INTERVIEW


Mithras interview with Leon Macey conducted by Stephen Logos (ragman_scarecrow@yahoo.com)
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Stephen: The god Mithras occurs in both Persian and late Roman culture; in the first instance he was a warrior god that defended against the encroachment of dark forces; in the second instance he served as a primary symbol of the Mystery Cults as a guide to Other Worlds. Can you tell us about your choice of this name for your project, and what it means to you?

Leon: Well in your question you've mentioned two obvious reasons why we chose the name; the dichotomy in the "meaning" and connotations of the name Mithras, on one hand a god of "light" and yet also a guide to what you term "other worlds". When we decided to change our name from our original moniker, 'Imperator' (roughly meaning "Roman emperor in times of war") we wanted to keep a name related in some way to ancient Rome yet with a more direct relationship to what was forming as the ethos of the band, namely almost "heavy" mysticism and philosophical searching both musically and lyrically. When we stumbled across the name it was so fitting we couldn't help thinking it wasn't by accident. The name 'Mithras' literally embodies a summation of what the band is about.


Stephen: Let’s talk, for a moment about the spiritual current that informs your music. I’ve noticed that the motifs that figure in your music are unique in the Metal underground. Whereas most Black/Death Metal bands utilize fairly accessible images and symbols pertaining to Satanism, or dark paganism, your music and its imagery seem decidedly more arcane, and self-referential. Can you comment on this? Do you perceive your spiritual inspiration to be in line with the currents of the Metal underground? What are the points of similarity, and the points of divergence?

Leon: Unique? I suppose you're right in that I've not yet come across a band doing exactly what we do in a symbolic sense, or a band who conveys the same "essence" thematically as we do. We've always wanted to reference almost timeless images with our work in all its forms, starting off by using something so ancient as to be far removed from the present (i.e. ancient Roman imagery) then moving to what you term more "arcane" universal representations.

I definitely don't perceive our spiritual "inspiration" to be anywhere near in line with what you could term the "general" undercurrent of the metal underground. We've always felt removed from more herd like mentalities and as you suggest, have never had any interest following a more simplistic satanic or pagan "pathway" (no disrespect intended) due mostly to the lack of individual retrospection and thought involved in such groups. I'd say the similarity we have to the examples you mention is in some of the ideals, i.e. referencing nature and almost what one could term “old gods” but divergence in that we simply do not walk a theistic pathway, whether mono theistic or otherwise.


Stephen: I would like to take a moment to hone in on some of the re-current themes that appear in your work. On Worlds Beyond the Veil you have a song entitled 'Transcendence', and through out the last two albums you seem to dwell on the dynamic of breaking the bounds of the senses to converse with a greater world beyond. Certain songs, such as 'The Caller and the Listener' seem to hearken to Gnostic ideas of rising above the physical world through a confrontation with a terrible, and awe inspiring power that lies beyond day to day reality. Can you offer any illumination on these themes?

Leon: Well, you've managed to succinctly explain the song 'Caller...' pretty well. Basically that song touches on the idea of all the messages we've been sending out into space, either intentionally, or inadvertently (i.e any kind of E.M (radio) signals) eventually being picked up by a rather untoward entity which unfortunately then decides to come and take a look at us. The actual confrontation with said entity and subsequent transcendence doesn't actually come until the end of 'Behind The Shadows Lie Madness' but the actuality of it's coming starts off all sorts of events which is mostly what the album 'Worlds Beyond The Veil' is about.


Stephen: The last two albums, Worlds Beyond the Veil and Behind the Shadows Lie Madness, have an epic feel, and a coherency of theme that almost seem to indicate that you are telling a story, or relating a myth. This is in contrast to Forever Advancing Legions, which has recurrent ideas, but follows a pattern of each song standing on its own. Can you tell us anything about the mystical/musical evolution that lead to this change, and talk a bit about the myth that is being
articulated in the last two albums?

Leon: As I've said previously, all our albums run together in a chronology, so the story basically continues from album to album. We really only started off setting things in place for said story towards the end of Forever Advancing...... Legions with the songs 'Dreaming In Splendour' and 'Tomb Of Kings' / 'What Lies Beyond'; which hinted both musically and thematically as to what was to come with later albums. Worlds... and Shadows... are like two chapters of the same book with Forever... as the prelude for want of a better description.

Musically speaking, Forever... was more a set of songs which we moulded into a concept after the songs were written, whereas Worlds... and Shadows... were conceived as part of a unifying concept and then the songs grew onto that set framework if you will. Obviously we always strove for a musical improvement between albums and thus advanced the idea in other ways. On Shadows... to create the specific "creepy" atmosphere it was almost as much about the notes we didn't play as the ones we did, to use a cliche, whereas on Worlds... we really threw everything at some of the songs.

Going back to the story, we always wanted to create our own mythology within the running story, mainly by just hinting at things and repeating things in a subtle sense, using motifs both musically and lyrically. We definitely intended for the story to have an epic feel. We've definitely taken universal elements of classic stories and woven them into the main theme.


Stephen: In a previous conversation that I had with you, you mentioned that the process of creating the music propels you into a kind of trance state, where these visions become articulated. This puts me in mind of the ancient practice of Theurgy, which was a way of ritually inducing trance states to commune with divine powers. Do you see a parallel here with your creative process?

Leon: I'm not really familiar with Theurgy other than in name and loose description, however the way you have outlined it here would seem to parallel with how I composed some of our music in the past, which you've also outlined correctly. All the elements are there, e.g creating a trancelike state by playing musical parts repeatedly, then suddenly allowing chaos to enter my playing. The diametric opposition of the entry of these chaotic parts are often what generates the actual musical "moment" when the song lifts above a mundane collection of riffs and becomes something "other" for want of a better description. I couldn't say whether I was actually communing with divine powers, but that's definitely the intention, to reference or tap into something greater than myself and represent that musically, if only for a short specific moment.


Stephen: One of the most fascinating aspects of your music is that it seems to blur and transcend conventional boundaries of definition. Many bands rely on fairly simple formulas of dark versus light, good versus evil, demonic versus divine, but when I listen to you music I seem to catch a glimpse of powers that defy these convenient definitions. Is this an accurate depiction of what you are trying to achieve?

Leon: Yes definitely. Although we've heavily played on motifs such as dark vs light, we've never really defined "evil" as a character or subject lyrically; more often an "adversarial" aspect to a character / element of the story for our focus to play off or react to. One man's demon is another man's god, so unecessarilly painting someone as either "good" or "evil" could be naive. Really, we've always tried to capture an "elemental" feel which almost defies / ignores the prescence of humanity, neatly leading on to your next question...


Stephen: Recurrent in the last two albums is a concept that reminds me of some of the more creative horror/occult writers such as Lovecraft; namely that lurking behind our conventional reality there is a truth both horrible and possibly liberating. Were you influenced by any writing of this nature, and can you give us any further insight into your vision of this greater world?

Leon: Interestingly enough, neither Rayner or myself had read any Lovecraft until after the completion of 'Shadows...'. I then read two compendiums of his work and enjoyed them immensely.I was surprised frankly; before reading I had a preconception that Lovecraft's writings would be quite different to how they actually are, simply due to the manner in which other bands reference him. Upon reading his work I immediately understood why people compared our ideas to his, and simultaneously disagreed with many other bands' representations of his work, which seem quite shallow in retrospection. I'd say he's likely had an indirect influence on us via other SF writers and through his thematic contributions to the entire SF genre. Another novel (pre-Lovecraft) along these lines I'm current enjoying is William Hodgson's 'The Night Land'.

I guess you could say we've always somewhat played on the idea that mankind was in some way insignificant in the universe compared to other forces, however our main focus was always revealing the "other" out there, whether possible other realities, other beings, the unseen / unnoticed.


Stephen; Coming back to the issue of recording the music; I’ve noticed that your have a remarkably diverse and layered sound, blending elegance with brutality. Do you find it difficult to recreate this sound when you perform? What, to you, is the value if performing the music live? I am thinking here of the interactive element that used to be sought in ancient cultures when they would stage performances, reenactments of myths…

Leon: Yes our sound is layered, and we definitely mix totally different elements, i.e. the brutality of the drumming and rhythms/bass with the ethereal nature of the leads. When recording the albums, we deliberately arrange the music in such a way that it would be relatively simple to perform live, i.e there are two rhythm guitar parts, drums, bass / vocals, so all playable by four people. Contrary to common misconception, we do not use synthesisers/synths in our main songs, all those parts are lead guitar.

As I've said many times before, we've never had a stable enough line-up to perform more than a handful of live shows at any one time, and in the latter years of the band we've restricted the line-up to just Rayner and myself, as we ended up writing and performing all the albums ourselves anyway. We've wasted a lot of time over the years with other members who inevitably decide after a year or two that the band isn't for them. We definitely don't have time for that anymore, as it ruins the atmosphere and takes away from the creative process.

For future live shows we're already attempting to put together a line-up of reliable session musicians and ourselves, and should this come to fruition we'll be performing in the next year. We've always wanted to perform live, partly for the reasons you mention, and mainly to give the songs a good airing as it were. However of primary importance has always been the creation of the music for the recordings, live shows are for an instant, whereas the albums live forever.


Stephen: Finally, I wanted to return to the transcendence of boundaries that I touched on earlier. Again, referring to many other bands in this sub-genre, the Metal underground, many of them seem to place themselves in some kind of position that relates to a rebellion against Christianity, taking a stance that might be Satanic, or pagan, or some combination of both. Does your music, as an expression of your spiritual vision, embody a vision that can be related to these issues? There seems to be, in Worlds Beyond The Veil, and Behind The Shadows…an intimation of some kind of apocalyptic event. Do you see a day when the forces manifest in you visions may actually address themselves to bringing to an end the current reality?

Leon: Interestingly I've partly covered this in a previous answer before even seeing this question! I'd say our vision encompasses the existence of Christianity but we don't as much rebel against it as ignore it, or treat it purely with historical relevance in some lyrics. We've never personally felt particularly chastised by Christianity, which is fortunate and maybe explains our near indifference to it. I've always maintained that calling oneself a Satanist is almost exclusively a rebellion against Christianity, and thus being bound by the same dogma (by definition) is quite narrow minded when selecting/adopting a worldview from the myriad; it all reeks of the same fire and brimstone as the preachers to me. It's mainly a kneejerk reaction by teenagers in my experience.

We definitely intimate that there might be an apocalyptic event coming up soon in man's history, what form it'll take I cannot say hehe. I think it's a universal concern of mankind that one day "it" might all come to an end for whatever reason. Considering the history of extinction level events its not exactly happy thinking, but conversely there's always the chance of something untoward/inexplicable happening...until then!