Sermones Ad Mortuos- A Glimpse of Our Ghostlands

I made this video with footage collected during a weekend visit to two castles in Wales (Caerphilly and Chepstow). It was complemented by additional filming in other locations in West London and Berkshire.

The clip serves to enhance a track written for my minimalist electronic ambient project’s Sermones Ad Mortuos debut album. This album, named ‘The Ghostlands Themes’, has been inspired by Ghostlands, a British DIY ghost hunting documentary. The original idea was to make an alternative soundtrack for the documentary as  I felt that the original music failed to evoke feelings that enhance the viewing experience. I was lucky enough to be in regular contact -through my work- with the maker of the documentary, Dr Ciaran O’ Keeffe, who kindly sent me some audio captured during the recording of the two episodes to be used as samples for my recordings.

Ambient is a genre solely based on creating a certain mood and atmosphere, and other than that it is surprisingly versatile, as it shuns any rules about how that mood is created. Other than Brian Eno’s original definition of ambient as music  regularizing environments by enhancing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies, there haven’t been many succesful attempts to ‘develop’ the genre into a specific direction. Rather, it has branched out in all sorts of different directions, always on the premise of creating certain soundscapes, or ‘enhancing environments’.

I am a firm believer in science, so have the greatest difficulty to believe in the existence of ghosts. I do however believe that the human mind is capable of creating ‘ghosts’ and indeed, it is exactly this capacity that is exploited by ghost hunters, musicians, artists and charlatans alike.  One could probably defend the view that this clip is my own attempt at playing with the suggestibility of the human mind, by creating audio and visuals that stimulate the ‘ghost experience’.

If you ask me how I define ghosts, I will point out to their fleeting nature. They are immaterial, yet have a certain ‘material’ component as they can be ‘heard’ or ‘seen’. They are nowhere, and yet everywhere. They are dead, but somehow also alive. I find their ambiguous nature endlessly fascinating, and this track and clip are my attempts at exploiting this sensation of vagueness, suggestibility and ambiguity. Hope you enjoy it and comments or thoughts about the clip or this topic are welcome.


Some thoughts on Sartre’s Nausea

I always found J-P Sartre a fascinating figure. He was clearly highly intelligent and a master observer of day-to-day human behaviour. His writing style was very clear and -unlike other existentialist authors- easy to understand by most. Despite this, I always had difficulty to accept some of the elements of his philosophy and worldview even though I couldn’t easily pinpoint what I felt was wrong with it.

One of the characteristics of his philosophy that alienate me most -luckily not yet visible in his early works- is his insistence in considering the individual life subordinate to ideology or political system, in short what many have justified as the ‘common good’ when seeking an excuse to abuse individual rights. Luckily this tendency is still not yet present in his early oeuvre and ‘Nausea’ feels more genuine and ‘human’ than some of his later works.

‘Nausea’ is a very good exposition of Sartre’s early ideas. As ever, the themes are clearly expressed and the protagonist’s sense of physical illness at the senseless of existence, very convincing and well-put. You can feel some empathy with the book’s conclusion as well, and the fact that our anti-hero takes solace in his own writing and regains his strength through the power of emotional expression -by getting carried away by his favourite jazz tune. But the world which Sartre depicts -one of endless freedom where we are constantly challenged to make choices between myriads of options- it’s a very schizophrenic one which I don’t feel corresponds much with the pressures of reality for most people. In most modern people’s reality, our environment and personality more often than not steer us in certain directions without us even being conscious of it -sometimes more gently than others. Very often we find ourselves either forced to make a choice between a finite and specific number of options, or making a choice and afterwards realising that that choice was actually suggested to us by the circumstances and we just went along with it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t call here for resorting to total fatalism. Of course we still make conscious choices, and very often we are the masters of our own destiny. But looking at the worldview Sartre suggests in ‘Nausea’ -and other of his works- one can not help wondering if such a complete freedom would have exactly the opposite effect of what he is ultimately hoping to achieve, which is an empowered and liberated individual capable of making responsible choices. Such an existence of infinite freedom, would instead make a person feeling trapped in an endless array of equally valid choices that can be made at any time of their lives, leading to permanent anxiety and indecision. Such a world would be a very crippling and disabling existence indeed.

In conclusion, I feel that ‘Nausea’ reads wonderfully as a philosophical novel, but doesn’t make much sense from a epistemological, reality based point of view. Because of this I found it often difficult to identify with the thoughts of the main character Antoine Roquentin. For a more realistic explanation of how we perceive the world, including the way in which our brain often gives us the illusion of choices where there is none, I recommend this book. Unlike ‘Nausea’ it is a work of non-fiction written by a distinguished neurologist, but without the drama, absurdity and sensationalism often associated with books advocating scientific determinism. It also shares with ‘Nausea’ its clear, easily intelligible writing style that can be understood by most people.

Ethereal Shroud Stream New Album

Just bought and looking forward to hear on my iPod…first album was brilliantly atmospheric and this promises to be even better!

The Sonic Sensory

Since we haven’t yet got you the review for the new Ethereal Shroud album titled ‘They Became the Falling Ash’ we thought we’d pop by to tell you that the work of multi-instrumentalist Joe Hawker is now available in full for streaming/download on the band’s bandcamp page:

The three tracked release brings a world of atmospheric black metal focusing on fundamental funeral doom metal landscapes and hints at a composition greatness found in the likes of Leonard Rosenman (Google kids). ‘They Became The Falling Ash’ is priced on a “name your price” basis (depending on available downloads) so any contribution will be welcomed by the artist although you’ll find Mr. Hawker will be equally happy if you stream/download and listen.

ethereal shroud

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Book review of Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult by Dayal Patterson

Ever since 1998, when a girlfriend made for me a black metal compilation tape with the likes of Emperor, Satyricon, Cradle of Filth, Marduk and Dark Funeral, I have been intrigued by this genre without ever becoming a die hard fan. If we leave aside the church burnings, murders, crime and all controversy surrounding black metal, there has always been a mystical, atmospheric element to the music which strongly appealed to me, a spirituality not found in death or thrash metal.

While my own journey has taken me into slower and heavier musical territories, I must confess that I have always reserved some envy for this musical genre that always seems to find a way to evolve and reinvent itself while at the same time retaining its traditional core sound and ethos with ease. This wonderfully detailed book further illustrates this point in its colossal 600 pages. I liked Lords of Chaos as it gave a convincing account of some of the personalities and peculiarities of the people who are at the forefront of the genre, but in retrospect it almost feels like no more than an intro to black metal after reading Dayal’s book, which is much more exhaustive in detail and thematically very cleverly structured.

The book follows more or less a chronological outline of the genre’s history and events, but only inasmuch the timeline illustrates the main branches of black metal. After a short but essential course on the founding fathers of heavy metal and the satanic philosophy which came to be so closely associated with the genre, the book slowly unfolds a history which started with the first generation bands such as Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer, before it goes on to explain how black thrash played -in retrospect- a significant part in black metal’s development. The South/Central European and South American scenes -both flourishing before the Norwegian explosion- are not forgotten either. The second generation of bands -with the Norwegian scene at its epicentre- is then exhaustively recounted. Mayhem serve as the main protagonists whose story is broken up in three parts which illustrate how their philosophy and mentality have been interwoven with the evolution of that second generation of bands.

The story of black metal is told through countless interviews with the protagonists of the genre themselves and while it’s impossible to do everyone justice, I don’t think that there are any reasons to complain, even for diehard fans. The main characters appear to be as eccentric, challenging and unpredictable as the music they play, which makes for very entertaining and at times even humorous reading. An extensive photographic section in the middle of the book -in chronological order- gives a visual spin to the story as well, and those who tend to only read headlines of chapters and parts featuring bands they are interested in, will still find a convincing guide of the visual evolution of black metal simply by browsing through some chapters and looking at the photo’s.

The story then takes us to the weirder and more avant-garde sub branches that have evolved more recently, as well as the cross-pollination of genres. However this is without failing to warn us that the term ‘post black metal’ (the prefix ‘post’ is nowadays annoyingly used in conjunction with most metal genres, as if there is a whole new generation of bands that have reinvented warm water) doesn’t necessarily mean that traditional black metal is dead: it’s merely a different approach.

Dayal has a detached and confident writing style that successfully manages to retain its neutral stance despite certain controversial -and quite frankly ethically repulsive- views voiced by some of the main characters in the book. His approach is that of a scientist, or more accurately a cultural anthropologist who merely describes and outlines some general tendencies of this subculture, without judging or moralising. He doesn’t shy away from controversies either, and discusses in detail the commercial explosion of the genre in the mid nineties and the rise of NSBM in countries such as Poland.

It’s somewhat pointless seeking for highlights as the book flows extremely well and can be read in one go, but personally I will retain mostly two things. Firstly the clever way in which Euronymous managed to inspire a whole scene by defining it conceptually rather than musically (in his view black metal was all about literal devil worship) which freed up its artists to explore shockingly diverse musical paths that are often incompatible with each other. And secondly the assertion that black metal never really accepted NSBM, not because it thinks its views are too extreme or unethical, but because -quite the opposite- they are too positive(!) as they focus on the procreation of the race, brotherhood and loyalty rather than the genre’s inherent individualism and unrelenting misanthropy.

In summary, this is probably the ultimate black metal encyclopaedia, or is bound to become this over the next few years, simply because I really can’t see anyone else taking up such a massive challenge to write a similarly gargantuan book. Whether you are a fan of the genre or not, it offers a highly engaging and thoroughly entertaining read about a genre that unlike many others, speaks to the imagination and the equally extreme and controversial subculture related to it.
Fiendishly recommended.