Interview: Hortus Animae Talks About Their Regeneration Process, Spiritual Matters and Doomsday
After a long hiatus, the legendary avant-garde, progressive, extreme metal outfit known as Hortus Animae (Garden of the Soul) are back after a long hiatus and better than ever with their fourth release Secular Music. Frontman Martyr Lucifer speaks about their regeneration process, as well as the band’s original formation, and a collection of bonus material that will soon be available. We also discuss some rather complex spiritual matters, ending with his thoughts on doomsday.
You have been together for over 10 years, but there was a long pause between your last album and Secular Music. Why did you resurrect Hortus Animae now?
Oh yes, it’s been a very long rest. Well, we kept ourselves busy with the most diverse music projects, Grom with his rock band Testing Tomorrow, Bless with his acoustic project Nashville & Backbones, Hypnos with a Tarantino-inspired project called The Gangstar, and I had started my own solo goth project Martyr Lucifer, beside working with Space Mirrors. The idea of starting Hortus Animae again had been buzzing around already for a number of years, but due to our schedules, we never had time to meet and seriously talk about it. But it evidently was inside of us during all of those years. Grom started sending me emails telling me to restart Hortus Animae three or four years ago, but my response always was, “I don’t know, we don’t have time…” Despite that, the idea was growing in me as well. Then, when we released both the Funeral Nation boxset in 2008 and its “pocket version” Funeral Nation MMXII in 2012, we saw from the great feedback of press and fans worldwide that our name had been kept alive in spite of the many years of inactivity, which made the idea stronger. So one day Hypnos, Bless, and I met and I told them, “So guys, let’s do it?” and… We did it!
What were your influences for Secular Music?
The influences thing is always a tough question. We all listen to very different kinds of music, even far from metal. So, I really don’t know. One thing I’ve noticed is that the record sounds much more progressive than the previous ones, there’s something that reminds me of King Crimson in terms of atmosphere. Also this album contains sounds (especially synth sounds) that are contemporarily more vintage and more modern, sounds we haven’t used before; so I think we could mention King Crimson again, as well as Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails. Shades of Meshuggah appear here and there with the guitar sound and some rhythmic patterns that are really twisted and “excessively” heavy. Of course everything mixed with what has always been known as the Hortus sound. Yet as a matter of fact, we weren’t keeping these names in mind during the songwriting process. We only noticed such shades as soon as the record was done.
Where did you record and what was the atmosphere in the studio?
Drums have been recorded in the U.S. by Steven Leavitt at his Leavittation Studio. Then we recorded everything else at Domination Studio (RSM) with our trusted sound engineer Simone Mularoni, who also gave us a hand as session bass player. Once we had the drum files, we then proceeded with bass, guitars, keyboards, and vocals. Getting to the mixing/mastering process took something like a couple of months, maybe three. The atmosphere in the studio was great, relaxed, and productive. Simone Mularoni is a great producer and a great friend who is always able to put you at ease, and he takes the best from you on every occasion. In the end, we all were extremely satisfied with all of our performances when we heard the first pre-mix and still had the chance to modify/re-record something still remaining in the budget. However, we decided that it sounded great the way it was.
How far back does the material on Secular Music go? Is there anything left over that may end up on a future record?
No, it’s all new material. We had some old riffs that haven’t been used. We wrote everything through a lapse of time of a year between 2012 and 2013. I personally gave the guys something like 40 riffs from which they chose for the seven songs on the album. The rest of the album is the work of Hypnos and Bless, and then we assembled everything together. So there is some material left for future songs, but we don’t know if it’ll be used because we keep writing stuff and we prefer to use something that is fresh.
Godless Years is a collection of B-Sides that spans the band’s history. Why weren’t these songs included on the official albums? What are the strongest tracks?
The fact is, except for the songs “Ungrateful Fate,” “Melting Waters,” and the rough instrumental versions of our Dead Can Dance cover medley, they’re not B-Sides. Instead, they’re complete works that could be published as bonus discs to accompany our previous albums. But we never did that. A portion of this material had been inserted in the Funeral Nation boxset, but it was a limited edition that completely sold out, so not everyone could grab it. Godless Years contains the promo version of the whole Waltzing Mephisto album (a completely different mix and master from the official release and without the violin parts, later recorded by Moonbeam of Iblis), as well as a previously unreleased live recording in 2002 made up of six tracks, and the entire An Abode for Spirit and Flesh demo, which was originally released on cassette in 1998. So, a total of 24 rare and unreleased tracks in a two-CD set packaged in a deluxe DVD style case, that forms together with Funeral Nation MMXII (which contains our three albums The Melting Idols, Waltzing Mephisto, and The Blow of Furious Winds in a two CD set) compose the ultimate collection for the die-hard Hortus Animae fans. It’s literally everything that we’ve ever produced. Moreover, we liked the idea of cleaning out the closet before starting something new. I’d also like to talk a little about the tracks “Ungrateful Fate” and “Melting Waters,” which are tributes to our local extreme metal scene, friendly called Ariminvm Death Squad. These are two covers from two great bands, Entity and Baratro, who have been very important for our scene and our musical growth, but sadly split up too early. I recommend that people check them out if they have the chance.
Are there more covers we have yet to hear? Unless you don’t want to ruin the surprise…
Well, it’s not a secret, because it was already stated in some old press release that we wanted to record Deep Purple’s “Child in Time” and WASP’s “The Great Misconceptions of Me,” but then we decided to focus only on Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” (because otherwise, the album would have an infinite running time). But we still want to record those two; maybe they’ll end up as bonus tracks on the next album, we’ll see. I also had an idea, which the guys from Hortus liked as well, to record the songs that we were playing in our rehearsal room right after we formed the band, in 1997 and 1998. A few names from the list are Tiamat and Candlemass, but I won’t reveal more as the project is not officially confirmed yet.
Lyrically, this album leans towards the anti-religious. What do you believe in? What do you hold true about the world and what do you wish to bring forth in your music? What inspires you?
When it comes to inspiration, it is hard to give a laconic answer, because inspirations can be taken everywhere, even when you expect it the least. Something you’ve read, or have seen, or some phrase heard somewhere, or an elusive thought can then grow into something more solid. By my nature, I am rather open-minded. I don’t like to push some concrete theme with lyrics nor with music, even though, as each one of us does, I obviously see everything through the prism of my personality. About the nature of my personal beliefs, I think that it is a rather personal question. I really don’t know how to make it short and not bore the readers. You know, I don’t see the so-called Satan and the so-called God as two different entities, respectively dressed in black and white. I see it more like as described in Vedic concepts. See for example, Shiva. He is the creator, preserver, and destroyer of all. Is he good, is he bad? It is something out and beyond those limited dogmatic lines. It is not in vain that all the known religions of the world (including pagans) take their roots from ancient Vedas. So this is the concept that I like, and not religion in the way that we see it now. It is something much deeper. Call it spirituality or whatever words you like, but something that is not separated from us, but yet flows through all our life, and that is life itself. A little shard of this concrete theme you can find better explained in the song “The Poison of the Naga” for example. Additionally, there was no grip to Satanism in Waltzing Mephisto (or our other works), because even there, the whole was expressed in a wider and deeper way. By my answer I think it’s understandable that I am strongly against all organized religions and how they have been sold to us since our tender ages. That’s what Mephisto represents.
How did the band first come about?
We formed the band in 1997, united with the ambitious aim to outclass metal (and non-metal) music genres and subgenres. It is an aim that has remained to this day. Just as any other band on the planet, we started off making covers of our favourite bands, and then we started to write our own songs while always trying to make something different and never wondering what people would expect from us. This has always been our biggest problem, but contemporarily also recognized as our best quality. I still remember a very old review of our demo tape. The reviewer kindly gave us the advice to decide which kind of music we wanted to play and, fortunately, such an idea never even crossed our mind.
The Dead Can Dance cover of “Windfall Introducing Summoning of the Muse” is like a metal ritual, with Liv Kristine’s vocals as icing on the cake. How did this track come about?
Dead Can Dance’s music is really inspiring and emotional. Helps you meditate. It was 2004, right? Well, Black Lotus Records were organizing that marvellous The Lotus Eaters tribute album and we were included in the bill. We made different listening sessions to decide which track to choose, but in the end, we had “Windfall” and “Summoning of the Muse.” Which one to pick? Well, both! And so we started working on our cover medley. When I contacted Liv Kristine she was really enthusiastic about the idea, and so we recorded it. It ended up on the tribute album and as a bonus track for The Blow of Furious Winds.
Would you consider yourself a practitioner or studier of the occult arts? If so, what advice would you have for those who wish to dabble into those studies?
I think that occultism (some might call it rites of spirituality, etc.) is not something to practice separately from life. That is, you close yourself in a room and start to tell some formulas (fatal to the flesh) dressed in a cloak of the colour that you prefer. I think that when a person really believes in something, it must not be something separated from his life. Not that in life one is dressed in a business suit, and then at night cuts the throats of black cats, (well, that actually happens, but you get my point, I’m sure). This way of occultism is kind of artificial to me. A person that is into something should see this path as an integrated part of his life. Everyone believes in different gods or philosophies, so to make a general example, I think that it is not nice to go to church and pretend to be a good Christian, telling Hail Mary ten times, and then go scream at your wife at home, for example. Spirituality is something IN you. Whatever belief a person has, it must be an integrated part of his life. So if you believe in something, believe and act according to your belief during every moment of your life, not only in a special place in a special time because someone said so. This is it. Hope I explained myself well! So yes, I live according to my beliefs. Call it occultism or whatever you like.
You also perform solo in Martyr Lucifer, and in Space Mirrors. How do these acts differ from Hortus Animae?
It’s completely different. With Hortus Animae, we play what we like to define as avant-garde progressive extreme metal, but with Martyr Lucifer I could sum it up as gothic rock/metal (prog influences remain, though), and Space Mirrors is an international space rock collective. One more difference is in the songwriting. With Hortus Animae, it’s teamwork, but in Martyr Lucifer, I am the one and only songwriter. In Space Mirrors, I have written a few things, but mostly I’m just their singer.
When you’re not playing music, what do you enjoy doing? What is your day job?
I enjoy nature and travelling when I can. I’m not into TV shows that much, but I do enjoy different films (especially horror and sci-fi, but not only) and documentaries. I used to read a lot, but now there’s too little time for it unfortunately. Beer and wine with friends are always welcome. As for my day job, I can just say it is instead a night job.
Finally, what do you think about the state of our world? Are we doomed to face the horrors of doomsday?
I think in every age people thought the same as we are thinking now. History knows a great number of foretellers and there is a long list of years “of the end of the world.” It starts from what history has remembered since 634 BC up until the present. The list is impressive! So I think that it is about our conscience. There is that voice inside that is telling us that we are doing something wrong and we are scared. So yes, in some way, I believe in this doomsday, but not in its classic description and not necessarily must it be horrible. I mean that everyone will die, it is so even if we all, inside of us, think that it will happen to someone else, but not to us. But this doomsday will come for everyone. I think there is a way that we pull through, but you see, I don’t believe in general progress. That is, the general progress that everyone is talking about. I mean, look around. There are new medicines, yet more and more people get seriously ill all the time. There are new peace campaigns, but people still continue to die from wars and other acts of violence as it has always happened. Every little blade of grass, or a huge mountain and even the Earth itself is not getting any younger or better. There is a part of illusion when everything blossoms and then becomes old and dies. But I believe that there can be a personal growth and it can be achieved only through our own personal progress, development – the only progress existing in the world. That is, a person makes some work on himself or self-completion, which is the only way that the world can actually become better. Here I am with Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And so it remains that doomsday is different for everyone. As we all are on a different stage of a spiritual evolution.