Apokryphon Recites “The Naasene Psalm” (Interview + Video Premiere)
A great veil is lifted and art comes forth. Though we know her two other bandmates in Darkspace (Wroth and Zharaal), bassist Zorgh has been a bit of an enigma. Not quite a "mystery," as the band has played live, but more of a private matter. Those who know Zorgh, know Zorgh, and the rest of the world simply does not. Maintaining a low profile in black metal is simply par for the course, and Zorgh's hiding in the shadows was an artistic decision… until now.
Now going under the Ophis moniker, the person behind Apokryphon steps from the shadows glistening in gold and grey. Apokryphon's music is intense, but in an awe-inspiring way, and Subterra's near-Gnostic musings reveal their beauty through Eastern-inspired melodies and atmospheric grandeur. Watch an exclusive video premiere of "The Naasene Psalm" below.
Now in the spotlight instead of lurking in the background, Ophis's multi-instrumental talents can truly unfurl. While rooted in black metal's might and shadowy gait, there is a creativity which hides beneath Subterra's dark existence. Carefully imbuing her music with Eastern melodies and layering proper cultural instruments within the blackened miasma, Ophis's composition lends itself to a more respectful school of folk-music-inspired metal: one which is not cartoonish nor brash, rather, one which reveres the music from which it draws inspiration. Though this is far from Ophis's work in Darkspace's deep space revelry, Apokryphon's roots draw from a similar pool: one of awe and acclaim for its source material.
Read an exclusive interview with Ophis (and vocalist Djinn) below.
After 20 years with your other band, this is the first time the world has heard from you, specifically. Why the lengthy period of time?
Ophis: Up to very recently, my self-conception as a bass player and musician in general has been quite different from how I see myself nowadays. I used to contribute everything I had and wanted into the context of a band and the interaction with other musicians. I always used to record little ideas, melodies or rhythmic patterns for myself, but as long as those ideas didn't make it into what I was striving for with my band or other musicians I played with, I used to dismiss most of my initial ideas. In the last couple of years, I did dive into music in an intensely deep way and I had the chance to learn from a lot of very gifted people who equipped me with insights and knowledge I could immediately put into use in the context of my own musical ideas. The time to present my very personal view of black metal has come now.
Looking further into that, what would you say your personal view of black metal is?
Ophis: Black metal is where my musical roots are. Wherever my musical journey takes me, I always come back to it, one day or another. But as many other like-minded people do, I do struggle with it. Not for its so-called lack of innovation, but for its present lack of personality. I never look for innovation in music. What I am looking for is creativity, character and personality. So something sounding completely old school can be great for me, if it demonstrates the traits I've just mentioned. I am interested in the bold, adventurous and broad-minded approach to black metal and music in general.
And Apokryphon definitely presents itself as broad-minded, with a variety of influences and performing styles found within Subterra. What influences fueled your debut album?
Ophis: Subterra is a work that has taken form out of two questions I've asked myself: what music do I want to hear and what music do I want to play? The answers to those central questions don't necessarily overlap. Subterra is the result of my personality and the journey I have taken in the last couple of years in which I have listened to and played a broad variety of music, some of it far away from the metal world. So what concerned Subterra is I eventually wanted oriental elements in the context of black metal, I wanted the driving feeling I love so much. I wanted the freedom to work with odd time signatures, I wanted to do whatever I liked with vocals, I wanted to compose based on improvisation, the list goes on and on.
People generally don't associate the word "freedom" with the oddly conservative musical world of black metal, but this limiting sphere has never been one with which you have associated. Why do you feel the greater black metal world is so outwardly restrictive?
Ophis: I think that a certain kind of conservatism is inherent to every genre of music, otherwise we would not actually have genres at all. But as you say, the greater part of the active black metal world is disappointingly restrictive to the point of complete motionlessness. I honestly don't know why that is the case. It is something I have learned to accept but don't understand.
Would you prefer that black metal be an active, moving entity as opposed to, as you said, "motionless"?
Ophis: I would welcome that, yes. There are artists out there that work in that direction, so I don't think black metal as a genre is completely moving in circles. I visit concerts as often as I can. It is generally there where I encounter new bands that speak to me. Things aren't hopeless. The best thing we all can do is contribute ourselves, and with Apokryphon that's what I am doing now.
What do you feel Apokryphon contributes to black metal?
Ophis: The intention behind Apokryphon was to realize my musical ideas. It happens to fall into what I still consider to be black metal for the reasons I have mentioned. How much it will actually contribute or if it will contribute anything at all, that's something time will show. It still features some very traditional structures, but this release might underline what I meant with black metal could be bolder, more free and more adventurous than it often is, though. If that is something that's actually of interest to people, that is something I cannot pre-estimate. It's a risk we all take when releasing a debut album.
Is there a concept behind Subterra?
Ophis: I pass this question on to Djinn, the voice of Apokryphon.
Djinn: Certainly. Apokryphon's Subterra speaks about universal manifestations, about the hidden, the lost, the forgotten, and the rediscovered about the great ignorance. It speaks about the disclosure of what has passed and what is to come, about the history of what is apocryphal and about the inapprehensible. It speaks about the history of anthropos, from the beginning to the end, about the time of awakening and the beginning of the end. To put it in the words of others: The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.
Did you want this album to musically represent these manifestations, as well?
Ophis: That was not the initial idea, no. Both Djinn and I have always been rooted in the oriental world. We both wanted to let these influences become integral part of Apokryphon, both musically and thematically. Apocryphal texts were born in the orient, are deeply esoteric and are the very roots of gnostic views. We both wanted to bring those ideas to attention. The initial idea was the simple compulsion to create music though. From there one thing lead to another.
There is a strong attention to detail put into the bass performance. As a bassist in your other band, were the bass parts what you ended up writing first?
Ophis: I am a bassist by heart and nature. In the context of Apokryphon, where I perform the instrumental parts all on my own, it was a dream come true for what concerns composing, because I was able to compose all instrumental tracks on bass in the first place. What was interesting for me to discover was, that my modus operandi seems to be composing on bass for other instruments and not composing the bass parts at all. The bass lines in Apokryphon are improvised. They are the first thing I think about but always the last thing I record. This approach totally differs from my position in the context of a band. I generally understand the role of the bass to be the sonic foundation of the music, the bass has to serve and support the music, it has to carry the harmonic layers and form the bridge between harmony and rhythm. In the context of Darkspace that meant quite a restrictive approach to bass playing, as that is music that heavily relies on atmospheric layering and the creation of walls of sound. In that context I had to lock in with a machine for what concerns rhythm and complement guitar tracks that work a lot with repetition and hypnotic soundscaping. That is a totally different approach to bass playing, but one I enjoy too, by all means.
The idea of an improvisational soloist above a previously composed song or set arrangement also fits within this Eastern influence which, as you previously stated, fuels the Apokryphon project. What first drove you to put this Eastern influence in your music?
That is correct. Improvisation is an essential part of a lot of Eastern / oriential musicianship. Both the Djinn and I are rooted in the Orient, both by blood and by mind. It was a natural thing that this inherent precondition did manifest itself in Apokryphon.
What do you want the listener to learn from Subterra, if such a goal is intended?
Djinn: Subterra is an apocryphal apparentness about what was, what is and what is to come. Subterra is just the beginning of a story. The listener should get involved with Apokryphon first though. It is too early to speak about details. People should make their own image about it first.
Is there anything you'd like to add? Any final thoughts?
Every one of the following people has made unique contributions to the making and the release of Subterra. Our thanks go out to Þórir at Apothecary Sound, Thomas at Thomas Kohler Photography, Padi at Black Art Tattooz, and Roberto Mammarella at Avantgarde Music.
Subterra releases February 14th on Avantgarde Music.