Barshasketh // In Conversation

Last month found The Round Up Tapes exploring Barshasketh’s newest record, Barshasketh, and further to that study a conversation with Krigeist and GM was had. Below are the results of that conversation which was conducted via email.

For those not familiar, what is the history of Barshasketh? How did the band come together and how has the geographical distance that now exists affected the way the band works?

Barshasketh started off as Krigeist’s solo project over a decade ago. After he relocated to Edinburgh in 2010, he set about piecing together a lineup from local musicians, initially strictly for the purpose of playing live shows, but in time some of these live members were made permanent. Unfortunately, just as we were settling on a stable lineup, Krigeist ended up having to leave the UK in 2014 as his visa was revoked and BH, our drummer at the time, ended up leaving the band due to some rather unfortunate family issues. Undeterred by these logistical challenges, we continued to work on our music remotely and replaced BH with MK. We simply fly in members and plays shows with very minimal or non-existent preparation- as crazy as this arrangement seems, it actually works surprisingly well thanks to the discipline and dedication of each of our members in preparing the material individually.  

As it stands we’re spread across three different countries, and no two members are even based in the same city. Although it’s not always easy to do what we do, as long as we feel we’ve got something to say as a band, we’ll find a way of making things work.

Photography: Porta Atra

Self-titling the new record is bold move this far in your career – many artists do this as a debut or demo as a sort of introduction, what prompted this decision and what does the band name mean to you at this point?

I think that what led to the decision to self-title the new album was a deep realization of what it is we do – it can be considered to be a form of second birth for the band.  In a sense we are returning to the fundamentals themes that inspired us in the beginning, but from an elevated perspective and place of greater intellectual clarity, and what better way to do this than by tackling the esoteric concept behind our band name? For those who are unaware, our band name derives from the Hebrew Be’er Shachat, which roughly translates as ‘Pit of Corruption’. It’s a multifaceted metaphysical idea related to the Qliphoth, concerning how the self exists in a cyclical process which undergoes phases of destruction, purification and rebirth.

Occult practice is not a new thing within the black metal world but it seems as though Barshasketh are interested in the esoteric far more than the average band; lyrically and artistically – what experience does the band have with this and what does it bring to your “normal” lives?

It’s absolutely central to what we do- in fact Barshasketh can rightly be considered to be the vehicle through which we explore our spirituality. Valuable insights can be gleaned through various means; meditation, psychedelics- even doing something completely mundane can bring about moments of clarity. Thought these moments are fleeting and few and far between, they do enrich our lives and understanding of ourselves in a more permanent way. That said, the flipside is that as your knowledge becomes more refined, new questions arise that you hadn’t previously considered- so it’s a case of the more you know, the less you know in a sense. For this reason, a certain degree of humility is appropriate when talking about these concepts.

What kind of reading have you done in order to inform the lyrics?

The lyrics take inspiration from a variety of sources and it’s important to stress our independence from any given spiritual movement. There was a conscious effort not to draw on any specific texts too heavily when approaching the lyrics for this album, as we wanted our message to be our own pure expression derived from our own experience and undiluted by dogma. In search of the appropriate vocabulary, we borrowed terms from a variety of sources, from Norse mythology, to Hinduism, to Biblical references. As such, the presence of a specific term in the lyrics does not necessarily denote adherence to the spiritual path with which it’s associated, but can illustrate a narrow convergence in thought between ourselves and it or can simply be illustrative to some degree.

Our thinking on the subject of magic is not dissimilar to that of Alan Moore- specifically in defining magic in broad terms as the manipulation of words and symbols to affect a change in consciousness. Taking this as our starting point we can conceive that Art as a whole is magic and magic is Art. Through artistic pursuits, we are exploring and gaining new insights into ideas and concepts that exist (sometimes exclusively) in the human mind. Hence, we can draw inspiration from texts which are not considered to be ‘occult’ in nature.

The cycle of life, death and rebirth seems to feature prominently in the record – is this something that was obvious throughout the construction of the album or was it something that only became known afterwards? Is this an aim of the band – to reinvent and to reflect?

This idea has been somewhat of a common thread throughout our work, we’re often aiming to achieve some kind of transformative spiritual reconstitution. The general outline of the theme was of course known before we started working on it- but a new level of understanding of the subject was reached as part of the composition process. There is one line in particular in the lyrics to Ruin I that sort of encapsulates the whole idea in a rather neat way:

Swirl in a maelstrom of nihility

And in the deepest circle of perdition

Reassemble, to be reborn in stronger cast

So then, what does this process mean to you as a band? To be reborn? How is this something that you take into your lives?

We’re talking about a kind of spiritual reconstitution here, informed by new insights. It can be a difficult, even unpleasant process, but we come out the other end of it strengthened and a little wiser too.

How does the band move forward in terms of lyrical concepts and personal feelings as to gaining experience through ritualistic experience?

There isn’t any formal structure through which we convene and discuss these ideas- conversations between us on these matters are sparked in a spontaneous way. Ultimately, as far as we are concerned, the process of understanding the self and what surrounds it is something that is fluid and undergoes a constant re-evaluation. Nothing is taken for granted.

I would also like to take a moment to clarify that our understanding of what constitutes ritual goes far beyond some of the stereotypes that immediately come to mind and essentially encompasses any sequence of words or gestures that carry meaning to the person performing them.

Rituals are very personal, of course – what kind of ritualistic practice do you undertake? Is it a private moment or something that you can involve other people in – group. Meditation or psychedelic substances for example? Are these things that enable you to understand more of the physical world?

A ritual can take many forms and does not necessarily reflect some of the clichés that immediately come to mind. Our understanding of the concept is that a ritual can be any sequence of motions or words with meaning to the person performing them- this can take place individually or in a group setting. For instance, in our case, the act of playing music is a ‘ritual’ in and of itself, during which one can transcend the mundane. On a personal level, meditation has become a daily ritual and has enhanced my understanding of the world and my own place within it. I have recently started to incorporate some more advanced breathing techniques into my daily practice such as Bhastrika Pranayama, which is a means through which you increase oxygen flow to the brain. This opens up a different mode of consciousness because your brain no longer functions in a normal fashion.

The future looks extremely promising with many big appearances already planned – what goals do you have as a band?

We try not to set any specific goals. The only real objective that we have is producing releases that are in keeping with the standards that we set for ourselves. As for the rest, we’ll of course seize opportunities that are of interest as they arise, but these are secondary to our own personal fulfilment, which is the driving force and kernel from which everything stems for the band.

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