I must confess that even though Shibalba has been a part of the Greek ritual/ dark ambient scene for some time now, apart from the occasional release or track I didn’t know much about them. And I’m Greek – shame on me. But after seeing them live in the ETOR Dark Ambient Festival, that will surely change. Their performance was, to say the least, mindblowing. A full-on magick ritual that was very detailed in all its aspects, from attire to decoration to the instruments used, and of course to the execution itself, which filled the room with a powerful, electric flow of energy, keeping everyone on their toes for the duration of the show. Explicit enough to keep you guessing, and hermetic enough to leave your guesses unconfirmed. Whether you’re a practicing magician aspiring to surpass Saruman himself, or think the occult is just another word for mumbo-jumbo, when you see Shibalba live you just have to pay attention. They simply leave you no other option.
True to the mysterious aura that we imagine to envelop such dark and fearful things, the band don’t reveal much about themselves. Apart from the frontman, Acherontas V. Priest, whose wordly denomination is occasionally accessible, the other members I could find no real names for. They prefer to remain in the shadows, and in reading this interview you will understand why – they want to shift the focus from themselves to their art, to allow it to imprint on and perhaps even change the listener. For them the music they make is a sacred, magickal act, and as such it should not be defiled by vulgar interpretations, or compromised by irrelevant, everyday references. Nothing should meddle with its effect. The rending of the Veil will take place in the listener’s mind and psyche. And it’s entirely his/ her affair. No preconceptions are allowed.
But Acherontas V. Priest and Aldra-Al-Melekh – who participated in answering our questions – will explain all this much better than me; so at this point I leave you to enjoy this very interesting conversation with the two band members.
[Interview by VITRIOL]
[Photos by Anna Belle]
When and how did your interest in underground music begin, and by which genres and names did you start exploring the scene?
Our contact with the underground scene goes back in time a long way, already from the mid 90s, where our exploration of various underground scenes began, parallel to black metal. From the first Cold Meat Industry dark ambient releases, even further back to Zero Kama releases, which constituted basic releases with regard to the musical field expressed by Shibalba.
What do you prefer to listen to in your free time? Could you define some of it as an influence?
Influences definitely exist… However we create under our own veil, since what we do is nothing more than to mirror our inner self through the use of these particular hermetic workings.
Tell us a few things about the history of Shibalba – when they were born and under which circumstances, as well as your career so far.
We were created in 2009. Up until then Acherontas was the project by which we expressed our most ritualistic aspects, through black metal. We weren’t interested in concerts at first, and even now we don’t consider them as a primary purpose. Specific rituals will take place only under specific circumstances. There are quite a few releases, each and every one of which expresses something unique and special with regard to what we aimed to create through our own empirism at each given moment.
The Shibalba Lodge was launched in 2009, initially in the form of a project, as a means of expression of an alternative, darker musical aspect of ours. Since then numerous releases and split releases have seen the light of day. More specifically, we always select collaborations with artists, or rather researchers, who don’t necessarily belong to the same path as we, but we share a common purpose. For art to create pathways for the mortal to be able to dream beyond matter, and what he perceives as real… to us this serves other purposes, and so we allow everyone to dream according to their own perception.
Why did you choose this name for your project?
The Shibalba name denotes many aspects of our musical and spiritual expression and practice. As in all the forms of art and expression that we deal in, the use of the name is symbolic and formulates a field of creation and charging, according to the vision we have for each release.
Apart from Shibalba you are also a founding member of Acherontas, that as far as I know started out as Worship, evolved into Stutthof and ended up as Acherontas. Tell us a few things about the band’s history, the various stages through which it progressed and what it communicates today.
The Acherontas coven has completed 20 years of presence. End of time… Two cycles have opened and closed since 1996, serving some particular purposes. A journey of spiritual decompression, giving flesh and bone to all our pursuits as beings.
What was the most negative experience you’ve had so far?
We don’t think there’s a specific and definite negative experience in the course of Shibalba. Everything in this form of art is being filtered through a prism different than the usual, a fact which makes us consider every event as a step of progress and further evolution in the path of Shibalba. There are no negative experiences, unless one believes in this dualism. We made sure to examine even our so-called negative experiences through the perspective of empirism, and in relation to how they may service us in our creation, will and evolution, rather than weaken us.
Would you say that the Shibalba sound is influenced by the obviously more metal elements of Acherontas, and the philosophy that the band conveys? Are the two projects in communion, so that we may claim that in a manner of speaking, they run a parallel course?
Surely there are common elements, but we don’t see a clear musical connection. Since the two projects have common members, surely there must be a direct spiritual link between them. We cannot separate the sources of inspiration or creation, whether these concern ambient or black metal. Consequently, since our spiritual sources are common and definite, the aura of each creation possesses a specific identity and charging, even if at first listen they belong to different genres.
To what degree do you believe that the listener should interpret one project with the aid of the other?
That’s up to every fan and listener, and to whether they feel they should connect the two experiences from listening to each of our outputs. It’s a clearly subjective matter for which we don’t have a clear position.
According to you, should the interpretation of your work be left entirely in the listener’s hands, or do you have some elements to suggest that would aid their journey – such as a text, a practice or something similar?
That is also a purely subjective element related to how the listener receives the result, and depends on one’s background in the scene. There are no unique, ideal ways and methods as to how one should perceive art, other that listening under the circumstances most suitable for each genre. Through experiencing the music and accompanying texts for each release, the listener can obtain information as to where and what they should research to investigate on a deeper level. We don’t wish to simplify the matter any further, out of respect for our creation and the uniqueness of each listener’s experience.
Every one chooses their dream on their own. The path is lonely and hermetic.
In your opinion, is occupation with occultism, and its practical or theoretical knowledge considered a prerequisite to understand your work, or can it be enjoyed by someone not at all versed in these subjects?
As mentioned above, there is no specific data by which to approach our work, as it constitutes a form of musical and spiritual expression. From the moment that a sincere approach and will exists, a significant part of the experience offered by the result has already been accomplished.
Judging by the content and concept of both projects, I assume that apart from music a plethora of other influences must exist, such as artistic, occult, cultural, historical etc. Could you mention some of them and connect them to the Shibalba output?
There is a large amount of influences and effects behind each member; each of us receives and draws elements from a summation of experiences and influences. Personal occupations, cultural influences from various cultural and historical elements and experiences find their way to creation and expression through our releases. Our empiricism is the source of our creation… it is the core and source behind our art.
Delving a bit deeper into the occult element, as a listener/ reader of the accompanying texts, I discern elements from many different traditions, such as Assyrobabylonian, Sumerian and Egyptian occultism, Tibetan lore, Shamanism and so on. Is there a driving force behind this hermetic syncretism? A common inspiration remaining active throughout all of your practices?
It’s a fact that all traditions move and evolve on interconnecting axes, beyond the human factor and common perception. If we examine their core, we will discover many common elements and references confirming this interaction. This common axis is expressed in an absolute manner through our own practices as well, and naturally this extends to a spiritual, musical and creative level.
In the Acherontas page there are brief mentions of Luciferianism, astral projection, lucid dreaming, astral vampirism etc. I will venture therefore to ask at this point, what your personal magickal practices are, and how you manage to reconcile them as a group.
Our individual practices and methods are something purely personal, related to each member’s own path, and we are not able to elaborate further than the references already published.
Being fortunate enough to see you live at the ETOR Dark Ambient Festival recently held in Athens, I was given the opportunity to understand to some degree, how you incorporate the performance of magick into your stage presence. I would like to clarify a few more things in relation to that. For example in that particular live you made use of symbols and objects originating in Western esotericism, but the ritual contained some intense shamanic elements, that brought Northern Shamanism to mind, and more specifically the Aural Hypnox projects. Is that a valid assumption? Tell us a few things about the structure of that live performance, and what exactly it was.
Every Shibalba live performance is a magick ritual, beyond the fields of common musical expression or influence. It would be erroneous to attempt such a comparison or analysis in such a short amount of time. Even the connection of magickal currents and traditions in a practical question regarding the concert would constitute a wrong approach.
Speaking of the ETOR Dark Ambient Festival, it was quite possibly the biggest post-industrial event ever to take place in Athens. How did it feel being a part of the whole thing?
It was a great honour to participate in such a special event, with projects that are possibly among the most influential and historical in the dark ambient genre. Such events rarely take place in this scene, even more so in Greece. For Shibalba it was a unique occasion, providing the necessary foundations and vibrations for the presentation of our art through a dynamic ritual.
Are you happy with the audience’s attendance and response to your performance?
Audience participation was mostly based on fans and listeners from abroad, which was remarkable, since the Greek audience did not support the event as they should have. Unfortunately we have entered an era where the listener would rather listen to music on Youtube than substantially support artists. This is true for the whole of the music scene, but it causes a big impression in the dark ambient scene, as one would expect that the particularity of the scene would call for a more hardcore fan support.
I imagine you got the opportunity to watch some of the other projects and get to know some of the other musicians. Which of the live performances did you find most striking, and which acquaintances and conversations caused the biggest impression on you?
It was indeed a great opportunity to re-establish contact with old acquaintances and collaborators, as well as to watch their shows. It’s not easy to separate or distinguish one particular performance when there’s talk of such artists; all the performances were unique.
Do you think that the state of things in Greece as it has formed during the last 5-6 years affects the creative process of an underground artist? Were things better before for you, or do you not see a serious difference?
For us personally I don’t see a difference. We’re doing the same thing now that we were doing 20 years ago. Only our free time is less due to obligations… However Will overcomes Matter.
As Shibalba you have recently published your collaboration with Alexey Tegin and his project Phurpa, ‘Teachings of the Eastern Traditions’. How did the collaboration come up and what does it symbolize?
We met at an Acherontas tour in Russia, where they opened the festival in a unique way. Sharing the stage with them was an honour for us, and a rare experience. We developed a friendship from the first moment, we spent some time together and maintained contact, so that it was only a matter of time for the rest to occur, out of the mutual respect that prevailed. Our first collaboration took place through my label, when I published two of their releases.
About a year ago you founded the Zazen Sounds label, that as you state in the label page is occupied with the spiritual background of musical art. How did you decide to found your own label, and what is its orientation more or less?
Out of my love for the genre, dating back many years. Also, in Greece something of the kind never existed, and I wanted to support the genre in communicating the message that music is an artform directly connected to philosophy, and not just plain music. Unfortunately in Greece the label is not yet known, and I don’t believe it will happen in the future, if we take unto consideration the fact that 9 of our releases are sold out, and I’ve only executed 20 orders in total originating from Greece!!
What are your plans for the immediate future, concerning your two projects as well as the label?
Yesterday (June 7th 2016) our tenth release as a label was announced, an Acherontas/ Nastrond split. By the end of the year two more unique releases will take place. We also have many shows and planned releases at hand, for both projects.
Is there a message that you’d like to address to our readers?
Will over Matter.
Thank you very much for conceding us this interview, and our best wishes for the future.
Thank you very much for your interest and support.