(Comrade Aleks continues his streak of fascinating interviews with this very extensive one with Para Bellum of the long-running Russian black metal band Blackdeath, whose latest work Also sprach das Chaos is officially being released today.)
Saturn Sector, Fucking Fullmoon Foundation, Satan Macht Frei, and more… Blackdeath have recorded nine full-length albums since the late ’90s and a bunch of smaller releases, and they have done much more for the underground black metal scene besides recording and performing their blasphemous incantations.
Blackdeath’s line-up had just a few minor changes for years and its core since the first day, built by brothers Colonel Para Bellum (aka Dmitry, bass, vocals, lyrics) and Abysslooker (aka Denis, guitars, songwriting), has been accompanied by Polar Maya (drums) since 2007, and it seems like this line-up works in the most productive way one could expect. Being founded in 1995 under the name Draugwath, this band remain one of the most stable and creative black metal acts in Mother Russia’s territory and they prove their status once more with a new tenth album, Also Sprach das Chaos, coming out on the 8th of October via End All Life Productions.
We made this interview with Colonel some time ago but the decision was made to wait for the new album’s official release, and so the day has come. If the words “True Black Metal” mean something for you still, here we go.
Hail Colonel! Blackdeath’s new album Also Sprach das Chaos is planned to be released by EAL Productions this fall and (at the time of this conversation) there’s no teaser of new material on-line yet. What may Blackdeath followers expect from this album?
Hail Aleks! Hail No Clean Singing! Well, I understand that the teaser-at-the-last-moment creates a sense of intrigue, but in fact this is just the NoEvDia / EAL’s rule to do a full-stream of the album close to the release date. The pandemic and the vinyl hype (ah, queues for several months at factories!) delayed the release of our album, that’s why the announcement was “empty” for a long time.
As for expectations, Also Sprach das Chaos is still Black Metal, and we are still Blackdeath. But what’s right is right — when we started working on this album, we defined it as an experimental work. Since we decided to use some new techniques and methods, even to us this material seemed unusual then. But now Also Sprach das Chaos sounds quite natural to us; well, musical progress and all that.
I think that our followers are used to the fact that we do not repeat ourselves from album to album, so they will not be disappointed with Also Sprach das Chaos. But it is just Black Metal after all.
It’s said that the album consists of two tracks, and as I remember, you haven’t recorded songs longer than nine minutes before. So how much does Also Sprach das Chaos differ from Phantasmhassgorie? How did you shape this material?
Also sprach das Chaos differs not only from Phantasmhassgorie, but also from everything that we have done before. Some bands present their albums in the form of a play or a radio drama or some other type of narration (for example, Schatten aus der Alexander Welt by Bethlehem, There? Where! by VTTA), and we decided to try to create the same but using only metal means and methods. You know, without this abstract / junky bla-bla-bla. Well, a metal album should be a metal album, why waste time on speechmaking when everything can be expressed in guitar riffs. However, we also had to create some choral fantasia, but this is a kind of ambient outro.
Also sprach das Chaos consists of two songs, with a running time of 14 and 19 minutes. Actually, the main song is the second one, Im Labyrinth (In the Labyrinth). It is a poetic description of an occult mystery, an Anti-Cosmic mystery. The narrator is a dead man, that’s the point, because the only way to free yourself from the dictatorship of the Cosmos is being dead. This is a reference to the practice of Necromancy in Anti-Cosmic ideology. The narrator performs the initiation rite, the ultimate goal of which is liberation from the laws of the Cosmos, that is, a return to primordial Chaos.
Some other characters are involved in this “play”. So the Dead (an abstract term) help the narrator go through all the stages of initiation; well, the Dead help those who want to free themselves. While the Guardians, who try to destroy the narrator, are servants of the Cosmos (they are Archons, since Anti-Cosmism is a gnostic concept). The Black Flame is a metaphysical symbol of the Chaos Energy; this Flame must be awakened in the process of initiation, the particle of the Black Flame lives in every being (gnosticism again). And the Black Snake is a concept from Anti-Cosmic philosophy, too. It can be said that this is the personification of Chaos itself. The walls of the Labyrinth are the laws of the Cosmos.
And the first song, Paralysiertes Äquinoktium (Paralyzed Equinox) actually is a kind of sequel to the second song (yes, exactly this way). This is a description of the collapse of the Cosmos, which is destroyed through the initiation rite. The message of the song is that the endless series of rebirths / incarnations ends: new gods will never appear again (that is why Equinox is “paralyzed”) and “the Ouroboros will break its ring.” So it was perfectly logical to end this song with something pompous, and we decided that it would be a choral fantasia Мир рухнул (The World Has Collapsed).
So, I summarize: the first song describes a colossal event, while the second one explains why it happened. The album has an Anti-Cosmic scenario.
That sounds ambitious, so how difficult was this recording for you? Did you meet some obstacles on your way to the album as you were imaging it at the very beginning of composing? And how far did you go away from original vision?
The process of recording as such was not so difficult for us, mainly because we entered the studio with fully prepared material. Maybe Abysslooker just changed a couple of riffs in process, that’s all. The composing and arranging, that was the real challenge for us. In some way, though, our task was made a bit easier by the fact that we didn’t have any idea of what our new album should be. Except that it should consist of two long songs. And of course we had this imagery of wandering in the maze – we got this picture into our brains when we got lost in Tilburg, the Netherlands, while searching for our apartments before the Cultus tour.
So we just experimented with one or the other riff, swapped them, and so on. But this task in hand really was not easy — we worked like the damned. Satan alone knows how many times we have redone everything, how many times we have started all over again. Yes, there were situations when we were ready to kill each other. But I think this is the usual scenario, everyone goes through it in the process of creation.
The title Also Sprach das Chaos sounds close to Also sprach Zarathustra. Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen by Friedrich Nietzsche. Do you see it as your ultimate manifest? Like “with it you have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far”>
Ah, no, hehe, we are very modest. If it is a manifesto, then for ourselves only. And I’m not sure that there is any point in giving a present to someone who has not wanted anything.
Meanwhile another band consisting of Blackdeath’s members – Cthulhu – has released its second full-length album Hallucinations at the Mountains of Madness in December 2020. You’ve finally switched from ambient drone to quite avant-garde instrumental black metal. Do you see this genre as more suitable to expressing Antarctic madness and cosmic slaughter?
To put everything in its place I must explain that for all our projects the music is of primary importance, while the lyrics are secondary. The music is always created first, and only then the lyrics. When I listen to music composed by Abysslooker, our main songwriter, I have a vision, sometimes a phantasma even, and I try to describe it in the text. The same thing happened with Cthulhu: first, the music was composed, and then we decided how to title it.
As for stylistic distinctions, it is natural for us that Ambient / Drone should reflect some kind of cosmic / otherworldly theme. Whereas monotonous and somewhat abstract Black Metal is rather fit for description of a delirious trip through inhuman landscapes.
Another question is why we (as Cthulhu) jumped to a different genre. Well, we decided to create the Ambient / Drone atmosphere using Black Metal methods only. Let me remind that Cthulhu was created in 1996 as an opposition to the Mortiis-like-Ambient-played-with-one-finger-on-a-Casio trend. We decided to perform Ambient (there was no such term as Dungeon Synth then) using exclusively the means of metal music, i. e., guitar and bass. This is how our first demo Ph’nglui Mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’Lyeh Wgah’nagl Fhtagn was born.
The latest album Hallucinations at the Mountains of Madness is also a kind of mockery of the trend: While many bands stop playing Black Metal and start performing Ambient, we decided to do the opposite. Well, we have witnessed this process from the very beginning, since the ’90s, and we have always been amused with it. For example, the former band of our drummer Maya, Кощуны (Koschuny), took this path. And actually I don’t mean Burzum here at all, that is another story.
The experimental nature of the Cthulhu project also manifested itself through the mixing of the album. TT of Abigor, who did the mixing and mastering (as well as for Phantasmhassgorie and Also sprach das Chaos), offered us a completely different vision of our initial material. Actually we had a different plan for the sound of these songs. But Thomas is a real maniac, he squeezed out of the material even more than we expected, so even we ourselves were amazed at what we did.
As the Cthulhu project seems to be active, your other side projects Cthulhu Biomechanical and Nuclear Cthulhu show no signs of life (though these three projects are united as one web-page). Do you plan to release any new tunes under these other two titles or did you put both of them into a coma with no concrete prospects?
As stated on the cthulhu.world website, “know that any incarnation of Cthulhu the Mighty can arise at any time: That is not dead which can eternal lie and with strange aeons even death may die.” All three incarnations of Cthulhu (i.e., Cthulhu, Nuclear Cthulhu and Cthulhu Biomechanical) are experimental projects; moreover, they are spontaneous projects. We have tried more than once to bury these projects, but due to circumstances they have always been resurrected. Everything is unpredictable here, so I cannot make any announcement.
How do you see Cthulhu Biomechanical nowadays? Would you like to focus on this project and promote it further? Its most up-to-date album has the eccentric title Elon Musk Superstar (2019) and as its pure surrealistic absurd concept-wise, I wonder how much effort you put into it.
The Elon Musk Superstar album perfectly illustrates what I have said about the spontaneity of Cthulhu incarnations. Our friends from VTTA (RIP) and Sickrites offered us to work together in the studio in their hometown Sergiyev Posad. We didn’t have anything at our fingertips, so we decided to use the drafts for our electronic project Cthulhu Biomechanical. Abysslooker created several songs back in 2005-2006, and well, they just bided their time.
The only problem was the lyrics. But I must confess that I very quickly composed this trolling of Russian folklore and Russian cosmism.
Everyone already knows what happened next: the Elon Musk Superstar album became a logical extension and a conceptual continuation of Cthulhu Biomechanical‘s previous album Es ist kalt hier (Unaussprechlichen Kulten). Here continues the disclosure of a conspiratorial version according to which The Great Old Ones wait for the deliverance from captivity on the Earth planet. Since the credo of The Great Old Ones always was, is, and will be: “Stars wait for us,” so Elon Musk is a Messiah, but he has The Great Old Ones behind him.
Well, to tell the truth, this is only my own vision of the personality of Elon Musk. Denis and Maya understand him differently. Denis as a science fiction fan just thinks that Elon Musk is the one who brings the Future closer, while Maya believes that Elon Musk is an Atlas who is shrugging (right, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand).
Recording this album was an absolutely insane process. Unfortunately, this cannot be repeated under the same conditions, because everything has changed. So again, I cannot make any announcement concerning Cthulhu Biomechanical.
Do the images of Satan and Cthulhu personify the same qualities for you? And may Blackdeath go on without Satan?
Of course not. First of all, to our greatest regret, Cthulhu is just a literary character. I remember when I discovered Lovecraft’s works, I believed that Cthulhu really existed, I mean in some mythos of course, Polynesian or American Indian or someone else’s. Well, then a bitter disappointment came. But it is safe to say that Lovecraft was able to draw the personification of negative cosmic force much better than any mythology did, which is why a real cult has developed out of his fiction. And the modern fashion for Cthulhu memes shows that Cthulhu has already become an archetype, although not without humor. But this is a consequence of postmodernism – in postmodernity nothing can be taken seriously, not even Lovecraft’s mythology.
As for Satan, I am convinced that if you truly follow the Black Metal path, you will never eliminate Satan. Although we do not praise Satan in our lyrics at all (Blackdeath plays Apocalyptic Black Metal exclusively), and we are hardly orthodox Satanists, we realize that our existence is impossible outside the Satanic context. Of course, if you take Satan exclusively as a fallen angel, then it is the same literary character as Cthulhu. But Satan is a religious or even mystical principle, no matter with whom you identify it.
Blackdeath was formed in 1995 and since then it has remained one of a very few active Russian black metal bands. What made you choose the BM direction back then? And how much of the original Blackdeath / Draugwath do you see now in the music you play?
Well, we have never concealed that it was the events in Norway that inspired us; we were just bemused by Norwegian Black Metal, and we knew that this was exactly our music. Before that, me and Abysslooker had some other musical projects, but nothing good came out of them. Black Metal has transformed our lives. We have finally formed a full-fledged band. I have nothing more to add.
Of course we have changed a lot since then, musical progress and all that. But even nowadays I can hear every now and then the echoes of Draugwath and our early albums in the riffs offered by Abysslooker. It comes from origin, it is beyond reclaim.
Did you ever associate Blackdeath with a Russian scene? Could you tell if a Russian black metal scene exists at all?
It would be foolish to deny that we are part of the Russian scene. Yes, it exists. Just being inside it, you are more critical of it than an outside observer.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems the local scene is mostly associated with NSBM or pagan movements. Would you tell if it’s a feature of original Russian black metal? It seems to be a more natural thing for bands that were born in the ’90s, as the church didn’t obtain the same amount of power as today and it was hard to see it as the only enemy. Probably this suggestion sounds rough, but I believe it’s clear enough as there aren’t any “big” black metal bands here like in Europe.
Mmm, I think the power of the church is not at all what turns you into a Satanist and/or a black metaller. Yes, it can push you toward the Satanic (also Black Metal-ish) path, but it is more of a social impact I think. You are either a true believer or you are just influenced by society. If you become a Satanist/black metaller just because a church is being erected at every crossroad, well, it was just your act of protest, and sooner or later you will get tired of being a Satanist/black metaller. We emphasized from the very beginning that we did not care for christians and their churches (although it’s not so bad when they burn). Satanism is not tied to christianity at all. Atheists are against the church, while Satanists are against the whole world.
Yes, it seems that in Russia, as in other Slavic states, there are (at least were) many more bands who worship pagan ideology. I think this is a consequence of the Slavic character or something like that. Now this is all taken seriously, but I remember how it was in the ’90s. “The Norwegians praise their ancient gods! This is wonderful! But we have our own ancient gods! Let’s praise our ancient gods!” Right, Norwegian Black Metal strongly influenced the Russian pagan movement, but they are unlikely to admit it now.
But just nowadays it seems that the newest generation prefers Black Metal more, even if in some perverted forms, so to speak. Maybe this is the symptom of the globalization becoming more effectual, I’m not sure yet.
As for the NS ideology, this is most likely due to the post-Soviet aura in Eastern Europe. Even if we take Germany, we see that there are many more rightists in East Germany than in West. The Soviet past creates preconditions for right-wing ideology in some minds: if you paddle hard to the left, then the boat will go to the right, something like that. Anyway, in my view today the number of NS bands in Russia is not so large at all to consider them as a movement.
I see what your postulate “there aren’t any ‘big’ black metal bands here like in Europe” is supposed to prove, but it seems to me that the matter is more complex than that. I just mention the “local” traditions, customs and mentality. I can’t imagine that some Black Metal band (I even don’t mean Blackdeath) can be as popular here as, for example, Satyricon in Norway.
What do you mean as you tell about Black Metal in “perverted forms”? Its post- and atmospheric siblings, or something else?
Goat Black Metal is more like a perverted form of Black Metal. Its energetics have been brought to an extreme level, but if I’m honest, I cannot see any aesthetics in such a blasting rampage. In its turn, modern Noise Black Metal no longer seems to be real experimental music like Abruptum was. I understand that music can be different, no problems, but, in my opinion, nowadays Noise BM is more like a contest of mockery – everyone wants to surpass everyone else in abnormal sound, noise, screaming and so on.
As for Post Black Metal, it is a completely different story, because by contrast with Goat BM and Noise BM they sing about anything but Satanic themes. Post BM becomes unacceptable for me due to its reverse process, namely complication and oversaturation. I don’t understand those who turn back upon Black Metal and start playing Post Black Metal, claiming that “there are more opportunities here” or something like that, and by and large they sophisticate their music not with an excess of riffs, but with an excess of pedals. Actually, there are so many “opportunities” in Black Metal, you just have to search out them.
And one more thing concernng Black Metal ideology. I can’t pretend that I know the scene well enough, so here’s the question. You determine that “atheists are against the church, while Satanists are against the whole world”, and I bet I know the answer why ex-USSR bands don’t promote atheism despite the Soviet background which did ember through the ’90s and left its traces. But can we say that there’s a place for a rational sense in Black Metal or is it pure channeling of abstract chaotic / emotional ideas with no certain goals to rush to?
I think the latter. At the very least, most often, when in a conversation with other black metallers I try to analyze their music, I hear in response that nothing needs to be systematized, you just need to listen to the music and get some kind of emotion from it. In fact, this applies not only to Black Metal, this is generally the principle of art: art for art’s sake, no certain goals.
Orthodox Black Metal bands cannot preach atheism; this is contrary to the canons. This is the prerogative of modern Black Metal bands, and of course Post Black Metal bands.
I remember Denis’ interview (2010 or so) where he told about difficulties concerning the organization of Blackdeath’s gigs, especially in Saint Petersburg. Did this situation change since then? I mean the period of 2010 – 2020, as today the situation with gigs is more difficult than ever for almost anyone.
Yes, in those days we had some difficulties, but I think the problem was different. We stopped being a so-called studio project in 2006, but the inertia was very strong, and I think that in 2010 we still perceived the situation inadequately. Anyway, in those days, we did not have such a concert experience as we do now.
Then the situation changed, of course. But the point is that we have made it a rule not to perform often. In the same city, I mean, especially in our hometown, St. Petersburg. While a tour is a completely different thing. The touring experience has changed our view of concert activity and of musical life in general. Life on wheels is crazy, we miss it so much.
Right, the pandemic has certainly hit the concert business. Now we can watch it trying to resurrect, but to tell the truth it doesn’t work very well.
Can you tell us about the key experiences of Blackdeath’s tours?
Technically speaking, on tour you have to be ready for a new sound literally every day. Even if you travel with your own amps. Completely different venue with its stage, completely different equipment, every time a new sound engineer (unless you have your own one) – all this makes you feel the sound in a different way every day, so you have to adapt to it again and again. Of course, over time you gain experience, but something unforeseen can always happen. Considering the current situation with concerts and tours, I am not very comfortable rummaging through my memory to find a suitable example – it will be nostalgia, and I do not like to be nostalgic, sorry.
Denis’ translation of Lovecraft’s biography by Sprague de Camp was released almost ten years ago with big effort. Now it seems Lovecraftian myths have turned into a trend. Publishers reissue H.P.’s original stories on a regular basis, and I’ve seen this biography was re-released at least once. Does the fact of Lovecraft’s growing popularity warm you? Or does this phenomenon desacralize Lovecraft’s message?
-Just for the record, Lovecraft: A Biography by L. Sprague de Camp was first published in Russian in 2008, and the second edition was issued in 2019. The next year Denis also published his own translation of Fungi from Yuggoth and other poems by Lovecraft. But both works were translated by him almost at the same time (though the poetical translations had been polished for years after that), it’s just that all his attempts to publish the Fungi from Yuggoth translation were unsuccessful before. So, yes, you are right, this is how the Lovecraftian trend works.
Well, I think the popularity of Lovecraft’s work today is what he deserves it with his talent, he was a real master, that’s for sure. I don’t think we can talk about any kind of desacralization. Most readers take up Lovecraft’s books only to obey fashion. They will forget about Lovecraft as soon as the fashion passes, that’s all. But it will change the collective unconscious a little, so this trend really works for his Spirit, for his Idea. I have already mentioned Cthulhu memes – it’s the 21st century, and now archetypes are formed through the new technologies, not in the ways of pre-biblical times. But the principle is the same. So, who knows, maybe in a thousand years the Cthulhu mythology will be as stable as any pagan fiction today.
Revolva, Kadath’s Herald, and Sotsirh Susii are three publishing projects associated with Blackdeath. What’s the current status of these projects?
Kadath’s Herald was a web-project run by Abysslooker. He published there his translations of Lovecraft’s works as well as texts on the mythology of Cthulhu by other authors. After a major Moscow publishing house issued his translation of Fungi from Yuggoth in hardcover, he considered his mission completed and closed this project. As far as I know, he still has several more unpublished translations, but no one knows when they will be published or whether they will be issued at all. Anyway, Fungi from Yuggoth was his ultimate goal as a Russian tribute to Lovecraft.
As for Revolva, it was my small publishing house, well, either 66 or 200 or 300 copies editions. In different years I published my translations of the following works: Might Is Right by Ragnar Redbeard, songs and poems by Charles Manson (I kept in touch with him through another prisoner in Corcoran and, yes, of course, I got his autographed photo), Unabomber Manifesto i. e. Industrial Society and Its Future by Ted Kaczynski (this work has gone through even two editions, and I also corresponded with Ted, and well, he is really tough customer), a complete collection of letters, messages and graffiti by the Zodiac Killer (only documents, as you should understand) the Brazil screenplay by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, and poems by the Russian serial killer Vladimir Mukhankin (again, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, and I corresponded with him, ah, he is not a cool guy at all, rather boneheaded). Now I don’t have time for publishing activities, but maybe someday I will also return to Revolva.
So only Sotsirh Susii, a Black Metal magazine, is a working project now. Sotsirh Susii means jesus christ backwards in Russian. Originally I published this zine in the ’90s with Abysslooker and our friend Peter Massacra; back then there were released 3 printed issues with Black / Death Metal interviews and some non-musical articles, in Russian only. Several years ago I revived this project, and together with Arjan of Cultus / Heidens Hart (he is also a live-guitarist in Blackdeath), we have already published two issues, in English this time. Now I am starting to work on the third issue. Well, it’s a long process, as you should know.
Thanks for such an in-depth interview Dmitry. As Sprach das Chaos is on its way as we publish this, the stars seem to be right. Do you already have a plan to return to the studio in order to fulfill a new Blackdeath manifest or will you take a break before the next work?
No break, work on the new album is at full blast. It will be completely different music, but of course still Black Metal.
Aleks, thank you very much for the interesting and detailed questions. It was an exciting conversation.