Thoughts after Funkenflug, June 2014, Midsummers at Neudegg Alm, Abetnau, Austria.
It must have been some kind of cosmic sign that we returned from our trip this week, after playing at Neudegg Alm, Abtenau, in the Alps, with two keys in our pockets. A simple accident of not remembering to give back the keys to the doors of the two places we stayed at during our journey, but a very strong reminder that we have experienced something life changing, something that opened some doors. Once opened, those doors in the mind no longer require keys, unlike those of the physical world.
Sending those keys back to their owners in the post was a simple task, but what of offering something back for what we received on this transformative journey? Indeed what of everything we have received these past two years, from our hosts, from our band members and associates and most importantly our fans or those we prefer to call friends? I have long agonized over the fact that I don’t communicate enough and have been a terrible friend in many respects. Once a dab hand at writing letters with my network of friends abroad and an insatiable tape-trader in the early 90s I have fallen foul of the modern age, where you imagine that everything we do online is enough. A picture here, a benign and run of the mill Facebook comment there and we’re making sure people who are interested in what we do get enough. Besides, we’re told that we all have short attention spans these days and don’t really listen or pay attention or really deeply care about anything do we? Or do we?
This recent Hexvessel trip changed a lot of my perceptions about this world and this strange trip we call life. Let me tell you, if your precious concentration and time will allow, a little more about it and try to expand upon these last few blessed years that we have been decanting the contents of our Hexvessel …
"What we experienced up on the mountains cannot be expressed in words or even pictures. Those fires we carried to the bonfire stone circle will burn in us forever."
"daddy …Hexvessel is coming" A young boy with silken blonde hair and oversized black shirt, emblazoned with a white knotted rune, flashed excited eyes at his father, as our silver wagon of the people chewed up the stone roadway into the valley. His father smiled, one of those all-knowing, all-loving magical smiles, that fathers too seldom bestow upon their children, and nodded his head in agreement. This, they agreed, was a special moment.
"You know instantly from the eyes" they told us, "who should take part in the ritual with us."
And it was intense fierce eyes that met us, and smiles like wild fleshless museum dinosaurs, and strong arms, tanned by sun, clothes dampened by toil and covered in the splinters of the bark of trees. These men and women were made of the same moss, and hewn from the same trunk as our “creatures of the forest,” as one spectator once labelled Hexvessel.
Welcomed in magical, warm, brotherly, sisterly love and by friends, instant and knowing, we knew we had come home. This wasn’t a festival, a show or a gig, this was going to be a ceremony.
Barth, our host and his son, welcomed us and introduced us to their family. All army surplus, and rune shirts, sun-wheel pendants and heads adorned with Austrian hats, feathers and all. This tribe looked as if they had beaten their way out of cracks in the mountain, as they carried about wood and hacked at trees. They were busying themselves with what they called Funkenflug or “flying sparks” and had invited us there to Neudegg Alm take a part in their midsummer ritual.
As musicians, we seldom get the luxury of choice when it comes to promoters or gig organizers, where we play, who we play for. I mean you can say no to an offer. But the people you meet, although on the whole they have good hearts, are not always good people by default. With other bands or people I have played with, played for, it could be a total disaster, and sometimes was. It’s not always a foregone conclusion that those who book you or want to see you and listen to you will be your friend. Additionally it’s not always going to work out with someone on a friendship level simply because you play music together. But I have strived in every way to make my band with Hexvessel, my music, a thing of love and an exercise in becoming one with the art you create and the ideas you offer up to the world. I chose my band-members carefully and not through the usual processes, but by feeling and through what can only be described as magic. The workings of inner knowing. Sometimes you discover people and sometimes people discover you. There’s no one way about it, but when you know, you know.
When you act out of true love, I believe that it is always right. It is in this respect that Hexvessel has always been very fortunate. I’m deeply thankful for that. We have always had shows that have been more like religious ceremonies than gigs and organizers and promoters that have been kindred spirits. If you get this band, then I think you are initiated enough to be one of us. It’s been that way with the bands we have toured with and shared the stage with - everything has been as it was meant to be.
And so here we were, standing in the midst of giant mountains. A band of knowing astral travelers, on a journey of music blessed by love, meeting a gathering of people in the Austrian Alps, who in every way assembled themselves and performed their rituals exactly as we did, through the magic of inner knowing. The reading I got from each and every one, was powerful and true - that small spark inside lit up and you acknowledge that the spirits align. Brothers and sisters, friends and family.
These people were as true to their craft as we were to ours. It was a totally unique moment of band and celebration uniting perfectly. How would we perform anywhere else after this?!
"Godspeed!!!! …Dance dance!!!"
How can I open up and share the place I went to, when Bölzer took to the stone-floored tree-cloaked altar, their veins protruding, mouths in lions roar and limbs ablaze in furious rendition of their craft? When the black robed judges of Arktau Eos smote bells and blew a gorgon-esque horn, their faces masked with sack-cloth, eyes merely black gashes, what should I tell you happened then? Was it “cool” or would it look good on Youtube? There are no words to describe and no websites to upload how I felt. It was much more than that. I went back to a time when I was young. Where concerts were more than a selfie, a tagged photo and a status update. They were rites of passage and moments where you let the music you adore touch you and move you, change you and recreate you anew and you couldn’t share it aside from at that moment between the people around you, in feelings not words. It was all eye connection, bodies pressing, shared sweat and hot leather that lingered long after you left the venue. You learned something, not just about yourself but the world, and you would never be the same again.
"Dragonblood on our foreheads, just before we lit the fire that beamed into outer space."
When I first came to Finland I had been heavily invested in Scandinavia. The myths, the culture, the past, the music of 90s Blackmetal that sucked me in. I even foolishly slaved over a BA degree in Scandinavian Studies for 3 years, that got me nowhere academically but a rough understanding of the Norwegian language. I did spend a year up in Karasjok with the Sami people and I have a huge amount of life experience from those years, but I must say that Viking Age studies, Runology and Old Norse were all subjects way beyond me and out of my intellectual capacity. It’s ok though, I’m not bitter!
Most of all, I can say hand on heart, it was the nature of Scandinavia that compelled me most. Those Tania Stine covers and inlay art that made me realize that my paragon bands sported the same vested interests as I held dear, ever since I was a boy scout. When I was a Boy Scout I got turned on to metal, out in the forests of France one summer, hiking and swimming, camping and living outdoors. It was like the perfect setting for my life to explode. When that music found me it was like the old descriptions of saints being visited by angels. I was touched, and found. I was like a lamb entering heaven.
I was “allowed” as I felt, within blackmetal specifically as I moved into that genre and that obsessive period of my life, to combine the two most powerful forces I knew, music and nature, and that was a very strong influence for me. I am sincerely glad for Fenriz and meeting him at an early age, that his interest in forest hiking and nature was as deep as the music. I wasn’t disappointed in meeting him and I think at that point it was enlightening to know that there was more to the music and ideology that childish self-destruction, willful ignorance and slavish dedication to consumerism. Unfortunately the rest of the Norwegian scene (save for a very few good guys) at that point was dire. It was all about drinking beer in Elm Street, eating burgers and pizza and playing music as a way to get more female fans (if confused, see the legacy of bands like Dimmu Borgir). Of course I spent my time hanging around, being a young naive fan. Someone once dubbed me “the most successful black-packer in blackmetal history” (“blackpacker” as those German and Italian tourists were dubbed who turned up to Elm Street in their hundreds in the 90s and 00s to meet their Norwegian blackmetal heroes) such was my dedication to networking and making friends in the scene that I eventually joined my favorite band Dødheimsgard. And so, leaving that part of the story for another time, I grew tired of the lack of idealism and values in the Norwegian scene at the time. Where was the literature that was touched upon in all the lyrics? The talk of Crowley and Hp Lovecraft, was merely soundbites, and I started to lose faith that anyone who listened to the same music as me actually read anything. All I saw around me were rich, spoilt brats with all the opportunities that society could offer, behaving selfishly, and no more unique than the common sneaker-wearing sports fan hooligans I had quit London for. Perhaps all the interesting people had left, or were more difficult to meet? I was kidding myself perhaps that these people could be found in bars or concerts. In any case they had disappeared in a whiff of smoke with the last church fire. I knew that for me, this was just a stop on my journey and not the destination.
It was when recording the Code album, Nouveau Gloaming, in Finland that I discovered the Babylon Whores guys - Antti and Ike. Antti invited me into his book-lined apartment in Helsinki where there was nowhere to sit that wasn’t stacked with books. We shared a small piece of the carpet in this living room and drank tea, talking until the wee hours about the occult and telling stories of the kind I had only read in Isten Fanzine, recalling days the Oslo Norwegians were far too jaded by the late 90s to be interested in. Ike gave me a copy of Turn Off Your Mind by Gary Lachman that he had been translating into Finnish and we watched some Leni Riffenstahl and listened to Roky Erikson (my first introduction to Roky or any stories about him). I felt at home, with brothers, with kin. It was here, in Finland that I met many others with similar mind-set. A meeting of both the ideology, the spiritual side behind the music, and the music itself. It was where my heart was untethered and set free. Now I truly had nature and music, but also a spiritual connection to a people, that I was on fire about. I had taken my first steps in falling in love with Finland.
In the moments of silence under the 300 year old barn, as we waited to ignite our torches, Antti took the bowl of black, sticky dragonsblood (and here we’re not talking about the mythical beast but a mere name to a magical ingredient) and held the back of my head. With a grimace he roughly flicked a thumbfull of mixture and pressed it across my forehead in a downward smear, to create a caked and blackened eye. I was about to protest the abruptness and that it had been Antti and not Florian (who had been anointing everyone else so far) who had blessed me with the rite, but just then my body was struck, as if electrified by the fence that was penning in the sweet and dutiful cows outside on the farm. It was a sudden bolt that swallowed me but not out of pain, simply total and complete calm. A touching and precious bliss that enveloped my whole body and mind. I was calm. It felt like the first time in a long time. Had I ever been this calm, I wondered? And then I watched as Antti passed the bowl back to Florian who continued to anoint the silent. Antti’s face still bearing a solemn and determined grimace. I was full of a brothers love for him then. Love for this friend who had been there at the right time when I was a bit younger, to inspire and ignite my passion for my newfound homeland, the homeland of my future wife and band brotherhood. I realized that it was exactly right that he had anointed me and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do it. You must understand, dear reader, that everything was coming together. This, our last show for Hexvessel this summer and one of the only live shows we have planned for this year as we wind down what has been a very intense period for us. What felt like an end and a new beginning for us all. It felt like the clouds were colliding and mixing, churning wildly as they did during Arktau Eos’ ritual the previous day. Fates were braiding their everlasting locks and as the braids tied together I was aware that everything was as it was meant to be. All of us were there for a reason. I saw everyone in the room with love. As love. Opening a crack in my eyelids after breathing in a bowlful of sage smoke, my head resting on my wife’s head, our foreheads pressed together, I realized that everyone else too had their eyes closed. They were breathing now deeply like me. My eyes welled with tears, as I felt the dedication to the rite. Every boy and girl in the room, readying themselves, wiling themselves to be pure and ready for the ceremonial precession up the hill, to light the midsummer pyre. Despite what tattoos or what shirts we were all wearing, those things were surface, our tastes and mortal concerns were no longer something which determined us spiritually. I had started to see the gates of the gods and they were pouring pure light into us all, regardless of any other transient factor. No tears flowed or could flow, however, as I was rooted with the solemn and calming sense of duty to carry out my task.
Vapours ignited around the sheets of petroleum soaked rags and our torches cackled together in the rich inhuman language of fire. Our inner flames kindled by the bewitching power of flame as each torch fed together, mirroring our meeting of foreheads as we breathed in the smoke, each touch, each step up the mountain like a chapter, a movement or a dance of atoms connecting. The circle of torches, the feeling of immense bliss, the cleansing and the visitation of total calm the gods bestowed on my soul for this ritual, I can never forget. I am branded inside, like a marked man.
The flames roared through the skeleton of the pyre, bringing everything together. The union of man and woman. The love of life and the spirits of nature fused together. The ancient ones returned to us and I truly felt reborn.
Here was a ritual that brought me closer to why I started Hexvessel than ever before. I was seeking union and rebirth. Even the very name was a way to carry forth my spiritual work. Either a “man possessed” or a “carrier of spirits” it was a way to embody the magic of true spirituality, of paganism and union with the old gods.
Here in the Austrian mountains, I had found my people and a way to connect with the other world that I never thought possible.
The mountains are with us now, inside us. I have taken that place and those people with me, and will carry them always and forever. Not burdens but private treasures that glow like the embers of the fire we made together under the stars on midsummers. These fires will propel me and inspire me and will me onward to live and burn my path through this world.
In this day and age it seems that, online at least, people are only able to ironically “like” things. There is no spark, no passion, no love. Their fashion, music and limited artistic taste manifests itself in this haze of irony. Music about music, fashion about fashion with the only thing taking centre stage to not upset the balance or dare to be different. Everything is about maintaining surface. Zizek said it well when he referenced They Live and the scene where the guy’s black friend refuses to put on the glasses. Rufusal to look at the world and how it really is. Refusal to face reality and to dare to live.
"How good does it feel to be alive in the mountains?" I asked the audience and they cheered with mirth and the genuine bellow of a group of people really living it.
I blessed them then and I bless our fans again now. Friends of course is the best word - as I tell everyone I meet, I am a fan of music too and so I understand the need to connect with people that have touched you musically and the belief that somewhere in there we share some understanding of the universe together.
We lived. We dare to live. The good folk who organize the celebrations at Neudegg Alm live and dare to live. I wish more people would.
The flames took upward until we could take it no more, and we had we had to leave the circle. The sparks ejaculated into the sky, an explosive crown of orange stars. We mirrored the stars out in space by making our own death, and our own rebirth. Our own miniature re-enactment of the cosmic cycle. Halo Manash played on, a lush and ecclesiastic soundtrack to the conflagration. They used hand-made instruments and struck gongs, in almost divine timings, like they were hammering on the very stars themselves, bowing the light with their horse hair tails and making it sing. I didn’t even think there had been a band playing. It was as if the whole universe were alive with music.
And then they had finished and the fire was more like a sea of ember bees swarming deliriously drunk out into the night, and people were silent and reverential and there was only a bit of clapping, as nobody quite knew what to do to show their thanks. I stowed myself off into the dark to let the tears well down and not to cry too much in fear of breaking the spell.
And so if you have slogged through what I have written here, it is with the best intentions that I write to you. You are here and reading because you are interested in what we do and if you have supported Hexvessel through buying our music, shirts, patches, ticket to a show or by buying some forest via Luonnonperintosaatio then I bless you and thank you and send you the warmest greetings from a very happy place in my life. Thank you so very much. I hope that you have gained something from our music and rituals and that you will continue to do so.
Thank you to all who came to see us on our tour with Sabbath Assembly last year and on our tour with Alcest this year. To both bands for being so kind to us and for sharing so much. To those that were present at both our mind-blowing Roadburn live shows and those that were with us in Romania to treasure those very moving festivals. To Walter from Roadburn and to Doru from Dark Bombastic, I owe you both so very much. Thank you for supporting our art.
We parted ways with a couple of members at the end of 2012. Jussi who worked on some sounds and Vesa on guitars. I had started the Finnish live version of Hexvessel with Vesa and he had been a huge support for me in all ways, as a friend and as a musician. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. So too to Jussi who had dedicated much of his time in the first year or so of the band. I am grateful to them both. Thank you my friends for everything you have done.
However, I had relied on Vesa’s efforts on guitar merely to support me, as I couldn’t play the material on guitar live and needed a second guitar to back me up. In most cases I played very quietly and simply to get used to being able to play and sing live. Now I can play a bit better (still not fantastically mind!) I no longer needed to have 3 guitars in the band. It’s too much for most stages and always sounded slightly messy. We seldom, if ever, put 3 guitars in the mix on record so we didn’t lose anything from the sound picture, just good comrades and friends, though luckily for me they both continue to be good friends and part of our lives. Vesa continues to blow crowds away in both the mighty Dark Buddha Rising and Mr Peter Heyden and Jussi has joined Dark Buddha Rising. So, as I was saying, everything that happens happens for a reason and is for the best.
Marja was missing from the Alcest tour due to work commitments but continues to be a part of the Hexvessel constellation whatever we do and if she is present at the live shows or not.
Kimmo took over on keys and plays more portions of the music live than we ever did before, as he performed most of the rhodes and piano on the actual album. And lastly and rather mundanely, it’s simply more efficient also for us if we can have less people traveling and performing on stage, as the logistics and costs of a band of 8 people was somewhat ridiculous. I do understand that some people have been confused with seeing less members on stage, and so I am clearing this up now so that there is no further confusion, and I never had the chance to thank our previous live members of the band. With a smaller amount of musicians we’ve been able to make the instruments clearer, the sound picture is way better, makes more sense and we’ve been able to get out abroad and play live a lot more. So I think everyone who actually likes and appreciates what we do can understand that. It looked impressive with 8 people on stage, I’ll give you that, and we had a lot of fun. Almost too much! But as they say, everything must change and if you have been following me as an artist, change is a big part of what I do.
We haven’t stopped. I haven’t stopped doing Hexvessel. I get asked this here and there, mostly by people at Beastmilk shows - perhaps they’re worried or perhaps they just assume because I am busy doing vocals in another band, that I don’t have time to write and record music with Hexvessel. Hexvessel is my heart and soul. It’s what I do. When I write music, it’s Hexvessel. It’s absolutely what I do best. So I can’t stop. It’s my calling. I will continue on until I drop I guess or until something untoward happens to me. If I die in this world, and I am most ready and comfortable with the idea (most of the time), it’s what I would like to be remembered for most. No Holier Temple continues to be the work I am most proud of - the single greatest thing I have done creatively and with it, every sentiment and meaning of those songs are 100% true and honest.
I’ve been keeping busy - we have a soundtrack to Justin Oakey’s short movie The World Is Burning, that I worked on with Kimmo, coming out this summer and we went in to record a song as a full band a few weeks ago, something short for a 7” that will be released later this year. I can’t divulge too much about that as yet - but it’s really really good and the sound on that song is the closest thing I have heard yet to what I would like this band to sound like. The recording was made entirely on analogue tape and so was recorded mostly live. I am immensely proud of my band brothers and sisters who have toiled with me now for almost 4 years or so now. They continue to evolve as musicians and as artists and I am simply honored and blessed to be able to play with them at all. I take my hat off to them every time we jam or hit the road together. So thanks to you, especially, my Tampere family!
So that only leaves me to inform you that we’re writing new music for the next full-length Hexvessel album. We’re not too far down the road on it yet, but we have some sketches and ideas. I’d like to let it grow a bit more and to be the best that it can be. We don’t work to deadlines or for manufacturers - so I do hope that you will grant me some time there, before we present you with something new.
The most exciting thing yet, is that we have launched our own label, Secret Trees. This will be a way to put out our own music and the music of related bands and musicians. Our soundtrack to The World Is Burning will be on that label and we will announce more releases soon. The idea is that everything we do will be as environmentally friendly as possible, from non-tree or recycled card to donating some of the proceeds back to the environment, we intend to try to give back a little of what we take out. The music industry is one of the worst polluters in consumer goods and so we hope to help start turning the tide there a bit. Even if it inspires a few others to do the same, or allows them to do something with less impact with us, then we’ll be happy.
"Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who l am
But ya know life is for learning”
And so the light of distant stars reaches out across all time to wave and wink at us, reminding us of who we are, we’re humbled. Their messages reaches us. We’re part of the universe. The universe doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the universe. Even stars die. Things change. They move on, they develop, they die and they are reborn. We were reborn on that midsummers night. Hexvessel was remade anew.
"We should think about stars in a different way," I answered. Flo had been talking about the distances to the stars and the time it takes the light to reach us. "Isn’t it romantic, they’re all dead!" he proclaimed. What could be more romantic than looking at lights from a dead universe. What could they be trying to tell us? "and that’s how we should think about them, not as destinations but as story-tellers." I replied, trying to be as genuine and meaningful as I could. And we gazed upwards at the stars that filled the sky immensely and made the mountains as black cut-outs as if holes of jagged black mass torn into the sky. "We have this lyric ‘the only way into the universe is through a clearing in the forest’" I told Flo, riffing on the giddy magic we were feeling, "because the idea is that you don’t need to travel anywhere, you just know nature, become one with your surroundings, and then you can space travel. ‘We are stardust, billion year old carbon’, as Joni Mitchell sang. We know the cosmos because it’s within us and we’re part of it." Marja smiled and said "isn’t that a nice thought, that they’re there to humble us and remind us that we’re simply part of something, part of the whole cosmos. And that death is a rebirth. Their death is our life and our midsummers is a recreation and re-enactment of that cycle. A celebration of it."
"Yes!" I agreed, "We shine out, in reply to other universes after we are dead too. It’s a dialogue. We are in constant communication."
And I hadn’t taken any drugs!
I was high though. Mountain high. You don’t come down from this one.
By Mat McNerney
(picture lovingly stolen from Florian Meyer’s Instagram)