.:.ARCHITECTS OF THE ABYSS.:.
An Interview with Sutekh Hexen
Written by Raul A.
Photography by Martha Yesenia
Sutekh Hexen first popped up on my radar when going through the lineup for the Stella Natura festival in 2012. They were easily one of my dark horse favorites from the event, and over the years I’ve made sure to keep up with their unearthly brew of black metal, cacophonous noise, and occult ambiance. This past June I was able to catch an intimate performance in Los Angeles as they toured up the US West Coast and bore witness to a moving sonic ritual. Shortly afterwards I had the pleasure to catch up with the band’s mastermind, Kevin Gan Yuen, and talk about the tour, collaborations, the convergence between extreme metal and noise scenes, tapes, ritualistic performances, and upcoming plans.
Heathen Harvest: Since 2011 it seems that your band has done quite a bit of touring, including several festivals. It’s almost as if you were a live band first, with releases in support over the last two years. Not that this is bad thing, in fact I’d say it’s commendable. Your music seems ritualistic with certain elements that could only be perceived in the flesh. Would you say that the live experience is an essential part of Sutekh Hexen?
Kevin Gan Yuen: When this project started, live-performances were not considered at all. Primarily due to the nature and complexity of the material, proving faithful execution of some of those tracks in the live-setting vs coordination to our standards—it would have been impossible. That had prompted us to approach things differently since then.
Now, the live experience has become something quite powerful within the last couple of years through acute observation and realization of potential; although not essential, serves as fundamental praxis in channeling desirable results, most importantly within the participants and environ.
HH: What’s your current live lineup look like?
KGY: We all share various duties in the writing/recording scenario, as multi-instrumentalist, but live:
AC Way: vocals and electronics/effects, Kevin Gan Yuen: guitars and effects, Joshua Churchill: guitars and electronics/effects, and Ryan Jencks: Tape-loops, mixer/effects and electronics
HH: What were some of your on-stage and off-stage highlights over the past couple years?
KGY: Stella Natura 2013 was a turning-point, especially with the involvement of our brother, Th. Tot, aka Trepaneringsritualen; the events that occurred following our sets from about 2:30 to 3:30 AM until the closing of the festival itself remain infamous and a testament to result.
The forthcoming split/collaboration titled ‘One Hundred Year Storm‘ 2xLP and C60 (the latter a co-release with Cloister Recordings) via Pesanta Urfolk, documents the surreal event appropriately in the most beautiful presentations possible. We are all very proud and excited to share this release.
Our recent West Coast tour with Common Eider, King Eider was met with overwhelmingly great response and feedback. Each night proved fruitful in their own ways, whether it was an eruption of crowd violence or personal accounts of deep-religious experiences from individuals.
A summation of it all is knowing people near and far are continuing to encourage and support the growth and vision that is Sutekh Hexen.
HH: How has the audience reception been across the United States, are you getting new fans who are coming over from the Black/Doom Metal scenes?
KGY: The reception has been generally positive. Keeping in mind that what we do is marginal and very unconventional, it is remarkable to witness firsthand the wide-spectrum appeal, from not just the Black/Doom (and death) metal-scenes, but the Experimental/Noise (and Power-Electronics) and it is appreciated.
This is something that everyone is aware of but is only really ever addressed in internet forums (not necessarily the most accurate platform for deep discussion): the construct and consequence of scenes can be painfully discriminating, a world where people turn their backs on bands/individuals overnight for the most ridiculous reasons, so the point of focus here is that the cross-over is interesting and truly something to be heralded, primarily because it is the firsthand development of individual curiosities and acknowledging the breaking of personal-boundaries.
HH: From a practical perspective, independent artists, labels and promoters cannot afford to cater to only one specific scene anymore. In turn, services like Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp let listeners break out of their comfort zones with little to no effort. I think artists in underground scenes in the near future will no longer be defined strictly by sound, but more by total aesthetics and atmosphere. Is this something you’ve experienced? And if this direction is true, do you think this is a good thing?
KGY: Aesthetics and atmosphere are everything, it is important to present something that we are 100% proud of and can stand behind for all time.
It is a completely different landscape now, and I think it is good and bad. This massive shift in the late 90’s to the present continues to highlight the flaws of the now practically defunct record industry, while at the same time, showing people that building underground communities that actually seek to sustain the form and offer a support system for each other, can happen without them. The companies that you mentioned, all run different business models, but technically are publishing/licensing entities. Yes; they cater to a wider market and can reach far and wide, which is nice, but they all have their pros and cons, it just depends on what peoples priorities are on both sides of the table. This shift continues to be the catalyst in re-establishing self-publication and fortifying the DIY approach.
Any continuing labels or promoters that were built on a specific sound or niche deserve to be recognized and respected, especially these days. Any labels or promoters who had built their reputation on focusing on unconventional bands/rosters and bookings diverse bills deserve even greater recognition and the most respect, because it’s a huge risk and those actions show that they’re not viewing the world from a limited scope, because variety is interesting. At the core of this, businesses need to make smart decisions without compromising their vision, whatever that may be, and they can do whatever they want. Brand loyalty should be earned through quality without compromise, and really connecting with the work, unfortunately, maintaining peoples attention span these days in this way over-saturated market is a tall order.
HH: How was the homecoming performance in Oakland (June 15th, 2014)?
KGY: It was great to be home. There were a lot of new faces and everyone was very receptive throughout the evening. The line-up was solid (Terror Cell Unit, Akatharsia and Botanist) and having the opportunity to play a new local spot is always a plus.
HH: I’ve noticed a few artists in the ambient/noise scene have returned to an appreciation of cassette tapes, including yourselves. Rather than a degradation in quality, I consider the artifacts on a tape as added texture and part of the aesthetic package. What lead Sutekh Hexen to put so much of your material on cassettes?
KGY: When this project started in ’09, the resurgence of the cassette format was probably at it’s peak in the mid-00’s with the huge Midwest Noise scene happening, and the format is presently still going strong with a second wind of dedicated micro-labels (and even some larger indie labels) all over the country, doing their best to get interesting and deserving work out there.
Coming from a DIY punk/noise background, it was logical. And from a labels perspective, production costs are relatively low, allowing them to release relatively unknown bands in reasonable editions with low risk.
HH: I love the art and design on “One Hundred Year Storm”, with the beautiful woodcut, literature, and foldout packaging. Considering the album is a recording of your Stella Natura performance with the Swedish project Trepaneringsritualen, it makes sense that overall theme is of a woodland ritual.
How did your collaboration with Trepaneringsritualen come about? If any, how did the preparations for that performance work out?
KGY: Thank you. I have known Thomas for many years at this point, and a little known fact, is that Thomas was originally asked to be one of the founding members of Sutekh Hexen. We all share similar principals and mutual admiration for each others work.
Regarding Stella Natura, we just asked and he was into it. We discussed it, we all spent some time together and things developed from there, however, we must clarify that only a small-portion of the performance was a collaboration, the segue from TxPxR to Sutekh Hexen’s set to be exact.
HH: I noticed on both “One Hundred Year Storm” and your website you have material from Patricia Cram. It’s quite remarkable and fits your aesthetic perfectly. Can you tell us a little about her work and how it’s influenced the project?
KGY: Patricia Cram is a multidisciplinary artist based out of The Bay Area, whose writing and visual work inspires and resonates with us. Since her involvement, her texts successfully evoke and bind the essence of Sutekh Hexen in their respective forms.
HH: I understand if you’d like to keep this aspect of your work somewhat obscured, but it’s clear that the occult and the Left Hand Path is deeply embedded in your work. There’s the ritual altar and sizable Thelemic unicursal hexagram on “Behind The Throne”, the Satanic/Adversarial imagery and symbolism on “Luciform”, “Ordo Adversarial”, and others. Do either of you wish to elaborate on your involvement with such practices or philosophies?
KGY: Sutekh Hexen is and always will be the expression of shared interests amongst like-minded individuals; the Genesis of this project was based on esoteric thought, values and occurrences from various cultural perspectives. Regarding certain aspects of our work –periods existed, since our inception, that have contained shared meaning and metaphors; between us and our collaborators in acknowledging these symbols or characterizations, rather than perilous misappropriation, all are significant.
HH: I think there’s something real going on in rituals, something outside of our current understanding of things, but I’m not quite sure what that is.
KGY: Shifting the environ. But if others share a similar or any kind of experience in the shift, I would deem that a result of ritual success.
HH: I think there’s something to the mind being able to manipulate events. But I’m more on the side that it’s something within the individual that then becomes external, maybe in the form of something that the individual wills into being.
KGY: Personally-speaking, the will to reality truth is an interesting topic, although too large for solely a band-interview.
HH: It seems like the band has maintained a level of independence, with your library spanning across a variety of labels. Was this intentional or just how it worked out over time?
KGY: We have maintained the good-fortune of being asked and having the option of being selective of whom we work together with, and some spectacular results have been achieved and spectacular things will continue to manifest.
HH: What’s in the works for 2014 and beyond? Do you plan on continuing with the string of tours or are you ready to settle down for a bit?
KGY: The S/T full-length should be completed by the end of Summer 2014. We are currently in the middle-phase of writing/recording as this interview is being conducted. We officially began in February of 2013 and have been leisurely, yet meticulous of the content.
There is something coming, likely in 2015 that is still in discussion phase, however we are not at liberty to disclose this information until further details are confirmed and the timing is right.
There are no current tour plans, as mentioned, we would prefer to continue the momentum of our new body of work.
HH: Lastly, what have you been listening to, watching, or reading lately?
AC Way: Lately I’ve been on an early Neuronium kick, as well as many other “cosmic” synth groups from the 70’s. Also on a NWOBHM kick as well—Again. As far as reading I’m slowly plowing through the 100,000 Songs of Milarepa and Laird Barron’s The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. I’ve had that collection for quite some time, but I like to space out his stories for full impact. I don’t watch TV, but I’ve seen The Strain and that’s pretty fun. Other than that, to paraphrase Steve Albini, just stare at the walls and wait till we die.
KGY: I tend to read several books at once, which is a terrible habit. My current reading list: Azoëtia (first pressing) by Andrew D. Chumbley, I am close to finishing the Miles Davis autobiography, and recently finished The Devils Raiments by Martin Duffy and before that The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (both highly recommended/solid reads). We don’t own a TV in our household (yet).
I just watched Black Narcissus (1947), it was an amazing film, full of excellent cinematography and atmosphere. Another noteworthy one is City of God (2002) and I need to finish Kissed (1996).
As far as a listening list goes, honestly, I have been listening to some of our new tracks from the s/t Sutekh Hexen album with a critical ear, before we go in and properly record some of these tracks in a larger studio-setting. Otherwise: the forthcoming Brandon Nickell LP, the new Gog LP, “Moths Have Eaten the Core” + “The Prevailing Wind” LPs, by Gates (Toronto) “In Psychic Defense” and “The Hierophant” by Burial Hex, “Postsocial” by Wold, the Daniel Menche and William Fowler Collins split LP, and a handful of great titles that I received from ANNIHILVS and Cold Spring Records. A lot of this stuff is newer material that I have received from friends/labels that I work with, a lot of great stuff from amazingly talented people.
Since the time of this discussion Sutekh Hexen has been featured on Cold Spring’s “Treatment of the Dead” Sampler CD and AC Way’s side project THOABATH has contributed to John Everall’s benefit album “Everall“.