Halloween Special: The Existential Satanic Horror of Deathspell Omega

Lungs filled with embers and regurgitating boiling blood, I say praise the Lord; praise, O servants of the Lord…may scoria bury Eden and blind the light of hope-First Prayer, S.M.R.C.

(Content warning: the following blog post will contain discussions of fascist and antisemitic hate speech, as well as very brief discussions of pedophilia, although that won’t come until later in the article. I will give a second warning later for those who are sensitive to those topics.)

So here’s a question: what kind of music do you like to listen to on Halloween? Maybe it’s the silly novelty songs like “Monster Mash,” “The Purple People Eater,” or “Spooky Scary Skeletons.” Perhaps it’s a spooky classic rock tune like “Season of the Witch” or “Witchy Woman” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Or you might indulge in some supernaturally themed heavy metal and punk music like Helloween’s “Halloween,” Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?”, or anything by King Diamond or Black Sabbath, or anything by Powerwolf or Rob Zombie or the Misfits. Or maybe you like to be hypnotized by the industrial horror of “Frankie Teardrop,” or the stark gothic blues of a spooky Nick Cave or Tom Waits track.

For a voracious music consumer like myself, all of these are equally valid options. However, there is one band over the years that has managed to worm its way into my fear centers like no other for a variety of reasons: their nihilistic lyrics, their theistic Satanist religious outlook, their incredibly harsh and dissonant music, and their extreme reclusiveness, to the point that no one knows who they even are. That band, coming to us from the city of Poitiers in west-central France, is Deathspell Omega.

Backstory

Deathspell Omega, or D.S.O. for short, was founded in 1998 out of the ashes of the black metal project Hirilorn. Its lineup consisted of Frederic “Shaxul” Sescheboeuf on vocals, Christian “Hasjarl” Bouche on guitars, Khaos on bass, and Yohann Pasquier on drums. Pasquier left before the recording of the band’s first album, Infernal Battles, in June of 2000, as the other Hirilorn members were angry at him and second guitarist Sinn for participating in a hardcore recording. The name of the drummer who replaced him is unknown.

Indeed, that’s one of the biggest gimmicks this band has- its complete and total anonymity. They have no official website, no social media accounts, and have never allowed themselves to be photographed. They have never performed live, do not credit themselves in their liner notes, and conducted no interviews between 2004 and 2019. This lack of information certainly plays a large part in the nightmarish mystique of the band.

Even so, several names have been attached to the band over the years. For example, Tobias Forge of Ghost, in a 2018 interview with Loudwire, stated that the band’s producer was Frank Hueso, a fellow Poitiers musician best known for his synthwave project Carpenter Brut. The vocalist who took over after Shaxul’s departure is often suspected to be Finnish musician Mikko Aspa (which has caused no small amount of controversy for the band for reasons I’ll get into later). Another vocalist is suspected of having joined the group sometime around the recording of the 2010 album Paracletus. Most fans suspect him to be Spica, vocalist for fellow French black metallers S.V.E.S.T. (who, incidentally, haven’t put out any new material since recording a split E.P. with D.S.O. in 2008).

In any case, most fans generally agree that the band didn’t become truly great until after Shaxul’s departure following the release of their second album, Inquisitors of Satan, in May of 2002. Shaxul later clarified that he was uncomfortable with the shift in themes that the band was undergoing. The band’s music consisted of orthodox black metal, very similar to pioneering Norwegian bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem at that time. However, starting with their next album, the band would find a new sound that would catapult them into the highest echelons of the French black metal scene, alongside Peste Noire, Blut Aus Nord, and Alcest.

Si Moventum Requires, Circumspice
Stare wide-eyed at this dense pitch boiling by the art divine; Amniotic liquid of another kind, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God- Blessed Are The Dead Which Dye in the Lorde.

The first and most apparent difference one might notice between this album (released in February of 2004) and the previous two is the change in music and vocal style. The music has changed from the orthodox black metal style to a much more avant-garde style, making heavy use of polyrhythms, dissonant and atonal riffs, and weird chord structures. The vocals have changed from the typical black metal shrieks of Shaxul to a deeper, more full-throated growl closer to death metal vocals (or the operatic rasp of Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar).

The album’s title is Latin for “If you seek his monument, look around you,” and is taken from an inscription on the tomb of widely celebrated English architect Sir Christopher Wren. In this context, however, the title is not for the aggrandizement of a single great man. No, here, D.S.O. is inviting us to see the monument to their Lord and Savior, Satan. And that monument is Earth itself.

This concept is further reinforced by the album art, drawn by Timo “Davthvs” Ketola, which features a decaying cherub corpse over a globe, its genitals hanging over the Levant in an apparent middle finger to the holy land of all three Abrahamic religions. But that’s not all the symbolism going on here. The cherub as a whole represents all three of the album’s most significant themes: antinatalism, antinomianism, and putrefaction.

Antinatalism is the philosophical belief that procreation is a moral evil, usually borne out of environmentalist concerns or because they think it violates consent to be born. This theme appears most clearly in the lyrics from “Blessed are the Dead Which Dye in the Lorde,” which I quoted above. This sentiment is also clearly stated in a Latin phrase that appears in the closing track, “Malign Paradigm,” which translates as “the house and church of our Lord is childless.”

This antinatalist stance is closely tied with the band’s symbolic use of the concept of putrefaction. D.S.O. takes the common Christian concept of original sin and cranks it up to eleven, arguing that a spiritual rot is inherent in every human’s soul, making Heavenly salvation impossible. For the heart of a lost angel is in the Earth, and that heart belongs to Satan. As the lyrics of “Carnal Malefactor” state, “He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” The empty throne of Christ that resides on the Earth will forever remain empty because humanity will never be spiritually pure enough to receive His kingdom. Again, in “Carnal Malefactor’s” words, human nature is a “ciborium of shame and waste.”

With that, D.S.O. offers the third theme of the album as a solution; antinomianism. Antinomianism, which Wikipedia defines as “any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious, or social norms,” is often used in Christian contexts in the same vein as “sola fide,” or “by faith alone” in Latin (that is, when it’s not referring to heresy). Several Christian scholars have criticized this notion.

D.S.O. is equally critical of the notion in the context of their metaphysical Satanist perspective. Faith in Satan alone is not going immanentize the eschaton and finally render humanity to the dustbin of history where it belongs. One must commit evil acts in the name of Satan to bring about his will on Earth. Such actions might take the form of the nightmarish avian-assisted abortion portrayed in “Carnal Malefactor”:

A phallic communion that sanctifies interior wastelands,
When a woman is knead by the claws of fowls attracted
By seminal odors no longer hidden by dignity,
And purified by their beaks rummaging her swollen vagina.

The carrion birds extract the woman’s unborn fetus, which is then used as part of a Satanic Eucharist in the following track, “Drink the Devil’s Blood.”

The whole theme of the album is that humans are far more susceptible to Satan and his influence than to that of God or his angels. Thus, in the words of this Pop Matters article, the album is about how “Satan is pervading every aspect of our material and metaphysical realms and how Man’s relationship with him should be one of reverence and devotion.” In short, if you can’t beat him, join him.

The band would take this premise a step further in the 2005 E.P. Kenose, named after the Greek word for “emptiness.” This concept is one method by which Christian scholars have theorized that Jesus’ relationship to God the Father worked while He was performing His miracles on Earth. Upon incarnating as a human child in Bethlehem, he emptied Himself of all divine attributes to live on Earth as an average person. D.S.O. seized on this possibility to argue that Jesus Himself ended up falling prey to the putrefaction inherent in the human soul, and thus His death upon the cross to redeem humanity’s souls from the grip of Satan was all for naught.

S.M.R.C. would only be the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with humanity’s relationship with Satan. The second would be released in July of 2007.

Fas-Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeturnum
God of terror, very low dost thou bring us, very low hast thou brought us- The Shrine of Mad Laughter.

This album gives us what is probably the most chaotic music out of all of D.S.O.’s discography. Featuring riffs that almost sound more like random noises than chord progressions and drumming that is equally breakneck and madcap, the music is surprisingly fitting for the absolutely shattering existential crisis that the main character is going through in this album’s story.

Although the album title (Latin for “Divine Law- Depart From Me, Ye Accursed, Into Everlasting Fire”) and art above may seem to represent Satan’s fall from God’s grace, the lyrics indicate that Satan’s and man’s fall from grace are one and the same. Because, again, the heart of a lost angel is in the Earth, and that heart belongs to Satan.

This album is where the band really starts to show off the influence of one of their biggest literary idols: the French post-surrealist philosopher Georges Bataille (pronounced buh-tie). His book Inner Experience is quoted extensively in the lyrics, alongside texts like My Mother, Theory of Religion, and The Solar Anus. Bataille’s philosophical writings were obsessed with limit experiences and acts of transgression. The basic thesis of his entire life’s work is probably best summarized by this quote from Inner Experience, which also appears in the track “A Chore for the Lost”:

Every human being not going to the extreme limit is the servent of the enemy of man and the accomplice of a nameless obscurity.

Georges Bataille, Inner Experience

Bataille saw no differences between the emotional states aroused by divine ecstasy and extreme horror and thus came to believe that humanity must seek experiences that drive us to our mental and physical limits to discover the absolute truth that lies within our souls.

In Fas-Ite…, D.S.O. argues that that truth lies in “Oobombration,” derived from the Latin word for “shadow,” which provides the title of the opening and closing tracks of the album. The Oobombrations seem to represent the darkness that comes before birth and after death and demonstrates humanity’s fragility and insignificance compared to their all-powerful, all-knowing God.

The four tracks between them show the stages of the protagonist’s journey after discovering this fact. He starts by going insane with terror in “The Shrine of Mad Laughter:”

A senstion of everlasting rot and those frantic wails!
No, it is not a fall into the abyss,
The defiance of descent,
A coronation beyond liberty and slavery!

The protagonist tries to cling to some semblance of normalcy in “Bread of Bitterness,” even as the truths he built his worldview on crumble around him:

From a suppliction without response,
The essence of man, his ground giving way,
Comes illumination by a sun of great evil that sets aflame the inner core
And enthrones suffocation and the intolerable without respite
As the joyful reward for a million aborted truths.

The protagonist than realizes that all of this was predestined in “The Repellant Scars of Abandon and Election,” and thus decides to follow the left-hand path away from conventional morality:

I was beyond withstanding my own ignominy.
I invoked it and blessed it.
I progressed even further into vileness and degredation.
Am I resurging, intact, out of infamy?

Finally, in “A Chore for the Lost,” we see the protagonist finally embrace the intoxicating transgressions that all men succumb to one way or another, for Satan is the unquestioned Lord of this World. Thus we must “be a blight… on all orchards of this world.”

What pleasure of inconcievable purity there is
In being an object of abhorrance
For the sole being to whom destiny links my life!

Darkness encloses the human soul every step of its journey through life, and one way or another, the darkness always reclaims us.

Paracletus
Raging winds over Babylon like a primal chaos spread. Emaciated beasts howl with angel voices. Thou shalt be desolate forever.- Malconfort

The title for this album comes from a Greek word that literally means “he who was called for/sent for.” It has also been used as “advocate” or “helper,” primarily in Christian contexts where it is used as an epithet for the Holy Spirit. Here, however, D.S.O. seems to be taking inspiration from French writer and Catholic apologist Leon Bloy, who is quoted in Raymond Barbeau’s book Un Prophete Luciferian as arguing that Satan will rise out of Hell at the end of days to become the Paraclete.

D.S.O., of course, spins this idea in a much darker direction, portraying his rise from Hell as being the final battle between God and Satan as depicted in the Book of Revelation. Of course, the seven-headed dragon illustrated in the album art is a big giveaway in this regard. There are other more subtle hints, however; for instance, the albums runs for just over 42 minutes, which is a reference to Revelation 13:5, which states that “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority over forty-two months.”

Indeed, the lyrics have a very apocalyptic feel to them. The first half of the seems to show Satan’s followers chanting an epiklesis, or “invocation,” to rise out of Hell to claim what is his. He commands his followers to undergo abscission, shedding parts of themselves that they don’t need, much like a maple tree sheds its leaves in autumn (likely shedding all sense of self in the same type of limit experiences Georges Bataille was so fascinated with). Meanwhile, those who still insist on following God are left without any sense of unity in His absence. Any perceived case of Him answering His followers’ prayers is nothing more than the spiritual equivalent of phosphenes, the phenomenon in which the eye perceives light without light actually entering the cornea.

The following five tracks describe the chaos that reigns on Earth as the final battle between Heaven and Hell rages. The rivers and seas boil away into nothing, and sickness and famine spread among the emaciated populace. Perhaps “Devouring Famine” depicts:

It is senseless to fight against this infinite stream.
Behind this threshold life exhausts itself, loses itself.
Rejoice! For tonight it is an eerie birth that we celebrate!
And with dusk, as shadows slowly recover the land,
The most extreme solitude drapes the shoulders
Of a distant silhouette bearing a glacial emptiness,
Laden like a luminous storm in which sun and lightning are prolonged;
A wound through which, hastening from all points of the universe,
Desolation spreads in chaotic convulsions.

The album, and the trilogy proper, ends with the track “Apokatastasis panton,” meaning “recreation of the universe” in ancient Greek. Usually, the phrase is used in the context of universal salvation, as with the Leon Bloy quote above. But of course, D.S.O. uses it to mean Satan is remaking the world in his image after his victory in the final battle. The track’s stark lyrics seem to represent Satan’s last message to all those poor souls who still cling to a belief in the essential goodness of humanity:

You were seeking strength, justice, splendor!
You were seeking love!
Here is the pit!
Here is your pit!
It's name is Silence!
Drought
A shadow of horror is risen. This will not be redeemed no matter how sincere the genuflection and ardent the confession.- Fiery Serpents

In between the main albums in the trilogy, D.S.O. released several E.P.’s that examined topics adjacent to the themes presented in the albums. Most of them only contained one song, usually running around twenty minutes in length. In order of their release, they are:

Mass Grave Aesthetics: Originally released in 2005 as part of a split L.P. titled From the Entrails to the Dirt, the song was eventually released as its own E.P. in December 2008. Lyrically, the song is based on this quote from the 19th-century French anarchist Laurent Talihade, which was responding to a terrorist attack against the Chamber of Deputies:

What matter the victims, provided the gesture is beautiful? What matters the death of vague human beings, if thereby the individual affirms himself?

Laurent Talihide, December 1893

D.S.O. uses this quote to argue that human self-affirmation is only possible through acts of violence, whether against oneself or others, especially to prove one’s loyalty to certain ideologies. Or, as Georges Bataille argues:

To choose violence is to choose freedom. What evil in essence rejects is a concern with a time to come. It is precisely in this sense that the longing for the summit-that the movement toward evil-constitute all morality within us. Morality has in itself no value (in the strong sense) except inasmuch as it leads to going beyond being-rejecting concerns for a time to come.

Geroges Bataille, On Nietschze

Diabolis Absconditus, meaning “the devil is hiding” in Latin, was also released on a 2005 split L.P., this time titled Crushing the Holy Trinity. It also received its own E.P. in May 2011. Here, the band portrays the traditional patriarchal archetype of God being replaced by a sexually depraved feminine archetype. This concept was heavily inspired by a Georges Bataille short story titled Madame Edwarda, in which the narrator hires the services of a prostitute who claims to be God on Earth.

Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeturnum: Chaining the Katechon: Released in December of 2008, this track revolves around the concept of the Katechon, a figure from New Testament esoterica who is believed to hinder the rise of the Antichrist as well as the second coming of Jesus. Thus, this Katechon needs to be chained so the apocalypse can proceed as planned. Indeed, one could interpret this as a direct prequel to Paracletus, especially in this repeated verse in which the Satanic cultists summon their Lord from the firey pit and experience an appropriately Lovecraftian response to his appearance:

We went to the trough, Lord!
We went bent and convulsed!
We saw blood, Lord! It was glittering!
You dispensed it and we drank it!
We saw your image!
The gap of your* eyes and mouths is void!
We went bent and convulsed!
It broke us and dissolved us!

*The lyrics in the liner notes read, “The gap of our eyes and mouths is void,” but the singer to me seems like he’s saying “your eyes and mouths.” I don’t know. I kind of think it’s cooler and scarier that way.

But by far the most consequential E.P. the band ever recorded was Drought, released in June 2012. It acts as an epilogue to the trilogy, showing the aftermath of the final battle from the point of view of the poor human souls left to rot on a dying planet Earth. God has surrendered to Satan, and, whether because He thinks humans are not worth the trouble anymore or because He has lost any power to save them from their fate, He has abandoned them to Satan to do with them as he pleases. Satan thus leaves Earth as, in the words of the track “Scorpions and Drought,” “a desert with no life but scorpions coming as a swarm, as a flood, with an abundance of deadly stings.” Naturally, D.S.O. views this as a mercy kill, “like the shooting in the head of a horse with a broken leg,” in the words of “Abrasive Swirling Murk.” All is truly lost.

The Synarchy of Molten Bones
The Synarchy of Molten Bones shall consist of men of worth and men of ill intent in abandoned yet equal numbers, for their insurgent wills harbor the seed of transgression alike.- The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Despite not being related to the trilogy in any direct fashion, I like to view this and the next album as prequels to the trilogy. Although calling Synarchy an album feels kind of wrong, as it only clocks in at slightly over 29 minutes, seven minutes shorter than the Kenose E.P.

The album art depicts Nimrod, a Biblical king who is often attributed as the man behind the Tower of Babel, thus portraying him as a rebellious and hubristic ruler who tried to usurp the authority of God. Some Jewish and Islamic traditions also describe him as an evil counterpart to Abraham. However, the artwork here is inspired by Book I of La Fin de Satan, which was Les Miserables and Hunchback of Notre Dame author Victor Hugo’s answer to Paradise Lost. Book I depicts Nimrod, who, having conquered and laid waste to the Earth, decides to conquer Heaven. To this end, he constructs a makeshift cage driven by four eagles drawn upward by lion carcasses. After traveling for a whole year and seeing nothing but blue skies, he finally shoots an arrow into the infinite and is thrown back to Earth.

D.S.O. uses this story to portray a group called the “Synarchy of Molten Bones” who take inspiration from the figure of Nimrod and decide to find a way to kill God so that they can become the ultimate power of the universe. For those wondering what a “synarchy” is, Wikipedia offers two definitions. Going by the original Greek, it comes from the words for “joint/harmonious rule.” However, D.S.O. seems to be going for the other definition, which is “rule by a secret elite.” Indeed, this was the definition popularised by French occult philosopher Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre in the 1880s as a conservative alternative to anarchism that preserved the existing hierarchies rather than abolishing them.

Indeed, the central thesis of this album’s story seems to be that humanity’s boundless ambitions will only end up destroying us in the end, both materially and spiritually. The result of the Synarchy’s meddling, according to the final track, “Internecine Iatrogenesis,” will be “a brazen holocaust, brighter than a hundred suns, that slowly consumes God and man.”

But D.S.O. isn’t content with simply stating that the Synarchy’s reign and their insatiable quest to conquer Heaven and Earth will create a nightmarish hellscape in our world. They want to show us what that world might look like…

The Furnaces of Palingenesia
Hear our voices, all of you men of resentment; whose stomachs and souls are aflame with the poisonous flame of impotence; you who have been wronged again and again; wiping your face clean day after day, from the spit of those sitting unjustifiably above you. We will grant you freedom from freedom!– The Fires of Frustration

This album, released in May 2019, presents possibly the most unambiguous themes in their entire discography. The album is presented as a speech by an authority figure who serves as the spokesperson for a fascist organization called the Order. The lyrics present fascist rhetoric in its purest form, divorced from all the alt-right’s promises of a utopia waiting beyond all the bloodshed. The spokesperson admits that the Order is only looking to amass more and more power for itself and those who swear loyalty to it.

Granted, the band does throw some shade at left-wing authoritarian governments as well, as another big theme seems to be that every violent revolution, regardless of its stated goals, contains the seeds of its own destruction. Takes this passage from “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!” which quotes Mao Zedong almost verbatim:

Nothing from the world of yore deserves to be preserved;
Every particle is infected and corrupt.
The great cleansing shall take as long as necessary,
For power exclusively stems from the gun barrel.
On a glorious dawn,
The odoe od tear gas shall replace the scent of fresh brewed coffee,
The dust of crumbling buildings shall darken the horizon and fill your lungs
As the sun reaches its zenith;
Victorious chants will resonate at dusk
To the rhythm of cracking necks and the gunfire of mass executions.
Behold the glorious beauty of unrestrained fraternal compassion and love!

However, these passages are far outnumbered by others that directly condemn various fascist beliefs, including some that have become mainstream talking points among traditional conservatives (because we live in the worst timeline). Take this quote from “Sacrificial Theopathy,” for instance:

Thou shalt decree that thine enemy comes from shores unknown to the man of virtue,
Strange lands that breed beings devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Anyone else getting major Tucker Carlson/Stephen Miller vibes from this quote? “Absolutist Regeneration” also contains a promise that “we will clean out the marsh at all cost.” In other words, we will drain the swamp. Of course, the Order’s spokesperson has a much less outwardly altruistic motive for doing so than Mango Mussolini, as the preceding sentence states that “We will turn this world into a cemetery rather than not regenerate it in our own way” (which, let’s be honest, is probably what Individual 1 meant anyway).

Several other passages speak to the cutthroat nature of the late-stage capitalist economics that most fascists prefer, especially this one, also from “Absolutist Regeneration/Year Infinity”:

Those who nourish the famished shall be left to starve.
Those who heal the wounded shall be maimed.
Those who console the lamenting souls shall be buried alive,
Thier stomachs filled with ignonimous larvae.
Rats shall feed on the eyes of those guilty of empathy towards their fellow men.
That which is not our credo is not to be.

And now I get major Augusto Pinochet vibes from this passage.

The album goes on like this for ten songs for about forty minutes, the spokesperson ranting like a deranged and murderous psychopath over music that is much more straightforward than the other albums but no less dissonant and discordant (unlike all other D.S.O. albums, this was apparently recorded live in the studio). The final track, titled “You Cannot Even Find the Ruins,” dispenses with this to present much softer (yet still heavy) music, as the narrator describes the end result of the Order’s rapacious power grabs:

You cannot even find the ruins
of the jewels of yesterday
they're ashes gone
memories wiped clean

Indeed, this may reflect how another fictional fascist organization called “the Order” left the Earth after its final victory. The classic white supremacist text The Turner Diaries ends with much of the Earth becoming an irradiated hellscape with 90% of the human population wiped out and the remaining 10% likely soon to follow. But the author wants us to view this as a good thing because at least all the Jews and non-whites are dead, right?

But here is where we address the larger controversy that this album spawned upon its release. While the majority of listeners have (rightly, in my opinion) come away from The Furnaces of Palingenesia seeing it as a double-barrelled dark satire of fascist rhetoric, given the massive amount of self-aware irony present in the lyrics, some are accusing Deathspell Omega as a whole of being an outright National Socialist Black Metal (or N.S.B.M.) band.

Remember that content warning I gave way at the top of this essay about fascist and antisemitic hate speech and pedophilia? Yeah, here’s where I warn you that anyone sensitive to those topics should proceed with caution because here is where we discuss the one person who is the reason why D.S.O. is accused of being fascist sympathizers.

Mikko Aspa (aka The Elephant in the Room)
Mikko Aspa playing in Bar Rock Bear in Helsinki on 6.12.2018, an Independence Day neo-Nazi gig in Finland.

Mikko Reino Juhani Aspa, from the city of Lahti, has long been recognized and decried for being a leader in Finland’s National Socialist music scene. Aside from his suspected involvement in Deathspell Omega, Aspa has racked up a truly massive number of other musical projects over the years, including but not limited to:

  • A one-man black metal project called Clandestine Blaze
  • A Rock Against Communism group called Vapaudenristi
  • A one-man funeral doom metal project called Stabat Mater
  • A pornogrind project called Creamface
  • A noise project called Nicole 12
  • Guest work for bands like Goatmoon, Mgla, and Pagan Skull

Of all the bands listed above, probably Stabat Mater is the only one not embroiled in controversy around white supremacy or Aspa’s somewhat disturbing obsession with taboo/illegal sex acts. For instance, Creamface songs have sported such lovely titles as “Rimjob Teenager” and “Underage Anal Girl,” and Nicole 12 was a project that was apparently centered on the lyrical theme of pedophilia (although Aspa apparently shelved that project after becoming a father in 2011, so… good on him, I guess?).

As for the white supremacy accusations, those most prominently come up in relation to Clandestine Blaze and Vapaudenristi. I won’t go over all the details here since the Finnish Antifa network already went over Aspa’s connections in this beautiful article on their blog. Suffice it to say, though, Aspa’s ties go pretty deep.

For instance, in October of 2016, Vapaudenristi participated in a benefit concert for Jesse Eppu Torniainen, a Neo-Nazi activist sent to prison for the murder of an anti-fascist activist named Jimi Karttunen. The band has also gotten flack for anti-Semitic rhetoric in their lyrics, which seems to be true if Google Translate is working correctly.

Anti-Semitic themes are equally present in the Clandestine Blaze song “Tearing Down Jerusalem” from the 1999 E.P. On the Mission:

War! Strike to the holy city!
Crush Jerusalem!
Torture the followers of weakening God!
Let the blood stream through dirty streets!
Zionist cancer faces zero tolerence!
Tearing down Jerusalem!
Crushing Zionist power!
Victory of unholy forces!
Our victory!

Granted, Aspa seems to have toned down the anti-Semitism in more recent albums, although that probably has more to do with not wanting to appear too extreme to the unconverted rather than a genuine heel face turn. Indeed, as recently as a 2020 interview with the WordPress blog Excuse the Blood, Aspa identified Pentti Linkola as an influence, a Finnish ecofascist who once said he preferred dictatorships to democracies.

As for his history with Deathspell Omega, the band released their first two albums on Northern Heritage, a record company founded by Aspa in 1999. Ironically enough, though, all of the albums with Aspa reputedly on vocals were released through D.S.O.’s self-publishing label Norma Evangelium Diaboli. Some have argued that someone other than Mikko Aspa is the vocalist, at least since Synarchy, usually Hasjarl, Spica, or Frank Hueso. However, I took the liberty of listening to “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!” from Furnaces and the title track of the 2018 Clandestine Blaze album Tranquility of Death back-to-back, and I am pretty well convinced that Mikko Aspa is indeed the vocalist.

Personal and Concluding Thoughts

I admit that I was pretty excited to talk about this band back toward the beginning of this month, as the band seemed the perfect scary topic for the month of spooks and specters. However, right after I finished the previous article on paranormal triangles, I decided to read that article I linked above outlining Mikko Aspa’s connection to the Neo-Nazi underground, and subsequently became much more conflicted. Am I indirectly supporting fascist movements in the Baltic region by listening to Deathspell Omega? How much in the way of royalties does Aspa receive via his participation in this band?

D.S.O. themselves have stated that their intention was for Furnaces to be interpreted as anti-fascist in a 2019 interview with Bardo Methodology, in which they said that a minority of their contributors stand on opposite ends of the political spectrum from the core French collective “and are therefore irreconcilable political foes.” They also point to the historical friendship between French communist philosopher Louis Aragon, Gaullist Andre Malraux, and fascist Pierre Drieu La Rochelle as a parallel to their relationship with Aspa. However, they fail to mention that Aragon and La Rochelle became enemies when the latter sided with the Vichy French government after the Nazi takeover of Paris in May of 1940.

A part of me does get a sense of schadenfreude listening to Aspa singing the lyrics to Furnaces as his bandmates take the piss out of an ideology he clearly holds dear. But then I wonder if it’s just slightly hypocritical that the band is working with an avowed fascist while writing lyrics about how fascism is the ultimate expression of human evil.

Then again, I feel that the band has been operating on this mantra that opens the Furnaces track “Absolutist Regeneration” since the beginning of their career: “The only truly malignant evil is hope.” Indeed, just by reading the interviews the band gave around the release of Furnaces, they seem to think that humanity is incapable of finding a way out of their inevitable destruction, that fascism or some version of Stalinist Russia or North Korea is the logical endpoint of human progress. Thus, they don’t see collaborating with a known fascist collaborator.

Indeed, any reader who is aware of my previously stated political beliefs might naturally be wondering why I’m giving this band the time of day in the first place. Well, the answer is probably similar to many other people’s fascination with true crime or with violent gangster rappers: humanity is evolutionarily hard-wired to pay attention to dangerous people who might say or do things that may cause them harm.

Deathspell Omega is truly a one-of-a-kind band, for better or for worse. They took a tried and true black metal tradition, bashing Christianity, and took time to actually engage with the religion they were criticizing rather than attack a caricature of it. And while I disagree with most of their conclusions, especially their view of human nature, their lyrics have given me a possible philosophy for the human villains of The Divine Conspiracy to work off of. So maybe there’s some good one can get out of this band.

So, what are your opinions? Am I a terrible person for profiling this band despite it collaborating with a fascist? Is it possible to separate the art from the artist in this case since Aspa has been confirmed not to contribute songwriting in any way? Or is it best for me to just leave this band behind and focus on more wholesome artists? I appreciate any and all comments and responses.

In the meantime, that’s it for this article. Join me next time when I do a P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist Episode on an obscure Scottish progressive rock artist from the 1980s. Until then, have a safe and happy Halloween, and remember: “Judica me… perinde ac cadaver!”

Have you beheld the darkness sitting upon the Earth, overshadowing the wind rose, lost in the smoke?- Phosphene

Halloween Special: My 10 Favorite Thomas Ligotti Stories

We all know the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, right? If you don’t, maybe this well known tentacled monstrosity will refresh your memory.

Pardon me, do you have a second to talk about our Lord and Savior Nyarlathotep?

Yes, that’s right, our old friend Howard Phillips was responsible for our favorite non-Japanese kaiju, Cthulhu. But what many people don’t seem to realize, probably because they haven’t read H.P.’s work, is that Cthulhu and his brothers, the Great Old Ones, were not merely radioactive mutants or flesh and blood alien conquerors. They are the gods that our ancestors worshipped, the ones that called for blood sacrifices and rampaged across the land when they weren’t delivered. They are beings hailing from a plain of reality so alien to our own that merely looking upon them can drive a person insane.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, inside that alternate plane of reality are the creator deities that the Great Old Ones worship as gods, the Outer Gods. Instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, however, we get Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth. This trinity cares not for the struggles of a tiny, insignificant species like ourselves. And even if they do, they offer nothing in the way of salvation. They just make us wish they would leave us alone and make the torture stop already!

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the cosmos at large… To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.

H. P. Lovecraft to the editor of Weird Tales, c. 1927
Also, remember that Negroes are semi-human figures filled with vice! Wait, why are you looking at me like that? (Trigger warning for hyperlink: Very racist!)

That’s certainly a very bleak way of looking at the world. Lovecraft essentially portrays our universe as a tiny bubble floating in the vastness of the ocean, vulnerable to being popped by the jostling of an oblivious sea creature that didn’t even notice it was there in the first place.

But what if you took that idea one step further? What if you concluded that it is not that malignant eldritch deities are infiltrating reality? What if, instead, reality itself was an inherently malignant deity that we all had to suffer inside the rancid belly of? This is the premise that lies at the heart of the literary creations of Thomas Ligotti.

Before you ask, no, he is not clinically dead in this photo. At least not on the outside.

Much like Lovecraft before him, Ligotti has never been a happy person. He suffers from clinical depression, chronic anxiety, and even anhedonia (a lack of motivation or even the ability to experience pleasure). This naturally led to a strong disillusionment with life that manifests strongly in the often crushing cynicism that pervades his work. From clowns and puppet shows and dreams to medical professionals and office work and decaying urban centers, many aspects of everyday life are tools in his modus operandi of examining everyday life from his detached and darkly comic perspective and dissecting it to find the weirdness and horror lying within.

With that, let me introduce to my ten favorite Thomas Ligotti stories (in no particular order). And maybe keep a nightlight on while we make this journey.

1. The Frolic

This story is Ligotti’s take on every parent’s worst nightmare: the child sexual predator. It focuses on Dr. David Munck, a psychologist who works in the criminal justice system, as he opens up to his wife Leslie about a very unnerving John Doe he’s been working with. This John Doe, a serial child “frolicker,” as he calls it, is infamous among the other doctors for his utter uncanny strangeness.

He insists he has no identity, which seems to be backed up by the fact that no one can find any documentation on him. He speaks and acts in a very childish manner, often shifting between various strange accents. He seems to lack any inkling that what he does to his young companions is wrong in any way. He claims to have come from what Dr. Munck describes as “a cosmos of crooked houses and littered alleys, a slum among the stars,” which is where he does his “frolicking.” He even goes as far as to claim that going to prison is merely a vacation from his work with children and that he can get out any time he wants. But probably the worst thing about Dr. Munck’s interview with John is when the “frolicker” asked if he had “a misbehavin’ lad or little colleen of your own.” And colleen is not that far off from Norleen, his daughter’s name…

Indeed, it’s probably not the best story to read if you’re a parent, especially if you’re paranoid about this sort of thing. Especially if you don’t fancy your child going on a field trip to a place featuring such landmarks as “a moonlit corridor where mirrors scream and laugh, dark peaks… that won’t remain still,” or “a stairway that’s ‘broken’ in a very strange way.”

2. The Chymist

This story is told entirely as a single side of an entire conversation, in a similar manner to Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model.” Rather than a Bostonian who paints portraits of corpse-eating ghouls, though, this story’s main character is a man who calls himself Simon, who fancies himself a modern-day alchemist. The story is narrated from his perspective as he carries on a conversation with a sex worker named Rosemary that he meets at a bar. He waxes philosophical about the decay in the city as he takes her back to his apartment to get freaky… but not in a good way. For you see, Simon here specializes in creating waking dreams with his brand of alchemy. And he has a very Freddy Krueger-esqe way of using the human body as his dream canvas as he gives himself over to nebulous unseen entities to help him do his work…

This piece manages to be so effective in its horror by the way it puts us in Rosemary’s shoes. As the readers, we are charmed and amused (or annoyed) by Simon’s ridiculously flowery soliloquies as he takes us on his journey through the decaying city that he and Rosemary call home. And it makes it all the more bone-chilling when Simon reveals his true purpose for the poor woman. It really says something that Ligotti manages to make a simple rape look like a step up compared to the implications behind “Now Rose of madness- BLOOM!”

3. The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise

It’s probably no surprise that someone of Ligotti’s mental disposition might not have the fondest view of the holiday season. This distaste is embodied through a younger relative of the titular character, Jack, as he narrates his lack of joy whenever his parents take him to his aunt’s house every Christmas Eve to celebrate. On his twenty-first Christmas at her house (which he vows will be his last), he listens as Aunt Elise tells a story about the old man who lived in a now abandoned and torn-down house down the road. She tells of how an antiquarian visited his house before he died, only to find himself having been transported to another world filled with a dark fog where tortured shapes wander aimlessly, and realizes he has become the old man himself. Jack shrugs off the story as he leaves to go home, only to see the house has seemingly returned, bedecked in Christmas lights…

This story seems to speak to the portion of us who feel somewhat alienated from our families, especially around the holidays. Personally, I still love the holiday season. Still, they seem to become less fun with the overly-commercialized stranglehold that capitalism has on the Christmas season and as my political views deviate further from the rest of my mostly conservative and patriotic family. The story also illustrates just how strong family bonds can be in a horrifying way with its ending twist, especially for those who can’t stand theirs.

4. Masquerade of a Dead Sword

This story is a dark fantasy tale that takes place in the city of Soldori and follows a bespectacled swordsman named Faliol. A messenger named Streldone takes him to the local duke’s palace to celebrate a local festival. Once there, Faliol begins making grand speeches about a new realm of reality he has experienced, one where demonic spirits tell him maddening secrets about reality. Now his only wish is “to see the world drown in oceans of agony” to relieve himself of “a madness which is not of this world.” While the court mage at first seems to dismiss his ramblings, he soon shows himself to be not all he seems when he starts orating about the need to overthrow the hold that Anima Mundi has on the living beings of this earth. And Faliol is to start the cleansing at the duke’s masquerade ball…

This is definitely one of the more interesting diversions Ligotti has made from his usual modern-day urban horror setting, and it works really well. As one might expect, with Ligotti’s trademark philosophical pessimism at the forefront, he manages in just twenty pages to create a dark fantasy world that would even make George R.R. Martin go, “What the fuck?!”

5. The Journal of J.P. Drapeau

This story follows the titular author as he chronicles his stay in the Belgian city of Bruges in the 1890s and early 1900s. Drapeau’s entries are relatively normal until he recounts an instance where he bumped into an older man being taken away to an asylum, who warns him never to say a word about the things he knows. True, Drapeau sometimes harbors fantastic notions. He attributes the noises in his closet to two corpses that live in it and believes that demons who played with his body parts as a child still live among the stars. However, even as he denigrates other people’s notions of a world beyond ours, he begins to feel as if an ineffable presence is calling out to him. Then he begins to notice something off about his reflection in the mirror and that an alternate version of Bruges from his books is starting to take shape around him…

While I’m not entirely certain what Ligotti was trying to say with this story, I feel like this might be a comment on escapism and how retreating into your own fictional world too often can cause you to lose sight of the real world. Of course, Ligotti, ever the cynic, decides to take it a step further by making it quite literal.

6. Vastarien

This may be the closest thing to an optimistic story that Ligotti has written, and even has something of a happy ending, depending on your point of view.

The title refers to a fantasy dream-world that has been created in the mind of an asylum inmate named Victor Keirion. It is a world where normal earthly laws and rules have no meaning, resembling a dark and crumbling city where the buildings are twisted at odd angles, sometimes to the point that their roofs face the ground. But his dream sanctuary becomes threatened when a crow-like man invades Vastarien and threatens to destroy it. Can Victor save his dream paradise from destruction?

Interestingly, this story comes right after “The Journals of J.P. Drapeau” in the Songs of a Dead Dreamer collection and has similar themes of disappearing into another world. Whereas the former portrays this as happening against the protagonist’s will, in “Vastarien,” the protagonist deliberately escapes into his dream-world and leaves the Earth behind. Perhaps escape into another world is not always a bad thing after all?

7. The Last Feast of Harlequin

This story can be described as “Shadow Over Innsmouth but in Appalachia” and is even dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft’s memory. Ligotti has also stated that this was the first story he ever published, which really shows how well he had mastered his craft by then.

The story follows an unnamed anthropologist as he travels to the town of Mirocaw, curious about their pageantry festival that centers on a clown motif. Things begin to take a turn for the strange, however, when he bumps into his old mentor, Dr. Raymond Thoss, who has been missing for several years. As the anthropologist investigates further, he soon makes a horrifying discovery about the festival’s true nature, including human sacrifice, a biological secret about the festival-goers that comes out at the sacrifice, and worst of all, the anthropologist’s disturbing connection to all of this…

While people who have read Shadow… can likely guess the ending twist based on my description, the story also bears a strong resemblance to Lovecraft’s earlier story “The Festival,” which features a similar revelation about the true nature of the festival-goers. The only difference being that Lovecraft’s story is implied to be all a dream at the end, whereas here it’s all too real.

8. Nethescurial

This story is undoubtedly one of the most stereotypically Lovecraftian pieces that Ligotti has written. It is also one of the best ones to demonstrate his “reality as a malignant god” concept.

The story follows an unnamed narrator as he recounts his studying of a journal by one Bartholomew Gray as he travels to an obscure island named Nethescurial with an archaeologist named Dr. N-. There they learn of the patron deity of the native inhabitants, who ended up smashing the idol depicting it and scattering to all corners of the globe when they learned of its evil nature. Gray recounts finding all the pieces, only to smash the idol once again when he started seeing the god’s essence squirming around inside everything he saw. At first, the narrator writes the story off as a middling adventure yarn until he, too, starts to feel the evil god’s presence in every wall and floorboard and becomes aware of a shadow covering the moon…

Indeed, this story reminded me of “The Call of Cthulhu” in some ways, in that it involves a narrator reading notes about a globetrotting adventure that eventually leads to the uncovering of forbidden ancient knowledge that drives one insane. At least Cthulhu has a physical body, though. What Ligotti describes here sounds more a Satanist’s idea of pantheism, a black substance that literally permeates every atom of existence. But don’t worry, guys: “Nethescurial is not the secret name of the creation.”

9. The Shadow at the Bottom of the World

This story tells of a farming community that discovers a black mold-type substance formed under a scarecrow’s clothes. The black mass retreats into a bottomless hole shortly after its discovery, and the townspeople elect to board it up and forget about it. However, the warm temperatures of the growing season seem to stick around. Strange colors appear in the vegetation, and a constant droning, like that of a swarm of cicadas, seems to fill the air. The townspeople soon begin to suspect that the black mold is part of a larger entity that demands sacrifice in return for their harvest…

My first impression was that this story seems to be using the black mold as Ligotti’s twisted interpretation of a Mother Nature archetype. It’s not hard to see the whole sacrifice theme as a commentary on humanity taking what they want from the Earth and the Earth finally having enough and demanding something from them in return. Also worth noting is how the narrator doesn’t seem to be a singular person, but rather the town as a collective. The word “I” never appears at all, and the plotline involving Mr. Marble, the only character with a distinct individual identity, might be Ligotti’s commentary on conformity in small-town American society.

10. My Work Is Not Yet Done

Ligotti’s only novella is divided into “Three Tales of Corporate Horror,” as the subtitle suggests. The bulk of the book is taken up by the titular story, which follows junior manager Frank Dominio as he plots revenge against the seven other managers who got him fired from his job. His plans become much more elaborate than a simple shooting spree, however, when a dark force that animates all life on Earth gives Frank psychic powers which he uses to inflict ghoulishly creative and ironic punishments on those who wronged him.

The other two stories are “I Have a Special Plan for This World” (which tells of the Blaine Company’s plight as it deals with a high murder rate in its home city and a yellow haze that constantly covers it. All of this is narrated from the point of view of an employee who seems to know more about what is going on than he lets on…) and “The Nightmare Network” (told in an epistolary format, it chronicles the merging of Oneiricon with the titular network, with catastrophic results).

These stories are notable for how well they portray the cutthroat nature of late-stage capitalism and how well they show how the corporate world’s machinations really make them the new eldritch horrors in town.


Please note, though, that I have only read three of Ligotti’s works so far; Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe, and My Work Is Not Yet Done. If there are some other stories you think I missed, feel free to let me know in the comments. In the meantime, have a happy Halloween, boils and ghouls! Even if the pandemic means you can’t go trick-or-treating, I hope you still have a good time. In the meantime, happy reading (starts laughing maniacally).