June 8, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Kognitiv Tod

By Andy Osborn. One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Metal Bandcamp is discovering and promoting lesser-known music. And over the years I’ve made it a point to write almost exclusively about independent groups I thought were deserving of a much wider audience.
By Andy Osborn.

"Because the world is perfidious, I am going into mourning" / Pieter Bruegel - The Misanthrope

One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Metal Bandcamp is discovering and promoting lesser-known music. And over the years I’ve made it a point to write almost exclusively about independent groups I thought were deserving of a much wider audience. Well, today I’m excited to share with you my all time favorite Bandcamp discovery. Stumbling onto this page was like wandering into an undiscovered cave filled to the brim with esoteric and otherworldly riches. Its walls charred black, naturally.

Kognitiv Tod is the project of Illinois-based multi-instrumentalist Mitchell Provow, started in 2014. Shortly after I devoured his first full-length, Mysteries, a second one appeared on his page. And then another. And then another. Now, just a year after his first release, Kognitiv Tod boasts an impressive five albums full of material. But instead of the standard one-man bedroomgaze one would expect from this type of project, Mitchell’s recordings are something else entirely.

His brand of blackened, experimental metal is wholly singular and unlike anything I have ever heard. Fans of Horseback and Jute Gyte’s music will definitely connect with Kognitiv Tod, but those comparisons hardly do this project justice.

I could go on and on about each album in detail, but I would be remiss to write about all five releases without some further context. To make sense of it all I got ahold of the man behind the madness via email to help us understand his process, inspiration, and endless creative drive.

How did the idea for Kognitiv Tod come about? Have you been making music and involved in bands for a while?

I used to experiment writing music when I was really young and played in some bands in junior high and high school, just messing around. I played guitar in the jazz band in high school. Then for many years I did almost nothing with music (except listen to a lot of it). I always sort of knew that I wanted to create music, but there were so many barriers holding me back like pressure to have a job and support myself. I had mentally walled myself in and stifled myself away from it out of fear and ignorance I suppose. I was doing everything like a normal person would and having success, but I was extremely unhappy and unfulfilled. In 2014 I had a sort of creative awakening that is hard to explain. I came to the conclusion that I could make music all by myself, without having to depend on anyone else. I wrote a few things and was excited by them and this provided the momentum to continue. My desires and ideas about life changed and I realized that creativity was the most important thing in my life and that other aspirations that most people would probably think are very important, suddenly were no longer important.

How would you describe your music? The only reference point I can really think of is the work of Jenks Miller who also does a type of experimental, southern-fried black metal.

It’s difficult for me to describe. It is a combination of all the music that has been very meaningful to me. I saw someone once call it "Blackened Psychedelic Metal" but even that is ambiguous and not very definitive. I like to think in terms of artists I’m imitating. I think the original conception was to create something like Burzum mixed with early John Frusciante i.e. To Record Only Water for Ten Days. These two artists have probably influenced me more than anyone else and I think subconsciously they fostered the primary impetus behind my music.

You released your first album in May 2014 and just over a year later you already have four more full-lengths. What allows you to be so prolific?

I write, record and produce all the music myself. I do this at home, without having to rely on anyone else. This affords me a really free creative process that isn’t contingent upon other people in any shape or form. I don’t have to pay and wait for studio time. I don’t have to wait to meet with other people to write. I don’t have to take time to perform. This eliminates major obstacles that I think are responsible for the one album a year dogma. I feel most fulfilled when I’m writing and creating. It’s always on my mind. I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do next. This type of creative mode, total self reliance, is very nurturing to the creative process.

While your music as a whole has a very recognizable sound, each album comes with its own distinct charm and mood. Do you start creating each release with a set idea or concept in mind?

I try to go in new directions with each album. The worst thing I can think of is to stagnate and release the same material in different dress album after album. However, there hasn’t been a lot of conscious decision on how to evolve. The changes seem to be very subconscious, and directly influenced by what I’m most actively listening to at the time. My most current release was heavily influenced by the bass work of artists like Eric Avery from Jane’s Addiction and Peter Hook from Joy Division. I was listening to these two bands quite a lot while writing The Nightmare of Being. It’s the first album I played bass guitar on. Howls From The Void features synth bass and my first three albums have no bass at all. I was inspired by how Joy Division and Jane’s Addiction wrote music centered around the bass, and were much deeper with the instrument than most "rock" bass players. Every song on The Nightmare of Being was composed on bass, with the guitar parts added afterwards.

Frederic Remington - Moonlight, Wolf

When I listen to your music I hear a sense of continuity, there are certain patterns and ideas within your arrangements that keep recurring. Not sure if this makes sense but when I listen to it I feel like I’m wandering around in an M.C. Escher painting.

I’ve taken a lot of songwriting elements directly from John Frusciante, as he was somebody I copied constantly while learning to play the guitar as a kid. I loved the way he would juxtapose his guitar with synthesizer. His early release, Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt as well as To Record Only Water… changed the way I viewed musical production. The former being done on a four track. This had a major impact on me aesthetically and changed how I viewed production and musical atmosphere. The first Burzum album I heard was Filosofem and it had an effect equally as powerful. I had never heard anything like it. I was so awestruck and I fell in love immediately. This was the second turn in my life that changed how I viewed musical aesthetics and production. I owe much of my influence to both of these artists.

Your Bandcamp page shows you’re inspired by literature new and old. Is the music you write directly inspired by the books you are consuming at that time period?

In hindsight, I associate different creative periods by what I’m reading. When I wrote Mysteries, I had just finished Knut Hamsun’s Hunger and Mysteries. I read the former while simultaneously listening to Judas Iscariot’s Heaven in Flames on repeat. This created the mood and impetus for the album I think. I think literature can have a major impact on music. I wrote A Will to Suffer while reading Michael Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island and Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Naturally, I was thinking a lot about transhumanism and philosophical pessimism at the time. I think all of this somehow unconsciously colors the music I write in ways I probably don’t understand. It certainly inspires me lyrically in a more direct way.

The striking artwork, for me at least, plays a central role in Kognitiv Tod. It’s clear you carefully choose each piece to reflect the work. Can you expand on a couple examples and why you chose those pieces?

I browse through a lot of artwork when deciding on album covers. I know what the album cover is going to be as soon as I see it. It just hits me and I know it. Bruegel’s The Misanthrope I think really embodied the color and mood of where I was at mentally and creatively around the time of composing Mysteries. Composing this weird black metal all alone by yourself at 2am in the rural midwest, one certainly feels misanthropic. Not in any cliched sort of way, but a real, in your bones separation from the rest of the world. I think any artist feels this sort of separation, and I think any artist’s best work is often done alone. Being separate is essential to the creative process. Otto Rank wrote extensively about this. Howls From The Void’s artwork is a piece by Frederic Remington. I was reading a lot of Laird Barron at the time, as well as Houellebecq. The wolf just stuck out at me as this entity alone in an indifferent cosmos. I felt it really embodied the album. That artwork has a cosmologically deep feel to it, and it’s considerably darker and heavier than any of Remington’s other work.

I’ve always considered Kognitiv Tod my favorite “unknown” Bandcamp discovery. What are some of yours?

Thank you. Honestly, you probably know a lot more artists than I do. I haven’t spent a lot of time browsing Bandcamp discovering other artists, which is unfortunate. It is such a vast resource I’m almost overwhelmed by it. I plan to take further advantage of this.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to release one more album in 2015. I have some material I’m working on. Right now I’m taking a short break from writing music while I’m reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I think I’ll continue to write and record and release music as long as I’m alive. I can’t imagine not doing it. I hope to continue to evolve and grow as an artist and am excited to see what direction all this goes. I very much don’t feel in control of the creative growth and evolution, and I really like that.

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