Sunday, May 10

Interview Mike Riddick of Yamatu, Equimanthorn, The Soil Bleeds Black and sundry others - Virginia, USA

Firstly, why not introduce yourself according to your sundry professions? My interest in interviewing you lies with my observation of your name all over the metal underground; when snooping around for more Absu information (enough is never enough), reading a random metal 'zine, and beyond. I frequently will read paraphrases of: "Mike Riddick contributed X to project Y"; "enlisting the help of X, project Y was able to..." It's been a while since I've conducted one of my classic "static" interviews, as I call them, so pardon me while as I warm up to some better questions, and thanks in advance for helping me to break back in. Nutshell: describe some of your musical, literary, and artistic endeavors, et caetera.

Gavin, thank you for the opportunity to share my endeavors and thoughts on your website, it’s an honor and pleasure! My activities in the metal community began when first being introduced to the underground scene via Alex (Arghoslent / Grand Belial’s Key). The underground provided a great opportunity for my twin brother, Mark, and I to begin actively promoting our music in 1992/1993. Our initial expedition came in the form of a death metal project named EXCRESCENT. The project disbanded in the mid-nineties though has taken on a new form in my brother’s solo project, FETID ZOMBIE. In 1993/1994 I established my solo occult metal project, YAMATU. Several rare demos were published along with a tape release from France’s Drakkar Productions. The project is still active today and will likely see a new birth in 2008/2009. In 1992 we also established a folk/fantasy metal project titled THE SOIL BLEEDS BLACK. The project quickly evolved into a neo-medieval band that has since published numerous CDs and Vinyls on various European labels. We launched a replacement folk metal project named MOONROOT in 1998. Our debut album for MOONROOT will be published on Black Widow Records (Italy) later this year. Mark and I also joined the ranks of occult-experimental project, EQUIMANTHORN, in the mid-nineties. We’re currently wrapping up our fourth collaborative album with them this year, to be titled “A Fifth Conjuration.” In the early 2000’s, we completed an experimental project with members of BLACK FUNERAL, titled HEXENTANZ. The result was an exposition of musical medieval witchcraft. This project may continue to create albums in the long term, but for now it is on hold. Apart from myself, my brother has also contributed to the folk-metal outfit, FOLKEARTH, for several albums. Mark also performs in the band UNBURIED (VA). Perhaps it’s plainly obvious that we keep active. As for artistic contributions, my brother is rather widely known for his illustrative work so I don’t think I need to elaborate on that. He was recently profiled in Metal Hammer, Terrorizer and Revolver Magazines. Likewise, I have contributed a fair share of design work for various underground and major label metal bands. Our latest collaborative art project can be found on the new ARSIS album from Nuclear Blast.

I suppose that the first musical entity of yours that I heard was with The Soil Bleeds Black. Now, the track that I heard was one of a compilation released by The Fossil Dungeon. There were two ancient Equitant tracks, an Equimanthorn track or two, and many other darkly ambient tracks by many other bands. Would you tell me about The Fossil Dungeon, its provenance and its legacy?

THE FOSSIL DUNGEON was born out of a cassette tape label my brother and I operated in the early nineties called Dark Age Productions (in coincidence with PROSCRIPTOR of ABSU and Bard of CERNUNNOS’ WOODS). We would publish esoteric music (primarily from artists emerging from the metal community) and we would package and present these tapes in unique ways. Several of the bands from our small tape label later got picked up by labels like COLD MEAT INDUSTRY and DARK VINYL RECORDS. Since I was doing a lot of artwork for Dark Vinyl’s releases at the time, we collectively agreed to publish a compilation CD, titled “The Fossil Dungeon,” featuring bands from the archives of the Dark Age Productions roster. Shortly thereafter I launched my label under the same moniker: The Fossil Dungeon. That was seven or eight years ago and now the label has evolved into a 100% digital music label, preparing for the future. We managed to publish a catalog of about 20-25 high quality vinyls and CDs during that time span. We’re grateful for the response and appreciation we received for those efforts.

Now, the final track on this compilation (I cannot recall the name of the compilation) was attributed to Proscriptor. I'll make a wild conjecture and say that this untitled Proscriptor track was 1:37 in length. It involved some basic percussion, with a sort of back-and-forth chanted/sung part between Proscriptor and some woman. What's the deal with this Proscriptor track? I've never been able to get to the bottom of it, but often include it as a final track on Absu/Proscriptor/Magus compilations that I push on friends.

I don’t recall what PROSCRIPTOR’s original intent was with this particular song you speak of. I recall it being an invocation or calling of sorts, though I’m unsure of the purpose. I should ask him next time we communicate.

Equimanthorn. Equimanthorn, Equimanthorn, Equimanthorn...what's the story?

My first full experience was with Second Sephira Cella, a CD-R copy that Emperor Proscriptor Magickus McGovern, of regimental fame, who burned down the entire village of Xaltun in under eleven minutes--phew!--sent me. It is one of the albums that I use to feed my ever-so-hungry imagination after long grueling days of work, which tend to lack anything of the preternatural, primordial evocations so prevalent in Equimanthorn.

Now, having listened to Nindinugga Nimshimshargal Enlillara, I have more of this imaginative pabulum to chew over, figuratively of course (no, I don't ever eat discs, unless they're Absu discs!). The latter album is a bit different; as I see it, that is, hear it.

My first impression was that it doesn't seem as strictly ambient as Second Sephira Cella. Being a fan of Equitant, I recognized Equitant's electronic contributions immediately: heavy effects over his voice, and occasional drifting electronic sounds. Equitant certainly seems to have matured through his solo-work. I recognize Proscriptor's chants and singing, being a fanatical collector of his own solo-works.

Again, I beg your pardon for going on a rant when I am supposed to be asking a simple question: what's the story with Equimanthorn and your personal involvement?

First, I must say that the Southern Abyssic Communion of ABSU have always been an artistic and creative group of individuals. They initiated this “metal side project” before it was a trendy phenomenon (to my knowledge, only Mortiis and Abruptum had tread this territory). My understanding is that EQUIMANTHORN was born out of a creative energy to express the mysteries of life. The complex maze of understanding these mysteries conjure and the challenge of the inward journey are prominent throughout the first album, “Nindinugga…” The following albums continue this expression, leading up to our latest work (not yet released), which will be much more humble and explicative in nature. My involvement began with the rare second release, “Lectionum Antiquarum,” and really took form on “Second Sephira Cella” and “Exalted are the 7…” I’m personally pleased that you find satisfaction and an inspired imagination when engaging these works. That is, in part, what they are intended to accomplish.

Would it interest you to know that I am writing these questions from Sumeria? Well, I am. I just spent about a month in what was the site of Ur, where the Great Ziggurat of Ur still stands, having suffered some reconstruction. It takes time for the significance of these circumstances to sink in, due to the hectic and constant nature of my job (cleaning Sumerian toilets), but when I have a moment to rest, and pester people with questions like these, I realize how fucking amazing it all is. Sometimes I just sit outside, beneath the waxing moon, and feel it, in the air, and the soil, and the moonlight. Does this sound corny? I hope not, because I want my job cleaning toilets to have a sense of importance.

Toilet cleaning is a necessary evil. It is a blessing to sit on a clean toilet so those who use the ones you clean ought to respect your work! Toilets are also superb places of meditation so your job is, in some sense, a sacred one. You’d be surprised at the painstaking tasks many of the ancients went through to purify places of meditation! It was truly a remarkable and challenging role. While your present residence is considered a war zone, as it has been many times in history, you are certainly in a most ancient and magical place. It is amazing, truly! I long to one day visit the temples that surround you! Seven miles southwest of Ur (modern Tell Abu Shahrain) is the ancient city of Eridu where the first religious temple known to man was built. It is recorded that the god Enki oversaw the completion of this temple. He is also the god accredited with saving humanity and Utnapishtim (the biblical Noah) from the great flood. Of course, Ur is an old and sacred place as well. It was Abraham, founder of the Jews, who was a holy priest in Ur, later showing loyalty only to Yahweh. Many gods have manipulated and guided the history of humanity in your region. It is certainly still a clearly active place for world events.

An observation that I've made, that the name of Uruk bears an obvious etymological link to the modern name Iraq, turns out to be a contentious issue between historical linguists--I was disappointed to learn that I was not the first to see it. Another, similar observation I've made is that there are modern Iraqi names that bear the same resemblance. I was haggling with an Iraqi merchant, and during the talks over some trinket (haggling is important, regardless of what the item is) I asked his name. He responded that his name was Shamas. Instantly, I thought of Shamash and the Epic of Gilgamesh; other thoughts passed through my head, like "I wonder if he has a friend named Qilha'amesh"? Indeed, upon further importuning, Shamas told me that his name was from the Arabic name for "the sun." He got a bit reticent when I probed him for awareness of his pagan namesake, but I think that he knew all about it. Isn't this amazing?

That really is quite fascinating! I had no idea Shamas was a name used in this age still. It really shows the power and influence of history over hundreds of generations. I too have read of the lingual dispute regarding Iraq vs Uruk. It is a rather curious one!

In your own way, apart from anything I've mentioned about ancient Mesopotamia, please explain to me your interest in Sumerian paleo-history.

My interest originally stemmed from the fictional Necronomicon. In spite of its fictitious origins, it did lead to an interest in this area of history. Later, being a student of religion and philosophy at a Christian/Methodist school, my interest was spawned further when studying the history of the Jews as well as having access to vintage (late 1800s) books replete with Sumerian history at the campus library. I also examined other world religions and older traditions such as those of the Egyptians. All throughout this, I was also being educated, trained and initiated by a society with origins based in the old Temples in Ur. It was a magical period in the pursuit of knowledge and I will forever be fond of Mesopotamia and its history. What of yourself? I’m curious!

Tell me a bit about your brother and his activities. I've checked out Fetid Zombie and like this a lot. It's good old death metal, played the good old way, with the good old spirit. Hungry fetus? Yes! My favorite is Toilet Water Baptism! I love it. I also like his artwork (even ordered a Fetid Zombie t-shirt). His hellustrations remind me of the days when I was a still a teenager, listening to Carcass and Cannibal Corpse and the like; you know, you always had at least one buddy who was sketching some starving woman corpse eating her own half-developed baby! Who didn't? If you didn't, then this interview is over!

My brother never ceases to amaze me with his deviously creative renderings! One would think you would run out of ideas after thousands of illustrations, but he keeps developing new extremes of depravity. In some sense I consider it immature at times, perhaps having grown older now, yet I know this is what he excels at and his imagination is boundless. His band, FETID ZOMBIE, reflects his art quite precisely…ranging from disgusting to blasphemous. In many ways I believe this is an outlet for his distaste for organized religion and his own dealing with perhaps the darker qualities of the human condition. I’m excited about his music, as you noted, he’s bringing back some of the older underground death metal feel. His next release will even feature a guest appearance from Kam Lee (ex-DEATH / MASSACRE). I never thought something like that would happen, but it will most certainly be exciting!

Without getting too detailed, are you able to support yourself primarily through exercise of your artistic gifts, or do you require a mortal guise with which to trudge through the financial miasma of the common man's way of life? Don't you wish that I could just come out and ask a question, without some grandiose stylization? Just answer the first question.

Gavin, I really appreciate how you pose your questions in an interesting manner. It’s refreshing! As for financial sustenance, one could say that it does come via my creative effort. As active as I am with music, I do not currently make a financial lifestyle from it. I have been employed as a full-time designer with a company for about a decade now. That is my primary income source though I have recently developed more of an entrepreneurial spirit on account of my wife’s encouragement and inspiration. I’ve learned a lot about money and business during the past few years and I’ve learned that a basic financial education is vitally important to survival and well-being in life. I highly recommend anyone reading this to get some basic financial education. One good place to start is Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover.” His approach is conservative and provides a stable approach to securing financial well being. I will note, however, that no one ever became wealthy saving money so if one truly desires to get ahead in life, being a business owner of some kind is perhaps one’s best bet. There are tons of opportunities out there, whether it is through one’s own ideas and volition or through the variety of multi-level marketing businesses available to the “common man.” There are ways to get ahead. Often, the measure of one’s mind is reflected in the measure of their income. Wealthy people are those who think differently. A good classic book that is highly enlightening on this subject is “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. He is, essentially, the grandfather of the self-help movement and his book gleans wisdom from some of the greatest minds in American history. I highly support both of the books listed here if one really wants to change their financial situation or current position in life.

Unless you've covered this in the first question, tell me about Yamatu. I downloaded Shurpu Asaru from, but haven't quite absorbed it enough to ask very specific questions about it. I understand that it's essentially a collection of your demo's. Correct? I can tell you that I do like the way that you've put it together, with interludes that make me feel right at home here in Sumeria!

Indeed, the “Shurpu Asaru” release is a collection of demo recordings that took place between 1994 and 1998. It seemed, at the time, that much of this material was being duplicated on second-hand copies among various tape traders and I preferred a clearer rendering be made available. It was first published in a very limited unabridged CDR format (with lyrics and Sumerian tables) via Ultima Comparatio Productions. It was later reprinted as an abridged CD, of which there are a few remaining copies available. This project is still active and should see some new material forthcoming later this year or early 2009.

Now, the bread and butter: tell me about What was the inspiration; what is the mission, and where do you see this leading? I commend you for sticking a foot forward into the muck, and helping metal survive in the digital age! You can read about my own frustrations concerning digital music in the Bruce Willis/Marco Kehren interivew, but, damnit, I have a good reason for dealing with digital music files and players! Until they invent the VinylMan, I'm leaving my records at home! was born from an idea my wife had when discussing my other label, The Fossil Dungeon. The idea presented itself as an opportunity to begin an extreme metal label which is something I’ve always wanted to do. The mission of is to not only be the first all-digital extreme metal label, but to also eventually become the single-source online for purchasing extreme metal Mp3s. Another of our objectives is to help transit the underground into the digital age. We have partnerships with more than 25 other labels that we’re helping to tap into the digital music market. We have some other innovations that we plan to introduce during the rest of this year and we trust it should prove interesting and exciting!

1 comment:

  1. Really great interview! Mike (and Mark) has accomplished so much in the underground, it is truly incredible and inspirational.