.:.THE TRUE VOICE OF GOD IS SILENCE.:.
An Interview with TenHornedBeast
Not so very long ago, the esteemed editor of this site made comment of the length of time it has been since we heard from UK dark ambient Obersturmbannführer TenHornedBeast—known to his family as Christopher Walton—and that, since rumours were abound that there is new music due at some point soon and that I am personally acquainted with this dark, shadowy figure, perhaps I could get in touch and attempt to rouse him from his age-long slumber to talk of new music, old music, the legendary Endvra and his deep love of Arthur Machen, and the great outdoors … and, clearly, rain, since the outdoors in question is in the United Kingdom.
Read on, brave soul. Read on…
Heathen Harvest: So, Christopher, it’s been a good while since you last spoke to Heathen Harvest at length—six years, in fact—with the last time being just after you released My Horns Are a Flame to Draw Down the Truth. As far as I can count them, eight further releases have passed beneath the bridge since then, with the full-length releases Hunts & Wars, Elphame, and the three-disc Ten Horned Moses Descended the Mountain set being notable among them, followed this year by the small-run, one-track tribute to Arthur Machen‘s The White People, Tole Deol. Looking back over the impressive body of work since 2009, is there anything in there that you feel is particularly significant?
Christopher Walton: There are more than eight: I also produced some private releases a few years ago, four editions of a large format photobook that came with four one-hour-long recordings. That was never publicized, just sent to the four recipients.
Just the fact that I continue to record, whether it’s for my own pleasure or for a release on a label, is significant. I have been doing this kind of music since 1993 and sometimes it feels like I’m done. I can go for a long time without recording anything—weeks and weeks sometimes—but as soon as an idea comes to me or something triggers a creative period, I start again. I know that I’m not done yet.
I feel all of the releases you mentioned above are significant in their own way, either as a reflection of the vision of TenHornedBeast or just for their sheer chutzpah. When I pitched the Ten Horned Moses idea to Rich Loren at Handmade Birds, I expected him to laugh me out the door—a three-disc epic of the most minimal trance-ambient imaginable? But to his credit (and my amazement) he was really into it and made the release very special. It sold out on pre-orders which was flattering and totally unexpected.
At the time, Elphame was a nightmare to record. I think I sent Kim at Neuropa Records five or six versions before I finally re-recorded the whole thing and started again. I just wasn’t happy with it and felt that it had no point or purpose. Then I visited one of the special places that I go to up in the hills and the word ‘Elphame’ suggested itself. From there, I knew that it had a purpose and it was my job to illustrate the ideas and emotions I felt with sound.
HH: Is there anything, in hindsight, that you consider, perhaps, ‘lesser’ work or would rather have not released?
CW: Nothing! Unless you are suggesting otherwise?
HH: Perish the thought!
CW: The small-run, self-released CD-Rs are just for my own vanity; the Tole Deol piece was released on New Years Day 2015 in an edition of twenty-five and again sold out straight away. It’s a lot of work to make all of the packaging by hand, and I feel like a snake oil salesman selling stuff so I tend not to charge enough to cover my costs, but it’s fun to do. There will be another small-run CD-R in 2016, probably fifty units this time.
HH: You mentioned to me a while ago that you had been working intermittently on a collaboration with Kevin Gan Yuen of Sutekh Hexen. What’s the status of that?
CW: Kevin and I have been in touch for years from when he was releasing music as Fermentae, and as he did the art and design for my Hunts & Wars album on Cold Spring and I really enjoy Sutekh Hexen, it was a natural progression to make music together.
We started to talk about a collaborative project in 2014. We have exchanged sounds and files and we have one long track finished, with probably another three or four in various stages of assembly. You can imagine what it sounds like: dark.
Kevin became a father in 2015, and I know how much impact that has on time and creative energy, so things have slowed slightly, but I’m still working on stuff in the background. Luckily, with the way I work, I can very easily pick things up after a long state of dormancy and start again. Once the stars are right, we’ll be ready to go.
HH: Also, has there been any progress in your collaboration with Denis Forkas Kostromitin? I’m assuming that his illness has slowed things down to some extent, but wondered if you’d managed to resume working on it?
CW: I really can’t blame Denis’ health. I think it would be fair to say that the project fizzled out for a number of reasons—primarily down to me. We were working on this in 2011 and 2012, but around then I was made redundant and had to take a serious look at my ‘real life’. I needed to find another job, so the time and resources that I had to put into that meant that I wasn’t able to dedicate as much of myself to the music as such a massive project needed.
The other problem was the sense of intimidation that one feels when you are confronted with the task of recording something to accompany a piece of art by Mr. Kostromitin! It suddenly dawned on me that this was a very big deal, and I had to produce something very special. That sense of responsibility coupled with the manic personal circumstances resulted in a very bad case of writers block.
Around the same time, Denis started to get big commissions for work and his profile rose accordingly. Our project slipped further and further into the background, but I still have the tracks and no doubt Denis still has his vampiric pieces, so it might be resurrected one day. At least nobody lost money…
HH: Is there anything else in the pipeline for the not-too-distant future?
CW: Plenty! But the reality is that I am a tiny artist releasing unpopular music on small independent labels. Labels need to sell product to finance their next releases and with people these days believing that music somehow happens for free and is available for their pleasure at any time they care to demand it, there are pressures, delays, and a lot of down time.
Nevertheless, 2016 should see an album on the American label Small Doses. Joe Beres—Small Doses’s head honcho—and I started to talk about this in late 2014 / early 2015. It’s called Stealing Jewels from the Fire. I really like it; it’s a different sound to what’s gone before—a development rather than a radical shift. I personally don’t think this is a dark sound. To me, it is very uplifting and beautiful.
I have also completed an album called Death Has No Companion—three very sombre and moody tracks. In contrast to Stealing Jewels from the Fire, there is not a glimmer of hope anywhere to be found. Not a party record. Cold Spring will be putting it out sometime in the autumn of 2016.
Fall of Nature may be releasing the TenHornedBeast / Sigillum Dei split Even Death Knelt Before Them on cassette. Dan Hunt (Sigillum Dei) and I did this in 2013 as a digital release. I understand that tapes are once again hot with the young people, so if that’s what the market wants, that’s what the market gets. The TenHornedBeast track is called ‘Give Death, Take Death’; it’s so heavy that when I mixed it, I caused nerve damage to my jaw because of the vibrations from the headphones. I got a crippling toothache—had my jaw X-rayed, but they couldn’t find anything. A lesson learned.
I’ve also got a lot of material completed for the Holy Order of Faust, including a completed album for when TenHornedBeast isn’t noisy and nihilistic enough. This is a step back to the death-industrial noise I was listening to in the early-to-mid nineties—that heavy Swedish sound and the Italian stuff. It could have been the direction TenHornedBeast went in after the first album in 2007, but I took it down a different path. Just like dark-ambient music making, noise isn’t as easy as outsiders might suspect. There has to be tension and dynamism in the music; it has to have structure even if that structure is so beyond the normal listening experience as to be incomprehensible. For me, recording the Faust material is a relaxation. I do not overthink it; I record quickly and viscerally.
HH: I get the impression that some of your pieces have quite lengthy gestation periods. I know, for example, that you started working on the music that made up Elphame in 2007 but that it didn’t see release until 2013. How do you know when something is ‘done’?
CW: It never is! You just have to make a decision that enough is enough, otherwise it would never be released. I rarely listen to my own music because I hear things I’d change or things I would do differently with the benefit of hindsight, and I find that annoying.
It can only be as good as I can get it, up until the time the label demands that I stop dilly-dallying about and send them a completed album with definite titles. Even then, I have often sent labels several different versions of the same album, which they sometimes find confusing. And I have changed titles just before the designer finalises the cover because my understanding of a track has changed and I feel that a new title represents it better than the old one. To manage this, I go through a process that is almost one of deliberate self-imposed apathy—making myself lose interest in the piece so that it can be ‘finished’.
HH: Do you have fragmentary pieces that you revisit over time?
CW: Yeah, hundreds. And that is not an exaggeration. I have hundreds of unfinished pieces ranging from fragmentary ideas and moods, textures, and drones to semi-completed tracks, fully completed tracks that have not yet found a home on a particular project, and also fully recorded albums that have not been released.
One of the techniques I use to record is the self-imposed apathy I mentioned above. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the enthusiasm of new music, if I get an idea or the mood takes me I record very quickly and intensely. I get up in the middle of the night, absorb myself in it, and just cram in hours and hours anywhere I can. This brings you very close to the pieces. I’m hearing them in my head all the time. I’m constantly thinking about them and replaying the sounds internally so I can make those changes to the audio, but the cost of this immersion is that I lose perspective, and it is possible to think that everything is great. This is a trap because not everything anybody writes and records is great.
I manage this by leaving pieces for a long time, long enough so that I forget what they sound like, sometimes months. I then revisit the tracks and if I still like them, I know that I’ve happened onto something good. If not, I make the necessary changes or maybe just move on to a different piece.
Using this process, I found some semi-completed pieces earlier this year that I had forgotten existed. I played them again for the first time in several years in April, found bits that I liked, and ran with it. In a week, I had another album—a kind of washed-out ‘shoegaze’ or ‘drone-gaze’ sound that is nothing like anything else I’ve done before but expands the TenHornedBeast sound into other areas. It is still not completed, obviously. I need to ignore the tracks I made in April and May until I can’t remember what they sound like, then I’ll begin again.
HH: Do you abandon much, if any, work? I’m remembering work that you have mentioned in the past that has yet to appear, such as Cast London Down.
CW: Nothing is ever really abandoned completely. There is always the possibility that I will return to it, no matter how long has elapsed.
Cast London Down is an incantation against London—literally a spell of destruction. I was sat in a traffic jam a few years ago, just staring at the cars and it came to me: London as a metaphor for the ills and cheapness of modern Britain but also literally London as a sink—a swirling shit-hole that pulls the rest of the country down with it.
It’s not a new idea. Lord Dunsany—one of my favourite writers—wrote time and again about the destruction of London. For him, it was the contrast of the imperial city, with its Edwardian gaiety and shallowness, against the filth and noise of modernity. He fantasized civilization reverting to nature, just mounds of grass and briars along the banks of a Thames that had reverted to wilderness. Even though he lived long enough to see the Blitz and watch London burning in the distance from the hills of West Kent, this didn’t cure him. One of his last stories, published posthumously, is The Pleasures of a Futurescope in which tribes of savages struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic Darenth valley, London simply a huge a crater where an atomic bomb has detonated.
My piece has still not found a home. I have the ‘lyrics’, so this will be the first TenHornedBeast track with words if it is ever completed, and might mark the beginning of a new era.
HH: Loathe though I am to bring up Endvra, it would be remiss of me not to, seeing as how dearly held they are by those who dwell and toil within our Heathen Harvest universe. The last music we heard was the track ‘Medicine of the Poor’ on the Ajna Offensive‘s Infernal Proteus compilation, and several times since then I’ve seen you refer to a possible release gathering up loose ends and compilation tracks, most recently mentioned as being for Cold Spring. Is this still likely to happen?
CW: Not likely at all. There is a finite amount of time, energy, money, and enthusiasm, and I’d rather use that to work with ideas I have now, not those I had twenty years ago. I have had offers to re-release Endvra albums on vinyl and possibly gather together stray tracks that were scattered around various releases, but to quote W. B. Yeats: ‘Things fall apart’.
HH: I remember mention of some of Endvra’s music being licensed for use in a couple of films—remind me again, did this happen?
CW: Well, it happened by accident, really, like a lot of things. But in the end, does anything really ‘happen’?
In 2011, I think, I got an email from a licensing company in Los Angeles who had been given my details by Pat McCahan at Red Stream. They were looking for some spooky sounds for a movie, which turned out to be called Sinister, and had listened to some of the tracks from the Black Eden album by Endvra. They liked it and wanted to use it. I seem to recall that the scene this was supposed to illustrate was some bloke watching some home movies or something. I don’t really remember the details and I haven’t seen the film as I dislike films in general and horror films in particular.
Anyway, Stephen (Pennick) and I agreed for them to use the audio, but it never made the final cut—they obviously found something better. There goes my dream of having a condo on Lake Tahoe … more like Lake Tudhoe.
I have also allowed some of my stuff to be used in an independent Irish film called Assimilation, being made by Scalp Mountain Productions. I have no idea what stage that film is at—it seems that the world of independent film making is almost as haphazard and glacially slow as the world of independent music.
HH: Is this something you’d be interested in doing as TenHornedBeast, making soundtracks?
CW: If the right idea was presented to me at the right time by the right person. I don’t kid myself that studios will be beating on my door and, to be honest, I don’t think I could record to order and to a deadline, but I wouldn’t be adverse under the right circumstances.
I have had publishers contact me wanting to use some of my landscape photography in their glossy coffee table books. Then they drop the line, ‘unfortunately, there is no budget for photography’. Okay, so you’re selling the books but you want me to give you my photographs for nothing—the same photographs that will be used to sell the books? I don’t see many other people out schlepping their shit across the moors and hills in the rain and snow. I’m not going to bend over and take that kind of dry-fucking from a barefoot, middle-class hippie publisher in a straw hat. However, money is not the reason I do this, so if somebody interested me in their project and it chimed with what I’m trying to achieve with TenHornedBeast, then I’d be more than happy to work something out, budget or no budget.
HH: Now, moving back to Endvra: Stephen Pennick, your partner in crime in Endvra and latterly operating solo as Ontario Blue, hasn’t released any music since 2001’s Waiting for Rain CD, but a little bird—A.K.A you—told me not so long ago that he’d been in touch about making music again. Has there been any further talk in this direction?
CW: No. Nothing. We had a quick chat about it at the beginning of the year, but it’s not gone anywhere. Don’t book any time off work to attend the Endvra twenty-five-year anniversary arena tour just yet.
HH: You recently contributed an intro piece to (UK-based death metal band) Cruciamentum‘s Charnel Passages album. How did this come about?
CW: Totally out of the blue! I got a message from Richard Brass, and he said that he liked my stuff and asked me to do it. To be honest, I think the last death metal album I bought, other than re-releases to fill gaps left by selling vinyl, was around 1992, but I had been impressed with Cruciamentum when I saw them in 2011 and they sounded like both death and metal, which is the prerequisite.
They wanted something dark and menacing, using feedback but also fairly short. It was fun to do, and a challenge to get that much in to such a short piece—around fifty seconds I think—but I really enjoyed it. I think I sent them five versions, and they used the one they liked best.
HH: I get the impression that the major factors that actually influence your work as TenHornedBeast are literary and environmental, rather than musical. Would you say that is the case?
CW: Definitely. Music—as in modern music in vaguely the same style as TenHornedBeast—has very little influence on me. I enjoy a lot of dark ambient and post-industrial music, but I rarely hear something and think that it would be good to copy it. I have my own sound, and I’m happy developing that in whatever direction I choose to take it.
As I said above, after the first album was released in 2008, I was at a crossroads and could have taken TenHornedBeast down a harsher, noisier path, but what grabbed me at the time, and what still drives me now, is making music to illustrate place and ideas that come from place. In that sense, TenHornedBeast is entrenched in my relationship with landscape and place, and especially how I interact with that ‘psychic geography’—or perhaps geo-mythology is a better term.
My favourite writers have this too; Machen transforms the landscape around the Usk valley into his sinister haunted woods and hilltops, and Dunsany does the same with the meadows and downland around Shoreham—placing the paths to Elfland in those little woods high on the chalk hills. Lovecraft was nothing if not a copyist and did the same with the lonely uplands of New England, although I doubt whether the sickly mama’s boy ever got out and walked amongst them.
For me, this place is Pennine Horeb. It is the internal and external wilderness; it is the place that is approached through the Bookless Gnosis because magic and transformation is not found on paper, it is found on the wind and in the high places. TenHornedBeast is my attempt to explore and understand this.
HH: Chris, thank you for taking the time to respond to my probings, and I wish you all the best of luck with your multiple upcoming endeavours. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for the readers at home in their foul dens of iniquity?
CW: There are no words of wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t manifest through words. My best advice is to get outside and stay outside for as long as you can.