Embrace of Thorns have been mainstays of the Hellenic black metal scene for just shy of two decades. Now, I’m sure that for a certain percentage of our loyal Vault Hunters, that sentence is cause for pause. Believe me, I get it – there are plenty of bands with twenty-year deep histories in the annals of metal, but how many of them are still creatively vital? Uh-huh. And how many seem to have been on autopilot for their last several releases?
So let’s get one thing straight up front: Scorn Aesthetics is not the product of a band that’s resting on their laurels. Fuck that noise.
In fact, Archfiend DevilPig and his cadre of demonic co-conspiritors–guitarists Herald of Demonic Pestilence and Fallen Angel of Fornication, bassist Rampike, and drummer Maelstrom–are so ready to start breaking bones and kicking asses that Scorn Aesthetics doesn’t even have an intro track. There’s just one quick sample of Charles Manson talking about Satan, and then “The Wanderer an His Shadow” comes swarming out of your speakers like a cloud of Beelzebub’s flies, and there is no fucking letup whatsoever from there.
Scorn Aesthetics is easily the most bombastic album in the Embrace of Thorns discography. It’s also very likely the strongest. It will be available tomorrow (June 22) from Iron Bonehead Productions, but we have the honor of streaming the entire album today here at the Vault. Give it a listen, and while you’re here make sure to check out my conversation with Archfiend DevilPig.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey – so thanks for being willing to answer a few questions. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Scorn Aesthetics over the last couple of weeks, and it just might be the strongest effort in the band’s lengthy discography. Actually, that’s where I’d like to start the conversation. Embrace of Thorns turns 20 this year. Did you ever imagine that you’d still be making this music two decades later?
Archfiend DevilPig: Thank you for having us and for holding Scorn Aesthetics in such a high regard. Back when we started we had no concept of longevity or long term plans. Younger humans don’t usually think like this. After getting the band back in track, which was in 2002, we started thinking about a long-term agenda. We were already fans of the scene for about ten years and we had a clearer concept of how things work in a band. Since the army also got out of the way in 2006, there was simply nothing that was able to place hurdles in our way. After we did Atonement and Praying in particular it became evident that EoT had a lot of life left in it. It feels nice being around even after twenty years and getting stronger with each respective release.
IMV: Speaking to timeframes, nearly four years have elapsed since Darkness Impenetrable, which is unusual for Embrace of Thorns. You also didn’t release any splits in the interim, which is even more unusual. Was there a reason behind the extended (by Embrace of Thorns standards, anyway) hiatus? I did also notice that aside from Archfiend DevilPig, only Herald of Demonic Pestilence remains from the lineup that on the last record – how much did that contribute to the longer-than-usual gap between albums?
ADP: Fallen Angel of Fornication (guitars) was also a part of the Darkness Impenetrable line-up. Changing record labels, and band members in the interim definitely contributed to the fact that there was a four-year gap between releases. Adding to that, I realized that after four albums of consistently upgrading quality, I/we had to push even more in order to make Scorn Aesthetics an album of almost impeccable quality, I don’t know if I succeeded, since I came up with all the music/lyrics for it, but the album and its creation consumed me for three years. I started writing for it in mid-2015 and after Maelstrom (drums) entered the picture, we rehearsed as a two-piece for the entire Summer of 2016, giving shape to the core of the album. Some great shows were performed in the meantime, and here we are four years after Darkness Impenetrable with an album that still remains hair-raising even after having listened to it for so many times.
Regarding splits, we don’t think there is any point in doing them anymore, as nobody seems to care for them. The last one we did with MAVETH was a great experience, but I think that this chapter is now closed for EoT, at least for the time being.
IMV: To my ears at least, Scorn Aesthetics has a different feel to it than your last couple of full-lengths – 2011’s Praying for Absolution and 2014’s Darkness Impenetrable. For lack of a better term, it seems more bombastic than anything else you’ve done. I’m not sure, though, if that’s a result of something new in the songwriting this time around – like the guitar solo at the beginning of “Reducto Ad Absurdum,” which immediately made my ears perk up—or the slightly cleaner production. Did you approach this album any differently than you have in the past? Are you still the primary songwriter in Embrace of Thorns, or have things gotten more collaborative over the years?
ADP: Yes, I am still the primary songwriter in the band, and dare I say even more so on this album, as all the music/texts were written by me and arranged by the band. I think the songwriting this time around may sound more grandiose because I wanted to convey the feeling of a classical piece, a requiem of sorts, hence this is an album full of dynamics still undeniably metallic, acidic, barbaric, evil, solemn and melancholic. The fact that we have become more proficient in our instruments, sound engineering skills and the fact that there is a new drummer in the band definitely stirred the creative waters. No album of ours is meant to sound alike. Yet I think that the musical core remains intact.
IMV: Since I alluded to it in the previous question, what was the recording process like for Scorn Aesthetics? Did you self-produce the album, like with Darkness Impenetrable, or did you work with an outside producer this time?
ADP: We self produced, but we collaborated with the fellas at D studio & Ignite studio here in Athens, where some of the tracking and all the mixing/mastering took place. The recording process itself was partly relaxed, and partly a bleeding torment of sorts, since this album was the most meticulous project we’ve taken part in so far…
But there are some great performances to be found on the album, so no complaints…
IMV: I don’t usually ask about the lyrical content of specific songs, but “In Our Image, After Our Likeness” struck a chord with me because of the opening sample from what is allegedly Jim Jones’s speech to his followers as they committed ‘revolutionary suicide’ in Guyana in 1978. Jones was born in Indiana and started his People’s Temple in Indianapolis, which is where Indy Metal Vault is based. Most of your lyrical content is either anti-Christian or occult-based. What was it about Jones’s story that inspired you to use that sample on the album?
ADP: The Jonestown tragedy remains a monument of blind obedience and brainwashing tactics. People with so-called “messianic” qualities fascinate me, and Jim Jones was a prime example of those people. Having watched several accounts of the Jonestown case and having listened to the Guyana death tape, it is probably an understatement to say that this was a tragedy of epic proportions. “In Our Image, After Our Likeness” is slowly twisting the knife in someone’s gut, but unwinds in a self-explanatory manner. It describes self-destructive human nature and the crippling need for someone/something of a higher power, plus all the implications and consequences of being a fatalistic creature that is designed to follow and obey without ever questioning anything or/and tearing its shackles apart. It is a very dramatic song, 9:30 minutes long and it features lots of mood variations throughout its entire duration.
IMV: The cover art for Scorn Aesthetics seems different from much of your past art as well, particularly in the way that it draws more explicitly on Greek mythology than your previous covers. It looks like a variation on the story of Prometheus, except that someone (possibly the maenads?) killed the eagle that eats his liver every day and are attacking him instead? Who did the cover? How closely did you work with the artist on the concept for the art?
ADP: There was/is no use in repeating motives that we have already used in the past. With an album called Scorn Aestheticsand a definite anchoring in classical music mannerisms, we had to have a cover that was all about aesthetics – profound, soulful, artistic but undeniably metallic, dark and serious. Mattias Frisk was the man that painted the cover artwork, and he excelled in it. Of course we worked closely with him, and I explained to him what I wanted. He was fascinated when he was asked to create an actual painting, and we were also fascinated to see the end result.
The Greek mythology did not influence the album in particular, but the Promethean/Faustian archetype did.
Allow me not to over explain the cover, but let’s point out that your interpretation points in the right direction.
IMV: After releasing your last few albums with Nuclear War Now! Productions, you’ve signed with Iron Bonehead for Scorn Aesthetics. Did anything in particular make you feel like it was time for a change?
ADP: Nothing in particular signaled the “change.” It just happened, we are still on great terms with NWN! and Yosuke is the official distributor of Iron Bonehead in the States. As for Patrick/Bonehead, we have known him for a while, and don’t forget that he released our debut LP on vinyl. He has proved that he is an avid supporter of what bands like ours do. It feels cool to be in the Bonehead clan again.
IMV: I want to preface this question by saying that I’ve never heard or read anything that has even suggested that Embrace of Thorns might be NS. As such, I feel like I might get a decent answer from you about how prevalent NSBM actually is in Europe.
Greece seems like an interesting case in particular, since Naer Mataron bassist/vocalist Kaiadas has been in the Greek Parliament since 2012 as a member of the Far-Right/Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Is NSBM as widespread as people (mostly Americans, I’ve noticed) seem to believe? Or is it more like the Red Scare of the late 1940s-50s in America, where a lot of people in the movie industry were falsely accused of having ties to the Communist Party? Do black metal fans just need to accept the fact that most bands are going to be connected in some way to another NSBM label or band, regardless of whether they’re NSBM themselves or not?
ADP: Time for the inconvenient question. Let’s just answer it since we’re just so fed up with people bringing politics to a music genre that doesn’t promote social betterment, but rather the complete and utter destruction of the current social status quo. To quote someone I don’t remember, “black metal was created to burn the bridges to reality, not to nourish them” [ed. note: I couldn’t find a source for the quote, either].In my view, politics is a hopeless concept in the year 2018. The concept of politics is just another man-made invention that shares a few things with organized religion as it thrives in manipulation, surveillance, and the angst of the general population, and it preys on the inconsistencies and frailties of the modern man. Personally speaking, I’ve been following my own agenda for a while now and I simply am too cynical and disillusioned to even care about something like politics, which enslaves and condemns the entire social structure to a life of misery. I don’t need politics in my life, period…
As for NS affiliated people, the proportion of them in the local extreme metal scene is not higher or lower than the one in “normal” society in general. In the year 2018, I strongly believe that very few people in general have done their history homework so as to know or even have a clue what NS is really about. The majority of those who support NS are either drawn to it by its aesthetics or are simply disillusioned Far-Right wingers, Greece is another example of what I’m saying. When nations are in distress, in recession or when prosperity is not in the picture, then lower instincts prevail. People tend to lean to the often times populist extremes and refuse to look at their own face in the mirror and realize what they did wrong. Anyway, since most people are uneducated cattle or lack self esteem, they will always be in need of Messiahs…sad but true.
I tend to believe that the Red Scare was a totally different thing than the rise of the Far-Right on the European continent…
But seriously I’d rather have my black or death metal politics-free any day…
IMV: What’s next for Embrace of Thorns after Scorn Aesthetics comes out? Is there any touring in your near future, possibly in the US?
ADP: Some shows in support of the album are to be expected, mostly festivals, but a tour is also part of our plans to a certain extent.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?
ADP: Thank you.