Tonight, Church of the 8th Day, apparently already rested from Murderfest, brings black metal to The Scene in Glendale. Sandwiched in between the blast beats (a poor stereotype to use for this show actually) will be BLACK MATH HORSEMAN, with a name that ostensibly fits, but a sound that may leave some in attendance flummoxed. Seeing the reaction will be fun in itself.
Velnias are a young black metal trio from the outskirts of Chicago. Their first proper albumSovereign Nocturnal, which contains three 10+-minute songs, charted high on my best of 2008, and as a result, the band played the first Show No Mercy live event back in January, along with Nachtmystium and others. To get an idea of the sound take a listen to "Risen of The Moor." I caught up with vocalist/guitarist P.J.V. and drummer A.J.S.
Pitchfork: There was quite a musical shift between the demo Pacing the Cyclic Nether and the new one. What inspired it?
P.J.V.: Pacing the Cyclic Nether, from writing to recording, was rather rushed and misguided. The change between albums was a natural shift that came when we dropped a genre-specific frame of mind. Without the constrictions of remaining bound to a single genre we found a voice that more accurately represents our vision.
Pitchfork: The move away from a more straight up black metal/black 'n' roll sound is pretty clear, but did the subject matter change at all? It's difficult to tell when just going on song titles...
P.J.V.: Our outlooks have not changed on things, but lyrically, Sovereign Nocturnal is more focused. As an entirety the album speaks of a yearning for cleansing and rebirth, a reflection and calling to the past, and a realization of the bleak horizon that lies ahead.
Pitchfork: Sovereign Nocturnal is also the name of your official website. What does that phrase mean to you?
P.J.V.: Aside from an homage to the majesty of the all consuming nocturnal hours it is an outlook on the state of things. It is a personal feeling that the falling of night-- the coming of dark times is inevitable and absolute. Our lives entrusted to this fragile way of being shall soon fall cold as things collapse. If it is not by physical destruction on some scale then it shall come through our fixation on this industrialized and globalized way of life. We lose sight of the things that matter, forget the struggles of our past, and spit in the face of the natural world for misguided goals and beliefs. We are left stabbing each other in the back, climbing over brother and sister, with complete disregard for true strength, honor, or virtue. The incestuous orgy of greed and corruption breeds corporate titans of calculated efficiency racing, full force towards inevitable death in the material wasteland we have created for ourselves.
Pitchfork: What's Naperville, Illinois like? How did your environment contribute to Velnias' interest in the natural realm?
P.J.V.: None of us are actually from Naperville, I am not entirely sure from where that affiliation sprung forth. My time is split between this area surrounding Chicago and a small mountain town in Colorado. My affinity for the natural realm stems from my upbringing, my various travels, and the vast mountain landscapes that I frequent out West.
Pitchfork: How does the natural world fit into your daily life?
P.J.V.: The natural world is the only true governing body that exists on this earth. It revolves in perfectly balanced cycles taking and giving indiscriminately. As everyone else tramples their ties to this force, I'd personally rather not sever the connection to that from which we came. In nature I find refuge and peace. I feel that in turn it is my duty to treat it with respect and reverence.
A.J.S.: It's not that the tie is there or not, it's we who see the tie. This makes all the difference.
Pitchfork: In Lithuanian, "Velnias" is "the bestial god of the natural world." So, Satan? How did you come up with the name? P, you have ties to Lithuania?
P.J.V.: Unfortunately, Velnias has ties to Satan in the current, Christian context. The name for our purpose was not at all chosen for that meaning. We have no ties to Satanism or the evil behind the name in that definition. I am of Lithuanian descent, and choosing this name for me was grabbing a piece of a folklore that has through history been trampled upon and mostly forgotten. Velnias in the Baltic mythos was a deity reigning over the natural world. He was a governing body over the forces that acted in opposition to man and the god to which he held allegiance. I chose the name Velnias for this pre-Christian value.
Pitchfork: What are your thoughts on American black metal as compared to earlier work of BM's European forefathers?
P.J.V.: From our experience there seems to be a lot of plastic that blindly follows the ideals, imagery, and concepts of the earlier European forefathers. However, if you sift through this there are a number of bands who have taken the mindset of the music and put a serious spin on it. Rather than focusing on silly "war on heaven" fantasy nonsense they use their energies for an actual purpose and messages beyond misguided immature frustrations. I feel for this reason that many of these bands have more passion for their art and can actually be taken seriously whereas a lot of the other stuff is just laughable.
A.J.S.: Well, a foundation was laid with the masters of old and some of that tradition is continued whilst others seek to build upon it, creating perspective and vision all their own. It would be wrong of me to say only those on US soil carry this torch as our European counterparts have been honing their craft much longer. It would also be wrong of me to speak of a difference between US and European black metal as there is as much imitation as innovation on both sides.
Pitchfork: Why do you think the majority of USBM acts have eschewed corpsepaint?
P.J.V.: I think it doesn't have any meaning to these people. The music these bands make isn't about being depraved hell-spawn, and therefore that imagery has nothing to do with them. Without purpose, it's just ridiculous. So many bands seem to paint themselves up just because it is black metal; there's nothing behind it.
A.J.S.: I see it as a way to unconsciously differentiate ourselves from our European counterparts. I agree with P, corpse-paint means nothing when bands slather it on, not because they find meaning and purpose in it but because they feel that without it, they're not "black metal", resulting in pathetic wannabes that pollute a sacred art form.
Pitchfork: Who are some of your favorite American black metal bands? I would guess Wolves in the Throne Room and as far as blackened folk metal, something like Agalloch?
P.J.V.: I have not been listening to much black metal recently. I do really have a lot of respect for and appreciate the work that Wolves in the Throne Room are crafting and would say the same for Agalloch. A few others of the American soils, not necessarily of the black metal persuasion, would include Thou, Leech, Fauna, Asunder, the Elemental Chrysalis, Blood of the Black Owl, Sixteen Horsepower, Graves at Sea, and Buried at Sea. The favorite band question always gets me. It really depends on the season and my mood and all that nonsense.
A.J.S: I hate to name drop but, here's a list of USBM I consider severly underrated: Nightbringer, Falls of Rauros, Leech, Fauna, Panopticon, Woe, Ancestors, Amocoma, Krohm, Chaos Moon, Draugar, Toil, Blood of the Black Owl, Ash Pool, Shroud of Despondency. I'm also quite a fan of the warped psyche of Wrest, but who isn't?
As far as favorites, I'd say Sixteen Horsepower/Woven Hand, Deathspell Omega, Swans, Burzum (Filosofem especially), Nadja, Comus, Paysage D'hiver, Dissection, This Heat, King Crimson, Old Wainds, Neurosis and Enslaved. I've discovered a lot of music that is muchheavier/intense/emotive/what-have-you than most metal in general.
Pitchfork: Who do you consider kindred spirits? I know you're friendly with Nachtmystium.
A.J.S.: Ideologically, all the bands on the Washington label Glass Throat Recordings: Fauna, Leech, Falls of Rauros and, of course, Wolves in the Throne Room. We're good friends with local drone/noise duo, Locrian as well. We've collaborated on sets numerous times and it seems I'm now a permanent member of the band, which adds much more "metal" and "structure" to the mix.
Pitchfork: God Is Myth has that Lovecraft series. Are you into his work? What sort of reading do you do?
P.J.V.: I have read some Lovecraft, but I don't know that I am as excited about it as many others out there. I am not too picky with genres, if it seems a good read, I will give it a chance. I do generally lean towards a lot of dry History and Mythology. Most recently I have been working through Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth.
A.J.S.: I do enjoy Lovecraft. I'll read anything I deem worthwhile, currently in the process of finishing Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe.
Pitchfork: Should we expect any new releases anytime soon? Any touring?
P.J.V.: It would be safe to expect releases in the future, though how far in passing, it is not certain. We have new material we have been working on recently, but as far as an album, we shall have to see how it all falls together; we would hate to rush anything. In regards to touring we are planning a three week venture out to the west coast in the later half of May. There is also the potential for further touring towards the East later in the year. We shall see how things fall together.