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Split Premiere: Ashen Chalice and La Torture des Ténèbres + An Interview With Laethyan of Ashen Chalice

It’s been less than a month since I last wrote about Ottowa’s mysterious atmospheric black/noise merchants La Torture des Ténèbres, when I interviewed the band’s only semi-publicly known member J. K. about The Gods Themselves, their recently released split with Ukrainian ambient black metal duo microcsmys. Well…LTDT has been kind of busy since then. First was the surprise Sept. 3 digital release of the bizarre-even-by-LTDT-standards compilation In Hell, a seemingly random 16-song collection of noise tracks, samples, voicemail messages, and perhaps most inexplicably (unless you’re aware of the projects some of LTDT’s other members are involved in), several lo-fi dance-pop songs sung by a male in a high falsetto voice.

Second is their forthcoming split with Croatia’s Ashen Chalice, which will be available on cassette on September 15 via Dutch label The Throat (preorder here), and which we are thrilled to be premiering here today at the Vault. “L’Éloignement,” the track La Torture des Ténèbres contributes to the split, is also something of a departure for the band, though nowhere near the same shock to the system as In Hell.

LTDT have always had something of an old-time cinematic quality in both their music and their aesthetic, but it seems far more pronounced on “L’Éloignement,” perhaps because the wall-of-noise elements that comprise such a large part of their sound seem to have been dialed back considerably. There’s something that almost sounds sentimental in J. K.’s comparatively bare guitar lines, like the swells of violins that would accompany an especially tragic romantic scene – the first one that came to my mind was the scene in Vertigo where Madeleine goes ‘mad,’ flees Scotty’s embrace, and leaps into San Francisco Bay. It’s undoubtedly still going to sound ungodly harsh to anyone not already familiar with the band. To my ears, though, there’s a beauty to the song that I don’t think I’ve ever quite heard from them before. It also may well be my new favorite LTDT song.

When I asked J. K. for a few words about “L’Éloignement” (which translates as “The Distance”), she offered:

The track deals with socioemotional distance, a concept which lies entirely in perception. Those who are felt as far away from us may be truly closer than they appear.

Ashen Chalice may not be as familiar a name to North American listeners as La Torture des Ténèbres, in no small part because they have even less of an online presence than J. K. and her mysterious co-conspirators – they don’t even have a Metal Archives page, despite having five incredibly solid releases available on their Bandcamp page, four of which have also seen a cassette release (two via The Throat). In many ways, the project is cut from a very similar cloth as LTDT: Ashen Chalice plays a particularly raw style of black metal that’s heavily augmented with power electronics. In contrast to LTDT, however, “Represija Ljubavi” might be the most unrelenting song in Ashen Chalice’s discography.

There are reasons for the song’s fury, but I’ll leave those explanations to Laethyan, the (possibly lone?) member of Ashen Chalice that I had the opportunity to chat with recently. Check out our conversation while listening to the split in its entirety below.

Indy Metal Vault: So first off, thanks for the interview. Aside from a Bandcamp page, I’ve not really been able to find anything about Ashen Chalice anywhere online, so I appreciate your willingness to chat. Let’s start with your split with La Torture des Ténebrès, which we’ll be streaming along with this interview. According to your Bandcamp, you’re based in Croatia, and LTDT are out of Ottawa – how did you end up hooking up for this split?

Laethyan: Hi! No problem, it’s a pleasure. A friend of mine told me about LTDT, so I started listening and everything from the music to the aesthetic really grabbed me. So I emailed J.K. if they were willing to do a split. She said yes, and the rest you know.

IMV: As prep for this interview, I listened to the roughly two hours of music that you currently have on Bandcamp. Even though all five releases came out in a span of about fifteen months, I can definitely hear an evolution from your first release Ritual Under the Blackened Moon to your most recent full-length Kroz život sa razbijenim očima. That’s both a lot of music and a lot of growth in a short span of time. Did you actually compose and record all of the music on those releases in the last coupe of years, or had you been sitting on some of that material for a while?

L: I compose and record all of the music, and I rarely sit on anything. I have a couple of riffs that I play from time to time but they are basically just waiting to be made into a song.

IMV: Your fourth release Kada postenemo pepeo, kada prihvatimo smrt is where I think your sound really came together. Perhaps coincidentally, it’s also the recording where you switched from using English for your album/song titles to using Croatian for the majority of them. Why make that shift? Did your thinking about what you wanted to accomplish with Ashen Chalice change around that time as well?

L: The shift was made really naturally, the lyrics became more honest and raw and the whole concept and purpose behind the project started making more sense. I think that was the time when I started pushing my personal beliefs with Ashen Chalice. It grows as I grow. It’s an extension of me.

IMV: Let’s back up a bit here. Ashen Chalice’s music is a mix of black metal and harsh noise. What initially drew you to that style of music? When you were first starting out, did you think of yourself as a noise artist who was making black metal, or a black metal artist who experiments with power electronics? Or do you even make a distinction between the two in your mind?

L: I was always into extreme music, since I was a kid. But I think I truly got into black metal when I started getting into more metal that was made by punks. Since the hardcore punk scene raised me through my teen years, I was always more attracted to the less complex music. Emotions mattered more. Black metal is the purest form of metal. It’s just emotion. No complications. It’s the same with noise. I think when I started this project I saw a huge difference in the two genres. But later the lines became blurred.

IMV: Since the subject fascinates me, I almost always ask about gear – and it doubly fascinates me when I’m talking to artists who do power electronics. What does your setup look like? Do you primarily use a computer like Merzbow and do the granular synthesis thing to create your noise, or do you do it the old-fashioned way with pedal chains? Do you handle the recording yourself as well?

L: I use a computer. I know, pretty lame. But I record random stuff then distort it or manipulate it in multiple ways until I get something interesting. And yes, I record everything by myself.

IMV: I’ll admit that I know very little about the metal scene in Croatia. In fact, off the top of my head I can’t name another Croatian metal band. I did see that Ashen Chalice is part of a collective called the Black Ash Circle alongside a pair of bands called Phezulu and Tkivo, but (unsurprisingly) there’s not much information available online about either of those bands. How did the Black Ash Circle end up coming together? Is there much of a black metal underground in Croatia?

L: To be honest, there is no scene. There were a lot of black metal bands, but they were either bad or they were just a bunch of nationalistic bigots. Johann Wolfgang Pozoj and Pogavranjen are the only black metal bands worth listening to from Croatia.

Ashen Chalice is the founding project behind Black Ash Circle. The collective came together as a way of distancing ourselves from the rest of the Croatian “black metal” scene. I’m not saying we aren’t a part of it. But I don’t want to have anything to do with a lot of the bands that are or were connected to the scene. Not really. There are a few bands that play live, and a few solo projects. But it’s mostly dead.

IMV: Since I got a brief comment from J. K. about “L’Éloignement,” LTDT’s song on the split, is there anything you want to say about your track “Represija Ljubavi.” Assuming Google isn’t leading me astray, the title translates as “Repression of Love,” which seems a bit different than your usual subject matter.

L: As do most of us, we write about problems that seem to worry us or cause us harm in any way. I could write a whole essay about this song, but I’ll keep it short. It’s a fuck you to the Croatian nationalist government, the whole right wing, who do nothing but glorify the war the happened on these grounds. They are repressing us. Our love.

IMV: Thanks again for the interview. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?

L: Thank you for wanting to speak to me. Keep you scene alive! Book shows, buy merch, support labels. Watch out for each other! Remember, there is no master race!

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