06/22/20 | Judas Proust

Black metal fully comes to life in the hands of indigenous Americans. If the subgenre exists to stand in stark opposition to the Christians who invaded and erased pagan gods, then who in the United States has more claim to wield that blasphemous ire than indigenous peoples and their descendants?

Since last May, under the banner Kūka’ilimoku, a solitary Hawaiian musician calling himself Kūwāha’ilo has waged war on black metal’s stagnant and tired trappings. According to the man himself, “Kūwahā'ilo is one of the many embodiments of Kū (Hawaiian god of war) and roughly translates to Kū of the maggot filled mouth. He is a man eater and a god of sorcery.” In turn, the music of Kūka’ilimoku blasts raw with disgust and pounds articulately with purpose. After four releases and counting, Kūka’ilimoku has proven to be the real deal. A black metal dream come true. Earnestly lo-fi, and self-recorded out of necessity. Fueled by anger, hatred and a teeth-bared, sweat-crowned reaching beyond the musician’s abilities to turn catharsis into righteous fire and just fucking kill it.

Six months after releasing his self-titled demo, Kūka’ilimoku released Pu’ukohalā Soil. Pu’ukohalā Soil hit like an ambush in four parts. Now that his split with Ebony Pendant and the single from his next EP have dropped, we recognize that all along we’ve been underestimating this Hawaiian raw black metal solo mission.

Ka Hui Hawai'i Aloha 'Āina

“Thanks, man,” says Kūwāha’ilo, after we’ve finished heaping our praises upon him. We thank him for doing the interview. Tell him we’ll keep it all anonymous. We ask him about his preference to remain anonymous.

He says, “I mean I love the anonymity and mysticism behind certain entities in the genre, and . . . I think it’s important to uphold a certain amount of tradition, but it’s 2020 and I have an iPhone and work 50 hours a week to pay rent. I’m not gonna sit here and take myself seriously and act like I’m some dark white boy who shouldn’t be reckoned with. With a nice christian upbringing and family members who actually own property. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but I’ve come to find that a lot of people who front like that and take themselves seriously, usually come from a comfy background that they’re embarrassed of. They got something to hide at least. I intend to keep my anonymity, and do the genre justice as best as I can, but most of the time, if someone asks me a question or wants to talk, why not?”

Then later, “I’ve had a relative in every major war.” He tells me about his great uncle who came home from World War 1 deaf and maimed. We ask him what he’s been up to lately and he tells us he’s just finished Ken Burn’s Vietnam War Documentary. “War’s interesting,” he says. “I don’t know why. It sucks. But it’s always interested me.” We spend some time talking about different family members and the wars they’ve been in. We both come from military families. We’re both Americans, but our stories are vastly different. He tells me about his heritage, how his grandmother’s from Vietnam. “A product of the Indo-China War,” he says.

You’ve always been into war, you say. How did you get into black metal?

“Metal was always in my family. My dad’s a classic rock guy . . . He nurtured me, like music journalist-style. When I got into punk he showed me The Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash. When I was like ‘I like metal now,” he showed Metallica - Ride the Lightning. He pulled out this tape and it was Ride the Lightning. The first track, ‘Fight Fire with Fire,’ and I was like ‘holy shit!’ It was like the fastest thing I ever heard.”

He tells me he prefers speed. He doesn’t Black Sabbath, finds them “monotone.”

“I like Ozzy’s first couple solo albums because I love Randy Rhoads. Black Sabbath’s kinda boring to me. I respect the shit out of em. Nothing would sound the same without em. I just like fast stuff.”

We ask him about his track record so far . . .

“So far I’ve recorded two demos, a split, and a six song EP that will be released on cassette through Expansion Abyss and on 7” through Nihilistic Noise Propaganda this summer I’m guessing. No name yet for the EP but I’m thinking it’ll be self-titled again.

“Honestly,” he continues, “the only thing that was holding me back from starting this project was procrastinating figuring out how to get drums down on the recordings. Whether I was gonna learn how to program them, or get an electronic set and learn how to play drums. Doing live drums was out of the question. I would’ve had to learn how to properly play drums. I have no footwork but I’m decent up top I guess.”

What’s up with this new six-song EP?

He says it’s “been done for months now.” He says, “It sounds more like the first demo. A little more punk even. I hate the way Pu'ukohalā came out. I rushed and put too much thought into writing and recording it. It sounds like shit. Don’t like the songs too much either. I think I just put too much thought into it. The first demo was written in like a week. So was this upcoming EP. The songs on the split with Ebony Pendant were written in a few days. Lyrically Pu'ukohalā is more about Hawaiian sovereignty and the politics and ideas behind it.”

‘Too much thought into it?’ Did you take longer than usual writing it?

“Pu’ukoholā was written pretty quickly,” he says. “I’d say a week or two. Guitars always come pretty fast. It’s the drumming that takes me forever. After the songs are written it’ll take me at least a month to practice drums and get that muscle memory down. I don’t play drums in my free time ever so the only time I play it is when I have to record.”

Pu’ukohalā Soil

Which is reminiscent of Fenriz, but we don’t say so. We ask: when did you realize you hated your follow-up demo?

“Man, I realized I hated it like a couple weeks after I sent it to Knife Vision,” Kūwāha’ilo says. “I hate the way the vocals came out and especially the way the drums sound. It took me so long to record that, there was no way in hell I was gonna do it again. Which made me sick cuz I hated it. I recorded the first demo in a few hours with 3/4 of that time doing drums. Pu’ukohalā took me off and on like a month. And more than 3/4 of that time were on drums again. I learned a lot from that demo. I can’t blast for long, I’m not a good drummer, so keep it simple and primitive from now on. I think it’ll be pretty obvious once the new EP comes out that I took a step back to the first demos sound. That once came so easily and naturally to me. Pu’ukohalā didn’t. It stressed me the fuck out and it sucks. Everything I have since that one is so much better and I can’t wait to put it out.”

He sent us the new six-song EP and we huddled over it like fire after a long rainy day. What else to say except it’s more the same? And he’s too hard on himself anyway. Pu'ukohalā Soil is incredible.

Can we hear a new track from the new six-song, probably-self-titled EP?

“Yea man that’s cool pick whatever one you want. ‘Nourishment’ is already on my Bandcamp under an old title for that track so any one but ‘Nourishment’.”

He explains how he wrote the new EP “before the split” with Ebony Pendant. “Right after Pu’ukoholā Soil,” he says, “I’ve been writing one after another since I began in June of last year. Maybe July. Despite it being 6 songs, I wrote and recorded (the new) one so fast. It felt a lot like writing the first demo because of how naturally everything flowed.”

Did that have anything to do with your disgust with your performance on your second demo?

“It definitely had a lot to do with it. While I was writing I literally wanted to put out something so fast that Pu’ukohalā might be lost or forgotten. Don’t get me wrong I thing the songs are ok, I just hate the way it sounds. The version on my bandcamp is actually slightly different than the one you hear on tape and on Knife Vision’s Bandcamp. I tweaked it a little sonically. By the time it officially was out on KV’s bandcamp, I had the 6 songs recorded for this upcoming EP. I just kept thinking about my intentions when originally starting this project. It’s snarling punk with BM sensibilities. Get the emotion out and hit record as fast as possible. Keep it furious and genuine. Don’t think about it too much. Pu’ukoholā didn’t feel like that way to me after sitting on it for a bit. The others still do.”

This is how you write and record really quickly then.

“I got nothing better to do,” he says. “I hum riffs in my head and like to see them come to life. Kūka’ilimoku, more than anything I’ve ever done in 15 years of playing music, comes the most natural to me. It’s therapeutic and I always have an urge to write more with this project. I’m sure one day I’ll wake up and it’ll stop out of the blue when it doesn’t do anything for me anymore. Who knows when that will be. But for now I like using it to get my points and ideas out.”

Will you ever play live?

“The point of this project was to do it on my own time, by myself, in my home,” he reflects. Playing live shows lately for some reason have not been appealing to me like they used to. As of lately I’ve been hating being in a band. So this was the logical thing to do.”

How do you go about recording anyway? As a one-person-band.

“After a while of thinking of a drum option, I figured out I could get a 4x4 electric drum pad, place the drum sounds where I wanted them, and played those pads with sticks just like you would a real drum set. I hook it up through my guitar amp, and mic and record it. So i have snare, toms, and cymbals all on that one track. Then on another track, I take my drum stick and hit the pad I assign the kick drum to, on its own track. So I’m literally there hitting the kick drum with my stick on a seperate track to the other track that has the snare toms and cymbals. It’s pretty dumb and a pain in the ass but it works for me I guess. I get to play drums as you would live, just without the footwork. The rest of the recording process is pretty normal. I've been learning how to program drums so im gonna fuck with that on the next thing I put out. I have 4 songs already written for whatever that’s gonna be.”

What about your recent split with Ebony Pendant? How did that come about?

“The split with Ebony Pendant came pretty naturally. I know him pretty well and so that was a no brainer. We came up with the idea of doing a split and maybe a month later we had the recordings finished. He writes really fast as well. It came about from just simply talkin shit. We both had our first demos come out around the same time coincidentally. We like each other’s music and it somehow works with each other cuz we could’ve sounded totally different and we still woulda done a split together I’m sure. That being said I think I shifted my style of writing a little bit in his direction to have it a little cohesive. I used chords and progressions I would never normally used and I think it results in the most BM sounding stuff I wrote and probably ever will write, but the songs are still short and to-the-point whereas his are very dramatic.”

Kūka'ilimoku // Ebony Pendant

And now?

“So because I did that, the five songs I’m writing and recording now I think is the most ferocious stuff I have written so far. I think if people liked to compare my songs to Ildjarn then—which I appreciate but don’t really hear it too much—it’s definitely leaning closer to that now."

Where do you think you get your strong sense of self-motivation from anyway? Not just anyone can be their own black metal band, and awesome and prolific besides.

“I think it’s just more personal. And I’m only like that with stuff I’m into. I wish it proved true to other aspects of my life. I’m from an island. If anything I’m more lax than most people. Unless you get us riled up.”

He goes on to explain how he prefers “to keep the fact that I do this music separate” from his family. “There are parts of me where I think people from Hawaii would be proud and be into what I’m doing, voicing our culture and stories through a different medium, but at the end of the day, how I’m doing it would probably upset more than make happy. Some dude screaming making noise and shit? No way. In Hawaii, if sometimes we don’t understand something, and it makes us uncomfortable, we react back with hostility and hate. And react on that physically. Back in middle school you couldn’t walk around with a Metallica shirt on or Converse shoes on. You’d get fucked up. Luckily I’m from the same neighborhood that a lot these people whooping people’s ass for wearing a punk or metal shirt (were from), so luckily I was given a free pass. That always kinda stuck with me to this day."


"I keep my 'haole' interests away from my regular shit. I liked growing up on an island. I am very much a product of my environment, at the same time, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been places throughout my life. I lived in SF for two years in elementary / middle school. 1999-2001. That really opened up my eyes. I didn’t move off island until I was 25. So I’m a mix of old hostile island-thinking, and stuff I’ve learned from living off-island for the last 5 years. To this day I’ll see someone with long hair and a leather jacket and boots and some patches and it’ll piss me off to the point where I get angry. I wanna eliminate this fucker. But then I realize, ‘Wait a minute. Why?’ But I’d be lying if i didn’t say that shit still rubs me the wrong way. I don’t know man,” he laughs. “I have a load more opinions on people in metal but no don’t wanna dig myself a grave. Basically, my train of thought is a mix of someone being born and raised in Hawaii from generations of family from there. I have a small isolated island mentality at times. And the other half I’m into shit like this. Walk through my hood wearing a Vlad Tepes shirt and see what happens to you!”

Follow Kuka’ilimoku on Bandcamp.