Enlisting the talents of José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal once more for another staggering piece.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
To quote Michael Morpurgo's 'Private Peaceful' (2003), “I could believe only in the hell I was living in, a hell on earth, and it was man-made, not God-made.” If the contemporary state of affairs has shown anything, it's that hell isn't beneath the surface, but here, in your face and among us all. No matter where one stands on the religious or sociopolitical spectrum, it's impossible to overlook the immeasurable horror that mankind is capable of and continues to practice without an end in sight. Norway's Whoredom Rife know this well and take this dreary reality to concoct a black metal being so sinister and telling of the times. Today, Heaviest of Art is thrilled to present an audiovisual look at Winds of Wrath, the duo's forthcoming chapter of diabolic grace.
Arriving this November via Terratur Possessions, Winds of Wrath continues a lineage of Norwegian black metal greatness with an outing that astounds musically as it does visually. The effort comes adorned in the distinguished art of José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal, who has illustrated for Whoredom Rife since their inaugural self-titled (2016) EP. The front cover alone is noteworthy, but it's the entire gatefold, inner artwork, booklet, and overall approach that make this one comprehensive beast to bask in. This is dark art at its finest and we're only a conduit to the canvas.
We welcome Ole of Terratur Possessions, V. Einride of Whoredom Rife, and José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal to an in-depth discussion on the expansive nature of Winds of Wrath and its accompanying artistry:
José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal has put a face to Whoredom Rife since the debut, 'self-titled' EP, excelling with dark elegance each and every time. Is it safe to say that he's essentially an honorary member of Whoredom at this point, especially with him having a clear understanding of the band’s creative process.
Whoredom Rife: Yes, definitively. José’s input has definitively pushed our ideas further with his knowledge and studies. The man is a walking lexicon when it comes to religion. There’s an undeniable mutual understanding that surpasses just client/artist at this point, something we noticed from the very start.
Back when V.Einride played drums for Gorgoroth, 5 years ago, they played in Peru and gave José and his friends free entrance, something that deepened the connection between all of us. One thing is emails and whatnot between us, but it gets more real when there’s face to face interaction. José is very much an important part of the band at this point, and he will be used as long as the band exists.
The collaborative strength is evident in your output and ‘Winds of Wrath’ may arguably be your most grandiose work yet. How would you characterize your partnership?
Sabogal: Thank you very much! I am honored by the fact that they chose me from the beginning to create the image for their whole discography. That has indeed led me to see it as my own banner-project so to speak, the one I like to show off in my proud moments. I think Kontamination design also has had an important role in putting all material together, as I work solely by hand, but the whole is a team product between us and Terratur Possessions, which arrives to the final product.
Whoredom Rife: Naturally, when not knowing each other very well, the beginning was more straight to the point. Over the years, things get more in-depth and everyone involved gets more familiar with everyone's wishes. This goes for all of us; Ole comes up with his concepts together with Einride, K.R. is of course very present and adds to the ideas before we present them to José. When José starts sketching, everyone has their say and together we find the direction. It's a joint effort for sure.
Definitely. José, how would you say that said partnership has evolved over the years along with each of the releases?
Sabogal: I think our partnership is a constant experiment, but as the albums progressed, a constant symbolism and aesthetic preferences started to emerge, which helped giving the band its own visual identity. Each release is different, sometimes they come with a very specific idea, and I have to research and make an effort to match their vision. Other times, they have given me a free creative card, so I’d say the process works both ways. For example, in the case of 'Nid' (2018), it is all deeply embedded in Norwegian heritage and history from which I had no idea, and crafting its images also meant learning a lot of new stuff for me. On the other hand, I was given full artistic license for their split with Taake and what came out is almost a personal product of the magical practices and ideas that fascinate me.
That Taake split is fantastic because there's great art embodied within the physical release, art that is otherwise missed if you solely stream it. In looking back at that debut EP, what drew you to José’s work? What has kept the collaboration alive and flourishing over the years?
Whoredom Rife: An old friend of ours showed us some of José’s work. We don’t really remember exactly where his work was featured as he didn't have instagram or much social media presence at the time, nor was he used by any bands at the time either. He was rather new at this and we were a new band looking to get started, so what better than for all of us to start a collaboration together from the very beginning. This is why we have such a good bond with him and why he understands our wishes and ideas so well.
The rest is history as you've both gone on to grow tenfold. He's even illustrated several covers since then! Visually, what were you looking for when approaching him for both the outer gatefold cover and inner artwork of ‘Winds of Wrath’? Both pieces are truly astounding.
Whoredom Rife: Whoredom Rife isn't a band that needs to be explained in detail that much. Apart from the main concept of the band, which can be read inside the physical copies of the record, the concepts are pretty much based on the current state of affairs. Just look at our world and societies dying; religion, plague, hatred, despair, hysteria, endless wars and the unfathomable injustice all across our planet. It’s what defines the band. The band name is taken from old Norse context: “Ragnarök; an axe age, a sword age - shields are riven, a wind age, a wolf age”.
In Hebrew context, it means, “Those who reject god in favor of an idol”, and all this is represented throughout the band's artworks, but instead of shallow, juvenile designs, which is hard to balance in this genre, it's presented with a touch of José’s studies that give it that extra depth and make it a whole lot more interesting. We’ve also been inspired by local history, which can be read inside the physical copies of the new album. Every detail there has local history and local history is something we’re not only inspired by, but extremely proud of.
The gatefold design is inspired by the closing song on the album; ‘Mot Intet’ (Towards Nothingness). The song just goes on in a marching tempo and describes our endless strive towards nothingness on this planet. There's no hope, there's no peace.
It's neat to see how these historic references make themselves onto the painting. Hellish skies, a buried pope, demons spearing into flesh: there’s much to dissect across both visual elements on ‘Winds of Wrath’. Would you say the intention here is to encourage audiences to approach the record beyond the surface level?
Sabogal: Certainly. The band brought forward an engraving of the Pope as a demonic being, from the times in which a war of images exploded between Luther and the Catholic Church. We wanted to dig deeper into this hellish vision, in which a religion had come to embody its own contradiction. This is a notion that fascinates me deeply, present in Christian literature since early writers as Justin Martyr, namely, that the devotees could be deceived by the devil and fall into idolatry, while thinking they are worshipping the one God. This fear of idolatry was present in the controversy that surrounded relics, as the dead pope depicted in our gatefold.
Whoredom Rife: All our layouts and designs should give the listener a sense of what the music represents. We don't publish the lyrics as people interpret and misinterpret as they wish these days, so we see no point. Instead, we give the listener a visual journey to accompany the songs, and vice versa. Most songs can easily be understood as the vocals are pretty clear at times, so it's not like we’re hiding either, we just haven't felt the need to include them. The same way we don't include notation for the music. You can hear it, you don't need to see it.
Interesting perspective. Music in general is really an open canvass welcoming engagement, though the intention might be quite direct. The concept and direction for the ‘Winds of Wrath’ cover seemed to be established late last year. Did it undergo much change or did José nail it without a big need for revision?
Whoredom Rife: As always, we spend A LOT of time on the visuals. I think we spend around a year on just the layouts. José comes up with his sketches, we go back and forth on each and every design until it's ‘right’, and then we hand it over to Pawel at Kontamination Design, another deeply involved individual we can’t thank enough. The poor guy goes through Hell to get it how we want, but delivers every time. His input is also invaluable to the final product, so he’s another part of the puzzle that can't and shan’t go unmentioned. There's a lot of revision throughout the process, a lot of testing and failing. Extremely frustrating at times but for damn sure rewarding when you hold the final product in your hands.
Definitely, and shoutout to Pawel at Kontamination for his exquisite work. The layout is key to the physical release and as you mention, it sometimes gets overlooked. However, not today. José, though some may deem color choice as a mere aesthetic preference, it plays a key role in your works, as evident beyond just your Whoredom Rife covers. How do you approach this particular aspect of the arts, specifically in adding color to only particular elements of a painting? For ‘Winds of Wrath’, it’s more so the atmosphere that retains the color.
Sabogal: As an artist, I have always been more of a draftsman than a painter, and my use of color is therefore very restricted. It might be evident that I am quite obsessed with dark, deep red, the colors of cinnabar and hibiscus, sacred to the goddess. In Whoredom Rife, the stormy skies play a significant role throughout, and therefore it has turned out to be more “pictorial” than the works I produce for myself. I also tend to be focused on the depiction of the body while Whoredom Rife has fostered an approach to landscape and creating atmospheres to which I was in fact new.
There’s much to dissect here and like all of your album covers, it’s one that welcomes a physical experience where audiences will retain more from gazing at the physical LP. That said, how long did the cover illustration take to complete?
Sabogal: That is in fact a question that I have no way of answering as I work several pieces at the same time, between commissions and my own personal stuff, but I am afraid I might be becoming slower as the academic side of my life becomes more demanding.
I think what you mention is very important, the LP format has had a crucial impact in the way which my work is meant to be seen when it comes to music albums. It actually exists for this very purpose! This is of course the sign of a moment in which it's rather clear that digital media has not replaced (and will not replace) the physical experience of a work of art. The album is meant to be a complete experience, and this is only possible in such a format. I want to give every project its own identity, that the covers shall have a strong impact but also, that they invite the viewer to dig deeper into their symbols. I am glad it has had this effect on you.
It's truly inviting. Ole, in a time where streaming is the dominant form of music consumption, why place such a deep investment on the physical release? For example, ‘Winds of Wrath’ delivers on all ends with posters, inner artwork, and a full gatefold illustration, all of which are lost to those who opt not to go the physical route.
Ole: Growing up, there were only physical formats. We bled for our records. I for one hustled, stole, and saved all the money I got my hands on for records ever since I was 5 years old, and it's been a constant in my life ever since I bought Iron Maiden - 'Killers' (1981) on cassette in 1987. My family never had any money, so it was an endless struggle, but that's half the charm looking back, haha. The imagery is what drew me into all this as I had no clue what I was even buying back then, so naturally, it is a huge deal for me to this very day. It's in many ways sad that people download and stream, but such are the times. I like to “reward” listeners who spend their hard earned welfare checks on music to support bands and artists.
It’s 2021. I've finally given into the streaming thing a couple years ago, but I do see the benefits of it too. Sure, the music scene has changed drastically for the worse, but on our level, I am more than happy with the sales we got. I can only imagine how hard it’s hit the big players of the industry.
It's a double edged sword, for sure, and it will only keep changing as technology continues evolving. Maybe I’m reaching here, but there’s a notable Hieronymus Bosch influence on the front cover, specifically that of ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. Like the classic painting where there’s a creature opening his mouth as an entrance to an abyss, the ‘Winds of Wrath’ cover provides us a glimpse into another creature’s mouth and depicts a hellish sequence of bodies burning and demonic rapture. Do you feel there are similarities between the two paintings that you perhaps harnessed for the cover?
Sabogal: Of course! Not only to Bosch but to plenty medieval artists whose name we don’t preserve. The mouth of hell was a strong motif in manuscripts and in medieval Mystery Plays. I don’t want to invent but to give my own take on such a long tradition. I remember having a strong impression of the murals of hell at the Huaro chapel in Cuzco (Perú). They are very naïve paintings, but they emanate strength and awe, and I remember thinking that I truly wanted to create such a thing as a painter, one day. Although these images were meant to indoctrinate and inculcate a “fear of God”, I do believe that many times they caused the opposite result and became the object of a dark fascination.
On this regard, I love what William Blake wrote regarding Milton and his 'Paradise Lost' (1667), which he "wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when he wrote of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it" (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1868, p.6).
That Bosch reference was spotted almost immediately! Your work harnesses greatly from ancient text, manuscripts, and religious symbolism. Where do you feel that your talents aligns with Whoredom Rife’s themes and lyricism?
Sabogal: The prophetic aspect is indeed a fascination which I hold towards medieval and renaissance texts, and ultimately one I aspire to capture within my work. I think Whoredom Rife, as far as I understand them, is strongly influenced by prophecies like the one in the Voluspa, of a dark age to come. The figure of the Pope in this new cover is in fact inspired in an engraving from the Vaticinia, from 1600, a book of prophesies and visions attributed to the controversial abbot Joaquim de Fiore (1135 –1202). It is safe to say that I have been fascinated with the apocalypse my whole life. The eschatological is not only that concerning the end of times, but also about the meeting with that which is outside of time, with direct visions of the divine, the absolute Other. This is often an experience of absolute horror.
Whoredom Rife: As mentioned, what he brings to the table is the knowledge that ties together and gives our concepts the depth that otherwise would perhaps make our concepts a bit too straight to the point. It’s easy to make an album cover with burning popes, severed hands and various symbols, but to have the understanding of what these symbols mean, why for example a severed hand is featured, is a whole other level. Again; he is what truly gives life to these designs. We have learned a great deal ourselves from his symbolism and input, something we value a lot. It’s a highly interesting process every time and it's extremely interesting to hear his views and take on our concepts. Just to be clear; he learns from us and all this himself. We know a great deal about symbolism, mythology and history ourselves, and we know what we want. He then digs even further into our ideas, so it's definitely a symbiosis at play here.
The collaborative dynamics are seamless at this point. Musically, ‘The Curse of the Moon’ offers the first glimpse of ‘Winds of Wrath’ and is a testament of the refined approach that you’ve all grown into over the years. What can you comment about the dynamic between you both as you came into the new record and where do you see it moving forward as one of Norway’s premier new black metal acts?
V.E.: We did exactly the same on this album as we did on the previous, and we will continue to do the same on the next album, which is nearly done, by the way. I think we're just getting better at what we do, and there is no reason to change how we work. Also, I think by now our listeners know what to expect from us, and I intend to keep it that way. We will definitively push our own boundaries, but not too far.
You've found your signature sound, so to speak. Has Whoredom Rife achieved what you all envisioned during the Noctiluca years? Over two decades have passed since then.
V.E.: The answer here is no. Noctiluca was a different band, and we didn't envision anything, but as far as Whoredom Rife goes, I'd say we achieved a lot in a short time.
Keeping in mind that I had been working on the material for many years prior to forming the band, we're further down the road than expected.
I agree. Black metal is more than a genre but an art form that is unique across time. With each passing release, you expand upon your craft and offer much in the realm of immersion beyond just working with José, but with talents like Void Revelations for photos and Kontamination for layouts. Where do you feel that you find common ground with all involved when expanding upon the album’s music?
Whoredom Rife: We have the “unholy trinity” largely responsible for our artworks and layouts; Ole, José, and Kontamination Design. That said, others contribute as we have an extreme amount of talented individuals around us, so given the time and place is right, why not involve them here and there. For example, B. from Void Revelations asked to do backstage photos during a festival somewhere in time, and of course we said yes. We had the talented Heresie Graphics handle some flyers for ‘Winds of Wrath’, another great addition to the fold, and not to mention the unbelievably talented MarA Artworks who did the seven headed ravens featured in our new album. She simply blew us away with what she came up with. When Ole presented the idea, it was vague at best. What she did was completely mesmerizing and talk about nailing it. We stand in awe.
Ole, as head of the label, what do you look for in an artist when working with the band to achieve full audiovisual cohesion?
Ole: Naturally, it has to fit my taste and vision, but most importantly, fit the aura of the release in question. I most often work closely with the artists and get involved from the early demos to the final product, so I listen relentlessly to the release as it takes form and constantly think about what would fit the artists vision and aura of the release. Reading the lyrics is a must and brings tons of ideas to the table, of course.
I have to add that several bands like Kringa, Deus Mortem, One Tail, Umbra Conscientia, and others have come up with their own layouts with little or no input from me, but when you work with like minded artists in whom you trust, you also trust their abilities to come up with a solid end product, and that has not failed me yet. That’s very important to me as well; getting to know the artists/bands on a personal level to understand where they come from. If we match as persons, surely we tread the same paths that lead us to where we end up. Mutual understanding and respect is key.
Definitely. José, you’ve experienced a great trajectory in your work over the years, landing covers for Crestfallen Queen, Nexion, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Mephorash, and Dysangelium to name a few. Beyond that, your original works have sold out and you now have a book on the way. This pattern is sure to continue. What does it mean to you to have your art have that kind of effect on viewers across the world?
Sabogal: I really have no clue of what to do with this odd fame, I just wanted to draw and slowly it grew as the albums increased and wonderful bands gathered their deserved attention, but most of the time, I see myself as a servant. Part of my problem is that I always want to keep things hand-made and personal, so I increasingly don’t know how to handle a larger public.
I want my work to enhance visionary and meditative experiences of a strong kind, and also to direct attention towards the old books that fascinate me. This is why I always try to be open about my sources and foster people to revisit and contemplate them. I really have no control on how my works impact people and the responses have been of all kinds so far. This is always a danger when it comes to occult-related topics. The viewers might project their own disturbed contents on the images, it works like an obscure mirror. I remember the impact that black metal album covers had on me as a teenager and I cannot even guess what my own work is doing to others right now!
But, I lack an exoteric agenda, of what my images should or could generate on a larger public, this might seem irresponsible, but as long as they resonate with a few individuals and are able to generate vision and introspection, they will have fulfilled their real purpose.
Judging from conversations I've had with a few of the site's readers, I'll say that they've garnered a particular kind of curiosity. Moving forward, what role do you feel the arts play in black metal and metal overall during this contemporary time where streaming and digital media dominate the methods for music consumption?
Sabogal: I think it is a genre where there is still place for artistic expressions that have been exiled out of mass media, and out of contemporary art as well. The otherworldly and the introspective play a crucial part in it to the point of autism sometimes. It lacks the irony and critical eye of modern ways of thinking, which to me are many times just signs of insecurity.
It is also, at the same time, one of the genres where the visuals are given a stronger role, and that is where I come into play, I guess. My stuff does not follow the aesthetics of old black metal nor the low-end production that is characteristic to it, but I like to keep things as analogical and personal as possible, and that might be what makes things fit. I do consider myself a very superstitious and religious person, but I feel more at home in such an anti-religious genre than in a disenchanted, materialistic society. This might be because within its negativity it also holds a crooked mysticism and ritualism of its own, perhaps. I rejoice in these paradoxes.
Whoredom Rife: We touched upon this subject earlier, but we have to mention no one is as die hard music fans as black metal fans. It's a genre where physical media still stands strong today, something that can't be said about most other genres. Kudos to our supporters out there, without whom we would not be able to do what we do.
With compositions as immersive as 'Winds of Wrath', the support is sure to continue. Terratur is truly rooted in a DIY nature and Ole is heavily involved in almost every aspect of the records, ‘Winds of Wrath’ included. What does it mean to you to have the support of Ole and Terratur since the band’s inception? The label certainly shares the same direction.
V.E.: Definitively! Ole's involvement is, and always has been, a key factor to the moving forward of Whoredom Rife. It means that I can focus more on my strong sides; music, recording, etc., which in turn profits the band and Terratur. He's like a third member to be fair.
Whoredom is essentially 5 members with Ole, José, and Pawel, being part of it all. Ole, you’ve built a hefty catalog with Ván Records playing a key role in the distribution. How significant are these partnerships for underground labels such as Terratur that value integrity and genuineness over a high volume of output?
Ole: I guess that was the very thing that damn near killed the label. Getting too involved means something else got to give. In my case, I obsess so much over my releases that it has affected every aspect of every day, and to make time for everything and everyone almost burnt me out at the end before Ván Records took over distribution in 2018. Bear in mind, I did run the label alone for 11 years prior, so it was do or die at that point. I mean, I did everything from promotion to updating the webshop, taking, packing and shipping orders, the endless post office trips, the customer service, accounting, designs, the communication with artists/bands, printers, designers, merch, physical formats, festival lineups, tours…EVERYTHING you can imagine, while still having some sort of social life, family and what have you. Did I mention I have a full time job in addition to all this? I work 8-13 hours a day, 5 days a week, even more if needed. So yeah, if Terratur Possessions was a body, Ván would be the heart that keeps it going. I am eternally grateful they took over distribution, and should that ever change, the label dies that very moment. Their involvement means more time for me to do the “fun” things, like designs and taking photographs, which is something I enjoy doing more and more these days.
Regarding integrity, it's the key word for this genre. There are so many labels and bands out there without a whiff of it. It makes me sick, and to be honest, the genre has fallen to opportunists ages ago. Thankfully we, the underground, keep it going. The day I start making beers, dolls, soaps and/or earrings; somebody shoot my head off! But, it's unavoidable as it happened to rock n' roll. It happened to punk; consumerism, opportunists, lack of integrity. It kills music more than tape trading ever did.
Well, you're still holding your ground and will continue to do so. Whoredom Rife have had quite an active last 5 years and Terratur has been the home for each and every one of their outputs, a testament to the foundation you’ve built from the start. Where does the band stand amidst the flooded arena that is contemporary black metal?
Ole: Me, Einride, and K.R. actually go way back, yet didn't start working together before 2015. I was busy with my label and they were busy with their projects. Both of them were unhappy with their situations and had no personal connection to what they were doing at the time, so they got together, reminisced, and shared ideas between them dating back to rehearsals they did in the early nineties, thus Whoredom Rife was formed. They had a bunch of demos, they had a logo made, and they contacted me asking if I was interested in hearing this and getting involved. Having loads of respect for the guys, not only for being “old-timers” in our town, but in general for being excellent guys, I jumped on it. At first glance at their logo, I immediately knew I had to get deeper involved, haha. It was god-awful, to be honest. The three of us started bouncing ideas off of each other and the rest is history.
A friend had shown me José Alegria Sabogal's artworks and he was at the time not used and abused by anyone before us, so I felt that was a perfect artist for us. Fresh blood! Sure, it’s not black and white, corpse paint black metal-style, but it got me thinking back to Dissection and Necrophobic artworks; colorful, yet mysterious, highly detailed and simply stunning. I showed the guys and they agreed; let’s do this our way and not drown in a sea of others. Unfortunately, endless bands use him these days, but I still feel we get something different out of him since we work so closely with him on each and every design he makes. We give him our ideas and references on where we want to go, and he takes the input and dives even further into the topics. I have to say he is one amazingly talented, hard working, dedicated artist, and kudos to him (and Kontamination design!) for keeping up with my endless OCD. I’m fairly confident they have said my name in vain more than once, haha!
As for the band, to me it reeks of “the old ways”. The attitude, the classic Norwegian soundscape, and nothing like the current trends. None of the contemporary bands sounds like them, if you ask me. I’m not saying they're doing anything original either, but that's exactly it; black metal doesn't need to be original, eccentric, and overly professional. Sometimes, you just want good ol’ Satan and a riff to match.
As mentioned before, Whoredom have simply found their niche. ‘Winds of Wrath’ and really the band's output as a whole is representative of the great standing that you and the genre find itself in. Bands both new and old continue to deliver and festivals like Beyond the Gates and Inferno are reflective of that. Where do you personally see yourselves among it all, and perhaps specifically in Norwegian black metal?
V.E.: Well, even though we're arguably part of a musical movement, I feel like I was never a part of a "scene". There was only a handful of BM-bands in Trondheim when we started out and we were as far from organized as you can get. I had no contact with anyone from the "scene" in Oslo or Bergen, and we hardly had any contact between the bands up here. It was us and them, and I still feel the same way.
Starting out, we were never a part of the Nidrosian scene either, although we are very much involved with everyone today. We're undeniably part of something, but we don't try to be, so I see us on the side, even though we're seemingly in the middle of it right now. As for the musical aspect: we're not retro, we're just late.
Winds of Wrath arrives this November 2021 via Terratur Possessions. Stay tuned!