It ends, as most worthwhile things do, in a mess of blood and tears. The audience’s ears stop ringing and fists gradually unclench. A sense of shocked relief runs through the room. The bloody, hulking demon mage who was just screaming all manner of arcane curses and incantations over pitch-black, slow-motion industrial gloom is gone. The spell is broken.
A set by Sweden’s death industrial/noise titan Trepaneringsritualen is an immersive experience with few equals in the world of experimental music, a pagan assault on all the senses, but one done without malice or intent to harm. This is no shock rock 101 parlor tricks; a through line of intent can be drawn from the music of Trepaneringsritualen to dervishes, sacred harp singing, snake handling, Coil’s sonic magick, even Abruptum’s eldritch trance. Divine ecstasy is the goal.
Trepaneringsritualen is the solo outlet for Thomas Ekelund, formerly of Dead Letters Spell Our Dead Words. An attempt to create a more personalized and intimate performance vocabulary. An attempt to lash ritual practice and noise together in an alchemical framework. And for nearly a decade, Ekelund has done just that. But even after all that time making and performing this music, it’s still a process laden with mystery for Ekelund: “[It] is an entity unto itself, something more or less of my control. There is a purpose, but I am yet to fully understand it. It’s something far greater than me, and it’s a terribly curse to bear, but one I bear willingly nevertheless.”
In point of fact, when quizzed about how he feels after a punishing live set and it it’s changed at all over the years, Ekelund reveals that the feelings are the same from his first show to his last, confessing, “[I feel] a mix of utter ecstasy and utter emptiness, and it’s always the same. There are great forces at play, and it is quite draining to have them flow through one’s soul.” When asked how the usually standoffish noise audiences receive something that is so personal and laden with deep spiritual conviction through confrontation, Ekelund says, “It varies a great deal. Everything from laughs to absolute reverence. The former doesn’t concern me, the latter are whom I am interested in reaching.”
Besides his live work, a string of albums released through venerable dark independent labels like Cold Spring, Old Europa Cafe and Beläten have done much to advance Trepaneringsritualen’s reputation, which is as down to the intricate sonics he weaves (this is not haphazardly improvised noise), as to the care and attention he lavishes on the art and packaging for each record and cassette. Each album is an opulently designed artifact, heavy with mystery. A piece in Vice, more focused on the lurid aspects of his performance, didn’t exactly hurt either.
And though Ekelund is the opener for Swiss black metal legion Bolzer, his appearance in Orlando is even more significant because it’s his most extensive round of U.S. touring yet, beside short northern runs and festival appearances. You can almost hear Ekelund grin when he says, “First time south of Maryland, so very much looking forward to seeing some virgin lands.”
And finally, asked to give advice for how new audiences should prepare for witnessing Trepaneringsritualen live – because this show will most certainly not be a passive listening experience – Ekelund is sincere in his reply: “Let go of all safeguards and allow yourself to fall into void vision vortex with us. Ecstasy awaits!”