Since the nineties, the works of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) have been an inexhaustible resource for black metal musicians, and for black metal as a subgenre in general. The statement “God is dead” and the concept of Nihilism are two of the most famous examples, but certainly also his work ‘Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer’. The albums ‘Grand Declaration of War’ (2000) and ‘Twilight of the Idols (In Conspiracy with Satan)’ (2003) by Norwegian acts Mayhem and Gorgoroth are resounding cases of this, among many others.
Besides nihilism, satanism, hedonism and paganism, there are many more philosophies that have served as inspiration for the last thirty plus years. Such as the works of Jean Paul-Sartre and Albert Camus on existentialism and absurdism, for example. The Dutchman Devi Hisgen (also active in Cthuluminati), the mastermind behind the black metal project Teitan, devoted an entire album called ‘In Oculus Abyss’ (to be released on May 26th via Onism Productions and Void Wanderer Productions) to various philosophical works and novels. It features nine songs in which he has converted his interpretation of existential philosophy into experimental black metal, also known as Psychotic Black Metal. Below you can read the answers to the questions about the history of Teitan and his latest album that Black Metal Promotion had with its creator via email.
In 2008 Teitan started out as a duo playing raw black metal but died a somewhat silent death after its demo ‘Dark Ritual’ (2009). A decade later Teitan resurfaced with only one member (you: Devi Hisgen) and a completely different sound (dissonant black metal) and aesthetic. Regarding this radical change: why did you decide to keep the moniker of Teitan?
“Well, at first I wanted to make just one album. I bought my first house in 2017 and built my first home studio up there in the attic. I had no actual experience with producing an album so I wanted to run my first miles as soon as possible. I took the opportunity to write and record ‘Weight Of The Void’ after Damon told me it would be cool to release a full length Teitan album exactly ten years after the demo. So I started working on that in 2018, just to finish and release in 2019.
Back in 2008 we wanted the style for Teitan to be as chaotic as we could come up with. Back then we were inspired by bands like Marduk and Dark Funeral. Those were the most chaotic bands we knew back then. My taste for music really opened up after puberty haha, so I started listening to a lot of different genres (like psytrance, stoner rock and folk music) and especially more experimental versions of black metal. Now when I think of chaotic and quality black metal, I think of bands like Deathspell Omega, Dødheimsgard and Svartiđaudi and obviously those acts inspired me while writing new Teitan stuff. This way I could also pick up some valuable experience with writing and producing the music I actually appreciate (more than raw black metal haha).
Now obviously I didn’t plan to seriously pick up Teitan as a project when I started it. But after the album was released, I expanded my studio and advanced my skills behind the mixing console. I recorded a few more songs and remixed a few of the songs from ‘Weight Ov The Void’. I think that ‘Vàkuum’ almost came without thinking about it and I wasn’t planning on releasing it. But when Floris Velthuis heard the songs he showed it to Ward from Void Wanderer Productions and he really wanted to release the EP. When I decided to do so, I actually adopted Teitan as my main solo project and went for it. The name was fine and bared its nostalgic value.
‘In Oculus Abyss’ is not an exercise in easy listening, for the untrained ear that is, plus the subject matter (existential philosophy) could be too abstract for your average metalhead. What motivated you to connect the worlds of music and philosophy?
“Good Question, for it was no conscious decision to do so and this makes me think about what I do in context to the metalscene haha. Obviously I am aware that I operate in a niche. Experimental and avant-garde music has become my instinct when writing anything, so that is what I do. I love complexity and although I am not per se a virtuoso on any specific discipline I really like to add a lot of layers and detail to my work.
As for the theme: I am an existentialist, an absurdist to be exact. It’s what keeps my mind occupied all the time. What is reality? What does good and evil mean in any given context? etc etc. I’ve been reading a lot for the last few years. Obviously, though not strictly, a lot of philosophy. I started with some basics like Plato and all too soon moved to the nihilists and existentialists. What I like about these philosophers, such as Dostojevski and Camus, is that they play with these themes and questions in fictional stories and work out real complex characters.
After reading some of these books I really felt the black metal vibes pumping through my veins and it’s so easy for me to get inspired by these ambiances, that I decided to bluntly write an album based on existentialist literature haha. And yes, the metal scene in general can be rather simple or even primitive, yes. But oh well, for me metal is about freedom, diverging and expressing yourself without any compromises. I can honestly say that Teitan has become a way for me to really express myself and if I were to create a following, it should consist of people who can appreciate exactly that. It’s fine to actually be part of a small group of people that shares an acquired taste for music and other intellectual subjects.”
In addition to the previous question: apart from your musical and philosophical influences, what other interests do you process in Teitan?
“I really like to work out themes. So for ‘Vákuum’ (2021) I wrote five songs where each song represented a theory of how the universe could end. I involved my love for theoretical physics. For ‘Weight of the Void’ (2019) I worked out a story where I involved my love for ancient societies and their religions. It dealt with a delusional patient that believed he lived in old Sumer and was preparing for a war with the Anunaki. And for future releases I plan to do something with my abhorrence for religion -oh yes, how original, I know. But remember: my expression without compromises- or maybe I work out something from my leftist activist sentiments or my love for psychedelics. And there is always more to say about philosophy and science of course. Also I am really interested in dark and abstract art. Not strictly abstract, I like just enough gestures that the art piece will tickle my curiosity in a sensational fashion. This can be done by anything from photographic art to digital art or acrylic paintings.”
The stunning artwork that graces ‘In Oculus Abyss’ was painted by Manuel Tinnemans (AKA ComaWorx known for his collaborations with Deathspell Omega, Pentacle, Urfaust and Misþyrming among others). How was it to work with Manuel?
“Really good actually! Manuel is one of a kind and I was glad to involve him early on in the process so we had the chance to take the time and inspire each other during the process.
I did an extended foto shoot of my eyes in all kinds of facial expressions at his request. He wanted to make the artwork as personal as possible.
We first met in person at one of his expositions at the Roadburn festival and he is really easy to talk to and his creative eye is overwhelmingly intense. Like you probably have figured by now, I am somewhat of a DsO-fanboy and when looking for an artist for a new Teitan release I looked up who did my favorite album cover (Drought) and that turned out to be Manuel. So I immediately contacted him and showed him my first raw sketches I made for the album and he instantly liked it and the rest is history.”
The titles of “Menstrual Blood and Pomegranate”, “Murder Me” and “Public Masturbation” immediately grab the attention of the reader. I have tried to figure out what you are singing to get a better understanding of what they are about, but to no avail. Can you shed some light on said lyrics and what they deal with?
“Oh, with pleasure! “Menstrual Blood and Pomegranate” is about Jean Baptiste Grenouille from Patrick Süskind’s ‘Das Parfum’. I’m not sure if the book is considered by others a work of existentialism, but it definitely is to me. The character offers us a window to a strange reality through a crippled mind and deals with morality with an exclamation on the senses. Smell in particular. He kills women to extract their scents for his perfume collection.
“I bathe myself in sweet perfume. Made from the maid, menstrual blood and pomegranate. A base of fear and a heart of hate, menstrual blood and pomegranate.”
“Murder Me” is about Camus’ ‘The Stranger’ and deals with morality in a way more direct way. And because of that blunt directness, I wanted to zoom in on some aspects that stand out to me personally. The lyrics deal with only the last few pages of the book, where the consequences are actually about to kick in and the main character (Salamano) deals with it in such a fantastic way. He seems to understand his position in society and decides to go all for it. The night before his execution he gets visited by a priest trying to save his soul, but Salamano instead tells the priest that he is already redeemed and that it is in fact the priest that still cowardly rakes his own redemption for living and dying. The next day he approaches the guillotine with a grin on his face, hoping that all the people at the town’s square will greet him with nothing but sheer hate.”
The first single “Murder Me”
“I watch as the sun goes down, I wait as my time passes by, I no longer feel the fear, cause I know my end is near…”
“Public Masturbation” is about the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes the cynic. He was truly an early punk. He lived in a wine barrel and owned nothing but a bowl to eat and drink from and later even disposed of that as well, for there was nothing more fulfilling than to live as a dog. The people looked up at him and praised his wisdom. One time Alexander the Great asked if he could offer him anything. He would grant any wish: a mansion, women, money… really anything. And so Diogenes asked him to take one step to the left so Alexander the Great would no longer block his sun. Publicly masturbating was one of his common practices to battle his ego.
“I am a man, I am a dog. I have no desires other than to be in the here and now.”
Also, could you tell me something about “The Die Is Cast”? Since it resonated with me the most.
“That is so nice to hear! It is actually my favorite song from this album as well! The Die is Cast deals with Plato’s book on The Trial and Death of Socrates. Socrates was set to trial for his critical view on society and how he teaches his young followers to adopt this style as well. The jury decided that he had two options:
1. retire from all of his teaching and other duties and enjoy a life of luxury.
2. take a poison that will kill him within minutes
Obviously he chose the latter. And in this book Plato includes all Socrates rants on truth and honesty. What stood out the most to me from all this is that I began to see it like a decision between luxury or legacy. Because this action made Socrates immortal. We are still discussing his views on society, truth and existence. While probably the court of Athens just wanted to silence him, but instead they let his words echo through our academies for thousands of years. And what a theatrical way to conclude your life, such a bombastic outro to such a meaningful journey. That is how I wanted the song to flow as well.”
As the sole member of Teitan, how do you go about and keep overview of the whole writing and recording process? Is it all you? Or do you spar with a trusted set of external ears?
“I have a few good friends that I always consult when I make something. Rami from Cthuluminati (and my bestie for life) always has a thing or two to say about songwriting and Floris always has a few helpful critiques on the sound when my mixes are taking shape. and Gerhans is always there to cheer for me (together with Floris and Rami of course) when I need some validation. But I do like the fact that I can make all my creative decisions. Not that I don’t like to share my creative processes in my other musical endeavors. But this is my personal outlet where I specifically enjoy this freedom.”
Will Teitan remain a studio-project? Or are there plans to turn Teitan into a live entity as well? Subsequently: what lies ahead in the foreseeable future?
“I am going to turn the order of this question around. Because it is easier to start with what lies ahead in the foreseeable future. I really want to master making fantastic albums. I am far from done with everything I could do with Teitan. And I don’t know if it will ever attract a serious following. But if it does and I have a decent discography to exhibit, I would definitely do at least a few live shows.
Anything else that you might want to say or add?
“Yes, in fact I do. A short note on artificial intelligence and its possible impact on music and artists. Because what music has always meant to me is connection. Metalheads built their identity around the metalscene and often express themselves through a particular set of bands that represents their specific interest in metal. And having a band is more than just a weekend activity and an artist is more than just a person that puts notes in a particular order. So don’t be afraid of what AI might do to music. Just keep focussing on the people that take everything they can get their hands on to express themselves in order to be seen and establish a connection with you. As long as there are people, there will be artists. Making art should first and foremost be about connection rather than careers. Let’s hope that all these developments will drive honest and dedicated artists more into the spotlights than ever!”
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