Shape Of The Beast [2010-10-20]TenHornedBeast is a British project that boils up a distinctive & grim mixture of: Black ambience, doom, dark sound tracking elements, ritual and military percussion touches. The projects all the work of Christopher Walton who was in the now defunct ocultic dark ambient, neo-classical & ritual percussion project Endvra. TenHornedBeast have so far released three albums: The Sacred Truth from 2007, My Horns Are A Flame To Draw Down The Truth from 2009 and Hunts & Wars from early this year ( reviews of all three can be here at M[M] ). After making Hunts & Wars our album of the month for October, we felt it about time track down Chris and see what makes TenHornedBeast tick, what follows is the result of an email interview.
m[m] Tell us a bit about how and why Endvra fell apart, and how TenHornedBeast came about?
Chris Endvra did not so much fall apart as fade away. We had been recording constantly from the first months of 1993, every week we were doing something – writing, recording, taking care of the letters, interviews, art work etc. Between 1993 and 1999 we released a demo tape, six CDs and appeared on dozens of compilation albums. We had a very impressive work rate but you can’t keep that level of output up for ever. Endvra was all we did, we had no time for anything else in our lives so by 1999 we were both ready for something else.
Chris When it became clear that Endvra was finished I had a big gap in my life. I still had a lot of things I wanted to do with music, I still heard a lot of things in my head that I wanted to get out but I had no way of doing it. I sat and pondered for a while, realised that I had to do something for myself by myself or just give it up and walk away.
So I decided to liquidate my record collection because making my own music was more important that collecting other peoples. With the sale of a 20 year + record collection I was able to equip myself with the hardware to make my own music. You can buy the gear, you can acquire the skills to use it but you need that drive and desire to make music that comes from within.
m[m] TenHornedbeast has much more doom & drone feel to it than Endvra – what triggered your interest in this side of things and made you start playing the guitar.
Chris I’ve always been into Doom Metal. I first heard Saint Vitus in 1986 and painted their logo on my jeans. I did a zine in 1992 that interviewed Solitude Aeturnus and Eyehategod. I love slow, heavy music – even when I was buying raging fast thrash, death and grind records in the 80s I was still listening to Candlemass and Black Sabbath, then later bands like Killdozer, Melvins and Swans.
Chris When I started recording as TenHornedBeast I initially wanted to pick up where Endvra had left off, with that kind of neo-classical style that we did on “Great God Pan”. I had plans for huge epic string sections and lots of Wagnerian atmosphere but in reality I found that I could not write that sort of music. I just did not understand how it worked anymore, I had no passion left for it and what I recorded was very forced and unnatural. I started playing around with feedback and “drone” sounds – Endvra had used these sounds on albums like “Liber Leviathan” and “The Watcher” so I had some background in that style but I wanted to take them further, deeper and evoke the same sounds as I was hearing in my head. It all started to flow really quickly and naturally so I went with it.
I don’t really “play” guitar. I use it as source to make sounds and I then manipulate those sounds to fit the music I make. I have no interest in traditional guitar playing or in technical skill, nobody is ever going to be as good as Michael Schenker or Uli Roth or Tony Iommi so I don’t really see the point in trying to emulate a style that has already been perfected. I want to use sounds to make a new music, not to copy other people.
m[m] Where does the TenHornedBeast name come from and how do you feel what you are tying to achieve with this project differs from Endvra?
Chris One day, around 2001/2 I was sitting alone in a room watching the sun make shadows on the wall. I was not doing anything else because I feel that it is important to be “present” at all times, rather than trying to do everything at once. As I sat and watched the light move on the wall I heard the name TenHornedBeast come to me. It was a pure and real revelation. I heard the name as one word rather than three words. It made a very deep and instant impression on me and I returned to it time and again in the years to come. When I began recording in the autumn of 2003 I knew that this was the name that I must use.
TenHornedBeast is very much more personal to me that Endvra was. With Endvra Stephen and I had to agree on everything and although we were mostly aiming for the same direction there is still that element of compromise and consensus that exists in bands. With TenHornedBeast I only have to please myself. Everything I have done has been because I wanted to do it, it is solely a manifestation of my own will.
m[m] Your wonderful new album “Hunts & Wars” has a very war-like and bloody, grim battle vibe running through it – were you influenced by any one battle or war (real or fictional) when writing the album?
Chris I was influenced by the writing of Robert E Howard, to whom the album is very respectfully dedicated. The title is taken from a line from Howard’s poem “Cimmeria”, in which a character narrates a memory of his homeland but the memories are fading and confused, we are not sure if this is a real memory or an atavistic “racial memory” of something that he never knew but only dimly remembers. One of the lines in the poem is “the axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream, and hunts and wars are like shadows”. 80s metal trivia fans will also be aware that the line “hunts and wars are like shadows” appeared in the Celtic Frost song “Circle Of The Tyrants”.
Chris I was not trying to evoke any real sense of battle or combat with the music on the album, more the sense of epic grandeur that I felt reading Howard’s poem. I find Howard a very atavistic writer, just like some of his characters revert to primal and forgotten behaviours that are at the heart of us all, or should be. The track “Hunts & Wars” seeks to evoke these emotions, the sense of anticipation and waiting, the barbaric release and ecstasy of action.
Chris I really don't like the modern world. I find it offensive and intrusive. It has dulled our senses and seeks to keep people in a state of perpetual adolescence by turning them into consumers – consumers of trivia, consumers of product and consumers of a simulacrum of life rather than reality. It seems to me that the modern world is hostile to “reality”. It allows people to evade what is real and disappear into what is not real. These things are wrong and bad. I want nothing of them.
m[m]Hunts & Wars has more subtle and grimly gentle moments than a lot of your other albums with TenHornedBeast – with contrast between the heavy and grimly soft or brooding moments, was this something you felt important to get?
Chris I wanted some contrast. I want my albums to be cohesive and to sound as if they are part of the same whole, not just a random collection of songs that have been compiled onto the same disc. I also want my albums to be “listenable”, to have a quality that makes the listener want to play them again and again so I broke up the four longer tracks with three shorter interludes. I originally wanted the three interludes to be very quiet and almost folky, probably a nod to the excellent album “Wolf’s Return” by Grand Magus, but they grew into compositions in their own right. I think it is vital to have light and shade in music, you will not find me knocking out a Harsh Noise Wall project.
m[m] “Hunts & Wars” features artwork by respected American designer Kevin Yuen (Sunn 0))), Wolves In The Throne Room) – how did this come about?
Chris I had seen Kevin’s work for his own Fermentae project and really liked his sense of shape and the impact he got from using bold stark colours. I went through many graphic ideas for how I wanted to present “Hunts & Wars”, from using art by Russian artists such as Ivan Bilibin and Victor Vashnetsov, to using a plain card cover with embossed sigils on the front. In the end I thought Kevin’s style would really compliment the music and we worked out the design that made the album.
Chris We used images Scythian art, such as the cruciform stirrup fitting on the back of the digipack and the fighting gryphons and horses on the CD because I find the Scythians had a very vital and violent artistic vision, their art has much more movement and vibrancy than the equivalent art of western Europe. We also used some of my photographs as background textures. The sword and helmet from the front cover was taken from a Tzarist propaganda postcard from the Great War, one of the few occasions when my collection of twentieth century militaria has proved useful.
m[m]Have you ever thought of playing live with this project?
Chris I have, and I quickly dismissed it. Recreating the sounds of TenHornedBeast live would be very difficult – it would either take a lot of people or a lot of money and I really don’t have either. Some pieces are made up of 20 or 30 tracks so it would need a lot of pre-recorded material playing back via a laptop, this may be possible but it’s not very entertaining. I really don’t want to sit behind a laptop looking like I’m checking my emails.
m[m]When was the last time you were scared or freaked-out?
Chris In July I climbed up to the site of the Neolithic axe factory on Pike O’Stickle, in Langdale Cumbria. The site is part way down a 45-degree scree slope, with a small man-made cave in the wall of the mountain. I got down to the cave OK but my mistake was in deciding to come down the scree slope to the valley floor rather than climbing back up and making my way down the path. I wasn’t really scared, more concerned and very careful so as not to break my ankle in such a difficult place. I’m all about self-rescue so I really didn’t want the indignity of having to call for help. Luckily I got down with only a few cuts and scrapes but it was a bit of a lesson in respect.
Chris I don’t really get scared or freaked-out by real things, only my dreams. I have had terrifying nightmares at least once a week for about 18 years – these have really scared me. On the other hand they have also educated me and they are as a result of my own actions so I’ve got nothing to complain about.
Chris My biggest fears arrived with the birth of my daughters. I used to be fey in the original sense of that word, contemptuous of death but as soon as I became a father I knew what fear was. You become aware of the responsibility and burden you have taken on. This is why I called a track on Hunts & Wars “I Am The Spearhead”. It refers to this sense of duty and obligation, that you are the apex of the system.
m[m] List your top ten favourite albums or books and why they are important to you?
Chris Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion
This album made such a huge impression on me when I bought it in 1985. I was already listening to “Thrash Metal”, I’d been listening to Motorhead and Venom since 1981 and had albums by Metallica, Slayer, Razor, VoiVod etc but this album was a total work of art in that Wagenrian sense, a Gesamtkunstwerk – the bands image, the Giger cover art, the lyrics – everything! It’s strange to think about how the band moved away from this album then tried to return to it. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything at all like it again, it is unique and eternal. Everything I’ve tried to do with either Endvra or TenHornedBeast has been an attempt to channel the spirit and soul of this record into my own music.
Black Sabbath – Heaven & Hell
I heard the Neon Nights 7” at a friend’s house in 1981. I wasn’t really aware of Black Sabbath at that point, only being a 10 year old kid, but the b-side was a live cut of “Children Of The Sea” and that song absolutely blew me away. The epic nature of the track, the way that it has the character and gravitas of a song twice its length and the meaning of the lyrics. I ended up swapping Iron Maiden’s “Running Free” 7” for that Black Sabbath record, which I still have. The album hangs on the union of Ronnie Dio’s vocals and Tonny Iommi’s riffs – both were at the top of their game in the early 80s. I can play “Heaven & Hell” and “Mob Rules” back to back all day long. . I think “Heaven & Hell” is the finest record Black Sabbath ever made, the song writing and the performances outshine anything that came before or after.
Radio Werewolf – Songs For The End Of The World
I heard a tape of this album in 1992. By that time I had really broadened my musical outlook and broke out of the exclusive metal ghetto in which I had spent the 80s and was listening to a lot of industrial music and what would later be called “dark-ambient” – stuff like Lustmord and the bands on the Cold Meat Industry label from Sweden. Radio Werewolf were not part of this, coming from the LA death rock scene, but they crossed over into the industrial/post-industrial world by virtue of their contacts with Boyd Rice and all that entailed. “Songs For The End Of The World” is something of an aberration in the bands catalogue, it sounds like nothing else they ever did and nothing else that any other band has ever done! You hear reviews calling records “the darkest thing ever recorded”, that’s wrong. This is the darkest thing that has ever been recorded and it almost drove me mad.
Wishbone Ash – Argus
Similar to Celtic Frost’s “To Mega Therion” this is a total work of art in which every track works with the next and each is complemented by the cover and aesthetic of the band. I have a real passion for 70s heavy rock, when it’s done right it combines excellent song-writing with great riffs and leads. A lot of bands ripped off the melodic double lead set-up that Wishbone Ash developed and got a lot more publicity and success for their efforts but this is where it all gelled together. I find this album very inspiring, I hear all sorts of things in both the composition and the recording that I borrow for my own music, albeit amended to fit my own level of ability.
Venom – Die Hard 7”
Satan! Father! Help me from this grave! This wasn’t the first Venom record I bought, by the time I got this I already had the “Bloodlust” 7” (on purple wax) and the “Welcome to Hell” album but this is definitely my favourite moment from one of my favourite bands. There’s been a lot of revisionist rubbish written about the NWOBHM by people who were not there but I think what’s clear with 30 years of hindsight is that whilst many bands had one or two really great songs and put out some fine singles not many of them had the material to release consistent albums that lived up to expectations. Venom are probably in that category – two good album then the decline set in. But whilst they were good they were fucking brilliant.
I love this single, raging thrashing heavy metal. The b-side is probably better than the a-side! “Acid Queen” is one of the most deranged vocal performances Cronos ever cut, which is saying a lot.
I don’t like much Black Metal past 1989 – I never really understood why people got so excited over the stuff coming out of Norway in 1993 and 1994. I’ll be eternally grateful to Burzum for generating the income that fuelled Misanthropy Records in the 90s and allowing Endvra to release the crazy “Great God Pan” boxed edition but when I look at the trend-ridden over-intellectualised riffless indie shit that gets passed off as Black Metal in 2010 it’s enough to make me puke. Fucking DIE HARD!
I am not a “Pagan” and I have no time for the deism and woolly thinking that infests the modern Neo-Pagan and Heathen movements. It seems to me that those involved are often just a slightly less mainstream equivalent of Trekkies or Live Action Role Playing fans, people looking for a lifestyle fantasy. But it’s no good throwing out the baby with the bath water because there is a Truth at the heart of the mysteries that we need to know. Hávamál contains these truths. It has an elegance and simplicity that I find very appealing and it speaks to me and my own experiences. I do not burden myself with philosophy because the Truth should be clear and sharp, it should be expressed as simply and succinctly as the edge of a knife or the flight of a bird. All else is matterless.
Preben Bang & Preben Dahlstrom - Animal Tracks & Signs
Anybody interested in field zoology or tracking in northern temperate Europe needs this book. I have always lived in the country and I have been interested in ecology and the relationship between natural systems since I was a child and I reckoned myself a pretty good tracker but this books showed me how little I really knew whilst at the same time allowing me to learn from the authors experience.
Bang & Dahlstrom’s attention to detail and the breadth of their knowledge is very impressive and obviously born from first had observation and what sets this book apart from other books on the subject is the understanding that perfect prints are rarely found in the field and one needs to understand the full context of the track or sign and the animal behaviour that caused it, not just the shapes that differentiate species. I would also give the books of Mark Elbroch and honourable mention but as he writes from a North American context the Bang & Dahlstrom book has more relevance to me.
JRR Tolkien – The Silmarillion
Lord Dunsany – Fifty-One Tales
Arthur Machen – The White People
Robert E Howard – Kull, Exile of Atlantis
These are my four favourite “books”, by my four favourite writers. The keen eyed will spotthat all four are writers are hardly modern and that they all wrote in what has been termed the “fantasy” genre. I have some problems with that classification because it has come to mean the sort of spotty Dungeons & Dragons bilge read by fat teenagers and women with cake stains on their velvet dresses who pretend to be witches, whereas when I read Tolkien or Machen I have no sense of reading something that is a fantasy, rather something that is the Truth.
This goes back to my antipathy to the modern world. Tolkien and Dunsany both served in the Great War and saw the Traditional world that they loved felt to be part of washed away beneath them. Machen was too old and bookish to join up but it is clear from his writing that he also felt the loss of something important and was at odds with the “modern age” that came in the wake of the war. Howard was of a younger generation, and American rather than British, but his writing contains the same sense of dissatisfaction with modernity that characterises Dunsany, Machen and Tolkien.
What these writers have in common is their reverence for the secret mysteries at the heart of human existence, and their insistence that these mysteries are revealed by mans reunification with the natural world. The mistake the modern world makes is to confuse the word Mystery with Fantasy, and to assume that both are analogues for something is not true. On the contrary what is contained in the Mysteries is essential, Sacred Truth and I feel that these writers got as close to communicating it as it is possible to get.
m[m] What’s next for the project and yourself?
Chris I will just carry on. I am flattered that labels want to release my music and that other people want to listen to it. I make it for myself and because I enjoy it, as long as I happy with it that’s all that matters so to find that other people also enjoy it is a bonus. I have a lot of material in the archive which I hope to release in time, and I want to explore new sounds and take TenHornedBeast to new places. I have been making “dark ambient” music since 1993, it is a long time and there are other ways of expressing what I hear in my head so I think things will change. I want to use smaller sounds, make quieter music that has as much power and scope as the big noisy pieces TenHornedBeast has been known for up to now. That is the new challenge.
Thanks to Chris for his time & effort with the interview, and the great photos. TenHornedBeast blog is here http://tenhornedbeast.blogspot.com/ and all three albums are released on cold spring records and can be brought direct hereRoger Batty