.:.OVERTHROWING AN EMPIRE OF DECADENCE.:.
An Interview with Aaron Vilk of Nyodene D
Nyodene D is a Pennsylvania-based one-man industrial / power electronics project that has been steadily creeping through the peripheral boundaries of artistic relevance over the past half-decade with the help of the likes of Jim Haras’ F.C. Tapes, Andy Grant’s Danvers State Recordings, and Stephen Petrus’ Live Bait Recording Foundation, just to name a few. Helmed by Aaron Vilk, Nyodene D recently found what is arguably its most successful release through last year’s brilliant opus on Malignant Records, Edenfall. The album, for me, was striking. Every composition was a solid offering, full of an impassioned emotional investment that combined with an outspoken social/political belief system to create a kind of intelligent straight-forwardness and honesty that is rarely seen out of newcomers today.
The following conversation with Aaron took place via e-mail over the course of several months, and covers much of the thematic groundwork that was laid open with the release of Edenfall, as well as some elements regarding the past and the future of Nyodene D. With the most recent release being a cassette on the largely celebrated Nil by Mouth that was mastered by John Stillings of Steel Hook Prostheses, the future certainly seems to look bright. Enjoy.
Heathen Harvest: So how did your style of industrial / power electronics evolve from your earlier days into what it is today? What propelled you towards making more structurally conscious music? Likewise, what projects influence your current sound the most? Considering your previous sentiments, you seem to have come from out of the hardcore punk subculture.
Aaron Vilk: My own development in sound is derived from both reaction to and emulation of things I observed in extreme music. My conscious decision to incorporate a greater degree of composition and structure to Nyodene D was in many ways reactionary; it was born out of frustration with the acclaim that so much experimental and even harsh noise / industrial music can garner despite a lack of song-craft, conceptual planning, and quality control. I was tired of seeing noise artists being lauded for their latest c-10 of crummy, whispery harsh noise packaged in poorly xeroxed art. I was equally disenchanted with how artistically unexplored and fertile subject matter was merely being wrapped around abstract harsh noise without any deeper significance or meaning.
At the same time, I found what I was looking for — sonically, conceptually and visually — in many 1990’s- and 2000’s-era projects whose music has endured to this day. Released on labels such as Cold Meat Industry, Loki Foundation, Tesco, Steinklang Industries, Malignant Records and others, I found music and bands that inspired me to walk away from the conventions of “noise” and “power electronics” — short, abrasive and often spontaneous shocks of music with little conceptual investment — in favor of a sound of industrial music that I felt captured the harsh and oppressive malaise more effectively through cold atmospherics and brutal minimalist structure. As my sound has developed, I have incorporated influences from other genres — black metal, doom metal, shoegaze, hardcore punk, post-rock, etc — that rely on atmosphere and structure as well.
Regarding my connection to the hardcore scene, although I haven’t (until recently) been involved in any serious hardcore bands, I have and continue to participate in the scene through booking, promotion and other activities that help foster its growth in some small way. I will say that I am much the same in hardcore as I am in industrial, specifically regarding content and concept. I am suspicious of many bands who acquire hype simply by adopting the sound and image of what’s en vogue. Most of the “mysterious guy raw hardcore” bands were piggybacking off many of the same visual and sonic concepts that I was growing disinterested in in the context of the noise scene. Similarly, I am much more likely to support and/or invest my time into a band who dedicate themselves to fully researching and presenting their beliefs, politics and other concepts rather than simply writing some dark “occultist” lyrics and hollowly appropriating imagery or context from Thelema / Asatru / LaVeyan Satanism. Stuff like that just strikes me — much as the same way as it does in Industrial — as people trying to cash in on the latest goth-revival trend that will last for a few years before they move on to something else.
HH: You’re a self-professed progressive. Are you critical of traditionalists or reactionaries? If so, why?
AV: First, let me clarify. While I see no problem with progressivism and support many of its causes, I do not identify as a leftist. Additionally, my support of progressive causes is aimed at making the world a more equitable and just place for those who have suffered under the kyriarchy. Spiritually and in everyday life, I do support philosophies that could be considered traditionalist, specifically those that call for a far less harmful alternative to the catastrophic failure that an industrialized system of agriculture and energy has become. I believe that humanity should exist within the context of an ecosystem and that industrialization and globalism are largely failures that force humanity to abandon their once harmonious place in the ecosystem in favor of supporting an unsustainable global population through exploitation of the planets’ natural resources, its animal population and the unlucky members of a global society who must be oppressed, dehumanized and exploited to sustain what will only end in ruin.
I will say, however, that I am suspect of all that “traditionalism” can incorporate — specifically Euro-centric ego-boosting and anti-multiculturalism. These ideas, to me, are merely installed into traditionalism as a vehicle to justify fascism and xenophobia and run contrary to recognizing the traditional and sustainable practices of indigenous peoples — traditions that were abandoned largely in part to the aggressive exploitation and colonization of these cultures by the very people who now feel encroached by multiculturalism.
Additionally, a kind of progressive and/or radical intersectionality is a necessity for any real progress. Radicals — even those whose fight is against modern hegemony or industrialized society as a whole — need to recognize that the hegemonic structures of society will still exist in their communes after the collapse unless they work with the oppressed to dismantle the hierarchical systems of oppression and exploitation that exist in the present. To ignore the struggle of those other than yourself and still call yourself a radical or a progressive is selfish and shortsighted.
HH: Do you feel that it isn’t too late for modern culture and social stigmas to change enough that just the concept of environmental sustainability can take hold and reverse what effects we’re currently imposing on nature and the planet as a whole?
AV: I see a lot of hope in a growing minority in my generation and those prior to it who are making an effort to live sustainably and in harmony with an ecosystem. I think, however, that unless the demand for sustainable living becomes the dominant paradigm — and if the energy, oil, agricultural and other industries continue to run things, it won’t be — that we face a breaking point where everything being done to remedy the situation may be too little, too late.
HH: Who or what influenced you to the degree that you found yourself on a path of Pagan spirituality?
AV: My mother always kept me supplied with books on Greek and Roman mythology when I was young, but I think it came about after a long time of dissatisfaction with the systems of power installed and maintained by Abrahamic religions. For a long time, I maintained a rather ambivalent agnostic / atheistic worldview. The last few years of paganism are the result of finding spiritual comfort and solace in trying to live sustainably and go against the status quo of an exploitative and destructive modern industrialized society. It’s not really a deistic or ritualistic paganism that I practice, but a practical one that I think does more to show reverence to our ancestors, their traditions and the earth they existed on.
HH: Are there any modern political or cultural groups (such as Individualist Anarchism, etc) that you find yourself aligned with, be it literally or in the spirit of their movement?
AV: No, I haven’t really fallen in with any organized political group or movement. However, I think it’s possible for those interested to infer where I stand and what I stand against from my releases and interviews.
HH: Talk to us a bit about the tracks “Anasazi” and “Scars of Anthropology” from Edenfall. These seem to represent their own philosophical chapter within the album.
AV: Both of these tracks represent a more concrete interpretation of the central message of Edenfall – humanity falling from innocence and grace through dehumanization, exploitation and self-destruction. The central themes of these tracks – genocide and cultural erasure of indigenous people on “Anasazi” and the scientific atrocities pardoned by post-war governments in the name of progress discussed in “Scars of Anthropology” — provide examples of humanity shattering their spiritual divinity by means of brutal dehumanization and cruelty. These two tracks fall into the middle section of the album (tracks 3 and 4) which specifically focuses on the historical shame of Western culture. The other four tracks – grouped together intentionally – reveal more of the conceptual arc. The first two tracks — “Edenfall” and “Damnatio Memoriae” — discuss Biblical and Classical themes of downfall and dishonor in deistic and aristocratic contexts. Meanwhile the final two tracks — “Nihilation” and “Borne on Vultures’ Beak…” point to a kind of transcendent elimination of the human spirit – one that is perhaps yet to come as the society that we have constructed for ourselves lapses into further alienation from the ancient human spirit.
HH: You certainly seem to have a soft spot for / strong interest in indigenous cultures and the suppression and cultural crimes that they have had to face. That said, does this interest bleed over into your taste in harsh electronics with artists like Raven Chacon (Wilt, Postcommodity) whom operate from a culturally indigenous perspective?
AV: I never set out for my project to take up the cause of indigenous, displaced or oppressed people – it’s not my place as a white male to claim that I can speak for these people outside of showing solidarity and support for their struggles. It has, however, always come naturally for me to incorporate my political beliefs into my music and art. I have not heard Raven Chacon’s work or many other artists in the Industrial scene that openly espouse these views, though I don’t consider myself unique for doing so. I am far more acquainted with radical politics from my participation in the hardcore punk scene, where bands aren’t afraid to acknowledge their opposition to an oppressive societal system. Although I acknowledge my position of privilege in the system, I believe that Western industrialized society is founded largely upon injustice, dehumanization, exploitation and genocide that comes at the hands of those who control society. With all its individualistic posturing and “libertine” shock tactics, a lot of people in the Industrial scene reflect this status quo in their art under the pretense that it’s transgressive. To paraphrase activist, musician and Maximum Rocknroll contributor Jes Skolnik, “art that aims to be truly transgressive should threaten the status quo as it stands, not mirror or glorify that which it aims to transcend.”
HH: Likewise, are you a pacifist, or do you share the view of environmentalists / social activists like Derrick Jensen, Peter Gelderloos, Lierre Keith and others in that you think that a culture of nonviolence has a way of redundantly fencing off any potential revolution from within and working in favor of the opposition, or that immediate, direct, and violent action is necessary?
AV: I am not a pacifist in the sense that I support acts of violence as a response to systemic oppression. I recognize that those oppressed in society face an enormous struggle where violence is the dominant paradigm that reinforces the status quo. Do I see the harm in people using violence to survive in a society where the systemic violence of institutionalized racism, sexism and poverty is the norm? Absolutely not. Acts of violence and resistance against the corporate and industrialized power structure – in both Western and non-Western society – are similarly justified when these powers threaten a people’s economic or ecological stability. Regarding specific people you mentioned, although I espouse radical ecopolitical views, I don’t fall in line necessarily with Jensen and Keith and their group Deep Green Resistance. Although a lot of what they say regarding industrialized civilization as the root of societal problems makes sense, the radical 2nd wave feminist slant that disavows transgender people as a creation of pornography and equates it with hypothetical trans-racial and trans-class, etc, is not something I want anything to do with.
HH: Are you associated with any specific Pagan group or ideology specifically, or do you find yourself to be somewhat of a Universalist?
AV: I have no formal affiliation with any pagan faith or group, though I am not exactly a Universalist. Perhaps it is an unpopular opinion, but I found that my spiritual path is one that was better served in daily physical acts of reverence towards nature – in reducing waste, my dietary principles and my commitment to working towards a sustainable ecology. In my own path, I’ve encountered spiritual people who practice their symbolic rituals – lighting candles, burning sage, worshiping the pantheon of their choosing, etc – but choosing to not show reverence for nature in their actions. This, to me, is a self-serving new-agey condition of people seeking their own selfish actualization without understanding that Paganism – at its core – is about resistance to a society that has replaced human equity and accountability within their environment with a system that enables self-replicating and endlessly-destructive hierarchies.
HH: What do you think is the single most important lesson for the upcoming generation to learn from the current state of the world in which they live?
AV: While I hardly think I’m anyone worthy of being able to answer this question, I think it’s that people need to learn that apathy and complacency with regards to the ills that face our society is just as bad as well-meaning words without action. I don’t necessarily mean violence when I say action, – rather, I simply mean that the digital age allows for a certain amount of posturing and appropriation of rhetoric – political, spiritual, social or otherwise – that people throw around at their convenience without living their life in accordance to what they’re saying.
HH: What other relatively new industrial / power electronics artists do you feel are taking an exceptionally serious and academic approach similar to your own? Is there anyone out there doing something truly special?
AV: I feel that, finally, the tide of Internet-driven hype that brought a wave of resurgence into the scene has finally receded. Those left on the metaphorical shore are now able to take their place alongside veterans of the scene while the wave of trend-hoppers moves on to the next welcoming coast. A partial list of those left behind who are pushing boundaries and committing themselves to a higher degree of artistic creation:
- Pharmakon, whose latest release on Sacred Bones shows a dedication to composition, dynamics and tone stands far above most who release tape after tape of listless harsh noise with vocals masquerading as “American Power Electronics.” Despite the attention of a larger independent label, Margaret assembles a collection of tracks that do not compromise the sickening sound she has carefully cultivated over the past few years.
- Kinit Her / Wreathes / Circulation of Light, whose dense and orchestrated neofolk recordings mark a push in the North American scene away from endless rehashing of Death in June-worship and spooky cryptofascist imagery.
- Column of Heaven, an experimental powerviolence / grinding hardcore band rising from the ashes of The Endless Blockade. Their raw sonic aggression and incorporation of dismal atmospheric harsh noise is complimented by a nuanced understanding of the thematic and self-contained philosophical concepts that they use on their releases.
- Crown of Cerberus, a project that shows the more restrained side of M. Chami of vicious power electronics act Koufar. Here he uses tape loops to build warm dronescapes on a meditative and spiritual level. Truly an exercise in expressing beauty and adoration to the level of emotional intensity that his previous projects evoked hate and violence.
HH: Was your 2010 tape on Obscurex, “I Have No Mouth, yet I must Scream”, directly influenced by Harlan Ellison‘s short story of nearly the same name? If so, what was it about this story that influenced you enough to make an album based around it?
AV: Ah, yes! I think you’re the only person who’s gotten that so far. Ellison’s Angry Candy was a favorite of mine in the realm of gritty science fiction from when I was a teenager. While the actual story itself is not directly linked to the content of that release, the idea of being held in lockstep of oppressor and oppressed and being powerless to act is a major theme that I felt the title fit quite well. This is not the first time I’ve cribbed a bit from my favorite authors – Every Knee shall Bow takes its name from the book of the same name about the Ruby Ridge massacre and fit the theme of self-fulfilling apocalyptic prophecy in an increasingly armed and paranoid society. The lyrics of the final track “There will come Soft Rains” on said album came from a Sara Teasdale poem, which I first encountered in the similarly-named short story by Ray Bradbury. And naturally, even the name “Nyodene D” itself is a reference to the toxic chemical causing the mass evacuation in the novel White Noise by Don DeLillo. Hilariously, the title of the latest album Edenfall – something I thought was an original thought – is actually something lodged deep in my memory from the television drama series The Riches that I first watched when I was a teenager. Imagine my chagrin when I sat down to rewatch the pilot episode with my partner Christine a month ago and found out that the name of the gated community in which the protagonists resided was named “Eden Falls”!
HH: What, if anything, do you hope that your music will accomplish — if not for you, then for current and future listeners? What lies in the near future for Nyodene D?
AV: Perhaps it’s selfish, but I hope my investment of time and effort into creating music as Nyodene D will be remembered as something that avoided dating itself with (or deriving itself from) the thematic and sonic clichés that have been done to death before my time. I hope that people continue to be able to find something worthy of thought in my lyrics and themes, as I put a great deal of effort into making sure those are something I won’t cringe at when revisiting my work years down the line.
In the future, I hope to move to a denser and more controlled sound using solely analog synths and other organic sound sources. This isn’t really soft-synth snobbery, I just feel like I’ve exhausted my range using GarageBand and some of the other programs I’ve been able to rely on in the past. I want to incorporate more standard rhythm and melody into my work, largely influenced by doom metal and other styles of rock-based music. Also, I look forward to working with a variety of fellow artists and musicians that I have been inspired by and respect a great deal.
In physical terms, I anticipate the release of the c-30 Atop Masada on Nil By Mouth, the LP Mouths that Reap the Harvest on Urashima, a 2xc-20 collaboration with Crown of Cerberus called Gardens of Nocturne on Danvers State Recordings and some other releases that aren’t concrete at the moment.
HH: Lastly, this spot is for you. Please say whatever you feel needs said. Thank you again for taking on this interview — it’s been my pleasure.
AV: Thank you again for the opportunity to articulate myself. I truly appreciate the support you and others have given me and my efforts at self-expression. I hope this interview and my future work doesn’t disappoint those who have found something worth celebrating in my art.