Terrorizer Speaks To T.O.M.B.’s No One

By on 28 August 2014

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No One, the mastermind behind eerie black/noise outfit T.O.M.B. and occult folk project Dreadlords has led an interesting life, making harrowing, ritualistic noise using bones and mausoleum doors, opening up for bands like Sunn O))) and Watain and even collaborating with Helhammer from Mayhem to create on-site recordings on the grave of Euronymous. Joy Shannon delved into his twilight world to find out more…

“In Eden’s garden, Satan thought

He’d wreck the Lord’s intention.

And so, conspiring, then, he wrought

His subtle intervention.

To man he entered in,

Became indwelling sin…”

During the 16th century, Martin Luther wrote this hymn about the spiritual warfare between Satan and God, in which Satan conspired against mankind but was ultimately defeated in a ferocious fight with God in the night. Since its formation, Western Christianity had been establishing the belief system of an extreme polarity between spiritual good and evil. The concept of spiritual warfare between Satan and God became an increasingly widespread idea through the Middle Ages, seen in the artwork, sermons, morality plays and hymns. Though, as frightening as the imagery of Hell and the Devil was, there was always a concept that God would somehow prevail through those spiritual battles.

Yet, in the world of the two musical projects Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy, a.k.a. T.O.M.B., and Dreadlords, that spiritual battle has long ago been won by the Devil. T.O.M.B. and Dreadlords, in their own unique ways, lead listeners down into various circles of Hell, as if Dante’s imagined landscapes had their own soundtracks of menace and desolation. Listening to both projects feels like venturing into various realms of haunted ethereal landscapes, like a paralysing nightmare one cannot wake from.

No One, the mastermind behind both projects, began his musical collaborations singing in bands such as the Philadelphia-based death metal band Goreaphobia. Later forming T.O.M.B, No One began to create ritualistic occult music, notoriously collaborating at times with Helhammer from Mayhem to create on-site recordings on the grave of Euronymous. Additionally, T.O.M.B. have conducted mesmerizing performances opening for bands like Sunn O))) and Watain, where, at times, they caused audience members to pass out from the immensity of the their sound. This is no wonder because the music of T.O.M.B. is powerful, deep, dark and limitless.

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T.O.M.B. is best described as an extreme blacknoise project, which creates spellbinding noise soundscapes, often utilizing recordings created on-site inside cemeteries, abandoned insane asylums, and prisons. The recorded sounds are made with a variety of materials including mausoleum and crypt doors, tombstones, human and animals bones, ritual objects and even corpses. These sounds are mesmerizing and deeply dark, as if they make audible the inexpressible heaviness of dark spiritual worlds vibrating on some low, constant frequency.

Dreadlords, meanwhile, is an occult folk/ noise project formed about two years ago, which recalls swampy Delta blues and Southern Baptist tent revivals. They will soon be releasing an album on Not Just Religious Music, the label founded by King Dude mastermind T.J. Cowgill. As the first bleak notes of Dreadlords’ murder ballads resonate, the listener is transported to a haunted Southern landscape. One could be walking through a desolate, dirty ghost town, long abandoned by the superficial “refinements” of civilization. What remains is the stark reality of the darkest truths of human nature and human fears in the face of a godless place. The driving deep voice and the bluesy notes of the distorted banjo feel like palmy hands pawing you and compelling you to stay and listen. But the preacher here is not preaching about redemption, instead we are hearing tales of death, destruction, despair, insanity and murder.

Dreadlords feel like descendants of The Birthday Party or The Virgin Prunes, if either took their dark sonic experiments even further into the Satanic realms. The Irish Virgin Prunes touched on some of this bleak desolation and religious imagery in the haunting soundscapes of their 1982 album ‘Heresie’, but they did not delve as deeply into such themes as the Dreadlords brave. Likewise, Nick Cave’s first band The Birthday Party, along with early Bad Seeds albums like “The Firstborn Is Dead”, exhibit similarly blues-infused grit, yet Cave still seems to believe in redemption. God exists in Cave’s world. The music of Dreadlords stares deep into a black chasmic void.

Terrorizer recently spoke to No One about his unique on-site recording process and the inspiration behind his work…

Words: Joy Shannon

Photos: James Pesature

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What originally drew you to start making music? Have you been making music since you were a kid? Additionally, your work is very conceptual; do you have a visual arts background?
No One: “I began creating music in my late teenage years. I was extremely interested and drawn to all sorts of music. I would listen to everything from Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Destruction, Metallica, and Slayer. I was also an art major at that time, so music would always be playing in the background, as I would sketch, draw or paint. As an artist, I always wanted to expand and create music, but I didn’t really know anyone that was a musician or listening to the same styles of music. Long story short, I met a couple guys one night that were in a band and they were looking for a singer, so I joined them. After playing in several different projects over the years, I made a decision to write music alone, rather than with a band. The past projects I was included in were death and black metal influenced. So, I wanted to expand on those particular styles, but not in a traditional instrumentation or musical structure sense. Rather than concentrating on music as “metal”, I focused on it only as “black”.”

Where do you find your biggest inspirations for songs? How do songs form for you? Do they begin conceptually with an idea or with a sound, the energy of a place, or a feeling?
No One: “Many things inspire me when creating music. I am drawn to the more macabre, morbid and unexplained subjects of life and death. I enjoy the idea of exploration, whether it be a location or within oneself. I am internally driven towards creating, and doing it in a manner that is unique and different from what is normal or acceptable when conducting music. I am inspired by many different styles of music. Black Metal has been a huge motivating factor in my music and everyday life. Many different artists from Norway and Sweden influenced me during the late 80’s, early 90’s. Morbid, Mayhem, Burzum, Abruptum, MZ412, Samuel and Watain changed how I looked at music. But, I found myself more interested in the way of thinking or ideologies of these artists. Instead of trying to write material like them, I choose to go against the grain of any style or script.

“My songs begin usually with an idea or concept of how I would create a track. I think about the technique, medium and location, of which I would like to record. I will sometimes review the history of a location to see if it has a connection to the direction I am interesting in taking with the music. Nothing is practiced or pre-recorded. I will go to an area of choice and go only with feel. I allow myself to be absorbed by the energies, controlled by the experience of what I am feeling. I never know exactly what will happen or how the recordings will turn out. I choose not to think about those things, I just go with the “current”. I also never do “2nd takes”. Each recording is done one time, so to capture the true emotion of that exact moment. Then, I will take the recording back to my studio, and much like a painting, build from there.”

What was your original inspiration for doing on-site recordings? How did you get started doing this project? Have you ever had any issues with recording in any sites that may be “closed” or considered “sacred”?
No One: “I wanted to create music that the listener could relate to other than a “studio” recording. Many artists write music in a studio about death, decay or the occult. I wanted to take death, decay and the occult and make music from those subjects. So I began using crypt doors as percussion, using tombstones with bones as instruments, and using elements or items in abandoned insane asylums to structure songs. Personally, this was a more authentic, challenging and rewarding way of writing music.

“I have recorded in many locations, but rarely am I unable to record where I want. Some things are carefully planned out, other times it is purely “the right place, at the right time” and then there are those moments where “cash” gains me access to recordings. I have recorded at locations such as Waverly Hills (Kentucky), Essex County Mental Hospital (New Jersey), Pennhurst Mental Institution, Byberry Mental Hospital, Norristown Mental Hospital (Pennsylvania) and various cemeteries throughout the United States and other countries.”

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What is your recording set up when you go to various on site-locations to record?
No One: “I use the same recording device I have used for years. A simple 4-track recorder.”

How do the places that you record in alter anything about the song you are making, even if you had a pre-conceived plan before recording?
No One: “I never know what is going to happen before recording at any location. It is a ritualistic approach, focused on resurrecting its tormented history, through site-specific sound structures, rhythmically combined with dark occult interaction and invocations. Once an area or element inside the building/structure has presented itself, I connect with it and allow myself to be suffocated by the ambient, unseen energies and record.”

I have heard that bone is the best resonator of sound, even better than wood, because of its irregular patterns of hollow spaces for the air to vibrate in on the microscopic level. This made me figure that making instruments out of bones would sound amazing. What is it like to record with animal and human bones? Where do you get your bones from?
No One: “Certain bone shapes, styles and sizes used against other objects can create extreme, abnormal sound structures. The use of bones and other ritual objects has had an important spiritual impact when recording. I have used many different styles, jawbones from dear, coyote and bear. Cow bone filled with human teeth as a rattle, human femurs, animal skulls and a chime made of nocturnal animal bones. These instruments connect to the primal musical force created in ancient occult rituals and worship. My main source for acquiring these bone instruments is from another T.O.M.B. contributor Ryan Debile of Into The Thickets. These bones are designed with a personal Shaman spiritual craftsmanship, intended to enhance the connection between the entities I am communicating with and myself in the music.”

What was it like to collaborate with Hellhammer from Mayhem? And to perform alongside Sunn O)))?
No One: “The band Mayhem has had an extraordinary impact on my views towards creating music. I had met them in 2003 at C.B.G.B.’S in New York. Ever since that initial meeting, I have kept in contact with Hellhammer for years. In 2008 I travelled to Norway and was able to meet up with Hellhammer in Olso. From there we drove to Ski Kirkegård Cemetery where Euronymous was buried. I then recorded several song tracks on his tombstone. In 2011, Hellhammer then added drums tracks to the songs. These songs have transformed into something representative to the diabolical energy conducted by Euronymous in his music. To develop these songs with Hellhammer collectively, makes the work retain a pure and passionate emotion conquered in the early stages of Black Metal.

“When given the opportunity to open for Sunn O))), we received the proper sound equipment to fully execute our music live. Our performance included the use of bone and metal objects, amplified against a tombstone, along with a current of harsh power and horror wall electronics conducted under spoken occult invocations. Our performance shackled the audience and made multiple listeners simultaneously black out, hitting the floor.

“On June 15, 2014, we were asked to open for Watain at New York’s Brooklyn Bazaar. This was another chance to have TO.M.B.’s sound properly conducted to have an effective audio impact on the listeners. The collaborative (Brian, Joseph and Samantha) orchestrated a 23-minute sound eruption of hypnotic sorcery, dedicated to Watain and their ritual of that evening. Our sound altering performance ended in silence from the audience. That reaction confirmed that what we conducted had left a paralysing, trance state effect on the audience. This was a blessing of temporary death, to the blood baptismal of Watain’s congregation. We would like to show others, opening for these bands again, our audio capabilities.”

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Can you elaborate upon what the concept is behind your next Dreadlords album? How did this project come about and how does it conceptually work alongside your T.O.M.B. work?
No One: “Dreadlords is a project started almost two years ago by direct T.O.M.B. member Brian and myself. We wanted to explore a completely different style of music, but still conveyed in a very obnoxious and blasphemous manner. The direction is a dark, back woods/swamp, occult-fueled folk style, inspirited by Southern American Baptists beliefs and religious traditions. Instead of forcing demons away, the music poses a “reverse exorcism” drawing in demonic forces and malevolent energies. Along with folk, we are very influenced by Delta Blues and early, extreme Norwegian Black Metal. Back in October 2013, we did a mini East coast tour with Seattle’s King Dude. Like Mayhem, King Dude’s music set fire to a part of my artistic soul never before ignited. At that time, King Dude had offered to put out our material on his label Not Just Religious Music. In January of 2014, myself, Brian and other direct T.O.M.B./Dreadlords member Samantha Viola, recorded an 11-song album called, ‘Death Angel’. We then shot a video for one of the tracks called “Alone”. We are very grateful in having the opportunity for our material to be released under N.J.R.M. and are currently waiting on an official release date. In the mean time we have played several shows and are looking to be included on future shows, with King Dude or other similar dark minded artists.”

It’s really fascinating how you’ve combined the sounds of southern gospel blues with black metal influences with the Dreadlords. This sound combination cleverly subverts the religious imagery you are referencing. What was the concept behind doing this? Were you inspired by any particular early twentieth century blues singers or recordings?
No One: “Personally, developing the concept for the project came quite naturally to me. As I mentioned I enjoy many styles of music, and artists like Johnny Cash have had an impact on my musical outlook. I respect the dark vision, attitude and lyrical content portrayed in his music. Brian is greatly inspired by twentieth-century blues and has a deep connection with its history growing up in Kentucky. Combining his noise talents with traditional folk instruments has been the stable for the projects sound. Brian has given Samantha Viola and myself, total artistic freedom to write and incorporate what we wish into each song. I am excited about Dreadlords, as it enables us to expand and touch a different audience that as T.O.M.B. we might not fully have the opportunity to do. Even though our first album is done, we are still writing new material for our 2nd album, which we will branch out into some of the recording techniques used in T.O.M.B.”

Your music references occult and metaphysical concepts and imagery. I have always believed that music is one of the best mediums to describe spiritual concepts or feelings, when words often fail. As best as you can, do you mind sharing what your beliefs or experiences are that you may be expressing through music?
No One: “T.O.M.B. has been an experimental/spiritual journey in the development of myself as an artist and a person. The experiences from the disturbed places I have recorded, the influential people I have met and worked with, have stayed with me and are reflected in my material. The name Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy, clearly defines this project’s divine intentions; TOTAL freedom and expression through OCCULTIC ritual, beliefs and invocations. This is captured using MECHANICAL recording devices and equipment, with a subconscious intent to open and unleash the diabolical audio effects and essence of pure BLASPHEMY.”

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I am sure you have a lot of interesting stories from the adventures you have gone on to obtain your on-site recordings. Do you have any you would like to share?
No One: “This would take a very long time to discuss; there are a lot of things that have occurred during field recording sessions. There are two that were quite pivotal to the project. First there is the song ‘Cadaver Transmissions” on the UAG album. This was the first recording session completed using a “corpse” as an instrument. I was able to obtain access to a morgue for a certain period of time and used certain recording tactics against the cadaver, in a very aggressive, “spell” like fashion. The ability to conduct this recording confirmed the projects true intentions of actually using death, as a means to create music.

“The other was the abandoned Richmond Electrical Power Plant in Philadelphia. Unknowingly, this location housed very strong negative energy from the locations past history and occurrences on that particular ground. Movies like ‘Twelve Monkeys’ and ‘Transformers’ were filmed there, and had connections to mysterious deaths that occurred to individuals working on those films. I had gone to this location to record a split release and obtained some excellent material. At the end of the session I was drawn to this long hallway, which had several old furnace structures. I stopped and recorded a track, using human bone, to make sigils in the crumbled dirt concrete floor. Once I was finished, I went to listen to what I had done, and there was nothing. It was unusual, I had all the correct recording buttons locked, so there was no reason the device would not have recorded. All the other tracks recorded earlier were still there. I decided to leave, but instead of exiting the same way I came, I left a different route.

“During the beginning and end of each field recording session, it is important for me to enter and exit through the same “doorway”. I also conduct something personal to ensure certain energies I come in contact with, do not follow once I leave. Both things were not completed at the time of that recording. Things started happening after that in my life, outside of the project, that caused great personal stress and anxiety. I reflected on what could have contributed to this change and reached out to some close associates that are friends of mine, who are strongly rooted in the dealing with the occult and magic. Each individual made it clear, that I was being affected by an attachment of some sort. I explained to them my experiences at Richmond, and all agreed that I needed to return to the location to cleanse myself of this force.

“Months later, I returned to Richmond with T.O.M.B. member Brian and went back to the exact spot to record again. I checked all equipment and made sure things were operating properly. I then began first by walking down the hallway and urinating on the floor. I went back to my spot, this time using a hand scythe, to create the sigils sounds. Half way into the song, one of the buttons on the recorder was turned on, this cannot be done unless you physically “push” the button. I had not. I began to laugh, and went with the energy that was now present around me. Once I completed the track, I looked up at Brian. He stood there silently and just staring at me. I asked if he was ok. He then became very nervous and started saying he was hearing someone laughing, but I didn’t hear anything. Brian and I have been close musician (collaborators) and friends for many years, and never once have we had a dispute on any subject. But, at this moment he began belittling me, angrily stating that I was fucking deaf from all the noise music I have conducted. This was confusing to me; he had never once acted this way. At that moment, a wave of extreme coldness consumed the entire area we were standing in. Brian immediately informed me what he was feeling, so again, I just began to laugh. I was not intimated or willing to be effected by this presence and instructed my friend to do the same. The changes in temperature continued for several minutes, then stopped. We then left, the same way we came in, and have not, nor will I return to that location ever again. The recorded track from that night was called ‘Cleansing Them’ and is the forth and final track on the split LP entitled ‘Richmond Curse’.”

 

About Kez Whelan

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