First things first; could you briefly sum up the essence and concept of Serpent Ascending to our readers? Are there some bands you could rightfully compare SA with, in one way or the other?
JN > The essence of Serpent Ascending is of the self-evolving left hand path and its philosophy and energy in audial and lyrical form. It is darkness with the light of the Self as a luciferian concept. Musically Serpent Ascending is a combination of the old ways of finnish death metal and black metal with quite a lot of melodies.
It is too hard to go and compare my works with any other bands so I will leave that to others.
The name "Serpent Ascending" could be explained as either Lucifer, wisdom, or sin (the nature/animal in man) taking the highest throne and glory... but how do you explain the name yourself - if there even is a way to thoroughly explain it?
JN > The name can be interpreted in various ways. I see it as the fiery kundalini serpent that is definitely linked to satanism and tantric left hand path. It rises from the mud and dirt of life but blooms as the thousand petaled lotus. Of course these mud and dirt only seem like they were lower and less pure than what is ”above” while actually they already are one with the highest. Serpent is the symbol of Lucifer, our lightbringer, initiator and liberator once fallen, i.e. born into our flesh, giving us the divine intellect and promethean fire.
What were the events that led to the birth of Serpent Ascending, and to you keeping it as your solo-project? Were you afraid that other individuals might damage your vision of the music, or was it otherwise something you found you need to do, create and survive through on your own?
JN > I had a long and silent uncreative phase after I left one of my previous bands Nerlich in 2005. It took three years before I found my creativity again because I had tried to force myself into creating certain kind of music that wasn't my music after all. As other personal processes culminated in 2008 I found the spirituality that I had searched for and felt liberated in many ways. That also helped me to start the creative process again and Serpent Ascending was born.
JN > The only reason to begin Serpent Ascending as a solo project was to let it grow and evolve on it's own without unintended problems between members having their own ambitions that could've been wrong for Serpent Ascending. I didn't want to compromise with the vision and I didn't know anyone who could have shared the vision with me. Now things have evolved in a way that allows the band to become a unit of more than one person.
SA is a clearly satanic and occult band. How did you choose death metal as your medium, instead of the more usual or traditional choice of black metal?
JN > I didn't really choose death metal but just wrote the songs and that's what they turned out to be. There might be more black metal vibes on the future releases though in my opinion Serpent Ascending has already been quite close to black metal and it's not really a big step to move towards that direction. The line between death metal and black metal is quite thin when it comes to bands like Serpent Ascending and I just have to create the music that naturally comes out of me. The categorization is the least important factor after all and I wouldn't really care if the next album was something totally different from what I've done this far, though it's quite unlikely.
Regarding the lyrical side, I wrote the following in my review of your "The Enigma Unsettled"-compilation: "The lyrics deal with becoming one with Satan through his trials and finding ways to channel his power, seeing beyond the material world into a spiritual one, and finding one's own will through self-exploration and devotion - growth and transformation." If I've made any mistakes here that need correcting or you'd like to add someting, then please do.
JN > Your depiction is good and I don't see much to correct, although I don't think ”material” and ”spiritual” world could be separated from each other after all. That which is spiritual has only taken a dense form in the world we're living in, which means that this is how we experience the spiritual realms at the moment.
What originally lured you into the world of occultism and satanism? Dissatisfaction with the material realms, or perhaps hatred towards Finland's religious atmospheres? It's far from the easiest way of living through your days, so there must be something there that truly lures you.
JN > I've always had the interest but it took a long time to really find my way to actualize it. I feel it's a deeper craving that's been inside all the time. Dissatisfaction usually is a good tool to drive man to try and find something more or better. But mostly I think that too strong separation between what we should do and what we really are doing in our lives is the real cause of dissatisfaction, not how other people affect us or spend their lives. That's quite inessential after all.
One could also ask what got you to craft your personal struggles, views and findings into a musical form - or in other words, what does the music (in your opinion) contribute to the lyrical themes? How does the instrumental song on "The Mournful Pilgrimage" fit into this equation, what is its meaning and purpose?
JN > Actually the instrumental song had lyrics and you can still hear parts of them whispered in the background. The instrumental version is more effective and the growls that were recorded somehow disrupted the feeling of the song. The vocals sounded quite tormented in a good way but they just didn't fit in.
In general the music gives the overall feeling to the songs. It's nothing less than flowing energy while lyrics are the crystallization of the idea the song is trying to reach and express. They're both equally important.
Do you need to hold yourself back when writing the lyrics? I've noticed they're very personal, and one would think there are some things you don't want to (or are unneeded or too distracting to) reveal to your listeners.
JN > Actually the lyrics that I originally wrote for the instrumental track were so personal in too problematic way that I had to remove most of the vocals that were already recorded and leave only some of the whispers.
Usually I never think if I should write something or not. In the future I might go into more personal and emotional way of expression. I don't think that the lyrics I wrote for the earlier releases were so personal after all, even though the lyrics were all about my personal processes. Anyway the earlier lyrics have yet been quite idealistic and I feel there is a need to do something more personal in a way that still reflects the Idea and the Spirit.
Since SA is a vessel and creation for personal use and "gain" (I would assume), what initially got you to release your works in public? Are you hoping your listeners might find something in the lyrics they could use in their lives, or just to give them a dose of quality death metal, or..?
JN > Both really. I wish to create some quality music while still keeping things profound. I don't know if I have gained anything but the challences that come when you make such vows and promises that are included in the songs. Every word ever said already have the potentiality of a spell and every vow and promise that is written in the form of lyrics will summon the powers they're related to, and well... at times I might have promised too much. After all the only gain is to go through the experience and see what's beyond. I don't know if most of the listeners have found anything important in the lyrics but those few who have already make the public work worth all the efforts.
Regarding the above, is there a specific reason to you using your birth name with Serpent Ascending instead of choosing an alias?
JN > I didn't really think about it when I started. I wouldn't say my birth name is any more real or unreal than any other name I could have used though. Some people want to distance art from their personality by being anonymous or using other names. It's ok but wasn't their personality already there when they channelled the art? If we didn't need personalities we wouldn't have ones and if art can somehow be tainted by the personality it is nothing important at all. And by art I mean the expression of that which is holy and can never be tainted or desecrated, however personal it's outward form might seem. It's our personality through which we channel the art and everything.
I mentioned self-exploration, growth, devotion and transformation above. Do you practice rituals, or do you moreso focus on studying occult writings? Are there some writers or other experiences that you could point as critically important to your spiritual growth?
JN > Self-exploration and growth do not require rituals but they can help centering the mind to certain energy and let it flow through your being. I do not practise rituals on a regular basis. Lately I haven't studied that much occult writings as I have done in the past and will probably do in the future. I've wanted to center my self into what I already have within, letting not too many outer impulses have their effects on it. Of course it's impossible to close everything out of yourself but in some phases of life it's crucial to minimize the effects of outer authorities.
Many writers have been important to me during the years but the most important one is definitely Johannes Nefastos whose writings have given me a lot of new perspective. Many original religious texts and their archetypal symbolism have also influenced me a lot.
How are your songs traditionally born; do the lyrics come first and the musical theme around it?
JN > Usually music comes first and sets the wordless energy of the song. Words try to reach the energy and idea in their own way and as a process it seems more difficult.
As your music focuses on dark and occult themes, how do you create the suitable songs for them? Are the songs more about the atmospheres than their "punch," or what kind of emphases do you usually employ?
JN > I don't think about the process much. It just happens but I do have a certain urge to create songs that are diverse yet not too complicated. After the basis of a song is ready I know what kind of atmospheres are necessary but that's intuition and feeling more than reasoning.
You've released two demos, named Serpent Ascending & The Mournful Pilgrimage, which were later bundled together under the name "The Enigma Unsettled" through the label "I, Voidhanger." Yet, these releases are separate ones with different themes. Would you like to share us something about the demos' themes?
JN > I don't have any certain interpretations on the themes. My interpretations change from time to time and grow. I don't want to spoil too much but at the moment I would say that ”The Mournful Pilgrimage” is about the tragic and sorrowful pilgrimage that we have to make at some points, or one could also say that it's the life as a whole already. Two parts of the title track conceal the ideas within that are presented in the songs between those two songs.
Serpent Ascending's theme is also what the title suggests: the ecstatic ascension of the spirit and different things to be faced during that process. Some qabalistic themes were used on the demo that is actually only a first part of a bigger project that still misses 6 or 7 songs. I don't know if I ever get a chance to finish the project. Hopefully I will.
As mentioned, the new compilation is titled "The Enigma Unsettled." What does the name stand for, or what's the referred enigma in question?
JN > It's the whole existence that is the enigma. The lyrics of the title track are also preferring to this. Everywhere there's a paradox that is so great and mysterious that you can only adore it - and hate it at the same time.
The first striking feature of "The Enigma Unsettled" compilation-CD is of course the amazing artwork. How did you find and choose the visual artist Wiley Trieff? What kind of pointers did you give to him for creating the artwork, and did he have the music to draw influences from? Have you planned whether or not you'll have the same man working on the next album's graphics as well?
JN > His artwork was suggested to me by Luciano of I, Voidhanger records. Wiley Trieff made the artwork on his own and we didn't affect each other. The music and the artwork fit together perfectly so I didn't have to consider it too long when I saw the paintings. I believe the right things happen without forcing them or trying to control things too much.
I think Wiley Trieff is somewhat willing to make artwork for the next Serpent Ascending release and I have nothing against that.
How did you find the label "I, Voidhanger"? Will you be working with them in the future as well?
JN > I didn't find the label. I was waiting for labels to find Serpent Ascending and Luciano of I, Voidhanger records contacted me in early 2011. He had listened to the Mournful Pilgrimage demo that was uploaded on Serpent Ascending myspace site and offered me a recording deal. I, Voidhanger will release the next Serpent Ascending album too.
How has the compilation been received this far? Have you noticed if people have gotten familiar with the lyrical side as well as noting the compilations three-part build? Death Metal is easily regarded as low-brow pummeling, so one could expect these things remain unseen fairly often.
JN > Some reviews have been very good, some very bad and others somewhere in between. Unfortunately too many reviewers have thought the compilation was a full-length debut album and have wondered about it's production. I don't know if they read anything about the album and just downloaded it. Feedback from the listeners has been good but I think the lyrical side is easily overlooked. Some people think it's just ”evil occult old-school worship” and that's far from the essence of Serpent Ascending. Death metal is often very stupid lyrically so it's not really a surprise that most people are not interested in the lyrics.
Serpent Ascending is otherwise a one-man band, but you've used a session drummer. Was it difficult to let someone else deliver your vision of the very personal album, or did you let him do what he saw was best?
JN > I had already done demo versions of the songs with drums so there wasn't that much freedom. But I do trust those whom I work with and have no need to restrict their creativity. When intention and the beginning of the process are right there's not much need to control everything. You just know that things are going well.
As a follow-up question: have you ever thought about performing live with Serpent Ascending?
JN > I have and if it depends on me Serpent Ascending will play live after the next album is released.
You played in both Nerlich and Slugathor before their demise, and now you're in Desecresy. What is it about oldschool death metal that appeals to you, year after year? Are you in any other bands that are currently active?
JN > I don't know really. I started playing death metal with Nerlich and it seems that since those days (oldschool) Death metal has remained as my primary channel of creativity. Death metal is a powerful and striking way of expression and I think it is the power and the images and ideas of death that made it very influential earlier in my life. During the last years those ideals have grown deeper and I need to make philosophically deeper songs about death and dying not as physical events but as a subtle transformation.
I also play in a thrash metal band called Nowen which is not that serious on an idealistic level but more like having good time with friends. Desecresy is closer to Serpent Ascending in a way and to me it's like these bands were ”twins” or something. Not identical or even sharing completely similar ideals but close to each other in a way that is hard to describe.
Regarding the above, what do you have in store with your different bands, including Serpent Ascending? Anything you'd like to reveal regarding Serpent Ascending's next offering or its themes?
JN > Currently I'm working on the next Serpent Ascending release that is the actual debut album. Some things will be similar to earlier works but there's also new aspects that have not found their expressions before. The album will have a conceptual theme going through the whole record.
Everyone knows how flooded the field of metal (and music in general) is these days. Have you ran into any especially good bands lately that you'd like to mention as worth checking out, either to fans of SA or otherwise?
JN > Lately I haven't listened that much music that could be recommended to people enjoying Serpent Ascending. But to mention a band that I've found interesting lately, I would say that Ysengrin has done some great things with their releases.
This paragraph is for whatever you feel like adding (or advertising).
JN > Nothing else to add, I want to thank you for this interesting interview as well as all the people reading this!
Thank you for your time!