In the fall of 2015 I drove up to New Orleans to meet a friend that flew in from Seattle to see the first night of Watain’s U.S. tour with me. We got in a day early and walked around town that evening. We stayed at a hotel on Bourbon Street. Following an array of assorted debauchery in the French Quarter, we started hanging out around some of the local Voodoo and Santeria shops in the area. We stopped at one in particular and I decided it was time to stock up on a few things missing from my incense cabinet at home. As I was checking out at the store the guy working it at the time (Algol Apollyon) had asked me what kind of stuff I was into. His interest had been piqued by some of the things I had chosen. We began talking for some time and he’d asked us if we were going to the gig that evening. The rest really is history. Our correspondences have been frequent since our initial meeting approximately a year ago. Eventually, Algol contacted me shortly before embarking on the first Mehenet tour with intentions of doing an interview for Plague Haus. So I figured while they were on the road I’d work on a few questions and send them their way. This was a slow process, but it was a deliberate one. Over the past few months Mehenet has revealed themselves to be a band that has continually nurtured the seeds of tradition and the bonds of brotherhood.
“Despise also all cowards; professional soldiers who dare not fight, but play; all fools despise! But the keen and the proud, the royal and the lofty; ye are brothers! As brothers fight ye!” (Liber AL vel Legis III:57-59).
A.:M.: Normally I’d skip the preliminary introductions. But it seems that Mehenet has emerged, without warning from the abyss with a vengeance unseen in many years. Can you tell us where you hail from and state your declaration of intent with Mehenet?
Mehenet originally developed in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans in 2008. This was an experimental period where we were searching for the optimal auditory palette with which to paint our spiritual explorations and was used, in its own way, as a personal spiritual alembic where the music was the furnace. It turned out that Black Metal, as a genre, added the necessary heat. It literally “Volatilized the Fixed.” The only surviving members of this period are Algol, Tzphardeah, and Phlegethon. During this time the majority of the focus was on ritual, study, and the construction of a proper temple in which to fashion our music. We had this idea that the sound would only be an outer manifestation, a species of propaganda, for a whole host of other artistic and magical projects. This would later take on more political dimensions as the spirit approached more revolutionary and radical ideas. 2008-2014 represented a real Nigredo stage out of which Mehenet more precisely emerged with the addition of Nekyia. It currently also sports the welcomed additions of Nehushtan and Matr’el. As a statement of intent, Mehenet, following Antonin Artuad’s, “Theatre of Cruelty,” seeks to practice art as a way of living, designed to give voice to whatever will, “unforgettably root within us the idea of a perpetual conflict, a spasm in which life is continually lacerated, in which everything in creation rises up and exerts itself against our appointed rank.” We are primarily a radical Thelemic warrior cult, with ceremonies of induction, initiation, techniques of insurrection, and have an outward Dionysian expression called Black Metal. For us this is a natural outgrowth of the veneration of the warrior cult of Ra-Hoor-Khuit and of the Katabasis of the Sun-god in his descent. This comes with certain values and affirmations, primarily the active defense of individual liberty, opposition to tyranny both secular and religious, the elevation of the human nature through growth in Power, Self-knowledge, Self-Determination, Self-conquering or Overcoming, Wisdom, and Understanding. It is our intent to give unbridled expression to this war through Mehenet, without the yoke of formal institutions, even allied ones, so that direct action, message and influence can be engaged in unmolested and uncensored. Each member is encouraged to perform the Katabasis, seize their center, and use it as the War Engine against those structures which repress the True Will. Our art encourages the public to do the same.
A.:M.: You’ve recently shot and released a video for the single, Caput Mortuum. Those privy to it are aware of its unrepentant extremity. Having spent plenty of time over the years in New Orleans, I can attest that nearly every part of that city seems to be immersed in the culture and tradition of witchcraft (of all kinds), so much that it’s often marketed as a cheap novelty or a ‘tourist’ gimmick. Those directly involved however, have had the honor and privilege of seeing the city in a completely different light. I’m curious to know how the environment and the culture has shaped the band.
As far as set and setting, Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, has a peculiar quality and undoubtedly influences the tone of our project, the extremity of intent and action, and the literalism with regards to the project’s manifestation. You become accustom to certain things in New Orleans which, for your average person, would be uncomfortable to say the least. For us, these also offered the type of opportunities that come with Initiation. The initiator always appears as the Adversary, the enemy, the Wrathful Gods. New Orleans is sired on wrath. We are not from the frozen North. Our project treads on water and decay, collapsed structures, Vodou, Magick, necromancy, a legendarily corrupt State, crime, vice, murder, the visible bodies of its citizens. So for these reasons our themes tend toward the effects of these things. In fact, the album structure was originally sparked by a few literary works, such as Tom Dent’s, Ritual Murder, which addresses the existential dimensions of poverty, crime, violence, and hopelessness in New Orleans. Another work which is fundamental to the album structure of Mehenet’s, Di Inferii, was Albert Camus’, The Rebel. This work explores both metaphysical rebellion, as in the death of god and the divine right of kings, as well as historical rebellion, such as the French Revolution, The Paris Commune, and the October Revolution. This last work is particularly meaningful to the album because it covers both the need for rebellion while still offering a critique of its excesses and its metaphysical failures. These must be kept in mind if any new order is to be proposed. New Orleans has always been a city apart from the normal order of America and, for better or worse, it has preserved its unique spirit by rebelling against the normal order. Mehenet also rejects this natural status quo and seeks, like New Orleans itself, to propagate an Unnatural and superior power. As far as magic and witchcraft are concerned, we tend to view “black magic” and “witchcraft” as a type of Guerrilla or Asymmetrical warfare used by the dispossessed. You can see this example in the Vodou priest, or houngan, Dutty Boukman and the Haitian Slave revolution. You can also see this, as Nicholaj Frisvold points out, in the Bagandas or Baluandas who conquered large portions of Angola and were seen as allies of The Devil. So, in a word, Mehenet is very influenced by this sort of thing. One of our hopes, through explorations of other sorcerous traditions such as Quimbanda, was to forge an armory for such asymmetrical spiritual warfare which is guided by the wisdom of ancestors and simultaneously the light of Thelema.
A.:M.: Larger acts like Grave Ritual and Abysmal Lord also hail from the same town. While a handful of bands preceded you guys, I don’t think New Orleans has seen this kind of explosive amalgam between the occult and music like this in some time. In the past it seemed like most of the occult centered art was street art and theater. Do you feel that New Orleans has also become a stronghold for metal music that’s heavily influenced by the occult?
Some of the bands, like most black metal bands, utilize occult imagery but whether this is actually knowledgeable use we can’t say. We do know some of the bands have individual members who have personal practices and have been involved in ceremonies of certain types. The occult is ubiquitous in New Orleans so even if a band isn’t involved with a particular tradition or discipline they are still inundated by magic, voodoo, and the occult. Virtually everyone has run into a cemetery shrine, smoked remains, or drank wine from a home-spun kapala. You can see magic circles, Veves, and/or Ponto Riscados randomly tagged on abandoned buildings and bridges with offerings left under the scribble. Theatre and street art frequently contain references to New Orleans magic and ghost lore. But the real serious shit is hidden. There are Palo houses and even criminal black magic cults where you need a personal invitation to visit and they won’t entertain fuck-bois. Unlike a lot of other cities in the US, where the occult is code for bookish Goth kid, NOLA tends to combine drugs, guns, and witchcraft, probably because there is money here for both.
A.:M.: Mehenet boasts membership that is involved in various Thelemic orders. It shows through a lot of the imagery in the video as well. Without probing too much, I’m interested to know how those ties have impacted the direction and lyrical content of the band.
As stated above, the influence is explicit. Those orders represent our root teachings and discipline. While a lot of Black Metal follows nihilistic and misanthropic outlooks, Mehenet tends to step beyond this. That doesn’t mean we don’t share a similar temperament or cynicism but we have other goals in mind. For the first album, Di Inferii, Thelema takes a back seat if only so that the art can grapple with the results of the vestigial and atavistic forces that precede Thelema. Both the album and the video are representations of rubble and the effects of the bloated corpse of the so-called “Old Aeon.” The lyrical content is always informed by Thelema but the story arc of the album is dealing with much different content. Caput Mortuum, for example, was mostly influenced by authors, psychologists, sculptors and painters such as Alberto Giacometti, Hugo Ball, Alfred Kubin and Erich Fromm. However, there is this idea that our spiritual tradition offers a medicine for these diseases. One way we could say the influence of the orders is most felt, aside from our fundamental ideology, is in the spiritual disciplines. The type of forces we tend to deal with when weaponizing our special brand of war-magic also tend to come with the very real possibilities of mental instability, delusion, illness, legal trouble, and other strange material resistances. So having a magical tradition that coats your spine in steel and keeps your mind and body independent and free is essential.
A.:M.: What does Mehenet think of music being used as a weapon? In the past, it’s been well documented that extreme and threatening sounding music has been used to torture those not initiated into the underground metal circles. This was the case during the Branch Davidian siege, as well as the assault on Manuel Noriega’s compound in Panama (Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were culprits here) and more recently as a form of “enhanced interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. What would you say/think if Mehenet’s music was used for the express purpose of inflicting torment through a federal psy ops program?
This sounds similar to Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, of Temple of Set fame, and his use of sound for purposes of psychological warfare. We think Mehenet has this paper in our library and we’ve certainly thought about it. Art has always been used as an effective weapon by the State for the purposes of influence and propaganda. We want the public to use our music and our live rallies to this end but we wouldn’t want it be used by those opposed to our aims. However, art is never really in the hands of its author so the question of what we want is mostly wishful thinking. This question definitely enters into the dimension of politics. We don’t tend to think the institutions you mention have our best interests in mind nor share our fundamental values. You are not serfs for some feudal lord nor some plebian under Caligula. Sic Semper Tyrannis. We have no loyalty to institutions who are not loyal to us and we share no pledges with a state that would have us in The Penal Colony. We are obviously not against weaponized art in the same way that we are not pacifists but we do have preferences for who we choose to arm. If you see a State using our music: blow up the speaker.
A.:M.: On the subject of law enforcement and the state (as well as having already mentioned the severe levels of corruption in NOLA), the last time I was there, the town was seemingly desolate save for the tourists and locals themselves. It really does have a vibe of lawlessness to it. It’s almost like a modern Port Royal or Tortuga in that sense. Do you think in a sense that the magicians made their claim to it so long ago that no institution could wrestle it from their grasp?
Not to destroy the romance but to be honest I think the lawlessness of New Orleans has more to do with a death filled history natural to colonizing an inhospitable environment whose original rulers lived an ocean away. Couple that with a lack of industry, little money for legal enforcement, and total neglect. Louisiana sold out a large portion of its interests and a lot of industrial money left the state a long time ago. There is also a high cost to do business here, whether it’s through state/city tax or good old fashion corruption. I think this made New Orleans unattractive to people just looking to make money. Without the heavy influence of typical American mass produced consumer culture, people continued to live like they always did. Magic, witchcraft, and voodoo have been preserved, despite early legal efforts to wipe it out, because New Orleans became a tourist town and an older culture suddenly became profitable. They legalized the underground practices and people, including a lot of con-artists and charlatans, felt it was time to come out of the wood work. There is a really cool book on the subject by Carolyn Long, called Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce, which details a lot of this history. But even so, magic was a household thing, maybe not openly, but people would still put a fucking saint on you one day, hoping you drop dead, and take communion that same Sunday. This includes judges and lawyers. I’ve seen a state defense attorney come into a botanica to get materials to fuck up the prosecution’s case. So if it’s going to work for the state, you better believe outlaws have a plan to use it to their benefit. So if some asshole wants to come in and try to buy you out of your house, or if some little boy in blue is going to try and ruin your life then sure someone is going to see some nasty shit on their doorstep. Now, I’m saying this all from a secular perspective. If speak from my left hand then, yeah, I think a real spiritual force has exerted itself against the type of bullshit y’all have to put up with in most of the States. So, if I am not feeling cynical and I look at magic as an asymmetrical force multiplier, then again I think outlaw magic has the ability to produce real social results. I also think a strong magical culture, or even a strong culture in general, will tend to naturally resist the mundane and its mercenary brown-shirts.