Trespasser Stoke the Revolutionary Fires of Black Metal on “ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ” (Interview)
In February, Sweden’s Trespasser released a scathing statement on debt by flipping Biblical themes and reviving thousand-year-old poetry to mirror modern political ailments. ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ is the duo’s second album, and though its ambitions are lofty, its sound is anything but. Trespasser, comprised of composer/instrumentalist XVI and vocalist Dräparn, prefer clear production quality and blunt force, the latter of which reflects their anarchist ideals. They repurpose the urgency often found in hardcore punk into a meaty yet triumphant barrage that’s outgrown their former black metal distinction.
ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ’s funds have partially been donated to the Rojava Donation Fund, with XVI vowing to donate all funds once he’s broken even with the recording costs. He’s also outlined tangible actions that’d push the people under our current political frameworks into better situations and recognizes that theory only goes so far. In short, XVI puts his money where his mouth is, and sonically, ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ translates that sentiment. It roars rather than skulks, brimming with energy as if Trespasser are trying to mobilize action through music alone. XVI was kind enough to sip a few drinks and answer questions about Trespasser’s new album, music’s place in political contexts, and the simple joys of farming, among other topics.
I love the imagery present in “Flakes of Ash.” What was your intent when pairing images of mythological beasts, like satyrs, and establishments with anarchist ideals?
The idea from the beginning with Trespasser was to combine some sort of black metal aesthetic and anarchist ideals. Even the band name was meant to have connotations to both anarchism's critique of property as well as Christian liturgy (Lord’s Prayer). The first record paired the black metal sonic style with lyrics about anarchist history. The new record tied more to black metal lyrical fixation on (inverted) biblical themes, but moved away from, or at least mixed up, the typical black metal sound.
The “satyrs”-verse you refer to is partly stolen from a biblical verse from an apocalyptic passage in Isaiah 13:21-22 about the destruction of Babylon, which for early Christians was the symbol of everything bad in the world. Isaiah was a prophet who had visions of that which was to come. So “Flakes of Ash” is precisely that, a vision into the future where we have overcome some of the trials and tribulations of our struggle and can start to explore humanity's full potential.
I feel like if we have a clear aim of what we want for ourselves and what we need as humans, and if we start to envision and pronounce those goals, it's easier to know what the hell to do in the present. Also, to know that there have been people around for thousands of years that have fought and strived for similar goals can be uplifting. Of course, you can see it the other way around if you are cynical and be like, “Nothing has changed for 6000 years, what’s the fucking point?!” - but I choose to see our current political current as part of a long tradition of rebellion against oppression and tyranny and that it is our historical duty and task to see that struggle through to the end.
Of course, the peoples and prophets of the Bible (Isaiah is from the Old Testament, while the Book of Revelation is the last chapter of the New Testament) had a totally different political and cultural horizon, so it's not like we can just take their struggle and make it ours. The similarities are very shallow. But to be inspired by the language and poetry and the general feeling of longing for “something else,” I think, can be of some sort of help. The poetry is strong in that book.
I recently spoke with Dawn Ray’d’s Simon Barr and asked him a similar question; how can music serve anarchist goals in ways other artistic mediums cannot?
I really believe that music is powerful and can change both thought and action, but I am aware that it is a very subjective belief. I think any art form can ‘serve the struggle’ as well - and we need all the output and input we can get. I don’t think music has a special position here. Well, in a way, it does, because all you need to make music is your body, and even imprisoned people can sing.
But music isn't in itself revolutionary. As I've said before, it doesn't matter how many songs about anarchist subjects you write if it stays ‘just’ music. It has to have an effect on people's everyday actions. It has to reach outside of being just entertainment and a pastime. In the anarcho-punk scene where I come from, we tried to create a physical milieu free from commercial interest and hierarchical order - as well as collecting money for necessitous causes - with inclusion and cooperation as lead words. The thousand upon thousand punk rock songs that were played on stage while the same people got drunk every weekend had little to do with this, it was the physical and material organization of volunteers and activists that created that temporary and situated utopia. With Trespasser, I wanted to build on this, but I was never a good activist. My dedication always waned and I had a hard time following through. One constant in my life was music, so I figured if I wanted to make rebellion and political struggle a part of my life until my dying breath, it was through making music that I could stay a revolutionary.
But I wanted to reach outside the punk scene, which often is self-sufficient in a navel-gazing way. The metal scene, even if it's still quite closed and limited, has a much bigger potential reach. Every record sold is a few dollars to our Rojava Donation Fund, and if I had the capacity to make a decent album in a more mainstream genre, I’d probably do that. But blast beat metal is my passion and you need passion to make good music. Still, with Trespasser, I don't aim in any way to stay exclusive, cult, or esoteric. We’re basically a pop band with all the hooks and shit. The means is mass appeal - the end is mass revolt.
But get me right here, I’m talking about the musical output, not the culture of resistance we are a part of. I think we - the rock ‘n roll underground - have got a lot of things right in our organization and our ideals, but to consciously limit ourselves and be proud to be small, strange, and unapproachable is the totally wrong way to go - if we want to change the world, that is.
Why do you consider debt to be the greatest modern struggle?
Did I say that? I think I meant something like this: through the lens of debt, we can have an interesting, sobering, and fruitful look at capitalist modernity and neo-liberal society. If we want to raise class awareness in this post-class world (ha!), we need to focus on the things the everyday people struggle with and the things in their life where they can go, “Ah! I get what you're saying when you say that there is injustice and oppression in our society still”, and I think debt is the biggest such thing. We can't dwell on the standard Marxist slogans anymore, we need to reinvent the vocabulary and make visible new battlefronts of class war. If I start talking about surplus value or base and superstructure with my workmates, they’ll go “Huh?” But if we start talking about mortgages and who really owns their cars and houses, I have an in to start debating economic injustice in this world that, for many, feels “just” to some extent. Much because we've been told that capitalism (social democracy) has solved poverty and injustice in the West.
I know I have been mentioning David Graeber's “Debt” a few times in interviews and the record sleeve. I can really recommend the book, but we don't need that 700-page brick to see the unsustainability of a debt-consumerist society. What the book can do is help to historically situate the widespread and almost hereditary aversion against money lenders, bankers, merchants, and money changers. It can also help explain why debt and loaning is historically seen as amoral, and if we can spread this “knowledge” or view, we can undress capitalist society (with debt as a main pillar of its inner workings) as deeply immoral, repulsive, and anti humane. Debt is the answer to how money is made, how the colonial hegemony is upheld, and how we are kept in the modern wage-slave carousel. It's this insight that is one of the αποκαλύψεις of the album title. We all know capitalist society is deeply immoral in theory, some of us even feel it in our hearts and our bones. But how do we spread this information and feeling to people outside of theoretical socialism? I think discussions around debt could be a powerful ally in raising class awareness and gaining proselytes.
You gave a quote to Rocking.gr where you said, “I am a bit tired of the left always being negatively reactive to any societal problem and I think the way forward is creating your own positive vision and work towards it.” I agree with this. I know debt removal is one of your ideas of positive actions, but are there other ways forward you try to inspire?
That quote I stand by, as is!
But to clarify - debt goes hand in hand with the economic growth of our current system - because how else would you produce the interest? - which in turn goes hand in hand with the exploitation of proletarians and the earth. So debt removal is not possible without the demise of the entire capitalist society, so what I'm calling for is a wider revolution that would also entail the destruction of the debt-capital-banking system.
Also, I want to make clear that I think that we can work for reform within the current system even as anarchists, as long as we don't lose track of our long-term goal - gaining followers and eventually realizing the truly classless society. Anarchism, for me, is struggle by any means necessary, and sometimes parliamentary means are necessary. The small steps are also steps, and in many instances, the small steps are safer and more long-lasting.
So, inside the current system, I would suggest replacing military service/conscription with social service, so that every person gets a year of experience in health care, schools, or other social work; instead of learning how to destroy, we learn how to build and how to take care. But, this implies a certain amount of compulsion, which is a hard-to-swallow pill for many anarchists, even for myself. Or maybe this idea builds too close to where NSDAPs “Arbeitsdienst” is digging? Discuss in small groups, please.
I also believe that weapons handling and guerilla warfare should be taught to everyone who wants it. This might lead to civil war and unwanted right-wing revolutions according to many, so maybe not worth proposing as a national programme? Let’s keep this training on the DL for now.
All jokes aside, what I was really talking about in the quote above was Rojava as a guiding star upon a wider left-wing horizon. Instead of focusing our energy on fighting a small insignificant group of weirdos within a fringe subgenre of a metal subgenre (heavy metal->black metal->NSBM) or even wasting ALL our energy on ‘identifying’ as anti-nazi and anti-fascist, we should put our energy into supporting the very few actual materialized revolutionary projects out there in the real world - they are not perfect according to anarchist theory, don't think that I am not painfully aware - but they need every bit of support they can get. On a wider historical-human-culture scale, Rojava is an amazing thing. Totally one-of-a-kind. Let’s support, let's learn, let's import, let’s implement. Don’t be a Eurocentric racist bookworm.
One final thing about building our identity around phrases starting with anti-. Most of those following suffixes to the ‘anti’ are political projects already negated by the liberal/neo-liberal agenda. And honestly, what do we have in common with the liberals? We’re both anti-fascist, anti-nazi, and anti-nationalist, but for totally different reasons - we have a very different view of the Endgame. In this instance, our enemy's enemies are not our friends.
I have to commend you for your donations to Rojava. Which projects are you donating to there?
Thank you! Every cent from Bandcamp sales of ЧОМУ НЕ ВИЙШЛО? still goes into the Rojava Donation Fund, as well as half of ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ sales until I break even with the recording costs. Then I’ll donate it all. I mean, it's not much, but I think we've contributed around 3,000 euros from the first LP and are about to send another 900 from the new one.
Recently I've been in contact with people from inside the occupied Afrin region, as well as the Swedish Rojava Committees (RC), and have tried to follow official YPG social media. The official organs say that donating through Heyva Sor (Kurdish Red Crescent, humanitarian help
organization) is the safest way to get money and help into the Autonomous Administration (Rojava). The sad part is that they can't get through to the Turkish/jihadist-occupied territories, like Afrin, where, from what I’ve heard, the occupational forces plunder the few relief dispatches coming through and sell them on the black market. Not sure if this is trustworthy information, but what is sure is that no Heyva Sor shipments can reach these occupied territories. So it’s a mess. Also, it's hard to get support to the actual fighting resistance. This is a matter of life and death, so I get that people are being careful. If you know how, hit me up on Telegram/Signal/Wickr, I’m sure I can pay for a pack of cigarettes or two. But still. Heyva Sor does great work on the ground inside the Autonomous Administration, so I've been sending a lot of funds through them. I've also supported a tree-planting project - “Make Rojava Green Again” - through the Internationalist Commune.
The Rojava Committees in Sweden always have some projects rolling, so I'm trying to keep up there. But Sweden is now tightening up their terrorist legislation in hope of getting into NATO, i.e trying to appease Turkey by clamping down on anything remotely tied to the PKK. Which definitely affects any pro-Rojava sentiments.
If you wanna help: follow official Rojava-accounts on social media and see what's up; see what organizations or projects are active in your area and support them; Heyva Sor; buy merch and books from any pro-Rojava organization.
On a related note, does contributing to an external charity through Trespasser funds influence the direction you take the project?
Yes! When I saw Trespasser taking off and making some 3,000 euros from Bandcamp by the first record alone, I saw the potential and got inspired to grow even more - it felt like this way of resistance was working. I could both inspire people through lyrics and music, and get some money transferred to help revolutionary projects.
So I guess my decision to clean up the production, vary the songwriting even more, and include a talented and artistic friend in making the artwork for the new record to some extent has to do with being able to get more funds to Rojava in the end.
I'll straight up say it - Trespasser is about making money, not for me, but for the revolution. This is not the only thing that matters of course, but it's high on the list.
Another quote from Rocking.gr that I wanted to ask about - “since I started Trespasser, because like you said - politics is a main pillar of the band. Which logically means I want to reach as many people with this art as possible, which also means black metal is kinda a stupid scene to adhere to.” Could you make the case that it’s better to spread your politics in the black metal sphere because of the genre’s sketchy political affiliations? I.e. you’d be able to reach more people willing to hear your message because it’s in a style they already enjoy?
Well I hope that my main audience isn't from the “true” black metal sphere, cause those people fucking suck, but instead, I can reel in people intrigued by black metal before they get sucked into that hole of hate, violence, and despair. But yeah, it's a hard question. Of course, I hope that I can convert some black metallers and give them an alternative to fucking life-hating nihilistic war flag-waving macho music.
But I mean, it comes down to your definition of that scene. My experience in Sweden with the “true” black metal scene is that they are quite old and very set in their ways. So it would be foolish to waste energy on trying to reach or convert them. On the other hand, if we're talking about the younger generations, then yes, it's a battle worth fighting, those kids that start to discover black metal with a more open mindset. There I think I actually can make a difference in shaping their views on what music - and politics! - is and can be.
About the last part of the question: It depends on what they enjoy with the style. Many people identifying as black metal do it because of the satanic ideology and ethos. So when a band isn't satanic, evil, or anti-humanist, they don't consider it black metal and dismiss it. So no, Trespasser isn't about saving the black metal scene, but about building an alternative that is truly radical in this world. Because if you think about it, the true black metal scene is a boot-licking propaganda machine for the ruling interests in contemporary society and just propagates the same piss that's been spewed out by both religious and profane rulers from Plato to the Romans to Ancient Egypt to Machiavelli - the right of power, the fascination with war, and the rule of the big-dicked patriarch.
To be truly radical and progressive in this world means to have trust in your fellow comrade, faith in another world, hope in peace and to give power to the filthy masses! (Gravpel whatsup!)
For writing such an apocalyptic album and playing with such violence, Trespasser ultimately sounds like an optimistic project. Is there an intention to not sound nihilistic, especially in modern times?
Haha! We play with passion and energy, not violence! But yeah, we have enough of that nihilism, if we by that mean despair and/or indifference, Trespasser is about hope and faith. It's a tired cliche but this system was created by human hands, so it can also be dismantled by them. And just a little note on your phrasing, apocalypse in this context means unveiling or revelation and not the end of days. So that's not supposed to be negatively interpreted either. Well, you could say that the revelations we sing about will bring about the end of the world, in a sense, but not in a fiery vengeful inferno, more in a flowery, blooming Elysium.
Speaking of - the second very important revelation of this record (in addition to the aforementioned insight about the immorality of debt in the capitalist system) that has been forgotten in our hyper-individualistic time is the realization that the power and potential lies with the working people. It's not completely forgotten, it is just covered by a thick layer of cynicism, despair, and individualism. But soon, it will flare up through the soil - like a raging wildfire. And soon, we will start to feel it. Actually feel it in our hearts and bones. This will create a chain reaction of agitation and awakening, and then very soon, we will have that critical mass of people needed to create the self-sustaining, ecological, ever-evolving, and classless society of our dreams. No doubt, no doubt. Just keep swimming.
“Holókaustos, or the Justification and Affirmation of Hierarchical Order by the Symbolism of Immolations” may be my favorite track on the album, from its chorus to its deviation from the rest of ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ to its message. Hyperproduction and consumption is a big issue I have with the world as well. Unsurprisingly, I loved your take on the subject. I’m just gushing at this point.
Haha, gush away. I'm flattered that you've taken your time to actually listen to the record and read the lyrics!
You know what happened when the Roman Empire died? The biggest wave of people moved back out to the countryside, started to grow their own food, and started self-sustaining small colonies. This happens a lot when empires die. Out of necessity and not ideology, of course.
But for me, this looming future is also a beacon of hope. Can't wait to meet some new friends out here in the wild! We just need to physically, mentally, and ideologically prepare the populace for this. My dream and one of my positive visions that actually could be realized within the parliamentary system, at least in theory, is the adjustment to a more self-sustaining and local society with far-reaching limitations of import. I think we are heading this way already, with a higher interest in prepping, a political discussion on how to fight the climate crisis, Swedish farmers fucking angry to be outcompeted by imported goods, and so on. Also, a discussion about global supply chains that leads to at least some sort of panic about how vulnerable Sweden, or any country really, is to the whims of global trade. I don't know, I am skeptical that anyone comes to the right conclusions here, but where there is room for discussion, there is room to drive in an anarchist wedge.
ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ released February 3rd and is available on Bandcamp.