Interview: Naas Alcameth (Nightbringer)
Snicker if you like, but around the mid-2000s, so-called ‘orthodox black metal’ was a hell of a thing. Roughly two decades into its existence, black metal had seen trends develop and backlashes to those trends forge different directions. Move, countermove, sidestep. Jumpstarted in large part by the Transatlantic collaboration of the French label Norma Evangelion Diaboli and the American label the Ajna Offensive, bands like Deathspell Omega, Funeral Mist, Watain, Ondskapt, Ofermod, and so forth took a particular type of stern, powerfully sharpened black metal and grafted onto it the same ponderous weight and ceremonial trappings of high worship music.
Whether Nightbringer’s mastermind, vocalist/guitarist/bassist Naas Alcameth, would define his music in the same religious terms that many of the above groups cast theirs in, the musical context is undeniable. Nightbringer’s music, over the course of four full-length albums and numerous splits with like-minded artists, exudes the same ecclesiastic darkness that made NoEvDia such a bastion of quality -- if often over-serious -- black metal.
On the Colorado band’s new album Ego Dominus Tuus, the overlapping layers of serpentine guitars and ferociously driven drums are augmented by an ever-more widescreen application of careful synths, organ, and guitar effects. Look at the tracklisting, the song lengths, and the album length as a whole, and you might think, “Ugh, that’s exhausting.” But that drive to full immersion is part of what marks Nightbringer as a continually exciting prospect.
Ego Dominus Tuus will be released by Season of Mist on September 30. In the meantime, we caught up with Naas Alcameth for more details.
The most immediately striking thing about the new album is the powerfully aggressive approach of Nightbringer’s new drummer, Menthor (whose chops were also demonstrated on Lvcifyre’s excellent Svn Eater earlier this year). His performance really pushes these songs to a level I haven’t heard that much on previous albums. Was the material for Ego Dominus Tuus already written before he joined the band, or was the writing process adapted to make specific use of his skills?
Menthor was already working with us before we started composing the tracks for Ego. He had also drummed on the Circumambulations of the Solar Inferno split with Dødsengel. His aggressive style is certainly something we kept in mind during the writing process. We also worked with him at length and went back and forth on the drum parts until everyone was completely pleased. He is a brilliant musician and we feel that his drumming has really pushed us to a new level.
With the ambient pieces “Call of the Exile” and “Salvation is the Son of Leviathan” on the new album, are we likely to hear more from Temple of Not? More generally, do you see black metal and dark ambient as different ways of communicating the same thing, or do you see them as more distinct entities?
It is really hard to say at this time. I have kept it in mind, but my plate always seems to be full with other things. I have slowly been working on another ambient/black metal project over the years which will likely manifest before a new Temple album, but time will tell. I think they could be seen as either, really. It all depends on how one approaches it. I tend to view both as very suitable bodies for spiritual inspiration so my black metal and my ambient projects tend to have commonality.
Nightbringer’s relationship with various record labels has been interesting to follow. Some of the band’s earliest material came via Full Moon Productions, the rather seminal American black metal label, and you’ve also worked with the Ajna Offensive. More recently, though, you’ve worked closely with European labels, with both Hierophany of the Open Grave and now Ego Dominus Tuus being handled by Season of Mist, plus the Dødsengel split on the fiercely respected Daemon Worship. Was there any particular reason for this shift? Have you found certain developments in the culture or practice of this style of music that attracted you one way or the other?
There are so many variables involved that are specific to our dealings with each label mentioned, both positive and negative. I will not bore you with the details but can say that our movement between labels has been mostly a positive thing. Season of Mist has been very supportive and given us many opportunities we did not have before and enable us to do what we envision without restricting artistic freedoms in any way, which is of course crucial. Daemon Worship and the individual behind it has championed us for years and has done so much for us. We owe him a great deal and have a huge amount of respect for what he does and what he stands for and are proud to have the Ego LP released under his banner.
When Nightbringer began, I believe its members were all Americans. Over time, however, the membership has internationalized. Considering the style of black metal you play and the bands and labels with whom you feel affinity, do you think there is anything specifically American about Nightbringer?
You are correct, the original lineup consisted of only Americans. I do not believe there is, really. I do not think we sound American whatsoever. We are for the most part cut off from the American scene being here in Colorado. American bands played almost no role in influencing us from the onset, while European bands certainly did. There is also a Western mentality that is native to America which we are very much at odds with -- a conversation for another time and place, perhaps.
What can you tell us about the significance of the cover artwork?
The symbolism is based on a cipher of a certain sacred name, in which is veiled a hierarchical formula consisting of three parts which represent three phases upon the path of the Great Work when approached from the infernal road. Without saying too much on the topic, I can say that the concept of ordeal is central to the path of which we are relaying. To reiterate what has been previously said regarding all of this, it represents the path of ordeal, from the transformative Fires of the Art within the crucible of the underworld, to the revelation of the Daimon, to the Guardian at the Threshold and slaying Sun of Death, Light of Lucifer. The allegory is sacred and has no direct bearing on any of the mundane aspects of the album's creation. It is meant to reflect a spiritual process and the greatest spiritual aspirations.
With so much real darkness and violence happening in the world, why turn to such esoteric and occult themes for Nightbringer’s music? Do you think there’s a risk of being seen as engaging in pure escapism?
Real darkness, is the subtle and living darkness, which we praise by way of our art, should not be confused with the worldly “evil,” perpetuated by humanity, of which you are referring. Our darkness is beyond conceptions of “good” or “evil,” which are purely humanistic ideas, and any evil perceived arises by way of one’s unfavorable disposition towards that which they are not equipped to understand, let alone face, and not arising from the darkness itself. The very heart of this darkness is absent of violence, as it is absolutely still, silent and outside of time. Yet to approach this darkness while still “chained to the earth” is to enact profound violence upon one’s self unless one learns the means of proper approach, via a singular and narrow road of ingress which can only be accessed by obtaining the same state of absolute stillness and silence within one’s self, the knowledge the ancient practitioners of incubation in Greece referred to as “dying before one dies." This is precisely what we seek. Now it can be said that the rampant worldly “evil” we see about us every day is, in large, a consequence, yet again, of modern man’s unfavorable spiritual disposition and overall instability within an age pregnant with dark and daemonic forces, i.e., the close of the Kali-Yuga. Such forces are necessary to bring a close to the cycle. Anyhow, back to your question, we again are ambivalent as to how others might (mis)interpret our message and in truth what is dubbed here as “escapism” is in truth reality, a reality more real than most could possibly conceive, and what you have thought to be reality is the greatest escapism of all.
Each of Nightbringer’s albums has clocked in at an hour or longer, which by current standards -- not to mention attention spans -- seems very long. Do you ever worry about overwhelming the listener, or about dulling the impact of the album?
We do not really set a time limit when we begin composing. We write until we feel the vision is complete and leave it at that without too much thought as to how the listeners will react to it. This is first and foremost for us and those few like us. As far as the inevitable complaints about duration, we are mostly unconcerned really.
You’re given the authority to curate an all-day music festival in a location of your choice, and to bring along six bands - active or inactive, living or dead. Where do you go? Who do you bring?
A cave somewhere in Sicily. Nightbringer, Elend, Arvo Part, Emperor anno ’94, Rachmaninov, and Orpheus.