Arguably as one of the most prolific acts among today’s vast flood of raw black metal projects, KOMMODUS stands out with the combination of traditional-based, less-polished, yet often times mesmerizing and innovative songwriting styles, with his unique aesthetic of Roman paganism. In celebrating the well-acclaimed release of his debut S/T full length, Dienysian Records had the honor to conduct a thorough and in-depth conversation with the man behind this project, Lepidus Plague, over his entire discography, symbols of Roman paganism and their significance in his music, concept of war and ancestry, as well as his obsession with Yukio Mishima.
Interviewed by AymParch
AP: Greetings Lepidus Plague and thanks for accepting this interview. First of all, how you doing these days? Already started working on some new materials? And how is the Covid situation here in Australia?
Lepidus Plague: Thank you for the interview. I’m doing okay, the state I live in luckily didn’t get too rattled by COVID. Other states were in severe lock-down but it appears things are lightening up now.
I’m currently finishing off two splits, a shared 12” with Pan Amerikan Native Front, and a shared 7” with Burier.
AP: KOMMODUS is arguably one of those new bands who kept stirring the underground with a constant influx of brilliancy in terms of music quality, while after your recent debut full length, the reputation officially exceeded the underground and we’ve seen many “mainstream media” began to talk about this project in their year-end list. So how do you digest this “achievement” so far? Something you’ve been yearning for or a little bit hard to swallow?
LP: I don’t think there’s any more coverage than usual? There have been a few more mentions on end of year lists however, but there’s been a few publications covering Kommodus since the beginning. I don’t think of my releases as achievements, just capsules in time. If the music speaks to the individual and they enjoy it, then I am happy.
AP: In terms of names and concept, KOMMODUS surely processes some unique characteristics in black metal: if I’m not mistaken, the name of the project comes from the Roman emperor Commodus who was famous for his personality cult and working as a gladiator in the Colosseum, while your stage name comes from Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, why did you choose these names? Especially from my research, the representations of Lepidus in history were often quite negative compared to the achievements of Commodus. On the other hand, for your lyrical theme, Roman paganism/heritage is definitely not a hotcake theme in black metal today, especially outside Italy, so how did your passion for Roman paganism/heritage build up and why bother creating a project solely dedicated to this theme? Also I wonder if you are aware of Italy’s B.M.I.A. (Spite Extreme Wings, Janvus, etc.) and other projects associated with this circle, in terms of similarities in themes and aesthetics they are the only bands I could think of when it comes to your works.
LP: Yes, correct, the name is taken from Commodus – the tyrant emperor. Ultimately fitting for a black metal project. As for Lepidus, there’s no real reason, just a name that seemed attractive. I would also argue Commodus has a much more negative legacy than Marcus Lepidus. Commodus was megalomaniacal, antagonistic, and completely unfit to rule Rome which is why he was assassinated.
My passion for Roman paganism and heritage is rooted in creating art unique to me. I’m not Scandinavian, so singing about Norse mythology, which nearly all black metal bands from Scandinavia do, would be contrived and insincere. But I love the idea of imbuing the music with ancestral energy, which is a vein running in the genre since its genesis. There also seems to be an increasingly prevalent trend now in black metal with more indigenous projects popping up, which I think is great. New artists putting a more personal and unique spin on things.
My Nonno is a World War Two veteran who fought for the Australian army in the Solomon Islands. When I was little, I would spend time at the family home and admire his war collection as well as the statues of Romulus and Remus and his collection of other roman trinkets. My father continued the legacy collecting militaria and raised me on war films, as well encouraging me to read and watch anything ancient history based. So, I guess the inception of this project both Roman-centric cultivating a militaristic aesthetic can both be traced back to my childhood.
I am aware of those bands but only through other people mentioning them to me. I haven’t listened.
AP: Let’s talk about your first demo, even though it’s more or less just a crude demonstration of your vision, one cannot deny certain potential do exists: the productions could be the rawest among your entire discography, while the riffs are some decent execution of balance between old-school rhythm of primitivism and bleak and sometime repetitive melodies. Despite the rather poor productions, one can’t help but notice the prominence of bass in this one, sometime a track is even bass-driven in terms of riffs — a trait that will continue to prevail in your later releases. So what were the backstories behind this release and what are some of those projects (not necessarily black metal) that influenced or motivated you to write in this style? This release also marked another theme you constantly explored in KOMMODUS: something close to Lycanthropy, an affirmation of self towards the line of the wolves (sometimes in the metaphors of other canines like the track Rottweiler in your latest split w/ Valac) — recalling the origin story of Rome. Do you mind elaborating upon this idea a little more? What are some symbolic significances this idea of being a wolf-born possesses?
LP: The first demo was just that, my first demo. I had no idea what I was doing so of course it was crude and rudimentary. Although it’s only been 4 years, I feel I’ve grown a lot, and my playing, understanding of things, has developed much more. I borrowed all the gear used for that first release as I didn’t own much at the time, and I see that early material as just raw catharsis for the internal strife I was dealing with at the time. Newer material is much more aspirational and about overcoming personal adversary rather than succumbing. As for having bass as a focal instrument, this is maybe because I began playing music as a bass player and thus have always loved hearing interesting bass lines. I’m influenced by plenty of music, all types of metal, punk, hardcore, jazz, psychedelic, garage, the list goes on. I believe it all seeps in somehow.
The wolf is central to the creation myth of Rome, as the mother wolf Lupa nursed the infant Romulus and Remus, so the legend goes. Thus, delving into wolf-centric themes and extrapolating on them makes sense to me. Rottweilers are the descendants of the dogs that would guard Roman camps and accompany them into battle. Further lupine-related ideas and themes are strewn throughout Roman antiquity. For instance, there was the festival Lupercalia which was like a proto-Valentine’s day, fertility festival. The Lupercal was the alleged cave that the mother wolf Lupa fed Romulus and Remus. Young Roman men would allegedly dress in animal pelts in this legendary place, assuming the role of Lupercai (wolf men) then parade in the streets jeering and whipping at the young women they found attractive (I think this was mostly an innocuous performance, though I could be wrong). There’s also less specific inspiration like Roman soldiers wearing wolf pelts on the colder frontiers, etc. All of this to me ties into the werewolf, lupine ancestry, lycanthropic idea and aesthetic.
AP: Second and Third demo, romanticized past, zeitgeist of the present, For me personally, it was with your second and third demo that KOMMODUS’ unique style and aesthetic of a triumphant primitivism got matured both musically and thematically, I really enjoy the sort of minimalistic approach towards riffs in these two releases: the songs are no doubt well-written but simple and straight-forward: in the sense of both being memorable and stuck in listener’s head while still sounding fresh — setting KOMMODUS apart from the vast majority of mediocre “raw black metal projects”. How did your writing styles develop through those two releases? Also according to your statement on bandcamp, thematically these two also share some similarities: both serving as a call for returning to the primordial romanticized past and unleashing a resentment towards the zeitgeist of present, what does the idea of “past” and “primitivism” meant to you and why it keeps drawing you towards its glory? This sort of “atavistic” yearning (in the philosophical sense) can also be seen in some of your other releases as well, like the first track in the split you did with Grógaldr about Lupercalian rites, mind if you elaborating this one as well? Also, what do you think of the current global lockdown and pandemic crisis and its relation with human nature, or “the zeitgeist of present”?
LP: The writing styles developed naturally as I spent more time composing the songs and spent longer on recording and mixing. I also think my natural or inherent approach to song -writing became clearer, Kommodus compositions are pretty straight-forward and conventional which is different to a lot of black metal which rejects traditional song-writing conventions and focuses instead on atmosphere and mood. I don’t have strong views on this either way, I just write the music that comes naturally to me.
This romanticism of the past I suppose is an energy I attempt to imbue within the art with ancient feeling, which of course makes sense if your music is centred around Roman antiquity. That dialogue or yearning is extreme in order to reflect the Kommodus world and fantasy.
The global crisis has been hard on all of us and brought out the best and worst in people. It’s definitely made the present a very dangerous and uncertain time.
AP: I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in China at least (thanks to Goatowarex, praise Dani!), KOMMODUS as a project only really got a vast attentions among Chinese underground scene after the release of your fourth demo — a strange one in terms of concept and theme and the only one of your releases that doesn’t directly deal with Roman paganism/heritage — instead it serves a loyal homage towards the legend Mishima Yukio: as far as I know who would only get referenced among certain Japanese underground bands, which is why this idea of an Australian-based black metal band who used to sing about roman gods and wars suddenly praises this East Asian legend full of charisma sounds strange and interesting. Even though you have said a little about this on your bandcamp page, why did you choose this topic and how did Mishima and his works inspire you and KOMMODUS? Do you see any parallels between his political and philosophical vision and your Roman past, especially in terms of “discipline”?
LP: I spent three years of my childhood in Tokyo with my family for my father’s work, I could read and write Japanese before I could English. And following on from this experience I’ve always been obsessed with Japanese culture, history and art. This naturally led to me eventually reading the esteemed authors of the country. First and foremost, I am completely enamoured with Mishima’s novels. I was reading them during a particularly terrible time in my life and it was a reprieve to be sucked into his mad creative world. In regards to parallels, I emphasised the martial elements and ideas of samurai / imperial lineage to make the art more congruous with the prior established themes and aesthetic of Kommodus.
I’m not interested in his politics in a personal sense and it seems through reading the two main biographies by Stokes and Nathan, a lot of the more extreme elements of Mishima’s actions and personality cult were multi-faceted and arguably performative. He was a lifelong contrarian, rife with hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies. Ostensibly militaristic but avoided World War 2 conscription, obsessed with portraying a hyper masculine aesthetic but also extremely fragile and openly homosexual, nationalistic but obsessed with the west and European antiquity, could speak fluent English and French.
This ambivalence and duplicity was thoroughly ingrained in his psyche. He regarded his emperor worship as the enemy of ‘any totalitarian system on the left or the right’, so his personal politics, I believe, were not at all black and white. His suicide was planned over a year in advance and it would appear his final day was a very considered and dramatic pre-text in order to commit Hara-kiri alongside his lover Morita. A quote that stood out to me when reading Nathan was that Mishima’s attempted coup was ‘conceived by Mishima as merely formal. A gesture without meaning or value in the logic of the warrior, unless it was ratified by seppuku.’ Meaning Mishima always knew his actions would fail, he always planned to die, even ensuring all his work were completed and his affairs in order before the final day. This desire to die violently and be a martyr was metastasising within him since early on which can be seen in many of his novels, and other areas such as his obsession with Saint Sebastian. What I’m trying to clarify here is that Mishima is a very difficult figure to put a finger on, but I believe this is what’s made him such an interesting, charismatic artist which has drawn in people like myself, and many others to want to explore. He even stressed to biographer Stokes that the Tatenokai (his militia) was ‘non-ideological and romantic’ and that instead he wanted to inspire people with a sense of national pride. He was also caustic towards the conservative politicians that revered him. Though of course you could argue this stuff all day. But yes, like I said, you can’t put him in a box. He was a true individual and an artist that transcends labels which is why he’s appreciated by people of all walks of life. I’d recommend the Paul Schrader film to anyone interested.
The other element of Mishima that has inspired me immensely is what you mentioned, his discipline. His body of work was so vast, and he was accomplished in so many fields. Literature, theatre, body-building, acting, the list goes on. Ultimately the idea of discipline was the driving force behind my release. To inspire the listener to try and summon even some of that positive monastic drive and devotion in their chosen paths, whatever they may be.
The parallels I’d draw are simple ones. Overcoming weakness in-self, glorifying an ancient past and lineage, and carving out your own path.
AP: The image of Lupine is another central component in your depiction of ancestral heritage. Even I’ve done some researches myself, I figure it’d be better to let you reveal what’s its significance to you and in Roman mythology instead. This idea of floral symbolism also can be seen in that Sabbat cover track you did in the fourth demo, was it intentional and why did you choose that specific track？
LP: I feel like I discussed the link between lupine and roman-mythology in question 4.
I chose that particular Sabbat track because I thought it was strong and a bit of a deeper cut in their discography. Floral imagery is a recurring theme within Mishima’s writing and art as well, so the cover seemed fitting.
AP: The concept of wars, no matter it’s a hard-fought triumph or an unfortunate loss, is probably the most-frequently-occurred theme in your lyrics. You’ve talked about the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Roman conquest of the Carpathians, the Hadrian Wall, and the Battle of Asculum, and judging from your lyrics you surely did some researches and the dedications are heartfelt. What does war in general mean to you and how is it related to your perception of Roman heritage? What kind of symbolic meaning these real events possess from your perspective, when it comes to a more metaphysical understanding of war, i.e. the Inner War you referred to on the bandcamp page of your debut S/T?
LP: I think like most people I would say, ‘war is hell’. Obviously Roman battles and the empire is going to be crucial to the themes of extreme black metal music though. This is my art, my fantasy, something akin to how Immortal describe ‘Blashyrkh’. That’s their Scandinavian battle-filled demon-dwelling realm, my realm is a reimagined werewolf Roman one. Screaming my head off about how great ancient Roman aqueducts were, or the silver ratio in coins during the reign of a specific emperor just wouldn’t fit. In the same way you wouldn’t find Amon Amarth writing songs about how great Viking farming practices were, or the novelty of their bone hairbrushes.
Touching on the metaphysical thing, I think it’s interesting to think of these hardships our ancestors faced on all sides and from all cultures and try to summon that same ferocity, power and aspiration in our chosen contemporary paths.
AP: So we are finally here, your debut full length, none of those fancy pedantic titles nor pretentious trendy songwritings, only what has been defining KOMMODOUS remains and prevails: the slow-paced old-school riffs of primitive militancy and those juicy piercing melodies, interludes of acoustic guitar and trumpet as the ancient sea wind blowing over the shore of Rome, and your lycan howls of anguish echoing throughout the album — what a great release it is. Thematically it’s like a culmination of all of your previous themes together and it fits the music perfectly. What’s the back stories behind this release and why did you decide to record a full length eventually? Also it’s the only time (excluding the splits) that the cover art was not handled by you personally, instead it’s done by the legend Wrest himself — I gotta say it captures KOMMODUS’ essence and this album’s imagery perfectly. How did the collaboration come out and why did you make the decision to let someone else do the cover for you? What are some meanings underlying this brilliant picture?
LP: There’s no real back story to the album. I just thought it was time to craft a longer release. Obviously, it’s a double album which some people liked and some didn’t, but I guess this extended length also helped set it apart from its demo predecessors. I spent longer making it than any prior release which is to be expected, used better gear, although at the same time it was kind of unconsidered and natural in a way. It evolved of its own volition. Looking back on it there’s plenty I’d change but such is the nature of creating anything.
Leviathan’s ‘Scar-Sighted’ got me through some difficult shit, so I have immense respect for Wrest, the prolific artist that he is. I wanted this release to stand out from the others so naturally having an independent party create the artwork furthered realizing this goal. There are no underlying meanings. I mean it’s a pretty blatant image not some esoteric strange visual, so I can’t imagine the art lending itself to multiple readings. Just an attempt to capture the sort of scenes imagined in my songs.
AP: Let’s talk a little bit about other collaborations you did with KOMMODUS. It occurred to me that even though Magnus T.R.J and Count Hoggeth Palmeri (A.H) are often credited as the performers of drum and trumpet respectively, KOMMODUS still remains as an one-man project: why didn’t just incorporate them into a full lineup giving they have pretty much been an important part of KOMMODUS’ career from the first demo till this day. Also you have done two splits so far, both are with fellow comrades under the banner of Goatowarex, how were those splits arranged at the first place, did you have certain mutual recognition, also if those tracks were created solely for the split musically and thematically or just some left over materials from previous recording sections? I also noticed that Valac did some guest vocals in your debut full length while Kurator of War (PANF) sang in your split with Valac as well, it’s interesting to see that Goatowarex announced you and PANF will have another split in 2021. Do you mind sharing some details of those said collaborations and the contents of that split with PANF?
LP: They aren’t incorporated because they are simply friends doing me favours. Kommodus is my multi-faceted personal vision and journey alone.
Dani from Goatowarex was more instrumental in linking Grogaldr and myself together for the first split, though of course there was mutual respect and recognition existing. Valac and I had been close friends and talking for a while before we decided to do a split together. When I heard PANF I fell in love with the music and themes. I have been vocal through Kommodus in supporting and funding Australian indigenous groups, and I think him seeing this, as well as my purchasing of his records is how we first got in contact. We quickly became friends with a lot in common. Talks of a split naturally followed. All my material is recorded for its intended release. I don’t really sit on anything or have leftovers. As for having friends include additional vocals, I’ve talked about this before in an interview, I just always liked the idea of including your tribe of conspirators on releases.
AP: Alright, what’s lay in the future for KOMMODUS this year? Aside from the aforementioned split, have you already got some other materials in pocket, a demo or maybe an ep?
LP: The two splits mentioned prior and that’s about it. Lately I have been laying off from making any concrete plans and just seeing instead where inspiration leads me.
AP: Thanks again for accepting this interview. We really appreciate your time here. Lets end this one with one of our records’ tradition – What are your favorite booze that you might want to recommend to our readers in China? Anyway, our best wishes to your life and looking forward to more materials from KOMMODUS! Stay safe and take care out there. Cheers!
LP: I don’t have any interesting recommendations. It’s the middle of a particularly hot summer here so it’s been beer time.