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UNCHARTED: Thantifaxath: a rare interview with Toronto’s anonymous black metal enigmas

The band grants as the rare opportunity to talk hype, meaning and anonymity, but the cloaks stay on.

- Apr 22, 2014
Uncharted is Chart Attack's showcase of independent Canadian artists we think you should hear. This week, cloaked (and fantastic) Toronto black metal band Thantifaxath grants a rare interview, but only through an intermediary named "T."

When writing about a band, my first impulse is to appeal to their biography: talk about what they’ve done before, mention who they’ve worked with, what their latest studio experience was like. Thantifaxath make that all but impossible; in choosing to be anonymous, The Toronto black metal band upset what's all-too-common to music journalism. If you want to wrap your head around their music, you’d better listen to the music.

Here’s what we do know: Thantifaxath are one of Toronto’s best secrets. In 2011, the three-piece released their first recording, a self-titled EP on Dark Descent Records. Ever since—from what we can tell—the group has only played a handful of shows throughout Ontario and Quebec. When they do play live, they’re donned in hooded cloaks concealing their identities.

Their debut LP, Sacred White Noise, isn't an easy one to grasp right away. Beginning with the sound of disorienting chaos—a salvo that promises the rest of the record will be just as unwieldy and mad—the album pulls any semblance of familiarity out from under you. It’s the sound of someone caught in an abyss, perhaps the world between life and death. The music darts between violence and sadness, incredibly melodic while also ghostly and discordant, as throaty vocals communicate anger and frustration over lyrics almost totally obscured by rasp.

Absent, though, is the tinny treble trademark of so many early black metal releases (and those made by “troo” die-hard disciples). Black metal seems to inform where the band starts as an idea, but by drawing from the more technically-driven style of death metal, Thantifaxath incorporate more dynamics into their song writing than the rigid traditions of the form really allow, while also proving just how malleable it can be.

Canada isn't known for its black metal, which makes Thantifaxath’s brazen experimentation with the genre’s tropes and ideas all the more surprising. While a black metal renaissance seems to be underway in countries like the United States and France, with bands like Deafheaven, KralliceDeathspell Omega and Alcest furthering the accessibility and appeal of the dark, tremolo-heavy sound and pushing it beyond its subgenre audience, the same can't exactly be said here. There are bands like Sylvus, and The Sustained Low 'C' of Richard Strauss' “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (TSLCORSASZ for short) who are slowly raising the profile of black metal in Toronto, but they have yet to release anything quite like Sacred White Noise.

You've really no need to believe what is said about [the music]. Not a word. Not even these words I say now.

Thantifaxath’s choice to remain anonymous is an aesthetic decision, designed to control their message and put the focus squarely on the music itself. But it also risks the opposite effect, driving fans and critics digging to find out just who these people are creating this beguiling music. But as I communicated with the band via email, through an intermediary called “T” who “compiled what [he or she] feels is an accurate summary of the response,” they were confident that any interest in the group brought about by curiosity would quickly wane if the music itself didn’t hold up. Of the questions I asked, these were the ones they felt comfortable answering.

Can you explain Thantifaxath's choice to remain anonymous? Is it a Death of the Author kind of statement?

"Death of the author" may be how you choose to see anonymity. What anyone else believes music is shouldn't need to matter to you. Especially not what I say. Those under the cloaks have no answers for you. They are not special. They are as fallible and lost as any human beings. That is all you will learn from them.

While Sacred White Noise begins in the style of black metal, that style and those conventions are disassembled throughout the album into something wholly different. Do Thantifaxath identify as a black metal band? What do genre distinctions mean to you?

Thantifaxath does not need to identify unless you want it to. If you believe there is a genre, then you have your answer already. What the members believe about the music will not change your mind. But you know that already.

The chaotic sound at the beginning of “The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel” sounds like a kind of pipe organ? What is it exactly?

This sound is layers of chromatic notes captured through an electric guitar. There are no organs here.

The sequencing of the music on Sacred White Noise suggests a narrative, and the song titles seem to hint at what that narrative might be. How much importance do the lyrics have to the music’s meaning?

Thantifaxath live in Ilirska Bistrica (Slovenia)

Thantifaxath is trying to show you what we see. That is all. The less that is said about it here the better. In this context, descriptive language becomes increasingly vague the more one tries to explain it, leaving the original meaning flattened out and lost. You've really no need to believe what is said about it. Not a word. Not even these words I say now.

Who designed the album art? How much importance do Thantifaxath place on their visual aesthetic?

The cover was taken by photographer named Jerry Cooke. It was taken in a mental asylum in 1946. Though I agree that visuals are important in music culture, Thantifaxath is focussed primarily on sounds. The visual aesthetic of the band is not theatrics but rather a means to augment that focus.

The album has garnered a great deal of attention. How do the members of Thantifaxath feel about that?

Not to seem unappreciative, but you are the ones that have created the attention. This attention is not the doing of the music alone but of promotion. Which is a shame because I have seen much great music go unacknowledged due to lack of good promotion.

Has the way in which the press focused on the band's anonymity intrigued more listeners than the record would otherwise?

What the members believe about the music will not change your mind. But you know that already.

This would not be surprising. The press rarely places "musical integrity" alone as being of importance in the hierarchy of marketable qualities in a band. But if the sounds themselves do not stand up on their own, you will soon find that the intrigue of the anonymity crumbles. Any explanation or justification from the members will have little effect on this process. Thantifaxath does not care about this outcome either way.

Thantifaxath have a short tour to promote the record this May. What are the challenges of adapting some of the very production-heavy songs from the new record to a live environment?

There are few because Thantifaxath has never tried to replicate studio-production exactly live.

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