Transcribed interview conducted via phone, late at night whilst dealing with an inconsolable baby on the interrogator’s end, and the interrogation subject travelling home aboard a noisy bus on the opposite side of the planet.
Greetings and salutations. You are the creative force behind the ambient black metal project Sophos, hailing from Oregon; please further introduce yourself to our readers, without being too tedious and boring, please.
Sophos: (laughs) Yes. I previously lived in Oregon, when Sophos began, and those I’ve collaborated with are all from Oregon. I am a no-local….floating consciousness who currently resides in another continent…. I still work with others in the United States, which is my place of origin and ancestral land.
Your album Adrift Seas Unborn was independently released a bit earlier this year, and is available digitally on the bandcamp site. Are there plans for a physical release, and are you in contact with any labels or production companies?
Sophos: Yes, I am indeed interested in a physical release; there are a few European labels whom I shall not name at present, who have expressed interest but their terms have not been along what I am interested in…. So for now I’m holding off. I may self-release the physical release as well, I know cassetes and cd’s actually matter to some people. Having physical copies is important, in time I would like to have that happen.
A previous band of yours was the experimental deathgrind act Weirding Way here in Las Vegas, back in the first few years of this befouled millenium; you were the vocalist, and lyricist also as I recall…. The intellectual themes of the first WW demo were very interesting to me. Sophos is, of course, a Greek root word pertaining to the study of knowledge (such as “philosophy” and crap like that), while some of the song titles here seem literarily informed, and others (“Dew of Coatlicue”, “Icnocuicatl Yollotl”) are obviously taken from Aztec culture…. Care to elaborate on the disparate influences of the writing process?
Sophos: Yes I am using “Sophos” in the connotation of Wisdom, and since this is somewhat of a worship of archaic cultures, being the inspiration, and I am attempting to make my living as a philosopher, which is very much a dying discipline and art, and way of life….I am kind of paying homage to the roots of the western tradition that I live in, being the Greco tradition; and I attempt to, though that’s the name of the project, I’m kind of invoking the sense of archaic wisdom, or ancient ways, and then the actual lyrics and concepts are the archaic ways that I’m personally familiar with in my heritage, and in the traditional American ways.
Aztec and Mayan culture is a focus of several death/black metal bands (such as Mictlantecuhtli, Aeternum, Serpens Aeon, Kuxan Suum, and The Black Twilight Circle cult). What are your thoughts on the religious/ceremonial practices of those ancient peoples, and do you incorporate any of this into your own life at all?
Sophos: Yes, there are many modern bands interested in this mythos and tradition….Some I know are related ethnically and culturally, and some are not; and that’s fine. I think, similar to some people’s fetish with Mesopotamian cultures, sometimes, they look at these very violent, blood rituals and sacrifices, and just think that that’s some really “grim shit” to write about. And of course, that stuff did go on, and particularly, towards the decadence at the end of the Aztec imperialism it was….pretty excessive. (laughs) And sure, that aspect is quite interesting and inspirational, but there is a lot of much more subtle and sublime philosophy, and orientations towards calendars and cyclical understandings of phenomena in the universe, as well as the sacred power of words, somewhat parallel to mantras in India…. The idea that a certain sound has a certain vibratory power which invokes and effects different material outcomes in the world….this is some of the hidden teachings. And you have things like the Tultec ways, and different mystery tradtions that get quite metaphysically complex; all of those factors very much interest me. I’m not just focusing on that kind of overtly grim blood sacrifice aspect. This project is largely inspired by my personal indiginous ancestry, and the mythology and religion, and culture therein. My ancestors lived in the Southwest US, and Northern Mexico, so I have Comanche and indiginous Mexica heritage, and I use all this sort of pagan background as influence….
A lot of those bands you mentioned are quite good; I am particularly aesthetically interested in the Black Twilight Circle, and they use the ancient language Nahuatl, which I am heavily studying and working with, again, with the premise that sounds of words themselves and the power that certain utterances have an inherent mystical presence or power to them. And yes, I do incorporate some of the traditional feelings and techniques and wisdom traditions in my daily life and practice, which has some similarities to the other so-called pagan traditions throughout the world….after all, we all have the same nervous system, as humans.
I think it’s a very interesting era right now, as the first few waves of Scandinavian black metal have subsided, and you’ve got a lot of copycats (elsewhere) trying to sing about the Norse pantheon, and the whole Northern European ancient world, you know, that’s calmed down and people are realising, well you know, why not delve deeper into your own specific heritage and whatever kind of pre-Christian culture was going on, so I think it’s pretty interesting to see all over the world now, people on every continent are taking an inspiation, I think, that kind of archaic reverence that the Norse bands had, and then applying it to whatever their own local culture is, or, for example, just delving into the mystery traditions of Egypt and Mesopotamia and the Americas, so I think inspiring that historical consciousness is a very strong, empowering thing….and relatedly, you know, I’m not in any way a Satanist; I understand in many ways why that’s so important and influential in black metal, but I will never use any kind of Judaic concepts, Including Shaitan, it’s just not my thing, not my orientation, not a part of my story, so, I’m very interested in, as is probably evident, in the cthonic, chaotic aspects of onesself, and not necessarily just the darkness, or the dark side, whatever that even is. All the aspects of onesself, all the emotions; rage and sorrow and melancholy, as well as joy and triumph and ecstasy, basically all the possible range of human experiences. I am attempting to fuel the music, and whatever catharsis can result in that. And so that’s why there’s very much kind of troughs and valleys, and peaks, different extremes and calmness throughout our music, it’s to reflect that, and to integrate all those different states and different kinds of awareness, and emotional experiences. So, I suppose I am a person who’s without that usual Judeo-Christian Dualism, of the “light” and the “darkness”, and drawing obviously on different western influences, as is evident in the name, but also as I’ve mentioned before, from the very elaborate and ancient mythology that I personally relate to in a hereditary way, So I again see this as kind of an overall cultural movement, or part of the direction of modern black metal bands from all over the world that are seeking to explore more of these aspects.
Very insightful…. really a lot to absorb there, you loquacious pogue. On the topic of black metal outside of Scandinavian confines, what are some other USBM acts that you enjoy, or any that you’ve recently discovered?
Sophos: I’m a little out of the loop in terms of really recent material, because…. Frankly, I feel like a lot of it is getting a bit “rehashed”, and um, reusing older ideas. I do like some of the new Dispirit material…. The new Leviathan album is excellent. Volahn, from the Black Twilight Circle has some really amazing material, the new album, especially. Uh, you know, really I think I stick to some of the older US DS(BM) bands, Xasthur and such, that’s still some of the most emotionally powerful music I know of, in the last ten years…. Musically, I’m definitely influenced by, along with the USBM acts, some of the European bands that really stress repetitive passages, which I think is actually very tricky to do without it sounding really redundant and boring. I think Burzum, of course, has perfected that, and is kind of the progenitor of that style in a way; Nargaroth as well, can stretch out a 15-minute song with 3 or 4 riffs, and speed up and slow down and keep you really mesmerised, and….there’s definitely a baroque and classical music influence to that. Oh, also on the USBM front, Velvet Cacoon, in that hypnotic/mind-altering ambience, has been a very huge influence and inspiration for me, but yeah, being able to keep a listener somewhat entranced through drawing out a repetitive theme has been a pretty big aspect of this release. And I do have a song on there that is basically a variation on just one riff, the entire time.
You are involved with a few other bands based in the Pacific Northwest area; what are your thoughts on the “Cascadian black metal” scene? Any bands you’d care to give a mention? (At this point the interrogator’s son escalates his his incessant crying to unleash a blood-chilling shriek in the torment that only infants understand)
Sophos: Well, your offspring there sounds like he has some good lungs to be a black metal vocalist. (laughs) Eh, yeah, the Cascadian thing is a little complex. There’s lots of people reacting and rebelling against that in the area, you know, and….the Pacific Northwest is quite beautiful, an extremely mountainous, densely forested area. It is very poetic, and it is constantly grey….a grey unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; and people do get, physiologically, quite depressed from that weather; that is a very real effect on people’s psyches and creativity in that area. Maybe that’s why it’s so productive…. There’s some pretty huge acts. Agalloch, of course, is up there, though they’re not necessarily black metal, but they’ve influenced a lot of the most famous cascadian metal, anyway. Wolves In The Throne Room, you know, I find some of their stuff to be quite amazing. There’s a lot of controversy around them, but I think their first two albums, especially were quite beautiful, and very ritualistic and powerful, in their way. There are a lot of interesting upcoming bands. A few of my friends have recently disbanded Arkhum, I was recently in a band with one of their members, and Maestus, as well. And of course, Yob (stoner/doom metal) is from Eugene, Oregon; the incomparable Velvet Cacoon is from Portland. So, there are some pretty renowned bands that have influenced a lot of other acts as well…. I have a good friend, Norgith, in Hymnorg, as well as Cold Frozen Grave, where there’s this more….hideous, disgusting, really primal black metal, which is very much a reaction against typical Cascadian metal, which is seen as kind of too aligned with Leftist politics and liberalism, to some people, and that’s a lot of what’s going on right now in the Pacific Northwest; you have this extreme reaction against what’s perceived as West Coast political correctness, and liberalism, we have a pretty big rise right now in National Socialist bands, as well as just general White European Nationalist acts…. Some of them are truly crazed people, who literally live under bridges, like trolls, and live some fairly, well, radical and violent lifestyles, to say the least. So you have this pretty wide spectrum of the types of personalities, and the kinds of lifestyles and music. There is this very extreme response right now to established Cascadian metal now, generally, in Cascadian black metal specifically. The cultural landscape there is quite varied. Now, you have “Antifa” people, fighting and bickering, with these right-wingers who are themselves reacting (laughs) against the politically correct liberalism, and leftist politics, and then you have the ecologists, anarcho-primitivist type people, because there is so much open land, you know, and you have a lot of bands, including what’s influenced Sophos, living out in the woods, and trying to be self-sustained, and farming, so that ecological aspect is pretty huge. So that influences it. You have all these different factions, in a way, waging some kind of a battle against each other…. (laughs)
Well that pretty much exhausts our time, I think. Thanks for your sagacity and now, please say something in closing, keeping brevity in mind.
Sophos: Yeah! Thanks so much for your time, and….obviously, the Vegas metal scene is still a big part of my life, I did spend a big chunk of my life there, in the Weirding Way, and some other bands, and I think there will always be a pretty fanatical underground music scene there, I’m very proud of that and I’ll always be connected with that. Most of my friends are very much from that world, so I just wanna say hello to all those insane acts out there, and also thank you to anyone who’s expressed interest in my music. Stay afloat, we will get even weirder, and more unpalatable for most people.