I was introduced to Amherawdr’s “Adorned with the Figures of Snakes” by a friend who was aware of my fondness for atmospheric metal. Less than half-way through listening for the first time, I knew something magical was happening. “Adorned with the Figures of Snakes” is a single thirty-eight-minute masterpiece of sound, flawlessly crafted and executed. This much is clear at the ground floor, without spending any extra time taking a deep dive into the lyrical themes, or any other appending particulars. I, however, am the type of listener who naturally enjoys digging in the dirt. I listened to this glorious creation three or four times before reaching out to its composer, Diwrnach, who was gracious enough to chat with me about his work over the course of several days.
Diwrnach told me that the album “was written and almost entirely recorded about a decade ago,” which was a surprise, and added “But a tapestry of uninteresting hurdles just halted the work just short of completion”. Diwrnach’s friends at newly founded Onism Productions made it their first release and have just begun to receive the amazing reception it deserves. Diwrnach would probably be pleased if anyone listened based purely on what I’ve already shared. I say this because the man isn’t interested in distorting anyone’s perception of the music he has presented to the world. So, if you choose to read on, please know that Diwrnach is perfectly cozy with each listener enjoying their own personal take away. The following is just two dudes having a chat about music, history, mythology, and art.
VUK: Coupled with the cover art you’ve chosen, the first several minutes of Adorned set the scene extremely well. It feels like looking through the fog; taking in the moment. But when those drums kick in, we’re on our way down the stone road!
The vocals tell us the road is headed “through Dumnonian woods” where “shadows voice speak colder than wind” and are “snow strewn and blown upon the wet bone grounds”. That is quite an introduction!
Diwrnach: Thank you. The first moments are intended to be like an attention slowly focusing, and the vocal performance is a highlight for me personally, as a listener.
VUK: I’m not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination. However, seeing you’re from Devon, I assume the narrator of this scene is speaking about ancient Celtic times?
Diwrnach: You’re absolutely right, as far as I’m concerned, in as far as I wish to influence someone’s organic conceptions, their experience with the music.
There is a period in British history that’s very fertile soil for the imagination. It’s after the Romans slunk away and before the Anglo Saxons had arranged their kingdoms. Of course, it’s the setting for the Arthurian romance, and I suppose this was the setting, if you were to pinpoint it. That called to my imagination at the time.
When the music was written, we were very swept up by Bernard Cornwall’s Warlord Chronicles, for instance, but it’s not the subject of the lyrics exactly. Rather to muddy the division between the past and the present; to express continuity and recurrence. Not to specify anything, but to evoke something of a personal ordeal.
VUK: I see! So, your intention was to invoke a sort of personal connection between the past and the present, specifically in that area of the world. I would imagine, one could have moments like that… where an image of an era long gone sort of sweeps into thought.
On a smaller scale, for example, if someone were visiting the American West, they may stop for a moment to ponder what the land looked like before it was settled. Or someone visiting modern day Rome may not be able to escape wondering what the city looked like before the fall of the Empire.
Diwrnach: Absolutely. The lyrics spring fully from our feelings for our corner of the world, but the sentiments are applicable to anyone who is receptive to the weight of old stories in a landscape. I’m sure the American West is positively teaming with this quality, in places of wilderness.
From a dramatic point of view, the individual present in the music cannot be separated from the countryside he inhabits. In my mind’s eye, I am experiencing the natural phenomena of the countryside as much as the personal travail of the individual.
The song is as much an ode to the character of the moors and wet English woods as anything else. They leave their imprint on the myths and the myths leave their imprints on us, and we all crumble back into the soil eventually, and what’s left is a kind of ghostly simulacra in the mind of those that follow. Inspiring and invigorating, depending on how we’ve fashioned it.
Maybe our vocalist might have a differing perspective on the lyrics, as he was the one that lived them more intensely, after all. These are just my thoughts, as I look back with some detachment.
VUK: The vocals, now that you’ve made things a bit clearer, are fantastic! “Feed the frozen fires of time. Your peace will be fought for and mourned and lead you to the heartland of the mind”. That lyric being in the second five minutes of the song, which has an almost entirely different musical flavor. Reminiscent, at least to my ears, of Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Signs”. A foggy, bluesy dirge, if you will.
Diwrnach: Thanks! Great description! I should say, too, that with these thought’s I’m imposing meaning that wasn’t necessarily conscious in the heat of creation.
VUK: Perhaps not, but you’ve spent over ten years with this music, yeah? It’s bound to evolve, especially given how expressive it is already. This is the kind of music that will go on a journey with you, even as a listener. I’d imagine that having created it, the way you (or the protagonist) views the landscape would change from time to time. The world was a whole lot different ten years ago!
Diwrnach: Yeah, there were times when we weren’t sure it would ever be released. We owe Onism Productions for their faith in the music. The time certainly granted me some objectivity with regard to the album. But even after this delay, there is still a lot of scope for interpretation; for one’s surroundings to enhance the experience and like you say, for the relationship to the music to evolve.
VUK: After that awesome bluesy interlude, “dancing in the pale broken colour of storms,” things just break loose, right at the word “Daybreak”! Up to that point, this is the closest the music gets to black metal. Can you tell me more about that moment? Musically speaking, that is. How did you find it, building up to that much intensity?
Diwrnach: If the song’s beginning is an awakening – a coming round from a period of unconsciousness – then when daybreak strikes is the beginning of his agency, and the music conveys this upsurge of potential.
Lyrically, this is where we begin to feel the encroach of the spirits of the past, whether this means the long dead inhabitants now part of the land, or the pagan gods that live on in liminal spaces, and also whether this means we are in search of them in the first place or trying to escape their touch. The lyrics tell the story, and it must be the listener who interprets them.
I’ve woken up a few times upon the moors to find myself engulfed in a sea of fog, and it is otherworldly. A ravishing, timeless moment, and for me there is something of this elation in the “Daybreak” riff.
VUK: That’s quite a difficult question to answer, isn’t it? On any sort of path to potential lucidity, at some point one must consider whether old wisdom will be more of a hurdle than a clear path to the finish line. And at the end of that set of lyrics, the narrator is asking the vague “shadows… step back” so that the spirits in his own soul can be plainly seen. Quite a powerful moment, indeed! Painful even, as the vocal performance does a wonderful job of conveying.
Diwrnach: I’m glad you think so. It’s an emotive performance. We never would have been happy merely with some monotonous recitation of text. The vocals are the human element, after all, and should penetrate the listener’s sympathy more acutely than the instruments ever can, when executed with some artifice. I mean, that’s just the way we are programmed.
Some albums really stand out on the strength of their vocalist’s charisma. We really admired Primordial’s “The Gathering Wilderness” at the time we were writing and recording. I dare say we picked up something from Alan [Averill’s] art. The other thing that stood out with Primordial’s album is that though it transports you, it doesn’t do so at the expense of the dirt under your fingernails; the gristle and sinew, the honesty of human hardship. I think if you are looking in an artwork for a “path to potential lucidity” it comes down to the extent to which it is relatable, no matter the surface imagery.
VUK: “The Gathering Wilderness” is a brilliant album. I can see exactly what you’re saying regarding the vocal articulation and expression. Particularly in “the Coffin Ships”. Very organic and visceral.
Diwrnach: Yeah, “The Coffin Ships” is something really special in the treatment of its topic.
VUK: By the end of the first half of “Adorned…” the narrator just sounds exhausted. Having been through quite an ordeal, both physically and spiritually (or philosophically). The music, naturally, echoes this perception, eventually slowing down and back into a variation of that wonderful melodic guitar part from the earlier portion of the song. Can you tell me more about that transition?
Diwrnach: Approaching the final stages of the first half of the song, we hear the figure make a pledge invoking the symbols that the land will recognize. By the transition that you mention, he understands their power or relevance better. It’s a moment of respite and awareness, as you might liken to catching your true reflection in rippling water.
To me anyway, it has the feeling of such a moment prolonged. Like relief in the aftermath of great exertion, but not like its resolution. Merely a respite. This is one of the passages in the song I’m most proud of, and I’m pleased you recognize a correspondence between this transition melody and the earlier one, because I must admit, you’ve pointed out something to me I wasn’t even aware of!
VUK: It’s not identical, but they certainly share a common ancestor, so to speak.
A “relief in the aftermath of great exertion” is exactly what those first moments of the second half sound like. That’s fascinating! This is how our wanderer begins the second half of his journey. With some anger, it seems, judging by the gruff tone of the main vocal. I can’t quite make out what the clean vocals are saying, but it’s interesting to consider, because the narrator turns around and says the same words again. This time, seemingly, joined by others. There’s almost a feeling of physical conflict here.
Diwrnach: The line is “Dancing in pale broken colour”. One of the repeated motifs. That is something our vocalist wanted to give the impression of. A madness of numerous voices besides the active one. The voices of the spirits crowding in upon him, the voice of conscience, the voices of the past (or the future depending on your interpretation), the murmur of the land at all times. Needs must you use anger to make yourself heard over that clamour, but maybe again I’m imposing a rationale over something that was born in the heat of intuition. Once the core music was composed, and the arranging begun, many happy confluences made up its outcome.
VUK: Yes, this comes up often. The “happy accident”. But this does make sense, even if that wasn’t the original plan. If these are the voices of the spirits in his head, then they really must be waging war on him in the next section. This is, by far, the most aggressive piece on the whole album. This seems an important point in the journey, because it is just massive!
Diwrnach: Thank you for saying so. Yes, this section is definitely tumultuous, and a culmination point in the song.
VUK: That guitar riff is devastating. Emotionally, I mean. The surrounding music as well. It’s all going through so many transformations, very much reminding me of groups like Gojira or Mastodon, while maintaining a black metal undertone.
The lyric invokes Beli Mawr (the Great). I’m discovering that he was the Celtic God of the Sun, and that legend sees him riding a horse-drawn chariot into battle with a giant snake. Naturally, I had to look that up. That’ snot the kind of knowledge I can just randomly drop into a conversation. But more to the point, the music you’ve created here is what inspired me to do so, which I think is what all great art is supposed to do.
Diwrnach: Beli Mawr, with his many names, is one of the foremost gods of the Britons, both for his solar aspect and as an ancestor figure. I feel his presence most poignantly in the sun that suffuses and slowly burns away the early morning fog.
He is the personification of the force waiting dormant on the far side of the narrator’s trial, and here he symbolizes the ties to all those men and women who have come before our narrator in endless cycle, turning the millstone, and without which we would not be here.
One of the lyrical conceits is the reuniting, to some degree, of what we see as the mythic past with the notion of mundane present. The history and the legends of Britain are an endless source of inspiration, both romantic and esoteric, and even more so in my opinion, if we shed the smug idea that we are sundered from all commonalities.
VUK: That’s wonderful! And sums up so much of what we’ve been talking about. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up our conversation, as you put it so eloquently. I think we’ve covered an astonishing amount of ground, considering the layers we’ve been wading through.
Diwrnach: Well, your words have been very kind and insightful, and it has been a pleasure discussing these topics with you.
VUK: I very much appreciate the time you spent chatting with me, and the openness with which you’ve done so.
Amherawdr – “Adorned with the Figures of Snakes” can be purchased on CD and digital on Bandcamp and is streaming on most major services.