BLACK FRIDAY: SPECTRAL WOUND On Infernal Decadence, Ingmar Bergman, and Modern Black Metal
As black metal continues to sprawl from its frigid center, the genre's boundaries are becoming rather fluid. Personally, the experimentation is nice. The last handful of years produced some incredible examples of just how malleable black metal is. However, it's great to return to that icy well of inspiration. Québec's Spectral Wound is a unique entity in black metal's current landscape. They're a band that eschews the experimentation in black metal in favor of a truly raw, ancestral sound. Though they come from the fertile Québécois metal scene, their black metal is very Scandinavian in execution.
Spectral Wound emerged in 2015 with their debut album, Terra Nullius. They quickly became a focal point of the world's underground black metal for their exacting and riff-centric approach. While there are many bands who try this avenue, they often fall victim to rote mimicry. For Spectral Wound, however, they have a keen knack for finding the sweet spot. They're crisp production and feral arrangements beat tower over a sea of inaudible lo-fi demos. Their latest album, Infernal Decadence doubles down on ferocity, ultimately creating one of the more vicious records of 2018.
Metal Injection spoke to Spectral Wound for the inaugural installment of Black Friday, a new weekly column dedicated to covering unique and exciting black metal. The Montreal quartet is the perfect band to kick off this new adventure. They channel the dark core of this genre of music and serve as a center for its ever-expanding edges. New copies of their latest album, Infernal Decadence, are available through Vendetta Records and Les Fleurs du Mal Productions. Also, find Spectral Wound on Facebook.
Metal Injection: Some of the bigger names in Québécois black metal scene seem to revolve around incorporating elements of different metal genres into their music these days. Yet, for Spectral Wound, the music is very riff-centric and relies on a very ferocious adaptation of traditional black metal. When you all began the band or even began to listen to black metal, how much did Québec black metal compared to other areas of the world influence your tastes or ultimately your direction for Spectral Wound?
Spectral Wound: We, of course, listen to Québec black metal, but I don't think it has been a defining element of our sound. Our first loves were the classics – Darkthrone, Immortal, Gorgoroth, etcetera, and I think that is palpable. People have told us that they hear strong elements of Forteresse or other métal noir Québécois in our music, which we take as a compliment, but it was hardly intentional. To my ear, the melodic dimension is more Finnish-sounding, but it only makes sense that our milieu has shaped our sound somewhat.
Metal Injection: Now that you mention the Finnish aspect, it makes a lot of sense. I think Spectral Wound seems to be a part of a new charge of bands from Québec. Between you, your associated projects like Taggarik and Profane Order, and other closely linked bands like Blood Sacrifice and Circle of Salt, there's a fierce wave of new métal noir Québécois emerging.
You all do great work in focusing on black metal's core, especially on Infernal Decadence. The occult themes and the witchery are very prominent on this new album (maybe a bit more than Terra Nullius?). Would you mind talking a little bit about the direction you decided to go lyrically with this new album?
Spectral Wound: There was no concerted decision to move in a different direction on this record, although between Terra Nullius and Infernal Decadence we did have a lineup change, including one of our key songwriters (who left the band and now focuses exclusively on Circle of Salt). The lyrics are still all composed by myself, but perhaps that shift in creative energies brought out different things. I would still say the two records are animated by similar concerns—the fundamental meaninglessness of the universe, crises of knowledge and belief, a fascination with myth. But perhaps you are right that Infernal Decadence is more in conversation with “occult” themes.
I drew some aesthetic inspiration from a work by Ingmar Bergman, Ansiktet, that is very much about the transition from pagan occultism to the dual authorities of Christianity and scientific rationality, and about faith and skepticism, ritual, performance and artifice, power and knowledge; but it is very careful not to fall into any clear moralizing about Truth and Right. It felt very resonant.
Metal Injection: Bergman would have been 100 years old in July. He’s widely considered one of the most important and influential directors by many of today’s biggest directors. He’s known for tapping into a deeper sense of realism with his films. He also created some iconic scenes, like in The Seventh Seal, where the knight is playing chess with Death. Are there any other works by Bergman you’re familiar with or a fan of?
Spectral Wound: Oh yeah I'm a huge Bergman fan, although I find his later, more self-consciously art-house films less attractive. His ‘middle’ period – Magician, Winter Light, The Virgin Spring, Summer Interlude, The Devil's Eye, and of course The Seventh Seal – are much more interesting to me. Perhaps that reveals a sort of aesthetic conservatism: just as I find Bergman's more formally traditional films more interesting than his later more experimental work, so too do I find most attempts to "transcend the boundaries of black metal" to be tiresome and uninteresting.
Metal Injection: Did you look towards Bergman for Terra Nullius at all or were there other source materials for your debut?
Spectral Wound: All of our work has diverse inspirations, all is grist, but Terra Nullius may be a bit more over the map. "Winter Light" was inspired by the film of the same name (or Nattvardsgästerna in the original). It is a very cold film, a stark, painful, perhaps hopeless film about the silence of God, and the cruelty and desperation of human relations. I appreciate its rawness, and its devotion to exploring the echo chamber of faith, our persistent need to imagine we live in a world that is ordered and ordered for us. But to sustain such a comforting vision requires so much negation, delusion, and erasure. I do not believe that bravery is meaningful or laudable, but to be so proudly and self-deceivingly a coward is also distasteful.
Metal Injection: Between the inspiration for Terra Nullius and Infernal Decadence's Bergman influence, you revel in humanity's darker actualities. Seemingly a lot of bands take this approach, but Spectral Wound does it in a very intelligent way. Chaos, or an unordered world for that matter, is ultimately inevitable. I feel like black metal, especially in your case, is a reminder of that chaos. People search for meaning in the stars or look to other people, but many times there are no answers to be found—or at least the answers people want to hear. Does this seem like an accurate statement?
Spectral Wound: Yes, the ultimate meaninglessness of the universe is probably the founding politic, or poetic, of Spectral Wound. But it is important to distinguish this from Nihilism or Chaos Gnosticism as philosophies. To discover the meaninglessness of the universe only to reinstall a new system of thought is but another form of abdication. For me, that essential nullity is a promise and an opportunity for creation and engagement, for exploring what the world is made of, not what it is for, and for the collective production of new, contingent meanings.
I guess that is the one level on which I would disagree with your statement. Looking to other people for answers is futile, as is any appeal to authority. But looking to other people to create meaning is inevitable and necessary because all meaning comes from and is filtered through other sources. It is a trope that one must "look within" for true wisdom, but that is a fiction. There is no knowledge to be found within the human soul.
I should clarify though. I almost said that the recognition of the meaninglessness of the universe is 'liberating', but that is not quite true. On the one hand, it is liberating, but in a much truer sense it is the very opposite. It commits one to the greater task of making the world, of an entanglement with an ever convulsing, contorting world. It is abandoning oneself thoughtlessly to religion or nation or ready-made ideology that is liberating because it frees one from having to actually try to understand. Either way though, there is no such thing as freedom.
Metal Injection: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. I see what you mean. It’s a really interesting comparison between your Bergman tastes and black metal tastes. It does explain a lot about Spectral Wound’s style in a way. My guess is your bandmates share a similar aesthetic conservatism? I can see why a lot of the newer, experimental black metal can be unappealing though. Who are some modern acts that you gravitate towards?
Spectral Wound: We all have our own divergent preferences, certainly, but have found a common ground for the music we want to make with Spectral Wound. I suppose it depends on what you mean by "modern"? Sargeist and Behexen are obvious touchstones, Arckanum, Kêres, Sortilegia, Paysage d'hiver, Forteresse. I think Thantifaxath is a spectacular band, in spite of their proggy inclinations. Frankly, Immortal's Northern Chaos Gods is the best new black metal record I've listened to in a while.
You may notice that those all tend toward the highly melodic. If you asked Illusory (who plays in Profane Order and Taggarik), you'd probably get a very different lineup!
Metal Injection: That new Immortal album is fantastic. I was admittedly concerned what they might sound like without Abbath, but thankfully it turned out really well. Paysage d'Hiver and Thantifaxath are two of my favorites as well. I'm really big on the new Vilkacis album. What are Spectral Wound's plans for the rest of the year?
Spectral Wound: Yes, it's funny, I was actually expecting that it might sound more like the Demonaz solo record since he was taking over the writing duties, but ironically it comes off as much closer to a classic Immortal album. Arguably more so even than All Shall Fall.
For the next year though we'll be focusing on both playing live and writing new material. Early plans are in the works for touring Europe in 2018, but nothing has been finalized yet. Mostly we're just looking for an excuse to drink in the mountains.