Back in the Casket Dream Veneration days, one reviewer described your music as a dizzying journey into the dark heart of Portugal. Is that definition something you can appreciate and do you think that social, cultural, and historical aspects of living in a certain country can shape our outlook on life and art, at least to an extent?
Gonius Rex: The correlation may exist and it is an interesting theory to consider. There are many aspects that could relate my work to my country, but these are not my focus. Onirik is mostly unrelated to any specific physical location as it is inspired in dreams and immaterial suggestions of time and space, visions that reflect a general approach to human damnation, and many more dwellings in the occultist philosophy such as personal enlightenment through the flames. I would even go as far as claiming that the reviewer’s intention had to do with the fact that my body resides in Portugal, meaning that my country is represented only by my physical body, and not necessarily my whole being. Like recommending a certain growl emitting cave in a particular location and mentioning the broader name of the area or place.
Do you think that your music would have been the same had you grown up and lived your entire life somewhere else? Despite everything you’ve just said, do you think that there’s something inherently Portuguese about the way Onirik sounds?
Gonius Rex: It wouldn’t have been the same, as I wouldn’t have been the exact same individual if caught in a different sphere of external influences. It is my belief that the content would not change that much as it is related to my inner architecture. On the other hand, the means, the influences, and the timings would have been definitely changed to an entirely different outcome. The only fully inherent Portuguese trait in my work is my own blood and European anima and symbolic artifacts.
Would you say that the inspiration for any truly worthwhile creative work must, by definition, come from the inside, or do you think that the outside circumstances can influence that process to a certain degree as well? How about you personally, do you find more inspiration to write music by focusing on what’s happening around you or by focusing on what’s happening within you?
Gonius Rex: It is always both. One cannot detach the individual and its boundaries, and the circumstances will always dictate the dance between the messenger and its source. I do tend to extract most of my inspiration from the inner flow of dreams, thoughts, visions, conclusions, and deliberations, but none of this would be possible without the experience from the external source, may it be physical and real, or even a byproduct of my own interpretation of reality. Generally, these are mostly conveyed in my work in the poetry as references to particular moments and special places which I visit proportionally often to the amount of blood I can retrieve from them.
It’s fair to say that on the last two Onirik albums you have found your own musical language, that sure borrows from a few influential bands from the ’90s, but at the same time transcends their individual influence and gives birth to a distinctive new aesthetics. When you listen to your own music, can you hear the traces of those important bands in your sound or do you think that their presence is well disguised?
Gonius Rex: The last two albums, namely Casket Dream Veneration and The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity, are intrinsically connected and are the result of the numerous celebrations and rituals which took place between 2014 (IVI) and 2018. The whole inspiration, intent, and drive came from a very specific deal with HIM, one becomes the limbs through which HE writes. In this new phase and while guided to honor the commitment, I decided to explore my limits further and even considered including some exterior participation to achieve a more complex and organic feel. This wasn’t all that necessary, but it helped bringing more meaning and exacerbate the focus. Both of these albums have strayed from my initial composing and recording style. All Onirik albums before Casket Dream Veneration were recorded in full contempt for the whole process and in a very short time span, a week or two at maximum, finger-cutting guitar strings, no bass, and programed drums. Each song was improvised and my goal every time was to make only one CD copy for myself, to spin it in my solitary seclusion. The actual physical releases were seen as a bonus, it felt somewhat better to hold a more professional release, and I had the chance to offer a copy to a rather small selection of closer individuals.
About my musical influences, Onirik does not seek to resemble any other acts, although I admit it is possible that some listeners may find similarities according to their own background or partial interpretations. I cannot say I have ever felt this way, nor I recognized any unintended references. I do like to control these references and can even detail that both albums, but mostly The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity, have some direct and subtle references to certain bands or individuals. However, these are very, very few, and can be considered personal demonstrations of recognition and praise to the original masters. For example, in the first segment of the song Cult Beyond Eternity there is a very subtle bass line as a reference to the Dies Irae intro in the Abigor song Kingdom Of Darkness, from Verwüstung. Although this segment wasn’t composed by them, this was the first time I came in contact with it, and I will forever relate it to Abigor. This was a sort of appreciation reference to TT’s interference on the album.
The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity is a guitar driven album. Most of the time, the two guitar lines have almost traditional lead/rhythm guitar dynamics, which is largely uncommon in the contemporary black metal. Since you have played and composed all that music by yourself, how demanding was to find proper riff progressions for each of the respective lead sections and to arrange everything into songs that aren’t oversaturated, that sound well and work well, both separately and as parts of the album as a whole?
Gonius Rex: The guitar riffing always was and always will be the most important part of the Onirik’s sound due to multiple reasons, one of which being the fact that all the melodies and harmonies must build an argument or dialectic in relation to the poetry and the song’s current tension or release. Also, the combination of both guitars with a rhythmic and harmonic swirl-type frenzy can induce the wildest scenario overall and be subject to a wide array of dissonant and unconventional details which represent and honor the forbidden music of the renaissance in its first steps. I am a great enthusiast of the early European music technique of counterpoint, thus every instrument generally acts as an undulating limb for a higher purpose. This is where black metal meets its magical design and harvests its rewards. This is not just music. It never was. To be perfectly honest, I never felt that composing in this style was demanding in any way, as I use a linear approach and write the dreams as I live them. To me, it is regularly just a matter of empirical logic and the flow just keeps building, like a lava stream keeps flowing down the mountain, sometimes liquefied, other times closer to solidification, twisting and turning until it finds a new way down.
Since you are obviously not only a very creative guitar player, but a skillful one as well, have you ever felt like falling into a trap of overplaying music, in a sense that you kept adding new riffs and ideas to a certain song where in fact the song didn’t need them? Do you find it difficult to recognize that moment when a certain song is finished and how often do you write music with that restrictive less is more mindset?
Gonius Rex: Thank you for your words, although I have to disagree as it pertains to me being a skilled guitarist. I acknowledge the fact that using a more unconventional approach may give the impression that I perform more difficult riffing or transitions, but this is all driven by the need to find the unheard, the unexperienced level of sonority in any other song by other contributors to the genre. I barely practice and only pick up the guitar to record, so I hardly see myself as even a guitarist. I do however have a more personal explanation for that, and it has to do with the pact I mentioned earlier and my commitment to serve as an extension of HIS will.
It seems that you have a perfect control over your voice, with a singing style that is completely devoid of screaming and the unnecessary intensity. How hard was to develop that particular style and who did you model it after?
Gonius Rex: Like I mentioned before, the meaning and poetry of the songs must be felt in each note and accentuation, thus I am prone to perform a more dramatic and controlled verbal expression while still retaining the darker tone and style. The dynamics play a very important role in this formula. It wasn’t hard to develop this style at all, it came as naturally as being able to determine more precisely what I was aiming for as a whole. While my vocals aren’t directly inspired or modeled after any specific individual, there is definitely an inspiration based on the cavernous, higher pitched singing style of the early ’90s. This is what I would choose to retain.
When you look back at your formative years, what were some of the bands and albums that made you think being only a fan simply wasn’t enough, whose strength and impact almost forced you to start your own band and become a musician yourself?
Gonius Rex: I always felt a blood connection to music, even in an early age when I didn’t own any instruments or records. It was just a matter of years until I was able to play my own guitar or piano, only to realize I would never become a musician or an artist in a general sense. I hate to play for others and the underlined notion that someone has to react in any way to what I am expressing. I hate playing live and the chance to have a band is close to null, so the notion that other bands might have inspired me to begin playing is not so accurate. However, there were stages of development in my early days and one that changed my life back then was when I first heard Darkthrone’s song Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust. At this point I was already into metal, but never had come across any actual black metal. It was not easy to find it in Portugal back in 1993/1994. So, one night this song started playing on the radio and I immediately froze and realized that I had finally found what I was searching for as an art form. After this I started digging and found other bands like Emperor, Abigor, Satyricon, Mayhem, Funeral Winds, Throne Of Ahaz, Havohej, Immortal, just to name a few. Despite playing on my own, I founded a very secluded band in 1994/1995 called Mors Liberatrix with other two individuals, but we never intended to go live or even bothered to record a demo. We never identified with metal bars in the city and we weren’t quite social, so we mostly wandered in the woods and played a set of five songs in a basement, solely to our own amusement. After that we split, around 1998, and later on in 2002 I decided to found Onirik for my own pleasure and consumption. At this time, and until 2009, I was mostly listening to my own black metal and didn’t give a fuck about what others were recording. I ended up missing many amazing releases, but still had the time to catch up after 2010, so it felt rewarding at the same time.
Would you agree that with The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity the craft you have been perfecting for so many years has now evolved into something more than just a craft? Do you feel that you have reached a completely new, different stage of creative expression with this album?
Gonius Rex: The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity is definitely a cornerstone in Onirik’s history, but it must never be detached from Casket Dream Veneration, as one is the reflex of the other. The first represents the consummation of the pact I’ve mentioned earlier and my descent towards the dirt and the underworld. The second represents the return from the lower realms with certain retribution, with all the raging fires and the depiction of the suffering and the end of life in this plane or mundane world. I must emphasize that the most notorious result of this pact were not only these two albums which in a way transcend my previous works, but all the magical, premonitory, and even mathematical and symbolic aspects that gained traction after these recordings and up until today. In fact, I feel that I could and should, but probably won’t, write an entire book about all the hidden symbolism and metaphysical aspects which narrate my latest seven years and that are represented in these two albums, some on purpose and others not so on purpose. Seven was also the numerological sign of this pact, thus you can find this symbol in the artworks: IVI. This being said, it is safe to say that I was able to attain a whole new stage of creation abilities and magical equilibrium brought upon a more advanced and even more serious commitment. Black metal is magic.
That stage of personal development you are currently at, as a musician and songwriter, is that something that has been reached through hard work and suffering or did it come as an unforced byproduct of your natural evolution as an artist?
Gonius Rex: I would choose the second, even though I have a hard time considering myself an artist. I prefer to see myself as a vessel or a magical channel as I am deeply convinced, as stated, that all those who truly commit to this style are descendants and the modern version of all those which practiced the black arts in the past and this is where I see myself at. Besides that, I always wanted to separate myself as much as possible from the production/studio environment, only to be able to appreciate the outcome without the unpleasant memories of the recording process, as if I came across these works without even being their creator. So you can say it is most certainly unforced and a natural course rather than a precise calculation between hard-work and career goals, but where the slightest detail can be carved out a much higher purpose.
Some relevant people have been saying good things about your music. TT of Abigor for example, whom we have already mentioned and whose opinion counts for something. In case you consider Abigor as one of those gold standard black metal bands, which I assume you do, how flattering is to receive praise from a person whose work you are in awe of yourself? Have you had a chance to listen to their new album and what do you think about it?
Gonius Rex: Thomas is definitely one of the most prolific entities in black metal to this day, someone I always looked upon with admiration and respect since I first came in contact with his art in the second quarter of the ’90s. It was a most honorable surprise to learn of his support for Casket Dream Veneration back when it came out and later on he was also responsible for introducing me to Dirge Rep, which ended up recording the drums for The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity. I must say I had never envisioned that someday I’d be in contact with him and what strikes me the most is the fact that he kept true to his early beliefs and vision, unlike most individuals, which also contributed to one of the blackest movements in that period. Maybe this is where I am most proud of sharing the same resilience, even after so many years of looking down the abyss and so many bad repercussions. But one endures and never falls back. I am aware of Abigor’s new album but will patiently wait for my physical copy. From the few segments I have heard, it seems like a killer release. Another album with such a level of technicity and philosophical accuracy as we’ve grown accustomed to, and yet retaining the essence of old, the darkness and the violence, the contempt and the elegy of the broken hope. Most recommended, as usual.
Speaking of Dirge Rep, together with the portfolio of classic black metal releases he played on, the way he parted ways with Enslaved, because he felt the band was starting to water down their original sound, speaks volumes about his credibility as an artist, especially in the context of all the success Enslaved had since then. Considering that him playing on a certain record has become the ultimate validation of that record’s worth and credibility, do you take pride in the fact that he was a part of The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity recording sessions and how much do you think the album is better for it?
Gonius Rex: I take the highest pride in Dirge Rep’s participation and it never crossed my mind that twenty five years later I would release an album with the participation of someone as notable and remarkable as him, someone I had also admired since the early days. Mine has always been a very secluded path in the metal scene and it was only recently that I began having a few contacts other than the small number of individuals that knew me in person before the internet era, which I consider to be from the 2010 on, due to personal choices. Dirge Rep delivered an absolute storm which fitted perfectly and even enhanced the concept behind the album. I remember when we first talked about my expectations for the drumming style and I just asked him to deliver a chaotic, crazy, violent, and more improvised interpretation of the songs. I had total confidence in his work and he delivered exactly what I intended. To Dirge, only the highest praise and salutes.
Which of the records Dirge Rep played on you appreciate the most, as a fan?
Gonius Rex: I have always related more to his Gehenna recordings, namely The Three Spells. After that I was following a very personal and oblivious path, so I didn’t have any contact with new albums or news, even when he started playing with Enslaved. I only heard Blodhemn some years ago and this is an album I greatly admire now. Apart from that and more recently, before we met, I had been supporting his Djevel recordings and also NettleCarrier and Orcustus.
What are your favourite Enslaved records?
Gonius Rex: My preferred Enslaved output is the Hordanes Land EP, although I would level it very close to Frost. Vikingligr Veldi is also a highly notable release. I do feel definitely more connected to their early works.
Speaking of Dirge Rep, one could say that Semjaza, who also contributed to this record, is the contemporary equivalent to the values and principles Dirge Rep stood for in the ’90s, and that he embodies the very same spirit of a Renaissance man traped in this wrong, modern space-time continuum. He seems to be as equally prolific a musician as Dirge Rep, whose music always maintains the highest possible quality standards. Everything he touches seemingly turns to gold. How satisfying was to have him play on this album and can you tell me something about your personal relationship? Do you maybe share a deeper bond between you, that implies similar beliefs, principles and ethics, and transcends just the mutual affinity for the same type of music?
Gonius Rex: Semjaza is one of the more recent outstanding geniuses and a very noteworthy individual. Someone with an excellent and eclectic taste in music, and a rather unusual set of skills that rank him amongst the higher hierarchies and steps of the final conclave. It is also an honor to have dealt with him, first when he produced and mastered Onirik’s split with Grimfaug, and then when he worked in The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity, having not only produced and mastered but also contributed with a couple of ambient interludes within the album. It felt very adequate to have him in as a guest, especially because we had been in contact for a while and shared multiple points of view and considerations throughout this time, and he always demonstrated quite an extraordinary ability to understand my work and subtle traits within. Also, I would take the opportunity to salute P. from Iron Bonehead Productions, D. from Altare Productions and, last but not least, L. from I, Voidhanger Records for all the support and for releasing my works in such heightened fashion. There are also a couple of other individuals that have contributed in one way or another to these works which also deserve praise. You know who you are and we are all but razor scales on HIS back.
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