'Masonic Doom': this intriguing concept is the title of a recent interview with UK Doom Metal band Moss, published on the Musique Machine website.
In the interview, the band's frontman Olly Pearson explains the concept behind Moss' recent album Sub Templum: "'Lux E Tenebris' [sic] is the theme of the album...light from darkness. Which is a Masonic quote, but something, like the cover, we have re-adapted to ourselves and our concepts. The idea that the darkness is our light, our source of power. The cover to us represents what is the "Sub Templum", an arcane underground church where this worship and ritualisation of darkness would take place."
I find it intriguing that a Doom Metal band would use Masonic symbolism, which is characterized by the use of architectural metaphors. Masons call God 'the Great Architect of the Universe'. King Solomon's Temple, a monument of majesty and authority, for the Masons is an architectural construction which is a descriptive model of the metaphysical universe and the human body, as well as a prescriptive model for the initiate's psyche. It is in the form of the Temple that supernatural authority speaks to initiates, and imposes on them obedience to Freemasonry's rules and designs, precepts and commands. Men are seen as rough, unformed stones which have to smoothed, polished and squared, until it is fit for its appropriate place in the metaphysical building. In Freemasonry, the human spirit must be constrained within an official, homogenizing ideal.
Masonic metaphysics call to mind Georges Bataille's critique of architecture: "Architecture is the expression of the true nature of societies, as physiognomy is the expression of the nature of individuals. However, this comparison is applicable, above all, to the physiognomy of officials (prelates, magistrates, admirals). In fact, only society's ideal nature – that of authoritative command and prohibition – expresses itself in actual architectural constructions. Thus great monuments rise up like dams, opposing a logic of majesty and authority to all unquiet elements; it is in the form of cathedrals and palaces that Church and State speak to and impose silence upon the crowds. Indeed, monuments obviously inspire good social behaviour and often even genuine fear. (...) For that matter, whenever we find architectural construction elsewhere than in monuments, whether it be in physiognomy, dress, music or painting, we can infer a prevailing taste for human or divine authority. The large-scale compositions of certain painters express the will to constrain the spirit within an official ideal."
If we accept that Metal can be regarded as an "unquiet element", the use of Masonic architectural symbols in Metal is surprising, to say the least.
Interestingly, where Freemasonry accentuates the metaphysical importance of correct scales and proportions, the Lovecraftian inspiration of Moss' debut album Cthonic Rites points in another direction. After all, the buildings that the Providence recluse described are notable for their disproportionality: "...instead of describing any definite structure or building, he dwells only on the broad impressions of vast angles and stone surfaces - surfaces to great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. I mention his talk about angles because it suggests something Wilcox had told me of his awful dreams. He had said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathesomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours." (From The Call of Cthulhu).
The development from Lovecraft's delirious, disproportionate, destructured buildings to Freemasonry's well-proportioned metaphysical monuments, is paralleled by Moss' evolution from improvisation to discipline, control and self-abnegation:
"m[m]How did the writing & recording of Sub Templum vary from the writing & recording of your first album Cthonic Rites? Olly Cthonic Rites was kind of improvised. We had the riffs and arrangements and everything, but no idea how long any of it should last. There's a whole punk vibe to that album of just going for it, but Sub Templum we completely planned and rehearsed to every single detail. It was stressful making the album, if there's a fuck up the whole track could fall apart and you’d have to start over again. not really desirable when you're working with 35 minute tracks! We suffered for Sub Templum, and I think it's turned out a lot better than we could've imagined. Feels much more like a proper album."
Nevertheless, the Metal presented by Moss on Sub Templum is far from regimented, strait-jacketed, and constrained.
Unlike the authoritarian monuments Bataille loathed, the "Sub Templum" does not rise up: it is described by Pearson as "...an arcane underground church...". Sub Templum is not at the hierarchical summit, it is low, it is in deep within the earth with its burrowing insects and rotting corpses.
Pearson: "The track 'Subterranean' for instance deals with someone who crawls down into the Sub Templum to perform this worship and to speak rites that will grant a state of becoming undead." If one interprets undeath as a destabilization of the symbolic boundaries between life and death, this prayer for undeath points to the desire for such a destabilization. Pearson's "idea that the darkness is our light" points to a similar decategorization. Anthropologist Mary Douglas points out that such disruptions of categoric boundaries produce symbolic filthiness. In fact, the amalgam of Doom Metal and Crust Punk and Drone which Moss produce is also known as Sludge Metal, and sludge is viscous, dirty, formless - the very antithesis of monumental morphology. Moss' destructuration of symbolic boundaries is at odds with Freemasonry's architectural stasis and immobile harmony.
For Bataille, taboos were only instituted in order to violate them. Perhaps Moss only erected a monumental Masonic Temple in order to make it crumble, to collapse it into the filth of downtuned crush and dense distortion, into the dirt of layers of harsh, black rumble, shrieking feedback and fuzz. I cannot be sure: the character of Moss' Sub Templum is patently undecidable. Anyway, the tension between monumental structure and thick low end droning destructuration is a very creative one: Sub Templum is a mesmerizing album. Recommended!