Where to begin attempting to describe the music of Matron Thorn? For the uninitiated, his list of projects is beyond daunting: he’s released albums with Ævangelist, Benighted in Sodom, Death Fetishist, Devil Worshipper, Kadotuksen Portti, Præternatura, Andacht, Midwinter Storm, and under the name Matron Thorn, as well as appearing on recordings by Crowhurst, Chaos Moon, and Bethlehem. His level of productivity is such that I’m not even going to pretend to be familiar with it all. He’s likely best known, though, for Ævangelist. Perhaps more than any other contemporary metal band, he and his equally enigmatic partner Ascaris (vocals/other) make music that needs to be heard, not read about. Perhaps that’s why they’ve never done very many interviews, and the handful they have done tend to be just as inscrutable as their music.
Actually…inscrutable may not be the word I want here. There’s a definite method to the madness of Ævangelist’s music, a shape to their nightmarish soundscapes – just as there is with any of Matron Thorn’s projects. And yes, there’s a definite degree of inscrutability, but I think there’s more than a little bit of capriciousness in what they do as well. Their music is dark, and it’s ugly, and to borrow the title of their third full-length, it writhes in the murk of human misery. The lyrics deal with horrors both real and imagined, eldritch and esoteric. Their visual æsthetic, particularly in live performances, has come across as so confrontational or profane to certain audiences that they’ve received death threats. And while on the one hand, Matron Thorn stands in the center of it all like a kind of Byronic version of Mephistopheles, carefully orchestrating the bedlam, I’d wager that you’d also see another version of him on the periphery of the scene, grinning in impish delight at the havoc he’s caused.
Even by Matron Thorn’s standards, 2018 has been an astonishingly prolific year, with several Ævangelist releases and EPs from Devil Worshipper and Kadotuksen Portti already having come out. There’s also a new Benighted By Sodom album called Carrier of Poison Apples due out on September 20, Ævangelist’s Matricide in the Temple of Omega due out November 11 (both on I, Voidhanger Records), plus who knows what all else might be on the way…
Like, for example, the second full-length from Præternatura, which he decided to release today especially to accompany this interview. Those familiar with his other bands will certainly recognize some of the elements at work on Stygian Helltrip – the trademark claustrophobic quality found in most of his music is certainly on full display in the album’s three epic songs. However, that claustrophobia manifests in different ways than those familiar primarily with Ævangelist or Death Fetishist might expect. Granted, as I’m writing this I’ve only had a little over two hours to spend with the album, but I’m almost tempted to call the arrangements ‘minimalist,’ as odd as it may seem – or at least minimalist by Matron Thorn’s standards. Individual guitar parts are comparatively easier to pick out of the mix, and the atmospheric/noise elements are a bit less evident. What impresses me most, though, is his bass work. There’s a wooziness to the bass lines in sections of “Abyssgazing” that give it an almost synesthetic feel – I’m not sure I could walk anywhere while listening to it on ear buds. By contrast, the clean, almost jazz-influenced bass on “I Dream the Forbidden Gateway” provides a solid foundation for the angular interplay of the guitars, and there’s also a tasty bass solo near the end of the song.
Despite all this activity, Matron Thorn was good enough to make some time to answer a few questions via email from his new home in Finland. Check it out below, along with our stream of Præternatura’s Stygian Helltrip.
Indy Metal Vault: For starters, thanks for the interview. After a relatively quiet 2017, this is turning out to be an insanely busy year for you. On the Ævangelist front, you released the Veneration of Profane Antiquity compilation in July, the Aberrant Genesis EP in mid-August, officially announced your fifth full-length Matricide in the Temple of Omega for November, and then surprise released your sixth full-length Heralds of Nightmare Descending a few days ago. You’ve also released one Benighted in Sodom full-length and started recording another, and released two EPs with two brand new projects called Devil Worshipper and Kadotuksen Portti (what, no Death Fetishist?). You also started a company called Esoteric Tradition in order to disseminate New Age, philosophical, and occult materials. Even by your usually prolific standards, that’s a lot of activity. Was there something that spurred a sudden burst of creativity this year? Or have you been sitting on some of this material (aside from what was on the Veneration compilation, obviously) for a while?
Matron Thorn: Some months ago I faced again my own mortality, as I suffered the destructive effects that sepsis and pneumonia had on both my physical and mental states. Typical treatments had failed, and I was transferred from the intensive care unit to a private quarantine in the infectious diseases ward of the hospital here in Tampere. Meanwhile, fluid accumulated in my lungs and a series of tubing was installed in my chest cavity and genitals, enabling me to breathe and relieve myself as the pain was too debilitating to allow me any kind of usual autonomy over my own life. The sepsis had essentially turned my blood into black sludge, and at the worst stages of this, more of my organs were beginning to fail.
I recall on one day, I believe the Scandinavian holiday of Johannes was taking place outside my hospital window, and there were nurses and staff from the ward’s early shift already reveling and celebrating preemptively for what promised to be an affirmatively eventful night. Meanwhile, I laid on the side of my body opposite the tubing in my chest, staring out my window and merely dreaming of being somewhere else. Most days in the hospital were like this. As grateful as I was to each friend that reached out to me, to see if I was alive, to ask about my condition, or to share a laugh with me, I still couldn’t help but feel melancholic as once again in the course of my life I found myself confined to a hospital bed, unsure how much time remained for me on this planet. I was permitted to play my guitar in my room, so I began to write and record what would eventually become Kadotuksen Portti and Carrier of Poison Apples by Benighted in Sodom, as well as new Death Fetishist material; I had a decent length of time on my hands in between tests, CT scans, MRIs, and et cetera.
Before my condition began to improve, I was giving a considerable amount of thought to death itself. The tunnel seemed to be narrowing before me, its light fading into the murk of eternity with each passing hour. Since moving to Finland I’ve used various tactics to assist in my learning to speak the language, among them being gradual translation of the Kalevala, which though advanced for someone at my low skill level, still contains some compelling and relatable subject matter nonetheless. One of these, the concept of the Tuonenvirta, was of particular relevance to my current medical situation. A river famed for leading lost souls into the underworld served as a worthwhile parallel to a story told to me about a river in the small Eastern Finnish town of Imatra, where during the 1970s through the early 1990s, virginal girls were often found washed up on its banks, having committed suicide. Thus, I recorded the first EP of Kadotuksen Portti, Tuonenvirta, and I wanted to pay tribute to the souls of the deceased by performing the vocals entirely in Finnish.
I know that people have been waiting for the next physical release from Benighted in Sodom. That album is Carrier of Poison Apples, what I would consider to be the definitive sound of Benighted in Sodom at this stage in the existence of the band. If all the other Benzo albums are the best batch of cookies I’ve ever made, Carrier of Poison Apples is that tasty cookie dough that you just want to eat before it’s even baked. I’ve written some heartbreaking music before, but I think this one, being so grounded in the realities of facing my own mortality, of witnessing others facing theirs, and losing everything I have all over again, this one has a special place in the void. Some of the music was written about a close friend of mine that I lost when Ævangelist went to perform at California Deathfest, a moment in time that was supposed to be one of the greatest experiences of my life, all soured when I came home to learn that the person, a dear friend I was sponsoring in Narcotics Anonymous had committed suicide. As his sole connection to the rest of the world, I was faced with the responsibility of informing his remaining family members, his estranged ex-wife and children, and throughout it all I would bear the quiet, unexpressed responsibility for them, as well as the sense that I had failed him, despite us having celebrated his two-month sobriety from heroin quite recently. The cataclysm this brought my world to was profound, and nothing was the same for me after that.
The given description of Esoteric Tradition is reductive to the point of being misleading. Allow me to clarify this: Esoteric Tradition is one aspect of my masterwork to perfect a grand piece of artwork that is unlike what the world has yet seen. My medium is something abstract, something unforeseen, and small minds will reject it as lunacy.
The sub-division No Virtues Fables will be responsible for all literary publications, dealing exclusively with the writings of artists that would otherwise be met with difficulty for any interest in publication. So many of my musician friends write amazing lyrics which, in my opinion, in and of themselves, deserve to be consumed independently for deeper analysis, and I intend to give them that platform.
Esoteric Tradition itself is a record label, but not in the traditional sense. An invitation only community of esteemed artists will have a dedicated space to create audio sketches available to be altered, manipulated, recorded with, added to, and etc. until new ideas are formed, in an antiquated methodology harkening back to the cassette trading spirit of the underground. There will be no social-media nonsense, no status updates, nothing except essential information and a user-friendly interface designed for serious contributors to forge new collaborations with people all over the world with whom they might not otherwise have a chance to work, and all without the facades and pretensions that inevitably drag down online social interaction to trivial places. When the collaborated parties are satisfied they have invented something they would like to publish, Esoteric Tradition proposes their publication deal to release these exclusive demos that can only be heard through us. Demos of new projects, bizarre lineups of individuals, and emerging style and techniques will be made physical, complete with artwork and recording credits. This will be a renaissance in online collaboration; this idea opens doors for new bands to form exclusively within the temple of Esoteric Tradition and creates a new sense of community in an underground that has become corrupted by the false ideals of the uninitiated.
IMV: At some point after the release of Ævangelist’s 2016’s Codex Obscura Nomina split with Blut Aus Nord, you relocated to Finland. I won’t ask why because…well, the possible reasons why you’d want to emigrate are virtually endless – though feel free to elaborate on why if you want to. What I’m more curious about is the effect (if any) your move has had on Ævangelist’s creative process. Your albums credits generally read ‘Matron Thorn: all instruments/noise, Ascaris: vocals.’ However, you’re both actually multi-instrumentalists. In general, how collaborative is your writing process? Is there a definite sort of ‘you write the music/she writes the lyrics’ split? Do you tend to spend much time in the same room when working on new music, or has there always been some degree of distance involved?
MT: Living in Finland is both inspiring and at times a bit of a culture shock. Music isn’t taken for grated the same way I found it was back in the United States. You could tell someone here that you’re a professional musician, and they’ll respect your art as your occupation, perhaps even asking to know more, as people here also tend to actually give music a fair chance even if it isn’t necessarily their thing. On the other side of the coin, telling someone in the USA that you are a professional musician is almost a laughable social faux-pas, typically followed by some iteration of the question, “Okay but what do you really do?” You can give them a copy of your album, wait two weeks to ask if they had a chance to check it out, and wouldn’t you know it! Some unforeseen tragedyhas occurred that absolutely thwarted their every attempt to load this single compact disc into their computer, but they promise they’ll hear it eventually because “it looks like its good.”
Distance is always a key factor in how we create, but while others view this as a detriment or view it as inauthentic in terms of a proper “band” arrangement, we do not see it this way. Both of us lead separate, distant lives apart from each other, and these personal life changes and differences invariably affect the way through which our respective contributions play themselves out in the recordings. We are each travelers on a great journey, and Ævangelist is a transmission from us both simultaneously, turning our experiences and growth as individuals into art. It only makes it more interesting that we are so far apart and yet creating something together that is ever-evolving under it’s own unique and original set of circumstances. Who knows where this music will take us tomorrow.
IMV: Ævangelist has always struck me as the sort of band for whom aesthetics is almost as important as the music – your album artwork and musical personae seem to be just as carefully crafted as your songs, and it has been from the very earliest days of the band’s existence. That aesthetic seems to have been fairly consistent as well, with really only the sigil you use in your artwork changing the once, between Nightmare Flesh Offering and the To the Dream Plateau of Hideous Revelation split you did with Esoterica. Where did that interest in visual presentation come from? Did the visual and musical identities of Ævangelist more or less develop concurrently?
MT: In a perfect world, I would curate our visual elements a great deal more closely than what we have put forth in the past. However, I will say that with the approaching fifth album, Matricide in the Temple of Omega, we were fortunate enough to commission an original cover that fully encapsulates what the music conveys this time. This will be the first time I’ve worked with another producer to experiment with the album’s overall production as well, namely Jeremie Bezier of Belgian band EMPTINESS and formerly of ENTHRONED. He operates Blackout Studios there, and has assisted me in bringing out the darkest qualities audially speaking. Throughout the creation of the album, a visual concept was present as inspiration and referential for Ascaris to begin constructing lyrics. The change in the sigil was a necessary one, to something which reflected the nature of our, shall we say, “ideology,” and was something that didn’t originate from somewhere else, which would have been disingenuous.
IMV: Speaking of the sigil…I’m expecting the answer to this to be ‘no,’ but I’m going to ask anyway. Are you willing to demystify any of the symbolism in that sigil? I like to think I’m pretty well read and fairly skilled at research, but I have no fucking clue what’s going on there, or where to begin trying to unpack it.
MT: The symbols represent a form of tarot that I invented. Their arrangement within the circle forms a cartouche that can be understood as a “reading” of sorts. So essentially, the symbol used for Ævangelist is a result of a tarot reading via our invented arcana, forming a message intended to mean something specific. Its meaning, however, is known to only a few. Future card-based editions of the Arcana Ævangelicum will eventually be available, and brave practitioners may delve into its readings to learn what our symbol has actually told us.
IMV: While Ævangelist’s persona on the whole seems to be very carefully constructed, there are times when the band’s activities seem…I don’t necessarily want to say ‘capricious,’ but they definitely seem less deliberate. For example, there’s that long rumored trilogy of EPs Ævangelist is supposedly releasing through I, Voidhanger. Those are still just rumor at this point, but you also just released a surprise full-length. To what extent are Ævangelist’s activities governed either by fate or (for lack of a better term) your whims?
MT: But in reality, there are no “personas.” My choice of words only reflects how I would speak to anyone at any time. I don’t need to wax poetic when I buy something from the convenience store, but, and let me not understate this, Ævangelist is not a band like Cannibal Corpse is a band. Ævangelist is closer to something like a traveling freak show that involves what has up until now been perceived as “music.” People call us pretentious because we haven’t conformed to the usual metal conventions that would fit us neatly into some niche that makes sense to people. If this made sense to everyone, it would be a waste of time and mean nothing. We’re grateful for those who support and love us, but we’re also grateful for those that hate us and detract our efforts. All of this fuels the ever-burning hell-fires that propel forward our locomotive down the tracks towards oblivion. Our next releases will happen when they happen. Until then, nothing else on this really needs to be said.
IMV: When we were discussing the ‘parameters’ for this interview, you said something about people asking you to comment on gender issues, and not wanting to do so because it’s something that exists outside the scope of Ævangelist’s music. I’ll concede that point. However, I do think there’s an innate desire to fuck with people’s expectations that’s encoded in Ævangelist’s DNA. I feel like most people are aware that Ascaris is transitioning, and she’s done at least one interview that I’m aware of about the process. So it seems a bit optimistic to me to think that Ævangelist can exist separate from gender issues. That being said, your stage presence has always struck me as being fairly androgynous – did that stem from a deliberate desire to subvert gender norms, or is it more of a representation of the actual individual behind the Matron Thorn persona?
MT: I will preface this answer by stating that this response is my own. Out of respect for Ascaris and her situation, I make no claims or statements on her behalf. This is largely why I refuse to comment on such things, because they are just not relevant to myself personally. I can acknowledge that her struggle is very real and I would hope that our fans are privy to this enough to be considerate when approaching her with personal questions or requests, and we are grateful for those that can see past the ignorance of others’ judgments to appreciate our art nonetheless.
My personal situation is not the same, and cannot be compared or discussed in the same context as hers. I was a drag performer on the side for several years when I lived in Portland, cross-dressing. However, I’m a heterosexual male. I’m just a person with paraphilias and weird interests. I don’t really give a fuck how this alienates me from all the black and death metal “tough guys,” like it matters. I keep my personal life to myself, and I don’t exploit my androgyny or try to convince anyone of anything about myself. Let them think what they want, how does it affect my life in any way for better or worse that they think a certain way about me or anything I do? Personally, I think more people should just embrace whatever it is that makes them weird so they can find out who their real friends are. Your real friends will love you for it and think it’s cool. Your shitty, fake friends will gradually distance themselves from you because you’ll no longer fit into their little conformist niche of boring as fuck sameo lameos. Just my opinion.
IMV: By all accounts, Ævangelist’s live shows are both incredibly intense and deeply immersive experiences. I’ve seen video of your performance from last year’s Red River Family Fest, and there’s a trance-inducing quality to the performance that seems to border on the spiritual. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Ævangelist is aligned with any particular theological ideology, but there do seem to be certain ritualistic elements to what you do on stage. Ideally, what kind of reaction are you trying to provoke from your audience?
MT: We have always intended to approach live shows as singular events that are separate from what you hear on the CD. All aspects of Ævangelist are meant to be something singular. Singularly, you have the music on the album. Singularly, you have the live performances that are an experience all their own. They deviate from simply playing the songs from the album, and we give the audience something extra to make the experience ‘real’ for them. Not just ‘watching a band,’ but we want them to feel like something is happening to them.
IMV: I’ve read multiple places about the occasionally hostile responses that Ævangelist has faced throughout your careers from audiences that found what you do offense or obscene. If I remember correctly, didn’t someone even threaten to kill you if you ever set foot in Germany after you collaborated with Bethlehem? Were you at all surprised by those reactions when you were first starting to play live, or were you trying to provoke those particular sorts of metal fans in the audience? Have those reactions ever made you reconsider how you present yourself on stage, or where you’re willing to play? Or do you take more of an Oscar Wilde view of things: “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about”?
MT: Again, I’ve heard it all before. I grew up in the ghetto, in South Florida. Most of these people came from bright, sunny, sheltered lives that would be shattered forever if they lived a day in my life growing up.
Personally, I want to hear more music made by junkies, by homeless people, by the mentally ill. I want to hear more music made from real pain and struggle, not affluence and status. Real emotions and real pain doesn’t seem to make it onto anyone’s radar these days, but there is always room for more crap. People adore crap. People act like robes and funny masks and weird makeup was done first by the same bands they shit on every chance they get. So much of this “disturbing” occult aesthetic is owed to Marilyn Manson and virtually any noir-esque music video by an industrial metal band that came out in the late 90s. At least we’re hated for provoking people in our own way. I’m sure everyone laughs and no one gets it now, but in 2021, people will be arguing about who took us seriously first… fuck off.
The Aryan Brotherhood said they’d “kill you nigger” if I ever entered Germany. Joke’s on them. I live in Finland and I play on an album by their beloved Bethlehem, who completely took my side and denounced these silly buttheads, by the way.
IMV: I’ve listened to the premaster, instrumental version of “Æonic Death Knell,” “Omen of the Barren Womb,” and Heralds of Nightmare Descending,and I’m more than a little surprised by how melodic they all seem to be, at least by Ævangelist’s standards. I’m particularly digging the saxophone presence on the new material. How indicative are those tracks of what the rest of V: Matricide in the Temple of Omega will sound like?
MT: The less I say on this, the better.
IMV: I generally like to ask at least one question about lyrical themes, but that’s a bit difficult with Ævangelist since your lyrics aren’t available anywhere online. My understanding is that Ascaris is largely responsible for the lyrics, so let me take a slightly different approach here: let’s you were compiling a list of required texts for a class called “Thematic Structures in Ævangelist’s Lyrics,” what would be on that list? Don’t feel obliged to limit your answer to books, either. Films, visual art, whatever – it’s all fair game.
MT: Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Rushdie, Kirkegaard, Lovecraft, Poe, Blackwood, P. K. Dick, Bradbury, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Grant Morrison, David Lynch, Irvine Welsh, James Joyce, Christopher Nolan, Arvo Part, Anthony Burgess, The Holy Books of Thelema, The New King James Version of the Bible, Panorama of Hell, Bret Easton Ellis, Stephen King, Clive Barker, James Cameron, Tolkien, Baudelaire, Hustler magazine, The Peaceful Pill Handbook of Assisted Suicide, Nursery Rhymes for Children, The Rituals of the Golden Dawn, Dr. Seuss…
IMV: Ævangelist has gone through multiple live incarnations over the years, but at its heart the band has been you and Ascaris. How has your relationship evolved since the early days of the band? I gather that things aren’t always smooth between the two of you – is that friction a necessary part of the creative process at this point?
MT: Our relationship functions because we continually challenge each other. I would say the hierarchy has evolved to expand our associations therein, but both of us maintain our singular ideas regarding certain things. The mastery is in that coexistence of what, may be, perhaps differing ideas between us, yet emerging forth again and again with something evocative and cohesive.
IMV: I’ve heard from a couple of different people that you’ve started collaborating with some Finnish musicians. More specifically, I’ve heard that it’s members of Sargeist. Setting aside whether that’s true or not for the moment (though I really hope it is), I’m curious as to whether you’ve had much contact with the Finnish black metal scene since moving there. I want to preface this by saying that I’ve never asked about race or ethnicity in an interview before, but it seems relevant here. I’ve seen you describe yourself as ‘not exactly an Aryan poster boy,’ and right or wrong, Finland does have something of a reputation for being a hotbed of NSBM. To be fair, one of the best known active NS band and the best known allegedly NS band do both hail from Finland. Have you encountered any of that, or walked away from a conversation thinking ‘that dude was a fucking Nazi’?
MT: While I can’t reveal just yet who I am working with, I can tell you that it will both come as a total shock and make perfect sense all at the same time. Usually if I encounter some kind of racism, it’s completely lost on me. I’ve heard it all before, and I’ve heard it from people who were actually threatening me with bodily harm, so I don’t scare easily. For the most part here, though, Finnish people are very nice to “non Aryan”-looking people. One of my closest friends here is a regular, white, Finnish person, and his girlfriend, another close friend of mine, is straight out of Nigeria. They’re some of the nicest, coolest people in the whole world.
I did break someone’s jaw in a fistfight at a nightclub here once. My girlfriend is white and Finnish, and she told me he was basically antagonizing us despite my repeated hostility in telling him to get out of my face. That’s about the most serious it’s even gotten here.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
MT: To commemorate this interview, I have released the next album from my side project of Ævangelist known as Præternatura, entitled Stygian Helltrip, as a token of appreciation to my fans and supporters. I’m grateful for your appreciation for my art.
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