Some of our younger readers might not recognize the name Rites of Thy Degringolade, which on a certain level is understandable: their last full-length An Ode to Sin came out in 2005, and then there was nothing until the “The Universe in Three Parts” demo was released in late 2016. That’s a long time to go without releasing new music, especially in this modern musical climate where thanks to streaming services, so much music is so easily available that listeners seem to have shorter memories than ever before, and individual albums (or even bands) have astonishingly short shelf lives. Thirteen years between full-lengths might as well be a lifetime…
So for those who need it, here’s a brief history lesson:
Edmonton’s Rites of Thy Degringolade was originally a solo project started by Paulus Kressman shortly before departing Sacramentary Abolishment. He recorded a self-titled demo and a full length called The Caryatid before bringing J Wroth (also of Ritual Necromancy) into the fold for 2001’s Totality, a technically complex, chaotic gem of an album that established Rites’s place not only at the forefront of Canadian metal, but as one of the leading lights of the so-called “war metal” movement worldwide. An EP and another full-length–Totality’s Kommand and An Ode to Sin, respectively–before the band quietly disappeared for the next decade.
Of course, to simply call Rites of Thy Degringolade a war metal band is more than a little reductive. There’s always been more going on in their sound than that, starting with Kressman’s trademark drumming style – technically precise yet so free-flowing that it occasionally sounds improvised, the drums are always placed prominently in the mix and carry the band’s music just as much as the guitars or bass. Kressman’s lyrics also tend to eschew the Satanic elements of most black/death bands in favor of a more deeply considered philosophical approach.
Which brings us to The Blade Philosophical, Rites of Thy Degringolade’s long-awaited fourth album, which we are honored to be streaming exclusively here at the Vault. With all due respect to the band’s stellar discography, it’s very likely that The Blade Philosophical will be remembered as their masterpiece. Moodier and more expansive than anything the band has attempted before, the album stays true to their core sound while also placing greater emphasis on their ability to create tension in their songwriting. But you don’t want to read a long evaluation of the album from me right now. You’ve already waited 13 years for The Blade Philosophical – you probably just want to hit play. But while you’re listening, I do hope you read my talk with Paulus Kressman – he’s just as thoughtful an interview as he is a lyricist, and I think it’s an incredibly enlightening read.
The Blade Philosophical will be available on March 15 via Nuclear War Now! Productions.
Indy Metal Vault: So for starters, congrats on The Blade Philosophical. It is an absolute beast of a record that both sounds like Rites of Thy Degringolade and pushes that sound in some unexpected directions. I know most bands will say that they make music primarily for themselves, but it’s been 13 years since your last full-length An Ode to Sin – are you at all nervous about how it’s going to be received by longtime Rites fans? The response to “The Universe in Three Parts” seemed pretty positive when Nuclear War Now! released that demo last year.
Paulus Kressman: Greetings, First off I appreciate you taking the time to conduct this with me. There is no doubt 13 years will indeed bring forth many changes. I prefer to see them as necessary and positive, bringing forth a natural outcome. I have no feeling of doubt or nervousness regarding The Blade Philosophical and its reception from those that have followed our work thus far. We proceeded in the manner in which we always did in the execution and writing of the material, so its manifestation is much the same as previous Rites… material. ‘The Universe in Three Parts” was actually a demo we did in our rehearsal space for NWN! Productions. It was indeed well received and released as a promo for the forthcoming album.
I must add having a solid group of four like-minded individuals was key in the making of the album and achieving the vision.
IMV: I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Rites of Thy Degringolade is one of the most important bands in the history of Canadian metal, but from what I’ve read you didn’t always feel like you had the label support and distribution that you should have – I saw one interview where you seemed particularly displeased with the label that released Totality. It seemed like when Rites signed with NWN! for 2005’s An Ode to Sin, though, you were finally with a label that would take care of the band…and then Rites went silent for a decade. What made you decide to put the band to rest at that point and focus on other projects?
PK: Thank you for the powerful words! That is quite humbling, considering the history of Canadian metal is unlike any other. Bands such as: Disciples of Power, Blasphemy, Voivod, Conqueror, Mitochondrion, Sacrifice etc. This list could go on ad infinitum.
As for the label question, I am sure as with all bands starting out that having label support is not always an instant apparition. Much like all things, one must work and strive to perfect that which they seek and desire. From the beginning the Totality album was cursed. It was beyond our control and it sat dormant for some time. It was finally released more then a year after it was recorded and completed. That was something we were dealt. But it was all for the better. That particular album is still a piece of potent history we are proud of. It was re-released for its ten-year anniversary on LP by Bird of Ill Omen Records! and in several other formats, including an edition on NWN Productions.
We are of course very happy to work with NWN! Y.K. understands the true essence of the underground mentality and the integrity of the artists’ vision is never hindered!
In 2005 after completing An Ode to Sin, things were chaotic. Life and line up changes were deemed unmanageable. We needed to change, try new things, and explore new territory. I can’t say for certain it was or was not the best choice, but it was done. It spawned ten years of other experiences, releases, and tours that went quite well.
IMV: After that decade of silence, Rites of Thy Degringolade got back together to play the 2015 edition of Vancouver’s Covenant Fest. What made you decide that was the right time to resurrect the band? Was the plan from the start to make new music, or did that come later?
PK: I will without question say…having Wroth agree to return with me was the only way it would have ever worked. He is indeed a very long time friend and dedicated band mate. With his agreeing to attempt new works…it was upwards and onward from that point. No turning back! The idea of a new full length was swimming in our minds at that point, yet it was a distant vision. But even a distant vision will eventually draw near. The Covenant circle are long time supporters and friends of Rites. We were honored to be asked to headline their Fest. It was a great success, it gave us a taste of our old medicine, one could say…we needed more of it! Wroth, N.K.L.H. and myself continued as a three piece. The addition of a fourth member marked the first time in the band’s history that we are a full-scale unit, with each individual able to focus on simply their own parts!
IMV: Like I mentioned earlier, The Blade Philosophical feels very true to the Rites sound, but you take quite a few risks at the same time in terms of song structures and tempos. It feels like a moodier record to me in some ways, with those slower, more atmospheric sections. How much different was your songwriting process this time around than it was for Totality and An Ode to Sin? Was there anything particular you were going for with the record, or were the evolutions in your sound something that arose more naturally?
PK: When we first approached the idea of a new full length, we dedicated the process to that which I had always done…creation of riffs, structures and ideas. Bring them to the rehearsal space and basically show the others the compositions. But like I stated earlier, finally having a solid four-piece unit was a new concept and proved to be extremely positive in regards to the eventual completion of the individual songs, structures, and the album as a whole. As far as the actual song structures…it is quite the same as previous output. I would state the slow, moodier sections you speak of are similar, but are explored in longer segments this time around, thus building on atmosphere and tension. It also brought about longer songs. Some in the 10-minute mark., a first for Rites in terms of length. That is a risk we chose to take, and I believe it was a successful one at that. The evolution occurred quite naturally in thematic terms. The title track is a perfect example of atmosphere, album concept, theme exploration, and extended length in song duration. There was no intent on doing so, and only upon its completion did we realize the great length of the song.
Determinism in its perfect order!
IMV: On the new album, you continue the tradition that started on Totality of having one very short song with some variation of the word “totality” in its title: “Totality” on Totality, “Totality’s Kommand” on the Totality’s Kommand EP, “Totality’s Reign” on An Ode to Sin, and now “Totalities Kompletion” on The Blade Philosophical. Is there any kind of story behind that series of songs – are they actually thematically connected somehow? And given the title of the latest one, is it going to be the last in the sequence?
PK: Yes indeed it is very much a thematic stream. Totality…something that is total or constitutes a total. The whole. The sum. As with all parts, as with all things. It of course started with the initial album title bearing the same name. The acquisition of knowledge, the realization and acceptance of said knowledge. All things are as one. All is governed under this law of nature. It is the order of all. This being said, the divine nature of the self as individual is what constructs that which previously did not exist in any form. The ability to channel and manifest this came to me as a ‘gift’ at some point in the time line of sentience. I do not question it. I do not doubt it. And I do not deny its purpose. It is all part of the design which hath constructed itself, and that which shall continue to do so. That is Totality. Whether this shall serve as the ‘Kompletion’ of the stream? That is currently unknown. I somewhat highly doubt it. What I can say is that it has been determined!
IMV: I want to ask about some of the lyrical themes on the record, but I know you’ve been hesitant to answer those kinds of questions in previous interviews. So I’m going to try to come at it from a slightly different angle here. The PR notes mention Determinism several times – it says that the overarching theme of the record is “the exaltation of the self—the cultivation of the individual will—to disrupt, navigate, and ultimately control the ever-flowing streams of determinism.” For all intents and purposes, Determinism is basically the exact opposite of free will – the idea that all of our choices, even moral ones, are in some way predetermined by external factors. Ultimately, however, I get the sense that the album is ultimately a rejection of Deterministic philosophy. Is that a fair reading of it?
PK: Absolutely not! Although what you have stated above is all a fair assessment. The spiritual and thematic concepts of the album are very much in line with the Deterministic universe. The realization that free will is indeed an illusion. Again…as with all parts, as with all things. Everything that has, is, and shall occur has already been designed down to the finest most microscopic detail. Perfectly, without question or error. So now that we have established said philosophy…one may ask how does the exaltation of the self—the cultivation of the individual will enter? This is simply known as sentience, existence, uniqueness etc. I am fully aware all is in an unchangeable stream. Determined before the conception of conception itself. I do not question or debate this. But…I do know that existence is suffering to one degree or another…the only solution is to suffer with courage. No matter what. That is the nature of the self. To triumph in the face of even an undefeatable foe. Achieving the impossible. That which you as a unique individual are capable of in a manner and fashion unlike anything before, now or after. This is your universe in three parts…Use it now!!!
IMV: Following up on the previous question, in the PR notes for the record you’re quoted as saying that the album is “the study and catharsis in the constant state of will—deterministic all, and the self as creator and destroyer.” On a certain level, that reminds me a bit of Nietzsche’s ideas about the Will to Power – that every man essentially has the potential to be a god in his own universe if he’s willing to claim that power. Is there actually any Nietzschean influence on the album?
PK: Very well stated. I more or less answered this in the previous topic above. I would not necessarily claim a Nietzchean influence to a great degree, as this has come unto us through self study, Catharsis of the mind. Through the creation and channeling of our works. Indeed one must strive to their fullest power. However much a seemingly impossible feat!
IMV: I’m curious about the cover art for the album. It’s a really striking photo, and seems to fit the theme of the album perfectly. Who is the cover artist? How closely did you work with that person on the cover concept?
PK: Thank you again for the words. I wanted to use minimalist imagery in all aspects on a visual level. The rejection of contemporary art so to speak. A simple statement of The Blade Philosophical in visual context. We used our own hands throughout the images. The front and back cover match up perfectly in scale as the individual as creator and destroyer. It was created as a concept by myself and M.Carew, a long time friend. In a thematic sense it simply represents the hand and the mind. The blade as symbolic and deterministic tool. We worked closely with a local photographer named Arsan Buffin. It took two attempts to finally get it right. I think he captured the philosophy in minimal visuals quite perfectly.
IMV: What are your plans after The Blade Philosophical comes out? I know that there are plans for your longest European tour to date, but what about North America? I’ve read that Ritual Necromancy (J. Wroth’s other band) is releasing their first full-length since 2011 later this year as well – will that have any impact on your touring plans with Rites?
PK: Yes. We shall embark on a 24 date, month long tour of Europe with our close country mates Auroch, and US black metal legends Profanatica.
Killtown bookings out of Denmark set up the tour. Touring North America may be a future prospect as well. We all agreed Europe was ripe to tour in support of the new offering. We look forward to it.
Wroth’s other project Ritual Necromancy does not particularly have any impact on what Rites… does. I support all his efforts and goals! As he does ours outside of Rites…
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
PK: I wish to thank you for taking the time, conjuring creative questions and still being here, even after a 13 year hiatus. It still feels like yesterday!
See you on European soil!