2013’s Obscure Verses For The Multiverse saw Inquisition reach new heights, signing to French bastion of extremity Season Of Mist and finally, after 26 years spent in the underground, emerge onto a larger world stage. It was a position they were given little time to enjoy before a popular metal gossip site accused them of being Nazis, on the strength of the dubious testimony of a former tourbus driver. Speaking across continents via Skype with frontman Dagon, for whom years of relentless touring has done nothing to dull his shrewd, inquisitive nature, he’s understandably reluctant to retread old ground.
“The important thing for this band to move forward is to not delve back into that topic at all. At all,” he repeats firmly, wearied by the situation. “I gave the media all my time, I over-explained myself, even without meaning to, ridiculed myself, on some things.” He rues. “I’m a Satanist, I’m a spiritualist – I’m not a Nazi.”
It may have temporarily marred them, but it hasn’t halted Inquisition’s progress. Within the underground, away from prying eyes, they spent a long time growing into something elementally powerful. Forming in Colombia as a thrash band in the late 80s, in 1996 they combined a change in location with a change in style, solidifying their outsider status: a lone black metal band adrift on a sea of plaid in Seattle, the spiritual home of grunge. “There was nothing romantic about Washington,” remembers Dagon. “There was no deep and spiritual black metal at all coming from there. I thought, ‘We’ll never grow anywhere.’”
At that time, the flame of Norwegian black metal’s second wave was burning its brightest. “There was this huge romance with the Norwegian scene,” he continues. “Everything else was second-rate. Now imagine where we stood, I don’t even think we were in the second-rate category! A two-piece with weird vocals and odd production, from the USA.”
That did nothing to discourage them from carving their singular path of pared-down, bestial savagery. They started to attract attention. “Then, the true underground really was composed of people that wanted something far out – the more exotic the better. We had that going for us. That was the beauty of the underground. What I thought would work against us was actually a perfect checklist for a cult band.”
History lesson over, black metal has changed. Not only is the US currently vaunted for its wealth and diversity of black metal, the fundamental tenets of black metal orthodoxy have never been more challenged. No longer is it primarily a realm of corpsepaint, inverted crucifixes, Satan and spikes. For some, such things are dated; for others, that it’s changed at all is tantamount to blasphemy. It’s an issue that Inquisition are acutely aware of.
“Inquisition has always been about doing something that is not too standard,” says Dagon. “Every album introduces something new. The fine line is that black metal is a very conservative movement and that conservative element is almost outdated to just be about inverting a cross, Satan and spikes.”
It is imagery that has become culturally ubiquitous to the point where it’s lost menace. “Absolutely. You could apply that to any realm of life or art,” Dagon asserts. “People always want to go further, deeper. We want change. If black metal truly was as conservative as lots of us want to make it seem, then the early 90s stuff wouldn’t have happened. It’s quite a jump from Possessed to Darkthrone’s Under A Funeral Moon. The last thing you want to do is repress anything that can add to what black metal usually hates: progress.”
You get the impression that Inquisition walk a tightrope, seeking change whilst retaining a traditional sensibility. With Obscure Verses… they instigated a stylistic shift towards the grandiose, whilst retaining their quirk. With new album Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith, Dagon and drummer Incubus push yet further, acknowledging elements of the savagery of earlier records while instigating a thematic shift beyond black metal’s traditional subject matter – a quest into the unknown that has only just begun. Questions of cosmic grandeur preoccupy Dagon’s mind: age-old questions that have fuelled mankind’s evolution since first we gazed up at the stars and wondered ‘Why?’ His search for answers has taken in multiple disciplines, the thematic future of his band arcing into ages past, blurring the lines between science’s pragmatism, and spiritual leaps of faith.
“The Sumerians, [an ancient Middle Eastern civilisation] with supposedly no knowledge of science, were onto something very early on that they did not have the terminology for. It wasn’t translated correctly enough to come across as sophisticated as modern science, but it’s amazing. That’s what the album is about – the connection of science and spirituality. One thing I’m convinced of is that the element of spirituality does not mean you are religious by any means, but spirituality is very important, because out of spirituality came philosophy, and then science.”
Our efforts to comprehend the elusive enormities of existence can be overwhelming; the labyrinthine complexity inherent in asking such questions is represented by Bloodshed’s… restless, coarsely chaotic composition, rife with moments of raw emotion and cosmic grandeur, as warring ideologies within the lyrics vie for supremacy.
“When I’m writing you might as well put me back in 5,000BC, because I’m doing what they were doing; I’m writing what comes to mind, but with an intention: I’m searching for something. A lot of times you get lost,” he admits. “You can’t fully understand what you’re writing because you’re looking for something – it’s like writing in the dark.”
Although the secrets of the universe may as yet elude them, the subject holds much promise for Inquisition. As for the present, Dagon is more than happy with what they’ve already accomplished.
“I could rest in peace tomorrow. I stopped trying to get Inquisition to a particular place many years ago, and when I stopped trying, that’s when things started happening.”
For almost three decades Dagon watched metal grow from the murk of the underground. Now the time has come for them to play a larger part in metal’s ongoing evolution.
“I think black metal made us smarter. It took metalheads away from just beer and headbanging to really digging into books and culture. I think it was the nail metal needed to truly justify it as a culture. I’m 44 years old; I’ve seen the changes across the generations. This is not the metal of the 80s; these are those people’s kids taking things to the next level, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. This is a golden era,” he enthuses.
Inquisition stride towards the unknown as standard bearers for black metal’s traditions, having broken the shackles of its conservatism. The future is bright.
BLOODSHED ACROSS THE EMPYREAN ALTAR BEYOND THE CELESTIAL ZENITH IS RELEASED ON AUGUST 26 VIA SEASON OF MIST
The Source Awakens
Three influences on Dagon’s perspective
“Socrates and Plato are the two fathers of modern philosophy. They took the first steps towards a more grounded perspective, less about mythology. They were on the borderline of taking philosophy to a scientific level. It was like science outside of a laboratory; they didn’t have instruments, only their minds.”
SUMERIAN CUNEIFORM WRITINGS
“The great mythos from Sumeria. About 1,000 years before the Egyptians, the Sumerians were already writing about the creation of the Earth. A lot of what they wrote coincides with what science is telling us today – in a poetic way – about the expansion of the universe.”
EDGAR ALLAN POE
“His writing style was short, to the point, beautiful without over-emphasis and words you and I didn’t understand. It was kind of like old English in a modern English way. It’s fun to read – I wish I could write like him and I feel like I try to subconsciously!”