by R.S. Frost

Menthor Serpens is one of the most prolific drummers in modern black metal. Having recorded with the likes of ANTAEUS, AORATOS, CORPUS CHRISTII, LVCIFYRE, and BESTIA ARCANA, Menthor has earned himself a place in the blast beat pantheon, with outstanding performances for some of black metal’s contemporary heavyweights.

In 2012 Menthor joined both NIGHTBRINGER and ENTHRONED as a full-time member. Given the amount of time and work involved in performing at this level in one band, let alone two, I was curious regarding this seemingly masochistic decision to commit to such an undertaking.

- There was no decision made per se, I simply was invited by both bands to join them since they both knew my previous work and felt that I was the right person for the job.

Did these offers come through around the same time? Had you worked with members of these bands previously?

- No, I had been playing with Enthroned as a band member for a while when the guys from Nightbringer invited me into the band. Before joining Enthroned, I was their live session drummer, and I only joined Nightbringer after recording ‘Circumambulations of the Solar Inferno’ as a studio session.

Was there any concern regarding potential schedule clashes with recording or touring?

- Well, that was never seen as a big issue since if things are properly organised clashes won’t be a problem, plus Nightbringer is not a band that is very active when it comes to live performances, so these types of issues were never anticipated.

What was the level of activity when you joined these bands and how was the lead up, and recording, of your first studio efforts?

- As previously mentioned, Nightbringer is not very active live. Whilst Enthroned is considerably busier on that front, that was a known quantity and I was already aware of that when I joined. I had helped them out before as a live session musician since their previous drummer wasn’t always available. With regard to the first studio efforts, everything worked out very naturally with both bands. I just did “my thing” and was able to lend my voice in both bands.

Before we get into various happenings of devilry, I’m wondering how you first became involved with music in general.

- I cannot really say exactly how that came about. I remember thinking as a kid that there was something attractive to me in art/music that was dark/obscure and where harmonic tension was present. Even though I had no access to black metal music back then, I was always searching for that kind of sound. I remember slowing down my tape player to listen to the dissonance of the slowed-down tape, so when I heard this music for the first time I was hooked. As for playing drums, there was something about the way that I could express myself in that instrument that was attractive to me.

I played drums for the first time when I was 17, but only really started playing drums in earnest a year later. I was self-taught, and at 33 I decided to do a music degree.

Do you think that your upbringing and geographical surroundings have played a part in the music you would go on to create?

- Yes, definitely. A lot of what I am is an outcome of the influences of my upbringing and my artistic voice will reflect that for sure.

I grew up in the north of Portugal, in a small city called Amarante. It was a great place to grow up in, there is something about the place, the landscape is very inspiring and it is a place where lots of creative/inquisitive minds came out of – the futurist/modernist painter Amadeo de Souza Cardoso being one, as well as the poet Teixeira de Pascoaes and writer Agustina Bessa-Luís.

Enthroned’s 2014 album ‘Sovereigns’ would see Menthor’s debut studio recording with the band.

- When we recorded ‘Sovereigns’ I was still quite new in the band so I took a back seat when writing the album. Since those guys had been working together for a long time, I felt that I had to understand how they functioned and give them their space. As a result, my input in ‘Sovereigns’ was cautious. Conversely, I definitely had a lot more compositional input on the latest album, ‘Cold Black Suns’. The recording process was very smooth, we just went and did our thing.

A few months after ‘Sovereigns’ came out, Nightbringer released ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’. Can you share anything regarding the recording process behind this album?

- The recording of ‘Ego…’ was very natural to me. Nightbringer’s music fits me like a glove. The guys sent me some rough tracks and I just played what I felt was right and that was it.

The next two years would see a relative break in activities for Menthor, with the exception of Antaeus’ 2016 re-emergence in the form of ‘Condemnation’.

How did you come to work with Antaeus and how was it recording drums with the band, given that this group of Frenchmen are known to be quite turbulent and unpredictable company to keep?

- Antaeus was always one of my favourite bands, and I love the album ‘Blood Libels’. Working with them at some point would simply have to happen, and as you would expect from working with Antaeus there was unpredictability and turbulence, but that is why Antaeus is artistically the way it is.

Given the level of athletic ability and endurance involved with playing drums like you do, are there any meditative methods that you utilise in order to keep centred?

- I try to stay centred using different methods and techniques. I am not always successful, but when I do manage to be in a state of “flow”, things come out more pure from an artistic standpoint. Exercising and healthy eating are a big part of it; if your body is not healthy it will be hard to have a sane mind. I have my own ways to keep my mind sharp and balanced – they do work for me, but I prefer to keep them private. What I can say is that each person needs to figure out what works for them, find their own way of achieving a state of flow.

Have any projects come along that have seen you really have to work in order to pull it off with efficiency?

- I think that always happens, every project that I work for has its own set of challenges and there is always something to work on, if that is not the case, probably something is not quite right. The challenge is always there since the drive to improve is one of the things that keeps me going.

Most, if not all, of the bands you find yourself involved with are entrenched within left hand path currents and philosophies. Enthroned, Antaeus and Lvcifyre are all self-proclaimed Satanic bands, whilst the musings of Naas Alcameth are deeply rooted in sinister mysticism and occult-based magic.

I’m curious regarding your own spiritual philosophies and practices and whether these elements are a pre-requisite for your involvement with a group?

- I think everybody I work with has their own way/view to approach their spiritual practices and most of them are closer to what you may call the left hand path. I am of a view that I still have a lot to learn and I think of myself more as an observer – I have my own life philosophy which is in a constant state of development, and drinks from various philosophical currents, but at the moment I am not sure where that will lead me. I have yet to come across anything that I consider to be the one philosophy to follow, a philosophy that answers my questions.

Do you consider adversarial spirituality a pre-requisite when it comes to labelling oneself as a black metal band?

- I think it is a pre-requisite for any artist. The only constant I observe is change, and it is the artist’s job to announce and provoke that change, to question the established dogmas. Look back in history; all the great artists broke the established rules and changed the direction society was following. In the black metal art aesthetics, an adversarial stand needs to be there, else it will feel somehow incoherent.

How do you see the current saturation of alleged “gnostic black metal” bands within the genre, and where do you see this movement heading?

- I don’t keep up with what is happening in the black metal scene recently, so I cannot really answer that question.

Not a black metal fan then?

- I like black metal, but I have never thought of myself as a black metal fan. I listen to a lot of different music, every now and then I do come across some new black metal bands that I like (the last one was THE RUINS OF BEVERAST– ‘Exuvia’), but recently nothing really caught my attention.

In our exchange leading up to this interview, I learned that Menthor has a Master’s Degree in Anthropology, and is currently working on his Master’s Degree thesis in Philosophy.

What is the focus of your thesis and why did you choose it?

- In anthropology, I was looking at what the objects that musicians/producers use when working in music mean to them and to what extent these objects influence them when creating or interacting with music.

As for philosophy, I have not yet decided what I will be working on, but there are quite a few areas with potential.

What led you to the world of academia? Why anthropology and philosophy?

- Firstly because it would be a challenge for me, it would get me out of my comfort zone. Even though I was already studying these subjects before in my own time, formal academia would force me to adopt a different approach and lend a different perspective on these subjects. I am also always eager to learn and by approaching these subjects academically I end up focusing on subjects I wouldn’t otherwise study.

Are there any branches of this area of study that appeal to you or interest you in particular?

- That is really difficult to answer since I find everything extremely interesting. I always have the feeling that everything is connected and you should just study everything you can – the more I learn, the more I am sure that I know nothing.

How have you managed to maintain a high level of study whilst being so heavily involved with music?

- I have to be very organised and disciplined, but I do get overwhelmed every now and then, and often I do feel that I get myself into more than I can handle.

2017 saw the release of both the ‘ANTM’ split, featuring ABIGOR, Nightbringer, THY DARKENED SHADE and MORTUUS, as well as Nightbringer’s most recent offering, ‘Terra Damnata’. Do you have any insights regarding the material and/or writing/recording process?

- ‘Terra Damnata’ is a great album and VJS’ guitar work on this one is exceptional. With the drums, I took a step back and tried not to get in the way of the guitar work – my drum approach was very different to the previous album, ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’, where my input was much more obvious, since when I composed the drum parts the tracks were not really finished, so I had more space to do my own thing and change song structures, be more creative with different percussions.

More recently you have been touring with both Enthroned and Swiss-based SCHAMMASCH, and have joined the newly-formed experimental black metal outfit VOZ DE NENHUM. How have the past two years been in regards to schedule and travelling?

- Actually not that busy, the prior years were significantly busier. Things have been a bit quieter when it comes to live performance with Enthroned, and Schammasch was a one-off session tour to replace their drummer, who was not available for that one. As for Voz de Nenhum, we are not playing any shows for the moment, so the past two years have been more relaxed than usual when it comes to live performances.

Can you tell me about Voz de Nenhum and what this band has in the works? This is various members of NECROSADIST if I’m not mistaken?

- VDN is a continuation of Necrosadist. At some point Alex (vocals, guitars) and I did not feel that the approach to music/art in Necrosadist was properly representative of ourselves anymore, so we put it to sleep and started VDN. When you listen to the music you will understand why we had to start something new.

Given the amount of time you have spent on the road within extreme metal, I wonder if you have come across any outrageous instances of travel-related mayhem, as many of my conversational counterparts have attested to?

- There is one that comes to mind, when we played with Enthroned in South America last year. Before one of the shows we were made to sign a document saying that we could not play certain Enthroned songs or have any sort of antichristian speech during the show, and if we were to violate those terms we could go to jail for six months to six years. There were officers from the Ministry of Immigration and armed police/militia at the hotel and venue, so that was an interesting one. Anyway, we went on stage and we did what we always do and that was it, we “survived”. But South America is always an adventure.

In June of 2019 Enthroned released ‘Cold Black Suns’ through SEASON OF MIST, their first album in five years. Unsurprisingly the pace of this release is suitably alacritous, with a somewhat fresh-sounding production whilst still keeping in with the second-wave approach to songwriting, albeit noticeably different from previous works.

I guess the first question that comes to mind is why the long gestation period?

- After ‘Sovereigns’ we were playing quite a lot so that kept us busy for a while. Following that there were some lineup changes which delayed things a bit more, and when we started writing the new album we wanted to do something that would separate us from what we did before, music and sound-wise, so all of those factors were the reason for the long gestation period.

How was the writing and recording process of this album compared to previous works?

- On this one, things changed quite a bit since Phorgath (bass) left the band and he was not only one of the main composers but also the producer on the last five Enthroned albums. I felt I had to step up and sort of take over the production side of things, so on ‘Cold Black Suns’ I was much more active in the songwriting than before. The songwriting was divided between me, Neraath (guitars) and Nornagest (vocals). We also decided to change recording studios, so we went to Pike Studios in Portugal. Phorgath and I handled the mix in Brussels and the mastering was done by Jaime Gomez at Orgone Studios in London.

How has the response to this release been so far?

- The response has been excellent, better than I was expecting to be honest, since musically things are quite different to the previous albums. I suppose I was expecting the more traditional fans to not accept it so well, but people seem to like it.

What plans do Enthroned have for the foreseeable future?

- At the moment we are focusing/planning on doing good live performances that do justice to the album that we have just released.

What about you personally? Any new projects or recordings in the works?

- Yes, there are always new projects and recordings in the works so keep an eye out.

Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.

- Thank you for the well researched, well thought-out interview!