Danish WITCHCULT band, as usual, I found by accident, I do not even remember how. Black Metal group lurking from behind the glow of candles acts as an association of enthusiasts for spiritualism and occultism. Of course, the lyrics deal mainly with witchcraft, magic, demonology, rituals and the like, which is a great topic for interview. They come from Copenhagen in Denmark, but their Black Metal does not sound at all as a typical production from Norway. On their "Cantate of the Black Mass" debut under Vendetta Records (2019), they offer a violent mix of thick riffs and demolishing drums with quite bass production, which is a bit unusual for this genre, but certainly original. Also the harmony of guitars and their character is interesting, but you can read more in the review. This band and their dark radiation also create the spawn of the new Necrosphere issue. Dive into reading, the question were answered by Benedictus (drums, lyrics) & Besat (guitars).
What was the basic black intent to form WITCHCULT band? Did you want to distinguish yourselves from other bands, or rather to go more traditionally? In my view, it looks more like the first variation...
Benedictus: First of all thank you; I think every black metal band in some respect tries to distinguish themselves from the rest while maintaining what drew them to make black metal in the first place. That being said, we didn’t set out to reinvent or drastically diverge from traditional black metal, but rather tap into something very fundamental about it, and make it unique merely by the creative force behind it.
Besat: We are indeed inspired by more ”traditional” sounding black metal bands, but want to go our own ways. Since we are inspired by different bands, both classic sounding and more avantgarde and technical, we place ourselves in the middle. Our music is very riff based and we want to keep a fast pace while creating a cold and viscious atmosphere to it.
The "Cantate of The Black Mass" debut was released not long ago. How would you evaluate his birth? Was it a simple job that went naturally, or was it a difficult and lengthy process? Which song is your strongest from your point of view, which would you stuck as a ideal or base?
Besat: It has actually been quite a lengthy process that took several years. Before this album was conceived, another album had actually been written and recorded, but was discarded, because we decided to go into a different direction. We felt that we had gotten better and pushed ourselves further. Recording the album, mixing it and mastering it took a very short time, but writing it took a bit longer. We are very satisfied with the result, and it seems like many people are as well! Everyone in the band actually has their own favorite song and I dont think we have one strong that sticks out from the rest. Personally I like The Sarkic Ritual the best.
Benedictus: The writing process went through quite a few stages while we tried to figure out the sound and feeling we wanted, so it was indeed a laborious birth. We also spent a lot of time changing and refining the material even up until shortly before recording, and after recording I would still make little adjustments to the lyrics.
It is difficult for me to choose a song to call the “strongest”, but there are ones that I feel best capture what we were trying to say. Sour Wine and Bitter Bread along with Vexations of the Black Arts both in some way capture what I have elsewhere called “the way of the witch”, by which I mean a spirit of rebellious creation; the unrestrained wielding of your will upon nature to shape it to your desires. They are both about the unshackling of man from heaven, and the pursuit of knowledge above and beyond what God seems to allow. If I were to choose a personal favourite though, it would be The Hex of Uncreation. Within black metal there are quite a few fundamentally different worldviews and opinions on, what black metal is supposed to be, so the song is about all the covens – representing these different schools of thought – uniting in a ritual to realise the original mission statement: to rid the world of churches. It is something very fundamental to black metal for me, and therefore very close to my heart.
Witchcraft and the left hand path seem to be the focus of your inspiration. Was you fascinated by darkness and dark art from childhood, or it came later? Do you remember the moment when you totally got into this morbid settlement? Which authors or films or books have had the greatest impact on you?
Benedictus: I have always had a certain fascination with the occult, so the proper answer is as long as I can remember. Although I read quite a lot, it is mostly non-fiction, and I am particularly interested in religion, linguistics, psychology, philosophy and history. I am also very interested in film, and especially the more provocative or thought provoking like David Lynch or Lars von Trier. I also have a great passion for the older Scandinavian masters like Carl Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman and of course particularly their seminal works The Day of Wrath and The Seventh Seal respectively, which all black metal fans should watch.
Besat: Speaking for myself, I must have been around 11-12 when I started listening to black metal and from then on the interest in the occult, witches, horror etc came along gradually. My interest grew and grew and as I've become older I still enjoy finding very old books and seeking inspiration from them. Moviewise I am quite a sucker for old horror movies such as the Dario Argento films, but also very low-budget 80s horror flicks. The more disgusting to the edge of being unintentionally comical is the best. Like Benedictus, I am also a big fan of Lynch and von Trier.
How are WITCHCULT songs created? Do you have a general recipe for writing, or it is always a different individual journey? Who is the main author and who brings the most ideas?
Benedictus: We used to have a very particular way of writing, where Besat would write riffs, themes and melodies, and he and I would then shape and twist, rearrange and transpose them and add little flourishes to the form, until we had a finished arrangement. Only then would I sit down and write the lyrics, although I would sometimes keep it in mind while we arranged the songs. Even then many of the leads and most of the bass was only exactly determined by Besat in the recording studio, so it was quite a peculiar process and somewhat of a learning experience as well.
Now that we have welcomed Erebos and Arent to the lineup we are reevaluating and optimising the working process, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the next album comes about in an entirely different way.
I am always interested in every band, whether at writing tracks they let themselves be carried away by a special process, which may not be completely related to the music. Many bands only work at home or in the rehearsal room and just play and play. Other bands immerse themselves in the mysteries of darkness with help of magic proprieties as skulls, candles, incense, which can open new possibilities at writing process...
Benedictus: I actually don’t know what Besat’s writing process is like, since I only ever hear the product of it when we rehearse, but I have seen where he lives, so it is definitely a possibility. As for myself, I like to keep specific items around me and strive to achieve a certain atmosphere when I write, which is why I almost exclusively work at night. The tone and feeling you want to capture can be so fleeting, so it is indeed very helpful to ground yourself like that to maintain the necessary frame of mind.
Besat: I usually write at home, maybe around 3-4 riffs and then we meet up in the rehearsal room and all of a sudden 3-4 more come up. A lot of the ideas for the songs was conceived in a bedroom in the dark hours of the night and then refined, tweaked and finished in the rehearsal room. Sometimes they don’t get totally finished before we go in to the actual recording process. We always find that little thing that could sound different and try to do as many takes as possible before we are satisfied. All of us have some sort of skulls, candles and such at home, but purely for decoration. Personally I don’t make an “altar” every time I write new riffs. It all comes from within. But of course, it creates an appropriate atmosphere.
Do you always have a clean mind, or some lighter or harder drugs help you to compose? Is the process of composition and the moment of creation of the riff, the line, the songs somewhat magical to you?
Benedictus: We have, to my knowledge, not yet needed any chemical aid in the creative process. It is not something I am necessarily against, but what few examples of it I have seen have had the adverse effect, where the person’s judgement instead was so impaired, that he wasted a lot of time working on material that really didn’t deserve it.
Besat: We are usually ”clean” when we get together and write. I can on some occasions, mostly weekends, open a beer or two when playing guitar. Mostly because its friday or saturday, but I have learned that it makes me more relaxed as well and have improved my focus. I can feel very satisfied and motivated when I create that one riff that will carry a new song. In that way it can be magical yes.
Do you consider your own music to be metaphysical? If so, could you write more? Do you think most Metal bands just make music because they like it and want to have fun, or they want to get closer to their idols? Is your look at writing process different?
Benedictus: I can’t speak to other bands’ motivation, nor do I care to, but for us it is if not metaphysical certainly transcendental. I always seem to get very poetic when trying to describe music, which happened not long ago, when we were asked to provide a description for our music, and I ended up calling it something like “a unity between the violent and the vicious, the sinister and the sepulchral”. Aside from the alliteration it was an attempt to define something that for the most part escapes definition, and for me that is the whole point; it is musical because it captures something that couldn’t be anything else – it is, in essence, a feeling, which is as difficult to properly describe as colour to the blind.
Do you think darkness and light, evil and goodness, negativity and positivity (even though these terms can be understood differently) are in opposition to each other and will forever form an eternal struggle, or they are forces and energies that cannot coexist without themselves and so, in fact, they make up our understanding of existence, or extrasensory reality? Or do you think they can exist alone?
Benedictus: I am certain they form many people’s understanding of existence, but to me an understanding like that rings false. In rhetorical terms it is the fallacy of dualism; a tendency in thought and language to define something by its apparent opposite. Darkness, for example, can just as well be determined as the gradual absence of light, and only by ignoring all the shades of light and colour can the dualism be maintained. It is the same with good and evil. Even if you maintain that these concepts actually and intrinsically exist, the opposite of a “good” action can at any given point be an apathetic, a sadistic or a cynical one. I believe that even though the dualistic worldview is a very fundamentally human way of thinking, it is deeply flawed, and its application on morality and ethics by religious institutions is the most disgusting product of it; a self-imposed bondage on human endeavour and expression.
How do dreams, sleep disturbances such as sleep paralysis, death thoughts and altered states of consciousness affect your work? Do you have experiences with any of these types of conditions? Do you ever have strange premonitions that you may be aware of, perhaps subconsciously, and you are searching for something deeper for yourself?
Benedictus: I find these phenomena very interesting and have read up on them quite a bit, but they have as of yet not affected our work.
Besat: For me personally it doesn’t have that big impact on me. Sometimes I can actually dream a riff and will get up and play it – if I can comprehend it, let alone remember it. Few times I have experienced sleep-walking and waking up in a different place, but that has not affected my style of playing. I can dream of something that will have an impact on our visual style though or be turned into an idea for lyrics.
In your image you use make-up, darkness, books, candles, skulls, chalice and other ritual items. Does it help you to create an even more spiritual atmosphere? Is the atmosphere of occultism important to you? What does face makeup mean to you? Does it have a similar meaning as in shamanism?
Benedictus: Each item in our imagery is a symbol and represent an element of the larger message we try to convey. They of course provide an atmosphere and an overall expression, but the symbolism is what matters most to me. The corpse paint is meant as just that – to represent death as well as give an aura of something intimidating and dangerous. Much of what our music is about is liminality and the transgression of thresholds, and these are by nature dangerous, so it seems only fitting.
In shamanism, as I understand it, the face paint is, among other things, meant to liberate the wearer and therefore let him be a truer representation of himself. That is to some extent present in what we do as well, but it is not its primary function.
Besat: For us, corpsepaint, darkness, books, candles etc. creates as you say, a spiritual atmosphere, and a certain visual outlook, that for me, is a very important part of black metal in general. It creates and enhances our visions, our feelings, our beliefs. You can't write about witches, play fast black metal and stand around in blue shorts and white polo shirts. The music and the image goes hand in hand to create the aesthetics within black metal.
Do you feel as if you join some source of black extrasensory power while playing? What kind of strange feelings did you experience while recording or performing live?
Benedictus: The music definitely conveys and carries something beyond mere aesthetic, but I don’t know, if I’m ready to name it as such. I sincerely believe that all music should make you feel something, be it aggression, a sense of altered time and place or something completely different, but these are subjective and as for myself, I am content merely calling them experiences. What I actually feel is, as I mentioned before, something very difficult to put into words, and something very private and personal to me.
Besat: Hearing something for the first time in a recording studio can make me feel very eager to play more. It can fill me with renewed energy and motivation. So the strange feeling must actually be joy and satisfaction for me in that regard. We are not a live band, so I can't tell you how it is on stage. Yet. We’ll see what will happen in the future.
How do you feel about places, whether in terms of genius loci or your own spiritual perception? Have you ever found yourself in a place that has attracted you, fascinated you, and at the same time you felt there negative vibrations? Do you think such places exist all over the world and more sensitive individuals can perceive them? Are there such places in the Denmark?
Benedictus: I’ve never had this particular experience in connection to places, but it often happens with pieces of art and particularly the ideas or themes they represent. If places themselves can hold some sort of negativity, it is unfortunately beyond my perception, but given the age and history of Denmark, I would imagine they are likely to exist here.
The only thing I can think of that gives me conflicting emotions like the ones you describe in any meaningful way, are churches, mosques and the like; they are at the same time beautiful representations of architecture and history, and symbols of the most perverse distortion of human nature and the pursuit of truth.
Benedictus, Besat 3.7.2019 Mortuary
Cantate of the Black Mass