Interview: Haunter (2020) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Haunter

The keyboard sound in Abdication is one of the Sacramental Death Qualia’s highlights, probably as relevant as that whole equally worthwhile track itself. Did you have to experiment extensively with different keyboard sounds to find such a dreamy and subtle one? Was that track, with all its little nuances, inspired by anything or anyone in particular?

Bradley Tiffin: All keyboard sounds on the record were from an old ’90s keyboard that I’ve had my entire life. Dialing in those tones couldn’t have been any simpler. Any reverb or delay is done on the DAW but the base tones are stock. I was definitely inspired by Still Life era Opeth for that one, but I was also jamming a lot of Stronger Than Pride by Sade. I allowed my inspiration from that record to peek through with subtleties and a less is more approach.

What made you think that Abdication would be a fitting title for that track and does the title refer to a form of personal abdication or disengagement of some kind? Were you, by any chance, looking to ultimately give up on something in your personal life and put that something behind you by pouring so much emotion into that song?

Bradley Tiffin: Naming of some songs take longer than others, but Abdication was titled pretty soon after the writing was near-complete. I wasn’t considering anything personal being poured into the album, but rather how the composition makes me feel upon listening.

It cannot be a coincidence that the reflective tranquillity of Abdication divides this album in half, with two tracks of barely tamed frenzy coming before and after it. Does the placement of that track suggest some deeper artistic intent or was putting it there merely a pragmatic decision, to let listeners get some air before embarking on the downward spiral into madness for the second time?

Bradley Tiffin: That is correct. It’s certainly placed in the middle of the album as a pace-breaker. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine the record with a different track order, though a variation was considered for a short time.

Once the first few layers of Sacramental Death Qualia are peeled off, the thing that ceases being debatable is that you are intelligent, profound people. Even though intellect isn’t by definition a mandatory requirement to good music, would you subscribe to the notion that music truly excels and becomes something more than just entertainment when it comprises both the sentimental value and the intellectually demanding composition in equal measure? Do you think that there’s a good balance between these two qualities in your music?

Bradley Tiffin: My goal in Haunter is to push a brand of black metal that excels and surpasses otherwise subordinates, all while the appeal should be tasteful. The Sacramental Death Qualia record carries a very common pulse that can be found in each track. Between all the bells and whistles, polyrhythms and whatnot, you can find yourself bobbing your head through a few passages of music without having to count or think too hard. Alluring, infectious perplexion.

Enrique Bonilla: I’d agree with your second point. Certain music helps me meditate and reflect whereas other music is purely for enjoyment. I do enjoy this release as something that doesn’t force me to think but helps me to, as well as something you can headbang to. My wish is for listeners to find a balance between introspection and enjoying the riffs.

As a feeling that often implies deep, profound insights, melancholy can also be very empowering, despite not being the most pleasant or the easiest thing to deal with. Presuming that you needed to record this album to pour all the melancholy, anger and frustration into it, would you deem the final result of those efforts empowering? Does listening to Sacramental Death Qualia today bring joy and satisfaction or does it cause even more anger and frustration?

Bradley Tiffin: This album was absolutely more demanding and challenging to write and record than Thrinodia, but just as rewarding in return. The lasting appeal hasn’t lost luster (just yet, that I cannot be certain of). I’m very far removed from the headspace it took for me to write and enjoy Thrinodia, so I’m very much still in the headspace that began with the Black Vice and Sovereign splits that mushroomed into what became Sacramental Death Qualia. The album puts a lot of attention on a calculated number of repeats in a section, or how a progression weaves, and how it all makes you feel by doing these things.

Enrique Bonilla: I still enjoy spinning this album. It is as deep into Haunter as the public has right now and I can’t wait to share how much further we will sink with new content. For now, I am still happy to be performing these songs in a live setting as well.

With the risk of losing a part of its mystique and appeal, would you mind deconstructing the artwork of Sacramental Death Qualia and explain the symbolism behind the image and that small red sigil at the upper left part of it?

Enrique Bonilla: Elijah Tamu crafted the crystalline masterpiece using the lyrical content and music as inspiration along with a bit of direction from Bradley and myself. I am paraphrasing but he interpreted elements of the content as a potential gateway to rebirth through death and what an individual makes of mortality. The sigil is composed of alchemical concepts and Elijah’s personally relevant religious meditations on the cross and inverted cross.

Even though the title Sacramental Death Qualia is pretty much self-explanatory, is there anything about it that is relatable to your own personal perceptions or experiences with mortality?

Enrique Bonilla: Much of this album was written as I read Entering The Desert by Craig Williams. I was also undergoing the deaths of my brother and father during the writing period which were a few months apart. For me, the album has a lot to do with ego death and coping with actual loss. My interpretations of that book are sprinkled throughout the passages of each song. I do like to leave the lyrics open to personal interpretation for listeners and I encourage for the lyrical content to be used as something to reflect on.

Speaking of death, giving it idyllic treatment through art is certainly a privilege, as mental and physical deterioration, pain, suffering, weakness, illness and all other things that usually go hand in hand with it aren’t anything to be enthusiastic about. That said, when you contemplate your own death, do you tend to unburden it from all the philosophical and spiritual implications and face the existential dread headfirst, without any mental and emotional sedatives?

Enrique Bonilla: Definitely the latter, I do not wish to romanticize my actual physical death. There are parts of me I want to die and that’s what I want to get across with this album. There is absolutely suffering experiencing the loss of another, but that is due to the burden of emotion that consciousness curses us with. Nothing spiritual. Physical death is simply that, an unburdening of sentience and that is all, to me at least.

Desacralization of the vessel, corroding the soul, solidifying the illusory. Do these three lines, that grace the back design of many of your t-shirts, represent the ultimate purpose of your music?

Enrique Bonilla: I wouldn’t like to limit the message that each individual receives from the album to just that passage. It seemed like an impactful phrase and was one of several we chose from a list each member pitched.

Does Haunter, as an art project of four presumably very different individuals, have any religious or spiritual connotations?

Enrique Bonilla: I’d have to say no to both religious or spiritual connotations.

Opeth has been mentioned as a reference to your sound in more than one review of Sacramental Death Qualia. When it comes to the overall atmosphere and the choice of chords during slower acoustic parts, comparisons to Opeth’s My Arms, Your Hearse/Still Life period may hold water to some extent I guess, but it doesn’t seem very probable that you would consciously replicate anyone’s sound and aesthetics, doesn’t it? What is your stance on this?

Bradley Tiffin: I’m not bothered by comparisons. They’re a reference point for people, which these references are valid. I’m a huge fan of that era of Opeth. However, there are only so many notes to be played, and anything that I’m willing to publish comes exclusively from an honest internal place.

Considering how significant are the differences between your debut Thrinodia and Sacramental Death Qualia, and how much more seasoned and intricate the latter sounds, it is hard to fathom that such a substantial evolution could have happened within merely three years. When you look back, does the distance you crossed between those two albums seem like a tiny step forward or a giant leap over the gaping abyss?

Bradley Tiffin: It’s been a giant leap for sure. I love the Thrinodia era for what it served, being a sleeper gem in USBM lore, and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do because of the record and where it’s taken us to this point. Depending on how future material is received, the distance between Thinodia to Sacramental Death Qualia may just be a small sliver before a steeper slope in the grand scheme. Ever-looking forward and pushing ourselves to higher ambitions is what I mean.

Enrique Bonilla: It absolutely feels like we’re in new territory as a band. I’d like to see us do something more aggressive with the next release while still keeping the dizzying and relentlessly frantic nature of Sacramental Death Qualia.

Bradley, you were actively involved in recording one of the most underrated albums in recent years, Entheogen’s Without Veil, Nor Self. How difficult and demanding was to record that strange, peculiar album and what is going on with that band at the moment?

Bradley Tiffin: As far as I know, the new (going on a few years old now) Entheogen material is merely in developmental hell. I don’t play an executive role in that band. I’m not close with those guys. Having played on the album, it makes sense to me. It’s a very hard album to digest. It only visits 4/4 territory for about 15% of the time. But I appreciate that recognition, because Without Veil, Nor Self was definitely undercut by other Mystiskaos contemporaries.

Speaking of that album, both Without Veil, Nor Self and Sacramental Death Qualia have quite a similar transcending quality to them and the ability to replicate what being high without actually being under the influence of some drug would feel like. Have you ever experienced something similar yourself, to have yourself pulled into another dimension by a certain album on what feels like a psychoactive trip?

Enrique Bonilla: Absolutely. For me, that album is Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports. It takes me somewhere else and helps me escape the pangs of consciousness and emotion briefly. I really only listen to this album when I can focus on it and preferably at sunrise or sunset.

With regard to the previous question, did it take a clear head to write something as delicate as Sacramental Death Qualia or did you need to get into a certain frame of mind with the help of psychoactive stimuli?

Enrique Bonilla: That is difficult to say. We drink Mezcal at nearly every practice now and smoke heavily. I would say the album was written with a clear head for what we consider normal clouded only by our own conscience.

Is permanently seeking higher purpose something that you need in your life in order to preserve sanity?

Enrique Bonilla: I wouldn’t say we seek a higher purpose. Haunter, as an art project, is absolutely about refining our craft and pushing boundaries of extreme music. I would say there are more physical things we need to preserve our sanity, such as touring and writing. Time spent behind our instruments is therapeutic. Haunter is a project where we can lament about our daily chaos and tribulations and give others the opportunity to do so with this release.

 

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