Interview: Khthoniik Cerviiks (2020) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Khthoniik Cerviiks

As overwhelmingly intense as it is, Æquiizoiikum is at the same time a subtle and profound record, that demands to be witnessed and understood by intuition rather than by intellect, despite being immensely intellectually stimulating to begin with. Would you deem this observation flattering and, if so, does hearing this kind of opinions about your music make you appreciate it even more or are you completely devoid of any doubt that there is something special about it, regardless of how others respond to it?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: First of all, thanks for your words concerning the Æquiizoiikum. Sometimes, maybe from an unknown source of pressure, I perceive my work from a strange manic-depression view. Like a sort of mental self-laceration within a bipolar turmoil consisting of shells like totally uninteresting and absolutely genius, being thrown from one extreme to the other. Thus I can’t refer to other people’s responses. But these are only my emotions, they don’t apply to the rest of the band.

Okkhulus Siirs: It probably makes me proud to some degree to read that someone out there thinks there is something special about our music. But does feedback change my personal relation to our music? I cannot think of that ever to happen. To me, our music is very personal and self-expressive. All of our songs have a very spontaneous and unforced edge to them. An outsider’s opinion may fuel self-reflection, but it won’t affect the essence of what we are doing. There is total confidence about what we are doing because we love to do it that way and we would rather not consciously try to be important to anybody else. It is special to us and that is the only factor we can honestly influence.

Together with the actual music, your vocabulary and the semantics behind it represent the very essence of the Khthoniik Cerviiks experience and are hardwired deep into it. The title of your new album, Æquiizoiikum, is yet another addition to that bizarre linguistic canon. What does the word mean, where it originates from and how does it complement the lyrical themes on the album?

Okkhulus Siirs: It is not even that cryptic. Latin aequum can be translated as equity or sameness and the suffix -zoikum, based on Old Greek, is used in German as a component of names of geological eras (English Palaeozoic equals German Paläozoikum). Thus, the album’s title means age or era of sameness. It refers to a dystopian setting that is characterized by dehumanization and individual instability as indoctrinated by a technocratic, quasi robotic, ruling class.

Based on the song titles alone, it’s quite hard to recognize some underlying meaning that makes all the songs seem like chronologically structured chapters of the same story. That said, is Æquiizoiikum an overarching concept that summarizes and encapsulates everything on this album, or a collection of several mutually independent ones?

Okkhulus Siirs: Similar to SeroLogiikal Scars, the idea behind the term Æquiizoiikum serves as a kind of guiding thread that is being reflected on from various perspectives throughout the songs of the album. There are spiritual points of view, technical considerations as well as social implications connected to the establishment of the dystopian era of sameness. It is not a crystal clear concept album though, but very much in the vein of our first album, a collection of thoughts and manifestations compiled with said guiding theme in mind.

The titles of your songs are almost always quite impenetrable, like they are purposely trying to confuse rather than to enlighten, and not only because of your strange, improvised writing style. How much effort goes into coming up with such a weird stuff? Could you deconstruct each of the titles on this new album?

Okkhulus Siirs: It’s hard to explain really. Both Khraâl Vri*ïl and me are keen on experimenting with language and we sort of enjoy post-structuralist ideas and post-modern literature, among other influences. Language is a material you can shape as you like and you can draw on it endlessly. If you reorganize some of it you’ll break codes and conventions and it’s more up to the reader/listener to get involved in it or dismiss it. I don’t want to write an entire essay on the song titles of Æquiizoiikum, instead I’ll just provide some very obvious keywords:

KC Exhalement 4.0 (Welcome To HAL)
Same title as all our intros. In brackets a play on words, hell is HAL here;

Odyssey 3000
Dystopias of the past transferred to the modern age of Æquiizoiikum;

Æquiizoiikum (Mothraiik Rites)
The era of indoctrinated sameness. A merciless, plaguing beast;

Δt (Recite The Kriitiikal Mæss)
Perception of time and space distorted, critical mess, critical mass, the collapse of the individual brain;

Para-Dog-Son / Demagorgon
Paradoxon, demagogue, Gorgon. About leadership in the Æquiizoiikum;

Kollektiing Koffiin Naiils (Délire Des Négations Sequence 1.0)
Cotard’s syndrome: people think they are dead already. About followership and the loss of the self;

Bloodless Epiiphany (Délire Des Négations Sequence 2.0)
Cotard’s syndrome: epiphany, katharsis, death. Is it worth to escape the status quo?

KC Inhalement 4.0 (Nothiing-Niihiil-Non)
Same title as all our outros. Releasing the listener into multifaceted nothingness;

Before you, no other band dared, let alone succeeded to successfully translate a stellar, forward-thinking attitude of early Voivod to death metal idiom. Do you think this is a fair observation and would you deem Voivod an important influence?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: Absolutely. I’d mention the Killing Technology/Dimension Hatröss/Nothingface triangle as one of my main influences, plus various other metal/non-metal sources.

Presuming that Khthoniik is derived from the word chthonic and Cerviiks from the Latin medical term cervix, would it be accurate to translate the band name somewhere along the lines of the passage through the underworld? In addition, apart from those post-structuralist and post-modern influences you’ve already mentioned, is your peculiar, bizarre writing style yet another reference to Voivod, or maybe even to French zeuhl legends Magma?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: Kobaïa Iss Dëh Hündïn! You’re the first who ever noticed that Magma affinity. Of course there’s a relation to the one and only Zeuhl Monoliith in my case. To me, the name is more like a colour, a sound or an odour. Possible translations could be an abyss, chasm, spiiral, or whatever you like, it’s the listeners’ decision.

Okkhulus Siirs: I connect our band name to an imagined sort of subterranean, pulsating ulcer which is giving birth to a furious, magmatic spawn.

The front cover of Æquiizoiikum feels somewhat perplexing and is probably the most abstract image you have ever used for any of your front covers. What exactly are we looking at?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: I tried to visualize what it could look like when the Æquiizoiikum is being installed. Within the painting process I thought of old air raid pictures with tracer bullets slicing the firmament and, no joking, the old arcade classic Missile Command.

Would you say that there’s a strong correlation between the visual and the aural side of Khthoniik Cerviiks experience?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: Absolutely. I was always fascinated by bands that created their own musical/lyrical/visual concept, especially Voivod, Hellhammer and Sadistik Exekution. Art in general and the Cerviiks in particular should be seen as an entire whole.

Voiidwarp was your most elaborate, developed statement up to the point of its release. Now that Æquiizoiikum is out, would you say that you have outdone yourselves yet again and made another giant leap forward or do you see it as just a minor refinement of the already existing songwriting prowess?

Okkhulus Siirs: We recorded Æquiizoiikum in the summer of 2019 and the recording engineer spoke very highly of it when it was done. I did not really care at first, but with a little distance now I think we really developed and refined our style further somehow. I’m afraid some people may thus indeed argue that we have outdone our previous material. But that’s a matter of taste in the end. We don’t see writing and playing music as a competition with ourselves and it is also never a topic of discussion among us like we were feeling obliged to write better songs than before.

Compared to how many interesting riff progressions can be heard on this album, the number of mood progressions doesn’t appear to be as plentiful, not within a single song anyway. It feels that the Voiidwarp material featured way more tempo and mood contrasts and variations than Æquiizoiikum does. Do you think that is a fair observation? If so, would you say that this full steam ahead approach to songwriting introduced the next level of urgency to your sound?

Okkhulus Siirs: I can agree that our material on the Voiidwarp split record may provide a more condensed impression of ups and downs or mood progressions as you call it. Our idea was to fill that single LP side with only two regular songs which, in combination with intro, interlude and outro, form an independent program of its own, if that makes sense. We didn’t think of it among the lines of yeah, which handful of songs shall we put on that split? but we rather tried to deliver a complete story and wholesome experience just like we would try to do on an album. I honestly never thought about whether the time limit of roughly 25 minutes influenced the writing of the songs on Voiidwarp significantly, but well, this might actually have been the case.

Speaking of the Voiidwarp material, with three different chord progressions at the beginning, the superb change of mood at the 4:20 mark and that memorable riff that comes right after it, Come To The Subeth was arguably the most musically eloquent track you had written up to that point. One could make an argument that even Æquiizoiikum won’t change anything in that regard, and that no single song on the new album reaches that same level of diversity and inner dynamics. Would you subscribe to that notion and are you even capable of making that kind of emotionally detached assessment about the quality of your songs, presuming that writing each and every one of them required draining yourselves mentally and emotionally?

Okkhulus Siirs: I don’t think of our songs as competing individuals since they all add a sort of chapter to an overall story, but I remember that while checking the master files for the Voiidwarp split I was indeed under the impression that Come To The Subeth was the best song we had recorded up to that point. However, views on this differ and I still don’t know why this song never made it into our live set. I can’t really assess the objective quality of the songs as you are suggesting since I know how it feels to play them and I know how it felt writing some of their lyrics or riffs and this is where my personal connection stems from. Some songs I can connect better to and other songs move me slightly less. Right now I like some songs on Æquiizoiikum better than Come To The Subeth. Maybe next month I’d name a demo track as my favourite.

Khraâl Vri*ïl: Come To The Subeth was the last song we wrote for Voiidwarp and it was finished a few days before the recording session started. Therefore we didn’t have much time for practice and just made some takes and, gladly, it went very well. Strangely we never picked it up again at rehearsals and until now it is the only Cerviiks song that has never been performed on stage. Recorded and forgotten.

Introducing long instrumental sections with no lyrics has become a noticeable tendency of yours, especially on the last two releases. For example, the song Spiiral Spiire Stiigmata featured almost seven minutes worth of instrumental parts, interrupted only by a few occasional screams, but no actual lyrics. There is so much music going on on Æquiizoiikum as well. Considering that you are a group of musicians with undeniable musical ability, that understands how to play music as well as how to play with music, can you see Khthoniik Cerviiks become a band that focuses almost exclusively on instrumentation and think of lyrics as merely a necessity?

Okkhulus Siirs: Well, we were playing and combining riffs and repetitions of what was to become Spiiral Spiire Stiigmata/Mercury Deluge in our rehearsal room. The thing grew on and developed well. Then all of a sudden Khraâl Vri*ïl said something like okay, all we’ve done now is going to be the instrumental intro. But we also agreed that for the moment this sort of structure was to be kind of a special program for that split LP. It’s not a hard and fast rule however, so who knows if something similar may happen again. We won’t limit ourselves to fixed rules of songwriting. All in all, our lyrics are very important to us. Maybe this is why we don’t like to overload songs with too much of them.

Khraâl Vri*ïl: Actually, I wanted our contribution to that split with Howls Of Ebb to be only one song with a duration of twenty minutes, but this was dropped very early. However, the final result to me is still one song in five separate parts. You’ll notice it because there’s no silence between all of them. Back in the days, it felt right and, as Okkhulus Siirs already said, we don’t obey to any kind of limitations. If there’s a natural flow within the creating process that becomes a resonatiing spiiral, we’ll take it.

Going back to your earliest days, what would you say were the biggest differences between Heptaëdrone and SeroLogiikal Scars (Vertex Of Dementiia)? What about the latter indicated progression and improvement, and conversely, what were the features that kept both releases inseparable?

Okkhulus Siirs: The biggest difference was the production. Heptaëdrone was born within eight hours with the help of a semi-professional obstetrician, so to say. The umbilical cord was cut right in the middle with a blunt breadknife and the spawn was neither bathed nor nursed. The rough mix became the master track and it was a bit thin, thus it was fed with a layer of reverb. SeroLogiikal Scars, on the other hand, was recorded in a professional studio within four entire days. We did two six-hour live recording sessions, one entire day for additional guitars and vocals, and another day dedicated to reviewing and mixing the material. Second, third or fourth takes were no problem time-wise and the producer was doing one hell of an amazing job. He captured exactly what we wanted to sound like and what we actually do sound like when rehearsing, minus the moldy stone walls and the low ceiling of our rehearsal space. Features that kept both records inseparable? To me, every aspect of writing and preparation remained roughly the same apart from the production. We have kept that approach towards recording and have been to the same studio for the later records.

What was the story behind the album title SeroLogiikal Scars (Vertex Of Dementiia)?

Okkhulus Siirs: Serological scars mark imprints and remains within our circulatory system. They can serve as proof for a person having suffered from specific diseases in the pastime since these scars are related to the incorporation of antibodies. In a lot of cases, for certain types of diseases and unclear medical biographies, you can’t tell whether a serological scar is the result of disease in the classic sense or the result of vaccination or other influences. Now consider a person who, confronted with their serological scars, can’t remember to ever have suffered any such disease nor has undergone vaccination consciously. That’s the vertex of dementia, or the point in time where the mental sphere is being afflicted as well. In a metaphorical sense, the album title refers to power relations and interrupted or reversed causalities.

Does the world of Khthoniik Cerviiks begin and end with Khthoniik Cerviiks or do you find yourselves living in it even when you should be busy, for the lack of a better definition, living outside of it?

Okkhulus Siirs: Speaking only for myself, Khthoniik Cerviiks is sort of omnipresent in my mind but the degree of intensity varies. Now that we have a new drummer and are close to releasing an album I think about band practice and organizational stuff fairly often. We have to learn everything anew together now which is fun, but also demanding. Plus, you know, when you got several interviews pending and lots of email stuff to take care of before the album release, this hobby becomes a sort of part-time job of its own. I really hate this phase. Once we go over to the relaxed songwriting phase again after the interest in a new release has ceased, I tend to think about our new musical ideas which is much more pleasing and less haunting than the organizational aspect.

Whenever you work on some new music, how much inspiration for it comes from contemplating the shortcomings you believe your previous efforts suffered from? Do you tend to reminisce about the past a lot and search for the way forward by actually looking backward?

Okkhulus Siirs: I think as a band we were able to preserve some healthy energy and confidence in what we are doing by actually looking both forward and backward. Sometimes it is good to look back on technical mistakes, that is, you should ask yourselves why your recordings of day one in the studio were better than those of day two, for example. Or, when you feel pissed because you think a song’s part doesn’t really fit with the rest then try to avoid getting at this point anytime again and suggest a change early enough. It is also a good help to actually look forward to the next band practice with a goal in mind like live shows or recording sessions. I think I actually don’t like to listen to our records and our own creation because I do not even want to start contemplating their shortcomings. I think that, in the end, it is all about self-reflection, but neither can change that what we’ve carved in stone already nor should it lead us to make utopian long-term plans.

Did you ever sit to listen to all your releases consecutively and, in case you ever did such a thing, were you able to hear the subtle evolution that was taking place between the recordings? In your honest opinion, was the band getting considerably or only slightly better every time you entered the studio to record something new?

Okkhulus Siirs: I don’t listen to our music after the master files have been checked. Rare exceptions are when I forgot how to play a certain part. But I agree. I would say there is some slight increase from Heptaëdrone to SeroLogiikal Scars in terms of playing abilities and composition. The production and sound curve is going up much steeper at the same time. Both curves peak and flatten out with Voiidwarp. The sound and production curve of Æquiizoiikum definitely shows another positive leap. Composition-wise, I don’t know yet, you have to decide on this. Considering the improvement of sound from record to record, we know, for example, how much the studio’s microphone choices and room treatment have been refined in between our sessions and we thus attribute certain constant improvements in sound to these upgrades in engineering quality. Now consider that all our releases are based on live recordings which had all amps in the same room as the drum kit. I think the overall increase in production quality becomes even clearer then. As a band you get used to recording and when you know what’s going to await you, this maybe adds to a positive development too.

Khraâl Vri*ïl: To me the most significant aspect within the band’s evolution are the more cleaned-up structures. All those fever dream parts, as I like to describe them, meaning weird tempo/pattern changes in very short distances that were ruling our old compositions, went more into the background. Nowadays, they are placed more targeted, but this is only my opinion.

Do you write music with the intent to please yourselves, considering that nobody understands the intricacies of your own taste better than yourselves, or do you do it merely for therapeutic reasons, to deal and come to terms with your inner demons, without the actual urge to dwell upon it too much once it is out of your system?

Okkhulus Siirs: Speaking only for myself, I can state that the process is of greater importance than the product. Meeting every week and playing music together is probably my escape from everyday life. Of course, we do try to incorporate various musical influences and thoughts on subjects that are essential to us as individuals. We want to play music that we like, sure. But it is about self-expression rather than about producing something to revisit. I neither play our records at home nor do I feel a need to show them to anybody. So maybe you are right and the entire process has a therapeutic component to it.

Most of passionate listeners and music enthusiasts never actually pick up an instrument themselves. That said, would it be fair to say that your understanding of music and all its delicate intricacies is now twofold and significantly deeper than it once was, considering that you are now both active musicians and passive listeners, all in one person?

Okkhulus Siirs: I think underground metal still has a high musicians-in-audience rate. When you’re at a small black metal or death metal show here, I am sure at least half of the 100 visitors play either guitar, bass, drums or a classical instrument. Being a fan since my early youth made me want to become a musician at some point, I think. However, being a hobby musician does not change my perception of what it is to be a fan. At least I hope so. It is all about good songs and good atmosphere and not about skills or separating audience from musicians. One thing I think everybody who is involved in recording and producing their music experiences to some degree is that at some point you may start listening to albums from a more technical perspective in terms of sound. Suddenly you can hear automated multiple vocal or guitar reverb layers pushing in and out during verses and choruses, for instance. Or you find yourself question panning or drum compression decisions on other artists’ albums while a couple of years ago you wouldn’t have given a flying fuck. Personally, I am more interested in how it’s produced than in how it’s played.

Khraâl Vri*ïl: Although I’m not that much into recording techniques and equipment, which are maybe too overwhelming for my mind, I have to admit that listening to music has drastically changed. The magic which has accompanied my youth transformed more and more into now I know how it was made. A little bit like watching the making-of of a movie, you know? Sometimes I wish to erase this elaboration infesting my ears. Apart from that, music is still that strong to move me, and yes, I’m still a fan.

All your releases have an even measure of vigour and melancholy, and just enough sentimental value to come across as deep and smart without feeling pretentious. Is it important for you to maintain that unpretentious disposition?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: As said above, it’s coming straight from the inside, it sounds as it sounds, it is never directly planned out but just a feeling.

Presuming that you play your instruments regularly on a daily basis, hoping to come up with some worthwhile music, do you share the sentiment that silence and solitude are the two main preconditions for creativity? Is there anything you absolutely can’t do without in order to be productive?

Okkhulus Siirs: During normal working weeks I often do not touch any instrument at all except for our 90 minutes of weekly band practice. Khthoniik Cerviiks’ songs have mostly been developed to full songs in our rehearsal room when we were jamming on riff ideas. Most of these riff ideas come from our guitarist Khraâl Vri*ïl. His work schedule also doesn’t offer much spare time for him to play guitar since he is absent from home from 9AM to 9PM five days a week. I guess that’s the normal way things go when your band is your hobby and not your job. Personally, if I want to come up with something creative I need silence and it works better for me in the morning on weekends. Then the output may occur in bits. Like, when one good starting riff or lyric line comes up, I wrap my head around it for like 15 minutes and I either find something to go on with or I don’t. Bit by bit. Sometimes I already have a concept and mood in mind but it takes me some days or weeks to fully verbalize or play it. Silence and solitude are most important to me, yes. I cannot write a single line in five hours when the neighbors are being too loud in their garden.

Speaking of neighbors, is there anything about your sound, the way you think musically or your attitude that you would deem intrinsically German? What are the most distinctive features of North Rhine-Westphalian mentality, according to German stereotypes, and do they in any shape or form translate to who you are as artists and what Khthoniik Cerviiks is as a band?

Okkhulus Siirs: I can’t see anything typically or distinctively German within our sound or attitude. The federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia covers quite a multi-faceted area in terms of regional culture and historic and contemporary tradition and development. Ruhr area, that’s where we have grown up and live today, still is marked by a strong working class mentality notwithstanding rapid structural changes and the decline of heavy industries. As soon as hard rock, punk and heavy metal surfaced in the ’70s, this area has become sort of a catalyst with more and more bands and talented musicians emerging. Maybe it’s commonly accepted here to just do it, whatever it may be.

From a strictly artistic perspective, do you feel that your music is accessible enough to be widely accepted and properly understood by many?

Okkhulus Siirs: We take it as it comes and do what comes to our mind without setting ourselves goals that we cannot influence in the end. Back in the Heptaëdrone days, I was astonished and pleased to hear that we sold 300 LPs shortly after the release, but I do not think that we would ever sell 3000. Actually I don’t care much though, since accessibility is not what an artist should be striving for in the first place.

Do you find it hard to balance between rational and irrational while performing, and to keep yourself from completely drifting away? Also, how difficult it is to get back to normal once you get off the stage?

Okkhulus Siirs: Exposing myself to an audience is a big issue for me actually, since razor sharp subconsciousness tends to take over in dangerous situations naturally. After a gig I feel released and free to dedicate myself to the irrational again.

Unlike your music, you seem to be calm, pleasant and well mannered people. Do you see that as a contradiction or the much needed diversity of character, that keeps mind sharp and makes life bearable?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: If you dare to take a look at the declining artificial World 2.0 and her last breath mirage unfolding rapidly, there’s no other way of behaving in my case.

Okkhulus Siirs: I never felt like there was a contradiction between artists or stage personas and their other roles as participators in civic life. I don’t even see it as an ambiguity within characters. I mean, what do people expect? Metal musicians that attend their office jobs in corpse paint and yell at people?

How often do you find your temper and mood correspond with the changes in barometric pressure, humidity or other weather phenomena?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: If there’s a between the worlds weather situation anywhere, this would fit.

Since your lyrics often deal with mental health issues, I would like to know what are your feelings towards aging? Are you afraid of getting old, ill and dependable?

Khraâl Vri*ïl: I’m more afraid of becoming disabled in general and thus being dependable, not of getting old and ill. All those mental diseases aren’t connected with any stage of your own age. They are often more like an inheritance or implant when you were thrown into life. I regard the word illness the same as the word time, just an empty shell, according to which everything uncontrollable must be dangerous.

Okkhulus Siirs: The word aging itself describes physical and mental decay. It’s natural to become incontinent and nuts sooner or later. I would be glad not to suffer from it for a long time but rather die quickly. I’m afraid of mental disorders which befall young and fit persons all of a sudden. Schizophrenia, paranoia, anxiety disorders and the like. Metabolistic parasites that may slumber for decades and then suddenly push their host into endless vicious circles mounting in total loss of personality and all valuable character traits, if not treated properly.

Speaking of dying quickly, in one of his lectures about literature and philosophy from the late ’70s, Jorge Luis Borges admitted to his Argentinean students in Buenos Aires that he would like to die completely, with both body and soul, and that he didn’t have any hope or wish for an afterlife. Would you also willingly take absolute nothingness over any form of perpetual existence?

Okkhulus Siirs: Today more and more people tend to technically outsource their souls. Hence, imagine a horrible catastrophe happening in an urban setting and from the piles of debris you can hear the cacophonous symphony of a thousand unanswered smartphone rings. Personal tragedy on the one hand, one quick and soon forgotten news coverage on the other hand, and thousands of digital identities that remain accessible for years on the third. I would rather die completely.

Khraâl Vri*ïl: And in strange aeons even death may die. To me, non-being isn’t contrary to any religious concept. You can feel yourself displaced anywhere and anytime. Also, I don’t know the works of Jorge Luis Borges, nevertheless sounds very interesting so I try to get some of his stuff, but his words sound very embittered to me. Maybe the plastic manifestations that surrounded his own shell were sweeping into his imagination of the afterlife and therefore they went a haunting. My own life feels more like dying completely than death herself, as there’s a great difference between nothing and nihil.

 

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