by S. L. Weatherford | Header Credit: Nicky Hellemans
Released in September 2017, Trepaneringsritualen’s Kainskult is arguably Thomas Martin Ekelund’s most well-received album yet, and it should come as no surprise as it’s his first offering on Tesco Organisation, the legendary German imprint whose ability to curate within the genre is unsurpassed. Accordingly, both versions of the album sold out at lightning speed, so it was recently announced that Tesco would drop a third edition on blood red vinyl to be released today. Thomas and I discuss the new edition, Kainskult overall, his partnership with Tesco, the isolation inherent in the human experience, and much more below.
Heathen Harvest: Good evening, Thomas, and thank you for speaking with us again. It’s been a little over two years since our now-retired contributor Jarno Alander spoke with you after what was by all accounts the “utter devastation” of seeing your Götlandish Death Industrial performed in a live setting. Have there been any major developments for Trepaneringsritualen or you personally in that time?
Thomas Ekelund: Nothing in this world is stagnant, so I suppose that must be true for the T × R × P working as well. The past few years have been a blur, so it’s hard for me to say what has changed. My mission has not become clearer with time—rather the opposite, in fact—but this has only strengthened my resolve to continue down this path. Everything just gets more and more confusing and demented; all I can do is let it rip me to pieces.
HH: If your mission has become less clear, then can you elaborate on what specifically has become more clouded for you? You hear about artists shutting down their work when they’ve “done everything they set out to do”: What exactly is the wall for Trepaneringsritualen where that is concerned? Is there a grand final vision?
TE: Simply put, it’s like every answer leads to a multitude of new questions. I am constantly faced with aspects of the working I had never realized before. It used to frustrated me, but I am now at a point where that’s what I expect to happen, and even find joy in that fact. I know there is a final purpose, I am just not sure what that is yet, so I suppose T × R × P is a curse I might never be rid of.
HH: One of the major developments that occurred for you during the time since we last spoke with you, from the outside looking in, was your sudden partnership with the legendary Tesco Organisation for the release of Kainskult. I imagine it’s difficult to work within the industrial sphere and not have aspirations of one day releasing an album through Klaus & co. How did this partnership come to be?
TE: There’s no mystery between the partnership. A hello, a request, and a handshake, and the deal was done. It is impossible to overstate what an honor it is to have one’s work published by such a profoundly important label as Tesco. Kainskult has been in the works since shortly after Perfection & Permanence came out, so I have had quite a lot of time to get to know the gentlemen, and I have nothing but praise for them.
HH: There was over a three-year gap between the release of Perfection & Permanence and Kainskult. Obviously most great artists take their time and aren’t overly prolific, giving attention to detail that often takes years to work through, but collaborations and touring aside, what do you attribute the long wait to?
TE: I did something like 70-80 shows in those three years, and I have a day job as well, so finding the time to dedicate to writing and studio work is not an easy task. But I don’t think there’s any inherent value in constantly releasing new works. Each work takes the time it takes, and that’s not only down to outside logistical concerns.
HH: Besides Tesco, you’ve worked with most of contemporary industrial’s major labels through Cold Spring, Malignant Records, Old Europa Cafe, and the underappreciated Raubbau. Does the immediate future hold more new partnerships, or is the plan to develop a deeper collaboration with a specific imprint?
TE: Yeah, I’ve pretty much ticked off all the legends, only missing out on Cold Meat Industry. I have no direct plans to stop working with several labels at once, but who knows what the future holds? The next album will be a return to Cold Spring, that much I know.
HH: It sounds like you’ve already been in discussions about the next album. What are you willing to tell us about the next album from Trepaneringsritualen? Is there another long wait in store, or is this one closer than we think?
TE: It’s far too early to talk specifics, but there’s a number of tangents that I started working with on Kainskult that demand further investigations. There are also a handful of tracks that did not make it onto Kainskult that will perhaps take center-stage for the next one. I have asked my brother Peter Johan Nijland to become a contributing member of T × R × P starting in 2018. We’ve been collaborating in various capacities for many years now, and his input on Kainskult proved immensely valuable, on both a mystical level and a mundane one. I am excited to begin exploring what this may lead to, and hopefully it won’t be another three-plus years until we see a new album out. That being said, we’re not forcing anything, and 2018 will mostly be dedicated to various activities concerning the tenth anniversary of T × R × P.
HH: The ultimate purpose of this interview is to discuss Kainskult and to celebrate the forthcoming reissue of the LP on red vinyl. The original black and white versions of the album were released on September 30th and sold out quick enough to warrant this repress. Between the quick sellout, high praise, and even being named BandCamp’s “Album of the Day” in late October, I imagine you have to be pretty happy with Kainskult‘s performance?
TE: Overwhelmed, really! I haven’t heard anyone say anything negative about it, and that is, of course, a privilege and a testament to the worth of spending three-and-a-half years on completing it. It is a work of profound importance to me and to T × R × P, and I am glad that people seem to understand that.
HH: My introduction to Trepaneringsritualen was in 2013 with Regress Zine‘s excellent interview with you which came at a point in your career where you seemed a bit more willing to elaborate on specific elements behind the project. I read there that the idea of existential loneliness and suffering as something of a default/primary attribute of existence was an important inspiration to your work as Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words. You went on to say that Trepaneringsritualen is, “more detached from [your] personality,” with our previous interview with you going on to speak of you merely being a “vessel” for the project, hinting that Trepaneringsritualen has become fully detached from you and, in your mind, its own entity. Firstly, is that your perception? And secondly, when do you believe that full detachment occurred?
TE: I used to look at it that way, yes. But since then I have come to realize that I am a way bigger part of T × R × P than I originally thought. I still very much view myself as a conduit of sorts for something far more vast than a mere man. But I also feel that there’s a reason, however obscure, why I was tasked to do this. I have in no way become any less convinced of the essential loneliness of being and the endless agony of the created worlds. I have just gained a new perspective on it, I suppose, or perhaps even acceptance. I think that suffering has the purpose of keeping us constantly reminded of the unnatural state of existence we’re in, and that we all need to strive towards the ultimate dissolution of all things flesh.
HH: Do you find that idea of isolation more difficult to connect with the more successful/popular your music becomes? How do you now express that once very important part of your artistic psyche now that Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words and Teeth appear to be defunct?
TE: It is impossible for me to disconnect from that isolation. Once you’ve made the realization that each of us has to live in this world, ripped from the boundless womb, you are always alone. I’ve made some great friends over the years—people who share a similar path—and I suppose that offers some sort of relief in a very base, human way. But still, we are all completely and utterly alone.
Like I said before, T × R × P has profoundly changed me and how I look at the world and all things in it. It has given me refuge, and it has given me strength to accept things the way they are. Which is why I can’t see any return to what Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words was all about. Teeth is another matter completely because, like T × R × P, it was a metaphysical state as well. I think the same entity has resurfaced a number of times during the T × R × P working, but under slightly different circumstances.
HH: It’s interesting that there hasn’t been any negative feedback to Kainskult as recently one of our own contributors refused to write up the album, charging your project with comments like “[Trepaneringsritualen is] a borderline mainstream project and, in my honest opinion, only serves as a bridge to a wide and deep industrial ocean from metal,” “It sounds like electronic metal with shallow lyrics,” and, “He tries so hard to sound catchy, but he fails. The minimalist and analogue sound is good, but in my opinion TxPxR does it only to have a lot of fans without care for something deeper. As I said, it’s catchy but boring.” While I want to be clear that I could not disagree more with his assessment, I’m curious how would you respond to his thoughts?
TE: Comments like that don’t bother me much, as rare as they are. I guess it’s a case of some people preferring things to remain the same, and those who have a willingness to strive for something higher and grander. I could easily keep churning out the same record I did five or ten years ago and reach the same hundred people. Or I could strive towards spreading this as far and wide as possible. I choose the latter, and I do not care at all if someone is offended by that. The currents at play in T × R × P have a lot of inherent power, and I want as many people as possible to experience those currents and let themselves be ripped away by them. Perhaps most people see only a ‘musician’ performing a ‘spectacle’, but anyone who finds T × R × P shallow is either unwilling to face—or lack the mental faculties to grasp—what is at work.
HH: The brief description on the BandCamp listing for the album describes it as something of an ultimately anti-cosmic affair as viewed through the lens of all Abrahamic spiritual history, from the original murder all the way through time to the dissolution of all. Can you touch on the major theme(s) present on the album and why specifically the “Cult of Cain” was an important theme for you to undertake as the first album since Perfection & Permanence?
TE: It starts exactly where Perfection & Permanence ended. A supposed fratricide, but only in name.
It is first and foremost a celebration of those who wage war on YHWH, represented most prominently on the album by Kain. In the Abrahamic tradition, he is the first transgressor, the first one to oppose the tyranny of the YHWH. But this also means he was the first to escape the bondage of the demiurge. Being of serpentine descent—in that his father is Lucifer—he perhaps did not have a choice. This was his destiny. But in proudly bearing the mark branded in his flesh—a mark that is identified in the texts of the album if you pay attention—he shows all of mankind that YHWH can and must be opposed and destroyed.
The anti-cosmic tangent is something that has been part of T × R × P ever since Deathward, to the Womb, but it does seem to become more prominent with time. My conviction that we’re prisoners in a counterfeit world has not wavered with time—quite the opposite. If one listens, all one will hear is creation crying in agony. A haunting chorus of despair, despair, despair.
HH: The artwork for the album showcases a striking monochromatic vanitas scene. I’m sure you don’t want to give away all your secrets for the album, but can you discuss the meaning behind much of the work? What is the significance of the track “V ∴ V ∴ V” having such a prominent placement?
TE: ‘V ∴ V ∴ V’—’Void Vision Vortex’—was the final song to be written for the album, but in many ways, it is the most important one because the text summarizes and expands all of the themes mentioned above. I feel it might be a statement of intent for the whole T × R × P working. Because of this, I will not offer an explicit analysis of its meaning. But I would liken the ‘Void Vision Vortex’ to throwing oneself headfirst into the abyss with ecstatic transformation and with revelatory madness. I trust my audience possesses the faculties to grasp the full meaning of ‘V ∴ V ∴ V’ in particular and the various other hidden aspects of the images presented on the cover.
HH: Speaking of “V ∴ V ∴ V,” with Kainskult, you’ve chosen to start taking something of an ambiguous path with some track titles (see also: “ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ” and “∴”). This isn’t something that was at work on previous albums, so why has this approach begun to develop? Is “∴” a reference to the holy trinity, or something else?
TE: ‘∴’ is a nod towards the Masonic use of the character and has absolutely nothing to do with the holy trinity—assuming you’re referring to the Jahvist one—but when you mention it, the number three does have significance that will be elaborated upon in the future.
‘ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ’ as a title came about after ‘V ∴ V ∴ V’ because I realized the two texts are closely related. Just as ‘V ∴ V ∴ V’ is a key to unlock certain hidden aspects of the of the texts, so is ‘ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ’.
HH: It’s no secret that Trepaneringsritualen has become one of the most popular death industrial projects in recent memory. What do you attribute to your connection with fans of the genre? What do you believe the project speaks to that others have missed?
TE: Perhaps because it has depth and is catchy? I don’t know really, people might be latching on to the same currents as I am. If these forces can so profoundly transform the way I perceive reality, I reckon they may have the same effect on others.
HH: Your live performances became legendary for their barbaric nature, elaborating on a more confrontational, violent side to Trepaneringsritualen that wasn’t necessarily adequately represented through the monochromatic nature of your releases. I recall you mentioning that at some point, you wanted your live performances to evolve into more of a ritual. Have your live performances evolved towards this direction in recent years, or do they remain much as they were at the beginning?
TE: They already are ritual in every sense of the world. But I think I know what you mean, in doing something more obviously ritualistic in a live setting. I am still very much looking to get that side of T × R × P to the live arena, but there just hasn’t been opportunity really. There have been some attempts but all have fallen through for various, mundane reasons. I have not given up trying though.
HH: Lastly, in the Regress Zine interview that I alluded to earlier, you spoke of collecting some of Trepaneringsritualen’s lyrics into a booklet that would eventually see the light of day. Did this idea ever become a reality, and if not, is it still in the cards for a future release?
TE: That’s another one of those projects that are yet to have reached fruition. Celebrating ten years may very well prove to be a fitting time to get that one checked off the list.