haché.
Mat McNerney started Hexvessel as a vehicle to capture the intensity of his spiritual awakening. A long-time member of various black metal bands, the English-native formally known as Kvohst, shed his seemingly sinister exterior in favour of the honest and the profound. The music is heavily wrought with all forms of spirit, whether it be on a personal practitioner’s level or a macrocosmically interconnected species’ level. Regardless, he is the conduit for a grander story that exists outside of himself and his band. Once all musicians unify and attune to that greater spiritual force, they are capable of some of the most awe-inspiring psychedelic folk and doom rock imaginable. With their newest anointed offering “No Holier Temple” the band shifts from the blood-soaked, occultic folk darkness of 2011’s “Dawnbearer” and shifts towards a higher-level meditation through their psychedelic rock-infused doom-folk. While the first album was a mind-bending trip into the inner chamber of a solitary magick practitioner, “No Holier Temple” presents a much more lush environment of nature reverence and bigger picture spirituality.
In this discussion, we connect with Mat as he is clearly poised to unleash this collective statement and next chapter in the Hexvessel story. He is full of incredibly insightful moments but surprisingly still understated and down to Earth – the very Earth that possesses the ability to keep all beings connected and all stories interwoven. He shares his own spiritual and physical journey, while commenting on the resulting music of his experience; all in order for us to better understand the Hexvessel world and recognize our place within it.
Heathen Harvest: For our readers who may not be completely familiar with your earlier process can you explain your musical journey from black metal to the music you are creating now? What was the major shift that led to the birth of Hexvessel? Personally, spiritually, musically?
Mat McNerney: I had always been creating music over the years. I had always been playing things and recording them, but I hadn’t ever had the opportunity to put it out or do something with it. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it if I did. It just felt like something I was doing for myself therapeutically. Then there was a series of changes in my life – I moved to Finland and had some time here, living and working on music for a year. Taking the time to actually give it a chance. I think moving here awakened a lot in my spiritually. I was born and raised in England and spent a lot of time camping and being outdoors in nature, and I was always very interested in paganism, and mythology and folk music. Its real music and poetry. I think that moving here just gave life to all of that again, and gave it a new meaning in my life. It felt like it was more than just an interest, it was something written into me, in my DNA. Coming [to Finland] made me realize that, and because there is so much pagan ancestry in their traditions, still engrained in their culture with things like summer rituals and things like that, it was a part of this spiritual awakening. I was also brought up Catholic, and suddenly I found a calling and a cause for the music. I realized what it all actually was – it was a journey and I was finding myself and finding who I really was. It all just crystallized together in a kind of Big Bang explosion! I have to realize this album and put it together just for me, as and kind of cathartic experience. That’s what “Dawnbearer” was all about. It’s about new awakening for me, a new dawn where I can really be myself and do the music I really want without having to compromise myself in any way.
HH: “Dawnbearer” deals heavily with occultism and personal spiritual practice in a thinly veiled way. It is almost overt. Can you explain how much of this music directly reflects your own private practice?
MM: I think all of it. It’s all one and the same. The way I feel and the way I approach magick or spiritual practice is less sensational. I think of it in terms of your will and will power. I decided to act on a dream of moving to Finland and when I did that it really unlocked a lot of things for me, and a lot of paths opened up and things happened. I really take great significance from this. You drive things to happen through your will, and if you do that, if you work with you dreams to bring things to reality, I think that’s magick.
HH: How does music play into your conception of what magick is then?
MM: It’s the kind of thing I experience when I see a band on stage who are doing exactly that! They really believe in it, and you actually get touched by that as well. Magick is all about belief. If you really believe something then it is reality. I’ve been using this Yoko Ono quote a lot to do with this “A dream you dream alone is just a dream, a dream we dream together is reality”. Magick in the olden times was a reality because people really believed in it. All together they are doing this magical work. Then other people would pick up on that and feed it; they would get touched by it. It’s then that magick work really happens because you’re transferring your magick to someone else. I really believe in that because I’m performing magick everyday. If you’ve read enough about it then you know that you don’t need a specific spell book, just like a chef doesn’t need a specific recipe anymore. If you know how to do magick then you can do it anywhere and any time.
HH: “Dawnbearer” was an exceptionally important album for me. It came around at the right time and felt like a glimpse into an extremely personal channel from the creator. How much of this personal current continues into the newest record “No Holier Temple”? Speaking of which, the most recent offering is a fair departure from the sound on “Dawnbearer”, but the essence is still very much there. Is it safe to assume that gone are the days of blood anointed and graveyard promotional photos? Again, what personal and musical shifts were at play to bring about this newer sound?
MM: I prefer to feel that I’m not just creating one thing in several parts. I’m creating completely different stories. I think of it in the same way an author will write another story: you can recognize the handwriting and the imagery, but the stories are different and the things to tell are different. I did the job with “”Dawnbearer”” that it was meant to do. With “No Holier Temple” there’s a different story and different things at work. Of course I can return to that world and return to telling a story in that way of course, it’s a part of me and I can’t give that up on that. I think it’s really to do with the live show when you can see where the interaction between the two albums exists. I really wanted to create that kind of experience with the band, where you don’t just go to a show to see a guy playing folk music. I wanted it to be a very full experience, where you can go from folk to a very heavy, psychedelic experience as well. I wanted to have many dimensions because that’s in me as well. In my world, in my universe. I want to take the listener on a journey. That’s all part of it – we’re supposed to play those songs live. I guess some people and some bands they make music and move on, whereas I’m creating the Hexvessel world. I just want to tell these stories from my perspective. But some stories are told and they are unfinished, so maybe I’ll feel a particular way later on and return to that way one day.
HH: Ritual has seemingly been a huge part of Hexvessel. Many instrumental tracks have that hypnotic, devotional feeling to them. How much actual ritual is at work during the composition of this music? Live?
MM: Ritual is a funny word when you think about it. It could be doing things in a particular, repetitive way. It’s more like we are channelling something. We really are acting as vessels. There’s this magick switch that gets turned on and we really come out of ourselves. We’re so excited playing with each other and with such chemistry that when we are really tuned in and attuned we literally go outside of ourselves. When the audience claps it’s really strange – it’s like being on Mars and hearing some strange transmission from Earth. Some strange trace of reality coming through, like “Wow, there are people here. Right.” We get so lost in it. I call the band “death magicians”, because I have this feeling like they are traveling beyond, like boatmen on the River Styx. They travel outside this existence and bring something back with them. An otherworldly thing. It’s what we aim to do with the music, and when you aim to do that kind of thing then it becomes a ritualistic thing. It’s not a case that we sit around, draw a pentagram, and chant some words. I think there are many who do that. On the other hand we are also not sitting around telling fart jokes, throwing beer cans, and putting our heads through walls. No, it’s not a bone headed rock band, but we’re also not as pompous nor are we pretending anything. We’re really doing it with our hearts.
HH: With the first record, Hexvessel seemed to be a very personal statement, but with “No Holier Temple” it seems to be much more communal in the sense that there is clearly a band playing together. There are moments on the new album that bring up images of a gypsy caravan traveling the country side making music. Does this translate thematically, or is Hexvessel still very much your personal expression?
MM: This is definitely the intention and it’s definitely the intension with the themes. It’s a contemplation of what is Holy, and I don’t think you can do that just solely from your own perspective. It’s not a subjective album. It’s more about the way of life in a shared experience, group family kind of discourse on what it means to be connected, what it means to think of something being sacred. To have a Mother and to come from somewhere or something, and that thing can be Holy or what you will. It goes back to that concept of nature. Nature allows us to contemplate Holiness. To make it Holy. It allows us to contemplate our connection to it and to the universe. In someway you have to give this reverence, because it really brings us closer to God. I hate to use that word because I don’t think of it as a being, but as an essence or an understanding more than anything. It’s like we’re a collective and you have to do that as a species. We’re trying to say that this is a family and people can join and share the experience. I think with “Dawnbearer” it was like “This is the awakening”, and then with this album it is like “Here is the road”. This is the road and we’re getting on it and we’re traveling on it, and you can travel on it too. Maybe we’ll all go somewhere on it. I think of it as the first step on a journey. It’s the tip of the iceberg for us because we just started working together, and I really know there is so much we can do together as musicians with all the ideas that we have.
HH: Musically, was there an artist that you heard that triggered your major shift from black metal to the complex beast that is Hexvessel. Is there that band that you can identify that tipped the scales? One that made you proclaim “YES this is music I HAVE to make!” …
MM: I can identify with that. I get that all the time with music, not that I want to make it, but the “Oh wow this is the biggest, best thing ever!” I’ve been involved in different kinds of projects messing around, and I’ve enjoyed playing and listening to different types of music. I don’ t think that happened with Hexvessel because ever since I was a kid I’ve listened to The Doors, and in London growing up you smoke dope at a young age and of course you’ll get turned on to some psychedelic stuff. We weren’t sitting around listening to death metal and doing that. Even though I was into metal at a young age, I was also always turned on to other kinds of stuff. I think for everyone that knows me very well personally knew that “Okay, of course Mat is doing a band like that, because of course that’s what he’s been interested in.” Now I realize that that stuff defines me, whereas I used to think that it was just an interest or a small part of me. I think the actual way it’s come out in the music is actually me and what I’m all about.
But, yeah of course all the time! I get these epiphanies in music. You carry a piece of that with you, similar to how we talked about the magick thing. If you look at it scientifically, when you hear certain things, because we’re physical, those sound waves move our physical body. It’s like being high. Of course it’s going to change your DNA, your makeup, and who you are: your personality. In however small ways! So you carry that with you and your output contains a part of that. We’re all part of the same thing, we’re all made up of the same things, so it’s obvious that certain things will attract and change certain people in certain ways. I think that’s what happens with me and certain types of music. You recognize that in others as well. That’s how Hexvessel came together. You recognize others who are switched on beings. You’re all bouncing around like the same kind of molecules all smashing together. I’m not sure how long it’s going to last but right now it feels very special.
HH: The power of the natural world is a glaring theme in “No Holier Temple”. What does this mean to you? I can tell this goes beyond simple pagan nature worship and extends into a much more profound territory. Can you explain this on the many levels of this album (titles, sound, lyrics, artwork, video).
MM: Not every song is about the same things. I don’t think you have to take the message of the album or what I’m talking about too much into consideration in order to directly enjoy the music. But what I’m trying to do with this album is reach a more honest level. As with before I’ve been using occult themes and symbols to get across what I’m trying to say. Whereas now I’m using nature and the world around us. I think of it as quite modern actually, thinking of nature that is not romanticized, where man actually has a connection with his nature. That’s the first video we released for the album. Those were pieces that were intentionally taken from films that were not necessarily being negative about deforestation. They were just telling the stories of people who managed forests, back when they didn’t realize the damage that man is causing to his environment. It’s interesting to look at it from that perspective, that we have this role to play. We’re not just an alien plague on the planet, we are part of the eco system of it and we have to contemplate our relationship to it. I’m not about preaching environmentalism, we are environmentalists of course, but it’s about a deeper level discourse surrounding it. The argument is more interesting than just preaching about it. I think I put enough keys inside the album and the booklet to help people tune into what the songs are about …
HH: Knowing that nature and spirituality are major themes in the band, I’m curious as to what you think about the West’s seemingly suicidal obsession with consumerism, and how does that affect traditional life and some of the practices of your native country and the country you have adopted as your home?
MM: It’s really hard in every way because we can’t do anything without being consumers now. That’s the way that society is based. It’s very hard to get out of it. It’s the struggle we’re faced with. I guess we’re trying to move towards having less and less of an impact on our environment. I think that’s easier to do here in Finland because it’s less populated, and with the sheer size of the land mass we can be sustainable. It’s just kind of sad that no matter how much we do here it won’t effect China or India, or places like that. It’s quite easy to get depressed about population rise and there’s not much we can do about it. I think it’s amazing that people like David Attenborough are involved in ways to raise awareness of population levels and what it does to our environment. It’s a bit futile for people in the West to contemplate having less children when it’s not going to have any effect on us. Especially up here in Finland where we have the largest land mass in Europe and one of the smallest populations. It doesn’t make any difference, we could have 10 children and it would be okay. (Laughs) The world is a crazy place! What can you do? You try to do your best and stand for something as a band. We feel that when we look at it straight in the face; what we’re looking at is survivalism. Are we going to survive? If everyone lives a bit more honestly then that would be great.
HH: The last words are yours and yours alone. I thank you immensely for sharing your time with me and the Heathen Harvest followers!
MM: We’re fans of the site as well and it’s great to have an interview with you, having the chance to talk about the things we want to talk about. It’s great to have people who are fans that we are also fans of. We always want to meet the people who are interested in our band; it’s great that they are teaching us something back. I’d really like to start changing the way that bands are – where we are the band and you are listener. It should be all of us sharing one thing. To be considered like the Grateful Dead and the Deadheads, the people who listen to our music are in the band, they are the band. One big shared experience!