by RS Frost
ZAZEN SOUNDS is a record label and zine based in Greece, created and run by Nikolaos Panagopoulos, more commonly known as Acherontas V. Priest. Not unlike ACHERONTAS, which Nikolaos fronts as vocalist and guitarist, Zazen Sounds is deeply submerged in the left-hand path and occult predilections and focuses on supporting this underground phenomenon through various forms of art.
I began our exchange by querying Nikolaos as to the environment surrounding his formative years and how he first came in contact with music as a creative expression and art form.
- I started getting involved with hard rock and metal music in 1992. Recording tapes, buying my first vinyl in the extreme sound in 1993, and searching deeper and deeper through friends, letters and zines. Promotion by word of mouth was a purely romantic thing! The first tape I ever played in my stereo was by IRON MAIDEN, a band that still stands as my eternal love up to this day.
My early years, 1992-1996, in the metal genre are never forgotten. Iron Maiden, SLAYER, WASP, MORBID ANGEL, DEICIDE, KING DIAMOND, DEATH and a few others play on my turntable deck up to this day. After 1997, when I started to dig deeper into the pits of experimental genres, artists like DEAD CAN DANCE, RAISON D’ ETRE, MZ.412, ZERO KAMA, LASHTAL, FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM and many others transformed my way of thinking and expressing my art.
Do you suppose that your geographical positioning has had a considerable effect on your artistic output? In my conversation with Semjaza of THY DARKENED SHADE, he recalled growing up in Greece, as an obvious metalhead, coming with its own set of obstacles.
- I cannot call myself a metalhead, not since 1998 when different kinds of art came to my attention and my attitude turned out to be far more different than that of a common metal guy.
In the early ‘90s, the situation in Greece was a bit strange and “sensitive” due to some “satanic crimes” that involved the metal scene and its followers in a difficult situation with police investigations etc. But nothing really serious that I can name as an actual obstacle. A police raid in my neighbourhoodor some arrests was not a big deal, the way I see it…
Formed in 2007, Acherontas has released seven full-length albums, eight splits and a handful of other releases, whilst intermittently touring to support these works.
Having shared releases with the likes of NECROMANTIA, LEVIATHAN, NIGHTBRINGER, HORNA and SLIDHR, among others, it is clear that the focal theme connecting all of these artists runs deeper than genre. There are occult and other esoteric and spiritual tendencies throughout everything Acherontas does.
Can you offer any insight into your spiritual philosophies and practices, and why you chose black metal as the vessel through which to communicate them?
- In my life, it was not metal music that gave me an urge to dwell in the crossroads of gnosis. I have always had an interest in history, religion, philosophy, poetry etc… Even with my bands being the vessel to express my inner void of empiricism, I discriminate with care what I shall express through my musical works. I am very strict about not revealing my personal path and when I do that, I use codes and metaphors. Something that you can easily notice in our lyrics or texts. I stand against the current of the modern genre with its use of the occult merely for image, while at the same time making these “open secrets” available to everyone. Such sacred topics must stay in the shadows and be protected from the eyes of mortals and the ignorant.
When writing Acherontas material, is it a group effort or does the music and lyrical content come from just one or two individuals?
- Acherontas is a coven. This is not a word used to attract impressions. It has a nightside meaning and also the meaning of a strong brotherhood of individuals sharing and uniting their personal values to create art. Although everything is filtered out by me and takes its final form by me, this is not because of egoism or because there is lack of trust, but a personal choice which my brothers understand, in wanting the vision of Acherontas to be a reflection through my inner core. However, all the material
takes form by all members of the coven.
What is it that you are wanting to communicate with Acherontas as an art form?
- To communicate my inner self. Art is a unique transformation for the individual and the athame to reflect his own personal esoteric dream. This is the purpose of Acherontas; to be a vessel and maybe a gateway for those who can feel their potential.
Aside from Acherontas, Nikolaos is also involved with the dark ambient project SHIBALBA, which traverses far more delicate and introspective areas of musical expression and carries thematic relation to a lot of Eastern spiritual modalities.
How did you become involved with Shibalba and the dark ambient genre?
- A personal love for the experimental genre for over 20 years now was enough to make the decision for such a creation. It is also a form of creation that allows me to dig deeper into my labyrinth of empiricism and offers me total liberation as an artist without boundaries and standards. Something that cannot be achieved through metal music.
Shibalba's music is saturated with the mysticism of the East. It's richly detailed and multidimensional, while layered with chanting and broadly defined elements of traditional ritual and shamanic music. Apart from contemporary synths and guitar drones, the band makes use of bones and skulls as percussion instruments, Tibetan horns, Tibetan singing bowls, bone and horn trumpets, daqrbukas (goblet drums) as well as ceremonial bells and gongs, to name a few.
The mission behind this esoteric art is to guide the subconscious of the individual to dream beyond the skin of matter and to dream in ecstasy and exaltation.
The magical trip is boundless.
In 2015 Nikolaos started Zazen Sounds, a label committed to dark ambient, drone, martial industrial and black metal. Since then the label has worked with, and released albums by, acts such as AKHLYS, BLOOD MOON, MYRKR, PUISSANCE, NÅSTROND, PHURPA, EQUIMANTHORN as well as his own projects Acherontas and Shibalba.
What was the drive behind starting this venture and are there any pre-requisites for artists to become involved with the label?
- Zazen Sounds is an artistic womb created four years ago, dedicated to dark experimental art, ritualistic expressions, dark ambient and noise vibrations.
It is a lodge dedicated to serving the spiritual background of the art of music. It was a personal need to express this perspective regarding art, as I feel that commercialism has corrupted the dark genre. The same goes regarding artists who share the view that music is just music... a politically correct attitude, widely accepted by the masses. Something that I have not accepted since the ‘90s.
Have there been any particular releases that you are especially proud of?
- All of them. I have personally chosen these manifestations.
Zazen Sounds is also the title of a zine that Nikolaos compiles which features interviews with artists, mostly within the black metal rubric, and also various articles and musings on topics for the esoterically inclined. At the time of writing this article, Zazen Sounds has released six printed editions.
- By the moment I am answering this interview, the seventh issue should be available. I think it was a natural move after 30 releases, to create a new tool to share more and more of what I support and view as art.
Taking into account your trinity of artistic output – bands, label and zine – how do you see your own creative expression and what are your thoughts on the realm of esoteric philosophy as a whole and the legion of artists, musicians, writers and other industry folk that are involved with its dissemination and longevity?
- Art sheds its skin like a serpent. Time is catharsis. In the passing of time, despite the corruption of marketing, commercialism etc, the pure art will shine like gold.
What is your general approach to writing? How do you settle on a particular train of thought and exploration? Do you have any rituals or a workflow that helps with inspiration for writing?
- All you hear and read through my texts, lyrics and music is a reflection of esoteric practise. Nothing has ever been created without this vital factor.
I’m interested in how you see black metal as an art form in this day and age and what you expect from the genre moving forward.
- Now that I’m in my 40s, that romanticism has been left behind. I can say that there have always been both pieces of gold and pieces of shit among the ranks of the art. The difference is that, nowadays, nothing can stay hidden. Despite the fact that the internet can be poisonous for many reasons, it still is a great way to see through the mask that many clowns wear worldwide, and reveal them for what they truly are. See for instance all these precious figures we used to admire as teenagers. I have stopped believing in anything that is of human nature. Many create music, few offer art… it always was and always will be like this.
Have there been any particular motivators that have kept you active with your various projects over the years?
- My life and my love to create. Creation is the athame of the sorcerer.
What plans do you have for the foreseeable future?
- To continue creating through my bands whenever there is a need to do so, and spread through my lodge of Zazen Sounds quality releases to the devoted lovers of the esoteric art.
Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.
- Thank you very much for the support and the interest you show for my vision.
Art is eternal. Life is not.