Helsinki-based Saturnal Records might not be a label that’s familiar to a lot of our loyal Vault Hunters. They haven’t been around for very long (about four-and-a-half years), and they haven’t done many releases in that span (somewhere around twenty-five titles). However, as the kids are wont to say these days, Saturnal has been fucking killing it – especially in 2018. They’ve already released outstanding records from Funerary Bell, Djevelkult, and Curse Upon a Prayer (the latter of which we premiered here at the Vault), and that was just the beginning. They have at least five more releases on the books for this year, and as I’ve had the opportunity to hear them all, I feel confident in making a pair of assertions: no two of those releases sound all that much alike, and they’re all essential listening.
Lucky for you Vault Hunters, we’re actually streaming two of those albums in full here this week at IMV. Up first is Labyrinth of Bridges, the debut long-player from Vancouver’s Burial Shrine. The trio of EH, RW, and CXM play a raw, aggressive style of Satanic black metal that owes at least a little something to British Colombian legends Blasphemy, but with a variety of other influences at play as well, including a decidedly punkish sense of urgency.
Labyrinth of Bridges will be available on Sunday, September 23 – the date of the final equinox of 2018 (preorder here). Stream it in full below, and check out my interview with EH while you’re at it.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey – thanks for the interview. Labyrinth of Bridges is one of those albums that I find myself appreciating more and more every time I listen to it, so I’m looking forward to talking about it. Before getting to that, though, I want to ask about the album’s September 23 release date, which is a Sunday. According to the promo materials, that date was chosen because it’s the Autumnal Equinox. That date has particular significance in pagan and heathen traditions—in fact, it’s often referred to as the ‘Pagan Thanksgiving.’ However, since Gnostic/Satanic author J. Nefastos (who I’ll ask about specifically later) wrote lyrics for one of the album’s tracks, I’m guessing you’re more on the occult end of the spectrum than the pagan end. Whose idea was it to release it on the equinox, the band’s or Saturnal Records? Does that date have any significance for you as a band?
EH: Greetings! Thank you for your kind words, and for your interest in the band. As to your first question – indeed, Burial Shrine plays Satanic black metal. Our content is directed towards that avenue of spirituality and occultism. That said, I instantly loved the suggestion from Saturnal Records to release the album on the Autumnal Equinox. Despite not being a follower of any specifically pagan tradition, the turning of the year’s wheel does represent various important points of focus for me. It is especially so with Autumn, which represents a reprieve from the oppressive heat of the summer and a return to a more peaceful and meditative time of the year. It begins a new cycle of death, which shares some very important relations to the themes of the band. It was the ideal date to release the album.
IMV: Burial Shrine hails from Vancouver, British Columbia. As most black metal fans likely know, Ross Bay Cemetery is in Vancouver, which was a frequent hangout for Blasphemy and the rest of what would become known as the Ross Bay Cult. There’s a straightforward quality to your approach to black metal that does remind me a bit of Blasphemy, but there’s also an urgency and aggressive edge in the performances and especially the vocals that makes me wonder if any of you have played in hardcore bands. I understand and completely respect that Burial Shrine prefers to remain anonymous, but are you willing to talk in broad terms about your musical backgrounds and how you came together in this band?
EH: Interesting question! Myself and the other members of the band all listen to a very wide variety of music, which of course influences us, even if just subconsciously. Although certain influences may manifest in very minute or barely tangible ways, they are still there. All of our various lived experiences and the things that we absorb on a regular basis are inspiration for what we do. It’s just a matter of how we channel those through our own voice, to express our own emotions, necessarily filtered through our ability.
For myself as the songwriter of the band, the first time I ever picked up an electric guitar some ten years ago, it was to play black metal. It wasn’t much of a choice – it was just the sound that came most naturally to me, and the one that I can’t seem to escape. I am not a very skilled player, and I tend to favor hammering things out as hard as I can over any attempt at technical and clean playing. I believe this adds to the intensity and the urgency of the recording that you and most others seem to pick up on, for which I’m very grateful. One could see this as a bit of a punk approach to playing if one wishes.
As for the vocals, which are shared between the three members of the band – none of us are practiced “vocalists” per se. We used improper technique and blew our voices out numerous times during the recording. The vocals were done in very few takes, and nothing was changed unless something was absolutely unusable. I believe that this also added to the urgency of the recording. We just gave it everything we had – what would be the point in playing this music if we gave it anything less?
I’ll address the subject of hardcore that you asked about, only because it opens up a somewhat rare conversation nowadays. I speak only for myself, but I know the rest of the band relates. I spent a lot of time in my youth listening to punk and hardcore (I use the two terms interchangeably. I believe that to separate them is to make a mistake). It represents my first introduction to aggressive music. That said, I was always drawn to the darker and more metallic aspects of the music, and this is what led me towards black, death and all the other various styles of metal that I love as I left my teenage years behind. Nowadays I listen to very little punk when compared to all the other styles of music that I enjoy, and it has been this way for a very long time now – but I will always have an appreciation for it. Its energy and urgency is likely one of those subconscious influences that plays into what I do with Burial Shrine. I know a lot of metal fans do not like punk at all, and that’s fine – but those who ignore its influence and shared history with metal have blinders on and are lying to themselves.
I believe it is important to approach both genres with a healthy respect to their rich histories and tradition, while at the same time keeping our eyes to the future. The two evolved side by side, and I believe that much of black metal’s raw aesthetic is due in part to punk. Look at early Bathory, or early Celtic Frost – there are punk influences all over those records. Read old Blasphemy interviews – those guys loved punk. Anyone who listens to early Celtic Frost and doesn’t hear Discharge’s influence is missing out on two things: one, a crucial evolutionary link in the history of the music that they love, and two, one of life’s great pleasures: listening to Discharge.
Speaking of Blasphemy – you are correct to note them as an influence of ours. Their presence is such a part of the landscape here in Vancouver (and worldwide) that it’s hard to ignore, but our music travels in a different direction as well. I have to issue a small correction though, and point out that Ross Bay is in Victoria, on Vancouver Island – not in Vancouver itself.
IMV: The promo materials also mention that the band started working on a demo in 2014, but abandoned it in favor of heading back to the rehearsal room and continuing to work on songwriting and refine your sound. This might be difficult to answer, but how different is the material that ended up on Labyrinth of Bridges than what would have been on that 2014 demo? Did any of those early songs make it onto the new album in any form (a heavily rewritten version, riffs repurposed in new songs, etc.), or did you end up scrapping it all and starting over from scratch?
EH: The final album is far more dynamic than the demo would have been. Our vision at that time had not crystallized enough, and the original set of songs contained elements that needed to be stripped away. I’m glad it never materialized. The re-working and re-writing of those original songs was more a process of stripping things away to find the song’s primal energy, rather than one of building them up. Quite a few riffs were discarded, including one full song that was never used. But a lot of riffs, structures and chord progressions did make the cut as well. One of the songs actually remained almost entirely the same, but the changes occurred in how the riffs were played – not the riffs themselves. Things became a lot more vicious because of this.
There are a few songs from the original set that did make it onto the album, albeit in an edited and stripped down form: “To Walk The Edge of Infinity,” “To Give Answer,” and “To Scorch The Earth” – the generally more aggressive sides of the album. Regarding the rest of the songs, two of them were begun around 2013/2014, but originally intended for other projects. The remaining two songs were written later (spring/summer 2017) without a specific project in mind, but it was around this time that I began to realize that everything belonged to a singular vision – and that vision was Burial Shrine. Hopefully this sheds some light on where the band came from, and where it might be headed in the future.
IMV: I don’t usually ask where album titles come from, but the phrase Labyrinth of Bridges is so striking that I can’t not ask about it. I think it’s because of the contrast there. Labyrinths don’t necessarily have to be underground, but that’s the association that I usually make – labyrinthine dungeons, because I apparently play entirely too many RPGs. I certainly don’t think of bridges when I think of elaborate mazes. Is there any symbolism to the title that you’d be willing to unpack?
EH: I generally prefer to leave interpretation up to the reader, but you’ve been asking thoughtful questions, and the title is indeed rich with symbolism – so I’ll play along. I wish we could take credit for such a striking title, but it belongs to Johannes Nefastos. When I received the lyrics to the song from him, it was immediately apparent that it was going to be the title of the album. There was really no other consideration. Along with the lyrics he sent me, he offered some commentary on its meaning, of which I can share a portion: “The song is about the void resulting from the building of bridges (work for unity).”
I personally view this bridge as a connecting structure used to cross over gaps, to get to the next stage of the spiritual journey. The labyrinth results from all these individual bridges being built, the individual steps being taken towards this spiritual unity. He continues: “This is about the accomplishment, of taking a step towards ‘God,’ (not separate from Lucifer as we know), but in a way that brings little comfort. It is a bit like an anti-archetype for the Tarot card the Tower, which brings about the devastation of separate idealism. In these lyrics, the opposite meaning is seen: holism brings about purity that is in a way too much to comprehend, or endure.”
There is much more to say regarding the lyrics, but as we are dealing strictly with the title in this question, I will leave things here for now.
IMV: The song “Labyrinth of Bridges” is just as striking as the title, thanks in no small part to the violin parts that Terence O’Shea of Griefwalker contributed to the track. It also includes a guitar solo from MT of Paths, and lyrics by the aforementioned J. Nefastos. I’m curious as to how that song came together. How did each of those individuals end up contributing to the track? How closely did you work with each of them – did you give any specifics in terms of what you were looking for from each, or did you ask them to contribute and then step back and let them do their thing?
EH: It’s a hell of a question to ask how this particular song came together. Significant portions of it date back as far as early 2013. It’s a song that I had been working on continuously (albeit sporadically) for a very long time, and as such it is the most personal music I’ve written, as well as the song that I’m most proud of on the album. Over the years I kept adding to it and refining it, obsessing over it until all of the transitions, all of the flow felt as natural and honest as possible. The final portions were written in the latter half of 2017 during some particularly dark times. Some parts were actually removed during the final edit, believe it or not. But enough about my work on it.
I had said everything that I felt I was able to express regarding the inexpressible in the lyrics that I wrote for the other six songs on the album. I couldn’t fathom writing the words to this particular song myself, so I reached out to Johannes. To my surprise, he was interested and willing to contribute. His writings have been incredibly important to my own spiritual path, and it was the biggest honor to have him write the words to this song. In our first discussions, I shared my lyrics with him so that he could get a grasp on the themes of the album thus far. He then asked me if there was anything in particular that I was hoping to express in the song. There was, however I left it quite open-ended. In his writings, the “Philosophy of Oneness” and the concept of Unity plays a very significant role, and it is this idea that has been most important to me personally. It is this theme that I requested him to work around. I sent him a rough and unfinished version of the song to listen to, and gave no other guidelines. He had complete freedom in the way he chose to write, and his lyrics to the song ended up being incredibly powerful and moving. The final work in arranging vocal patterns to fit to the song was done by myself. I can’t imagine the song having any other words than the ones he wrote. I’m so grateful for his contribution.
As for the violin, it is something that RW and I had been wanting to incorporate. RW had written a simple melody on the piano for it. This is the repeating melody that you hear towards the beginning and the end of the song. We showed it to Terence as a sort of a guideline for what we might be looking for. T liked it and kept it essentially the same when he played it on the violin. T improvised the higher-pitched section that comes in later, during the slowest portion of the song, on the spot while we were recording. This is actually my favorite part of the album. He’s a very talented player, and I’m glad that we got to incorporate him the way we did. His live playing added a lot of heart.
I knew that I wanted to end the song with a soulful guitar solo of some sort. MT is a good friend of mine, and a kindred spirit. I’m also a fan of the work that he does in Paths. I knew that I wanted to have him somewhere on the album, and this seemed like the obvious place to accomplish that. We spoke about the spot where I was hoping to have the solo, and I essentially told him that the entirety of the section was his to do with as he pleased. He tried a couple things, and nailed it on the second time through. I’m grateful to have him on there – it means a lot.
I have to add a special shout-out to the bass lines that CM wrote for this song. They are outstanding.
IMV: As a sort of follow-up to that question, Labyrinth of Bridges almost plays like an album in two parts. The titles of the first six songs, all of which have a similar structure, seem to tell a sort of story. Then it closes with “Labyrinth of Bridges,” which feels more like its own thing. I haven’t had a chance to see the lyrics for the album – is there a conceptual or narrative element to it? Are you willing to discuss your lyrical themes at all?
EH: The lyrics to the album are of a personal nature. Generally speaking, they deal with man’s search for truth in this dark age we find ourselves in. Some other recurring themes are conviction, perseverance through struggle and suffering, self-reflection and discovery, former aspects of the self dying and being stripped away on the spiritual path, as well as finding strength and truth in the guiding hand of Satan, the Adversary.
The lyrics were written in a stand-alone fashion, although they all share these overarching themes. Certain songs have a few different layers to them, some only known to the band – and there is no wrong way to interpret them. The readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions. That said, you haven’t been the first person to ask if there is a narrative element to the album. And although things were not consciously written and arranged this way, sometimes the finished product can reveal things previously unseen. The narrative through the seven songs could go something like this:
- The initiate sets out on his or her quest for truth through the depths of the dying world we find ourselves in.
- Various snares along the way seek to impede the journey, but the faith is strong.
- Through spiritual struggle, feelings of separation begin to fall away and the truth of unity is glimpsed.
- Strength is found in Satan.
- Further self-reflection yields renewed conviction.
- As the world is crumbling around us, the destruction is welcomed as an opportunity for renewal. The fire in the heart burns strongly.
- All of the previous songs, or “bridges,” steps taken on the path to unity, culminate in the labyrinth. The initiate begins to ascend to the more spiritual plane, yet must confront further despair. More from Nefastos: “When work has been done, when the more spiritual heights have been reached, instead of being truly freed, we face another guardian: the great void, open space, which seems to human beings cold and lifeless, even though it supports all and is purity itself.”
IMV: Labyrinth of Bridges is being released by Saturnal Records. They’ve only been around for a few years, but they’ve already amassed a pretty impressive roster of artists – however, remarkably few of those artists come from outside of the label’s home base of Finland. How did you end up getting together with them? I did see that J. Nefastos has also written lyrics for Kyy, who are on Saturnal as well. Did that have anything to do with it?
EH: Our collaboration with Saturnal is based on the merits our music. However, it probably does seem a bit strange to have our completely unknown band from the other side of the world working with them. It is quite simple, though. In the summer of 2017, my travels led me to Finland, and it is here that I happened to meet the proprietor of Saturnal by chance. We hit it off quite well, and exchanged our projects at the time. I had mentioned that I was working on something new, and he had asked me to let him know when it came to fruition. We kept in touch, I did, and the rest is history.
The current man behind Saturnal is one of the most passionate and sincere people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He understands what the band is doing musically, aesthetically, and most importantly – spiritually. It’s an honor to be able to work with someone that I can call my friend, and I’m incredibly grateful for the chance he’s taken on the band. I would encourage everyone to support his label and the true underground.
IMV: So what’s next for Burial Shrine after the album comes out? Are you a band that plays live much, or even has the desire to do so?
EH: Thus far, the band has not played live. There are some logistical challenges around it. I would be open to the idea if I were able to fill out a feasible live lineup with like-minded individuals, but this remains a little bit unlikely. It’s not something that I’m terribly concerned about. We make this music strictly for ourselves. That said, who knows what the future could hold.
As for what’s next – I am slowly working away on new music. It will hopefully see the light of day when the time is right. As you may have gathered, we are in no rush and we will take our time until things feel right.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
EH: Thank you for the interview, and for the thoughtful questions! The support is appreciated, and this has been an enjoyable conversation. Our regards to our friends in Spell, Paths, Starvation, Johannes, and Saturnal. If the necessarily vague portions of the discussion here on philosophy and spirituality have struck anyone, I would encourage them to seek out the works of Johannes Nefastos.
Labyrinth of Bridges comes out on September 23rd through Saturnal Records. Check it out, and play LOUD. Support the true underground.