Babylon Whores interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)

The Terminally Whored

Interview: Kuronen

there are never too many decent bands around to interview, we might as well start here. Not unlike numerous other entourages in this issue, Babylon Whores, Helsinki Finland death rockers extraordinaire, are currently resting in a parallel time-space-continuum that spells meth (מת) until proven otherwise.

Reading thoughts that were pushed out many moons ago should not frighten you, should it?

You are not a whore for time, are you?

So rewind. Prior to absorbing heavy untranslated German philosophy en masse, selling shirts for Nightwish at their US tour and translating artefacts of American pop culture of the more dodgy order, Ike Vil had some interesting points to make. This story concerns some of them, and while doing so, dries you up with a run of quasi-muso talk about Death of the West and other topics about as eternal. It is certainly something to stir your mind from the stupor, if only for a short while. So Ilkka, get ready to speak up.

First of all, the question that is perhaps the most basic of all: is Death of the West a hit?

“No. Neither is it a stab; maybe it’s a… slag.”

Whatever it is, it’s a slow album. You’ve grown old.

“Was noticed too. Roses and bitterness; tributes to old age. Too bad these stupid CD’s can’t be played on 45. As always, these things are part of a process that we only have limited control of.”

I’ve always liked to associate Babylon Whores with all kinds of stone materials—is this advisable or inadvisable? Exactly how durable are you?

“Always preferred Simon Magus over Simon Petrus. Sown in the wind, lost among ruins; the bad seed. Of Babylon Whores and its works, the parts thereof that are connected to tradition and transcendence will continue to live in one form or another, and be told again in another time and place. That which does not weather the storm will be washed away. Maybe that is good and proper. Favorite rock formations include gravestones, cairns and weathered statues.”

What of the acoustics and the tree of silence?

“Our old guitarist Ewo got really mad at me when I suddenly felt the essence, meaning and nature of a tree revealed to me and told him all about it; too much about it. As for its implications in this context, it could perhaps be said that this tree was made up of used toilet rolls that we painted green. Yet occasionally strange fruit appeared on its branches. Though many things could be done about it, the main and sole purpose in itself is to have the tree stand between the sky and the ground (roots down), something which we partly succeeded in.

“As conductors go, acoustics unfortunately too often takes a second priority in a long list of logistical requests at the end of a wrong rail-width railway. Natural resonance conquered by heavy metal. As always, I would want to explore other avenues so much.”

I suppose that’s so much. Do you think the level of far-fetchedness in the analogy between the golem as a robot and Death of the West as a constituent of the modern world correlates much?

“I guess not. In the wintertime of the west, the robot will care little of what is written on its forehead, its truth and death maybe spelled in the on/off switch. Quite a few things on the album monger some revolt against the modern world in between their lines, if you want to look into it that way. Then again it’s nothing new under the sun, and I should think it quite easy to submerge into the meaningful harmony of the Cycle, content in the safe passage of its eternal return. I do hope that not much of it is limited to its own isolated discourse. There has been a definite and growing ambition for the mentioned transcendence in what I write (since Cold Heaven I guess) to make it all worthwhile, especially as the albums seem to sell iron records in Shamballah.”

Listener-based interpretation is not a question of interpretation but a weak endeavour to propose vague answers. What absolute facts can you share about Death of the West?

“I do object to the nature of the question. Detached and dissected, maybe I could be pushed to acknowledge Cloakina as the goddess of the night stool and sewer, and thus a patroness of a branch of alchemy called black for a reason. Maybe she watches over Babylon Whores, too. Hell, everybody pays homage to her daily if their system runs smoothly. As for the physical conditions during the recording, I want most everything changed the next time.”

Two days ago perkele denoted the god of thunder in Lithuanian, yesterday it was an anti-god and today it’s a plain swear word. Have we lost something along the way?

“Yesterday’s gods sadly almost never fail to become the demons of today. And the trivialities of the day after. But when it comes to those words, they’re maybe not the most important things that have been robbed from us as pillars of a meaningful existence. People still do see black and white, though the ethics and belief systems governing that vision have basically no color at all anymore.”

It is said that one is at leisure when one invests time in signs or literature. How does one potentially feel when investing time in the absorption of Babylon Whores?

“I do disagree with the former; idleness is the father of greatness as the ancients knew, our time is unfortunately spent running after secondary, no, tertiary, bullshit to an extent yet unparalleled in history, leaving no time for contemplation at all. I do not know about the mental postures of the listeners; I do wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in any case.”

Are things easy or hard in Babylon?

“This one is easy; and to instantly contradict I really do think that nothing is easy.”

How thick a skin does a Babylon Whore need to have?

“Sloped form reduces the need of armor thickness. Everything is real, but not very much is true.”

IF THERE’S one thing that has reared its three-fold head in the last couple of years, it has to be environmentalism. But let’s talk about globalisation, the preceding sociopolitical contagion, which is also something Death of the West is indirectly connected to. The following is largely based upon some arguments put forth by an article entitled “Lisää globalisaatiota!” (“More Globalisation!” written by Paul Lillrank) that appeared in the local paper Aamulehti in November 2000. I asked Ike what kind of regards Christabel or Lucibel might send to Mr Lillrank.

“Well. Maybe it all boils down to us apparently having a profoundly different point of view—he talks about globalization from the viewpoint of economy. Quite a lot of people see it that way; as if culture is a manifestation of economy, and not the other way around. If they wouldn’t, I guess there wouldn’t be any talk about globalization in the first place.

“Let’s see. First it was local. There used to be a family, a fratria, a clan, a war party, and ultimately a state of sorts. They were bound together by two things, blood and soil, the organic principles of life around which a mystique revolved in religious forms. The kings were the trees between earth and heaven; their sole purpose was to be a bond and pawn of their own blood and soil to the heavens, and it all went hierarchically downwards. From today’s point of view it was static, static as in a cycle, where the meanings were logical echoes of a universal logic that was echoed throughout the seasons of life and beyond it. The world of peasant, soldier, noble and priest; plough forged to sword forged to plough. It has been called the silver age by the ancients.

“With technological development and the division of labor, that order was gradually replaced. The peasants left the country and came to the cities, and changing their loyalties of blood and soil to that of money became the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The economic meanings replace the mystical; blood turns to money, communal to individual, loyalty to contract, duty to self-fulfilment, sacred to profane, spiritual to material. Art no longer imitates life by representing ideals, but turns to an industry of popular culture that imitates life that tries to imitate the popular culture, or alternatively, wallows in the nihilism of the ugly (‘real art’). I can also see why few claim that it’s also solar become lunar and male become female.

“With the promise of infinite upward social mobility and the accompanying thrills in a world broken loose from its anchors, money is spent and made to produce and seek self-gratification, which actually enables a whole new playground and new toys to live your life by. “I want to be everywhere, with everybody, all of the time.” For the last thirty or forty years, people have been trying to study the alienation that comes with it. These times, I believe, have been called Kali-Yuga or Wolf Age. How come the slave is not happy when he is freed, o Horatio? Maybe the next logical step in the evolution is that corporations replace states. Maybe war, too, is finally abolished, for I guess that not very many people are willing to die for, say, Nokia. Suppose they gave a war and nobody came!

“Ultimately, it is a funny thing that the age of individuality greatly advocated by the American consumer culture seems to be actually responsible for the eventual liquidation of all cultural individualism. It is actually quite Oedipal; western culture goes west, returns home, kills own father and marries mom.

“One always has to be careful when talking about blood and soil, for those things were for obvious reasons implicitly demonized after the Second World War. The cowboys and Indians are dead, long live the cowboys and Indians—it is ironic that the people most visibly demonstrating against globalization also seem to have an anti-nationalistic agenda to them, and very often they also seem to sport the ideas derived from a Marxist-materialist economical theory; their opposition to globalization seems to be crystallized in their hate of the big companies as the capitalist exploitators. What’s sung in the International is just the other side of the coin; in this context, the choice between ‘globalization’ as multi-corporational economic liberalism or equalitarian-humanist leftism is not really bigger than that of choosing between a Big Mac and a Whopper.

“Maybe the times that saw Lucibel venerated in Lanquedoc were a bit simpler in their aspirations. I do admire all these people, like the one happy liberalist above, who have achieved the wisdom to pass judgement on the affairs of our brothers and sisters in faraway lands from a global viewpoint. These kinds of people are in dire need, for in current democracy everybody believes that somebody else will take care of it. Blood of the kings, maybe.”


The Only Band in the World: A Motörhand of Preference

Since there is a gig and interview coming and a Motörbinge (twenty-one albums, each listened to thrice, final chronological round with headphones, lyric sheets and massive volume in tow) going, here's a personal guide to the best and then the rest.

I Ace of Spades 1980 *****
II Motörhead 1977 *****
—ONE TO PRAISE: Motörhead ONE TO DROP: City Kids
III Another Perfect Day 1983 ****½
—ONE TO PRAISE: Shine ONE TO DROP: Tales of Glory
IV Overkill 1979 ****½
—ONE TO PRAISE: No Class ONE TO DROP: Metropolis
V Orgasmatron 1986 ****½
—ONE TO PRAISE: Built for Speed ONE TO DROP: Doctor Rock
VI Iron Fist 1982 ****½
—ONE TO PRAISE: Loser ONE TO DROP: I’m the Doctor
VII Rock 'n' Roll 1987 ****
VIII Bastards 1993 ****
—ONE TO PRAISE: Burner ONE TO DROP: I’m Your Man
IX March ör Die 1992 ****
—ONE TO PRAISE: March ör Die ONE TO DROP: Jack the Ripper
X Sacrifice 1995 ****
—ONE TO PRAISE: Sacrifice ONE TO DROP: Don’t Waste Your Time
XI Overnight Sensation 1996 ****
—ONE TO PRAISE: I Don’t Believe a Word ONE TO DROP: Them Not Me
XII Motörizer 2008 ****
—ONE TO PRAISE: Rock Out ONE TO DROP: The Thousand Names of God
XIII Bomber 1979 ****
—ONE TO PRAISE: Sweet Revenge ONE TO DROP: All the Aces
XIV Inferno 2004 ****
XV We Are Motörhead 2000 ***½
—ONE TO PRAISE: Wake the Dead ONE TO DROP: God Save the Queen
XVI Kiss of Death 2006 ***½
—ONE TO PRAISE: Sword of Glory ONE TO DROP: Christine
XVII Snake Bite Love 1998 ***½
—ONE TO PRAISE: Dead and Gone ONE TO DROP Dogs of War
XVIII Hammered 2002 ***
—ONE TO PRAISE: Red Raw ONE TO DROP: Shut Your Mouth
XIXThe Wörld Is Yours 2010 ***
—ONE TO PRAISE: Brotherhood of Man ONE TO DROP: Outlaw
XX 1916 1991 ***
—ONE TO PRAISE: Shut You Down ONE TO DROP: Angel City
XXI On Parole 1979 ***
—ONE TO PRAISE: Lost Johnny ONE TO DROP: On Parole


Ataraxia interview from Qvadrivivm #4 (2001)

Bittersweet Storytellers Originating Art for the Cause of Art

Interview: Arkadin

The first rays of sunshine are seen peaking through the clouds on the distant horizon as an ancient ship comes ashore on the Mediterranean.  From its domain, come forth a band of travelers, dressed in medieval garb, singing, dancing… suddenly a profound sensation of peace and timeless happiness penetrates my mind as I begin to absorb their music. I sense that very little matters now. I let my pain aside. I let away my cold thoughts.  For the enchanted world of Ataraxia I had found. This autumn I had the fortune to have a discussion with the charming Francesca Nicoli before the release of their next ambitious album, Suenos. Follow me as I learn more of the secrets of these storytellers…

How have the members of Ataraxia met? What sort of relationship do the current participants have with each other today?

Francesca: “I met Vittorio (guitars) many years ago in a country house where the actual Ataraxia was born. He was there with two other guys and he had just begun playing guitar.  I felt very impressed.  Now I know how important it has been to meet such a valuable person. Our actor-dancer, Lorenzo, met Giovanni (keys and piano) in London in a youth hostel. Luckily, he lived just seventy kilometres far from us in Italy and we were looking for a keyboard player.  This acquaintance has meant ten years of fulfilling friendship and musical development.  After so many years of music, meetings, voyages, common experiences, we have learnt to tolerate defects, moods, bizarre behaviour and tastes of each of us and we have learnt a lot from the others. We have enlarged our interests, we have opened our horizons but especially we have become a bit less misogynistic than before.”

Does anyone in the band have any classical training, a formal understanding of theory?  The rich level of melody and tone in the music seems to signify this. What are some of the backgrounds, musically, of the musicians in Ataraxia?  Has each one of you always played such species of classically influenced music?

Francesca: “Giovanni has studied piano for about eight years and played organ in churches for quite a long time. Then he became fed up with that music, people, atmospheres, environment, and finally became himself. He broke with the past keeping always in mind his musical roots: deconstruction and construction.

“Vittorio is a very solitary guy. When he was a child he was ashamed of listening to music.  He just heard thousand of times Beethoven and Mozart but he hasn’t a classical training.  He is a self-taught classic guitarist and this is surprising knowing the skill he owns and the quality of his compositions.
“I’m a self-taught singer, too. When I was a child I spent a year in a music school to learn violin and three years of organ but I was very young and I forgot everything.  I didn’t like impositions, the cold and aseptic atmospheres of my piano lessons, the fact that theory and technique were the only fundamental things while the exploitation and encouraging of creativity was banned.  When I was 16, I began singing in an electronic wave band and I had the chance to overcome my fears, limitations and frustrations.  I began singing…”

The band has been featured on a diverse range of labels; some that specialise in metal music, others that specialise in ambient/noise, and others that feature gothic music primarily… Do you feel any kinship to these other styles of music?  Why do you think you have chosen the style of music you play over any others?

Francesca: “We are three persons with different musical backgrounds. Vittorio has always loved ambient experimental music (Tangerine Dream, Oldfield, the first Pink Floyd, Vangelis), I come from the dark wave world even if I have always loved ethnic music and especially medieval music, Giovanni has always listened to pop and wave music of the 80s. Labels came by chance, I mean, we haven’t chosen that particular label for its genre, more often they have chosen Ataraxia apart from Cold Meat Industry contacted by us some years ago because we appreciated their way of working.  The style of our music?  A patchwork of our cultural roots (Celtic, Latin, Greek), interests, the studies we did (historical, classical anthropological), the way we have grown and how nature has decided to utilize us to express its own language. We simply play driven by instinct.”

What does a usual Ataraxia live performance consist of?  What have been some of your most favoured performances over the years?  What would the ideal Ataraxia performance, from the milieu to the audience receptivity itself, be like, if you may imagine?
Francesca: “Ancient stones and the water of the sea speak to us.  For this reason our best performances or experiences are held in ancient buildings or near the sea in order to hear their silent voices… A concert is a sort of theatrical drama. In places where ancient stones and architectures give us great inspiration we can finally express ourselves without any boundaries. We wish for the calmness of a monastery, the perfumes of a garden, the solitude and nobleness of a manor, the charm and nostalgia of an old theatre. The magic created by concerts is the great exchange of energy among us and the listeners; the currents inside human beings and under the earth start flowing so that we can explore and travel with our listeners in primeval kingdoms… If the sound of the instruments is natural, acoustic, unplugged, this faerie world is even more glistening.  We had many favoured performances all over the years - in the ancient Roman theatre of Segobriga - Spain, in many castles all over Italy, in a Renaissance ‘villa’ near Florence, in Volkerschlacktdenkmal in Leipzig…”

I understand several films have been recorded, live concerts and such. Are you satisfied with the outcome?

Francesca: “Of course, even if these videos (self produced and filmed) + live (box set video + CD recorded in Lisbon and released by the Portuguese label Symbiose) have been released in limited editions. Two of us feel a great passion and are capable of utilizing cameras and editing videos.  These videos have been filmed in particularly interesting architectural spots. We are really keen on this activity. Our songs are deeply married to images.”

In light of the band’s interest in history, what are some problems that you deduce in modern society as contrasted with earlier civilisations?  Conversely, what are some problems of earlier civilisation that you feel has been rectified in the present?  Do the members of Ataraxia feel a certain yearning for the past and regret for its loss, or do you prefer to, as they say, ‘live in the present’?

Francesca: “We are persons, musicians, spending our lives in the last years of the second millennium when great scientific and technologic discoveries have been done and when communication and exchange of news is becoming faster and faster; but at the same time we are in touch with history, ancient things, houses, customs, traditions. We are walking along a path that has been found many centuries ago.  While walking we look straight ahead of us.  We never forget our origins and with this awareness we afford the future.  Our aim is not to lose anything the past gave us as a gift, to remember who we were, what we are, who we will be. Ancient spirits are still speaking. The ‘relationship’ with our time is based on the voyage; we are not so different from the many voyagers of ancient times like Marco Polo or Vasco da Gama.  The time-space co-ordinates have changed, speed and superficiality have shortened the stages.  Of course, we have been forced by our times to be more superficial of our ancestors, now the knowledge of ourselves through the sensible world costs great fatigue and self-denial.

“As it was in the past, we feel to be a land of meeting and struggle, people who bring the signs of cheering discoveries and hard battles.”

Do you think that all of the world’s cultures one day may be unified into one diverse whole, that mankind will eventually rub away the borders of culture, under the banner of a collective Humanity?  This is surely happening already, to some degree, with increased communication, international space programs, the United Nations, the birth of the Internet, etc.  What is your view on such a transition, homogenised or not?

Francesca: “If only I could I would like to get in touch with any single European idiom and then with other languages far from our roots. In every language is hidden a treasure, a secret, a revelation. Trying to understand a country, to portray it means also to submit to the fascination of its language and this can be done also on simple basis of its musicality, the flowing of the sound.

“Art may be global and international but it’s absolutely necessary to let emerge the differences between each land, culture, history, and tradition.  Only the differences permit us be free to choose, interpret, be surprised, appreciate. Just differences create culture, love for art, inspiration. We are pilgrims of the ‘world of sounds’ because we love to visit other places in order to find what is not possible to find here and to bring over there a piece of our culture.”

Croce, the Italian idealist philosopher, had once said that “Unless a capacity for thinking be accompanied by a capacity for action, a superior mind exists in torture.” May one suppose that the art of Ataraxia, from the perspective of the artist, is a way of evading such a torture?

Francesca: “As we usually say, “we are exploring the garden of Psyche and Desire.” We have experimented with what you call ‘torture’ in the past and from time to time we’re still experimenting with it.  Anyway, music is our way to enjoy life. Creation is the way to express the divine part of the human being. We are a sort of channel that can vibrate expressing, translating the energy around us.”

As we are on topic, Benedetto Croce also argued that music is the manifestation of a pure intuition. His aesthetic theory was based on the belief that art, as a form of creativity, is a more revealing criterion than the sciences and that beauty in art depends on the successful translation of a fundamental perception in the mind of the artist. Can such a method be applied towards your own endeavour, your own way of writing music?

Francesca: “We are simply bittersweet storytellers who originate art for the cause of art.”

Does anyone in Ataraxia paint or write outside of musical composition? What visual artists hold your interest? What extraordinary writers have shaped or broadened your perspectives?

Francesca: “Of course, our actor/dancer is a painter, too.  Some of us are really keen on photography and some years ago I was used to writing short stories and collections of thoughts. The questions you did would need a very long answer with a longer list of names and we don’t like to sum-up the opera of an artist in such a short space and in a sort of encyclopaedic way. In all our releases are perceivable the figurative and literary influences that have distinguished all the stages of our life; the Italian Renaissance painters like Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Arcimboldo, the Pre-Raphaelitism English current with artists like Dante Gabriele Rossetti, Morris, Waterhouse. We love poets like Sappho, Anacreaonte, Alceo, Ibico, and also the contemporary Odisseo Elkis. We appreciate a lot the French maudits and the Italian Ungaretti and Mara Paltrinieri.  Many currents of writers, but especially the ones who go far from a current inventing something new, courageously and intelligently. For this reason I want to remember Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, U. Eco, Conrad, Ungaretti, Neruda…”

Looking back now upon the previous releases of the band, what would you argue were your most favoured moments?  What experiences would you change - strictly musically speaking - if you had the power today?

Francesca: “Our artistic work has been a progressive self-confidence and knowledge of ourselves.  Pindaric flights and our limits have come to surface. The fact of having better or worst moments was not perceivable ‘from the inside’. Every step, every new live performance, every concept or new album was a personal growth. I can’t say I would change something of our past - musically speaking. Everything has been useful to get here, to be here after so many years of struggle, passion and difficulties.  Anyway, a very good moment in which we had at last the opportunity to pick up the fruits of our work has been the live tour of 1999. We visited in Spain, Greece, England, Germany, Holland, France and of course Italy.  A great collection of remembrances.  Something of an inestimable value that has enriched us.

“On a discographical side we have been working in studio from three months to release our new album that’s written, recorded, engineered and mastered by us. A really hard work, endless efforts, sleepless nights, bitter struggles in order to obtain a precious piece of humanity and art that we hope will be renown, felt and loved.”

What is the next step now in the history of this ever-active group? If we assent that the present is shaped by the future, what possibilities may this glorious present contain?

Francesca: “For the very first time an Ataraxia album won’t be based on a concept or theme, its aim is letting listeners free to wonder and voyage with our minds wherever they wish. The word ‘Suenos’ has a special onomatopoeic sound: it reminds of the freedom and lunatic essence of the dream, the premonition, the flight and the return. ‘Suenos’ reminds also of the idea of ‘sound’ and ‘sign’.  Suenos is an album that can’t be described through words because its words are its notes. It will be sung in the Spanish language but also in contemporary and ancient French, Provencal, English and Italian. It will be divided up into three parts of four songs each: Sandy dunes (The Orient and the Mediterranean: marches, solemn airs and a gothic flamenco); Ego Promitto Domino (far coming Middle Ages: songs of the crusades, farewell and merry-making); L‘ame d’eau (underwater flowing of the soul: notes of water, nostalgia and silence).

“Many new instruments have been played such as chitarra battente (a medieval guitar), clarinet, traverse flute, percussion, tamburo a spicchi (medieval drum), together with our usual classic and acoustic guitars, keyboards and flutes. Six of the twelve songs will be sung by many vocalists - all the band members, especially the Medieval and symphonic pieces of music. The third part, more intimate and watery, will be completely dedicated to the female voice.

“We hope to complete it for the end of October (2000) in order to have it released at the beginning of the next year.

“Ataraxia graciously thanks all the patient readers.”

With our chat come to an abrupt end, I bid farewell to Francesca, as the dancers convene again towards the inside of the ancient ship.  Ropes are untied and with a start, it slowly takes sail once more and advances on its voyage back along the cold waters of the Mediterranean depths.  Smaller and smaller, as it is engulfed in the mists of morning, the crew progresses across the waves.  And then, there is nothing visible but a speck along the sharp edge of the horizon.  Soon enough, this, too, finally disappears. And all we are left with is a memory… a memory, and a promise of wonderful things to come…