Schammasch mastermind C.S.R is a man in search of nothing less than transcendence. Walking a creative path towards a spiritual awakening that has separated him not only from everyday reality, but from the metal scene itself, he is driven by an ambition to take their singular brand of high-concept, magisterially devastating black metal as far as it can go.
His ambitions have been lofty from the outset, following up 2014’s double album, Contradiction, only their second, with forthcoming triple album Triangle. Schammasch stand on the cusp of bigger things, of which there is yet no guarantee, but towards which C.S.R has singlemindedly committed himself.
“I quit my job a year ago, but that was an easy sacrifice!” he laughs, alleviating the stress in his thoughtful baritone. “All I’ve done is live off my savings and write and record Triangle. I’m seriously running out of money and I don’t have a plan for the future.”
It is but the latest step in his struggle towards the light, a tale to be told in three parts, beginning with the disavowal of metal.
Schammasch were born in 2009, from the ashes of C.S.R’s former black metal band, Totenwinter. He had grown fatigued. “I was sick of metal,” he remembers. “I was bored of the narrowmindedness of the scene. Metal is in some ways one big circus, and I wasn’t up for that anymore. Still, there are many interesting people involved. After six months or so I started listening to Behemoth again; they inspired me to start again. They had a really strong energy.”
All bands are born from the flames of their inspirations. “Absolutely,” agrees C.S.R, “It’s necessary. The thing is, some artists get stuck there and aren’t able to transcend. That’s one of the biggest weaknesses in black metal; it was originally created to crush those boundaries, and I don’t think it does that a lot anymore. Many bands try to stick to genre rules. I’m trying not to be bound by any. Music and art in general should be something that destroys rules and crosses boundaries rather than being held by them.”
Whilst trace elements of Nergal and co’s legacy can still be felt both in the blast-ridden might and the esoteric mystery evoked not only sonically but with the distinctive visual aesthetic of the band, Schammasch have taken confident strides towards a voice of their own over the last two records. Triangle finds them at their most defiant, the sound of unfaltering conviction.
In turning his back on any rules delineating what black metal should be, C.S.R embarked upon a journey of spiritual discovery, formulating a worldview that coalesced as he wrote Triangle. For a band named after a Mesopotamian sun god, one would assume that much of their inspiration lies in ancient history, and with the darkness incarnate of their music, the occult, but in truth they are only parts of a much bigger palette.
“The simplest way to explain would be the word ‘life’,” says C.S.R of his inspirations, responding ponderously, attempting to condense big ideas into short sentences. “I try to use whatever I can get from any kind of religion, philosophy, or whatever art, or experiences I’m trying to channel. I try to use them in an open way, not bow down to them.”
‘Not bowing down’ is central to C.S.R’s personal philosophy. By not adhering to one belief system he has formulated an outlook on life influenced by all perspectives. It has been nothing less than a revelatory process, and forms the basis for his current writings, entitled Saros.
“It’s developing into something comparable to the Church Of Ra, [brooding Belgian experimenters] Amenra’s art collective. I’m trying to write an ideological manifesto, but it’s still developing; I need to give it time,” he reveals.
You can feel its power reverberating throughout the record. Would he call it spiritual? He falls quiet, considering his next words. “Yes, absolutely. It’s the codex that you’re trying to use whatever philosophy you find useful to transcend barriers that hold you down or make you feel bad. That’s what I started to understand, that this is my way of using religious philosophy for my life in a positive and creative way.”
In this sense, from the darkness of their music comes light – two terms he sees as complementary, not oppositional; both undeniable facts of life. “Expressing light through darkness – we’ve used that sentence for a long time now,” he affirms. “There’s as much beauty in a rotting corpse as in a prospering flower. Both show two aspects of one thing. There’s no point in denying one if you love the other.”
Many bands try to stick to genre rules. I’m trying not to be bound by any
Triangle itself forms an arcane triptych, the three points expressing C.S.R’s attempts at unifying his thoughts into one enlightened perspective. “It culminates in the three symbolising unity,” he explains, “all aspects becoming one. You could say getting connected to God, or to the light. That is not a Christian thing. What I mean is being free of earthly demands, free of earthly bounds.”
Across its first two brutally complex discs, the chaotic tumult of life articulates a struggle between our outer selves, facing life’s day-to-day struggles, and the inner self, our spiritual element that seeks something more, but is often repressed. For C.S.R, the ceremonial garb Schammasch adorn themselves in is an outward reflection of a repressed inner spiritual perspective. “That’s the perfect way to put it,” he beams.
Triangle’s third disc, an entirely ambient affair, represents the triumph after the struggle, transcendence attained, their moment of liberation. For much of black metal, to transcend is to die, to enter the abyss. Not so for Schammasch. Their concerns lie with the living.
“The process of dying to me is a metaphor for the acceptance of change,” C.S.R explains, describing life as a constant evolutionary process. None of us stay the same through the course of our lives; we have to move on, even if doing so is painful. Hiding from it, denying life’s sometimes harsh realities, is never the solution. “You don’t deny it because it’s part of our existence and it’s the only thing we can grab and see,” he agrees. “There’s no point in denying your earthly being, that’s never something I wanted to say, but you can’t also deny that there’s a spiritual side to everything which you can’t see.”
III: THE BEYOND
With no facets of an everyday life to hold him back from immersing himself in his art, such metaphysical wrangling became all-consuming. “It gave me so much back, so much positive energy back, even if I had very rough weeks through the whole process,” he reminisces. “Sometimes if you have a big concept like that going on for such a long time then it can devour you, especially if you don’t have an everyday life, a job life,” he rues, bringing us back to the woes of financial reality with a bump. Schammasch have invested everything in this record, and with funds fading fast, now lie in wait to see how it is received. At such a fledgling point in their career, many would have trod carefully, but for C.S.R, fully realising his artistic vision conquers all.
“We had two producers on the whole mixing and mastering effort, who are both pros; you can imagine alone what that cost us, and that’s as well as all the recording sessions, and our visual aspects, which also cost a lot,” he sighs. “I wouldn’t call it a sacrifice, because everything I put into writing that album helped me to transcend certain things.”
And what of their next step? How the hell do you follow up a triple album? “There’s a plan for the next two releases already,” he divulges, an amazing prospect given the sheer amount of music the band has released across the last two. “It’s something much shorter and simpler. Albums one to three can be looked at as some kind of trilogy I think, which is now complete.”
In an age of short attention spans, Triangle is a grandiose statement, not one built for Spotify’s shuffle mode. C.S.R stands defiant in the face of such a disposable attitude to culture. “The statement is, ‘Fuck all that’, basically,” he fumes. “I am absolutely sure that there are still enough people able to actually contemplate works like Triangle and actually get deep enough into it.”
In order to fully commune with their perception-altering powers, Schammasch demand a deeper investment. They may not be for the faint-hearted, but as mainstream culture continues its process of dumbing down, the need for artists of their ilk, those who strive for higher perspectives and the escapism they provide, are needed now more than ever.
To The Power Of Three
Three more bands who are partial to a triple
THRONE OF KATARSIS – The Three Transcendental Keys
In 2013, black metal’s fashionable resurgence was in full swing. Fortunately for those who sought to preserve the original potency of the black flame, Norway’s Throne Of Katarsis’s fourth album was unleashed in all its roughly hewn, restless hunger, three elongated tracks promising to unlock the mysteries of the abyss.
VEILBURNER | The Three Lightbearers
Underappreciated at the time of its 2014 release, this Pennsylvanian duo combined rabid death and black metal in a most predatory manner, creating an amorphous atmosphere by turns cosmic, warped and terrifying. Few manage to so effortlessly meld the austere pleasures of technical death metal with such potently occult environs.
SKULLFLOWER | IIIrd Gatekeeper
Breaking away from early 90s industrial by adding squalls of dissonant guitar and sonorous percussion to seething electronica, underground maestro Matthew Bower inspired a new generation of extremity. Reforming in 2003, Skullflower experimented with black metal on their most extreme release to date, 2011’s Fucked On A Pile of Corpses.
TRIANGLE IS RELEASED ON APRIL 29 VIA PROSTHETIC