Languor of Origins: Chaos Moon’s Dual Debuts Turn 10
Chaos Moon brought atmosphere to the fore in their music but without losing the urgency of the pounding blasts and furious heaviness, still maintaining the emotional depravity and desperation akin to bands like Strid, early Bethlehem, Leviathan, and Xasthur… that lonesome, tortured feeling that this kind of music can evoke. Chaos Moon's superb use of ethereal keys and atmosphere sets the project apart from many of its peers... inducing a hazy, dreamlike state without losing any of the ferocity by coupling it with melodious and razor sharp guitars and clearer production. I feel this band is one of the gems of the American black metal/dark metal scene. Fusing more traditional black metal elements with funeral doom tones and atmosphere to create a sound that rolls in like the mist on an autumn morning… not losing the power and mystery but emboldening it.
– Austin Lunn, Panopticon
The name Alex Poole (or Esoterica, as he was known circa 2007) might not spark the same degree of recognition as those of some of the other figures associated with US black metal in the aughts. However, Poole has played just as important a role in evolution of US (and now international) black metal over the course of the last fifteen years as any of those more immediately familiar names. Most contemporary black metal fans likely know Poole as either the current guitarist for long-running USBM heavyweights Krieg or as one half of the US/Icelandic experimental black metal duo Skáphe, yet Poole’s black metal roots extend back much further than when he joined Krieg in 2012.
I've spent the majority of my creative life steering my own leaking ship, as it were. But collaborating with Alex has been one of those rare moments where I've felt that I could open up my favorite child and allow someone else to operate with me. The only two people other than him that I've felt this comfortable working with were Andrew Harris [Judas Iscariot] and Jef Whitehead [Leviathan], so I'd like to think he's in good company. Alex has a unique approach and vision to whatever it is he's working on, be it Chaos Moon, Skáphe, Krieg, our collaboration in Lithotome, etc. He's one of the few geniuses out there and I'd like to think people are finally opening up to this fact.
– Neill Jameson, Krieg, Lithotome, Le Chant Funebre, Poison Blood
Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1986, Poole may have still been in primary school when the Norwegian second-wave was in its heyday, but bands like Emperor and Ildjarn still somehow found their way into his pre-teen consciousness. By the tender age of 13, he was already recording bedroom black metal demos under the name Troglodytic. Shortly before turning 18, Poole released his first demo under the name Ringar, 2004’s Di'nguruthos Promo, which is where he first started to garner the attention of the wider USBM scene. By 2007, Ringar had evolved into Chaos Moon, and in a span of less than three months his first two full-lengths, Origin of Apparition and Languor into Echoes, Beyond, saw release.
Comprised of material composed between 2004 and 2007, Origins and Languor took the raw potential Poole showed on Ringar songs like “Hisime II” from Promo 2006 and refined it so that the records sound less like the sum of his early influences and more like the work of someone gaining confidence in his own musical voice. As a result of that growth, they established Poole as one of the more engaging and versatile black metal songwriters and musicians in America (or otherwise). According to Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski, Poole’s “rejection of traditional black metal tropes in favor his own signature method of building atmosphere creates an experience that manages to be both meditative and punishing simultaneously.” With songs which run the gamut from ambient synth instrumentals to the almost proto post-black compositions that comprise the second half of Languor, the breadth and depth of material on the two albums belies the fact that Poole was barely old enough to drive when he wrote most of them.
Mark Hunter, Poole’s only collaborator on the two albums, described the relationship between the them as such:
I always viewed Origin of Apparition and Languor into Echoes, Beyond as brother/sister albums. On one hand, Origin of Apparition was the more vicious of the two. It is more riff-based and raw in comparison to Languor The synths weren't as prominent and didn't carry the songs as much as they did on Languor in my opinion, but they still provided a beautiful backdrop to the chaos that was up front. From my talks with Alex, I knew he had some kind of training in music production/writing, and I always found his ear for mixing to be something special for what he was making with Chaos Moon. He used the "studio" and mixing as another instrument in itself, as you can hear on breakdown on "Tenebrific" -- I felt like his editing skills with simple stuff with filtering out the breakdown created a more intense impact when the music came back in fully mixed. Examples like this made me more aware of Alex's abilities as a musician.
Originally released on July 30th, 2007 on Wraith Productions, Origin of Apparition feels like the more ambitious of the two records. With its nine tracks organized into four distinct movements, it’s definitely the more chameleonic. While Movement I, comprised of “Illusions of and Dawn” and “Aether Aurora,” features the two most overtly aggressive and second-wave influenced tracks on either record, the rest of it proves to be a much more varied affair. Movement II’s “Tenebrific” and “Pale Cast of Thought”’s mournful passages of clean guitar, ethereal keyboards, and mid-tempo riffing wend their way into moodier territory. Hunter aptly calls “Pale Cast,” with its Gothic-sounding spoken word vocals and total absence of heavy guitar, a “beautiful composition and great contrast to the rest of the album.” Following that relative period of calm, Origin really begins to open up with the two-part “And So Are the Words that Never Made It” sequence of Movement III. Previously released as a single track on the ...and So Are the Words that Never Made It EP, the two-part version on Origins better conveys the complex character of the lengthy compositions. “Words I” evokes the cold, synthesizer-heavy majesty of early Emperor, “Words II” recalls Poole’s previous work with Ringar through its extended ambient introduction featuring a repeating piano figure superimposed over the heavier parts of the song.
The album-closing triptych of Movement IV, however, feels like the most self-contained stretch of music on Origin of Apparition. As such, it’s also likely the highlight of the first record and the ideal bridge into Languor into Echoes, Beyond. After opening with the brief, synth-heavy instrumental “Intro, Timeless Disease,” the penultimate track “Origin of Apparition” hearkens back to the blast beat-driven fury and harrowing vocals of Movement I without abandoning the synth accents that characterize the rest of the record. The closer “Outro, Endless Asphyxia” starts off in a similarly aggressive fashion before transitioning into an extended ambient outro that culminates with the distant sound of vocal chanting.
On September 26th, 2007, Ars Magna Recordings released Poole’s second full-length as Chaos Moon, Languor into Echoes, Beyond. A much more mature and focused in record in many ways than its predecessor, its seven tracks strike a much more deliberate balance between the hard-hitting and atmospheric sides of Poole’s musical personality.
Soon after, Alex was already working on the follow up to Origin of Apparition. Once again, I was more or less "there" as Alex shared the songs that would appear on Languor with me. Right away, I felt that Languor made this a cohesive union with the debut album. At this point, Alex asked me to become a member of Chaos Moon, which I gladly accepted. However in retrospect, I didn't really contribute much, as the music and Chaos Moon WAS/IS Alex's. "De Mortalitate" features my contribution during the breakdown with the synths, "Abstract Tongues" was a title I came up with when Alex asked me for one. "Simulacrum of Mirrors" features an ambient piece I wrote for the track, which takes up almost half the song. To me, Languor sounded similar in the vein of Ringar. I felt the synth pieces were more powerful and dream-like which brings them more into emotive territory. This album had a more fuller sound, less high-end as we heard on Origin, and even had some interesting/great bass playing as you can hear on "Simulacrum of Mirrors," where the bass actually stands out and doesn't follow the guitar. The last half of "The Palterer" had moments where it reminded me of some French coldwave bands. At the time, I know Alex was into Asylum Party. Whether or not it played a part in this song, I do not know. However, the music being played for the last half was uncommon to hear in black metal.
-- Mark Hunter
Once again, the final trio of tracks on Languor prove to be the album’s highlights. The French coldwave influence which Hunter references on "The Palterer" and the lush, 4AD-esque synthesizers which dominate “Hymn to Iniquity” and “Countless Reverie in Mare” push against the boundaries of black metal. Unlike what Neige was doing around the same time with Alcest’s Souvenirs d’un autre monde and, to a lesser degree, two years later on Amesoeurs’ self-titled swansong, Poole’s music exuded a dark romanticism which still easily fit within the accepted boundaries of the genre. Remarkably, that innovative trio of compositions may well have been the oldest on Languor. When discussing the record, and those last three songs in particular, Ars Magna Recordings head Rob Hames said:
My affiliation with Alex started sometime around 2005 or 2006 when I became aware of his band Ringar. We corresponded for a bit which, eventually, led to the release of Chaos Moon's Languor into Echoes, Beyond. The final three tracks on that record were actually re-worked Ringar tracks that Alex included because I loved that material so much. It's truly an honor to have worked with Alex in the early phases of his extraordinary career and, more importantly, to call him a friend. He's one of the most talented musicians and songwriters I've had the pleasure of working with and am excited to see where he takes us next.
In honor of their tenth anniversary, Fólkvangr Records will be releasing remastered versions of both Origin of Apparition and Languor into Echoes, Beyond as a limited-edition two cassette bundle on October 6th, which will also be available digitally directly from Chaos Moon’s Bandcamp page.There will also be a new Chaos Moon album called Eschaton Mémoire released on November 17th via Blood Music and Fallen Empire. To mark the dual occasions, Alex Poole was generous enough to agree to an interview touching on not only the reissues, but also encapsulating his nearly two-decade long musical career.
So if you don’t mind indulging me for a minute, I’d like to start off by going all the way back to the beginning. When did you first start becoming interested in music? And more importantly, how did a kid in Nashville, of all places, get turned on to the early wave of black metal? You had to have been like the only middle schooler in Tennessee jamming out to Burzum and Judas Iscariot.
I’ve always had an interest in music. My vivid memories of youth are mostly centered around listening to music any way I could. My family is filled with musicians and artists, so music was difficult to avoid. Because of this, I was exposed to a huge variety of genres and styles, which made me more inclined to seek out newer and different things. I was always looking for things to mimic whatever my headspace was at the time.
My discovery of the genre was more or less a complete accident. I don’t even remember how, but I heard "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" by Emperor [from Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk] and it completely changed my perception of music. I had listened to some death metal and other forms of extreme music, but I hadn’t heard of something so fast and aggressive mixed in with this lush and beautiful atmosphere. It was everything I wanted out of music, combining all these different extremes in a way that made sense. I’ll never forget how I felt.
I didn’t know anyone else that was into this stuff, so I had to do a lot of hunting on my own. I blind-bought a lot of music. I used some websites to help guide me with recommendations, namely the Dark Legions Archive (RIP). That site was the perfect resource for someone unfamiliar with the genre.
Assuming your Metal Archives biography is correct, you were 13 when Troglodytic got together? Since there are no credits on the individual releases on MA and nothing on the Internet about the history of the band, what was your degree of involvement with Troglodytic? Was it your project from the start, or did you join later on?
I think that’s about right. It was soon after I got my first guitar and realized that jamming with friends lead nowhere. I wanted to create music of my own for myself, so I figured out how to record my guitar with a horrible mic and some shitty software. I wrote tons of music and gave those songs several different band names until Troglodytic stuck. Awful, but an interesting stage. I’m not even sure how those demos got out into public. Anyway, it was only me up until the Promo 2004 recording. A friend of mine contributed vocals to that and the rest of the album I had written in that style that was never released.
The Norwegian influence on Troglodytic seemed pretty strong: the corpsepaint in the couple of promo photos I could find, Norwegian titles for songs and releases, the ultra-primitive sounding recording techniques. Based on the few tracks I was able to track down, though, the music sounds a lot more ambient and keyboard-driven than a most of the second-wave stuff at the time outside of Burzum. Do you remember what you were going for in terms of Troglodytic’s sound, or was it more the result of youthful experimentation at that point?
I wanted to do an Ildjarn/Sort Vokter type thing early on, which didn’t require a lot of skill. The more I wrote, the less guitar-oriented the music became. Summoning was a huge influence during the later years of that band. That and all those really cheesy, synth-heavy black metal bands from the mid-1990s. It started showing up in what I was doing, and to an extent it never left me. I’m always thinking about atmosphere, not riffs.
From Troglodytic, you moved on to Ringar. Or did Coffin come first? Of all your various projects, Coffin is the only one I can’t seem to find anything about, at least before it morphed into Lithotome. How do those Coffin recordings from 2004 fit into the overall arc of what you were doing at the time? Because to my ears anyway, the Ringar stuff sounds far more polished and focused than anything off of the last Troglodytic release, Anathematized or Promo 2004 (though “Twilight” is an absolutely gorgeous song). Is Coffin the missing link between Troglodytic and Ringar’s Di'nguruthos Promo, or were you basically doing all three of those bands simultaneously in 2004?
Troglodytic ended because I hated the name and how that band sounded. Ringar was the next step. This is what I consider my first REAL band. I applied everything I had learned from all my songwriting attempts in Troglodytic, but with much more cohesion and focus. I got real attention from respected labels at the time, but I didn’t follow through with finishing. Real life being unstable prevented me from carrying out anything at the time. Cluttering my life with new goals and plans was a nice distraction. Finishing was different.
Everything in that era was more or less simultaneous. Coffin and other unlisted projects/collaborations existed, but didn’t have any real relation to the main branch of bands (Troglodytic, Ringar, and everything afterwards). These bands feel more representations of my subconscious at the time, a timeline of psychological progression if you will, rather than traditional bands.
To what extent were Troglodytic, Coffin, and Ringar, and the early Chaos Moon demos solo projects? It seems like you handled most of the musical side of things. Did you do the majority of the songwriting as well? Were the other people involved in those projects actual collaborators?
I wrote everything. Any collaboration done during those times was only for vocal contributions when I didn’t think I would do a good job. Most of the material and work I did in the early days was never meant for public consumption, and involving others wasn’t something I thought feasible or necessary at the time. It would take me a very long time before I learned how to collaborate with other musicians in a real way.
Ringar seems like more of a direct antecedent to what you would end up doing with Chaos Moon, and if I’m not mistaken, quite a few of the tracks on Origin of Apparition and Languor into Echoes, Beyond were originally intended for Ringar, correct? How did the transition from Ringar to Chaos Moon come about?
I honestly have no idea. My best guess is that Chaos Moon got attention and I decided to use the Ringar songs as material. Cut down on the quantity of bands and focus myself a bit more on one thing. I ended up using much of the Ringar material for Languor. All of the atmosphere-heavy stuff.
How did it end up that both Origin of Apparition and Languor into Echoes, Beyond came out so closely together? Only a couple of months separate them, right? Was it your plan all along to release them as companion albums, or is that just sort of the way things worked out?
I had all this material together and ready at the same time, mainly because I had written so much over the years. At first, I didn’t plan on releasing them so close together, but having compared their structure and sound, it seemed like a good idea conceptually. The albums are opposites in certain ways. Thematically and sonically, but they both represented the band’s sound at the time.
I notice that both albums originally came out on different labels (Wraith Productions and Ars Magna Recordings respectively). Is there any kind of story behind that?
Not really. We were all in the right place at the right time, I suppose. I like to think that each album suited what each label was doing at the time.
Considering the two albums separately, the material on Origin seems far more varied than the stuff on Languor. Given that all of the songs on both albums were written and recorded during the same several year span, how did you decide which song went on which album? Since Origin is arranged in “movements” and Languor isn’t, did you conceive of Languor as the more cohesive statement and Origin as something more eclectic?
Look at it this way: Origin is more of a manic entity -- chaotic in presentation and abrasive. Those vocals destroyed my throat. I could never do them again like that. Languor is, in my eyes, arranged in a way that makes sense. The production is clearer. It feels more like a moody dream versus the psychotic hallucination that Origin is. They came together naturally. I don’t recall spending much time deciding what’s what.
How much of the two records did you record on your own? Mark Hunter is listed on keyboards and vocals for Languor, but do any other musicians appear on either album? I’m also curious about the drums – are they live, programmed, a combination of the two?
Mark contributed additional vocals on a few songs for both albums. He also provided the killer ending to “Endless Asphyxia” and “Simulacrum of Mirrors.” The rest of it was me. I painfully programmed the drums using old 1990s software and very nice drum samples I had found on the Internet for free. I used several different samples of each piece on the kit to give it a very natural sound. The velocity on each drum hit was hand-programmed. There were easier ways to do it, but the drums sounded great at the time.
Can you talk a bit more about how you actually recorded the albums? You mention using old drum programing software, but I'm curious about your setup beyond that. Were you using an 8-track or something like that, or were you one of the (relatively) early adopters of GarageBand or a similar program?
I used old “tracking” software for the drums and synths, a program called Modplug Tracker. I would hand-program everything in there first, then I would dump those tracks into Cool Edit Pro [now called Adobe Audition] where everything else was recorded. I recorded the drums and bass using a Peavey Ranger and cheap mic. Vocals were through some pedals for reverb/delay/grit. I remember doing weird things to the bass tracks to make them sound more bass like for Origin and they came out way worse sounding. Learned a lot of what not to do from these recording sessions.
What was the reaction to the albums like when they came out? You said that Chaos Moon was getting more attention than Ringar at the time -- did that start with the 2004 demo and ...and So Are the Words That Never Made It EP, or were Origin and Languor your 'breakthrough' records?
There seemed to be a very strong reaction to these albums, especially toward Languor. I felt like everything I did for years afterward got weighed against Languor, which was sort of annoying, but I understand where that feeling comes from. It was a different time then, social media-wise, so it was a bit harder to gauge reaction compared to today. I think it started with the demo a bit, I had sent that around to friends and it went around a bit further. But it was more of the two albums gathering the most attention in the early days.
I know it’s been a decade or longer since you wrote and recorded the albums, but I’m curious as to what you remember about that time. Is there anything that sticks out when you think about either record, be it about the writing and recording, or your own frame of mind at the time? Is there anything that you wish you’d done differently?
I remember a few things. I remember recording three or four vocal tracks for Origin in a row and spitting up blood in the bathroom. Didn’t warm up or take any special precautions like an asshole. I used the worst fretless bass for those albums, ended up having to micro-record riffs, almost note for note. Really painful. Looking back, I would have tried to record these things in a real studio, or at least had a professional mix and master it. I think that would have really pushed these albums over the edge. I still would like to do that, but I don’t want to be the asshole that re-records albums. My distaste for their sound quality could be what gives that album character for someone else. I’m leaving them alone, for the most part.
Since you weren't thrilled with the overall sound of the records, why did you choose to reissue them? Is it primarily because they turn ten this year? Will there be any more reissues to follow, either of the Ringar stuff or other Chaos Moon recordings?
Regardless of my thoughts on sound quality, these two albums are important to me. The summary of my late youth, early attempts at song writing, and everything that had yet to be explored. No music business bullshit, no politics, no pretending to be a Thelemic supernatural entity, no scenes. It's refreshing to look back at that and put myself in that isolated mindset. Ten years seemed appropriate for a modest nod to the past. There will be more re-releases on vinyl sometime soon. We'll work that out later.
How did you end up hooking up with Fólkvangr for the reissues? Mark is doing some very cool things with the label, but it's still kind of small and relatively new. And the initial run is only 50 cassettes, right? The odds are pretty good that those will be sold out before this even goes to print (as I'm typing this question, only six remain). Are there any plans to do anything bigger with the reissue, or release it through on other formats?
I started talking to Mark through mutual friends. Again, right place at the right time. I felt like it would have been more appropriate to do this small re-release on his label versus my co-ran Mystískaos or any other labels that had approached the idea. More organic and a better fit musically. Vinyl will be the next step, but probably not for awhile.
The Movimentum demo collection includes rehearsal recordings of many of the songs that ended up on Origin and Languor with what you call a ‘live’ lineup. Since that collection has long since disappeared from the Internet, how different are those full-band versions of the songs?
They’re way faster and slightly different structure-wise, but mostly the same. Also, there’s no synthesizer. Those specific recording can be found on our Bandcamp page, actually [as Timeless Disease Reh. 3/08].
What prompted you to retire Chaos Moon (at least temporarily) and start Esoterica? Some of the stuff on the last Chaos Moon EP before the hiatus, The Ouroboros Worm, seemed to be moving in a similar, more claustrophobic direction as Esoterica, and both Jack and Steven Blackburn played with Chaos Moon at some point, right?
Chaos Moon started turning into a weird experiment. I didn’t like where it was going. We played a lot of cool shows, we toured, but it felt tainted. What I wanted Chaos Moon to be and where I was at musically during that time didn’t mesh. I couldn’t write for the band anymore and it felt done. Esoterica, which was the name I use/used for a long time, felt fresh and inspiring. Clean slate. I was able to write some stuff I liked and that eventually helped re-inspire me to restart Chaos Moon with renewed vision. Resurrection Extract was recorded while I was trying to record Esoterica material.
Jack and Steve have been with this band for several years on and off, but they are now both full-time, contributing members. They’ve been through the shit with me and I couldn’t ask for better collaborators for this project. Eric as well.
How did you end up hooking up with N. Imperial (Neill Jameson)? Both Esoterica and Krieg appeared on the 2012 New World Black Metal split, but were you in Krieg at that point? And which came first – you joining Krieg, or Jameson joining the renamed/reactivated Lithotome?
Neill and I met through someone else while I was visiting Pennsylvania. About a year or so after meeting, Neill and I met up again, got blackout drunk, and I popped the Lithotome collaboration question. He said yes. I spent the next day throwing up at the beach. Fall of Nature released the Lithotome CD not too long after.
I eventually relocated to Philadelphia and was sucked into the Krieg lineup. That split was my first order of business for the band, so yeah, I did double duty.
How did you end up working with D.G (Misþyrming, Naðra) and getting involved in the Icelandic black metal scene? Granted, Martröð is more of an international thing: Thorns from Blut aus Nord is Italian, there’s you and Wrest from the US, and Aosoth’s MkM is French. Skáphe is just you and D.G though, right?
I reached out to H.V. (Wormlust) about contributing to Martröð when the idea for that band came about. I’m a huge fan of his work and thought it would be an interesting dynamic. When you know one of those guys, it’s pretty easy to get in touch with anyone else. It’s a small group of dudes. Martröð needed a bassist and Skáphe needed a vocalist, D.G. fit the needs of both projects. More or less, it’s just us. Other people have contributed to small things, but we’re the core of the band.
Speaking of Thorns, I haven’t asked you about Manetheren yet. Did you overlap with Thorns at all during your time with the band? And the current Chaos Moon vocalist Eric Baker also sang on Manetheren’s latest The End (which is a great record). How did you end up involved in that project? Are you still in contact with Azlum at all?
I did vocals for one Manetheren song ["Solitary Remnants", from the 2008 album of the same name] and did guest live vocals once, so I was never a real member. At the time of recording their last album, he was in need of a vocalist, but I wasn’t able to dedicate any time to contribute in a meaningful way, so I recommended Eric and the rest is history. My involvement was similar, he needed a vocalist, but I could only pop out one track.
In addition to the reissues, Chaos Moon also has an album coming out in November called Eschaton Mémoire. What can fans expect from the new material?
I think, in some regards, this new album is more in line with what I was writing 2004. I’ve gone back to using synthesizers again, thinking more of my roots. It’s not the same, though. This is also the first album where I didn’t write everything. Steve wrote a great deal, but it all flows together seamlessly. Expect something older sounding, but new for Chaos Moon.
How did the deal with Blood Music come about for Eschaton Mémoire? That pretty much makes the new record the highest profile thing Chaos Moon has done, right?
Blood Music was the result of posting a one-minute teaser. They heard it and we went from there. Since Fallen Empire had already invested a lot of time and money into this specific project, it ended up turning into a co-release for vinyl. This album definitely is the highest profile and is also the most refined. We took extra care in making sure this is what we wanted and left nothing of question in place. It feels like the old albums, in some ways.
Bonus question: I feel obligated to protect my source on this, but I hear that you’re a huge fan of Magic: The Gathering, and that I should ask you what your favorite card is in the game.
Hah, that’s a difficult question. For the format I play, whenever I find a chance to play, I’d say "Brainstorm" or “Force of Will.”
The Origin of Apparition/Languor Into Echoes, Beyond double cassette set is currently sold out, but is still available digitally from Chaos Moon's Bandcamp page.
Eschaton Mémoire is slated for a November 17th release via Blood Music and Fallen Empire Records.
Clayton Michaels is the senior editor for Indy Metal Vault.