Gloria in Excelsis: A Conversation with Reverorum ib Malacht
Reverorum ib Malacht is Roman Catholic black metal.
There is a lot to unpack in those seven words: definitions, belief, assumptions, religious upbringing, and, perhaps the most glaring... black metal. Black metal's preoccupation with religion has been a long one. There are many who still abide by the single, antiquated rule that the only "true" black metal follows the Left Hand Path, but Reverorum ib Malacht's own religious ascension follows an unlikely path -- one to the right hand of the Christian God.
With roots in the gnostic heresy of first-era Dödfödd, which continued with their first demo as Reverorum ib Malacht (whose title is a Gnostic tenet in itself) What Do You Think of the Old God, We Call Him Judas?, Karl Hieronymous Emil Lundin and Karl Axel Mikael Mårtensson's conversion to Catholicism was an unexpected story, preceded only by former Mayhem member Kittil. Unlike Kittil, whose name has been lost to history (or, to those who know, relegated to joke status), Lundin and Mårtensson's decision to stay within (and expand) black metal which added a new, brazen chapter to the genre’s ever-flowing story.
Their third proper full-length, following Urkaos and the controversial De Mysteriis dom Christi, Ter Agios Numini is a terrifying, massive, uncertain, clogging mass of sound. The core of the music, hidden deep beneath the miasma, holds a supposition of traditionally defined black metal. The music blasts and rages, but is obscured by thick layers of horrific, synthesized sound. This is the music of tension, of assumption. It grows and consumes what it touches; a musical, amorphous nematode. For the better part of the album, there is no real relief, and the ever-accumulating weight is suffocating. There are shrieks and caterwauls, atonal sound sequences, and long periods of howling emptiness which fully unravel at a moment's notice. It isn't until Ter Agios's final minutes that any sort of melody or harmonic concordance can be discerned, and that, in itself, is an ascension. There is this nightmarish, linear quality to Reverorum ib Malacht's latest work -- delving deep into the pit before rising up, above the stars, and experiencing glory.
Through the lenses of creativity, dogma, definition, language, and art, I discussed Roman Catholicism and black metal with Reverorum ib Malacht, which you can read below. I will admit that I did not know much about Roman Catholicism outside of basic tropes, nor do I really know about linguistics. I was wrong in my assumptions quite a few times and was met with scholarly answers. Aside from gaining insight, I've never truly learned like this from an interview, and I thank Lundin and company for this expanded perspective. Though I remain secular, I appreciate what Reverorum ib Malacht does, and how they expand the scope of black metal.
The press release and liner notes state there are visual materials on Ter Agios Numini which date back over a decade, and Urkaos had music which had roots in the first era of Dödfödd. Is there an intent behind such significant gestation periods? Or is there another element at work?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Upon its foundations, black metal made a temple. This temple was a feeble but laudable attempt at reaching God in a spiritually impoverished, stagnant culture. Its altar and incense that of the audial and visual. As firstborns they crawled, with random attempts at learning how to eat. To everything its time. We are born, and we breastfeed. But eventually the human will need solid food. The youth-culture that spawned the religious rudimenta of black metal can no longer nourish.
Stagnant, not only in thought, but its works of art are shit, too. Black metal be its name. It has morphed and malformed into its own god. It is defended, and contested, discussed and digested. The metal academy offers its judgments, basing assessments of quality not on theistic dogmatics or a rationale, but on individual taste. It has become a spectacle of theatrical proportions, whose divine purpose is now a mere effigy. This counter-act to metal idolatry has now itself made an idol.
Release dates and formats, gossip.
Theological seminars shine absent, religious practice rare. There is no liturgy. There are no monasteries. Occasionally you encounter a piece of writing, but the habitually conflicting theories, cosmogeneses, methodologies and dogmatics would make little of a consensus patrum in a hypothetical council. A lack of heartfelt engagement in the others’ quest seems to be a defining trait. The supposedly occult writings are but obscure in wording and thought, with little, or no guidance offered to those who opt for universal divinity. Black metal is dead. It is a remnant of yesterday’s youth, now lost in the clouds of nostalgia.
Black metal. Darkness. Death, destruction, and despair. A renunciation of the decadent comforts and safety of domesticated civilization, and an embrace of struggle and alienation. Indeed, at the heart of the genre -- at least in the most laudable platonic examples of the artform -- we always search to see an anarchic rejection of the world, of the arbitrary and impotent authority it imposes, and of the fleeting and decaying baubles by which the world attempts to coy and bribe us. In other words, there is an extraordinary streak of the heroic permeating the greatest aspects of the codex, which -- alas -- rarely see incarnations in the manifold, disparate works of this genre, if ever they made flesh.
With regard to most representatives of the genre, however, a self-indulgent, juvenile carnival of hedonism usurps the place of heroism, masquerading submission to the world and its authority as a defiant and rebellious struggle, the darkness sought by the “cunt hunters of the night” rather a solacing kind.
What’s more, this deterioration is to be expected, since the basic weakness upon which it depends is inherent to even the allegedly most excellent examples of the art form -- insofar as they do not actually approach or embrace orthodoxy and repentance -- but rarely the case. This weakness, which is the strength and glory of the world, is that of pride.
Pride -- undue, idolatrous love of the self -- infects black metal as thoroughly as any other aspect of the modern mass media spectacle, yet is perhaps more brazenly paraded within this particular genre. Even in the black recesses of the most nihilist, Malthusian, and anti-cosmic aspects of black metal, a passionate self-indulgence rules, since whatever horror is there embraced, is always the inverse, always the shadow, of some vivid desire.
True darkness, the utter, heroic renunciation of the self and all its affections, presupposes humility.
Anything akin to true darkness cannot even be understood without the endeavor towards mortifying one’s desires. And the first step towards the death of desire, towards the complete surrender of all that one is and of all that one can ever grasp with the intellect, contain in the heart, or encompass by the will, is humility. Humility, gratitude, silence, prayer, love.
If we remain in pride, blinded and comforted by the faint and flickering lights of ourselves, there can be no renunciation of that which they illumine. There can be no mortification of the affections as long as we fearfully cling to our wants and desires, or even their shadows.
And truly, as we embark on the process of relinquishing ourselves, we must also surrender any pretense that we’re actually capable of attaining this liberation on our own. Only that which needs nothing, that which of its own nature necessarily wants for nothing, can extinguish the desires and affections of limited, contingent beings like ourselves.
Only God can face the darkness of the night and redeem fallen creation.
Our kind is not capable of such virtue alone, we know not these heroic heights of perfection from our own nature -- only through the darkness of humility, the darkness of faith wherewith we cast ourselves upon the depths of the Divine, whose transcendent nature, however certain with regard to its existence, is forever beyond our understanding. The cloud of unknowing.
This is the true darkness: the absolute Otherness of the transcendent Divine, from the perspective of our contingent, utterly limited and fallen selves. The Light of God is entirely antharaz, it is a darkness to us until we die with Christ at the foot of the cross and are raised up into His communion at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Love.
He is the Hero of which the ancient songs are sung, His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Lord Jesus Christ.
… but if the divinity is true, it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point – and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manned through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.
And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
(This quote from G.K. Chesterton needs a bit of Christological clarification -- God cannot suffer, nor go through agony. God cannot lack anything, since God is the ultimate, necessary being who in and of His own nature is perfect and complete. However, in His human nature, Christ could do this. Christ could carry the essence of all our suffering in the fully human sense -- but only because Christ’s human nature is and was united with the Divine (in what is known as the Hypostatic Union)).
To release, The Old God took two weeks following its initial conceptualization and recording. Predikan a week. Demo 09 released the day we finished the recording. Urkaos took about 6 years; Ter agios two-three years plus before remixed and released. In addition, Irma malacht from 2012 might eventually see the light of day in 2017 or 2018. And on top there are albums and demos dating from at least 2005, still unreleased. The two albums recorded this year, Im Ra… and What isn't seven heads; I don't know.
Much like Urkaos, which cited Reverorum ib Malacht + Dödfödd on the spine, Ter Agios Numini cites Reverorum ib Malacht + “Ter Agios.” Is this "Ter Agios" an entity wholly separate from Reverorum ib Malacht, or is it, much like Dödfödd, an artist which exists parallel to Reverorum ib Malacht?
Ter agios is the name of the album, hence it's written on the spine. As for dödfödd on the spine of Urkaos, except that df morphed to malacht, a plan at work when we did the layout back in 2006-7 was to exclude the outro and put three unreleased df tracks in its place. The album fell into oblivion, but when it eventually was decided to be released back in 2011, we went with the original musical content as finished in 2006, but kept the layout as it was. The idea was to not interfere in pre-conversion material, however incomplete, theologically or conceptually.
I noticed a bit of wordplay in the title - "Ter Agios Numini" roughly translates to "Three Ceasing Majesties", but also bears a resemblance to "Ter Agios Nomini," or the Three Ceasing Names and Three Immortal Gods (the back cover goes on to expand to "Martyrii Sanguine Ter Agios Numini Donant," roughly meaning God who donates the three holy bloods, but I am probably wrong). Though this album lacks the existing trinity De Mysteriis dom Christi (where there was different music on each format), there appears to be an implied linguistic trinity. Given Emil's linguistic studies, am I far off? Or is there a separate element?
You are wrong. The title means, "thrice Agios [sanctus] for the divinity". It is a wordplay, if you will, based on the tersanctus, and the trisagion, from the Western and Eastern traditions respectively. Numen is a very humanistic, 1700s classicist way of referring to God, here used for euphonic reasons. For anyone from Uppsala, the phrase as used by Linnaeus should be known, innocue vivito, numen adest, over the entrance to his bedroom. "Live without harming, divinity is present", originally from Ovid's Ars Amatoria.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth, pleni sunt celi et terra, gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ὁ ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ὁ ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Anyone with Google may look these phrases up. To be added is Trisagion as part of η προσευχή του Ιησού.
The title sums up my prayer life, the private and liturgical, As well as a scholarly interest in classical, medieval and humanist Latin.
Martyrii Sanguine Ter Agios Numini Donant would translate "By way of blood, the martyrs bestow thrice their Agios [sanctus] to the Lord". It is a paraphrase of the more associative title, more in the direction of the wedding feast of the lamb. The angelic choirs.
Since the artwork and layout dates back to your 2010 conversion to Roman Catholicism and as recently as March 2016, there is an element of evolution in spirituality to Ter Agios Numini? How have your own beliefs changed since your original conversion?
Seven years is like a week for the soul.
In the lengthy interview you gave after your conversion to Roman Catholicism, you had mentioned the core group of black metal musicians embracing your change in belief. Now, ten years later, do you feel any change in the way others view and treat you? Is this something which bothers you at all, or is it something which even matters?
Have you experienced any sort of ardor from former collaborators? Had your relationship changed or adjusted as a result of your conversion?
I haven't experienced anything.
There is an element of dogma in black metal. Obviously, there is the argument to be made that the acceptance of Satan and the darkness which surrounds the idea of an antichrist as an acceptance of a Christ and Jesus as the first coming of the Messiah. Do you feel a frustration with how black metal musicians reject the other side of this dogma while fully embracing one half?
Let's put it like this. Guitar sales are waning. Big manufacturers have huge debts. The market is saturated. Face it. The guitar hero is a dying idol. But no, not in black metal. Riffs reign supreme. There are terrorist threats over Brussels, but Satanists gather to celebrate a joyous festival by waving their guitar-weaponry, headbanging in rhythm to some cool riffing and harmonic melodies, drunk. Black metal, heavy metal riffing guitars since 1982. "Strumming my pain with his fingers."
What losers fail to realize: black metal is an art-form. A comprehensive expression of religious beliefs. Praise. The visual, typically layout, is an auxiliary semiotic mode to the primary sonic dito. Sound, put simply, is less harmony. More timbre and rhythm. Melodies express very little, if anything of the fundamentals in the art-form of black metal.
I find it hard to respect a group of instrumentalists entering a studio to record their allegedly black metal input, failing to realize that 99% of their unique expression is lost in their basis on heavy metal riffing, another 99 in the fact that their only chance of a filament of unique expression they've already put in the hands of another man's studio, an external producer and someone else to do the layout. Period. Your instrumentality is not black metal. Second period.In short. Malacht scorns your incestuous black metal family. Malacht scorns your internal admiration. Malacht scorns your melodies. But most of all, Malacht scorns your pseudo evil pseudo theology. Fuck. your. satan.
Malacht is Roman Catholic black metal. By this entails by obligation an intrinsically religious art-form based on the trust in one supreme divinity as professed by the holy Roman Catholic church. Malacht is in this sense an orthodox band, whose mission is to further the acknowledgement of Christendom as the default source of data on who the ultimate divinity is.
We piss on your fucking festivals. We piss on your ridiculous band photos. And we piss on your fucking instrumentation. But not because you assemble in group or because you meet to enjoy company, socialize or play organized melodies in rhythm with each other. Because you believe that this has anything with devil worship to do. Give your praise to God, continue to gather in collectives, and meet to take group selfies, but fuck me, do not call this an expression of YOUR religion. You are surrounded by the grace of God. Just simply acknowledge that. Don't pretend to be evil. Simply, you are not. Hypocritical shit.
So. Is it right to be angry? I'm no kind fucking meager asshole who cares for your prejudice impression of Christianity. Sure, your childhood was bad and all that. But grow up. Clear the temple. There's a time to breastfeed and there's a time to think. Just acknowledge the first for what it was and praise God for those riffs you like. I know I certainly won't.
Malacht is dark. It sounds alien and it is dirty as fuck. No. We rarely have audible riffing, nor do we care if we do. But we portray the depths of human despair and darkness. Not because it is good, but because herein lies the key to redemption. Face the world for what it is. Therein lies the fruit of salvation. Here is our worship. At the foot of the cross. Our good is dying. This is the banality of evil. Allahu akbar.
So defend your black metal morals, defend the fundamentals of your vain metal codex. Profess what is and what is not, but don't come to me with professions if the basis of your assessment rests on anything but rational dialectics.
I repeat myself. Black metal is a religious expression, alas, be it an emission into a great void of lukewarm hearts in denial of its core-essence. Of absolute truth. We throw bright pearls to lingering serpents, for at least someone has to preach in hell. This is our apostolate. Not to renew black metal, or to defend it as an idol, but neither to deny its religious fundament. No! To counter the ridiculous claims that the essence of black in here is anything but an external constant, an irrelativisable transcendence, ultimately guiding to god. For only the colour of black is scientifically proven. The rest is belief, subject to scrutiny.
We have no quantifiable means of measuring black in black metal. It’s all reason, but its ontology a presupposed axiom to our art. There is black, the acknowledgment of whose metaphysical existence is inherent to the art-form's raison d'etre. Of this, black metal can never be void, for if it is, it ceases to be black metal, if it ever was.
Yet I am open to acknowledge any black metal that doesn't deal with metaphysical darkness to not be black metal. But I know to date of no professed black metal act whose art is not poor of artistic qualities and inapt to be called thus because of a heretic and incoherent theology concerning what is truly dark.
To the point, fuck your forests, landscapes, make-up, clothes and symbols. Fuck your shows and concerts, your friendship and fun. But not because it's forests, landscapes, make-up, clothing, dashes, social gatherings, friendship and fun. All of this is great. Praise the Lord!
In my humble creed, I deny the existence of Satanists more than I can see these self-proclaimed Satanists being able to escape the grace of god. But go on, I will never take it from you. I share your joy. Yalla! gather and rejoice. But think there in-between. For the gratitude is due to whom gratitude is due. When you hear a riff in your venue, praise the lord. When you like a song in your solitude. Praise the lord. When you gather to socialize. Hallelujah! For as little as you manage to flee God, as little do you escape. For whither shall you go from his spirit? whither shall you flee from his presence? (etc., cf Ps 139; Vulgate 138)
So be grateful of the grace and give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. Christ was murdered, but he lives again. His love endures forever.
Guest appearances, cover songs, homage albums, session features, shows, stage theatre, mid-talk, the fans in love coming to see you live, the love of records, the social interaction between fans online, the metal parties enjoying music, the metal newspapers, down to this interview and all those things related to the metal culture and of which so many seem to enjoy sharing in. It's all good gifts in the grace of God. For those who enjoy it, It's a bliss. Things that make the life so much more worth living, or even enjoyable for millions of people worldwide.
I myself only made brief guest appearances in many aspects of this metal culture, and didn't enjoy many of them, so I left voluntarily. And although the scale of what is "hard", or "aggressive" music is largely understudied (there seems to be some kind of layman-consensus around the traditional metal instrumentation), studies support that "hard" music makes life happier for those who enjoy it. This of course is no surprise, as there are multiple concerts and festivals the recurring crowd of which empirically supports this hypothesis, but together with the above mentioned social aspects of the metal, or black metal scene, the positive emotional impact of this culture on its fans would appear hard to deny. Now, this is the largely subjective sentiment of the fans. But.
This vastly similar, greatly detailed theatre gives joy to many. Praise the lord.
I once showed the lyrics of "Freezing Moon" to a literature professor at Uppsala University. "Interesting", but when she reached the second line of predicates in the elliptical clause: "but [it's] also so dark and mysterious", her comment was very sound, meaning it to be clumsy, "this is that which should have been made obvious by literary means [literary skill] and without need to be stated plainly."
No matter how much you call your concert harvest, ritual, darkness and mysterious, it will remain a kindergarten for humans to enjoy, laugh, meet, chat, gossip and have fun. And I'm sad on your behalf, but it doesn't matter if the bands themselves with much confidence have stated themselves to be very dark and mysterious, too. People - and on this point I agree with the most strenuous of self-proclaimed Satanists - don't fucking give a shit. It's sad. The fact that a band like Malacht can even get a single person outside a confessional Christian denomination to enjoy the record - not because we don't claim to be dark and mysterious - would be enough to validate parts of this claim. Malacht, Orchestra maxime contempta, today a joke. We are not the most hated band in the world. People are people. Most of them with a good heart, who simply come to enjoy your theatrical performance of your beloved instrumentation. Panem et circenses. They drink their bread. You are their circus.
I understand the Reverorum ib Malacht lineup has expanded significantly from the trio with which the internet has become acquainted (Emil, Mikael, and Johan). Could you outline all current members and their roles in the band?
Throughout the years, many individuals have had their share of valuable contribution, I'm thinking of the years 2006-2012. Malacht is now an entity of seven, all granted the right to Veto: Mikael, Johan, Johan Olof, Sir. N., Henrik, A. Henrik. Among the future prospects you will find P.
With so many members, how is creativity divided?
By dictatorial democracy. Malacht is total consensus.
With each Reverorum ib Malacht release, there are concentrated artistic elements which exist in parallel with the music. Be it the thoughtful fluidity of visual elements across various formats, the ever-expanding philosophical elements, and the fearlessness in approaching the other end of black metal's spiritual dogma, Reverorum ib Malacht releases approach gesamtkunstwerk levels. Do you feel Reverorum ib Malacht is more than a musical outlet? Is there a specific artistic goal to be met with each new release?
Malacht excels in all the semiotic modes, audial and visual. In printing records and their distribution, we never did. My single teenage experience in a “professional” studio made me certain. When I was not allowed to add the tenth guitar layer to my track, I made up my mind. I will never allow myself to put the artistic output at stake in the hands of someone who considers conventional thought patterns. Malacht is Roman Catholic Black Metal. As such, Malacht is too much. No limits, all in, more is more. Alas, here is not where I will further reveal technical details into the recording and mixing processes, but we record in heavy fog, sensible strobes, and ample laser.
Member Johan Olof's recently published essay "In search of lost time" outlines the failure of modernity in society's recent obsession with nostalgia and defining secular ideals through the comfort of history and, as an answer, the importance of orthodoxy as a means of cultural dissection in search of truth. With this global society of clashing, fragmentary culture, where does Reverorum ib Malacht fit? Has your aversion to nihilism through spirituality offered peace through these periods of extreme, secular ideology?
Malacht is in the spiritual plane what certain secular genres would be to the suburbs, projects and ghettos. A pale, fighting flame, hopefully routing some of those menacing shadows enclosing us, piercing through, pointing towards the Real. Malacht, by the grace of God, is but a vessel for the seeds of truth – a vessel broken upon, and spilling its contents over the most decrepit of the barren ruins of end-stage modernity. Has the truth brought us peace? The question is misleading. Orthodoxy is not therapy. The truth cannot be sought for any other reason than truth itself. And the truth does indeed bring peace – but the price is in a sense everything:
“He says, ‘Take up your Cross’—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.’ He means both. And one can just see why both are true.”
After many drafts dating back to 2004 (pre-dating the first public demo What Do You Think of the Old God, We Call Him Judas?), the band's eponymous song "Reverorum ib Malacht" finally sees the light of day on Ter Agios Numini. What made you go with this fourth draft? What did the other three sound like?
Malachian. Disparate. The first and second recordings of Ter Agios Numini date to 2005-6, featuring material from as far back as 2004. The layout concept was put down in 2006-7, but everything came to a halt. In 2012, or thereabouts, a new recording was made. And in 2014, yet another version was recorded, only to be rediscovered in 2016 when Mikael reminded us all of it. This version was partly remixed and subsequently released the following year. The only track that made it to release from the very first recording is the intro to the B-sides, "Reverorum ib Malachtum", recorded by Mikael in 2004. "Synestesi" dates 2012. Drums from 2008-9, sounds from mashallah. The layout and imagery is as we decided in 2006, but most of the lyrical content has been changed. The earlier recordings were Malachian. Disparate. You would never know.
Reverorum ib Malacht does not utilize social media.
Ter Agios Numini is out now on The Ajna Offensive