James of Altar of Plagues interviewing Michiel of Nihill
Congratulations on the completion of your trilogy. As a writer I find commitment to one album enough, so three must have been quite and undertaking. ‘Verdonkermann’ is stunning, but as always with your work it took quite a few listens before the subtle details became apparent. Despite the chaotic and relentless sound of NIHILL, is subtlety something you consider?
Thanks, and yes it was quite an undertaking, that’s why it took a while to complete it. But as the overarching structure was already clear from the beginning we never lost focus or got distracted during the creation of this trilogy. When it comes to subtlety – that is not something we’re actively looking for but something that comes naturally when you deal with sound like we do. Just making noise would never do for us or our vision. As this release deals with the transition between dying, being reborn, living and dying again, the music has to reflect that as well. That’s where some of the details are put in. The metaphors and the esthetics of Alchemy really speak to us. It’s about things happening in life and translating them to a metaphysical level.
I think it would be fair to describe the little bit of imagery that exists for NIHILL as being quite dark, orthodox, or simply tying in with the black metal tradition. However, you have worked closely with Hydrahead, who most certainly are not aligned with black metal traditions. Before even meeting the persons involved in NIHILL, it was obvious to me that your outlook would have a wider scope than other acts rooted in the black metal tradition. With that in mind, do the visual aesthetics of black metal mean anything to NIHILL?
Yes they do. Just look at the cover of VERDONKERMAAN, with the Darkthrone references, or the upside down cathedral on KRACH. That said: we draw inspiration from a broad spectrum, of which black metal is only a part. We process all these influences into something that makes sense to us, our music and our vision. The visual aesthetics are one of the defining traits of black metal, there is put a lot of thought and time into it by many individuals throughout the years. Visuals are one of the few things that can guide others in their experience of the music. After the music is finished, it’s all you can add.
One of you, like myself, shares a passion for electronic music. This is somthing that is quite far removed from the ‘scenes’ both of our acts are involved with, but I actually find there to be some common traits. Electronic music can, for example, induce trance like states. What do you think?
Any means necessary… We’ll use anything that will create the sound we are after, be it guitars or electronic means. There’s actually not a lot of electronics on our records though, most of the soundscapes are actually treated guitar drones.
Logistical considerations aside, is NIHILL willing to perform in a live environment? I find performing ‘extreme’ music to be both rewarding and enduring. I also find that it makes groups vulnerable. I think one of the bravest things an act live Deathspell Omega could do, is to perform live.
There are plans floating around of performing NIHILL pieces in front of an audience. We are not interested in being brave or vulnerable; we think it would be an opportunity to let others come into contact with what we do. But as this wasn’t part of the original plan, it’s something that will require a different kind of preparation, also keeping in mind the visual part of the performance. We’re looking into it and are confident that this will be a path that we will walk down in the future.
Beyond music, what influences NIHILL? I know that a member of the collective is involved in the visual arts. Does art inform the work of NIHILL?
First of: chaos is the real field of interest. Playing together and following one pattern is just so conformistic, playing together and letting emotions channel through your instrument is what’s really interesting to us right now, some of that can be heard on VERDONKERMAAN already, in small bursts, but there will be deeper exploration of this kind of chaotic and hateful stuff on upcoming releases as well.
The entire construct of modern culture is a collection of everything that came before. It’s called progress. Society and its history constitute the most complex and multi-dimensional process. And if we are to make any sense of this highly developed piece of reality we shall need a wide range of concepts. We, as band members, interpret what we know and what we feel in a certain way. We have emotions and feelings and use our technique, our civilization and craft to produce something new which will contain elements from everything that came before us. Elements from everything we have ever seen of heard in our lifetime.
That’s also why the visual arts are of paramount importance to us all, just like literature and music. These things set fire to our flesh, poison our minds and help us advance. As you well know Alchemy is something that is very close to us, and together with art it channels our vision.
Lyric-wise the philosophy and aesthetics of Alchemy are the base for these three records. These lyrics draw pictures of the (late) medieval woodcuts that illustrate the science and mysticism of alchemy. The symbols and metaphors used in these pictures speak of something that is totally forgotten in our time. But still they are valid; they talk of transformation and cycles of life & death, matter & spirit and order & chaos. That itself is a way NIHILL composes music.
I think that somthing both of our bands have in common is an interest in ambience/silence within the context of an album. I think that moments of almost calm and silence further heighten the intensity of the chaotic moments. That duality is important to me. But then I also love relentlessness. I recently revisited Pig Destroyer’s “Prowler in the Yard” , and it reminded me of the effect relentless intensity can have. NIHILL has always had such moments, but with ‘Verdonkermaan’ this intensity seems further heightened. What does this duality mean to you?
This duality is of great importance to our work, as our trilogy deals with the cycle of life and death. Therefore this needed to be reflected in the music. And because Alchemy is really tying these together, our work also couldn’t be anything else then very ritualistic. In KRACH this was manifested mainly through soundscapes, whereas in VERDONKERMAAN the repetitive patterns of the songs allude to this kind of primordial feeling. So not only does out concept get reflected in the duality between silence and relentlessness, but also within the song structures itself.