Disclaimer: these interpretations are those of the writer and do not reflect the intentions of the lyricist. If you would like to contribute to the conversation or offer a different point of view, feel free to comment or contact Metal Utopia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before we get onto the lyrics themselves a few things need to be noted. Deathspell Omega remains largely an enigma. The band carefully guards their personal identities (apart from vocalist Mikko Aspa) and any details about their creative process. They seem to strongly hold onto the ideal of letting the music speak for itself. Yet even this confounds the listener, as the highly elaborate lyrics are steeped in obscure theological and esoteric concepts. Fortunately, there appeared one fragment that sheds some light onto the band’s ideas – one of the few rare and thus far the last interview they gave back in 2004. It reveals much, yet in some respects further complicates the matter. Here we see the interviewee appearing to studiously wrangle with philosophy and theology (though it is hard gauge the full extent of his/her knowledge). Given some charity I stand, for now, convinced that conceptually the band operates on a respectable and knowledgeable level within the realms of philosophical thought, rather than some makeshift hodgepodge of pretentious references. The point of this claim is that the band’s lyrics can be subjected to serious exegesis with satisfying results. The songs are saturated with copious references and citations of philosophy, literature and poetry (such as the here analyzed song with direct citations of French thinker Georges Bataille), meaning thorough interpretive work would also require acquaintance with these many sources. I don’t have the space here (nor time for that matter) to take this endeavor to its full extent, so I’ll offer a limited interpretation that attempts to illuminate some of the core ideas behind Deathspell Omega’s concept. To this end I choose the song “Mass Grave Aesthetics”, one of their single-long-song EP’s. It can neatly be tied into the overall message, as well as standing alone as a lyrical achievement. I will also note that for the sake of brevity I will not touch on every individual line, and some will be left out. I encourage the readers to find a full version online.
The lyrics start with a quote not found in the song itself:
“What matter the victims, provided the gesture is beautiful?
What matters the death of vague human beings
If thereby the individual affirms himself?” – Laurent Tailhade
Laurent Tailhade was a french writer and poet of the 19th century. This quote comes in the context of his admiration of anarchist violence and terrorism in France at the time. The key is in the word “beautiful” – the song deals with the aesthetic aspect of violence and death. Where does this lead us?
The black Idol emerges as a silver lining in a dust cloud of death
The point to note here is “the silver lining in a dust cloud of death” – the common phrase indicating a sliver of value and beauty in otherwise bad situations, only this time radicalized with the “dust cloud of death”. At this moment, there is still the distinction between “good” and “evil”, between the silver lining and the moral repulsion of the death cloud. Yet this quickly breaks down:
The culture of transgression is mine and my descent
Makes me ascend in a repugnant swirl…
The “Black Idol” is the revelatory and subversive element of this event. In this song, Deathspell Omega entertain the transgression of moral laws, not through ignorance or bad will (as some common theodicies claim), but through their recognition and true subversion. It is not merely being purposefully evil against what is recognized as good, but going beyond the distinction altogether. The journey of the “descent” and subsequent “ascent in a repugnant swirl”.
The black Idol fills the veil of flesh with noxious smoke
Depicting primal human experiences indifferently
Contemptuous of moral concerns, dehumanized
The howling of wolves and the destructive sword are portions of Eternity
Too great for the eyes of merely a man…
The revelation of the “Black Idol” is depicted as quickly destroying the human (or humanist, if you will) element of our perceptions. The “veil of flesh”, the grounded human experience, obscures hidden dimensions beyond its trivial concerns. Greater things are at stake. This is also elaborated if we take the phrase “veil of flesh” as taken from Hebrews 10:20 which speaks of the flesh of Jesus as allowing humanity access to God. We are now transcending not merely human flesh, but also the Christian “flesh of God”, delving into other theological and metaphysical realms of “Eternity”.
Dissolution and putrefaction, prevailing Aesthetic experience
The splendor of the obscene and inhuman;
For what matters the death of a vague human beings
If thereby the individual affirms himself?
Violence exists in the moment when the eye turns upwards into the head
When inversion is complete and total
The darkness of the upturned eye is not the absence of light
But the process of seeing being taken to its limit
That thorough derangement of the senses
Way beyond the deceptive conflict between darkness and light
Opens perceptions to the tyranny of the Chekhinah…
The aesthetic experience of violence, of utter dissolution of humanity and morality leads to a deeper sort of violence, when after the fact of witnessing the grotesque the “eye turns upwards into the head”. When the superficial violence has “thoroughly deranged the senses”, the pure, abstract moral realm is also witnessed as dissolving and breaking apart. This is not just “good” giving into “evil”, “the conflict of darkness and light” is fundamentally deceptive. “Chekhinah” or “Shekinah” is an originally rabbinic term that, without going deeply into its contentious interpretation, means something akin to the “presence of God”, perhaps equitable to the concept of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. The transformation brought forth by the aesthetic experience of violence reveals this divine presence as tyrannical, imposing its order with sovereign will. Yet it is now possible to see beyond this, denying it as natural and preordained.
The dimension of ethereal totalitarianism discloses itself
And takes possession of the quintessential human soul
Like a nail hammered through most tender flesh
Aeons separate the one whose eyes have seen through the night of the spirit
The king, the Lord of hosts, draped in terrifying magnificence
At this point the subject of this transformation has fully seen what is beyond the veil of human and moral perceptions through witnessing their very limits, the point where they tear apart. The subject is thoroughly changed, there is no going back. With some terrific poetics, Deathspell Omega beckons to not turn away our view from the display of utter depravity and bloodshed. There is beauty here to be found that not only reveals the limits of our common perceptions but opens the gateway to see beyond them. And what is to be found? It is not mere nihilism.
Here we’ll take a closer look at the aforementioned interview. Deathspell Omega profess to be worshipers of the Devil. However, they decry practices that trivialize the matter, finding “faith” in for instance hedonistic and egotistical practices of LaVeyan or other “humanist” satanisms. They stress that their preoccupations are metaphysical, and that is the only true way of understanding Satan. Through the study of many religious, philosophical, esoteric texts and art, one can find between the lines various “keys” that will point the devoted student towards the “Deus Ignotus”, the “God Unknown”, or as they call him elsewhere, “Diabolus Absconditus” – “The Hidden Devil”. They claim that this belief is not a sort of revealed religion, as Abrahamic faiths are through their prophets and texts claiming to be the word of God. There is nothing of this manner in true Devil worship. However, it is revealed in the sense that even if there is no primary text, Satan hides himself between the lines of what is already revealed elsewhere. This goes the same for philosophical and religious writing, as well as the aesthetic experience of violence and evil, which not only reveals the faith but further affirms it:
If a faith and a belief aren’t nurtured by the moist of blood
They do not grow, nor do they live
It is at the magnitude of daily murders, massacres and mass graves
That we do measure the propagation of our faith
Hearken and recognize, that hideous carrion
Legs in the air, like a whore – displayed, indifferent to the last
A belly slick with lethal sweat and swollen with foul gas…
Devoted believers, through some sort of transformative rigor, will find the Hidden God. This song depicts such transformation, found in aesthetic experience, revealing the path beyond humanism, common morality, revealed Gods, towards the God Unknown, the hidden metaphysical realm incomprehensible to the surface. The theophany is there for those who seek it. And those who do are thoroughly changed, achieving greater insight into theological and metaphysical secrets. What this God, the Lord of hosts, and the faith in him entails is probably the case for analyzing other lyrics of the band and a matter separate from this discussion.
In the end I’ll address one last question. Concerning such preoccupation with violence as a propagator of faith, could this be understood as a sort of advocacy on the side of Deathspell Omega? Even beyond the basic argument that you don’t really see anyone committing satanic terrorism nowadays, I would argue that this is not so. Laurent Tailhade, the figure from the opening quote, was himself more partial to observing and poeticising violence than participating in it, and there are no direct calls to action anywhere within the lyrics. Going back to the interview, true men of faith in Satan, and this seems to entail the obscure circle gathered around Deathspell Omega’s label, Norma Evangelium Diaboli, practice their worship through study, thought and aesthetics (the extent of this is unknown, as it seems for them it is an internal, private activity) and chiefly through art, which is given to us in form of black metal. It would be very interesting to know more about their faith and practices, but Deathspell Omega and the Norma Evangelium Diaboli circle have decided, and they indicate that they have good reason for it, that musical art is the best way to communicate with the outside world and leave the rest hidden.