The Audacity of Hubris in a Dying World:
A Conversation with Oldowan Gash

12/14/20 | J. Proust

Oldowan Gash <i>Hubris Unchained</i> cover art

Somewhere out there are my private messages to Forlorn Spirit, the musician behind rising USBM act Oldowan Gash. Messages sent two years ago on the old NWN! forums, immediately after reading the post written by Forlorn Spirit himself announcing the advent of Oldowan Gash. No doubt I was among the first people to reply to that post and I was likewise among the first to procure the two demo tapes Until the Bees Fly Again… and The Maiden’s Tower. The reason I explain all of this, is not (only) to brag but to impress upon you also that I have been pestering the man behind Oldowan Gash since day one. In Pittsburgh, we call this being nebby.

Now the nebbiness goes on through emails. He sells shirts leftover from a live show, I wanna know who all played in his session band. He releases some new tapes, I wanna know who’s behind them, what they’re all about. There are numerous emails, across several chains, attesting to my nebbiness and Forlorn Spirit’s patience both. But after hearing and listening to
Hubris Unchained over and over again, I found myself compelled to delve deeper and put it all on record.Presented here in the classic Q & A - style the following is a candid interview with Forlorn Spirit of Oldowan Gash. Enjoy and thank you for reading.

Oldowan Gash artist photo

First of all, why do you conceal your identity?

I see Oldowan Gash 100% as an extension of myself. I’m not playing a character or putting on an act. You know everything you need to know about me by hearing the music. So ultimately it’s not important what it says on my government ID.

Oldowan Gash began in 2018 with two simultaneously released demos. We know from previous interviews you’ve conducted that Until the Bees Fly Again… and The Maiden’s Tower were recorded separately, around March and then later that summer, respectively. What was the catalyst to your releasing these tapes, and introducing Oldowan Gash into the world?

I’ve been around in underground music and black metal for some time now, even having a few failed attempts at distros in the past. I was present or even slightly involved with a few raw black metal releases around 2010-13 but I found these experiences to be rather unappealing. At the time, I was obsessed with stuff like Seventh King of Edom & Svøpt Mordenrød, records that felt like they had been [pored] over and made to leave a real impression. And so to me, much of the black metal / borderline noisecore stuff I was seeing people make (then and now) felt like an insult to the potential of what black metal could really be, and I vowed to never make anything unless I felt like I was prepared to devote the type of spiritual energy and pride that I felt this music called for.

It was the end of 2016 when I made the name Oldowan Gash and began to try to channel my negative energies into something that would feel effective and sincere. I recorded the first two EPs in 2018 basically for my own satisfaction. Initially, I made tapes in order to send to some friends and contacts. Eventually I sent copies to some people who have bands and distros I admire. They offered to stock copies of the tapes in their distros and everything went from there.

Cassette J-cards for <i>The Maiden's Tower</i> and <i>Until The Bees Fly Again</i>

It was almost two years exactly after the release of those two tapes when Hubris Unchained was released. What does the time in-between look like as far as Oldowan Gash is concerned?

Well it may appear like a lot of time passed but really that’s not the case. The music for Hubris Unchained was recorded in August 2019 and then the lyrics and vocals were completed I think in November. Prior to that some rehearsal recordings were made and tapes sent to labels and close friends. In December, the alliance with Drakkar USA was set in stone. From there the record was mixed and remixed and remixed and then mastered. During this same time, January and February 2020, I wrote and recorded the music for Desert Eagle - The Festering Wound. In March, we sorted out the layout for Hubris Unchained with the help of Marco Del Rio and then it was sent to press.

What brought on the creation of Desert Eagle and why is it its own separate entity from Oldowan Gash? What are you channeling with this new project?

Desert Eagle started as I was trying to find a new and easier way to record ideas for songs. Initially I was just experimenting with programmed drums and made a few simple songs just to familiarize myself with the process. At the time I was home with a lot of free time and started to add more and more to the songs and was really liking how they were coming together. I’m a big fan of bands like the Templars, Cock Sparrer and Condemned 84 and I wanted to try to channel some of that style and energy into something. I think those influences come through with Oldowan Gash as well, but I think with these songs it’s more direct and they have a different energy to them. Desert Eagle has a more focused subject matter as well, although I would have a hard time defining it.

Regarding your black metal influences, what were some of the first black metal releases you ever heard? How did they hit you?

I suppose the first thing I ever got my hands on was Cradle of Filth Lovecraft & Witch Hearts which I got when it came out in 2002 and still love to this day. That same year I saw Dimmu Borgir live on my 15th birthday. Around that same time, I had a book about metal called Sound of the Beast, which went over all of the sub genres and had a list of “essential albums” for each. I would go through the lists and cross off the albums when I had bought them on CD. It was there that I read about the Norwegian scene and the infamous events which transpired therein. From there I got my hands on stuff like Immortal, Dissection, Rotting Christ and, of course, Mayhem. I was aware of the names of lots of bands but didn’t understand how to mail order and had a hard time finding these things in the big name CDs stores I would frequent.

In 2007 I discovered the underground bands. I was visiting family in New York City and wound up walking into the Hospital Records store and buying Ash Pool World Turns on its Hinge because they were playing it in the shop. From there I was turned onto bands like Bone Awl, Peste Noire, Furdidurke, Ride for Revenge, Akitsa, Torture Chain and many more. This spawned a complete obsession which I have pursued since.

Oldowan Gash represents a lot of time, effort and intellectual thought. What's been the most difficult aspect of going at a black metal band alone?

It’s certainly a lot different than “being in a band” but I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse. For Oldowan Gash it must be this way, as stated previously it’s completely an extension of me and so doing it myself is the only way. Not having to compromise is something I really value, as well as being able to work as quickly or as slowly as I please. I never have to appease anyone but myself.

What’s your first and/or most comfortable instrument? Which instrument do you sweat the most when it comes to recording Oldowan Gash?

Guitar. I’ve been playing since I was young but never got to be very good at it. Drums are most certainly the most difficult for me as I was basically teaching myself how to play as I did Until the Bees… . I felt that the drums were really holding back the songs. So, for Hubris Unchained I worked with a session drummer and will be doing the same in the future.

Who all worked on Hubris Unchained?

Drums were performed by Dark Star. Bass, vocals and two tracks of guitar were performed by yours truly, Forlorn Spirit. The album was recorded by Mike Kriebel, and later mixed by Mike Kriebel and myself. The songs were then mastered by Arthur Rizk.

Feral Heart Productions promotional flyer

What black metal band made you want to learn how to play guitar in the black metal style?

I’m not sure. When I was young, metal guitar playing completely mystified me and I always viewed it as something out of my reach. I suppose the first thing I really to emulate was the Blazebirth Hall stuff, although not very successfully. But I think the most informative stuff as far as guitar goes was probably Burzum. I learned how to play a handful of those songs over the years and I think in its own way those experiences most shaped the way I write my stuff now.

Listening back to the first two EPs, what did you learn about songwriting as well as your playing your instruments since that spring in 2018 when Oldowan Gash began?

Well in theory, the more familiar you become with something, the better the outcome. Working with a session drummer obviously allowed the songs to become much faster and more aggressive, which was a very important step. The song structure got tightened up as well. Prior to recording Hubris Unchained I played two live shows with Oldowan Gash and that made me realize that some of the earlier songs were a bit sloppy in their arrangement.

What was it about this experience that made you realize that? Will you play live again?

Teaching the songs to people and trying to remember myself how they went was a bit difficult. I like how the old songs feel and I don’t regret how they turned out, but I wanted to find a way to be more direct and effective with the newer material.

As for playing live in the future, I’m sure it will happen again one day. For now it’s not something I’m focused on for various reasons. Some of them should be quite obvious.

Oldowan Gash in performance

When did you write "Mysteries of Our Redemption?" When did you know it was the album opener?

Well it would have been sometime in early 2019 when I came up with most of those riffs. The working title of that song was “Evil” as an ode to the mighty Evil from Brazil. I wrote the lyrics while on a solitary walk when I was visiting Seattle in May 2019. I think I was walking around some tech campus, maybe Google or Amazon or something and it smelled like a dead body was somewhere nearby. There were planes flying overhead and those electric scooters everywhere. I had a moment where I felt like I was drowning in modernity and the smell of death all around me. It struck me so hard I had to sit down for a moment, and that’s what inspired the song.

And yeah I kind of always knew that opening riff would end up being what opened the album, just guitar alone followed by a rolling drum fill. Once I finished the lyrics I knew that the song was probably the best way to set the scene for the album.

What philosophy drives this band, and yourself as a musician?

As I said before, I see Oldowan Gash as an extension of myself. The music is a direct result of the way I feel about the world. For me, black metal is the only sane reaction to these pathetic and depressing modern times. Sometimes the songs are inspired by personal feelings and relationships, sometimes by political events and ideas, and most often by modern man’s ongoing war with nature, literally and figuratively. But for me these subjects differ very little in the context of Oldowan Gash. Each song is a lamentation against modern life and society. I am loosely inspired by the atavism of neo-paganism, Kafka’s portrayal of the grief and paranoia caused by bureaucratic society, and Bowles’ gift for presenting the dark and mysterious aspects of city dwelling. But ultimately I try to look inward at how I think and feel. These are things I try to depict both musically and lyrically.

What is it about Creti’s The Education of Achilles that spoke to you? What does it mean on the deeper levels? How long had you been considering using it for your debut LP?

I found the painting while doing some research on Chiron. Chiron is the centaur represented in the constellation of Sagittarius, which is my birth sign. As soon as I found the painting by Donato Creti I knew it had to be the cover of Hubris Unchained. I had come up with the title for the album long before I had finished writing the songs, and I found the painting sometime between recording the music and finishing the vocals. Creti painted this scene mant times during his life, and the one you see on the cover of the album actually wasn’t my first choice. The original version was used on a flier advertisement by Drakkar USA at some point in early 2020. We were having trouble getting access to a high enough resolution photograph of the version of the painting I wanted to use when Marco found the one we ended up using. That particular version of the painting is from a museum in my home state of Texas, and I think it ended up working better than the first one would have so I’m very happy with it.

I think Chiron training Achilles is a really inspiring and evocative scene, even for those who are only casually familiar with the mythology, and the style of the Renaissance and the Rococo periods are very inspiring to me. A painting was meant to tell a story, and not represent a static scene or image. This relates to how I feel about black metal as well. Too much new black metal is static, overly concerned with fleshing out some type of photocopied aesthetic ideal. I want to push against that. And finally, I think I do enjoy some sort of tongue in cheek irony with using a Rococo painting for a black metal album.

Oldowan Gash artist photo

“Blinding Moon” is a quintessential second track-kind of track. It’s catchy, it’s endlessly memorable. How would you describe this track and what inspired it?

The main riffs for this song are the oldest on the record, I think the main riff was made before Until the Bees Fly Again… but at the time it was too fast for me to use as I can hardly play the drums. The song itself came together rather quickly and towards the end of me writing the album, when I began to dig back into old recordings of riffs I had made to see if any last minute ideas came up. Without exposing too much or getting into boring nitty gritty, this was a song where I focused on how to do a lot by only using a little. Lyrically the song is about drinking and using drugs. Viewing a bender as some sort of existential lycanthropy and searching for something that might have never been there to begin with.

Who is your biggest contemporary inspiration? Not necessarily someone you aim to sound like, but which solo black metal project inspires you the most?

I’ve said this a few times before but I feel heavily influenced by Bone Awl and Cirrhus both. As you said I do not try to sound like these bands, but I do think a great deal of what I understand about black metal came from listening to these bands and buying releases from their distros. Both bands harness a vision of black metal that is wholly their own and yet highly rooted in tradition. I now view this as the standard for a worthwhile black metal band.

I think people make a bigger fuss about the one man band thing than is deserved. I don’t think about it all that much anymore. When I was first starting to work on this stuff, bands like Bilskirnir, Clandestine Blaze, Isengard, Burzum and countless others inspired me to go it alone. But once I got started it ceased to be something I gave much thought.

Inaugural Feral Heart Productions cassettes

An intense misanthropy binds the lyrics of all the songs that make up Hubris Unchained. It makes me wonder what you believe on a grander scale, especially with regards to the lyrics for “Inventing Armageddon,” which seem to invoke some kind of all-knowing capital-C creator. At the risk of running afoul by 'talking about religion,' is it safe to say that yours are not the most orthodox black metal beliefs?

I’m not really sure what I’m talking about in that song. I feel like the words just sort of appeared on the page. I’ve grown to view anything not man made as some sort of image of a god, or God, or one of the gods—I actually don’t really care. I was looking at mountains when I wrote that song. Mountains are so profound and striking, no matter how many times you see them. I wrote these lyrics maybe one or two days after writing “Mysteries of Our Redemption.” I think seeing these mountains really struck me after feeling like I was drowning in horrid techno-urbanism a few days before. A mountain range is so much more profound than a city. Maybe the city is the devil and the mountain is god? Again, I actually don’t care. Both songs reflect how I felt in a particular moment of time, but also in a way they encapsulate how I feel about life and modernity.

I don’t think of myself as a misanthrope, but maybe some people might call me that. I’d love to see everything work out and everyone live happily ever after, but it doesn’t seem we’re on track for that, doesn’t it? Seems like we’re pretty fucking far off of that track. Seems like that track doesn’t exist.

I think the common thread through all real black metal is the war against the modern world. In that sense, I would say that my beliefs are very much orthodox for black metal. I hate the society I live in. It’s filthy and grotesque. I hate the hyper-capitalist system, I hate the disease of the media and I hate the culture they have both created. Most of all I hate how trapped I feel within this world—to acknowledge its ridiculousness does not free you from its grasp. Through black metal I fight for the freedom of my mind and spirit.

What has Oldowan Gash/Desert Eagle been up to recently that may come to fruition of some kind in the near future?

Working on new Oldowan Gash material. Hope to record sometime in early 2021.

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