Black metal is renowned for its delightful legion of sourpusses, misanthropes and criminals, but occasionally you'll find someone with a sense of humor (Fenriz from Darkthrone), genuine charisma (Erik from Watain) or a unique philosophical perspective—like Dagon, the mastermind behind cosmic corpsepaint duo Inquisition. Dagon founded Inquisition as a teenager growing up in the psychotic narco/paramilitary bloodbath of '80s/90s Colombia before moving to Seattle in '96, where he hooked up with drummer Thomas "Incubus" Stevens to create some of the most mesmerizing and compelling black metal in the history of forever. Inspired by cosmology and astrobiology as much as by Satan—black metal's traditional master—the duo's latest, Obscure Verses For The Multiverse, was recently hailed in Decibel magazine by a certain tall, handsome genius as the black metal album of the year. We recently spoke with Dagon about his formative years and the forces that compel Inquisition onward and upward.
How do you think Inquisition's Colombian origins have ultimately affected the band's trajectory?
Well, I am American, [but also] Colombian from one parent's side and growing up there for 13 years taught me more things than most people from here will ever see in their lifetime. I grew up there in the 1980s all the way into the 1990s and witnessed all the violence you can imagine on every scale. Being a metalhead teenager during those times was really the perfect background for the lifestyle. Hearing Bathory's The Return, Slayer's Reign in Blood or Parabellum's Sacrilegio in 1986 down there was much more inspiring than listening to those albums say, here or in Europe. I had some interesting friends, did some interesting things and by the time I was 14 my character was shaped like that of an adult to a certain extent. Playing my guitar at that age was the perfect outlet, and songwriting became a need that was fueled by life in general and what I was seeing.
What was it like growing up there?
As a metalhead in those times we had to watch our backs. Police were gunning some of us down thinking we were terrorists with links to paramilitary groups or cartels. I lived in Cali and this was quite a problem. Medellín was a real hot zone, too—I remember going to there in 1989 to hang out with Victor [Jaramillo] from Reencarnacion and Alex [Oquendo] from Masacre, and it was a very intense visit once I got there. Threats all the time, police coming up to us face to face asking us to leave the area or we would be shot when they came back. Metalheads and punks formed violent gangs who carried guns, knives and even grenades. It's a long story, but those who know know, as they say. I know someone reading this out there knows what I am talking about.
How would you compare the Inquisition of today with the Inquisition of the late 80s/early 90s?
Entirely different bands, but at the core the similarities are in the song arrangements, scales and some chords. Inquisition chapter two is obscure, melancholic and mystical while very violent… a lot of everything. Inquisition chapter one was violent thrash metal written by a teenager learning to play his guitar, inspired by old Kreator and zero occult topics, no Satanism involved.
What prompted the switch to black metal?
In 1993, I got involved heavily in the underground and knew it was time to take things much, much further and turn Inquisition into a dark force of music after being so inspired by the masters of the day. I wanted to become part of that aspect of the scene and contribute my talents to it by bringing in my thrash metal roots of guitar playing and forge it into the darkness black metal was meant to be merged with.
Does the band mean something different to you today than it did back then?
In the old-old days, it meant learning my instrument and learning to write songs. Today, it is a spiritual journey where time does not exist—meaning Inquisition will always sound the way it has since 1996. Each album will have slight differences in production, but our style is here to stay. It also represents my subconscious universe that holds music as the highest power and Inquisition as the vehicle to evoke those powers and move minds. The path of the occult.
What is the significance of the title of your new album, Obscure Verses For The Multiverse?
The obscure verses are the laws of quantum mechanics, quantum physics or physics in general. Obscure verses are basically the laws of anything scientific and proven to be responsible for the function and existence of our universe and other universes that a god or the gods have created that we can fully explain but at the same time continue to seek answers for through scientific method. These verses are fully known by "the gods"—these gods can be anything that are responsible for the creation of all, including us, the human species, and can possibly be from other universes they have managed to transcend for reasons we will never possibly know. Thus, the reason for the verses being obscure and hidden from humanity leaving us to create religions to justify our existence because we must, on our own, seek the verses or laws that will ultimately explain what the purpose of all is.
Your interest in cosmology is a major factor behind Inquisition's lyrics. Do you feel like your interest in this topic has developed in sync with Inquisition, or do the two only really come together when you're writing lyrics?
I am connected with the topics on a personal level, of course. I have a profound view on everything I write about. I am not a master at any topic—I never will be. But I definitely have a passion for the things I write about and mean what I write very much.
Do you get the sense that your fans understand what your lyrics are about, or does that not really matter?
I think they try to understand but will never fully understand and to a certain degree they are meant to be that way. My lyrics are not complex to read but they are not easy to understand. I like clear, to-the-point lyrics. I like cryptic writing, but I don't enjoy too much of it—after all, what are you trying to hide? Possibly some writers are trying to hide the fact that they have no meaning at all. What does matter to me in the end is that the words work with the music, that they sound good and reinforce the music being executed. I'm from that school. I like memorable simple phrases that carry a dense punch and sharp slash—and leave the complexities in the music. This is not a black metal opera; I do not have a long, sophisticated story to tell. The fans or non-fans who think the lyrics are lacking anything can find that substance in other bands that have a different philosophy.
What are some of the inspirations behind Obscure Verses For The Multiverse?
Everything magnificent, obscure, mystical, vast and immense… however: Musically inspired by the guitar in every aspect imaginable when you think of heavy metal guitar performance and attitude, and when I say heavy metal I mean it as a generalization of the essence from a musician's point of view—as in the execution, the attitude in the riff and such. To explain that could be an entire new interview but to summarize let's say I wanted to bring the listener into the world of something I feel has been lost slightly in metal guitar performance and contribute to the scene by adding my portion of what I feel has departed from us a bit. By no means am I criticizing any guitar players at all; almost everyone is great these days and reward all of us with something that is valuable. However, I am talking about worshipping guitar tone, writing based on the tone, making riffs that work with the amp of choice hand in hand for a formula that works the harmonics and frequencies in such a way that the riffs and melodies, be they brutal, beautiful or grim and negative can work together as a whole and bring a certain ecstasy to the ear, causing the listener to view the guitar as something more than just another stick of wood generating distortion.
Before writing the album I thought to myself that beyond the void of blackness and grandeur in our music that I want to transmit with Inquisition, I want to generate harmonics that can elevate the listener to heights of pleasure while entranced by the rituals of melody and rhythm creating for a vicious combination using these harmonics because there you can find the living soul of what makes a riff and song sound good, be it tonal or atonal and here is where we move to the next point:
Inspiration from musical tonality: Inquisition has always been heavily tonal versus atonal. It is risky in black metal, a genre where the grimmer the better, the more negative emotions are stirred up the better, and to write tonal music in mostly major scales while preserving this essence that is a must in black metal music is something challenging that I find interesting. Of course many "black metal" bands have taken this approach, creating a quite uplifting and symphonic-like feel, but Inquisition is not about that direction and I felt that on this album I really wanted to take the inspiration of classic metal guitar tone and riff and blacken it, obscure it, twist it into a form of darkness while travelling through the passages of particular musical scales that bring the listener into two worlds merged: greatness and strength with darkness and doom—extreme highs and extreme lows.
Essence for inspiration is the world outside of our world. The universe, the cosmos, the invisible forces of all that surround us linking the spiritual side of man as another inner black universe we are constantly trying to conquer which is that of the mind—the force we carry inside by seeking beliefs and gods we can relate to. However, so many people justify their beliefs as "true" only to realize that in the end we will not know what the correct path is. Therefore, I choose to continue to use the path of Satan as the symbolic path of the "force that opposes all forces."
What do you mean by that?
The force of Satan is vastly misunderstood by most people too busy being "rock n' roll" or über-underground drama kings and queens that they cannot take time to make at least a little bit of sense [as to] why some black metal bands truly use the path of Satan as the path to illuminate the unknown by keeping the third eye open. It has nothing to do with worshipping the cartoon character of evil deeds in a childish manner. Rather: Oppose ALL those who try to control you. Trust your instincts. Rise above the masses and have no regard for those who cross your path with intentions of destroying you. Thus, Satan is the force of inspiration. I am not preaching to anyone—I simply want to explain my spiritual path and how fighting fire with fire is a powerful tool in this world polluted with a seed that is rotting us.