Sovereign, the primary songrwriter behind Finnish band Khanus, describes the band’s music as ‘Shamanic Metal of Death.’ Yeah, I kind of scratched my head when I first read that description, too. The only other band I can think of that’s used ‘shamanic’ as a descriptor of their sound is Tengger Cavalry, and their style of music isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. However, Khanus’s debut full-length Flammarion is being released by the venerable I, Voidhanger Records, who have a near-impeccable track record when it comes to unorthodox-sounding bands. In other words, instant benefit of the doubt.
Thankfully, my fears that Khanus would sound like some sort of strange hybrid of Finnish folk music and death metal proved unfounded. Instead, Sovereign (guitars/bass/vocals) and his collaborators Meltiis (soprano vocals/choirs) and Lordt (drums/singing bowl) have produced an album full of hypnotic riffs and trance-inducing percussion that feels both familiar and not – that draws on recognizable musical elements but never ends up where the listener expects it to go.
We have the pleasure of premiering Flammarion‘s closing track “Magick and Numbers” here today at the Vault, and it’s a perfect example of how the band incorporates those shamanic elements into both their music and lyrics. With an almost primitive-sounding main riff and prominent choral elements, it draws the listener in so completely that its six-minute run time will seem to pass by in a flash. Get too lost inside those trance-like rhythms, though, and you risk missing the surprisingly nuanced percussion and ritualistic lead vocal.
Flammarion will be available on July 20 via I, Voidhanger Records (preorder here), but you can listen to “Magick and Numbers” right now. While you do so, check out my conversation with Sovereign and Lordt as well.
Indy Metal Vault: For starters, thanks for the interview. Flammarion is a really remarkable album – firmly rooted in primitive black/death metal, but with shamanistic and avant-garde elements that push it in entirely unexpected directions. And speaking of the unexpected, the album opens with a very unique take on Darkthrone’s “The Serpent’s Harvest.” In fact, I’m not sure I’d have recognized it had the PR notes not specifically mentioned that it’s a cover. It’s a bold take on the song, and making it the first track on the album is even bolder – especially since Flammarion is also your first full-length. Why did you decide to take that kind of risk?
Sovereign: Salute, glad to hear Flammarion made an impression on you. For Flammarion, I wanted to have a mävery primal opening on the album, something to slowly immerse the listener into a magical world of infinite possibilities, and felt none of the current Khanus tracks had enough of that. Then this song by Darkthrone was playing in my head and I started chanting the main guitar riff and I felt like it had to be done in the style of our Shamanic Metal Of Death. It had exactly the essence I wanted to start with. I make a lot of the compositions for Khanus and the steps I take are driven by intuition, so I went with it and I’m really satisfied with how our homage to the Norwegian legends opens this journey of ours.
Lordt: What can I say? Sovereign really loves that song…
IMV: Darkthrone covers aside, the thing I find the most striking about Flammarion are the shamanistic elements. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the history of Finnish shamanism, or Finnish paganism for that matter. Actually, the sum total of my knowledge on the subject is one story: sailors would buy ropes that Finnish shamans knotted because it was believed that untying one would raise favorable winds. Where did your interest in shamanism come from? At what point did you know that you wanted to incorporate shamanistic elements into your music?
Sovereign: To me, music as an art should come pure from the heart with a pristine vision behind it. At this point in time and space, Shamanism resonates well with who I am and how I see things. To me, Khanus is a very personal journey, almost like a diary of the things I’ve read and experienced, and I feel like I need to bring forth these topics and ideas through the medium of our Shamanic Metal of Death.
IMV: I feel like the music that Khanus makes is deceptively complex. Thanks to the shamanistic elements, there’s a definite trance-like quality in the songwriting that recurs throughout Flammarion, but anyone who gets lulled into a hypnotic state risks missing out on some of that complexity. I’m thinking in particular here of “The Uncreated.” That intro riff is probably my favorite on the album – it’s thrashy, but the chord progression resolves in an unexpected (there’s that word again) fashion. That’s a good way to describe a lot of the riffs in that song, actually; they start in a familiar place but end somewhere else entirely. What’s your songwriting process like? Is one person primarily responsible for writing the music, or do you jam things out in the rehearsal room?
Sovereign: Everything starts from a solitary moment with peace of mind. When the Inspiration comes I allow it to pour out and let myself fall into this hypnotic state of creation. I usually know/feel what I want to hear before I get the tones out of my instrument, like channeling some timeless universal melody from a common source.
We don’t rehearse together for now. I need to get into the right mindset to be creative, and jamming doesn’t get me there. Lordt takes care of the drum arrangements after I’ve completed my vision for the track and everything is crowned with the enchanting voice of Meltiis – she Who Binds Through Magic Song.
Lordt: For me, as for so many of the projects I’ve been involved with over the years, this is rarely the case. And Khanus is no different. On a personal level, I’ve always preferred working in this piecemeal kind of way. It offers more scope and clarity to experiment with ideas without the fuss and chaos that a rehearsal room can sometimes accommodate.
But, aside from these practical factors, the real beauty is being able to easily work with anyone, from any place. If memory serves (which is quite often doesn’t!), Sovereign and I first got in touch through Metal Archives, when I was going through a lull in my own musical schedule and decided to seek new music to get involved with. I found many more local bands uninspiring, but having listened to the Rites of FireEP in Sovereign’s advert, my interest was instantly piqued. A few conversations later and he’d painted the picture for me with regards to plans for an LP and sent me some tracks sans drums to get working on.
I’ve a Roland TD30 at home, which is invaluable as tool to rehearse parts and even lay down examples, which I forwarded to the rest of the band in their respective Finnish dwellings.
I took a trip to Finland last year to meet up with Sovereign and we did actually have a short jam in his rehearsal room there, but I’m not sure those moments yielded any decent material, even if they did contribute to our overall Long-Drink tally for the weekend!
IMV: I’ve had a chance to see the lyrics to Flammarion. Even though I’m not particularly well versed in Finnish paganism, I can still tell there’s a major spiritual aspect to them. On a certain level, though, they remind me of the very non-Finnish Tao Te Ching in the way that they pose deep questions in an almost a circular fashion. “Secular Spiritual Existence” in particular has the feel of something Lao-Tzu would have written:
“Where the beginning starts
where the end ends
or are they just the same?
What is the end of the Universe
Is there one?
What if there is no end
Can there be a beginning?”
I don’t like asking questions about the meanings of lyrics, so let me ask this instead: what are some of the sources that you drew on when composing lyrics for Flammarion? If you were to put together a reading list to accompany the album, what would be on it?
Sovereign: Shamanism to me is a universal ancient practice. It’s a natural state of being yourself and existing, and I enjoy learning from all the traditions there are and have been. We cover a lot of topics on the album, and some people are more well versed in these topics than others, so it’s hard to give recommendations to suit everyone. My own selections come very intuitively and that is the first thing I would recommend, follow that gut feeling – if something entices you get acquainted with it.
But for titles I could recommend, something on Hermeticism like The Kybalion for starters. The idea for “Surrupu” is from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Shamanism – Archaic Techniquesof Ecstacy by Mircea Eliade is a great study on various forms of Shamanism, and of course read something from Camille Flammarion or about Camille Flammarion – the bold rock star of astrology in 19th century France (that’s where the title of the album is derived from, too). And I’d conclude this with C. G. Jung, who has some interesting views on Alchemy.
IMV: I’m really intrigued by Business for Satan’s cover art for Flammarion. He also recently did the art for Délétère’s De Horae Leprae, which is also really striking. How did you end up connecting with him for the cover, and how closely did you work with him on the concept for the art?
Sovereign: The overall concept of the art was actually planned together with Luciano from I, Voidhanger Records. He’s got a fantastic grasp on all things visual, and after spinning ideas we landed on the mysterious “Flammarion engraving” and I felt an instant connection to that piece of art. So what we decided upon was to take that idea and make like a modern interpretation of that with some personal symbols and concepts I wanted to incorporate into it. Then what we have today is Master Pierre of Business for Satan visualizing that with his dark talent for arts. He really mastered the concept with his wonderful drawing and no further guidance was needed from us.
IMV: We have the honor of premiering Flammarion’s closing track “Magick and Numbers” along with this interview. What are you willing to tell our readers about the track? From a lyrical perspective, it may be the most complex song on the album.
Sovereign: “Magick and Numbers” is a view of the circular nature of life, the magical connections of numbers and reality and an unsettling journey from the fragile, mundane self to a complete spiritual being.
IMV: So what are your plans after Flammarion comes out? Is Khanus a band that plays live very often?
Sovereign: Khanus for now is a studio only entity. To bring a solid version of our vision into a live environment would require quite intense preparations and a lot more people involved, which is something our limited energy does not extend to now. When the time is right we could be doing this, but that time is not yet.
After Flammarion there is a very special compilation coming through I, Voidhanger Records based on the Major Arcana of the Tarot, a project that has been coming together since 2012. We had the opportunity to join many interesting bands on this compilation. Our take on “ XIV – The Art” was recorded during the Flammarion sessions but comes with a bit different kind of production.
After that compilation we have a split release under work with US Black Metal band Ecferus, where both bands will do an homage for each classical Elemental, like a study into the building blocks of our reality.
Then my plan is to follow that with an EP or LP based entirely on old Finnish Spells where there will be more room and space for elements like what we incorporated in our “Dance of the Shaman” single from 2016 – more primal hypnotic trance-like qualities involved. The cover-art for this release is already done.
And finally we have a 4-way split planned for 2019 onwards with three other fantastic bands. Our epic track on that will probably go by the name “Beast-Man-God,” but nothing else is to be told of this yet.
Lordt: We’ve been working on some more material for a split release, and I’m not far off being ready to track drums for that and to shed some further light on it. When I asked my new neighbor if these preparations were bothering him, he said it was fine, although he had at first assumed I was playing Call of Duty at extreme volumes.
With regards to live, I guess it possible, but I’m not sure how likely? We might need to get some hired muscle for that if it comes to pass. But for the right gig, sure, why not? I’m hoping to get over to Oulu again this year, so we’ll see what that brings, although it may just be more Sauna!
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?
Sovereign: “Our self is deathless. We are the Spirit which exists separate from matter, which survives the portals of physical death, which is never born, that never dies, never changes and never goes or comes.
Without birth or death, eternal, ever-existing, free, unchangeable and beyond all conditions is this Soul of man – the real Self of man.”
Khanus and I, Voidhanger were also good enough to give us permission to reprint the lyrics to “Magick and Numbers”
Magick And Numbers
the significance of Numbers
the whole scheme of Universes
how they function
the messenger – the illuminator – Transformation
black and white
Composites and primes
the movement of the Zodiac
Through revelations and intuition
to entire planetary octaves
It is of little consequence what they do
Will you remain in occlusion?
A change is needed
On a societal level
The old ways work no more, things need to go
0 – Cycles, cycles, cycles
the limitless ALL
1 – The singular ‘I’
the straight path
the line of continuum
2 – Duality and polarity
Two merge to become one
3 – The point of trinity
of fire, action and will
4 – Solidity of form
function – endurance – permanence
5 – the Pentagram
Tuli – Vesi – Ilma – Maa – Henki
6 – I have felt the waters of chaos
I have birthed what will flow
7 – The Seven Sacred Vowels
The Seven Major Chakras
The Seven Dragon Queens
8 – This is the point of sacrifice
what I have gathered for myself
I came upon a Path of choosing
held by the Gates of Time
9 – True wisdom
We test our strengths
We refine our weaknesses
the threshold of our glory
10 – The truth of my beginnings
the knowledge of my final end
The All that has been and will be
the Spirit of the Limitless All