Interview by R.S. Frost.
After 20-odd years and upwards of 15 releases, American black metal luminary Naas Alcameth provides a glimpse into his artistic maelstrom following the release of one of his darkest and most potent offerings yet; ‘Melinoë’.
This is the third album released under the Akhlys banner, a band that began as a dark ambient project with the release of ‘Supplication’ over a decade ago. It wasn’t until 2015’s highly revered ‘The Dreaming I’ that the band would enter the realm of black metal.
- Akhlys was formed as a dark ambient project back in 2009. I wanted to create a project that was specific to certain dream and sleep related phenomenon that is personally important to me and I felt that this deserved its own unique and specific outlet.
As I understand it, you have been prone to some considerably unpleasant oneiric buggery for quite some time, which has led you to not only explore, but also confront, the sources of these experiences.
- I have experienced vivid nightmares, sleep paralysis with the hypnogogic visitation element, sleepwalking, and so on, since I was a small child. As far back as I can recall really. Of course, during my childhood, these experiences were especially terrifying and disorienting. Furthermore, as tends to be the case, I experienced these things more frequently in my youth. However, as a child, as horrific as these experiences could be, it was also very formative in regard to who I would become. These strange phenomena set the foundation for my receptibility and my worldview in regard to the supernatural, spiritual, or subtle realm. It was a reality for me, and that reality only solidified in my later years as I discovered various esoteric systems and modes of belief and worship. The element of fear never lost its potency, more that my understanding of these things led me from a place of victimhood to a place of empowerment as that element became a tool that could lead to a state of ekstasis that became an unbelievably valuable thing within the experiential spiritual context. Confrontation, trial, and overcoming are integral to knowledge and union.
What was behind the decision to change course musically and head to black metal whilst retaining the name, and therefore the identity, of the project?
- It seemed a natural development to me really. When I began composing for a second album, I had composed a few initial ambient pieces and I just started hearing guitar compositions in my mind while listening to these, so I began experimenting with that. It all unfolded from there really.
Given that you have been largely involved with a formidable amount of releases ranging across various projects, including Excommunion, Nightbringer, Bestia Arcana, Aoratos and Akhlys, there is often a sense of familiarity when listening to an album you have worked on. This isn't to say that these bands all sound the same; on the contrary, there are clear deviations between the above-mentioned projects, both in sound and intent.
In fact, if you feel so inclined, this could be an opportunity to conceptually define your projects for those readers who may not be overly familiar with the non-audible properties of your work.
- There is a general and unifying theme that tends to run through every project I do and that is esotericism. Of course, this is a very vast and diverse subject. Each project, to a degree, tends to deal with specific aspects and focuses within occultism. Where Nightbringer is probably the broadest, partly due to the various contributors and the number of years the band has been around, the other bands tend to be more specific. Akhlys is solely focused on dreams and parasomnias and their significance within occultism, while Aoratos has more to do with “spirits of the place”, and Bestia Arcana addresses matters that are eschatological.
Given that we are here to discuss Akhlys today, I’d like to explore the themes engrained therein.
Parasomnias are a particularly unpleasant group of sleep-related disorders that include, but are not limited to, waking confusion, sleep eating disorders, sleep behaviour disorders, nightmares and night terrors, sleep paralysis, and the stunningly named “Exploding Head Syndrome”.
Although the milder examples of this ghastly array of happenings are somewhat common (sleepwalking and sleep talking in particular), I’m going to guess that the subject matter being examined with Akhlys sits at the more sinister end of things.
What are you exploring, specifically with this project, in relation to parasomnias and their relation to the occult?
- All in all, it is an exploration of “I” and “Other” and the associated ecstatic states of dread and furore within the liminality of dream and hypnogogic states. As stated previously, I have had a long history of nightmares and various parasomnias, including sleep paralysis visions. These things were a curse when I was a young child but as I grew older, I began to have a quite different outlook regarding it all. I began to see these things as blessings.
How do you see these particular happenings influencing the waking reality of a person who is experiencing them, and do you believe that these occurrences are simply random or is there a prerequisite link between an individual and the “sleep realm” so to speak?
- If you are asking if the waking and physical reality is altered phenomenally during such an episode, I would say that is unlikely in typical cases, or rather incredibly rare. Although there are various paranormal reports relayed by bystanders during these events that seem synonymous with what one would read about poltergeist phenomena (there is an entire chapter on one such event in David Hufford’s A Terror that Comes in the Night). In my own experience, there has only been one such dramatic occurrence that I am aware of which might possibly indicate a physical manifestation during an episode in which an apparent knocking at the door was heard by two parties. I believe what is more common are incidents in which a second party feels the inexplicable shift in atmosphere that the person experiencing the episode feels. Sudden feelings of anxiety and dread occurring in tandem or even having related nightmares in tandem.
Concerning the most recent offering, ‘Melinoë’, there is a daunting amount of content to sink one’s teeth into. The album title sets the stage, with Melinoë being the chthonic nymph, or goddess, of ghosts and spirits. In Greek mythology, Melinoë was the daughter of Zeus and Persephone and acts as the under-earth aspect of the Greek Great Goddess. She is also represented as the bringer of nightmares and madness.
The track titles seem to act as linear milestones of one’s journey through sleeping madness. Beginning with sleep talking (‘Somniloquy’), then moving through nightmares and sleep paralysis (‘Pnigalion’) to eventually be confronted with entities from elsewhere (‘Succubare’). The final stage of this journey being ‘Incubatio’ - the practice of sleeping in a sacred area with the intention of experiencing a divinely inspired dream or cure.
- The decision to name the album after the figure of Melinoë came early in the writing process. I was also spending a lot of time researching various texts and, while revisiting some parts of the Orphic Hymns, I came to the section on Melinoë, which I had completely forgotten about over the years. The link with the underworld and what seems likely to be a reference to nightmares combined with the total obscurity of the figure made her stand out in my mind and I found myself thinking about her days after. At this point, I just knew it was the title I suppose. The track titles point to different aspects or types of dream or parasomnia related experiences, calling upon daemonic and deific names associated with these things and all constructed poetically via the lens of esotericism. There is not an intended hierarchical or even linear ordering here per se, but that feeling of progression, from an onset of an ordeal to its culmination, seemed to come about on its own, perhaps subconsciously, regardless.
The one stage that I cannot seem to tie in with the others is ‘Ephialtes’. Ephialtes of Trachis is a character from the Greek histories who, in 480 BCE, is said to have betrayed his homeland in battle against the Persians in hope of receiving a grand reward.
- Here I am not referencing the historical character but what would later become a name used for the Greek daemon of nightmares.
Musically speaking, ‘Melinoë’ could be Naas’ most enveloping work to date. It is undeniably Akhlys, with the savagely hypnotic guitar work existing primarily on the higher end of the fret board whilst the bodies of the songs ceaselessly swirl in and out of absolute suffocation and moments of eerie respite.
When you first sent me the tracks, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the seemingly unending enormity of the production. These songs simply sound megalithic. After spinning the album countless times I dare say that this may be your most melodic work so far, whilst also being the darkest in atmosphere.
What went into the musical creation of these songs and how did you approach it all?
- It all came about in such a strange window of time and via an equally strange mindset that it is hard to put into order now when I try to convey it all discursively. The entire composition and tracking process became an obsession and one I did in solitude, mostly in the late hours of the night while locked away inside my home. There was something nigh monastic about that time, something that felt very sacred. In a way, it came together through some will of its own.
What do you want to communicate with this album, whether it be a sort of cathartic release for yourself, the spreading of ideas and intentions, or the audible experience provided to the listener?
- I am not really concerned with spreading ideas so much. This was an inward work and one that had the singular intention of acting as a symbolic gesture and sacred offering to experiences and encounters I hold personally sacred.
Melinoë was produced, mixed and mastered by Dave Otero. Naas and Dave have been working together for well over a decade now, having jointly spawned the most recent two Akhlys albums, Aoratos’ 2019 debut ‘Gods Without Name’, as well as both the Bestia Arcana and Nightbringer back catalogues.
How/when did you first start working with Dave?
- I started working with Dave all the way back in 2000 when we started recording the Excommunion full length. We’ve known each other since the mid-‘90s through the local scene. Our bands were playing local shows together and I knew he had started his own studio so it made sense.
What is the general approach to a record for you now? Am I right in that the guitars, vocals, arrangements, and synth work is all handled by you in your studio, with Dave handling drum tracking and all subsequent production?
- For many years now I have tracked everything myself, except for the drums or other vocal contributions, in my home studio. Yes, that is correct, except for Nightbringer, which is more of a collective with various members contributing to the writing and recording process.
I’m curious as to how you see ‘Melinoë’ standing alongside ‘The Dreaming I’ now that you've been able to step back from it for a while.
- I feel that the two albums are in one way complimentary, as far as they reflect a level of provenance as a larger entity as Akhlys, yet also stand on their own with their own nuanced spirits beneath the singular banner, so to speak.
I’d like to take a quick glance back at 2017, as this was a very busy year for you. We saw the release of Nightbringer’s ‘Terra Damnata’, Excommunion’s ‘Thronosis’, and Bestia Arcana’s ‘Holókauston’. These albums were all released in sequence one month apart in April, May and June respectively.
Was the release schedule of these albums, each one being a significant undertaking and an equally significant addition to their respective project banners, something you had planned?
- Not so much. More generally I will try to intentionally plan when I compose certain things, aligning with seasons and so on, but not always.
I wonder if you had been writing material for this trinity of projects simultaneously, or whether the material had accumulated over time?
- No, I almost never end up working on multiple projects simultaneously.
Excommunion is a very different beast in comparison to most of your other musical output, existing well and truly within the death metal genre. This band also came well before your forays into black metal. Can you give any insight into this project and whether the motivation behind the music differs vastly from your black metal leaning music?
- Actually, Excommunion began as a black metal band at the onset. As we pulled together a complete lineup, we ended up going in a different direction. Nightbringer was started a year later. Excommunion is dead and buried at this point so there is not a whole lot to speak about on this topic at this juncture.
Now, I know you to be a massive fan of the Cold Meat Industry brand of audible assault. I understand you have gathered quite the collection over the years as well.
- My introduction to CMI came via Aghast. ‘Hexerei…’ was a popular album within black metal circles in the mid-90s so it inevitably fell into my hands and the rest is history.
The correlation between the dark ambient/industrial/ritual ambient genres and black metal is quite astounding and goes back decades. How do you see the relationship between these styles of music, be it the intention behind the music or the perceived experience by the listener?
- Both genres arise from a similar fount, so to speak, and so we find a similarity in spirit really. I believe the two complement each other quite well when done right.
Whilst reading The Sinister Flame issue VI, I came across an interesting moment where Bathory Legion opined “The modern anti-Christian and Satanic/Luciferian dimension lies in ritual Dark Ambient and Black Industrial more than in Black Metal…”
Given your long involvement in both stylistic worlds, and your significant interests in the occult and esoteric realms, I’m interested in your take on this statement.
- It would be hard to weigh in here really as I am unsure if this statement implies that one scene has more dedicated Satanists and Luciferians, or if this is commentary directed at the genre sounds and their suitability to relay these dimensions. If I had to put my money on it I would say that he is likely correct in either scenario.
I first met Naas when Akhlys and Aoratos took part in a unique joint performance at Ascension MMXIX in Iceland. Although the beginning of the show was marred by some rather unscrupulous technical difficulties, it was quite the experience. I dare say that the material lends itself quite nicely to the live format, indeed.
What was behind the decision to offer a performance combining these projects?
- As a live group we were more involved with Aoratos at the time we were invited, yet the offer was initially for Akhlys, so we decided to do both.
How was this experience for you?
- I hadn’t played guitar and done vocals live since 2003 and I found it really enjoyable returning to this. As a group, we were a fairly green unit you could say, so it was a bit rough around the edges. We also had an insane amount of technical difficulties, which cut our set down dramatically. Overall, I enjoyed the experience.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Nox Corvus sharing guitar duties for this show, and handling the material with seeming ease, a feat all the more intriguing given that he is best known for having played drums for both Nightbringer and Excommunion.
- Nox and I met through our girlfriends in junior high and have been playing in bands together since we were 14. We lost touch for some years after his departure from Nightbringer, but when I decided to get a new lineup together locally, in order to consider doing Aoratos (and then Akhlys) live, it only made sense to reach out to him.
The rhythm section of this performance consisted of another couple of Colorado natives, none other than Khem Cor Leonis and Eoghan of Suns of Sorath.
And am I right in that Eoghan performed drums on Melinoë as well?
- Yes, Eoghan handled all the drums. I feel he has really brought the band to a new level. I have never worked with a drummer that has dedicated so much time and given so much attention to every nuance as much as he has.
I’m curious, how did you come to be a musician in the first place?
- My father got me interested in music at a young age. He is not a musician by any means but he turned me on to classic rock, Black Sabbath, The Doors and so on, and then purchased me my first Guns n’ Roses album when I was still in elementary school. i discovered Metallica when I was about 11 and by 12 I had convinced my parents to buy me a guitar. In my first year of junior high school I met a group of kids who listened to punk and metal and were attempting to form bands, and through befriending them I was introduced to various thrash, punk and death metal bands. Several of my friends ended up forming a few punk and then grind bands and that is where I got my start playing music as a young teen, but it didn’t stick as I became more interested in playing metal and by the mid-‘90s I had discovered black metal and had parted ways with those guys musically. I began seeking out other teens to form a band with. Excommunion, and then Nightbringer, arose from all of that in the late ‘90s.
Why did you decide to focus your own creative endeavours on black metal in particular?
- Although I did, and do still, love the evil style of death metal we were doing in Excommunion, my heart has always been in black metal. It just fascinated me and spoke to me on such a deep level from the onset and I knew that is what I wanted to do.
After two decades playing music with various bands across the globe, I’m always interested in the perspective one has of the genre as a whole. Being from Colorado, I imagine your take on black metal, and dark art in general, would differ greatly from that of someone from, say, Scandinavia.
- Actually, I have always felt a much greater magnetism towards Scandinavia (and Europe as a whole) than I have towards the US scene in regard to this. I have never felt invested in the local scene and so I have not paid much attention to it over the years.
How do you see black metal in this day and age? How has it changed, for better or worse, during your time in it and how does Colorado, or the US in general, hold up compared to the European phenomena?
- Truthfully, I have distanced myself from much of the current scene these days. There are the bands I find value in, new and old, but I really do not keep my thumb on the pulse of the black metal scene. Black metal was, and still is, a very personal thing to me. As it should be. I find value in the bands and individuals that reflect that initial fire that first obsessed me. As far as the “health” of the scene, I am mostly ambivalent. Like with any artistic collective (when we view it as a collective) there will be plenty of disingenuity to be found. This has no bearing on, or relevance to, truly inspired art. Again, I have not really kept up with much of the US scene let alone the Colorado scene, but historically, outside of a few key bands, I mostly have not been very intrigued with what is going on here.
Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.
- Life is a dream forgotten in the slumber of death.
Check out Akhlys on Bandcamp here.
Akhlys CDs and vinyl are available right here on Direct Merch