Yet another entrant into Switzerland’s now established Helvetic Underground Committee (heretofore referred to as The HUC) circle emerges, this time as symphonic, “transcendental” black metal act Ophanim. Alongside other acts like Ungfell, Ateiggär, Kvelgeyst (more on them in the coming weeks), and many more, The HUC’s adventurous spirit drives black metal through the underground with various and unique takes on the genre. With Ophanim, the duo of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Meister Tekel (otherwise known as Menetekel, Temenkeel, the list goes on) and drummer Voidgaunt, Ophanim adds an airier quality to The HUC. Drawing inspiration from classic symphonic black metal and more recent atmospheric black metal alike, Ophanim’s debut album Tämpelskläng walks a fine line between atmosphere building and songcraft alike, resulting in something which is both enthralling and immersive, but also heady and studious.
This album reveals Meister Tekel’s grasp of black metal’s more ambiance-forward side coming to the proverbial head–Tämpelskläng‘s dense atmospheres and unique riffing slightly recall other acts, but there is an element of mysticism and Antiquity which pervades this album’s melodic sense, no doubt a result of Meister Tekel’s own Tanakh studies. Yes, Judeo-Christianity plays a part in this album, but not in a religious fashion. Meister Tekel’s personal interest in spirituality plays a large role in Tämpelskläng, but not as a belief system and more a vessel for his own spirituality, about which he expounds in an interview which can be read below.
Listen to Tämpelskläng and read an interview with Meister Tekel ahead of the album’s release below.
How does Ophanim fit into the greater Helvetic Underground Committee narrative?
There is not really a narrative in our circle in the sense that each band must follow a specific idea or philosophy. There’s only one requirement and that is that the music must be “authentic”, it must convey some unique atmosphere or tell a story that hasn’t been told a million times. Obviously, you can’t be highly original in everything you do but I have come to the realization over the years that you must at least strive for it. It’s not that I didn’t do that before, but I’m doing it more consciously now. creating music to “also create music”, replicating an existing thing over and over again is pointless.
In my attempts to translate this album’s written aspects, I’ve found that there aren’t direct translations in modern language. Did you use an older dialect for this album?
No, it’s simply Swiss-German, my own language/dialect. With Ungfell I’m using Swiss-German because it fits the themes and the whole Ungfell-universe so to speak. This is not the case with Ophanim. Here I just resorted to my native tongue because it felt right.
Though Tämpelskläng deals with Judeo-Christian mythology on a surface level, it is said that this album deals with personal themes. What parallels did you find when exploring these themes together?
I have never been a religious person and I’m not to this day. However, I do think there’s an inherent need in every human to have some form of a “higher power” in one’s life. In my view, we’re currently still battling the realization that there is virtually nothing in the universe that has meaning. The gap that god left within us is being filled with alternatives that are not necessarily seen as religion but they basically possess the same mechanic. I’m talking about all sorts of political radicalism, capitalism/consumerism, the belief in technological advance and so on. For me, it has mainly been the arts where I seem to have found some sort of vessel, capable of being a home to my need for spirituality. The act of creating music is oftentimes coupled with a euphoric or even ecstatic feeling for me. When everything falls in place and you, the creator, are in a state of “flow”, there’s a feeling of oneness and harmony with your surroundings. I think you can absolutely draw a comparison between the described feelings and the ones you’ll find in religious texts about, let’s say, the unio mystica. So, for me it was clear that Ophanim is not “religious” in that it reflects a specific religion but more so a specific state of mind. A state of mind which probably led people to invent religious narratives in the first place. That’s why it made sense to me to seek inspiration in the lowest common denominator of the most powerful religions today: the Tanakh.
While this is an ethereal and airy album, Tämpelskläng remains an enthralling and captivating listen. What did you do to achieve this balance between these two halves of the “Ophanim sound”?
As I have just tried to explain, the creation of this album wasn’t founded on what you could call “conscious” songwriting, so it’s hard for me to answer this question. I do feel though that there is an immense power in the spiritual potential of humans, regardless of this being a positive or negative thing – it’s probably the latter. But I guess I somehow managed to implement both sides of the same coin into the album: aggression, fury on the one side, calmness and ethereal peace on the other. I would like to ramble on by saying that I personally feel that there’s not enough emotional ambivalence in this genre, especially in atmospheric black metal. I think this particular genre is incredibly stale. It’s almost like there’s only one vibe considered atmospheric and all the bands (surely not literally all of them) are just rerecording the same album. So if you detected some ambivalence in this album I couldn’t hope for more praise.
The press release describes Ophanim as “transcendental sounds of total immersion.” Is this what you had in mind for this album–something immersive? Or do you want something more interactive and less “heady”?
Sure, immersion is the main aim in music in general, at least in my view. Punk is immersive too; it puts you in a certain state, a certain headspace. I’m not sure what you mean by “heady” but yes, I guess since I based the album primarily on my gut feelings and tried to compose without thinking too much you could really say that. I’d argue that it gets heady fast if you take this approach to composing and to art into consideration, too.
For me, Ophanim’s sound can be traced to a few lineages, but I’m curious about your take on this project’s categorization and influences. How would you categorize Ophanim, and where does this particular sound come from?
I really don’t care about categorizations to be honest. As I alluded to above, I have always found “atmospheric black metal” to be mostly boring, apart from a few really great bands. So, I’m not keen on Ophanim being categorized as that. On the other hand, I guess it was somehow my aim to make an atmospheric black metal album that had more depth to it than what you usually hear e.g., to make an atmospheric black metal album that doesn’t suck. With my futile and cocky attempt to lead this genre to its glory in mind, you probably should call Ophanim “atmospheric black metal”. For me it’s just Ophanim. As for the sound: I have read and heard feedback about people saying it was too synth heavy. Well, I refute your criticism by declaring that there were almost no synthesizers used in the creation of this album. It’s actually just one guitar (with an octaver), one bass, a drum and obviously vocals. As for the riffs, I couldn’t tell you where they come from. It makes sense that they are pretty simple and convey something primal at times because, as mentioned before, it was my aim to not think too much while composing. Since I’m a lousy guitarist I just played what was possible for me.
Tämpelskläng releases November 24th via Eisenwald.