In his seminal 1855 poem “Song of Myself,” American poet Walt Whitman famously wrote “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world,” unwittingly engendering a century’s worth (and counting) of confusion among high school students who encounter the poem in their American Lit classes (plus one slightly contrived scene in Dead Poet’s Society). So what was Uncle Walt on about? In the poem’s previous line, he calls himself “untranslatable,” which makes me believe that his “barbaric yawp” isn’t something that can really be defined. It’s likely something harsh. There’s a deeply emotional element to it – anger, fear, existential despair. And even though he calls it “my barbaric yawp,” I’ve always thought there was something that seemed vaguely ‘out of body’ about the phrase. He doesn’t create the yawp; instead, he channels it. He is the vessel through which the yawp is given shape.
What does any of this have to do with Death. Void. Terror. and their debut full-length To The Great Monolith I? Given the way the duo describe the role the Great Monolith played in the creation of the two epic tracks–the 24+ minute “(——-)” and the nearly 17 minute “(—-)”–that make up the album, it seems as though To The Great Monolith I may actually be a bit of a barbaric yawp in and of itself. The nameless, origin-less practitioners of Death. Void. Terror. don’t speak as though they create their music so much as they channel it through ritualistic practices, the details of which remain known to only themselves.
To that end, To The Great Monolith I ends up being something of a difficult album to describe. It’s chaotic black metal, but not in any way that I’ve really heard it played before. The closest analogue is probably the Mystískaos collective, but their chaos is largely by design. I get the sense that not even Death. Void. Terror. know quite what’s going to happen when they pick up their instruments.
We’re streaming To The Great Monolith I in full here today at the Vault, ahead of its May 4 release from Iron Bonehead Productions. It’s not an easy album to process by any means, but the band were surprisingly forthcoming (to a certain point, at least) in the interview that accompanies our exclusive stream. So press play and enter the vortex that is Death. Void. Terror.
Indy Metal Vault: So first off, thanks for agreeing to an interview. To The Great Monolith I isn’t the easiest album for listeners to wrap their heads around, so I’m looking forward to talking about it a bit. Before we get to that, though, I always do a bit of research before I start writing questions, and I can find absolutely nothing about Death. Void. Terror. online aside from what Iron Bonehead sent out to announce the album’s release. I’m guessing that anonymity is deliberate, so I’m not going to ask anything specific about your identities, but are you willing to reveal anything at all? The promo photo makes it look like the band is a duo – where are you based? Have you have played together in bands before?
Death. Void. Terror.: Two practitioners were involved in the creation of To The Great Monolith I. The location of the individual practitioners is irrelevant, as their sole purpose is to serve as vessels for the Great Monolith and its total finality. Death. Void. Terror. as an entity, however, has no location. A central tenet to Death. Void. Terror. is that there is no origin. Having said that, Death. Void. Terror. is affiliated with the Helvetic Underground Committee.
IMV: Speaking of Iron Bonehead’s press release, in a way it almost reads more like an artistic manifesto than the typical PR materials. They mention that the band’s goal is to “achieve the most pure expression of the ‘unconscious’ and to confront the listener with authentic ritual experiences, captured directly as they were conducted by the practitioners involved.” That’s a pretty clear statement of intent, but was that your goal with Death. Void. Terror. from the start? Did you come together wanting to “transcend the conventions of ‘composition’ and ‘performance’ in modern music culture,” or was it something that arose naturally as you continued to play together?
D.V.T.: Perhaps I should elaborate on what we mean by purity in expression and how this is achieved from the unconscious state, as relates to the ritual experiences captured on our recordings. Through abstraction from the human experience, i.e. by removing human thoughts completely from one’s mind, we believe that one can become receptive to the Great Monolith. This requires careful preparation as well as absolute severance from a conventional musical creation process, which we believe would taint what the Great Monolith bestows upon us. As such, composition and rehearsal must be abandoned in favor of surrendering oneself to something abstract and external, a horrific experience in and of itself. These concepts were not a result of a prior humanist creative process and were in a sense completely unnatural, insofar as “natural” means a result of evolutional progression. Rather, they were revealed suddenly to us by means outside of our control.
IMV: Are you willing to expand at all on the “authentic ritual experiences” part of the statement in the previous question? Are they entheogenic/drug-induced experiences, similar to some of the Mystískaos collective’s projects? Are they occult-based rituals? Something else entirely?
D.V.T.: What we mean by authentic ritual experiences is that the recordings were captured in a state of the unconscious, meaning that the practitioners involved were free of human thought and completely surrendered to the Great Monolith. This goes beyond conventional occult rituals, or drug-induced experiences, as these (in particular occult-based rituals) commonly referred to in conventional extreme metal music mostly seek to reveal some hidden knowledge that is supposed to enhance the human who engages in such an endeavor. The purpose of Death. Void. Terror. is quite the opposite, insofar as any human aspects must be rendered mute in order to achieve unconscious expression and be receptive to the Great Monolith.
IMV: This may end up covering some of the same territory as the previous question, but I’m guessing from the statement in the PR notes that To The Great Monolith I is “not music that has been rehearsed, honed, and tailored” that the album was to some extent improvised? Did you have rough frameworks worked out for either track before you started recording? Was either one excerpted from a longer experience or improvisation, or are they both presented in their complete forms? Were the vocals recorded during the experiences as well, or added afterwards?
D.V.T.: Due to the nature of Death. Void. Terror., any form of rehearsal – that is to say a pre-arranged composition that is honed into a specific form as envisioned by the composer – would be contrary to our pursuit. However, improvisation is not an accurate description for what takes place during our overall process, as improvisation implies a form of free, spontaneous creation. The creations of Death. Void. Terror. are anything but free. Rather, they require specific preparation to be more receptive to what the Great Monolith bestows upon us as its vessels and are, as such, bound to what we have received from it. The results may vary in any case, depending on many circumstances we often have little control over. However, to a certain degree we can feel when we are most effective as vessels for the Great Monolith and it is in these moments that we believe our most pure recordings are made.
The works captured on To The Great Monolith I are complete and separate recordings and are not parts of a greater recording, although we have followed this approach for other recordings that will be revealed at a later date. The reason for this approach is that receptiveness to the Great Monolith can be interrupted or hindered through various factors, resulting in the beginning of a recording being completely authentic but devolving into something impure at a later stage in the process, e.g. as a result of a practitioner allowing human thought to enter into the conscious and therefore hindering receptiveness to the Great Monolith.
Regarding the part of your question pertaining to our process specifically, the vocal recordings are made separately from the “instrumental” recordings and added in a separate process that is analogous to the unconscious process of the “instrumental” recordings.
IMV: What was your actual recording setup like? Given the ritualistic aspect of the performances, I’d be surprised if you used a traditional recording studio – in fact, it reminds me more that a little bit of Holocausto Em Chamas’s Sermões Da Montanha, which was recorded in a cave. Where did you actually record the album, and what did you use for the recording? Would you say the sound on To The Great Monolith I is more a result of where you recorded it or the recording equipment/gear you used?
D.V.T.: The location of our recordings is irrelevant to the perception of them for a listener; suffice to say that the state in which one must be in order to be receptive to the Great Monolith cannot be achieved in a conventional recording studio. We used a wide array of instruments for the recording, whereas each one individually is irrelevant and should only be seen in the context of the entire work, guided by the Great Monolith. Equipment and gear are irrelevant for our purposes as well and may change depending on what is deemed necessary by the Great Monolith. I realize this may seem repetitive, but it is the only way I know to convey how our recordings are formed.
IMV: There’s something about the cover for To The Great Monolith I that I find deeply upsetting, though I’m not sure I can explain why – there seems to be this very basic, existential fear of isolation at the core of the image. Who did the cover art, and how closely did you work with the artist on the concept?
D.V.T.: Just like the actual recordings, the artwork and layout of this release was channeled directly from the Great Monolith in a similar process to the audio recordings. There was no external artist involved, as this would run counter to the purpose of Death. Void. Terror. We create all and we create nothing in the sense that we serve as vessels for the Great Monolith. It is in this context that the artwork was created. The emotions you describe pertaining to the artwork of To The Great Monolith I are entirely appropriate, as they are contained in the finality that pulses from the Great Monolith when it is perceived by the human conscious.
IMV: I’m imagining the way this material would come across in a live setting, and the phrase ‘harrowingly intense’ is the first thing that comes to mind. Does Death. Void. Terror. ever play live, or are you strictly a studio project?
D.V.T.: Death. Void. Terror. cannot play live, i.e. in front of an audience, as this setting would not allow for appropriate receptiveness to the Great Monolith. A live performance as such is humanist in nature, and the purity in expression required for Death. Void. Terror. would be rendered obsolete in front of a crowd of people.
IMV: What’s next for Death. Void. Terror. after To The Great Monolith I comes out? Assuming the I in the title is the Roman numeral one, does that mean there could be a To The Great Monolith II some time in the not too distant future?
D.V.T.: We have recordings completed that will serve as To The Great Monolith II, which are quite different to the recordings that form To The Great Monolith I. This difference is due to the fact that the nature of Death. Void. Terror. results in us having little to no control over what is created through us. Rather, the creations of Death. Void. Terror. are reflections of the Great Monolith. We do not follow a specific timeline, so I cannot say when these recordings will be revealed.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?
D.V.T.: We appreciate the thought you put into these questions. No origin. No order. Death. Void. Terror.