.:.SILENCE SANG THE PRAISE OF DEATH.:.
An Interview with Mortuus
From the glory days of eighties black metal, Sweden has left its mark on the genre’s history through the path-defining work of the legendary Bathory. Fast-forwarding to the misanthropic nineties, while Sweden has been known the world over through glorious death metal releases and the culture that went with it, black metal has always had a powerful presence there through the likes of the mighty Dissection, the truly primitive Nifelheim, the abysmal Abruptum (who were associated with the cult of Deathlike Silence and the inner circle of the monumental neighbouring Norwegian scene), the majestic Arckanum and Svartsyn, and so on.
Today, Sweden has again resurfaced as a potential realm of black metal renaissance through great new acts (like the ones associated with the Swedish black metal label Ancient Records, for example). And within this resurfacing constellation of northern evil, Mortuus holds a high seat, and the band has proven it with the 2014 release, Grape of the Vine. On that note, Abhik Chakraborty had a discussion with the mystical Tehôm on the topic of Mortuus, its music, and everything that drives it towards the blackest realms of the beyond.
Heathen Harvest: Let me start this interview by saying that it is a great honour and privilege for us to have you with us, Tehôm. I would like to start off by hearing from you about the very essence of Mortuus. Please give our readers an introductory initiation into the realm of Mortuus.
Tehôm: Mortuus was formed in 2003 by me and (Marcus) Hinze. We recorded our first EP under very spontaneous circumstances a month later or so. At its birth, Mortuus was more of a conceptual idea than an actual project. We wanted to tear down what was by then quite complex songwriting processes that our former band had gotten lost in, which admittedly was mainly my fault. I tend to rewrite things in absurdum. Writing together with Hinze has proven to be a good way to actually get things done, and we were aiming for something ‘direct and primitive’. After this, we wrote and recorded our first full-length album, De Contemplanda Morte; De Reverencie Laboribus ac Adorationis, in 2006. By then, our interest in the black metal scene and the massive amount of bands who seemed to favor posing with occult sigils before using them practically was kind of fading. We did other things for a few years but always kept Mortuus in mind. In 2012, we started working on a new album, and it was recorded a year ago. That’s about it!
HH: Next, I would like to come to the subject of your latest release, the sheer masterpiece Grape of the Vine. Can you tell us about the philosophy that went into manifesting this majestic pillar of black metal?
TE: I guess that art could be put into two different fields philosophically. On one hand, you have the intellectual and conceptual part, and on the other side, you have the embodied form. Grape of the Vine is a metaphor for forbidden fruit. It’s quite an unusual interpretation, but I find it interesting as it returns several times in the bible. Adam and Eve give in to sin by eating a non-specified fruit (now, the vine isn’t a tree but is referred to as a tree in Ezekiel somewhere), Noah becomes the second Adam and gives in to sin again through drunkenness caused by wine, and, interestingly enough, the first supposed miracle of Jesus also includes the grape of the vine. Mankind’s thirst for knowledge beyond spiritual and moral laws seems to be unquenchable. I think that literal interpretations of the bible are stupid overall, but the analogy is interesting. On a personal plane, the album is rooted in practical work on the ‘left hand path’ (for lack of a better term) which, by its nature, corresponds with forbidden fruit and the tree from which it is taken. The embodied part, then, is the actual music. We tried to achieve something meditative that would take us or the listener somewhere. It’s not an album for just any moment in life, and I would not argue with someone who thinks that it’s too repetitive and even boring at times. We tried to focus on the meditative and repetitive aspects that were there in the earlier releases. We value music more than anything when it comes to Mortuus, but sometimes the most interesting thing is to follow one track as far as possible.
HH: Your first full-length release, De Contemplanda Morte; De Reverencie Laboribus ac Adorationis, and your latest, Grape of the Vine, have a period of seven years between them. While they are both masterpieces of the genre, what was the reason behind this gap? Was it a conscious choice from you, the artist, to frame the right kind of musical and philosophical direction for the new release? How much did things change or evolve for you, in terms of music or in general, during this time period?
TE: It had to do with other things. There’s no ‘deep’ reason behind it; we’re pretentious enough as it is. Hinze has been moving around a bit, and I have focused on my music studies. It wasn’t a planned break or anything, but just the way it happened. I work with music and as a musician, and since 2007 I have played in basically every modern genre there is. In a way, it has made me appreciate a certain pureness in black metal. The fact that we sort of vanished from whatever being in the black metal scene entails probably affected it in some way as well. That world is small in different ways when you look at it from an outsider perspective.
HH: While listening to your latest offering, there were points where I, as the listener, felt like letting the music carry me into a ritualistic trance-like state. Is the way of how you have crafted your work a physical manifestation of a certain reverence of yours for the attainment or the experiencing of a state of non-being?
TE: That’s sort of what we aimed for. That, and writing songs good enough to stand the test of time—and that will of course be up to the listeners. Black metal is nothing without good music. Whenever I put on Under a Funeral Moon, the reason for doing so will always be that I love the music on the record. A band’s opinions or ‘ideology’ (what is that anyway? The ‘black metal ideology’?) might be interesting, but it doesn’t make music good. Great music is a combination of it, where the spiritual aspects effortlessly melt with the sounding. Dissection was a good example of that and still stands unmatched in that sense. Some of the stuff I write for Mortuus is done after meditations or ritual workings, and I like to think that it affects the results, but it might be wishful thinking! [laughs] You know, every songwriter wants their music to have an impact, to somehow affect the listener.
HH: In a former interview of yours, I read about your belief in the doctrine of polarization rather than that of dualism which ultimately makes the monotheistic paths redundant. I have found this thought particularly interesting. Would you elaborate more on this idea?
TE: I used to have a very dualistic perception of the world. I was raised in a christian home and even as a child I was a ‘contemplating person’. When I started to get an interest in the Devil, the dualist view naturally affected it. Nowadays, I tend to think that night has to be balanced by day and so on. I have a hard time believing that there would be a spiritual war going on with the good in one corner and the bad in one, which seems to be the popular idea in black metal circles. It is always a process of mutual pressure. Opposites rely on the existence of the other. On an everyday basis, dualism is the obvious reality, but I tend to think that there is a non-dualistic dualism in which we are able to choose sides, so to speak. I do not pray—or more correctly, I do not pray at all—to the Devil to later balance it with a prayer to Jehova. I simply think that there are many paths to choose if one chooses to go down or up an initiatory path. Mine happened to be the one of Satan, but man has no truth when it comes to spirituality. It’s all guesses as far as that subject goes.
HH: In the past, the concept of ‘The Death of the Spirit’ or ‘The Death of All’ has been connected to your work and beliefs. What does this mean? Is the final death or break of the spirit a longing to reach beyond death, and thereby, celebrating life and the essence of the living from a hostile and yet a more practical and wilful perspective?
TE: It had to do with the concept of the No-Thing and it’s sort of self-explanatory: the pristine black waters of Chaos. But do remember that our lyrics aren’t always there to make a point. Sometimes, it’s just interesting to turn a concept back and forth and see what comes out of it. I don’t know what’s beyond death. At some point I thought I knew. You’ll have to ask a self-proclaimed spiritual leader about that. I am more preoccupied with myself!
HH: I have personally felt that Mortuus has always maintained a very lo-fi interaction and publicity within and outside the scene. How has your latest offering been received in that respect?
TE: I think our main interest has always been to make music. We’ve never really aspired to be a known band or rock stars. If you lack that drive, it’s inevitable that you won’t become a huge band. I don’t think the music will appeal to the masses anyhow, but who thought things like that when Watain released Rabid Death’s Curse? I know I didn’t. This is the first time we’ve given more than a few interviews and actually have received quite a lot of interest from magazines and so on. I’m not sure what that will lead to. I am actually very happy that so many remembered us. That means something. Music today seems to be treated like perishable food. It has a ‘best before date’ not much longer than milk has. People bomb YouTube or Facebook with music as soon and often as they can, or they’ll be forgotten. We can’t be a part of that. It’s a miracle that people have listened through Grape of the Vine from start to end. It has received good and bad responses, but what else can you get when the internet is filled with opinion machines?
HH: From the days of the release of Silence Sang the Praise of Death to De Contemplanda Morte; De Reverencie Laboribus ac Adorationis, and then finally to your latest full-length offering, Grape of the Vine, do you think that Mortuus has maintained and followed the same yet ever-evolving musical and philosophical path through the years?
TE: It has followed our personal development. None of the releases could have been different really. We primarily write for ourselves, and there’s no way to escape yourself with that approach.
HH: Mortuus’s references to the occult are endless and depict your unyielding interest in obscure paths. We can go on forever about this. Still, in general, what is your opinion on the several ancient traditions of the world and their mystical paths? Do you agree that the passage to these occult realms can only be fulfilled through practical experience and that mere inhaling of the intellectual fodder will not lead to the goal of the wisdom?
TE: That’s the kind of question that would take pages to answer properly. I’ll spare you that and try to keep it brief! I believe that the different paths of mystery together create such a wide spectrum of possible experiences that we’re very lucky to live in a time where we can take part of many, many approaches and traditions. I am primarily interested in Qabalah from an averse perspective and demonology, combined with tantric and shamanistic methods or practical approaches. That’s what works for me. Theoretical occultism is like music theory. You don’t need to know the intervallic formula of a minor chord to play it, but if you do know your music theory very well, you’ll always see more than one possibility when playing or composing. But, of course, practice goes before reading when it comes to magick. Magick is nothing but madness and stupidity until you actually experience results, and onwards from that, results cultivate a certain form of madness. I think it is needed. I do, however, think that reading the works of some authors can offer quite strange experiences.
HH: What is your opinion on black metal being played live? We have been seeing a growing tendency towards showcasing this art form in the live setting in this era, including Mortuus. Do you think that the essence of this art form gets a proper depiction of itself in this setting?
TE: We’ve only done one gig thus far, but I don’t have a strong opinion on live shows within the genre. We simply felt that it would be interesting to try it out. Black metal is very different in concert and when you’re listening at home. I prefer to listen to it at home, but performing black metal live is actually a strong experience. It sort of becomes a reverse gospel concert.
HH: Does Mortuus have any plans to release a split album with other acts? I’m asking you this since there have been murmurs of an upcoming split release that includes Mortuus. Can you say anything about this?
TE: Not much more than that I look forward to seeing how it will turn out! It’s the sort of concept that either will turn out really good or simply strange.
HH: Thank you for your time and interest in giving us a chance to pass into the blackest realms of Tzel Maveth. The last words of wisdom are yours.
TE: I have very little wisdom in me, so I’ll just recommend people lend an ear to our music. It might well be worth it. Thanks for an interesting interview and good luck!