Ritual Cairn Unearths Black Metal’s Cryptic Misery (Interview)
Not many new demos are really exciting on their own merits, at least to me. Most newer bands with promise are exciting because of what might come later, not because the demo itself is amazing. However, Ritual Cairn, even with only a single self-released anonymous demo, immediately demands attention with the strength of their music. Haunting melodies trail over gloomy rhythms and song structures blur spastically across tracks that are exclusively on the longer side: the doom and gloom of the band’s surroundings in Seattle made physical form.
Powerful growls echo over black metal that might typically call for shrieks instead, adding an extra dimension of otherness to a project that already stands out stylistically for how little it has in common with most of what newer black metal bands are doing. Doom riffs, a more deathly sense of arrangement, and frantic, barely-held-together drumming all merge to form something that is, if not perfect, at least original and deeply interesting without losing any of the riffy, aggressive sensibilities that the creator of the band clearly worships—an accomplishment all around, especially for a debut demo.
At its core, Demo MMXX is both a rejection of the current status quo of modern black metal and also a love letter to the more iconoclastic side of the genre, worshipping alongside Hail and Negative Plane instead of some of the more obvious influences. Given the mystery behind the band, the high quality of the music, and limited existing coverage, it seemed natural to reach out to Ritual Cairn for an interview.
Hi there, and thanks for doing this interview with Invisible Oranges! To start off, the demo that you released is digital only as far as I can tell. Are there any plans for a physical release?
Greetings. My gratitude for your interest in the project. The demo was initially released as digital only in December, but as we speak the final preparations are being made for the physical release on CD and tape formats. I expect the announcement from the label in early May and the release around late May - early June.
Did you do any label hunting at all for it?
Not at all. My main motivation to finish the demo was simply personal accomplishment, and I honestly assumed it would be quite difficult to find a label that would be interested in the style of music at this time. My focus after releasing it was to immediately start structuring all the new ideas that had come about during and after finishing the demo while they were still fresh in my mind, so it was shared with some friends and a few select metal related groups on the internet and basically left to sit for a while. The label that will be releasing the physical version contacted me a few months later after hearing it in one of the aforementioned groups and expressed interest in releasing it. I found their personal taste and basic philosophy when it comes to running an underground metal label very respectable, so I accepted their proposal with no hesitation.
Do you find it freeing at all to play music without any expectation of fan or label interest given the style involved? Would you prefer if there was more overall interest, or less?
Definitely freeing in some ways. Although I don't generally write music with its general appeal in mind, knowing that the majority of people that listen to black metal will have no interest in this music allowed me to focus less on how it will be perceived from an outside perspective. That in turn made me much less critical of my own work and provided some extra mental space for focusing on other things. It's also difficult to not follow certain musical conventions when attempting to create a specific style or sound, but my primary influences aren't particularly "conventional" in this case and I didn't want to create direct clones of said influences, so there wasn't a lot to follow aside from foundational elements.
As far as this style of music, I do wish there was more interest in it only because that would translate to more bands with this sound. Personally, I'm just following conceptual ideas in my head and attempting to make music that I enjoy, so I hope that those who appreciate these sounds are capable of finding it, but beyond that I'm not really concerned with how much interest there is in the project.
What were some of the larger influences on the first demo?
I must first and foremost give eternal hails to the music of Dirtmaster. More specifically - Hail's Inheritance of Evilness was by far the biggest influence on the overall sound. Early Varathron and Faustcoven are undoubtedly the most prominent inspiration after that. Aside from these, there's a lot of minor influences that show at different times that I don't think are quite so obvious. I'll add that I am a listener and musician of death metal much more so than black metal and have been heavily into punk music for a large amount of my life, so despite my best attempts to suppress those influences as much as possible for this project I think it's pretty obvious they still came through at times.
When you were putting together the earliest material that would become Demo MMXX what led to the decision to keep this as a solo project?
It was all very spontaneous. A solo project isn't something I've considered in the past, but the right circumstances presented themselves over the last year. The first ideas that would eventually become the foundation for the songs on the demo manifested back in 2015, but at that time I had no conscious plans to turn it into a full project so it was just a chaotic mess of random riffs and segments. Over the next few years I was primarily focused on two projects with other musicians, but would sporadically return to these random ideas in my free time and work on structuring them. It slowly began taking a more coherent form, eventually turning into two completed and two partial songs. Eventually both projects with other musicians fell apart before accomplishing anything meaningful, followed shortly after by the virus starting to spread globally at the beginning of 2020. With the uncertainty of live music in the future and the added difficulty of finding other musicians to start a new project with in such strange times, it seemed an appropriate time to create a solo project. Luckily by chance this aligned perfectly with me being in the proper headspace to finish the material that I was returning to after several years.
Why have you decided to keep the project anonymous for the time being?
No profound reason. I do generally like the idea of separating the music from the creator on a psychological level, but staying anonymous isn't a high priority. I do personally believe in these times with the way technology has developed that maintaining a bit of privacy is fairly prudent though.
Do you think that Ritual Cairn would still exist in a form outside of shelved song ideas without the pandemic?
It's difficult to say, but most likely not. I think without all of these specific circumstances it's likely I would have pursued other musical projects instead.
Your debut demo is longer than some albums. Why present it as a demo instead of as an EP or other format?
I did indeed take note that a 30 minute demo is unusual, but the idea of throwing out any of the songs that I had put so many hours into as a way to shorten the overall time was not particularly appealing. In my opinion the length is ultimately inconsequential in determining whether something is a demo or a more "official" release anyways, thus, I decided to keep all of these songs together and call it a demo instead of an EP based on their context and the continuity of Ritual Cairn in general. I believe when music is written it is usually a product of the specific time and circumstances in which it was created and can rarely be duplicated exactly the same way outside of that moment, so it only seemed logical to keep these ideas conjured in the past separated from new ones. It did require some filling in of the gaps, and I think it's noticeable when listening to the demo in full that there was a significant amount of time between the initial creation and completion of some of the songs and my vision for the project had not yet completely come to form. A few of the songs are somewhat disjointed stylistically from one to another - which I suppose makes the demo in essence a chronicle of the chaotic birth and early evolution of ideas that have now become a much more focused and coherent vision both musically and thematically with the new material I've written since it's release.
Is the new material that you’re working on going to reuse any of the ideas from the older demo material, or are you trying to keep it entirely to new riffs going forward?
I intentionally drove all of the old ideas to their logical conclusions to get them all on the one demo and "out of the way", so everything going forward will be newly created since early-mid 2020.
Where did the demo’s artwork come from?
The demo cover is actually a photograph of a cave painting in Lascaux, France dating back to about 15,000 to 10,000 BC. While it's exact meaning or symbolism is obviously lost in time - It is commonly agreed upon by many that it depicts elements related to shamanic ritual. This goes along with the general themes of Ritual Cairn - which are related to prehistoric nature and mysticism, ancient rituals, altered states of consciousness, etc.
Are you going to use similar visuals for future material?
Absolutely. I have a huge amount of imagery similar to this in mind that I may use in different ways. For the next release though, I'll most likely seek an artist to make an original piece for the cover art at least.
Will the project ever make it to the stage?
Unlikely, but not impossible. I can't really see this becoming more than just a recording project, but I suppose if there was some interest in a live performance in the future and it could happen under the right circumstances I would consider it. I definitely have no desire for this to become a full fledged touring band or anything like that though.
What’s next for Ritual Cairn?
An EP worth of new material is mostly finished and will be revealed once a bit of time has passed after the physical release of the first demo. A full length worth of songs is partially completed at this point also, so if everything goes according to plan that could be ready at the end of this year or beginning of next. I'm definitely not short on ideas right now, so I expect there to be at least a few releases of new material in a fairly small amount of time.
Do you have anything else to talk about or promote?
Nope, thanks again for the interview and your support. Cheers!
Demo MMXX released on December 21st, 2020 via the band's Bandcamp page.