The War Inside My Head: An Interview with Lykhaeon
I'm a fan of pretty much anything and everything that has been produced under the Swiss flag of the Helvetic Underground Committee. A collective of like-minded-yet-different bands and artists, the HUC has excelled in that most tricky of tasks that is producing raw, aggressive, forward-thinking, and smart (yup, I said it) black metal. And with their latest releases, the newest from long-running duo Lykhaeon (coming after the excellent new album from Ungfell, it should be said) they just continued down this path of explosive, brilliant excellence.
So naturally, now that the album is out and about, there was more than enough reason to include Lykhaeon in our The War Inside My Head series, which focuses on some of the most inspiring voices in contemporary extreme music and tries to seek out their various influences and musical touchstones.
Before we get the interview with Kerberos of Lykhaeon this is just to say that you can check out our other interview series (Albums of the Decade, Pillars of the 90s) and, you haven't already, please follow follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to Lykhaeon.
What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?
Tough to remember, but I believe it was a CD copy of Metallica’s …And Justice For All. Naturally, at the time I wasn’t so jaded regarding music production, so I hardly noticed that the bass tracks were basically muted on that record and the songwriting occasionally tended to be meandering; I remember being particularly drawn to the track “Harvester of Sorrow.” I bought the CD in a record store in Athens, Greece. I had heard of Metallica but wasn’t familiar with their music (or metal music in general), but something about the cover art and layout of the CD made me want to listen to it.
What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?
I can’t really point to 2-3 albums, as from an early age I listened to a pretty wide range of music on a fairly regular basis. If I had to narrow it down, I would say I played the hell out of Slayer’s first few records, in particular Hell Awaits (still my personal favorite of theirs, the hellish and truly evil atmosphere is something to behold) and Reign in Blood. The riff savagery and unadulterated violence as well as the more immediate production on that record had a profound impact on me growing up. I also listened to the Sisters of Mercy heavily, which fostered my enduring passion for gothic rock and post-punk music later on. In particular, First and Last and Always was a record I was obsessed with.
What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?
I found the mix on Teitanblood’s Death to be particularly savage and also innovative. The production of the vocals is incredible and rich in details and the way the drums cut through the dense guitars is particularly impressive, without relying on any audible studio trickery. Naturally the performance on that record was utterly devastating. However, it’s a production style that is particularly suited to that record and most likely wouldn’t work in other contexts and with other material, as evidenced by the band’s most recent full-length. Another record with fantastic and interesting production, for me, is Obliteration’s Cenotaph Obscure. All of their stuff has a fantastic, organic yet still immediate sound, without sacrificing atmosphere for brutality or clarity. All of their stuff sounds great, but that last album was particularly admirable from a mixing and production standpoint.
What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?
I was shocked by Inquisition’s last record, but not in a good way. I’m aware that many listeners thoroughly enjoyed that last album, which is good for them. To me, it seems like that project has run out of ideas (which is fair enough, as they’ve been going for quite some time and I guess there’s only so much you can do with their setup and the style they chose to write in). The riffs seem derivative of their past work, there’s little to no innovative songwriting and the record lacks inspiration, which was surprising to me, as I would have thought they’d have plenty of inspiration after what they went through the past few years. Instead, they seem to be pursuing a misguided urge to create something catchy that I can’t relate to. Nevertheless, if that’s what they want to do I certainly respect them for pursuing the music they wish to create.
What album relaxes you or centers you the most?
I always come back to Fields of the Nephilim’s untouched masterpiece Elizium. While their other material is on constant rotation as well, if I ever feel the need to reach to a record to simply settle down and dive into the pure essence of sound, that’s the album I reach to. The atmosphere on the whole record is fascinating and full of rich detail. Many of the tracks don’t really work in a live setting or may become boring due to the songwriting approach, but if you take the time to absorb the album, nothing compares to it.
What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?
U2 – The Joshua Tree. A lot of people hate this band for their admittedly annoying arena rock posturing and cringe-worthy pseudo heart-felt political theater, but to me, the music is what comes first. And as it pertains to music, production and songwriting, I was delving into some U2 tracks over the past months and only really discovered The Joshua Tree in earnest. It's a fantastic record, full of bold ideas and a powerful vocal performance. Frankly I’ve listened to “Where the Streets Have No Name” more than I care to admit openly.
Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still. This is the record I’ve listened to the most this year, full-stop. It’s not even close. What Ulcerate have created with this album is truly mesmerizing. The songs are incredibly dense and complex, yet feel like they have plenty of space to breathe at the same time. I suppose this is primarily due to the masterful musicianship on display that makes it sound like Ulcerate are not even at the absolute limits of their ability. As a fan of most of their material, I didn’t immediately fully grasp the brilliance of Stare Into Death And Be Still; I thought the songs were almost too dense, which was further exacerbated by the incredibly dark production (compared to their prior work at least). However, even at first listen several of these songs had moments that absolutely floored me, and having spent more time with the record, I can safely say that there is an incredible amount of detail in the riffing and songwriting that keeps drawing me in for repeat listens. Every riff has a melody and Jamie Saint Merat’s work on the drums is executed flawlessly. The guy plays drums like a real instrument, with a keen sense for accents and musical fills as opposed to merely blasting brainlessly (which certainly has its place as well). This allows his playing to lend a whole new dimension to these songs and I believe he has reached a pinnacle in his own very individual style on this release.
Dearthe – Despirited Obscurity. This release seems to have gone under the radar somewhat, and its a shame. The atmosphere and riffs on Despirited Obscurity are incredibly infectious. At first listen I was blown away and continue to play this record regularly. Some tracks on the album aren’t quite as strong as the others, but the record is incredibly strong overall.
There are many more, for instance Inferno’s last record PARADEIGMA which I’ve been more or less obsessed with since it came out as well as Drakon Darshan Satan by Nox Formulae or even the last Hate Forest record Hour of the Centaur, which was a very positive surprise to me, despite (or maybe even because of?) the absolutely ridiculous snare drum programming on parts of the album.
What album is grossly underrated?
There are too many to name. If I had to choose one, I would highlight the last record by DSKNT – Vacuum γ-Noise Transition. A fantastic project from south-western Switzerland, I first discovered DSKNT through their equally underrated debut. There is plenty of music coming out of Switzerland, much of it is sadly barely even interesting. Not so with DSKNT. I was eager to hear where they would take their already formidable style from their debut, and they definitely managed to push onward and create something unique and challenging in all of the right ways. From a production standpoint, the record is dense and obscure, as if it were a transmission from a distant dimension passed to us by accident through a fissure in space time. The music itself is incredibly detailed and well though out, I highly recommend anyone interested in good music to hear and purchase this record. The record itself is presented beautifully as well.
What album would you recommend from your local scene?
Anything from the Helvetic Underground Committee, naturally.