Premiere: Gallows
66 Black Wings

6/11/21 | J.R.

<i>66 Black Wings</i> album art

Black metal was never meant to be a gilded thing. Now surrounded by lore and with lineages dating back over thirty years, black metal in 2021 has to continually prove itself to be part of this lineage, whereas in 1995, where Massachusetts/Colorado duo Gallows stops the clock, artists were allowed to be fearless, fearsome, and set the bar as high as they wanted it to be. This isn't some jab at nowadays black metal or anything lazy and backwards-minded like that, but black metal's roots are buried in the dirt for a reason: this is messy, dirty music, played with pride, conveying despair. To embellish it, at least when discussing Gallows' traditional black metal approach, seems wrong, and on their debut album does this duo make a solid case for how fulfilling a "meat and potatoes" type of execution can really be.

Bursting onto the scene with 66 Black Wings, Gallows is meant to be a living relic: a representation of the past through a modern lens. Black metal up to the mid-'90s was meant to be sinister and hateful—reaction to death metal's "humanity"—but also creative through its achieving of atmosphere and character. Bands like Master's Hammer, Sigh, and Darkthrone who came before Gallows understood this sense of composition over superficialities, and 66 Black Wings joins its predecessors with a newfound sense of clarity and context for its antics. The duo of vocalist Mouth of Greed and multi-instrumentalist Lord Elzevir opened some black metal time capsule and presented it to the world with minimal alteration, paying attention to the one main rule of classic, traditional black metal: riffing. 66 Black Wings has riffs in spades (the album itself apparently boasting 66 individual riffs). Hateful and grime-encrusted, Gallows' debut takes flight on the wings of pure evil and malice. Below, in their first interview, Mouth of Greed and Lord Elzevir offer their distinct personalities and thoughts on black metal and their own antics.


I understand that Gallows' inspirations look "South," but also backwards, going so far as to explicitly call yourselves "Traditional Black Metal." What is it about pre-1995 black metal which inspired the Gallows project?

Lord Elzevir: Gallows carries the torch of Black Metal in remembrance of the religious zealotry, conquest, starvation, witchery, and mysticism that shadows these woods and shores of New England. 66 Black Wings was written and recorded at Gallows Hill in Salem where the last witch executions occurred. Our music is haunted by the murder of these innocents, the decimated natives, the exiled settlers who starved to the point of consuming their own children. Black Metal is not about the present, it’s about the fantasy of Evil and the Dark Past—so we face backwards.

Mouth of Greed: We play Traditional Black Metal in worship of the great and terrible pillars of the form, while also finding fresh forms of our own. Perhaps a better way of putting it—and a badge we wore throughout the writing—is that Gallows plays Formalist Black Metal...of SPEED + FIRE + DECAY!!

Gallows' Lord Elzevir and Mouth of Greed

Were there any limitations you imposed upon yourselves beyond emulating the old ways?

Lord Elzevir: Riffs and songs are the only limitation. Electric guitars, drums, distortion, and booze are the means to channel our hate and Dark Energy. Riffs, riffs, riffs, blasts and howls, riffs and solos, shrieks, bats and brimstone. There is no lofty intention, just irreverent celebration of the old ways. Up from the tombs it comes.

Were there any limitations through which you looked to break?

Lord Elzevir: The Boss MT-2 is a horrible sounding device, and we used only this pedal to produce the guitar sounds on the album because Black Metal must sound horrific. The Devil thrives in the shroud, where he can be hidden but bellow through the veil of noise: a howl from Hell. Black and Orange are the colors of evil and fire. Red is the color of blood.

Though sixes offer numerological significance when discussing The Devil, to which Gallows is dedicated, they generally come in threes instead of pairs like on 66 Black Wings. What made you choose this particular number instead of the canonical 666 or 616?

Mouth of Greed: We discovered some odd magic in the number 66. Elzevir envisioned an album made of 66 riffs—66 RIFFS ONLY—and soon the number changed from the shackles of constraint to the flouncing of wings. 66 became our secret symbol: a 6 for each of us, and a hidden 6 for Him. By the end, preparing to record “66 Wings for the 9 Kings,” I dreamed the number several nights running, scripts ribbed and throbbing and pulsing with cataclysmic might.

Lord Elzevir: 66 riffs are the 66 appendages of the Many-Winged Angel: a plural entity of 9 forms. Hell conforms not to the numerical exactness of our reality. 66 is symmetric, but uncommon, an undefinable excess.

Gallows art extra

When approaching this album vocally, 66 Black Wings is mostly devoid of traditional black metal vocals, instead featuring an absolutely manic performance by Mouth of Greed. What led to this stylistic and distinct artistic choice?

Mouth of Greed: We’re thieves, simply put, necks slipped from the gallows. I stole styles from all manner of music and forced them through this throat to try for some fresh horror. The black metal bands that we now think of as the stylistic footholds of the genre, each brought their own unique voice, from Attila’s operatic moans to, yes, Abbath’s hyper-grim monotone. When a style becomes codified—and a set of artists enshrined as its ur-texts—we forget just how weird the origins once were. Black metal, even in its most “traditional” guise, is weird, wyrd, weyard: in every turn of the term. But good compositions must nest the proper forms inside one another, and working through the howls on Gallows was about finding the jagged shape to fit the jagged sound, no matter what might jitter across the tongue. FORM BEFORE ALL ELSE: FORM AND DARKNESS: THE FORM OF DARKNESS.

There are moments on the album which elicit almost cartoonish mental depictions of spooky, scary darkness—the church bell groove in "Blood Spells to Forest Speed" is a prime example of this. Though Gallows is very much a serious endeavor, there must be an element of self-awareness here as a very outwardly, aesthetically black metal band; corpse paint, pseudonyms, bat-winged fonts, OUGHs... the whole package. What is your relationship with a more black metal-oriented darkness and how did you want to portray it with Gallows?

Lord Elzevir: The “magic hour” in Black Metal exists in the twilight between sincerity (DAY) and absurdity (NIGHT). We don the mask of Mother Teresa while sneaking into the orgy. Orthodoxy and Irreverence, a gratifying dissonance.

Mouth of Greed: From the start, black metal doesn’t exist without irony and camp. Consider Venom’s tongue-and-cheek, or Euronymous with a rapier, or any single time Immortal stepped in front of a camera. The whole history of the genre is brimming with the absurd, and to forgo irony and camp is to risk a free-fall into the self-serious and sentimental and kitsch. SENTIMENTALITY IS FOR NATIONS AND NURSERIES. Real art does just as well without. Or: I can read Bataille just fine without some bourgeois French fuck writing a half-baked dissertation in his liner notes. Leave the self-styled black metal intellectuals to their gross sentimentality, their willful misreadings, their thesaurus-ready interviews, their Portable Spengler. We’ll be in the bar talking about bats and riffs!!!

<i>66 Black Wings</i> drawn title

What is your relationship with black metal now that you've created this celebration of the second wave's heyday? Do you have a connection with "modern" black metal?

Lord Elzevir: There is no such thing as “modern” black metal. There is Black Metal and there is _____ Black Metal. We only put “Traditional” there to not be confused with all the conditional Black Metal subgenres that muddy the waters. _____ Black Metal, ____ ____ Black Metal, ____-wave Black Metal, Pure ____an Black Metal, no. This is just fuckin’ BLACK METAL.

Mouth of Greed: There seems something wiggling in the dirt these days, digging back down to find fresh new rot. USBM is due for its thousand years of OSBM DARKNESS, and we are one of its heralds.

The Katafalque label is a new entity—how did the Katafalque/Gallows relationship first start?

Lord Elzevir: Katafalque is a collective of like-mindeds. They helped us with artwork and production in order to get the best possible record out there. Our relationship with them started decades ago; inebriated nights in the woods howling at the moon, hands clenched in the sign of the Horns. Old friends and collaborators.

Mouth of Greed: Katafalque are Demons forever, Brothers in Dark Energy and Riffs!!

Katafalque logo

The long-sleeve shirt you have available on Bandcamp depicts a series of declarations which I think are from the "Blight of a New Eden" track, culminating in the announcement of Mouth of Greed's title ["I am the Mouth of Greed"]. How do you view the Mouth of Greed entity as a character, and why do you feel he has to define himself so vividly compared to Lord Elzevir's implied definitions in the Gallows context?

Mouth of Greed: From the very first track we finished, the lyrics were concerned with names and the naming of things, though we didn’t know it yet. The concept developed slowly at first, but then seemed to come all at once, like a drunken swoon. “Blight” is structured around a series of appositions—for what? Some absent third party, aside from the two of us, whom we’ve offered a stage. At the finish, well after the last howls were laid to rest, we discovered a lapse: a missing name around which everything circles. Mouth of Greed is but one of its valances, and the one with the loudest voice. Perhaps, next time around, we’ll find out what “The Hidden Duke” of a few lines later has to say.

A lot of visual work went into 66 Black Wings, especially the hand-drawn, bat-winged font featured on both the front and back covers. How did you approach this album conceptually, and what visual elements do you find are the most important when tackling 66 Black Wings?

Mouth of Greed: Consider that merry and unsettling feeling that a sparse woodcut might give you: the tension between the revealed and hidden, the bare symbols all pointing to some hermetic center, the MANY MYSTERIES struggling to escape the meagre frame. If I had my druthers, the whole album would simply be a list of names pulled from medieval occultism. Imagine: the grandeur and rot and rhyme, the sense-making out of senselessness.

Gallows art extra

Do you feel future Gallows material will be as traditional as your first public outing?

Lord Elzevir: Future material will be the same, but more. We want to push the boundaries of the Dark Energy, spilling over the edge of the chalice. Break the chains, cut the anchor line. Faster, Louder, Sharper. To the Depths, with speed. “As traditional?”—Yes. More traditional, but with new traditions of Excess as well.

Mouth of Greed: The image: a horse-drawn carriage driven at breakneck speed through a cavern in darkest Hell.

Are there any final thoughts which you would like to share?

Lord Elzevir: Infernal Hailz to THE CALL OF THE NIGHT for taking an interest in Gallows, and for the continued work in debuting killer bands. We will keep the flame lit for Black Metal in New England; more to come.

Mouth of Greed: Hail Riffs and Rot! Hail Bats and Beer!

Follow Gallows on Bandcamp.

Katafalque Bandcamp page.