Hidden History: Mordor Speaks
History is written by the victors: the historiographer's creed. Much like rich cultures wiped off the face of the earth in one fell swoop, there are countless artists who break the mold and still disappear into obscurity. Location, context, popularity, and culture all play into the way an artist's work is disseminated and appreciated. It's the same reason why certain things are popular and others are controversial (on a purely artistic level) today; these few elements define everything in musical culture.
Swiss industrial funeral doom band Mordor has fallen victim to the demon of cultural context, languishing in the deep underground. Largely forgotten in the historical timeline, laymen do not expect that Mordor's sluggish, Medieval torture-rack atmospheres emerged simultaneously as the greats like Thergothon, Unburied, and Skepticism. Relegated to citations by die-hards and the research-obsessed who found 1991's Odes in a random print zine, history's forgotten sons had the potential to be definitive, releasing material on the legendary Wild Rags Records. However, the erosion of time and the funereal pace of the art's creative process, Mordor fell victim to the time they chose to manipulate in their music.
Now, 24 years after the release of their Dark Is The Future 7" picture disc, Mordor returns. The band's long-awaited split with artist Manuel Tinneman's "torture doom" project Bunkur, which was first announced almost a decade ago, finds the band embracing the weight of the time which was taken away from them. Featuring a tongue-in-cheek cover of Venom's "In League With Satan" ("In League With Wotan" here), Mordor's return re-emerges with their perfect balance of styles, perched high on a precipice, dangling above the bottomless pit. It is crushing, but its bottom-end does not sacrifice the thick atmosphere which is so undeniably Mordor.
Even with 30 years of hiding in the shadows, Mordor reigns victorious in their kingdom of obscurity. Though they may not be represented in the greater metal timeline like so many others, Mordor's continued odes to darkness speak of the truth in history, of creativity hiding in the shadows. Sometimes history doesn't know everything.
Mordor's discography is in the process of being remastered and will be reissued on Aesthetic Death Records. Their split with Bunkur is available now on Nuclear War Now! Productions. Read a rare, tell-all interview with creative mastermind Scorh below.
The new split with Bunkur marks your first public material since 1994's Dark Is The Future EP. Though there was a great silence, rumors told of stirrings in the Mordor camp, though nothing could confirm activity nor an end of the band. What led to releasing more music as Mordor after so long? Had you been active in any other music in the interim?
In fact, we have never completely ceased our activity with Mordor since 1994. We recorded a third album entitled Amors between 1995 and 1996, using one of the first digital direct-to-disk which unfortunately broke apart, so we lost most of the recording, which wasn't very inspiring for us. The year 1997 was dedicated to the special Samain live act we prepared for more than one year and in 1998 some members were invited to participate in the project Collectif EA for an audiovisual piece related to an Italian philosopher and his life.
After, our priority was our spiritual path, which does not mean that we did not work for our band. Several songs were composed and some ones recorded – you can find some of them on the web - and some old tracks from Odes, Csejthe and the EP have been rearranged for two live acts in 2008. We worked also for our extreme side-project G.O.R.A. and helped some people for their musical projects. The split with Bunkur is thus the first materialization of all this work.
If Mordor's production is scarce, it is also because we don't think of music as just entertainment without a reason. Each of our tracks contains something important for us and is a suggestive piece of our worldview, which obviously evolves according to certain experiences and their understanding. And it takes a very long time to achieve the anticipated outcome.
What led to the proliferation of the various songs which were recorded over the 15 years between Dark is the Future and the 2009 impetus of your half of the split with Bunkur (I believe they were eventually bootlegged under the name Life is Nothing!)?
These songs are like sound transcription of various experiences and subjects that interest us. We generally don't decide when we will compose a song; there is something self-evident about it and this may explain our limited production. It is hard to force this process. Possible exceptions are when we are asked to contribute to some projects, but even then it can still take years before the final completion. The split with Bunkur provide an good example. We need the right state. These songs are like sound transcription of various experiences and subjects that interest us. We generally don't decide when we will compose a song; there is something self-evident about it and this may explain our limited production. It is hard to force this process. Possible exceptions are when we are asked to contribute to some projects, but even then it can still take years before the final completion.
Indeed, a bootleg tape collecting several unreleased tracks on the Web from 1991-2008 was released by a Mordor's fan under the name “Life is Nothing”; I am not sure but I think only 20 copies were available. It is a possibility - but not a priority - that all these unreleased songs will be available together on an official and specific medium.
What led to the decision to break your public silence with a cover, or, rather, an interpretation of Venom's "In League With Satan"?
It is due to a combination of circumstances: in 2008, we had the opportunity to play at the Ashes to Ashes... Doom to Dust III [festival] in Tilburg (Netherlands), invited by Manuel Tinnemans from Bunkur. We liked the extreme "post-doom" side of Bunkur and when he approached us with the idea to make a special split together, we enjoyed it. The concept was to pay tribute to an old classic metal track, and in our case the choice was evident: Venom was the first band (followed by Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Bathory) that made us want to use music to express our worldview. The track from “Welcome to Hell” that seemed most appropriate to be treated in the Mordor's way was obviously "In League with Satan". Switching the thematic focus from Satanism to Northern Germanic Paganism, adding new extended parts based often on the main rhythmic pattern of the original song and Old Norse lyrics from an Eddic poem, it is definitively more a reinterpretation – even a new creation – than simply a cover and therefore it was logical to rename it “In League with Wotan”. Thus we were also referring to Richard Wagner's monumental operatic tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, itself inspired by German and Scandinavian mythology, but finally a unique recreation of the original myths.
Though Laibach had obviously bridged the gap between the two in the 1980s, how do you feel the Northern Germanic Paganism and dark heathen beliefs tie into the industrial backbone of your music?
Besides extreme metal subgenres like black, death and doom metal, the industrial/post-punk scene with bands like Laibach, Swans, Foetus, Throbbing Gristle, Coil... is effectively an important influence for us, both musically and as a thought about the making and use of music in our society, condition of our current world, exploration of the spiritual dark side of the universe and depths of the human psyche. To fully understand the connection between the industrial/noise side of Mordor and Paganism generally – we are not only interested in the Northern Germanic one, it is necessary to stress a few elements of particular significance.
Part of our worldview is a conception regarding time as cyclical – to speak more accurately it is a “spiral time”, not an Eternal Recurrence – instead of linear, and consisting of repeating ages with different qualities. In this view, we are currently in the most horrendous era called Iron Age by Hesiod or Kali Yuga in Hinduism, where the dark Goddess Kālī (not to be confused with Kali, the reigning lord of this age) is fully awake. We are well aware that we make in a way a funeral music for a dying and baneful world.
Now one of the means envisaged in this dark age by Left-Hand Tantric tradition, which frequently uses unconventional techniques known only to few, is “to transform the poison into medicine”. It is possible to adapt some of Tantra's fundamental ideas and practices in our modern context and thus to appreciate music, including noise, not for aesthetic reasons but for its ability to evoke a feeling of the elementary and primordial forces. For us it is the direct link, in addition to words and sounds, between part of our music and Northern Germanic Paganism, more specifically with ambivalent Gods like Óðinn, or the jötnar (Giants) that we associate with wild areas not affected by men. In the best industrial and related type of music, we believe you may find something similar, although not identical, to some ethnic music from the few surviving traditional cultures, where music was not only for fun but first magical power, used in rituals and in some instances as a means to enter into an altered state of consciousness.
In the case of “In League with Wotan”, there is obviously this quest for something primordial and inaccessible, but also the will to tell the story of Óðinn's self-sacrifice in a mythical but not unreal time and his insatiable thirst for knowledge and wisdom. I don't know if we have fully succeed; all I can say is that we have done the best we can given the circumstances and possibilities.
If your music is indeed the music to this age's funeral march into the soil, what qualities (other than funereal pacing, obviously) do you feel best represent this slow, destructive force?
If we stay focused on the Hindu worldview about the Kali Yuga, it is worth to mention that for Samkhya philosophy there are three gunas (from a Sanskrit word usually translated as “quality, tendency”) present from the beginning in all things and beings in the cosmos in varying degrees of concentration and combination. It can be said that the dominant guna of our era is tamas, “darkness”, which projects a lethargic and ponderous energy, ignorance, delusion, destruction, confusion, chaos, negativity, inertia, impurity... It could be in my opinion ultimately compared to the amazing force of gravity inside a black hole, where not even light can escape. Another perspective is to link tamas to the centrifugal force. From a worldly point of view, tamas appears as the lower stage, but from the point of view of consciousness, it can be seen as the highest one.
In a way, our music undoubtedly can be characterized as “tamasic” (even if of course the two other gunas sattva and rajas are also present), which is why in the past we labelled our style “dark metal”, a blend between different dark music styles with extreme metal as a backbone, before it was also used by other bands unrelated to our intent. But there is also a deep nostalgia for the origins similar to the Gnostic quest for the divine spark trapped in the human body, in a world created by an ignorant demiurge. From the point of view of spiritual achievement, the ambiguous God Rudra /Shiva, in charge of the dissolution/destruction of the worlds, is related to tamas; then darkness may be taken as the symbol of dissolution into the Unmanifested, the absolute when nothing was there, and thus representing spiritual liberation from all that is limited and bonds.
Do you feel the Kali Yuga has a current physical manifestation? If so, do you fear it?
According to some Puranic texts, there is a demon lord named Kali who rules the Kali Yuga. In the late Kalki Purana, he is killed by the tenth Vishnu's avatar, Kalki, who will end this era. As probably there is still a long way before it happens, it is difficult today to identify any physical incarnation, but there is little doubt that some people unconsciously – but for some organized others, very consciously – are working assiduously to make matters worse. A literal view considers that Kali and Kalki will be real physical incarnations – organic beings – while a more spiritual one sees them as spirits (demon and god) – non-organic though real beings – influencing the course of events. Dubious attempts were made by various authors to relate Kalki to a historical figure. But in any case Kali Yuga is not finished, a new Golden Age or Satya Yuga is not re-established and undoubtedly we can anticipate a hard time in the future until the endpoint is reached, if even we can see it.
I definitely agree with your thoughts on the "dark metal" tag, which was near-overused in the 1990s. Is there any particular way you would prefer to categorize Mordor now?
We don't claim paternity of the label “dark metal”; bearing in mind our audience has always been relatively limited, it is likely that several bands in the early 90's had independently of each other the need to use a new different label. Originally, our idea of coining the label “dark metal” was firstly to describe a blend between different dark music styles, like extreme metal subgenres (black metal for occult/pagan elements, doom metal for preponderant slow tempo, death metal for deep growling vocals), industrial/noise/no wave, gothic/darkwave (from Bauhaus to early Dead Can Dance), dark ambient/experimental, gloomy parts of Romantic/modern/minimal classical music (with the limitation that we had to use poor synthesizers)… and secondly, but of great importance, because in our view there is no “art for art's sake”, to refer to a “dark gnosis”, including interest for dark/ambivalent deities, Left Hand and antinomian paths, and several esoteric authors/doctrines. Our way was sufficiently different of black metal and not related to popular forms of Satanism to support the coining of a new label. We alternatively used also the term “dark industrial” or “dark” at all, but finally, because “dark metal” was as you said so overused and alien to our musical style, we have stopped to call our music thus and currently we don't use any tag.
The style the Mordor project had created and championed in the early 1990s is still viewed as unique, an exceedingly experimental take on the then-burgeoning funeral doom metal school. Looking back, what drove you to create such singular, unprecedented music?
People can love or hate our style, but they can't effectively deny that there is a certain amount of originality. That was not the intention, originality being an effect rather than a cause. We quite simply wanted to make the music we wanted to hear, able to bring together with limited resources different influences and which did not exist at the time to our knowledge. It was already our approach with our first band Arög back in 1987. We viewed our music as a film score and therefore we needed different atmospheres for different moments, even if the overall tone was rather dark. So it was an interesting discovery to see that some people consider that we were among the pioneers of funeral doom metal with our song “Dark Throne of Blasphemous Evil” released in 1990. At that time, this label was not existing: doom metal was essentially for us Saint Vitus and Candlemass; bands we liked, but our intent was radically different from them.
Another reason for our originality came from the important part of the occult/esoteric elements in our work. In 1990, our first release Odes was recorded in particular conditions and in an altered state of consciousness after a challenging ceremonial work that required a lot of time and efforts, and was originally not meant to be listened to by anyone other than us and a close circle of friends. This explains the use of repetitive rhythm/words and low quality sound; it was never professionally recorded and was for our personal use only. But finally we were persuaded by friends to make it public and Mordor became our main musical project.
When it comes to this sort of ritualized music, do you feel like any of these recordings actually do it justice? Or is it something which you would prefer people experience in a live setting?
I think that some of these recordings -- especially Odes and the song “Mahārātrī” -- are capable to induce partially an effect due to the original intent at the root of our music and the very particular circumstances of the recordings, including isolation from other people and daily life, and an appropriate place located near a wide forest, not woods. It is also the opinion of some people gifted with “second sight” who heard them. But when we lost this place and began to work in a more -- very relatively! -- professional way in a technological environment, it became difficult to ignore its weight and to be deeply in the right mindset. Therefore we focused more on a kind of “esoteric music” with different reading levels than directly on ritualized one. “In League with Wotan” is a good example: you might think it is a nice cover or a terrible parody of the original Venom song, but there are at least four levels of underlying significations.
A live setting could be theoretically more appropriate. When I had the chance to hear directly some ethnic music performed in real rites instead of recordings, there was like a further dimension. Recordings as writings may have the problem to “freeze” energy and teachings. That is why oral traditions were so important in archaic societies; druids for instance don't used writings and Vedas were for a long time transmitted orally. But in our rare experiences with live acts, we have seen – regardless of our own mindset – that there are three important factors which can play a negative role: technology, too, prevailing again, banning the use of fire, candles, and ritual items in general, as well as a hostile audience unable to understand that it is a ritual and not a show.
So, we have no illusions about the use of music. It may be part of a rite, but doesn't replace the rite itself; our aim is now more like to give an "idea of honey" to somebody that doesn't know it.
Looking back to the time before "Odes" was publicly released (almost 30 years now), what initially drove you to keep it private before being convinced otherwise?
I feel it may be useful to describe the context: at that time, our main band was Arög, a kind of proto-Mordor founded in 1987, basically with the same influences but also musically -- not thematically -- affected by early noise/grindcore. It was our priority, despite difficulties to find a suitable drummer able to stay alive (two being dead), but we wanted also to experiment with other styles. In 1988 we first founded with friends an extreme side-project called G.O.R.A., mixing noise/grindcore with industrial and power electronics à la Whitehouse, and then. in the end of the year 1989. we started to think about a new project based on certain ideas. Different size of songs, which may be long when appropriate, slow tempo, repetitive beats by a drum machine and only a few words repeated over and over again for the hypnotic element, emphasis on ambient guitar with a lot of effects and (low-cost) synthesizer alternating between drones and simple melodies.
All these characteristics had a specific purpose: to allow a better expression in our view of occult themes for our own use. But it was only after a rough ceremonial work and some experimentations that we were capable to achieve in November 1990 this long-sought goal. Immediately after, some close friends heard Odes and were very enthusiastic about it, thinking that it was really something new and stunning, deserving to be known outside our circle. After some hesitation because it was a private recording, our main band was Arög and we were not really sure if people would be able to understand it, we finally agreed and you know the rest of the story. Arög died even if some works were used later in Csejthe, Mordor became ultimately our foremost project and now almost thirty years after, we are working on Odes to be re-released…
So there are reissues in the works, then?
Indeed, because of the difficulties of finding our old material and their high price, for their historical value and the numerous requests from labels and people, we have accepted to re-release Odes, Csejthe and the [Dark Is the Future] picture 7”, with the idea of an “ultimate edition” based on the original audio sources, although this depends on the state of preservation of the various analog tapes. Currently we are working on Odes. The transfer of the three original songs from the demo was effective, but things are more complicated in the case of the bonus track “Black Roses from the Dawn of Chaos”, which was used on the Wild Rags CD. It was a hell to find a right multitrack recorder in good condition!
So we hope for Odes to offer a better rendering than the Wild Rags CD. For Csejthe, the situation is still unknown as we don't know the state of the tapes; we will deal with it when Odes will be finished. Both demos will be re-released by the label Aesthetic Death; and, as I said previously, we will probably also assemble our unreleased songs on one physical medium, but this is a long-term work.
Was there any sort of hesitance in re-releasing this older material in a similar way to what kept you from releasing Odes back in 1991?
There was effectively some hesitation, mostly due to the uncertainty of the state of the analog tapes and knowing that it would be a time-consuming task with the result that we can not really work on possible new releases as we would like. But, we hope that the mastering by Greg Chandler from Esoteric will be able to improve the poor original sound; the Wild Rags CD was the best it was possible for us to offer at that time but I am sure they could be improved, especially if the original tapes are used.
The situation is, therefore, very different from that which had occurred in 1990; mixing between several extreme subgenres of metal and industrial music is now common -- even though our particular style is still very far being mainstream -- and Odes is no more a private recording.
Given that, will there be future activity?
It is difficult to give precise information about our future activities, because we don't really operate as a band with a career plan. Music for us is a means of expression for something beyond it and has its source in spiritual worldviews -- often ancient -- that I personally find far more interesting than modern materialistic ideologies. I may just decide to lead an eremitical life; we could die down here or the World War III may break out at any moment... Life is uncertain. Therefore the projects I am going to tell you about in a non-chronological order are highly hypothetical, except the re-release of Odes -- the first phase of the work is well under way. Let me summarize:
The re-release of our old material including Odes, Csejthe, the picture 7” Les armées de Sauron, and our unreleased songs.
The Way of Death is a thematic compilation in the tradition of The Way of Nihilism issued in 1993, including several projects with friends and us. Manuel Tinnemans from Bunkur has specially recorded a song for it and we will use a 1995 session from our extreme side-project G.O.R.A. Mordor has composed a 15-minute song called “Nástrandar Höll”, but it still needs to be recorded. Also some metal and experimental French and German bands should join us.
We have a lot of songs written between 1990 and 2010 and never recorded, or old ones re-arranged in a different way, so it will be a difficult decision to make as to if we will record these songs or compose totally new material for a full album. Time will tell.
Are there any final thoughts you would want to add?
First, I would like to thank you for this interview and also all people supporting our particular work. I will conclude with a long -- but bringing an interesting perspective -- quotation from the metaphysician René Guénon, because he puts his finger right on an important issue: “ordinary life” is not the whole reality and this conception can only arise from a limitation of comprehension and perception. Modern man thinking that he is the pinnacle of evolution because of technical achievements is in fact more restricted in his perception of non-ordinary reality than a so-called “savage man”. The quotation is from the book The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, first published in French in 1945:
The materialistic attitude, whether it be a question of explicit and formal materialism or of a simple 'practical' materialism, necessarily imposes on the whole 'psycho-physiological' constitution of the human being a real and very important modification. This is easily understood, and in fact it is only necessary to look round in order to conclude that modern man has become quite impermeable to any influences other than such as impinge on his senses; not only have his faculties of comprehension become more and more limited, but also the field of his perception has become correspondingly restricted.
Thus arises the idea of what is commonly called 'ordinary life' or 'everyday life'; this is in fact understood to mean above all a life in which nothing that is not purely human can intervene in any way, owing to the elimination from it of any sacred, ritual, or symbolical character (it matters little whether this character be thought of as specifically religious or as conforming to some other rational modality, because the relevant point in all cases is the effective action of 'spiritual influences'), the very words 'ordinary' or 'every-day' moreover implying that everything that surpasses conceptions of that order is, even when it has not yet been expressly denied, at least relegated to an 'extra-ordinary' domain, regarded as exceptional, strange, and unaccustomed. This is strictly speaking a reversal of the normal order as represented by integrally traditional civilizations, in which the profane point of view does not exist in any way, and the reversal can only logically end in an ignorance or a complete denial of the 'supra-human'.
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