I recently had a conversation with Markus Launsbury of the experimental black metal band, Blood Of Martyrs. The band is preparing to release their new material on January 1st and they are hoping to follow it up with a few short tours both here in the States and overseas in Europe. The conversation was quite interesting to say the least and covers many different topics including music, philosophy, religion and current events. Here is how it went.

Every band has its musical influences. What are some of the other bands and artists that have greatly influenced you guys and your music?
Markus: I’ve been working on this material for quite some time now. Some of the songs we are now playing were written nearly ten years ago, while others are only a few weeks old. There is a backlog of about 40 songs for Blood Of Martyrs, and I am always writing new material. I find myself in a pretty much perpetual state of creativity, and this is doubtlessly fueled in no small part by my ravenous consumption of various forms of music. While underground metal is what first drew me to playing music – and continues to be my life’s blood – over the years I have immersed myself in everything from free jazz to progressive rock, African and Middle Eastern trance music, noise and power electronics.

Really anything that expresses deep conviction and resonates on a highly energetic level. So while Blood Of Martyrs is firmly rooted in the filthiest underground metal tradition, my compositions aim to reflect the depth and diversity of creative energies that surround and flow through me. As far as actual specific influences, off the top of my head I would say early Voivod, early Enslaved, Bathory, King Crimson, Swans, Sun Ra, GodspeedYou! BlackEmperor, Neurosis, Bitches Brew era Miles Davis, Interstellar Space era Coltrane, Can, Acid Mother’s Temple…

The band keeps things interesting thematically. Can you talk about some of the subjects you will be tackling on your new material?
Markus: Thematically the lyrics of most Blood Of Martyrs songs are similar, and stemming from the basic existential premises that 1) this world we find ourselves in is devoid of explicit divine guidance 2) that ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ are fallacious concepts and 3) that life is, at it’s very foundation, lacking any appreciable meaning or value. But while this realization is often the catalyst for despair, utter hopelessness, and self-destruction, I see it as enabling the opposite – it is a realization of one’s potential for ultimate freedom. As such, most of my lyrics relate the struggle of the soul that is Awakened yet not yet Free – the endless cycle of despair, anger, hatred, loss, pain, catharsis, and the return of hope (however fleeting).

This cycle is as inevitable as it is trying, and it is through this suffering that we are able to burn away our elemental weaknesses and imperfections, ultimately revealing a Divine form. The lyrics of any given song may reflect a singular aspect of this cycle, or the cycle in its entirety. To put this inner struggle into terms that relate to the world at large, we see that if we reject as intrinsically false the patterns of socialized thoughts and behaviors that harness mankind to the yoke of oppression, then mankind may indeed one day arise and fulfill his massive potential. So the work of Blood of Martyrs is to convey this consciousness to all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear; our aim is nothing short of the apotheosis of ourselves and those who would come with us on this inner journey.

When can we expect new material?
Markus: Even the Dead Long for Spring is a strange bit of Blood of Martyrs history. Originally it was just a rehearsal recording of myself and Woz (Chris Wozniak) playing through some material. A couple years back I suffered an injury that was, for all intents and purposes, crippling. I had a lot of time on my hands and just to keep myself occupied I decided to flesh out those rehearsal recordings by overdubbing vocals and solos. Somehow the good men at Lundr Records got a hold of the tracks and asked me if I would like to put out a split with Wheels Within Wheels. Although the material I had was very raw, I agreed because I fully enjoy and support the Lundr roster (Panopticon, Wheels Within Wheels, Seidr, and Lake of Blood).

It is an honor to be associated with those bands, and I find myself more in agreement than disagreement with their expressed values – something very rare for me. Unfortunately, that release has been pushed back a number of times. So as 2011 drew near I decided to just go ahead and put out the Blood Of Martyrs material from the split on my own, just to have something for fans when we play live. But, as Ryan said, we are hoping for at least a raw recording with the new lineup very soon. To that end we have something planned for the first week of January that should accomplish that goal.

Besides musical influences what other artists and philosophies contribute to the main messages you try to convey to the listeners?
Markus: My whole life I’ve been a student of history, philosophy, religion, the occult. As a result, all the combined wisdom, revelations, breakthroughs, and insights that I have come into contact with have made their impression on my psyche. So every thing I have ever read, or thought, or experienced, has shaped my inner world, and, by extension, my art. One finds foreign ideas, assesses them, then chooses to reject or assimilate them. We can expropriate a couple terms from the Greeks here, and say that we find what truth ‘is’ (cataphasis), versus what it ‘is not’ (apophasis). In more concrete terms, you could say I am influenced by the ideas and writings of Jung, Austin Osman Spare, Nietschze, Baudrillard, Hesse, Phil Hines, Foucault, Camus… the list goes on.

The bottom line is that all these ideas are part of my syncretic approach to philosophy and spirituality; they are facets of the crystalline structure of my consciousness. I find that when the mind and the soul are fixated on the Path, there is a greater understanding of the proper relationship between oneself and other aspects of consensual reality – such as concepts of politics and socio-economic structures. So the anarchist ideals which we espouse are informed by a certain level of spiritual consciousness; when one rejects the concept of a Cosmic King, it is only natural that he would also reject the idea of a worldly King. In this way, we can see that the slogan ‘No Gods, No Masters’ is not just a convenient catchphrase, but in fact represents self-determination at its deepest level.

How important do you consider a stage show for your band?
Markus: Blood Of Martyrs live presentation is more of a ritual than a rock concert. Generally the performance will start with an ensemble of drummers pounding out deep tribal rhythms as a troupe of burlap clad; clay covered dancers leap and swirl about, while walls of feedback saturate the room. When the crescendo of otherworldly energy is palpable, the band will segue into our first song. From that point on it is an utter onslaught of alternating chaos and order; imagine the craziest, most visionary experience you’ve had… one where you see Pure Light, and Pure Darkness, and when you finally return to a place of ‘normal’ consciousness, you realize that you have seen the face of God – and the face was your own. Blood of Martyrs is not concerned with simply being a ‘great metal band’ – although we do intend to be that. Instead we approach each performance as an act of ritual catharsis, enacted for the edification and enlightenment of ourselves and our tribe.

What three words best describe your band?
Markus: Gnosis, Catharsis & Apotheosis

Any closing words?
Markus: If there is an overarching impression we, as a band, wish to leave, it is of a vast and bleak post-apocalyptic wasteland, whose forbidding expanse nonetheless holds untold secrets and unworldly beauty for those intrepid enough to open there minds to the Unknown. Godhood awaits those who are unafraid to stand naked and unafraid, and leap into the Void. Step into the Darkness – and embrace the Light… they are one and the same.  [ END ]