Into the Mind of Catacombs’ Xathagorra Mlandroth
From out of the deep, the creature arises. It takes slow, wet steps from across the sea and lumbers toward the city. This is what Xathagorra Mlandroth's music sounds like. Known as "the father of extreme death/doom metal," Mlandroth's (and that is his real, legal name) approach is uncompromising, disturbing, and soul-crushing.
"I was writing in the style known as doom or death/doom before I even knew it could be named as a style or was an actual genre," says Xathagorra, in an increasingly rare interview. From his early demos as Hierophant to the more recent Origin of Darkness, there is a lugubre to Xathagorra's art which makes it so much more powerful than other death/doom metal.
And then, of course, there is Catacombs. Known as one of the most extreme funeral doom albums to ever exist, In the Depths of R'lyeh's massive, slow presence makes for a difficult casual listen.
"In the Depths of R'lyeh is mysterious and haunting, but conveys far more horror and is far darker and more brutal in sound, style and concept [than the previous Catacombs release]," explains Xathagorra. "It's just what I felt I needed to do for myself with the album."
But Xathagorra is more than his death/doom metal projects. "I'm a balance of extremes, so, believe it or not, I've had decades of extreme, fast technical death and black metal from back then until now," he says. "I was actually known equally for writing atmospheric yet insanely fast death and black metal as I became for death/doom once I started releasing material. I just never released most of the faster material I've written, though I'm honestly not sure why.
Even so, Xathagorra has always felt an affinity for the slow and brutal. "I've always been naturally drawn to extremely low tones and playing slow and brutally heavy," he says. "The massive wall of sound, atmospheres, crushing heaviness and certain grooves I can create (such as my odd dragging timing changes) when composing slower in style, all allows me to create and express far differently than any other style; to create something that is powerfully evocative that takes me and other listeners to other places."
In a new interview, which can be read in full below, Xathagorra Mlandroth discusses his various projects and their meanings, as well as what's to come.
Though you experimented with black metal, the main undercurrent of your output is doom -- suffocating, inescapable doom, a style which you've been a part of since at least 1993 (according to the Abhorrent Rites EP you uploaded to YouTube). What first led you down the path which resulted in a funeral doom-based career?
Well, I suppose I should give a bit of a longer answer here, since the newer generation likely have no idea regarding my history. I've a much longer history in the genre than many people of the current generation are aware of, but that's because I usually keep myself "in the shadows", as it were. I've actually been composing and releasing death/doom since 1989, though I didn't "officially" release anything until the first Hierophant EP in 1993, which got a lot of attention and press, far more than I ever expected. Countless reviews and interviews were thrown at me, at which point I was quoted as saying: "Doom is something to be experienced, not just listened to", which seemed to spread as a quote for decades.
I've been called one of the "grandfathers of extreme doom/death" and I've had many other bands list me as an influence. I've always felt respected that so many have gotten as much as they have from my music, but I've always found all of it bizarre, because I don't write music for attention or look at myself as anything but me, doing what I do for my own self-expression first and foremost.
Where doom/death is concerned... you're right, it's what I've been known most for globally, because it's most of what I've released on a large scale. Extreme death/doom is an entirely different world of expression and experience for me. The other styles were more locally known to those who heard it over the years. There's something ritualistic and incredibly deep and personal for me in regards to doom. I was writing in the style known as doom or death/doom before I even knew it could be named as a style or was an actual genre.
However, I've also had a presence and long history in the death metal scene on the East Coast, playing in and with members of other known bands such as Deteriorot (my last live show was with the band on guitar in 2001), Incantation, Funebrarum, Disciples of Mockery, Evoken, Krohm and other death and East Coast style doom-tinged death metal, due to a reputation I apparently developed without knowing it at the time for my own bands, material and technical abilities etc.
As an aside, I've absolutely no ego. I only mention such things to give the picture as to what has apparently been considered my place in the genre of death/doom for twenty years and my varied musical history in general.
Abhorrent Rites was more of an experimental atmospheric black-ish project that came later.
I'm a balance of extremes, so, believe it or not, I've had decades of extreme, fast technical death and black metal from back then until now. I was actually known equally for writing atmospheric yet insanely fast death and black metal as I became for death/doom once I started releasing material. I just never released most of the faster material I've written, though I'm honestly not sure why. But, yeah, I was a complete speed freak and into the intensity of much faster styles..
However, I've always been naturally drawn to extremely low tones and playing slow and brutally heavy. The massive wall of sound, atmospheres, crushing heaviness and certain grooves I can create (such as my odd dragging timing changes) when composing slower in style, all allows me to create and express far differently than any other style; to create something that is powerfully evocative that takes me and other listeners to other places. They're all things that have always just naturally resonated with me. There can be extreme power in minimalism and playing slower and it can be far more impactful and powerful than playing fast.
With a massive sound comes equally expansive concepts, with your lyrics covering Chthonic entities, star-swallowers, vast emptiness. What inspires you in your efforts?
What inspires me is whatever concepts and energies with which I feel a deep personal connection, and to convey those concepts and ideas in the most palpable way possible. Inspiration comes from whatever feelings and concepts feed me personally. For me, given who I am, doom is more to convey mystery and/or horror and darkness than it is to convey sadness or misery. My music revolves around "esoteric" or "metaphysical" subject matter, extremely dark and dreadful energies and concepts, whether what I feel are real energies and things that exist in reality, or just concepts that are almost "telling stories'' that convey such atmospheres. So, yes, definitely very expansive. Some do express concepts of otherworldly horrors, though not usually in terms of fictional creatures, but in regards to energies and the dark forces and entities that exist in real reality and existence.
However, the works of Lovecraft have always resonated strongly with me, as if written myself. In particular, the concept of Cthulhu and the Mythos. The album art and title track of "In the Depths of R'lyeh" is the only work of music I've ever based on the concept of fiction or someone else, though done so out of my own personal place and connection to it, since much of Lovecraft's works I've always felt were right out of me. However, my music doesn't revolve around his works. "In the Depths of R'lyeh" is an extremely personal concept that I just felt I needed to be expressed in a very serious and more expanded way from my own personal perspective. Other than that, again, my music is all about my own personal beliefs, feelings and my own concepts, such as is the rest of the album.
A few years ago you ended all your active projects in favor of operating solely under your pseudonym: Xathagorra. What led to this rebirth?
Well, firstly, I suppose I need to explain the name again, since many still don't seem to get the point despite me saying it for years (yourself not necessarily included in that statement): Xathagorra is not a pseudonym. It's actually my real legal name, as in I changed in a court of law. I never felt a connection to my human-given name and needed something that I personally felt represented me on all levels. Hence, I legally changed my name and I'm actually hard-pressed to remember my old name unless someone brings it up, and even then I have to actually think at times.
People can see that as "eclectic" or flat-out strange or "pretentious", but it's nothing of the sort. I needed to do it for myself. In truth, while I'm indeed an extremely conceptual soul and connected to some very dark things, I've also a completely opposite side, I don't walk around in that state, have a huge sense of humor and have absolutely no ego what-so-ever. Go figure, but people will judge unless they get to actually know someone.
As for why most projects from here forward will most likely be under my name, is due to needing to feel that same breadth, scope and freedom musically. Since I'm always extremely conceptual with my music, it's impossible for me to continue to come up with new names for new "bands"/projects. It's all an expression of me, so it might as well just be under my name. The only exception would be for Catacombs, as that is something sacred to me that I feel needs to maintain its own identity.
Catacombs is known as one of the slowest, most oppressive funeral doom bands to ever exist. Was this your intention for the project?
It wasn't my intention consciously, no. I don't usually go into writing music with necessarily any intention other than to express what I feel I need to express, in whatever form it takes. I just do what is and feels natural and necessary for me, what feeds me the most personally. The first Catacombs album was a bit faster and had a much more "esoteric" feel, where as In the Depths of R'lyeh is mysterious and haunting, but conveys far more horror and is far darker and more brutal in sound, style and concept. It's just what I felt I needed to do for myself with the album.
Then things went to an extreme in a faster and even far darker and incredibly more brutal direction with Origin Of Darkness which is perhaps the darkest, most brutal, heaviest and conceptual album to date, as an extremely dark existential expression of those energies, truths and concepts with which I'm connected.
You first announced Awakening of the Old Ones on your blog in 2018. Two years on, what has progress been like for this album?
Extremely difficult, truth be told, despite the fact that the album has been at least half done since then. I don't make many personal things public, but I've dealt with serious chronic illness for many years. In recent years, it's gotten quite a bit worse and, while you wouldn't necessarily know it if you were standing in front of me, due to my personal strength, I deal with some serious shit on a daily basis. I contracted neurological and neuromuscular Lyme Disease twenty years ago, and between that and years of working with chemicals as a machinist and mechanic etc, it ripped up my nervous system. I deal with daily neurological migraines and other symptoms that are akin to Multiple Sclerosis that are rather nasty. So, it's been extremely difficult to focus and sometimes to function on-and-off. I'm still working on it, and two other albums, but it's just taking way longer than it should, though things are picking up now, despite being even a bit worse physically. I'm just forging through.
I never "write just to write" and I think that's reflected in my music and how it affects people. So I have to always be in the right state to do it justice and get things out appropriately and to their fullest. All the energy has to be there and be right so, if that means it takes some extra time due to physical issues, as much as that stresses me the fuck out, I have to just take the time so it manifests as intended.
Your artist bio references your decisions to run a label are for a variety of reasons. Could you go deeper into this?
It's simple, really. I've been signed to other labels and can't stand the bullshit, nor can I deal with someone else having any claim over my music, which is the most personal thing to me in life. I might not do nearly the PR work that other labels have done, because I never like "whoring myself out", but I'd rather have full ownership and control over my own art and have it spread slow and steady, as it does, than have someone else partially "own" creations that come from the deepest part of myself. The "industry", as it were, is bullshit... shallow and about money and attention. In the age we live in now, it's extremely easy to just release everything yourself.
I used to run my own label and signed other smaller bands that I believed in and while I love to support truly great unknown music, I unfortunately can't do it anymore. But, I can at least have full ownership and control over my own creations, and that's what matters most.
You have mentioned there will be releases in a "variety of styles" to come -- in what styles have you found yourself composing?
I've been composing in many styles for my entire life, as I discussed above. But in terms of what's to come, it will be mid-paced and uniquely styled death metal, extremely heavy on driving grooves but with an intense atmosphere at the same time. I still have the next Catacombs album almost finished, so there's that as well, which is a bit more of a follow-up and expansion on "In the Depths of R'lyeh" with an actual focus more on the Cthulhu Mythos, but from my own personal perspective and concepts. I'll also be more than likely releasing an album that's quite varied, inclusive of some extremely fast songs (i.e. raging blast beats and double bass used tastefully) and more technical guitar work, because I sincerely just need to unleash something that's outright that intense. If you listen to Inimical (black metal) closely, you'll hear some insane guitar work, but all the notes used create atmosphere. If you could imagine a death or death/grind version of such a thing, that's what I'm talking about.
I'm also working on a few different styles, from more dark "groovy" doom, to ancient medieval sounding death/doom on which my wife might also be doing some clean vocals, so there's quite a few interesting things I'm hoping to get finished before all is said and done.