by RS Frost
Vancouver’s KAFIRUN have been flying the flag for black metal orthodoxy since 2014 and have made quite the name for themselves within the black metal underground with two demos, a split release and a full-length album on offer. I made contact with guitarist Hanephi and vocalist LZFST to gain insight into the inner workings of the unbelievers and to get their perspective on today’s fractured black metal underground.
During my research for this article, I came across the first interview that was conducted under the name Kafirun, in 2015, wherein you described the band as:
“A testament to the destruction of self. Heralding the dawn of illumination, abolishing illusions of false idols and embracing the all encompassing chaos oblivion. A glorification of holy death and the escape from the time in which mankind has been enslaved. Kafirun is the adversarial void consuming cosmic fallacy.”
There is a lot to unpack in this precursor, so I thought it best we start here. Destruction of self, abolishing false idols, embracing chaos and glorification of death and the void. These are all sentiments that would lead me to believe that Luciferian ideologies of the anti-cosmic iteration are in good favour with the people involved with Kafirun.
Why are these notions so important to Kafirun and do you care to suppose their importance to black metal as a whole?
LZFST – The destruction of self is pertaining to the cosmic self. Essentially, the destruction of said self would be the detachment from the limitations imposed by the cosmic way of holding onto the constraining forms. Defining the boundaries of our physical form and the separation of what we consider to be our conscious form to formless infinite possibilities. A state of being in which no words or man-made language could possibly describe. The importance of death is that it is the power that reaches to all things and takes all things away and, by doing so, binds all things together. Black metal is a way to gaze into the abyss. Many BM bands don’t hold validity in that regard, I feel that it is easy to see the difference between the gimmick black metal and the ones who just play extreme dark music and don’t bother to label themselves.
Do you subscribe to any specific spiritual path?
LZFST – I do not follow a specific spiritual path or ideology, it is important to me not to cherry pick from someone's writings and ritual practices and traditions. They are often relevant to only the individual or temple from which these practices originated and the time in which they were performed. You can read all of the esoteric books in the world but it means you are reading about other people’s methods, which they used to reach a higher state of being, whether you call it Azoth, Mukti or Moksha. They are personal and intimate and I personally find the importance of finding your own path to illumination far more potent.
The majority of gnostic black metal in recent years has seemingly emanated from geographical hubs such as Sweden, France, Iceland and Norway. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been certain outliers, including Canada, that have made plentiful contributions to the pool of black metal bands and artists who are seemingly working against the current capitalist formula. How do you see your geographical origins in relation to the music you make?
Hanephi – I have dual citizenship from Canada and Turkey. So far I've lived most of my adult life in Canada. It is hard to say if my background directly affects the music I create, but surely it affected my personality and way of looking at life's events. I keep our music focused on spiritual aspects of being, rather than political, personal or mundane world issues.
LZFST – I can say that our individual origins have had no bearing or influence on our music whatsoever. Our music doesn't reflect the bleak, contrived or regurgitated black metal that is often found in this part of the world, speaking for the Canadian born members, that is.
How was it that you came to be involved with black metal as a creative outlet?
LZFST – For me there was always a fascination with the macabre from a very young age, and over time, as I grew as a musician, I was able to write music that was in the same style as my influences. There is no darker music than black metal in my opinion. I have always gravitated to the darkest and most ferocious music I could find. I remember hearing GORGOROTH's ‘Pentagram’ for the first time and thinking to myself “this is what I should be making”. I hate to say it, but I was listening to CRADLE OF FILTH’s ‘Principal of Evil Made Flesh’ when I was 13 years old and that was honestly a big influence at the time. DISSECTION's ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ and DARKTHRONE's ‘Transylvanian Hunger’ as well.
Hanephi – It was like many others youngsters in that regards; hearing certain bands, music and feeling the need to create/perform, and perhaps capture that feeling you get from other artists' creations in your own music. It was not a certain decision for me to make music, it kind of just happened and felt right for me. I first started jamming with friends, playing covers of our favourite songs, then eventually writing my own music.
If I’m not mistaken, members of Kafirun have been involved in quite a few reputable Canadian black metal bands before joining forces.
LZFST – The projects I have contributed to in the past are mostly dead to me personally and I try not to flog past endeavours. Not out of bitterness or spite but more like the serpent shedding skin, discarding the remnants of its past. Emerging rejuvenated.
As far as I can tell the band’s name is derived from the 109th sura, or chapter, of the Qur'an, titled Al-Kāfirūn, which translates to “The Unbelievers”. The sura reads: “Say, O disbelievers,
I do not worship what you worship.
Nor are you worshippers of what I worship.
Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship.
Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.
For you is your religion, and for me is my religion."
A fitting statement of identity for a creative force for sure. How did you settle on the name and how did you come across this part of the Qur'an in the first place, as the band’s material would suggest its members are not followers of Islam.
Hanephi – We do not follow Islam or any other Abrahamic religion, though this does not stop us from exploring the religious texts. Not only going through holy books such as the Bible or Qur'an, but more so exploring ideas and concepts expressed by philosophers and religious scholars. To me, religion has always been a fascinating subject and one of the most important human experiences that lives through the ages. Every age has its own religious ideas and concepts which evolve, adapt, or die out through the changing times. I think, in its essence, religion as an idea or thought is a spell, which was cast upon human consciousness by the will of its source, a man, a God, light. It endured all known human history. The spell is absorbed by the idle minds and then by the multitudes.
Mankind's inherent corruption is the breeding ground for this religious spell to form itself into matter and become the all-ruling force. From a thought to a complete domination over man's will and his being. The monuments, the temples and all the structures of religion exist only to make it real and give this spell its physical host, so it can change, adapt and rule through the sanctimonious rulers of men. Their false kingdom feeds on the individual's doubts, fears, and weaknesses. Ultimately, above all, it feeds on the mortality of flesh. For us, Kafirun, besides its religious connotations as the disbelievers of God's word, represents a path that cuts through spells that rule over our beings. It reveals the unknown and its limitless possibilities to eyes that can see when they are shut. This path may lead to no end and surely it may also lead the self into nothingness. But even all these possibilities exist, it is our own path as it is a choice made by our will as opposed to submitting to an existence under the layers of false illusions.
In 2014, Kafirun released their first demo, ‘Death Worship’, followed by ‘The Glorification of Holy Death’ the following year. In 2016, these two demos were conjoined and re-released as a compilation through Polish label MARA RECORDS.
Hanephi – When I started to jam with our former drummer I think I had two tracks completed. We just wanted to see how things evolved and I think we both felt like there was a strong will and motivation to push this union further, so we contacted our current members Luzifaust and Hypnocrotizer (bass) to come and check out the material. Soon enough they were committed members of the band. They both brought more strength and creativity into the project. Within a short amount of time we had completed three songs and recorded the first demo, ‘Death Worship’, which was released via US label SOL Y NIEVE. Right after this release we had recorded five new tracks. This follow-up EP was titled ‘The Glorification of Holy Death’ and it was released on CD by the band. The compilation release via Mara Records was a good idea for us to capture the first demo and the EP in one package and to also have the material released in Europe via the label. This compilation was titled as ‘The Worship and Glorification of Holy Death’.
What was the process of putting these early demos together like for you guys as a creative hub?
Hanephi – I think it was a great experience to bring together our initial fire and capture the time of this experience during the recording process. The recording engineer who helped us out with both demos was a long-time friend and he had a really good idea of what we were about and what we were trying to accomplish. Also, we were aware that at the end of that year our former drummer was going to depart. We wanted to make sure we captured all the material we had together, recorded and ready to be unleashed. It was satisfying to see it all come together and celebrated with moonshine from dusk till dawn!
The same year as the compilation, Kafirun put out a split release with Austria’s TRANSILVANIA, contributing the track ‘Salvation Through Sin’, originally taken from their second demo.
Hanephi – The split was initially planned with another band at that time, but that band disbanded unexpectedly. The label still wanted to go with the split release and offered the spot to Transilvania. I'd say that, stylistically, both bands didn't necessarily have much in common, but the essence was dark music and we thought it would also be a good idea to have the split regardless the differences, considering it would have benefitted both bands to be heard by a slightly different fan base.
In June of 2017, the band released their first full-length offering, ‘Eschaton’, on Australian label SÉANCE RECORDS. 42 minutes of dizzying battery, ritualistic atmosphere and a dynamic range of aggressively uncomfortable riffs and some impressive and atypical drumming that would raise the bar for the band and act as a step forward on their musical and creative path.
How did this album come to be and what was the process of moving into a slightly new direction within the black metal framework compared to the demos?
Hanephi – Our first drummer had to move to another city, but we kept working on new music during this time regardless. After a little while, we met our current drummer, Mesmorphion. He heard the material that we had from before and he liked the new riffs and ideas we put forward. His drumming abilities definitely allowed me to write perhaps a more complex and dynamic style of music, so naturally the music started to evolve and grow. We did not make a decision to go in a different direction or anything, but we didn't try to limit or shape the creativity by force or rules either. It was all a part of the creative experience that shaped the album's style and sound, more in a free-flow fashion without restrictions. As for the recording process for the album; we used a professional studio, in contrast to the first demos, and we had a bit more studio time to add extra layers of guitar work and vocal tracks into the songs. Perhaps the multi-dimensional sound of the album, complex riffing and relentless fluent drumming are some of the major additions to our music and sets the contrast with our early releases.
What is this album about and what did you want to achieve with it?
Hanephi – The word “Eschaton” describes the end of all existence, like the apocalypse, end of all light. The finality of all creation. In our music we wanted to reflect the creation that begins in the womb of darkness, that becomes matter/flesh from the unknown and all there is, swallowed and devoured by the darkness, slowly but certainly. The life force and creation and the journey of self from a being to a non-being. Death is what we perceive as the devouring force, we intended to reflect all these concepts and our personal feelings through each track of the album.
When we completed the recording of ‘Eschaton’ we started to get in touch with labels, sending some of the material to find a suitable label for the release. We had received a few offers and decided that Séance was a good choice. They had a good portfolio of releases and they were not a label releasing multiple albums each month so they were focusing on each release in detail and promoting it. We did not sign a deal with Séance at that stage per se as this was meant just to be the official release of the album in CD format. Later on, the album was re-released through other labels in different formats such as vinyl via CLAVIS SECRETORVM RECORDS and cassette version via DYBBUK RECORDS.
I’ve seen that a lot of metal media sites have been making comparisons to MARDUK in their reviews of 'Eschaton'. What do you think about that?
Hanephi – I personally do not feel or hear any similarities directly to Marduk's style of music. Perhaps blast beats in the tracks or riffing here and there might invoke similar feelings as Marduk's music. The bottom line is that people hear what they want to hear and most people just want to place any new band/music into a category of something they are already familiar with. We all likely do this; it’s the way our minds are wired I suppose. These days if a band has dissonant riffing, it must be DEATHSPELL OMEGA worship, or aggressive blasting should be Marduk style. I don't really get hung up on these types of things. We create what is true and real to us and move on.
Given that my interviewees do not come across as being overly excited about what’s going on in the “scene” they find themselves connected to, I wonder how they see the industry that peddles black metal as a whole and their place within it.
What do you get out of being a part of the underground community and what is it that keeps you motivated to continue being a part of it?
Hanephi – I like the underground zines, festivals, bands that do create high quality material, regardless of the fact that there is not much of any financial return value. People that have the desire and will to put their energy into the underground and take their craft seriously. It is likely related to personal perseverance and will; I find myself most accomplished when I am able to create something new and see the days of hard work shape into something tangible like a song/sound.
LZFST – It’s always difficult to find balance between members and what we each do in our free time. The drive to keep the momentum pushing forward comes in waves. I feel when we are channelling our artistic means of expression it can be very meditative. You get out what you put in.
Have you been faced with any affirming experiences so far, situations that remind you why you do what you do?
Hanephi – I think with Kafirun our biggest experience was our Mexico tour, as it is known things can get crazy in that country. Through our tour we had a great time, the people that attended the gigs were very supportive, bands we toured with and the tour crew were great. We saw some cartel presence here and there but luckily we had no issues. On that tour it was hard to know what the venues would be like, some of them were decent bars but some of them were roofless abandoned old buildings. Regardless, even at small venues, we had a solid support.
Any major gripes with the way things work as a touring band?
Hanephi – Nothing major, but there are always people who say one thing and do another. Small labels not following up with their promised releases, just disappearing or not even bothering to give a well-deserved explanation. Also, some people that try to rip off bands etc.
I’m always interested in how bands see the black metal movement, and whether they are seeing any considerable shifts within. Have you noticed any major changes within your time as a band so far?
LZFST – There are too many shitty watered down bands these days. I remember when black metal was considered harsh and dangerous. Now shows are being shut down by people who are offended by everything. Those people are the lowest forms of life and should be fed to sharks. Black metal should never be safe.
Hanephi – There is an inherent change within the scene and the music itself, though its spirit should not be tampered with in my opinion. Over the years things evolved, new generations of bands, some pushed the envelope further in darkness, some diluted the essence of the music. But I have not witnessed anything as weird as what's happening in today's scene. Mostly the PC culture has infected the genre like cancer. Black metal to me has been always a reflection of what is hidden and what is the most scared and despised. As a music style, it reflected the dark human nature, filth of religion, misery of war, decay of life and death. Like it meant to be a sharp blow in the faces of the masses, blinded by delusions. But in the last few years, there has been a push to tame the genre and to make it domesticated. This sort of annoyance and pressure to the genre is mostly coming from some of the fanbase itself and that is very perplexing.
What has Kafirun got planned for the foreseeable future?
Hanephi – Musically we are working on a few new tracks, when we are in the right place we'll record and see where it takes us.
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 this interview. Also, we would like to send out our regards to labels, zines and fans worldwide for their support.