Interview: Inquisition’s Dagon
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There are fewer USBM bands who punch harder and more relentlessly than Inquisition. Based out of Washington, these Colombian transplants have some of the heaviest drums, most savage riffs, and weirdest vocals to ever reign terror across the U.S. scene. And yet theirs is not a mindless assault: there's a dexterity to their music and a depth of concept that makes it compelling. Their lyrics have moved from the more traditional Satanist schtick into cerebral ruminations on the physics and chaos of the universe. It's satisfying viscerally, aesthetically, and philosophically. Inquisition have a new record out, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, and it's as potent an entity as ever. (You can read our review here.)
We spoke with the band's vocalist/guitarist Dagon about what the new album's title means, how they arrive at their distinctive sound, the ritual of their music, and some of their more controversial song titles, among other matters. Ride the fire-winged demon.
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Many black metal bands choose intentionally lo-fi production on their albums to enhance the atmosphere and create a sense of "authenticity". Yet on Obscure Verses and Ominous Doctrines, the production is crisp and neat, without much fuzz or blurriness. What do you look for in production when recording?
We look for reality, a production of a reality that can closely transmit what our ears capture when you hear a band perform music in front of you. In basic terms we are not looking to achieve anything too raw or too polished. We want the listener to hear our songs first, not the production first. We want our listeners to be able to hear the character of the drums we are using, the character of my amplifiers, the character of the speakers I am using, the character of Inquisition. [We want] all of these characters [to be] right up front with you without trying to hide or mask anything to make us sound more raw than we really are or more polished than we really are.
Ominous Doctrines was a production that turned out a bit more polished than what we were aiming for, but we liked it because it has its place in our discography. It is the modern production we needed to show people how an Inquisition polished up a little bit could still manage to come across as a cult band and not sound plastic. It is a very bright, crisp album with loose and boomy lows; the highs are quite high, midrange is scooped a bit on the lower end (think of a happy face on your graphic EQ), and the drums are very natural. Yet, the snare on that album is a bit modern and nearly perfect sounding, while the guitars are chunky with the mids at 50% and sizzling highs.
On Obscure Verses, I was thinking of the opposite. The first thing I had on my mind were guitar amps. I was set on going with the Soldano SLO and combining it with a Marshall JCM800, but the Soldano would really set the tone of this album. This guitar tone is the opposite of the past album, less low end, amazing — and I repeat — amazing midrange with rich harmonics. The highs are not sizzly this time, but flat like a dull knife, allowing for the midrange frequencies to roll out beautifully. The Marshall took care of the low end because they have great tight lows. I did not want to go with a modern amp for the low end because I did not want that rectified low end or a spongy loose low end. The two amps together were excellent and, simply said, I wanted to really display tone as is nearly never done in our genre: with real amps, going for a beautiful classic American '80s Metal guitar tone combined with the classic British tone behind it. For drums, we went full-on natural and organic. We were willing to lay off trying to blow people away with a huge modern drum sound and go for a classic and organic drum sound. We absolutely knew that this organic and warmer formula might not instantly impress people, but we knew that with time their brains would begin to appreciate it and remember what natural feels like to the mind: a reconnection to real sound in a day and age when so many productions are over- or under-produced.
So, this new album may seem highly polished when in reality it is not. This is how we sound with good audio, good gear and above all giving a good performance. We have been playing for a few years now and that is what you are hearing, this is how we play. Of course, we were in a great studio with excellent equipment and a great production team, but trust me when I say that we used the bare minimum and just enough to not change how we sound. We are not faking anything.
You have referred in past interviews to your live shows as a "ritual". What form of ritual? Conjuration? Sacrifice? Is recording or writing also a form of ritual, or a different manifestation of the process, like a sacrament? How does corpsepaint figure into the equation?
To me the biggest ritual is writing the music. The second biggest ritual is in the studio recording. Then third is the live ritual. Each phase is a phase all musicians go through in nearly all genres of music, so why do we refer to it rituals in our genre? It is because Black Metal is the most obscure form of music under the veil of the occult and, even though it uses the same instruments used in all forms of rock music and Heavy Metal, we have still managed to take everything so far into the darkest caves of expression, distancing ourselves from simple Heavy Metal or rock music superficialities, all because we ritualize everything we do.
When I write, when we record, and when we perform live, there is an element of spirituality involved so deep that we disconnect from who we are as people and enter the obscure world, the unseen world where the flesh is no longer there and only the mind and soul are in control of what we are performing.
The three phases I mentioned take extremely high degrees of concentration, control, technique and, above all, inspiration. I have seen many great bands do amazing work as musicians, but be highly uninspired. Inspiration will always embrace you so long you ritualize your performance by maintaining that high degree of spirituality, like a samurai before, during, and after the battle.
The ritual paint is more than a tradition in Black Metal and more than a simple image to uphold. It is an image of disconnection from yourself and a manifestation of the occult soul. In essence, you are being turned inside out the moment you put on the paint, just like ancient civilizations have done for thousands of years in rituals of death, war, magic and music. This has carried into modern times and it did not start with Black Metal.
Crush the Jewish Prophet is no doubt a confrontational title, and one that is sure to draw ire from many people. What was your thinking regarding that? Would you use similar titles now?
Jesus was Jewish according to the know-it-all people. How that is offensive? I don't know. Not too surprising that the word "Jewish" hits some nerves though, like "don't go there, go anywhere but there." "Crush the Black Prophet" would not have sat well, "Crush the White Prophet" would definitely be questionable. The original title makes sense.
What is ironic is that some argue that he was not a prophet at all, rather God himself. The followers can't even agree at times which of the two he was: God or a prophet. Confusion. Just like confusion in our scene: people want their music extreme with this vicious edge but they raise red flags if something seems to be going in a particular direction that may be hitting home.
In the future, making statements of any kind is always possible. I have been told that speaking your mind is respectable. When a band plays it safe all the time, you can't help but wonder if some people have forgotten what Metal is about.
What metal influences Inquisition the most? I have read in interviews that Dagon is classically trained; what classical or other non-metal influences are prevalent, either noticeably or subconsciously, in the music of Inquisition?
The greatest composers of the Baroque period inspire me a great deal, more so than any other form of music. The flamboyant and excessively tonal and predictable style of that period's music amazes me more than any other period in the universe of music. The Baroque composers took music to a level never seen or heard before, light years ahead of its time, and also served as the core of inspiration and influence on the period that followed. The masters never feared taking expression to the highest levels amidst the complexity of their compositions, and they did not let technique get in the way of feeling. They were perfectly balanced in technique and emotion, two worlds merged into one masterpiece. Music is expression and should be a sophisticated tool for displaying the different levels of the human mind which go unseen. The masters of the Baroque were the greatest of all time at this.
Earlier music is an enormous inspiration; the older the better sometimes, because it gets simpler and more stripped down the further back in time you go. It is difficult to know much about music during the Roman period, but sometime around it and a bit after, music was quite primitive compared to the Gothic era that followed. There were still remains of music from Pagan Europe in these very early times, while other cultures were bringing their music and instruments in, adding new scales and sounds, which later led to Western music exploding with more options and eventually spawning the early symphonies a few centuries later. I apply the simplicity plus complexity of the old and early times of music when feeling meant more than ability.
I really like electronic music from the 1970s; excellent music to go far with. I've been into that genre since I was a kid. Also, [I enjoy] some noise if it has good structure and rhythmic quality to it, like martial industrial.
Inquisition was originally based in Colombia before relocating to the United States. Are there elements of Inquisition's music that are distinctly Colombian and elements that are distinctly American? How do the two scenes differ for a band like yours?
I don't think of anything particular in our music as being rooted in a particular area culturally. Sure, there can be external influences based on geographical location, or your heritage can play a role, but in this band's case it just doesn't happen. We keep things detached from that and aim for a sound that is inspired from a much more distant and mystical element.
For a two-person band, Inquisition's sound is full and heavy. What techniques bring this out, both in the studio and on the stage? Would you all ever consider another member, or is this strictly a two-man compact?
It will always be a two-piece. It is how we started and how we will end. The fullness is in the songs first, not the sound. Everything must be big. Big chords, hard playing, a hard drum attack and knowing how to get the most out of everything. On one end it is a simple explanation, but on the other end it is not so simple. For some people the sound just comes out that way due to so many subtle things that add up.
Dagon's vocals are instantly recognizable and idiosyncratic. How did this style develop? What purpose does such a unique vocal approach serve in transmitting the lyrics and melding with the music?
I wanted vocals that were behind the music and were not screamed or high pitched. I was searching for vocals that were a bit dead and emotionless but ritualistic and chant-like at the same time. Every album has the same style but I try to vary the vocals a very small amount from album to album. On Multiverse, the vocals are as loud and powerful as I do them live.
The riffs are made for the vocals and the vocals are made for the riffs. They were meant to work together.
Inquisition's lyrical content has shifted from more traditional occult themes to a more esoteric, cosmic focus. What brought this shift about? What, exactly, are Obscure Verses for the Multiverse? Does literature, in particularly the works of Lovecraft and other "cosmic horror" writers, have any bearing on this?
I was interested in going in a direction of a realistic occult approach, basing this direction on what surrounds us — the universe — and bringing its occult elements to the eye.
The title basically means "obscure laws for the multiple universes," the laws being the laws of quantum mechanics, which were made by the gods — the same gods that came here and created us. The gears are on a microscopic level that dictate how everything works around us, everywhere on this plane and other planes or universes, which at least in theory exist and have been spoken about so much by many spiritual mysticisms.
To summarize, let me say that it is a combination of quantum physics and quantum mechanics with the spiritual world in one. This is an album that focuses on the multiple dimensions of the spirit and the multiple dimensions of our multiverse, adding possible alien races as our gods of creation.
The element of Satan as the force of opposition is hailed here by declaring alien forces as our creators, who have conquered all levels of dimensional travel and hold the verses of the secrets to our existence. We are here for a reason, but it is a reason to be explored by travelling within our own astral plane, the conscious. Once this is conquered, we can open our third eye to enter other planes that are here for us to witness after death: the other dimensions or universes. As multiple consciousnesses are developed in the mind, new heights are obtained just as multiple universes collide in space, creating a new universe after leaving a black hole. This creation of a new universe leads to a cycle in both mind and space.
In essence, the human mind is a dimension, one of many, as real as the dimension of space and the dimensions we have yet to witness after our death. The human consciousness cycles with space; it is the same, and because it is the same, we are cosmic dust evolved into the highest form possible thanks to the gods who came here. I am not really influenced by any writers. I am quite inspired by Poe, Lovecraft, and so forth, yes, but my writings are from my mind entirely.
To that end, what does the name "Inquisition" mean to you now? Is it a reference to the brutal religious inquisitions of old, or a reference to the spirit of inquiry towards a vast, dangerous universe?
It represents the human's need to establish dominance, control and order based on a particular period of our world's history. But, at the same time, it is a parallel of Man's need to impose his rule over others.
What do you see Inquisition growing into for the future? Is there vitality still to be had in the project? Where do you see your artistic visions moving towards in years to come?
We will continue strong for more years, always devoted to creating and executing powerful and inspired Black Metal, and always walking upon our own path, marching to our own drum of war.
The last words are yours and yours alone.
Thank you as always for the support and we ask that you submerge yourself into the new album when you can.