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Cathal Rodgers (Author) : Existentiell ≠ Boundaries and Paradigms

If you have the slightest curiosity about how your world can be shaped by music, and vice versa, and how that ties into the perception of reality, this is essential reading.

A word of warning - though you could approach this as a collection as an entirely prosaic selection of bigger, deeper, more specific than usual, and somewhat wordy band interviews, you might feel a bit disappointed. For a start, it's not especially purist-Doom-oriented, but more of cross-genre underground-Metal, and - most importantly - it's not really exploring any particular musical area, per se, but looking more at the overall experience of various Metal genres as a philosophical process rather than a selection of facts.

That's not to say you won't get anything out of it, if some of your favourite Doom (or, indeed, other Extreme Metal) bands happen to be on the list of interviewees, but more to state that there's a lot more invested in it than that. And, speaking as one who both conducts interviews, and has had some small part in helping author, edit and proof various literary and factual volumes, I can appreciate how much investment goes into that alone. However, the creator of 'Existentiell', writer and musician Cathal Rodgers (Wreck Of The Hesperus, and many other bands) has taken on a much deeper exploration that seeks to relate the process of understanding and evolving with Heavy Metal as a fundamental means of understanding consciousness, and how that shapes reality, or the perception of reality.

You'll find all that laid out in the introduction, albeit in more oblique and elaborate fashion; thereafter, 'Existentiell' is a collection of what I'd perhaps describe as co-written essays tackling those subjects in the form of lengthy discussions with each band. And by 'lengthy', I mean both that there's a considerable volume of words involved - something like 10, 15, 20 pages per band - and that the interviewer has more of a leading and detailed presence than would normally be expected: here, Cathal expands on his own point of view, sometimes over the course of several paragraphs, and then invites an equally in-depth response from his subject. That, in itself, makes for a quite fascinating and detailed look at some very specific subjects, many of which recur throughout the book, some of which are uniquely tailored to particular bands, depending on how they've dealt with the more metaphysical and philosophical side of things throughout their career. If nothing else, the amount of research which has gone into constructing those dialogues is highly commendable.

I've spoken to Cathal since reading the volume, hoping to firm up some of my impressions and ask a few questions - ironically, perhaps, that's shaping up to be a quite lengthy conversational interview of its own! So: the layout is deliberately neutral, with the bands presented in alphabetical order, and no additional text or explanation past the introduction. Interviews were conducted in parallel, over a two-year period, with each question and answer dealt with individually along the way. As a result, some of Cathal's key points are expounded in more detail earlier on in the book, and referenced more glancingly further on into it. It's been very much formatted to give equal weight to each of the individual pieces, rather than to try and establish a timeline or sequence, entirely in keeping with the aim of providing a deeper exploration of fundamental questions into the awareness and shaping of reality, rather than attempting to present answers to them.

As it happens, I've also been conducting a similar style of interview with Ali Lauder, from Of Spire & Throne, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his participation in the 'Existentiell II' project. This was his reply: "Cathal's research and level of detail is really astounding but also disarming. I wanted to answer his questions fully and honestly, and I wanted to match his efforts. A lot of the questions really floored me, and honestly, some of them made me uncomfortable. There were a lot of things I didn't really want to reveal or get into. Not that many people would be reading my answers, but it was more about my personal sense of how to approach interviews and what I was comfortable with saying. I eventually just threw myself into it and I think it had a profound effect on how I see myself and my relation to making music and having a minor 'artistic presence' or whatever you might call it...Cathal not only does his research, but he's well-read and brings in really relevant thought-provoking outside material which mirrors or ties into your own thinking, so it really sets off thought and discussion. An amazing experience and one of the best things which has ever happened to me as part of being in OS&T".

I'm pleased to say that really does mirror what I took away from reading it. As I said above, this is really not something to approach with the view that it'll give you some bigger "music press" type interviews with a few of your favourite underground bands: it's much more of a challenging and spiritual journey at heart, with a tight focus on revealing and sometimes painfully honest discussions of what lies beneath and around the music. For example, one of the topics that struck a particular chord with me was that of formats, and how the evolution from analogue to digital to internet has completely changed so many aspects of the relationship between person and art. More than, though, it also illustrates how much and how quickly the entire human condition has altered, as it adapts - or fails to adapt - to these new vistas of technology that had been mere science-fiction ideas within my living memory.

I don't propose to try and deconstruct any more than that: to do it justice would need a review about the same length as the book itself. Suffice to say that it's a deep, entertaining and thought-provoking window into the human psyche, using Heavy Metal as the conduit and link. It successfully makes the case for why that's a valid stance, and though it could just as easily have been applied to any other subject which provokes equally great, abiding and lifelong passion - some other type of art, or faith, or creed - as someone whose own journey through life has been hugely shaped and influenced by music, most particularly the metal genres, I can relate to it in many more concrete and shared ways than if it were based on some other source. And that makes it perhaps the most personally significant, and resonant, philosophical exploration I've read since first picking up Robert M. Pirsig's 'Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance' many years ago. Serious and contemporary food for thought: unique and essential reading for any metalhead interested in exploring and rationalising their place in the great scheme of things, and warmly recommended for the impressive labour of love which has gone into its creation.

Click HERE to discuss this review on the doom-metal forum.

Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. Existentiell ≠ Boundaries and Paradigms (Book)

Duration : Approx. 400 pages

Visit the Cathal Rodgers (Author) bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-06-19 by Mike Liassides
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