Moenen: the name of the devil in an early 16th c. Dutch play called Mariken van Nieumeghen
Xezbeth: a demon of lies and legends
Moenen of Xezbeth: a Belgian duo whose mid-paced, arcane approach to black metal has made them one of the most buzzed about bands in the black metal underground. Their debut long-player Ancient Spells of Darkness… came out earlier this summer from Nuclear War Now! Productions (grab a copy here), and it picks right up where their hugely successful demo Dawn of Morbid Sorcery left off, but with one difference – they’re suddenly incorporating more keyboards into their music, which ups the eldritch quality of their music considerably. It’s easily one of the strongest albums of the year, and I had a chance to talk to one of the mysterious members of the band recently about their writing and recording process.
Indy Metal Vault: So for starters, thanks for the interview. You recently did an in-depth one with Bardo Methodology, so I’ll try to not ask the same questions. However, I want to start by following up on one of your responses from that interview. He asked whether there were any ‘metaphysical considerations’ in choosing the name Moenen of Xezbeth. As part of the response, you said “We’re genuinely fascinated by witchcraft, demonology, magic, Satanism, the occult…without actually believing in any of it. Too rational for that I guess, but we’re interested in the various metaphors and images mankind has come up with to describe the dark side dwelling in all of us.” I don’t know if you pay attention to such things, but that answer didn’t go over very well with the ‘if it is not Satanic, then it is not black metal’ crowd. I saw a lot of online accusing the band of ‘faking it’ or being ‘posers.’ Does that reaction surprise you at all? How would you respond to such a narrow definition of what is or isn’t true ‘black metal’? Or is it a conversation you’re even interested in having with anyone?
Moenen of Xezbeth: That reaction doesn’t really surprise me. There’s a whole group of people who see black metal as some sort of religion. They believe in the supernatural and actually think black magic has the power to change the world. The fact that some of those people think we’re posers or fakers…well, it makes us roll our eyes. We never claimed to be Satanists or occultists, so we’re not faking anything. We see the occult, the supernatural…as a metaphor that we can use as a vessel to express our thoughts through music. Maybe all those people should cast spells on the labels that release our music to see what happens…
IMV: Secondly, based on that response, I’m guessing that you have more of an academic interest (for lack of a better phrase) in topics like witchcraft, Satanism, the occult, etc. than a practical one. That makes a lot of sense – a person can read extensively into almost any subject without ever intending to put that knowledge to any sort of use. If you were asked to put together a reading list for someone with a similar fascination with those topics but no idea where to start, what books (or other sources) would you recommend?
MoX: Non-fiction works about Satanism and witchcraft are a dime a dozen, they can be found everywhere. I’m more interested in fictional works, because they also tend to use that subject matter in a more metaphorical way. Recommended books: La-Bas by J.K. Huysmans, L’Oeuvre en Noir by Margueritte Yourcenar, The Fiery Angel by Valeri Bryusov, Gilles & Jeanne by Michel Tournier, The Arrival of Joachim Stiller by Hubert Lampo, The Monk by Matthew Lewis, The Necromancer by Karl Kahlert, The Green Face by Gustav Meyrink, The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov. Films that deal with the occult…well, the list is endless.
IMV: Moenen of Xezbeth is from Belguim, I can only think of a handful of other Belgian metal bands—Amenra, Aborted, Leng T’che, Emptiness, Cult of Erinyes—none of whom really play in anything close to the same style. Honestly, Perverted Ceremony may be the only band that comes close to having the same lo-fi sort of sound, but they play a black/death metal closer to what might be called ‘war metal.’ What is the black metal underground in Belgium like right now? Or are you a band that prefers to keep to yourself, away from whatever underground may (or may not) exist?
MoX: There are quite a few bands in the black/death underground in Belgium right now, so I would say it’s alive and kicking, but we’re a band that like to keep to ourselves. We don’t have a lot of contact with other bands. We know a small amount of people in “the scene” and that is enough.
IMV: To an outside observer at least, things seem to have come together remarkably quickly for Moenen of Xezbeth. You self-released your Dawn of Morbid Sorcery demo in February of last year. A month later Darkness Attacks Records picked it up, and they’ve reissued it a total of three times thus far – which seems pretty remarkable for a first demo. Somewhere in there you signed with Nuclear War Now! Productions for your first full-length Ancient Spells of Darkness…, and issued a two-song promo from the album and a 7” in the lead-up to its release. Were you surprised at the amount of attention the demo garnered? How did you get from that self-release to signing with NWN! for the new record? Did it seem like things happened quickly to you as well?
MoX: We’re rather modest guys, so we were surprised, but of course we also believe in what we do, otherwise we’d never release it. On the other hand, it’s not really that surprising, since nowadays a lot of black metal bands sound like plastic shit with mediocre riffs buried underneath. Most of them focus on ferocity / speed / technicality…over mood or ambiance, so we’re the exact opposite. And that is what makes us stand out among all the others.
I don’t think it all happened that fast. During most of our recording sessions we’re very inspired, so it doesn’t take us long to come up with songs. A four-song demo, a two-song 7″ and a 37-minute album in two years isn’t that much.
IMV: I haven’t really talked much about Ancient Spells of Darkness…yet. It’s an incredible record that feels very much indebted to the old magicks that gave (un)life to black metal – I don’t know how deliberate it was, but Ancient Spells truly is an apt title for the album. Stylistically, it’s not all that different from the demo. In comparing the rerecorded version of “Obscured By Lunar Rights” to the rest of the album, though, the atmospheric keyboards seem a lot more prominent on the newer songs. Is that because you approached the writing of them any differently, or because of a different recording setup and the somewhat cleaner sound quality on the full-length?
MoX: Our approach hasn’t really changed all that much, but the recording conditions of demo and 7″/album are probably what created the change in sound, although the difference isn’t really mind-blowing. We’re recording in a different room now, but most of the equipment is still the same apart from a few mics. While recording the album, we tended to focus on keyboards because they’re quite challenging: you can’t have them there in your face during the entire song, so you need to do a number of takes to see where they work and where they don’t. You can’t overuse them.
IMV: Speaking of “Obscured By Lunar Rights,” that’s the only song from Dawn of Morbid Sorcery, that you redid for Ancient Spells of Darkness…, with a slightly different and noticeably longer arrangement. What was it about the original version that song that made you want to revisit it for the album?
MoX: If I remember correctly, redoing one song from the demo was an early idea while making the album. We picked “Obscured…” because of the way it starts: it’s the most aggressive beginning. We were looking for something fast to break the mid-pace in the rest of the album.
IMV: Where did you find the cover art for the album? It has the look of an older painting, but I couldn’t find a source for it when I looked around online.
MoX: You’re right, it’s an old piece by an 18th-century Italian painter. I was thumbing through a book filled occult imagery and it immediately struck me as something we had to use. It summarises the music, the themes and the ambiance of the album. Lots of stuff going on in an eerily-lighted setting.
IMV: I know that Ancient Spells of Darkness…just came out, but Moenen of Xezbeth strikes me as a band that’s pretty much constantly working on new music. Are there any more potential releases on the horizon for 2018, or are you going to take a break to perhaps focus on any other projects you may also be involved with instead?
MoX: We’re working on new music right now for a split that will be released in 2019. I think that’s all we can say about it for now. The other band won’t start recording their part until January 2019.