“Ephòdion”: Häxanu Explores Fate and Death Through Scourging Black Metal (Track Stream + Interview)
Häxanu first came to the attention of the underground with their 2020 debut, Snare of All Salvation: six songs of masterful, almost orthodox, black metal. Helmed by AP (Chaos Moon, Skáphe etc) this was probably the closest thing to a “traditional” black metal record that he had recorded in years. Snare of All Salvation brought to mind some of the vanguard of the old Swedish black metal scene–Svartysn, Algaion, Dawn, etc.– and remains, years later, a satisfying listen.
On February 7th, Häxanu will be unleashing the followup Totenpass via Amor Fati on both CD and vinyl. Totenpass takes everything that made Snare of All Salvation an impressive record and catapults Häxanu into true greatness. Blistering riffs and unhinged vocals abound, with plenty of variation along with its violent aggression. To sound like an old man yelling into the air, this is the black metal I grew up with in the 1990s, and is the first truly mandatory record (for me, anyway) of 2023.
Today we give you a taste of Totenpass with "Ephòdion," a nearly five minute traditional black metal assault. This is an excellent first impression of the record and a refreshing change from the overly raw (or endlessly derivative) whimsical bullshit that gets marketed as “black metal” by many.
I sent AP and vocalist LC some questions regarding AP’s other works, Totenpass and Häxanu in general. These were their responses.
Why so many different expressions of black metal in your overall work?
AP: I am not someone who can focus on and be fulfilled by a limited scope of expression. Coupled with a dynamic and broad interest in music, my ‘portfolio’ has put itself together naturally. I'm not going out of my way to be diverse for diversity's sake, it's all spontaneous. Uncontrollable variety. It’s more difficult to limit myself to a narrower path.
What is your intent with Häxanu vs your other work?
AP: Most of the projects that I contribute to tend to lean on atmospheric or experimental components and those components make up a fair share of my interest in music. When I'm writing within that framework, there’s more focus on the individual instruments and layers working together in a manner that works for the intent of the song, not always a single melodic phrase that’s shared amongst instruments. This approach can make the guitars act as the foundation for the other layers to fill in the melodic space. I’m not a guitar riff guy per say, I'm more interested in the challenge of composition. But I can’t do that all the time, nor do I want to. ‘Creative concept’ repetition isn’t interesting at all.
With Häxanu, I wanted to challenge myself to create something where guitars are the centerpiece, where I really needed to think about writing riffs that can carry a song. Not just one or two riffs that slightly vary for easy, single listening session digestion, but a barrage of riffs with different expressions that flow to express a desired vision. Snare of all Salvation was my first sincere attempt at creating an album written this way. Drew from a lot of my love of mid-90s Scandinavian guitar-driven black metal bands, melodic, aggressive, or otherwise. Though some of the atmospheric elements crept in, it was a rewarding exercise.
What is different this time around vs Snare of All Salvation?
AP: There aren't major differences or shifts in sound, but rather of continuation and refinement of the debut. ‘Totenpass’, sonically, is more focused on expanding the use of melodic riffing found on ‘Snare...’, leaning more into Swedish melodic classics (Sacramentum, Sorhin, Dawn, Noctes, etc.). I wanted to rid the 'this sounds like Chaos Moon' or whatever parts and further establish Häxanu's identity as something unique to me. Hopefully it sounds a bit more 1997 this time around.
LC: “Snare of All Salvation” was primarily concerned with the spirit. Totenpass is an album of flesh and blood. Even further, and perhaps most importantly, the album discusses the inevitable transition between those states of being.
Sonically, I contributed more to the arrangements and instrumentals than the previous album.
Tell us about "Ephòdion."
AP: "Ephòdion" is probably the most straightforward track of the album, inspired by busy Sorhin-type riffs with a straightforward Arckanum song structure. It’s a final blistering push before the more somber, mid-paced conclusion of the album.
LC: "Ephòdion" finds the narrator in the midst of a burning temple engaged in worship. They find comfort, peace, and even fulfillment in melting together with the shrine to their deity. This track endeavors to explore the coupling of Fate and Death. They are, in all mortal cases, impossible to decouple, but what does it mean to assign oneself a fate (as this track’s narrator has done) rather than accept what has been ordained? Perhaps it is a mortal’s only means of exercising dominion over Death. What can anyone do when they’ve come face-to-face with Fate? It’s an enthralling mindset in which to write.
Do you find it difficult to continually come up with music in so many styles?
AP: With age, it becomes more difficult. After certain inspiring sounds or styles have been covered, it can be difficult to naturally return if the vision isn’t there. Forcing something is audible, listeners can easily identify that shit. If I’m doing that, then I’m not writing with pure intentions. I’m fine if something doesn’t sound polished or it sounds spontaneous, that’s how I write occasionally, and I really enjoy music with amateur-esque, honest qualities, but I never want to write music from a sense of obligation.
I can complete an album and immediately have ideas to refine the sound or add in new influences, new collaborators, new approaches, but sometimes it’s a dead end. Dead ends turn into opportunities to explore other avenues or end up with an internal voice screaming ‘take a fucking break’. Some of my projects could be dead without me realizing it, but I’m not one to place that sort of finality on them, creative clarity can strike at any moment. Ultimately, my main objective is to avoid creative flatlining.
Is Totenpass a concept album? What are its lyrical themes?
LC: Totenpass is a German term for a burial practice of the Orphic/Dionysiac cults of ancient Greece. In essence, it is an instruction for the departed as they walk the path into the afterlife. I used this practice as a framework for the lyrical content, so it is conceptual in a sense.
The album doesn’t follow a single narrative or character, however. It may be more accurate to call Totenpass a thematic album. Each song is a story about a different narrator’s relationship with Death. These subjects consider their own death, but also the death(s) of others. They must also consider that we experience more than one death. Inside each of these stories is an opportunity for extended metaphor and allegory. Don’t take it from me, though - the author is dead.
Were there any differences from the debut regarding vocal style? Any influences?
LC: For the most part, I rely on the music to evoke appropriate vocal stylings for each track. A story is buried within each song, and it’s my task to unearth it, so to speak. In other words, my approach to the vocals did not change between SoAS and Totenpass, but the actual output changed organically.
As far as influence, I wondered what pleasure men can take in making beasts of themselves. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling the ever-present burden of humanity, as well as the buffeting of winds that blow from Paradise. Within and without, the old world is dying and the new world is struggling to be born. I shaped my vocals to best demonstrate that perpetual conflict.
Totenpass will be released February 7th via Amor Fati Productions as previously stated and is one of the most engaging listens in modern black metal. I’m sure we’ll be talking about it around December when I do my yearly bullshit. And, for the sake of transparency, AP is involved with me musically but there is no concern of bias. I have plenty of friends who are musicians and while I value them as people, most of the time I find their music is shit. This isn’t one of those times.