The Dark Ambient Duo Outer Gods Redefining What Music Can Be [INTERVIEW]

If there was Seidr to be had on the mountaintop of an imagined future, Outer Gods would be sound that comes from inside your body after dosing.  For several years (and twelve albums and EPs) two solo musicians out of Atlanta, going by The Flail and The Wrathe, respectively, have brought together their two opposing dynamics to clash in beautiful and often violent soundscapes.  Emerging out of the world of ‘experiment'(they hate that word) dark ambient, Outer Gods exists on the sort of edges of musical genre that we hoped to capture perfectly.

Inspired by avant garde composers of the 19th and 20th century, Japanese noise music, the industrial iconoclassism of Throbbing Gristle, and a library of music that could overwhelm you, they have create a duality to their music that is simultaneously enraptured in a crushing drone and almost atonal confrontations.  What we mean is what they have come up with is something nobody could predict and constantly redefines itself, which is why we had to talk with them about what has been driving this project these years.

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How did Outer Gods come together?

:The Flail: We had been playing music off an on in several different projects, both together and in the same orbit. I cannot recall as to what was the initial impetus for Outer Gods to take shape, though we were not strangers to collaboration – we had begun working on soundscapes as a duo and things gradually began to take shape.

:The Wrathe: I had played in several bands that sounded nothing like Outer Gods with The Flail. Our recording collaborations had been going in a darker direction, but really it was the sessions that became our first demo (“The Mountains Den”) that crystalized a sound. The basic duality of The Flail and The Wrathe emerged during those sessions as well (strings vs electronics), though we both have played a lot of different instruments on Outer Gods recordings. The demo and the band co-created each other essentially.


There is a really overwhelming quality to your work, long songs that sort of consume the listener.  What drives this type of emotive experience for you?

:The Flail: There is, for my part, a compulsion to become lost into oblivion. It is a tightrope on creating pieces that grow and bloom organically but are tempered by the gardener’s thumb. Practitioners of Zen Buddhism know this well; to be conscious and intentional in the drive towards such a feeling is to have it remain forever on the horizon – if the vessel is already full, nothing more can be added. Conversely, John Cage made mention of his distaste for being described as “experimental” as experiments are what winds up being thrown out in the bin on the way towards a final product.

To return to the garden analogy, one must allow the roots to take hold and blossoms to sprout but not fear to take the hoe or shears where need be. Leo Shestov commented that our understanding of the world is akin to being lost in a dark forest, illumination coming only from flashes of lighting or sparks as one beats their head as they wander. In these moments one can see, albeit briefly, the landscape and shape of things. It is the experience of the blind gardener.

:The Wrathe: A lionshare of our material I see in a very “cinematic” context. The individual emotions I felt during the composition kind of felt almost ancillary to the overall cinematic mood each recording aspires to. To create something longform, you sometimes have to be willing to pack a lot of different emotions and experiences into a piece. Our live shows always aimed at bringing the listener into a collective moment, much of the time through sheer volume. But the records wanted to bring people into the sound in a different, more layered way. Our longer tracks are taxing to create, finding a balance in all the sounds is always difficult when trying to present an immersive listening experience.

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What bands inspired you in doing the work?

:The Flail: There is the compulsion to kill one’s idols but also to acknowledge that we do not operate in a vacuum. Even the action of moving against something or attempting to transgress is implicitly acknowledging the influence it holds. One of the worst things that an artist can do, and indeed even an individual, is to hold too much deference to inspirations otherwise they become merely a parrot or cheap imitator of something which will always maintain a form of superiority by virtue of its primacy. Though it would be churlish to say that there are not bands which heavily informed the work.

But this can be eclectic – case in point, I have always loved the low bass tones one finds in the kick drum from Southern Hip Hop or the atmospheric qualities of a band like Cocteau Twins but it would be ludicrous to say that there is an attempt to emulate these forms as such. We both have very eclectic tastes, not just in music, but all forms of art. To list a catalog of bands and artists that inspired the work would be legion. Some are apparent: SUNNO))), Boris, Lustmord, Tim Hecker, Edward Elgar, Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Belong, John Cage, Sleep, Tibetan Chanting, Merzbow, Darkthrone, John Fahey, Jack Rose, Current 93, Nurse with Wound…as you can see, the list could go on and on, each piece adding to the tapestry.

But where one thread ends and another begins would be to dismantle the entirety of the formation. Ascribing an etiological framework to the work only gets to a certain point and neglects the metaphysical dimension – as discussed in the works of Artur Schopenhauer – the pieces that go into constructing to the final work do not speak to the work as the thing in and of itself. This is not to say that the work is isolated, but rather, any great work of Art contains something which not only brings into itself all the inspirations, both conscious and unconscious but moves onto its own plateau.

:The Wrathe: At the end of 2005 I took a trip to NYC and ended up bringing home a backpack full of compact discs, the two most personally important being SUNN O)))’s album “Black One” and Hellhammer’s album  “Apocalyptic Raids.” I had already been listening to more academic drone (Tony Conrad and William Basinski) but SUNN O))) changed my mind as to just what “Drone” could be. Hellhammer is drastically important to me because I finally saw that Metal doesn’t have to be “perfect” sounding. “Apocalyptic Raids” is a raw, fuzzed-out record; it rocks just as much as the Stooges but in a defiant and ugly way.

In the early years of Outer Gods, I would play COIL’s “Time Machines” or Factrix’s “Scheintot” on one stereo and Death’s “Scream Bloody Gore” on another all simultaneously and just listen to the cacophony for hours. Throbbing Gristle and Black Sabbath were getting equal attention on the turntable, much to the dismay of my old roommates… one ended up having nightmares during my weeklong re-listen to TG’s “24 Hours of Gristle” box set. Gothic horror cinema is of course the other major element of influence. Many of our recording sessions went late into the night with images of Paul Naschy or Christopher Lee on the television behind us.

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How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?

:The Flail: I would be hesitant to describe any method of development, at least one that is self-aware. As with a person, the experiences and interactions they have will invariably shape who they are at that moment. But this only ceases at the moment they become a corpse, devoid of subjectivity, an object amongst things. We do not experience our own decay as such, and likewise, we do not experience our development in real time. Only through self-reflection of our psychology are we able to come to terms with ourselves as a coherent form.

Most of our work has emerged from long-form jams, letting the music flow and taking us where it will. As whirling dervishes seek to commune with Allah, or Buddhist chants strive for enlightenment, at its core, there is an approach towards a Divine Nothingness. It is sometimes churlish for the artist to define themselves, this seems a role more appropriate for the critical eye. Whereas at the beginning of black metal there was a determined motivation to create something new and distinct the chains of post-modernity and the Hegelian-end of Art in the Western sense (i.e. the examination of the plastic arts in Arthur Danto) makes such self-definition a complicated matter.

Perhaps I am too personally averse to labels, which may be a byproduct of my own individual privilege in a certain sense. Definitions emerge out of the gaze of the Other, to determine what is of a kind and what is not of a kind. In truth, the sounds that have emerged and taken shape have done so organically, as with the garden. Seeds are planted and cared for and only when they have begun to stretch beyond the bounds of what we desire aesthetically are they tended to. Many a late night watching Hammer Horror films and manipulating sounds, not with a distinct purpose but for the sound itself, has provided us with a wealth of material to work with. To return to the idea of inspirations, perhaps it can be imagined that other bands and artists have served as vessels which are shattered against the wall – and amongst the disparate shards and pieces, we attempt to create a mosaic.

:The Wrathe: Experimenting with sound has been the one united approach amongst many in the writing of music for this project. There were countless moments where we said something like “what if this organ could sound more like a guitar?” In those moments of mutation, we found different ways to approach making songs. Genre has always been unforgiving for us, trying to label the band during releases leaves a lot to be desired. But I would say calling it “experimental drone” or even “experimental ambient industrial” are not too removed. I do think you see a defined arc of sound throughout the records. Our early recordings and first album are all harsher, more lo-fi. Anno Metuo II through Ascend Unto the Seventh Throne are all longform epic pieces.  And Inauguration of a Dying Sun, Dismal Rift and Severed Together have been more synthesizer-driven soundtrack leaning work.


Do you see this project as inherently tied to politics, or collective liberation?

:The Flail: Not inherently, no. That is to say that it is not a conscious intention to put forward a political message. But Aristotle described politics as the interaction of humans amongst humans within society. From this it must be said then that everything is political, even the espousal of an apolitical stance is a form of politics. Though the issues of politics in its most apparent and understood form, or that of liberation, may not be presently manifest or intended, I cannot say that it is not there. To speak personally it is more about being authentic to one’s self and creation and allowing the chips to fall where they might. In Oscar Wilde’s Man Under the Spirit of Socialism, he defended a socialist political stance out of the desire for the creation of art; the materiality of capitalist structures thwarts art. Firstly, that when one struggles merely for survival there is not the time for the creation of Art – we are estranged from our species-being, in the Marxist sense.

Secondly, and related to this, the creation of art becomes tied to its value as a commodity – the anathema of Art. Yet even these stances have within them a dangerous seed that can lead to elitism. Towards this, the idea of collective liberation is that which would allow art to form, exist, and thrive on its own terms, unbeholden to the market, gate-keepers, or dogmas.

:The Wrathe: I see the role of art as being about a type of liberation, namely a liberation of people’s generalized perceptions. Art can help the “other” express a point of view that might otherwise not be understood by larger cross sections of people. There are many cultures/perspectives I have gotten to know better through art, unique perspectives I would not have otherwise had any real exposure to.


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How did the Desolate Moon Phases project come together, and what was the thinking behind it?

:The Wrathe: DMP came together after I randomly met a couple musicians at a Minneapolis record store who had similar taste in Dungeon Synth, older Black Metal and Japanese horror comics. It is probably a little more inherently “dark ambient” than any of the Outer Gods recordings, and more tape-loop/music concrete leaning. Because of the number of different collaborators/instruments, it has an effect of walking through a large house with many different rooms. I went into DMP with the intent of making different tracks in different ways and trying to find overlap in hindsight, and the freewheeling approach yielded plenty of sonically interesting results.


What drives your commitment to antifascism in this music?  

:The Flail: I have never liked bullies, nor have I liked those who mistake their idiocy as a form of cleverness. Fascism is a reactionary movement, it is one of the herd, reaching towards some self-constructed mythic past that never existed. They are lambs who masquerade as eagles. We are fortunate to have never really encountered white supremacists personally. No one whom we have shared a stage with (at least to my knowledge), or conversed with, have held these views forward. I find the entire idea of white supremacy to be utterly laughable, especially in a pagan context.

Firstly, the idea of “whiteness” is one that emerges only in the expanse of European Colonialism under the auspices of Christendom. What does Odin have to do with Jove? What does the cultural history of the Alemani have to do with the Gaels? This process of a buffet style of paganistic thinking only occurs by virtue of the universalism that the Catholic Church brought with it by the hammer and sword of Charlemagne and Constantine. These so-called pagans who speak of an anachronistic idyll are merely reactionary phenomena whose existence is only allowed by that which they espouse to hate. Their whole reason for being is defined upon the construction of others that they can place themselves against. Whether it is anti-Semitism, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, it is the revelation that they are too weak to have any meaning outside of an opposition. Nietzsche said that one can tell the greatness of a beast by how many parasites it can endure. If this is the case, then far from operating from a place of strength and power as they imagine themselves, they are merely admitting that their ideas are so weak, so void of any vibrancy or vitality, that they cannot stand on their own.

And to hear people who strum on the guitar, which developed in part from the Almohad Caliphate in Iberia, brought to the “New World,” and further developed by indigenous and enslaved populations to form the roots which even permit the very genres they wish to use as an ideology is a proof that far from being a threat, multiculturalism has allowed their very Existence.

The British comedian Stewart Lee has a bit about UKIP and other anti-immigration groups, and their sheer idiocy. The entirety of human civilization has been formed not in isolation but out of the interconnectedness of various peoples.

:The Wrathe: I have zero interest in entertaining doctrines based around ignorant racist or nationalist belief systems. Technology and progress can be made by cooperation. Global culture is now interconnected in a transparent open way (by the internet), but on many levels it always has been interconnected. People looking to the past for the “right way” to live are looking in the wrong direction, we need to be looking to the future.


Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band?  How does antifascism inform your music?

:The Flail: Much like the late 19th and early 20th century, fascism (or proto/crypto-fascism) emerges out of the failure of the dominant political system. It is an attempt to give meaning to the senseless. But it is a regression, one which can never be wholly actualized. It is the hallmark of individuals who cannot bear their own weakness, and rather than traverse and overcome the frailty, fallibility, and insecurity that all people feel – for we cannot be everything and we must die – seeks to make ruins of the world so that they may become kings of the ashes.

:The Wrathe: Our music exists as a vehicle to explore something outside one’s self. There is a great emptiness in that void, a space for the mind to offer a different type of perspective. Fascism as a personal philosophy offers one limited world-view. But art asks a viewer to perceive in another way, and in so is inherently dangerous to dogma like fascism. The obvious examples of how Fascism approaches art can be seen in the ways the Nazis and Italian fascists destroyed progressive art. You cannot be in favor of progressive art and a fascist at the same time, it is dissonant.

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What other social issues play into your music?  There is a strong sense of a need to a return to a cyclical, grounded way of life in communities.

:The Flail: As mentioned above, any social issues manifest more from the virtue of existing rather than conscious espousal of ideology. The great debate amongst philosophers of history has always been whether human civilization traverses through time in a linear or cyclical fashion. To this, I cannot answer one way or the other. We are but ghosts, condemned to bodies. To assume that one can fight against the great deluge of entropy, which will consume all in due course by clinging towards a false sense of superior identity is to either be ignorant of that which truly binds all peoples together – that we must die.

:The Wrathe: I do think people have (in sometimes wildly different ways) struck out looking for the idea of “community” in new definitions. How music plays into that is of course something that is very hard to have perspective on, but perhaps the search itself is part of humanity’s permanent identity. In our generations we have used culture like music to forge communities (at shows, in online forums, talking at record stores), even if those communities are based around a collective alienation. Drone does offer a certain collective and immersive experience, but it is very hard to define beyond that because of the ephemeral nature of listening.


What’s coming next for you?

:The Wrathe: The Desolate Moon Phases album Heathenstones is coming out on Atlanta’s Stickfigure Recordings in May. In the coming months, I am producing an album or EP for my friend Sole Servant’s dungeon synth/dark ambient project MELOK TYR (he plays synths on the DMP album). This summer I have a couple mixing/mastering projects for Minneapolis experimental metal bands Past Dawn and Azael, which I am definitely looking forward to. My long running solo project Sareth Den has a full length that’s been slowly gestating this past year, hopefully it will finally see the light of day.


What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

:The Wrathe: If you have not stumbled across Popol Vuh in your musical travels, I can highly recommend their 1970s work. The discography spans all manner of sounds, from pastoral folk to cosmic synthesizers, mantra chanting to psychedelic jams. If you are unsure where to begin, try “Hosianna Mantra” from 1972 (or their debut if synthesizers are more your interest). Some people probably primarily know them for their impressive soundtrack work for Werner Herzog, but the album work is just as important and just as good. For something newer(ish), I would suggest the first Entrance album, “The Kingdom of Heaven Must be Taken By Storm.” Not all folk albums are created equally… this album offers a kind of raw, borderline anti-folk-in-moments sound, but taken together it is a supremely beautiful and oddly cosmic experience.


We are putting several Outer Gods tracks below from their large discography, and we encourage you to check out their Bandcamp and really dive into their work.  We put a track from the side project Desolate Moon Phases about (we will cover their album when it is released), and check out Sarath Den (we will also cover that new album when it is released).  We have also added to Outer Gods tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify!


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