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Back in March, I reviewed what is looking likely to be my album of the year, in the form of The Ladder by one-man act Palace Of Worms. A staggeringly ambitious record, it sees the band pushing harder than ever at the boundaries of black metal, to the extent that it’s perfectly valid to ask whether Palace Of Worms even are a black metal act anymore. I had the privilege of getting to interview mainman Balan via email, to ask him about Palace Of Worms’ place in underground metal, the creative process, and some of the themes of the album, as well as what the future might hold.
For those unfamiliar with your band, how would describe Palace Of Worms? What are your chief influences, both musical and otherwise?
Palace Of Worms started as a fairly lo-fi, semi-traditional sounding Black Metal project and has gradually evolved into what I guess you could call Avant or Experimental Metal as pretentious as that might sound. I hesitate to even consider the music “Black Metal” anymore since that is only a part of the sound that I am trying conjure now. The music has always had a pretty big weirdo vibe to it because I am such a huge spaz. As far as POW’s influences go, aside from living in the fucking gilded toilet that is the Bay Area, I’d say I’m a pretty big fan of Meilenwald’s projects Nagelfar/Ruins Of Beverast, also early Anathema/Peaceville Three stuff, old school DM like Asphyx and Grave, Rotting Christ, Zemial/Greek BM, and old Goth and Deathrock like Christian Death, Sisters of Mercy, and early Cure. “The Ladder” was heavily influenced by Tiamat’s “Wildhoney” record and Celtic Frost’s “Into the Pandemonium”. Two of my all-time favourite records and classic examples of diverse, strange metal.
How do you feel Palace Of Worms fit in with the current underground metal scene?
I’m not quite sure to be honest. I don’t really think too much about what else is going on. I mean, I know what I like, and what emotionally moves me. Stuff that has an indelible effect on my own output obviously. I’m aware of what going on in the Bay Area metal scene because many of my friends and collaborators are part of it, but I try not to match anyone else’s standards. I rarely go to shows anymore and being around large groups of people for extended periods of time makes me want get a full frontal lobotomy.
Palace Of Worms is a very powerful name, full of imagery. How did this name come to be?
The name comes from the title of the Sol Invictus song “A Palace of Worms” from their “All Things Strange and Rare” album. It invoked some provocative and compelling imagery for me and could stand as a metaphor for anything from a rotting corpse to a place of religious worship, state institution or state of mind for that matter.
Whilst black metal feels like the ‘core’ from which your music is built around, there’s also the strong feeling that you’re pushing at the boundaries of what black metal can be. Would you agree with this? And if so, is this something intentional, or more a result of you letting the music go where it feels right?
I love Black Metal and POW definitely has its roots in the style. As I mentioned before the Black Metal aspects seems like more of a single ingredient in the overall Bundt Cake of sound I’m baking opposed to it being a dominating flavour, but maybe others see it differently. As far as pushing boundaries goes, I am a huge fan of traditional Black Metal. The more harsh, hate filled, and satanic the better I say. It’s just that I really don’t feel like that straight up style really fits my mind set and emotional feels at this time in my life. It certainly did in the past but I want to be more honest with myself regarding POW these days. I try not to second guess what I’m writing too much and worry about whether or not it “fits”. I want the emotion to be pure. Plus I just get really fucking bored and there are too many people milking the same tits right now.
Related to this, what is the song-writing process for Palace Of Worms like? I’m always curious as to the song-writing process for solo acts, especially considering the complexity of many Palace Of Worms songs.
Oh man. I have a fairly primitive way of writing and demoing the music. I usually write my ideas down on scraps of paper and then stuff those scraps into my pocket to eventually be macerated into unreadable balls of fluff. I’ll write the riffs based on those ideas and arrange them based on the notes. Then I’ll arrange the music on a corkboard, and finally once it all seems like a good arrangement I’ll demo the songs at my house on a shitty digital 8 track recorder. I don’t have my own recording set up like so many modern one man metal projects do so I’ll usually con one of my friends to record me. “The Ladder” was recorded in a rehearsal space by a friend of mine and then mixed in a studio. I try to make do with the meagre gear that I have. It’s all very headache inducing and uninteresting and if I was smart I’d just get with the times.
Could you tell us more on the lyrical themes of The Ladder? It feels like a very personal album, but one where the listener is kept at arms-length throughout. I’m especially thinking of “Nightworld” here, which feels – to me – like a metaphor for depression, which is a theme that seems to run throughout the album.
“The Ladder” is the most personal piece of music that I have ever written. I do consider it as a cohesive whole despite the fact that all the songs sound different and they are separate from one another. This was done on purpose since I wanted each song to have its own character based on its individual themes. Depression, failure, death, resurrection, and triumph. The album is basically about the last 10 years of my life in one way or another. I wanted it to be dark but also punctuated by light for contrast. I think it’s almost manic-depressive in that way. I have pretty bad emotional swings so that is probably why the music sounds the way it does. “Nightworld” is about a few things, depression certainly being one of them, but mostly about being stuck is a cancerous long-term relationship. One based on abuse and distrust and hate and alcoholism. It took me a long time to articulate my feeling on that song. The title refers to spending my nights not sleeping and just wandering the empty streets in order to get away from this person but not having the courage to end it and feeling like everything turning to shit is my fault.
The Ladder also has some of the most stunning artwork I’ve seen on a record in some time. I love the details and symbolism in it, especially the double-helix ladder of bone ascending upwards from the corpse at the bottom. Could you tell us a bit about this?
The artwork was done by Raven Ebner who also created the cover for my 2009 album “The Forgotten”. Her art is amazing in its creative and unique approach to texture and colour. She is very receptive to my ideas and puts forth a lot of her own which work perfectly with the themes of the record. The idea of the helix and corpse ties into the themes of entropy and disorder being reduced to a genetic level in humans and the universe in general as evidenced by the decaying, crumbling background. Also the contradictory aspect of this or what is called the “Gnosis of Symmetry” which is expansive and ever evolving. The idea that death may not be the end, not necessarily in a spiritual context but simply an evolution of the form and using that as a metaphor for transformation. Everything can be reduced to its geometric elements and it’s quantum geometry that implies that there are infinite expanding levels to every aspect of existence. I feel like my rapidly decaying meat bag body and mind is caught in this spiralling vortex where death may be just a transitional state of being.
As well as The Ladder, you’ve also contributed to a few splits over the past few years with a variety of bands. Are there plans for any more splits to be released soon?
Yeah! I like splits. They are a way to make an interesting and varied listening experience, and an affordable way to put out a record if you split the costs. I’m actually working on a couple splits right now. The next one will be a split with the quite amazing one man Indiana band Ecferus. I heard his debut “Prehistory” and was pretty stoked on it, but his second full length “Pangea” really sealed the deal for me. Super complex, tech-y Black Metal with interesting themes. Quite a contrast with my side which is providing some nice regression therapy for me since I wanted to pay tribute to my favourite old school Death Metal bands. Total caveman bashing. I recorded it at Earhammer with Greg Wilkinson and it sounds heavy as fuck.
What plans do you have for the future of the band?
I’m trying to get a live band together to do some local shows. Maybe tour if it ends up going ok and I don’t end up pissing everyone off. I realize my various personality flaws might be difficult for most people to take so I’m going to try and put a lid on that shit. I have some musicians who I really admire who want to be a part of it though, and I feel honoured about that. Other than that, there are the splits and maybe another album in the future. I would like to build my own studio before I start on another full length though.
Any further comments you’d like to close on?
I think I’ve doddered on enough. Thank you for the interest. C.Y.F.A.W.S.