When Shawn Hache first came screaming into this world in 1985, Douglas Pearce was busily fine-tuning now-beloved tracks like “She Said Destroy” and “The Honour of Silence” in preparation of what would months later become arguably the most iconic album of neofolk’s infancy, Death in June‘s Nada! Treading familiar footsteps several generations later while knee-deep in an era for the genre that has seen extreme aesthetic and thematic upheaval, 2011 would find Hache laying the foundation for his own Night Profound with the BandCamp-only offering of MMXI as the final vestiges of neofolk’s most traditional days were quietly, if not stagnantly, fading far beyond their twilight. This new generation of artists have paralleled their brethren across the borderlands of extreme metal—an artistic battlefield of which Hache has already seen much duty through his lengthy participation in Mitochondrion—and grasped heavily upon the esoteric themes that have pervaded neofolk’s narratives throughout its history; from King Dude to Blood and Sun, the contemporary focus on spiritual evolution has clearly been favored. Hache elaborates that the necessity for Night Profound’s development came,
“…mainly (through) isolation and striving for spiritual growth. As I started really expanding a personal practice, I needed something to voice my exploration within myself. There was an overwhelming need to create music that focused more on ascendance and introspection than the crippling negativity that fueled other metal projects. Balance has always been extremely important to me, and exploring the light and the dark are essential. The often shallow, one-dimensionality of death metal was too limited of a voice (at the time) to explore the depth I was feeling and seeking.”
While the period after the initial release of MMXI saw a purposeful return to obscurity for Night Profound, the interim years would find the project evolving beyond a vehicle exclusively purposed with the catharsis of Hache’s personal gnosis as “R. Scythe Bearer” was welcomed in as an equal. Already familiar with one another through their mutual time in the short-lived anti-cosmic black metal project Havoc, it was clear that common influences would make for a strong partnership:
“I think we can both agree that Death in June’s But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust were life changers. It should be blatantly obvious where that influence exists. Shortly thereafter, discovering Sol Invictus’s early, less-than-perfect albums Against the Modern World and Lex Talionis gave me the confidence that, with enough passion, a meager musical setup, and just a passable knowledge of songwriting, an amateur like myself could create this kind of music.”
As for where you can directly hear influence, however,
“…the lush nature of records with moments like Forseti’s incredible finger work on Erde, Nature & Organisation’s moving compositions on Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude, and Scorpion Wind’s diverse layers on Heaven Sent made me want to push these compositions into something more than your basic neofolk structures—which you can hear on tracks like ‘Night of Shining Death’. Also, a deep appreciation for the masculine, brutal approach explored by Luftwaffe was a huge, huge inspiration in the earlier days. It’s why pounding percussion, deep vocals, and shouts are always going to feature prominently—even among the deeply emotional songs.
“Of course, at the end of the day we are rooted in metal music, not punk music. So, we naturally write more complex music with specific ‘riffs’, bridges that never return, and more parts beyond a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. Listen to ‘Night of Blood & Ash’ for the best example of this.”
Indeed, R. Scythe Bearer’s inclusion in the project changed it subtly to uninitiated ears, but the difference in sound was tangible. The traditional-sounding framework that was constructed for MMXI by Hache’s already capable solo hands was, of course, still present as a clear nucleus, but a layer of palpable darkness had descended and obscured it. Suddenly it felt as if David Galas or the abstract grimness of White Light from the Mouth of Infinity-era Swans had possessed the outpouring of compositions in trace amounts, beginning with trickles of singles and covers from the Manson Family and the Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud and ultimately culminating with the duo’s first official album, Invocatio Lux, Evocatio Nox, of which Thomas Cowgill (King Dude) was happy to oblige with a release through his own Not Just Religious Music. Hache comments on that early but definitive evolution:
“Night Profound as a solo project is a distant dead memory. I only made that first amateurish demo to cathartically ‘get this out of my system’, and it was only once we started making the music together did this feel like real art. We have a natural musical connection unlike anything we have both ever experienced elsewhere—regardless of the music style. The brilliant instincts he brings to writing music transcends skill, music notation, or the ‘correct’ music choice. It is pure instinct and pure inspiration, and 100% in-line with how I make music as well. Our shared experience has made this project more than just a band, and more than just art. It’s inextricably linked to our being at this point, with even past lyrics proving prophetic. A formless musical project that isn’t bound by any convention means that we can do anything with it. And we plan to do so…”
As to how this inchoate project found its footing with Not Just Religious Music, a chance encounter with Cowgill would lead increasingly wayward souls to forge a strong friendship:
“T.J. Cowgill started hanging out in Vancouver as he was dating an Italian woman who couldn’t enter the States, so she chose Vancouver as her temporary home to be the closest she could to Seattle. We shared a few mutual friends, and by chance he attended our first-ever public live performance in an art studio in Vancouver’s infamous Downtown Eastside. Thereafter, every time he was in town hanging out or playing with King Dude we would make a point to connect for drinks and discussion. We all got along well and became friends. At this time we were in full swing trying to establish a neofolk/post-industrial presence in our city’s scene with our own monthly events going on in Vancouver, so it was a very opportune time.
“In the Summer of 2013, Rob and I both found ourselves unemployed, untethered to anything, and in the midst of very deep personal chaos. We both dove headfirst into the abyss: days and nights of extreme excess of all kinds, total disregard for the laws of society, and embracing great adventure across the spectrum. All of this resulted in our grand trip to San Francisco/Northern California for Stella Natura II—on no money, no plan, and no logical way it could have happened—but it did.
“At this time, we shared an apartment and would plan our days around endless writing and rehearsals. We wrote ten or more songs in this explosion of inspiration, and honestly it is the mutual focus directed into this band that probably kept us both alive. In fact, we are still sitting on a full album’s worth of music that we plan to work on in the coming year. Our group ritual practice was also at an all-time high around this time, and, as we have alluded to elsewhere during the time of the first release, each song on Invocatio Lux, Evocatio Nox was written based on the tangible and intangible experiences during four specific ritual workings, which is also why we also refer to the album as ‘The 4 Nights’. Naturally, over the course of 2014 we recorded this material as it meant so much to us. It was a major cathartic expression of this particular energy and personal ascendance. For me, on a personal level, releasing this material felt like taking an enormous weight off my shoulders and releasing a very ugly (but also very magical) time of life. But the lessons learned, and the path initiated by these deeds, are still ongoing.
“It was at a gig for Watain where Rob and T.J. were having a conversation about some debut material that we were working on and how we were looking for a label for the release. That is when he mentioned how Not Just Religious Music was looking for artists to work with outside of his own music and invited us to join the label. He had a very specific personal criteria for the artists he worked with, and at this point it was clear that we fit that approach. The rest is the result of natural progression from there. As we put the music and material together it was with the knowledge that it would inevitably land on Not Just Religious Music.’
With this long developmental history in Vancouver and with one of North America’s richest underground artistic lineages thriving in the Cascadian region (Agalloch, Fauna, Waldteufel, Velvet Cacoon, l’Acephale, and Harrow/Crooked Mouth, to name but the most relevant), you could assume that there would be a sense of “Cascadian pride” at the heart of Night Profound as well. You’d… be very wrong:
“We have absolutely nothing to do with this so-called notion of Cascadia. In fact, we were invited to play one of their festivals, and we stuck out like a wild pack of wolves at a Renaissance fair (drunk, sharp, black leather-clad, wild, and feral). Needless to say, we were not invited back (even for their ‘let’s invite all our past artists back’ version of the festival). [laughs] We also were stiffed money from the first organizer, so it was all around a negative experience. It is a shame because I have great friends who identify with the scene, but it just isn’t a place where I find a personal connection.
“That being said, we all have our own connection to the vivid nature and landscape that surrounds us. The sublime inspiration of the sea, the mountains, the forest, and the sky cannot be ignored even at one’s most cynical moment. The great physical journey we took to record Via Nocturna was completely responsible for the music that came out—several ferry rides to a remote, forested island in the British Columbia gulf coast. It was a process of entering the wilderness physically, but also allowing oneself to enter the wilderness of the mind, spirit, and heart.”
This brings us to the present and the release of Via Nocturna, Night Profound’s self-described magnum opus. The album sees the lads departing from Not Just Religious Music in favor of the old world with Belgium’s Neuropa Records, an imprint that originally specialized in industrial and dark ambient music before opening their gates more widely in recent years to a focus on neofolk, black metal, and even synthwave, no doubt filling a (frankly, massive) void left by once-reliable labels like Steinklang Industries and Equilibrium Music as they continue to falter towards dormancy. This will, in fact, be Night Profound’s second partnership with the label after taking a page out of King Dude and Chelsea Wolfe‘s book to team up for a collaborative album with fellow British Columbia resident Crooked Mouth in 2015. When asked about the change in representation, Hache elaborated,
“There was no reason (for the departure) other than T.J. seemed to slow down activity with his label, and the ‘deal’ was never around any exclusivity. A label run by an artist naturally would provide freedom to the other artists he works with. In fact, during this whole experience the label always placed the final product of the record as the top priority, allowing us to do whatever we wanted to realize our vision; worthy of total, eternal respect!
“Neuropa made contact shortly after the first release and wanted to work with us. After the release of Invocatio Lux, Evocatio Nox, there was a lot of demand from European fans who found it hard to justify ordering from an American label, so the coincidence seemed like the perfect timing. Understandably, there were many more fans in Europe, but that isn’t necessarily the case anymore with folks from all continents finding value in the sound. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to have a foothold in Europe to hopefully also lead to more live opportunities in the old continent!”
Given what we now know of the roots of Via Nocturna, it feels as if Night Profound may have ventured out of the realm of the unreal and ambiguous towards a more physical contemplation on Death and existence. While the A-side tracks are still very much embedded in occult thematics from a personal perception (and more than a little reminiscent of a throwback to Hexvessel (“I Am the Ritual,” anyone?), the B-side sends us hurtling back into the embrace of the natural (“Cast a Shadow on the Sun,” “Eclipse”). Even the lone cover bookending the album, Mayhem‘s “Freezing Moon,” fails to deviate from this trend. In a previous interview, Hache spoke of the influence of painter Caspar David Friedrich on their work, and it’s difficult not to imagine both he and R. Scythe Bearer unconsciously recreating their own real, contemporary version of “Two Men Contemplating the Moon,” sitting atop a decrepit abandoned church’s remaining structure, drinking whiskey and quietly discussing the great mysteries lying beyond the mundane. This island inspiration feels as much a metaphor as truth—an oasis occulting the ills of a world just a ferry ride away, offering spiritual protection.
“Invocatio Lux, Evocatio Nox very much, and often literally, represented a time and place—points upon the continuum of spiritual and personal ascendance. Via Nocturna is very similar in that it represents a specific moment and a specific time. We purposefully preserved all the sounds recorded in the church or only overdubbed what was physically recorded there—intentionally not adding any more instrumentation than what was available to us there.
“But it is starkly different as it represents coming out the other side of a deep and prolonged period of nigredo. The Darkest (and longest) Night of the Soul was where we found ourselves in the midst of Invocatio Lux, Evocatio Nox. Whereas in the past I had only been interested in the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul (hence the band name), we were living it glaringly and obviously. The concept of the Saturn’s Return has been commented on elsewhere more thoroughly and eloquently than I can put it here, but in those chaotic summer months of 2013 we had both reached the peak of what could be considered this tumultuous time leading up to the clarity found in ones early thirties. This was a time of massive change and upheaval: lifestyle, career, music, beliefs, family, friendships, you name it! Everything was challenged. The only constant was chaos. We both embraced it full force, saying yes to just about any situation regardless of the consequence. Crime, indulgence, excess, degeneracy, madness, bacchanalia … nothing seemed off limits. While this was on one hand an extremely arresting way to live your life full of nihility, despair, and ugliness, it was also a necessary way to set the soul free by shattering personal and societal limitations.”
The album’s description illuminates the evening of primordial catharsis a bit more clearly:
Via Nocturna is the aural result of a wayward journey into the abyss. What eventually manifested is beyond anything we initially thought possible. In the eleventh month of 2014, Night Profound literally set sail for a nearly abandoned gulf island in British Columbia. The destination was a decrepit, partially defunct wooden church. We reclaimed this sacred space in our own vision and converted this house of god into our own Temple of the Black Serpent.
In hermetic abscondence, a straight thirteen-hour recording session took place throughout the night. The initial solid base of acoustic guitars and drums came easy. But, as the evening descended into induced madness, the artistic spiritual conduit was established. As members of our party swam in and out of conscious intent, the veil between Music and Will diminished. Every sound represents a higher state achieved. Every sound captured in that space is preserved here.
Thus, the usually cliche adjectives ambitious and unique both actually describe this album exceptionally well. Not only does Via Nocturna emanate the traditional and esoteric qualities that already made Night Profound an intriguing project to behold among their contemporaries, but it will weave those most prominent characteristics around one of experimental music’s most respected and under-utilized traditions: field recordings. While neither Night Profound or Neuropa Records are likely to make the idea a central point in the promotion of this album, to me it is the most genuinely compelling aspect of Via Nocturna. With one subconscious choice on how to approach the recording of the album, Night Profound managed to straddle the gap between Tony Wakeford and Lawrence English, from Michael Cashmore to Daniel Menche. Of course, with field recordings only being an aspect of the greater whole, Via Nocturna will still firmly rest within the confines of “dark folk,” but it sets a precedent for further exploration down a path untread, redolent of John Haughm‘s unexpected experimentations with noise in Agalloch’s middle era.
The final question that was asked of Hache was regarding this aspect, and his explanation did not disappoint:
“We had a field recorder capturing the background ambience of the location throughout much of the night. There were songs that were first recorded roughly with guitar and percussion, and played back while we added live improvised layers of sound over them. We spent an entire session in altered states of mind moving around the field recorder with various ritualistic instruments to create strange moments of inspiration. I can recall us stomping in unison to the percussion, blowing across the tops of bottles, clanking bells together, using strange noise makers, etc.
“There are places on the record where you can hear an audible hiss coming in and out. That is completely intentional. In fact, we asked the studio engineer to turn it up in the mix, which is a pretty backwards thing to do! We believe that preserving the real essence of the location contributes even more power to the work that was put into this music.”
I believe that final thought to be the biggest factor behind what has gone wrong with this modern age of art. There are too few out there now working towards discovering or encapsulating the “true essence” of anything, whether that be location, atmosphere, or lifestyle, and onward in any given direction. When we throw our support behind an artist, we rarely stop to think about what that means or even what that says about us as consumers (for lack of a more apt word) unless there’s an obvious disconnect, usually politically. I have followed Night Profound since its inception, and I’m proud to say that they are a part of the growing movement of artists out there today living their art and not simply using it as a halfhearted crutch. We all have finite resources, and I’m committed to putting mine towards those who carry themselves in such a manner. You should be too.
Via Nocturna was released physically on Neuropa Records and digitally via Covenant Records on November 11th, 2018.