The Transcending Spirit
Always more than a ‘relevant’ band item in the musical sense, Floridian death metal high achievers Morbid Angel have at all times had a spiritual disposition behind their serpentine guitar sprawls that’s as astounding as, say, the first four bars of “Maze of Torment”. In their world, death metal has hardly ever, at least not after the early days with David Vincent, come to mean so much an act of destruction as creation. Irrefutably, this outlook does not converge with the widely held paradigms of the genre. Morbid Angel guitar deity Trey Azagthoth does not care about the typical death metal claptrap, insisting on drawing his personal conclusions from this, that and t’other thing.
“To me, to destroy is only useful if you’re trying to clear a path so that you can build,” Azagthoth states. “Tearing down to build only makes sense. Tearing down just to tear down doesn’t make too much sense to me. I think that we find joy in building and creating. I think that’s more exciting. But sometimes there are things that block us. Sometimes we have to break out of the chains; we have to get tough and use a lot of force to break free. But once we’re free we should realise that now it’s up to us to decide where we’re going to direct our thinking and how we’re going to direct our lives. I think it’s more useful to direct our lives towards something that is more about love and joy and fun. How about fun, haha? Had any good times? I think that’s what we all really want to decide… to have fun in our own way.
“Death metal is usually about people who are kind of unhappy about some things and they’re basically rebelling in some way, tearing down stuff that is in their way. It’s some kind of violence associated with stuff like that. People are unhappy only because they have basically some gods over them. We create our own reality. That’s what I believe. I think some people use death metal as a way of venting out their frustration. I’m into the music just because it’s powerful and exciting. I’m not interested in crushing anything to be honest with you.”
In Trey’s mind death metal, his variation of it, links itself strongly with the notion of self-determination. It is always on his own inner self that a man relies on, and hence the art of death metal is also the art of subjectivism.
“Basically it is about doing things the way you want and not having to fit into any guidelines. Not having any rules other than the rules you make. Not being concerned with any genres. Just writing music as a more pure experience, and to me this music is that kind of thing. It’s only limited to the limits of the artist, and it allows openness for anything that’s possible to manifest. So that’s the way I interpret it. I think of it as a way to really go for it and explode and not have any rules that say, ‘Oh, that’s too much’.
“It’s a way to be yourself and be able to continue that way. I haven’t had to work a job. This music supports me in my life. It’s comfortable, it’s okay. I don’t make millions of dollars by any means but I don’t have to work at a car wash either. So basically it allows me to just continue being a free artist and not having to deal with silly things you might have to deal with, some job you have to do or someone tells you to do. Nobody tells me what to do. So it really supports my freedom. I think that’s probably the coolest thing about it.”
For what today seems like an eternity, Morbid Angel have been the objects of a deafening amount of reverence and adulation from death metal trainees the world over. Whether it has been the voluptuously evil vocal spitting of David Vincent, the phenomenal rhythm acrobatics of sticksman Pete Sandoval or, indeed, the ornate guitar wizardry of Trey Azagthoth, fanatics and professionals alike have soaked up every transcendent resonance the band have produced with a distinctive feel of respect. For Trey, there is nothing extraordinary as such about what he does with Morbid Angel, other than that to him it serves as a tremendous source of energy.
“It’s just what I do. It’s just normal, daily stuff. It’s just ‘a day in the life of…’ Not all that spectacular. It is the kind of music that I’m into. It is representing what I think it is about and the kind of thing I’m into. For me to say that it is spectacular would be arrogant to talk like that. It’s just what I do. I just do it. And everybody can do it. I’m not any better that anybody else. It’s just my decisions. I make certain decisions and choices with the way I look at things and what I believe and what I do. That gets me to where I am. I mean, there it is, haha. Without any intervention of spirit it would probably just be boring. But to me it’s a blow of the creator. And that’s my purpose—to play the instrument to allow things come through and maybe that’s why it has some other dimensions.”
When it gets to the ideas that manoeuvre the whole organism, Trey opines Morbid Angel is not so much about all those things it is so often associated with—mysticism, an aura of intellect, occult interests, Lovecraftian ethos and Sumerian philosophy—as it is about the simple dictum of ‘thinking for yourself’.
“Think for yourself, form your own truths and realise that there’s no meaning to anything other than that which you give to it. That’s really about it. The rest of it is just a bunch of babbling, haha. It’s a bunch of information. People can take it however they wish. We’re not telling people of a new way of living or a new doctrine or anything like that. It’s just the same old stuff. People have been talking about it as long as they’ve been talking. So it’s all the way back to Plato’s story about the allegory of chaos. There’s a lot of power in thinking for yourself. It helps people to find their higher self and flow with the universe. Connect on a high level with all things and find this wonderful joy. That’s kind of what it is for me.
“It’s more fun to think of oneself as the one truly responsible for their own worlds as opposed to saying like, ‘Well, my world is screwed up because of all of these things outside of me’. I don’t know, maybe that’s the way I push others. There’s a lot of different people who listen to what I’m talking about and in the end they might use it for their own. But I really do believe that reality is in our minds. It’s inside the mind. And I think it’s all about interpretation.
“I only hope to inspire people to search out on their own and not to accept any of my stuff as some kind of truth because it is not, really. I don’t believe that there are really any truths anyway. I think that it’s basically just suggestions, ideas and it’s only to inspire people to search within their own heart and find their own ideas and truths and create their own worlds because I think that’s, as a person of human, our gift. To be able to use our mind. And our mind is so powerful it will be able to create all these great things but it can also cause us to live in prison and cause us lots of harm if we don’t think in a useful way. What’s a useful way? I can’t tell you or anyone else, I can only share my insights and that’s about where I leave us.”
Morbid Angel’s most recent studio album, their eighth in all (if you count in Abominations of Desolation), is called Heretic. Two years in the waiting, the album makes a much stronger case musically than its predecessor, the sadly average Gateways to Annihilation. It still isn’t the Works, but it might be getting there. Thematically, Heretic is said to take a particular interest in numerology. How is that? Enlighten us, Trey.
“Numerology is a little part of the record for sure. It’s not what the whole record is about, it’s basically just a small part of it. Actually numerology is some form of order. You can study numerology on the web and there are all different types of interpretations but it’s basically just a sequence, a form of statistics. It’s made by people, it’s not real. It’s just like the alphabet, maths and all that. It’s a big generalisation of association in some hidden underlining way. In other words, you take the letters of a word, transform the letters of the word to numbers and then you take another word and transform it to numbers and in some way it has a connection. It’s kind of like that.
“It’s just systems. I think systems are there for us to play with. It’s just a way of communicating with other people. It certainly isn’t needed in communicating with the creator. The best way to communicate with the creator is silence.”
If we have numerology as a representative form of order in the blue corner, then it only follows that we have the bulky, endless figure of chaos as its opposite force in the red corner.
“It’s a dualism, like hot and cold, good and evil, right and wrong,” Trey notes. But: “I suggest to look beyond this. Chaos is something that is unsorted and full of surprises. It’s not boring because it’s always dynamic and changing. It’s like an adventure. The thing with order is that it’s kind of like a routine and then you become bored and repetitious, kind of like a robot. To me, there should be guidelines. I don’t think people should hurt each other, okay? I think that if anything would be considered bad it’s people hurting each other. I think that when people come from their heart there is no intention to hurt anybody. That’s the only guideline I think that is worthwhile. Just not hurt each other; somehow just accept people being like they are. Chaos is the opposite of order, it’s exciting. The universe is chaotic I think; how can you really measure the things that are going out there? At best, it’s all based on what we believe. But we change our belief; we change what we feel. Chaos is just stuff that’s unpredictable and slithering around and bent rather than straight… different, you know. I think chaos is pretty exciting.”
In Trey’s philosophy there is a clear dissociation between the Ego and the Spirit, and to him the Spirit is the consciousness of the mind. Essentially, what drives the guitarist to this consciousness?
“I don’t know any other way,” he candidly replies. “I kind of always somewhat had this kind of thing going on. I’ve always been interested in that. I’ve spend a lot of time by myself, to be honest. I’ve been away from the distraction of society. Someone who goes out to the deserts to meditate, they start to get a little closer to nature I think. A little further away from the thoughts of man. I’ve spent a lot of my life like that. I’ve come to my own conclusions. But I do believe that what I am is pure spirit. I just play the role of the human. I have belief but I am not my belief. I have a personality but that’s not what I am. I have ideas but I am not the ideas. I am not the total of my ideas. I’m the one who can think of all ideas. Not just me but all people. A human being is not how he manifests. He is the manifesto. So it’s something for everybody. In theory we are all the same; we’re not better or worse. There is no superiority or inferiority. We are all the same and there’s nothing to separate us. There’s no difference. It’s just that through our decisions and choices do we manifest different in life.”
Listening to Trey’s calm, deadpan words spoken with a great conviction, I notice the hair on my arms goes through a sudden electric treatment; surely a sign of encountering a man with an indisputable Vision. But from one type of signs to another; at some point Trey has made mention of the ancient ones—which hold a key position in the works of Morbid Angel—being mere titles, self-created entities. Then, what are the intuitions behind these marks of communication that he tries to bring forth, I ask. What is behind the surface?
“Only trying to inspire others”, comes the response. “Like I said, the whole message: there’s nothing more than just to think for oneself; to break free from the idea that there are, as society likes to tell us, such things as facts and that if you don’t do it this way you’re sick, you’re feared and so on—like the Christian crusades. They burnt and took people to prison if they didn’t believe in God. That stuff happens today, in a different way: you really don’t get burned at the stake, but there’s the same kind of thing going on. ‘We’re right and you’re wrong’. That whole way of thinking is limiting. I’m only just doing my little part, I’m not the only one. It depends on where you’re looking but there’s all kinds of people. Basically, we have the potential to create all things imagined. Our belief has a big impact on our world. Whatever we believe is like our perception filters, like the floodgate to our potential. It’s like programs in a computer. You have a really fast computer but you’re running some really old, ancient programs and you can’t really reach the potential of your hardware because your software is so old. You know what I mean?”
It’s a good way of putting it.
“The mind is amazing, better than any computer imagined. So I’m just doing my little part. I’m not only interested in or concerned with my own reality or my own world. But I’m not trying to change the world either. I’m only just trying to add my little insights of things like many others have—like Deepak Chopra, Plato and all these different people. There’s something about sharing with other people. I’m only sharing concepts and ideas. I’m not saying that what I say is right. It’s stupid to say that, I think. I’m just sharing my insights—not that I want people to believe what I say or follow me by any means. I would never want that. I only want people to maybe ask some questions and find their own part. If people already have it, that’s great. It’s not for everybody; it’s not like I think everybody’s lost by any means, that Deepak Chopra thinks that everybody’s lost, Plato thinks that everybody’s lost—I don’t think so. There’s something about sharing that you feel propelled to because it’s love. I guess that’s why I talk about these things. If I’m going to talk at all, I want to talk about something that’s interesting and exciting. To me there’s nothing more interesting than creating and tapping into power, or however you want to call it. So I guess that’s where it is.”
It would seem to the outsider, by perusal of interviews dating from the period between Covenant and Domination, that the guitarist was going through a shift of sorts in his thinking during those days, reshaping some of his earlier ideas about existence and how to absorb and understand the world. Looking at it from a much closer seat to the proverbial ring, Trey isn’t quite of the same opinion.
“I think I’m always growing and changing. Maybe I just didn’t do as many interviews during that span of time. Then I came out and had some different things to say. Me and David were sharing a lot of the interviews at that time and then during Formulas I pretty much did all the interviews myself. I think change is the only thing that is normal to begin with. I mean, change is continuous and dynamic. Growing is important and good. I think it’s just the ego that would say ‘Oh no no no, I’m not going to change, and I’m a little stupid’. I don’t believe I can. Other people could say that, but does that mean that I’ve changed? No. Because it’s only the way that I appear to other people and it’s determined by their reference, interpretation and reality. Is their reality mine? No it’s not. They have the right to think whatever they want. So basically yes, I am always changing and I’m sure I’m going to change even more. I hope so. I hope this is not it. I hope there’s a lot more and I’m sure there is. Maybe you can help me find it?”
Ceeertainly. What are some of the things you’ve learnt within the last few years?
“The last few years? Um… I was studying Deepak Chopra a couple of years ago and it was pretty strong stuff for me. So I would say the past few years I’ve been digesting it, heh, really contemplating it and seeing how it really works in my life. I don’t know what I’ve really learnt other than just maybe becoming more aware or realising the information that I’ve studied years ago. Seeing it clearer. So maybe I’ve been learning stuff that I read years ago and were kind of confused about. Sometimes it takes time, like with the Qabbalah. Any book about the Qabbalah says that you shouldn’t get into its message until you’re at least somewhat of an adult. This is a generalisation, but teenagers seem not to have had enough experiences to really take in what the Qabbalah has to teach. Maybe people need to be on this earth for a little longer or be around more things to really see what it’s talking about, to relate to it. I’ll put it that way. So sure, I think it’s the same thing for me with Deepak Chopra. What he says is pretty wild sounding at first for a Western being. I think he takes Eastern philosophies and puts a Western coding on them; a mix of science and things like that. It’s the Eastern stuff that’s pretty strange for us in the West because we have different ways of life and our cultures are different. Basically, to understand something you have to have some kind of reference or else it’s just flies in a soup, haha.”
With the notions of stillness/activeness, ego/spirit, unmanifest/manifest, there seems often to be a rather dualistic line to Trey’s thinking. In some ways, this polarisation he constructs appears to be at odds with the open-minded and appreciative spirituality he also cherishes. Any idea as to what is the source of this seeming dualism in your mindset, Trey?
“We exist on multiple levels or planes at the same time,” he says. “There’s the ego, there’s the soul and there’s the spirit. People can divide them as they will but for me it was useful to put them like that. Water is water. Water doesn’t recognise that it is in different cups or different containers, separated by space. It’s like when you come from a place, time or space, the ego, that’s when you notice that there’s a difference. So when you come from the place of water, water is water no matter how much time or space is between it. It’s still water. When you come from the high place of spirit, then you’re just one with everything and there are no words. There is no dualism. Everything is the same; things just work. That’s the way it is. It’s indescribable. If anything, we use words to help try paint a picture of our experiences. But the words are not the experiences. The words will not take another person to the experience, they will only maybe point him in the right direction. They will need to find it on their own and they might even use different words to describe the experience. Spirit becomes soul because the ego is involved separately. But spirit and soul are one. It just depends on where you come from. And of course, these are my words, my ways of looking at it. In other words, spirit is the water. Soul is the ego recognising that there is some distance between these two cups. It’s water and now it’s split apart and contained in these different containers and they’re meters away from each other. That’s the ego thinking. It thinks along those lines, it notices those things. But the spirit doesn’t. The spirit transcends them. Does that make any sense?”