One the darkest religious cult stories in history becomes an eye-catching audiovisual.
"History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” - Mark Twain
For as far-fetched as some of history's most strange occurrences may seem, they're all too real, as the gruesome story of Roch Thériault and the Ant Hill Kids would entail. The self-proclaimed prophet carried out some of the most deranged string of events known to Canada, and likely the world as well. Bringing this back to the above Mark Twain quote, it's not the precise torture that occurred within the Ant Hill Kids cult that one is necessarily worried about, but the manner in which Roch was able to use Seventh-day Adventist Church beliefs to gather a group of like-minded individuals and justify his horrid acts. This dynamic surely applies to religious fanaticism, extreme political affiliation, and the cult-like behavior that many organizations practice today. This alone makes for a great topic of discussion and Gospel of the Future crafted the proper entry point through their forthcoming endeavor, Blowtorch Mankind.
Arriving on February 18th, this new Gospel of the Future record draws from the Ant Hill Kids insanity in ways that artist extraordinaire Marald van Haasteren so meticulously brought to life. Sperm cells floating towards an egg-like hole drilled into a skull? Ants carrying teeth atop a hill built on the foundation of religion? Lifeless Roch eyes starting deep into the viewer's soul? All of this and more come together for the Blowtorch Mankind album cover, which expands further into the inner artwork and back cover. Let alone the arts, Gospel of the Future deliver an earth-crushing doom metal affair that speaks of the horror through heavy riffs and slow-burning song structures. It's only right we applaud this comprehensive undertaking.
We welcome Gospel of the Future mastermind Aleš Meduna and Marald van Haasteren to a Behind the Cover discussion on the origins of this rattling subject matter, the expansive visual approach that accompanies Blowtorch Mankind, symbolism, and more:
With a visual approach by Marald van Haasteren this striking, ‘Blowtorch Mankind’ marks a hell of a return after over a decade of rest for Gospel Of The Future. Much has obviously happened since then and you’ve all grown and experienced plenty since 2010’s ‘The Eclipse’. In terms of mindset, where does ‘Blowtorch Mankind’ find you all?
Aleš: We split our ways after some tumultuous events in our lives, but the power of the riff is much stronger than anything I know and brought us back together. Some of the riffs have been around for years as we as a band have always been taking it real slow. Also, the pandemic has halted some of our live shows plans but gave us a chance to spend some decent time in the studio. For the very first time in the band’s history, we not only felt comfortable timewise but also got to work together with a likeminded person behind the board. Our friend Amak Golden (Golden Hive Studios Prague), who I had the pleasure to bring on the road with Unsane as a FOH sound engineer, turned out to be the perfect fit and booked more touring bands like Boris, MONO or Helmet for example. He’s been killing it in the studio for years now, including his work with Jaz Coleman and Killing Joke. So, the whole studio experience has been a blast and I think you get to hear that in Amak’s mix and mastering too. We are psyched about the whole record, can’t wait to have it out, jump in the van, and take it on the road.
It's great to see this newfound energy after years of silence! The record proves to be ambitious in every way. Sonically, it’s downright crushing and it’s only right that you enlist exquisite artwork to represent what you’ve all composed here. Before we get into the specifics of the art, what inspired your collaboration with Marald amidst the plethora of other artists available to bands?
Aleš: I've spent over a decade working and touring with many of my favorite artists and acts. A lot of times, these working relationships gave me an opportunity to meet and make deals with an extensive number of talented designers and visual artists. When me and our guitarist Ultra started talking possibilities, my first choice was Marald, who I not only met but worked with when he was commissioned for the killer High on Fire prints. I've also been fan of his since the late 90s, early 2000s I guess, having some State of Fear records in my vinyl collection.
The first GOTF album's cover was done by artist Chris from the terrific UK grindcore act Narcosis, who I met multiple times booking shows for his band. My dear friend Stephen O’Malley provided great suggestions over time and helped with the commissioning of artist extraordinaire Seldon Hunt, who designed our logo and did a killer job on the second album of ours. It meant a lot when Marald got back immediately, saying he’s down and after that, we did not have to look any further. I come from the DIY hardcore scene, so close relationships and friendships are crucial in my books.
They're an integral part of this entire industry, no matter how cutthroat it may seem. Jumping into 'Blowtorch Mankind', the Roch Thériault & the Ant Hill Kids cult story is quite the horrific influence and you simply excelled at capturing the maniacal nature of the Canadian events. It’s an extreme case study in religious fanaticism, but one that could easily be applied to many different aspects of contemporary socio-political dynamics. That said, is the use of the Roch Thériault story purely conceptual or is the intention more so to provide a commentary? For you, Marald, where did you look to take the Roch Thériault story with respect to Aleš’ reasoning behind using it?
Marald: Thank you, it was quite an experience to make the art for this monster. When Aleš approached me with this project, he included a link to a Cult Nation article, which was a good summary. I was already aware of this cult but had forgotten certain details & the precise timeline. In my research, I just explored the internet & also listened to some podcasts concerning Roch & the Ant Hill Kids.
Aleš: In pretty much all of the Gospel Of The Future lyrics, you can find motifs or innuendos of religion and intoxication abuse combined in a dark and misanthropic commentary of horrific past, unbearable present, and bleak future. All of this is on a personal but also on a universal level. For many years, I have been reading about all sorts of leaders, politicians, moral authorities, and the poison they’ve been spreading around to influence the lives of both blind followers and their opponents for decades. My fears were amplified in recent years by the state of contemporary world leaders, and I cannot think of a person that depicts all of the above more than a drunk and self-proclaimed “Holy Moses”, Roch Thériault.
What a topic! Like you, I was loosely aware of Roch Thériault, but the cover was a proper entry point for me to look further into it. Call it curiosity, but the elements that you layer throughout the painting certainly invite viewers to explore the peculiar occurrences taking place on the cover, like the ants carrying teeth atop a hill built by crosses. Do you feel as though there’s something to be learned from these extreme events?
Marald: My job is to make a captivating image that raises your interest. So yeah, it should invite you to take a second look, dive, & maybe even explore the subject.
As for learning from this, if something like is possible, then someone is doing it & if it’s not possible, someone is having a go at it either way. This goes for both sides of the spectrum, good & bad. Also, if history taught us something, it is that we’re doomed to make the same mistakes over & over.
One of the things I do want to point out is that most people distance themselves from the possibility of ever falling for this trap. “Why didn’t they leave?” or “I would never do that” are common reactions & avoid confronting the human traits that are in us all & could be exploited by a charismatic person. So, maybe one of the things we can learn from this is the realization that we have more in common with the followers than we like to think.
Aleš: I think the arts are mankind’s greatest way to share not only stories but mostly feelings and emotions. In many cases, depending on the taste obviously, the more extreme it is, the better. That said, I stumbled across the “Savage Messiah” book during a long night of sleeping on the floor of a small flat while on tour. I was deeply shaken. The events and depicted horrific actions had a real profound impact on me. I have read and seen stories on fictional and real monsters, but this one was so strong that I actually had to suppress the memories after a while. It all came back many years later when I came across an article on this again. It all came back, this weird feeling from hell. I read the story in shock and awe without focusing on the actual character of the wolf this time. but the weird psyche and actions of the sheep. I strongly suggest everybody looking into this because it's very telling about all of us. My other intention with sharing “The Ant Hill Kids” story is the fact that there must be somebody with the same experience I went through. Perhaps this leads to them rediscovering this, which is worth the effort.
Regardless of the intention, ‘Blowtorch Mankind’ is enticing and sure to draw many eyes on artwork alone. They’ll be pleased to know that the music is just as grand. Where does Marald’s work and your lyricism and overall composition coincide?
Aleš: Marald’s work is coming directly from the album's lyrics, which we sent him to accompany the music. Mainly, 'The Ant Hill Kids' song made him study the fascinating and haunting case of Roch Thériault’s deeds. I like to think of it as us influencing and encouraging an outstanding artist but all the rest, the unmatched imagination and original approach, it's all him. The art and the story, but also the music, is definitely not for the faint-hearted, all of it is massive and crushing.
It all creates one striking audiovisual. Beyond the cover though, you’re able to expand upon the themes presented through additional artwork, like the severed hand being carried by ants and the morphed insects. Was the goal always to create an extensive visual in this manner or did it come about as the ideas were being exchanged?
Marald: Aleš & I set out to make a “total package” from the start. Once I started sketching, I just had so many elements that I could transform into strong imagery that we just decided to do them all. Aleš really gave me all the artistic freedom & trust: once I told him my ideas, I think he instantly knew that this was going to be good. We both agreed that the imagery should be “timeless” & as iconic as possible. For the “torture tools”, I wanted to focus on the hammer, nails & pliers: all instruments used for the crucifixion of Christ & laden with the feel of the darkness of medieval times, the inquisition, etc. Aleš did request to try & incorporate a blowtorch, which we both decided had to be an antique model to create a consistent feel for imagery.
Aleš: As Marald notes, we were on the same page and fed of each other's energy so well. For example, Marald came up with the idea of having an ant morphing into a hammer, which in Roch Thériault’s case is a torture instrument of divine punishment. We loved it immediately. The main theme on the front had 3 tools depicted at first, the blowtorch was missing. I have a strong feeling the blowtorch is a very important piece for the methods of torture Roch used on his followers – causing unimaginable pain and cleansing the sinner’s soul with hellfire. Marald was not super happy with the blowtorch look until our guitarist showed him a photo of a very old, 100 year-old blowtorch his grandfather had in his shed. Also, we knew we needed to call the album “Blowtorch Mankind”. We went with four tools later on, but then all agreed it’s very busy with all four pieces on the cover, so we went back to three again. Marald’s brilliant idea of an ant morphing into the tool made me think, "What if we make four pieces of ants morphing into tools, blowtorch in this case included, and these could correspond to the number of four tracks total on the album?" With that, we figured we would have perfect art for inner sleeve. Marald e-mailed me on multiple occasions to check and he was having a blast. So were we. Thank you, Marald.
Speaking further on the morphed insects, it’s a signature component of your work. If anyone has mastered the use of insects and animals across different thematic subjects, it’s you and one only needs to look at your Instagram account to agree with that statement. Is there an inherent element about the insect anatomy that is intersectional across your work?
Marald: Thank you, insects have long been an interest of mine & their anatomy & beauty provides me with an abundance of possibilities. I would place insects into the archetype section, everyone recognizes their basic shapes. Some strike us with their beauty, others make us cringe.
They provide me with so much symbolism: insects were the first to explore the skies, the first city builders, and farmers. Their lifecycle includes (several) drastic transformations, which provides me with another layer of meaning.
It was a no brainer to use ants in the imagery for this album. Ants are usually seen as working as one, perfect to represent the followers of the cult. On the front cover, I have the ants offering teeth to Roch, whose head forms the top of an anthill made of crosses & nails. It all stands for devotion & sacrifice. They're walking up their self made hill, like Christ carrying his cross up towards the top of Golgotha.
For the inside art, I morphed the ants into the “torture” tools, to symbolize the inescapable abuse of each member & their devotion & obedience to undergo & perform use on themselves and/or other members. Here the ants become more like emblems, totem-like forms, emphasizing the loss of individuality & blind obedience.
The symbolism is insanely good and I always enjoy seeing your insect takes. As you note, there’s a subtle reference to the hand of god in Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ on the severed hand illustration. The hand’s positioning is of course a symbolic part of the legendary painting, which is used fittingly in contrast to the purpose of ‘Blowtorch Mankind’. God gives life to Adam while the ants work together towards their demise in God’s name. Can you elaborate on this irony?
Marald: I think you already did a great job, pointing out the duality of this piece. I didn’t intend to make a reference to the Michelangelo’s piece but when I sketched it out, it became apparent; the human mind always looks for meaning/associations.
Having the arm being carried by the ants symbolizes their search for direction, meaning, looking for god, and hoping to connect while they’re lost in the dark, carrying out, enduring & sustaining the abuse.
It happened subconsciously. Every bit of ‘Blowtorch Mankind’ is symbolic of the events that transpired under Roch’s rule. The use of a blow-torch against Gabrielle Lavallée aligns with the album title, tools represent the instruments of torture used by Roch, and the sperm cells floating to the core of a skull could very well represent the ideas that Roch planted in the minds of his followers. How did you teo select what elements to implement on the cover from the Roch story? There’s no shortage of horrific detail to include.
Marald: Like I said before: we both agreed on making it “timeless” with the exception of the blowtorch. Our communication has been great during this project. Early on, we established a trust & Aleš let me explore the themes as I saw fit.
I set out to make the art striking, unsettling, ripe with symbols, instead of going for a literal approach. When I saw a portrait photo of Roch, I immediately saw the possibility of having him transform into an actual anthill. I built up the imagery for the front cover from there, trying to make it as bold & iconic as possible. The whole process went so smoothly, it was very easy for me to incorporate the major themes in the composition. There's so much going on the front cover but it all had make the image stronger & balanced. The halo behind Roch’s head (his self proclaimed godhood) is mirrored by the circle around the toothless female skull & the drilled hole inside it (the “fertilized” skull stands for Roch’s “pièce de résistance”). The 26 spermatozoids represent the 26 children his female concubines bore him.
Aleš: Very good observations. Marald actually came up with the full concept real quick and presented it to us from the very first sketch, all at once. The center piece around Roch’s face, hair, and beard morphing into the ant hill, the actual ants carrying molars, the halo-like moon, the nails and crosses accompanied with tools that were meant for building but used to harm, also referring to carpentry and martyrdom of Jesus – all Marald’s ideas. It is not only brilliantly thought out and well executed, but also the sheer list of imagery it contains is very extensive and diverse. It works so well as one piece – an iconography of its own, impressive.
If you ask me, the most powerful imagery here is the female skull with 26 spermatozoids about to penetrate the female-egg like hole drilled into her forehead. Marald mentions that 26 stands for 26 of Roch’s offspring that he procreated with his concubines. There’s even more to this story that will haunt you if you dare to read and look closely, but I want to point out that none of this is used for shock value. It's all very symbolic and I think very relevant to us as species – we all have been and forever are doomed even if we try to believe there’s an entity that can save us. That’s an iconography I can relate to and Marald’s art sums it all up real good in my opinion. All hail Marald.
Hail Marald, indeed. That particular element is a favorite for sure. Extreme amounts of detail are the norm for your artwork. You truly immerse yourself in the project and instead of merely meeting the demands of the band as directed, you create opportunities for yourself and allow ideas to flow. How important is it for you as an artist to be allowed that level of creative expression?
Marald: It is vital for me. General directions give me the base & make sure the art is connected to the album. Having the trust & freedom to translate the concepts into imagery that fit my artistic world/imagery is extremely motivating & inspiring. It proves to result in the best for both parties time after time.
Also, getting feedback can result in surprising new directions & make the art even better.
You first shared the direction for the cover back in August 2021 and have since been able to complete the external artwork and layer it with additional detail, plus change the color palette into a black and white. Though it seems ideas for the illustration have remained consistent for a long time, has your perspective on it changed at all?
Marald: My perspective hasn’t changed; I’m still very pleased with the outcome. I think I did a good job of what I set out to do: make a captivating, unsettling image. It was such a pleasure to do this for GOTF & Aleš. I’m glad I got to do this & I’m really looking forward to seeing the actual album.
By the way, the art was meant to be black/white/ greyscale from the start, the original pencil drawing has a warmer, brownish tone, but I knew this would be turned into a greyscale once scanned in.
It's more fitting, I'd say, at least in how the tone fits the nature of the record's dark inspiration. I’ll use your words here: “This is blacker than black.” Indeed it is. How would you characterize the experience of taking such a sickening string of events and reinterpreting them through your lens? I’m sure the reading you had to do was entertaining.
Marald: Yeah, for sure. The subject is “blacker than black” but making this with Aleš & GOTF was a pleasure & a project, which felt very natural. The whole process went so smoothly, it really felt like we all were on the same page. So in that aspect, the experience was “brighter than light”.
In my art, my personal art, I usually transform some ugliness/pain into beauty. “Blowtorch Humanity” provided me with possibly the darkest themes, which I certainly explored with a challenge to avoid the gore aspect. Transforming the themes into archetypical symbols & a balanced (beautiful?) composition made this project as close to a personal piece of art as possible.
You excelled at creating such a profound duality, Marald. Truly incredible. In closing, what role do you feel the arts (music, film, illustration, etc.) play in this day and age? Has that changed at all with the rise of streaming in recent years?
Aleš: I have always been into the art of the underdogs: no boundaries, freedom of expression. Most of the time, extreme forms depict extreme contents. At the age of 8 or 9 as a communist country kid with no resources or ways to investigate, I truly believed my older peers when I overheard them saying that the awful sounding pirate tape of Napalm Death’s 'Scum' (1987) had no actual drums on it. They swore the band had been using a machine gun instead. Music and all other forms of art may have lost the aura of mysticism due to the availability, explanations, and ideas of all sorts on the tip of the finger, but the actual abundance of expression you can observe and investigate is beneficial for both artists and fans. I'm not sure if this all makes sense but oh well, that’s my life. Random, but Kiss actually doesn’t stand for for Kommando International SS, another myth I remember from back then.
Blowtorch Mankind arrives February 18th via Kabinet Records (LP) &
Epidemie Records (CD). Stream the lead single, The Ant Hill Kids, below.