The following interview/discussion is with Rob Miller. Readers may know of him through his work with the seminal crust-punk pioneers Amebix, as well as with Tau Cross. In additional to his musical output, Rob is also a globally renowned swordsmith, for some thirty years plying his craft through Castle Keep. This Q&A looks at the history of Amebix and the forthcoming Tau Cross album. Other questions concern the practice and wider meaning of swordsmithery to the modern world, as well as wider questions surrounding technology, mysticism and culture.
One of the great qualities about Amebix was that the atmospheres of post-punk, the visceral guitars of early heavy metal and the raw anger of anarcho-punk are merged together seamlessly into a tribal, ritualistic whole. Could you perhaps give us a quick chronology of Amebix? What got yourself and the other band members at the time to eventually mature and then achieve the sound that you’d commit to tape? Who and what influenced each of you individually? “Growing up in Rural Devon in the sixties and seventies, my brother and I started a band in 1979 after he returned from a stint working on the island of Jersey. I was still in school, and formed a couple of different incarnations of the first band The Band With No Name playing in local village halls, having fun being a young bunch of kids messing around with this new idea called punk rock. The darker side of things really began with our moving into (drummer) Martin Bakers house on the edge of the moors, an old Manor House with ruins dating back to the Saxon era. His parents were living in London so he opened the place up to us without anyone knowing about it. We practised at night, slept during the day, lived a nocturnal existence. We moved to Bristol in 1981 just after the riots and started to live a life of squats and general uselessness punctuated by the occasional foray into a studio to produce two singles, a 12” and eventually the defining album Arise! Moving back to a more rural setting in a small Somerset mining village we continued until 1987,when the final album Monolith was released. Shortly after the band dissolved into different areas,to emerge again in 2009 for a retrospective DVD project with the help of drummer Roy Mayorga (Stone Sour/Ministry/Nausea et cetera). This led to the triumphant Sonic Mass album in 2011, after which the familiar gremlins reared their ugly heads again and the band once more dissolved into a now unresolvable form. I went on to start my own band called Tau Cross,releasing a first album to considerable praise, the second to a little less. The third album was due to be released last August but was shelved by Relapse Records due to the reference I made to an author in the thanks list. I also lost my band and the entire catalogue in production, received Worldwide opprobrium and some idle threats along the way. At this point in time I have started to re write and record that forbidden album, as I believe it is a good body of work that can only be improved on now”.
The name Tau Cross comes from a variation of the crucifix, if I’m not right? Lyrically, songs seem to express ideas that could refer to states of affairs in the present day but are encoded in archaic language, lore and wisdom. Could you tell us more about the ideas and themes that are explored in your output? “I have generally been quite obscure in my lyrical approach,using mythological themes and strong images to allow the listener to develop an internal landscape, a sort of projected cinema for the songs. I have always been drawn by the visual side of music by which I mean the pictures it can conjure,and regard that as an essential part of the approach. I have stayed clear of obvious political or social commentary because it is temporal, it has no lasting power. I want to write something that can be related to in any generation,although I admit that the musical style can hinder that. As for the themes,they change over the years, I have always been interested in the occult, the hidden, in the mystery traditions and the esoteric generally. My most current preoccupation is with a variety of subjects; I have been looking for an over arching ‘theory’ of things I suppose. This has led me into some darker areas that I could not avoid, and with that journey comes a bagful of problems as well as startling discoveries too. I have tried to draw an arc through our history as a race and to define the points at which we have been ‘formed’ and manipulated to some extent.(New album) Messengers of Deception was a tribute to the work of Jacques Vallée and John Keel as well as an examination of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Cosmology in the light of John Lash’s work. It is about the beginning of creation and the consequences of our consciousness here on this planet, what forces work on us behind the scenes”.
A noticeable aspect of the music of Tau Cross is that the more diverse, experimental aspects of the last Amebix album Sonic Mass have been integrated into a more punchy, streamlined sound that is both aggressive and anthemic. This has been consistent for both the debut and Pillar Of Fire. How is the re-recording of the new album progressing? What can be expected from Messengers Of Deception, sonically and lyrically? Given that Relapse withdrew the original recording, can any significant changes be expected with this version? “The first Tau Cross album was my own work and my own material,with some help on one or two songs, whereas Amebix’ Sonic Mass was really the work of Roy Mayorga, who managed to rope us into making our familiar noises over his richly layered backgrounds. I wrote a few of the songs, and Knights of the Black Sun is perhaps one of the best tunes I have ever penned, but even that foreshadows the Tau Cross material when you realise that it is a very very simple song, not musically complex in any way. That is because I am not really a musician, I am just someone who feels how a song should go rather than has any practical ability, it is instinctual and more primal. Hangman’s Hyll is another good song that has been slated for its simplicity by some people, but songs are not about how clever you can be, for me at least. It is all about how powerfully they can affect a person”.
“I have taken the songs apart on this new album and in some cases re written parts to help them flow better. I have disposed of the material that I did not write, and have permission to record one of the songs that Jon (Misery, TC guitarist on the first two albums) wrote which is superb and would be a crime to omit. The way it all sounds at this point is deeper and heavier than the first time around, I would like to spend some time on production to create a more lavish atmosphere over all, more in line with the more cinematic landscapes of Sonic Mass“.
Before Amebix came into being you were in the Air Corps. Going from a martial life to a musical career and counterculture consisting of squatting and communes is quite a contrast, and would seem odd to an outsider. Could you explain what brought that to come about? “The ATC (Air Training Corps) was a school cadets force for the RAF here. I was in that until I was fifteen or so, I loved it, travelled all over, got to shout at other kids when I got my stripes and was happy to go on to a career in the Air Force, but punk happened and that put an end to that. There is a curious genetic predisposition in our family towards Military and Militaria which I seem to have unconsciously followed. I am glad of the experience”.
Would you go as far to say that what brought you to come to the Isle Of Skye and become a swordsmith was an “epiphany”? Could you perhaps elaborate on what drove you to do this? “Well yes it was. I have talked about what should have been a more private matter in the past but a series of events took place synchronistically that shaped my life from 1991 to the present day, I was at a point very aware of an outside influence working on my life in a very specific way. I had come to a crossroads that required a radical change to happen in order to break out of my old cycle of behaviours. A motorcycle accident was the fulcrum of that change”.
You were releasing music with Amebix in a time where Cold War paranoia and the broadcasting of films such as Threads and The Day After tapped into commonly held fears about our “civilisation” falling apart. Domestically the UK was characterised by events such as the Falklands conflict and the Miner’s Strike of 1984-1985. How do you feel that the events, panics and subsequent global measures taken in the midst of COVID-19 compare to such prior experiences? “The Falklands War and also the first Gulf war were times that I remember well, but both of those still had a feeling of remoteness despite the propaganda being spread about WMD’s. This is very different. It has the appearance of a psyop to me, not purposefully engaged with by individual states or leaders, but definitely overseen and managed by more Globalist NGOs, much like the Migrant ‘crisis’ and several other initiatives designed to break and fracture traditional European cultural identities and make any form of protest far less coherent. Given the events of the past year in my own life I am not surprised but still shocked at how effortless it has been to corral everyone into an attitude of total conformity. To hear the great and the good of the ‘Counter Culture’ begging to be locked into their own homes, slavering over a miraculous ‘vaccine’ that may save us all from this terrible yet unremarkable faux plague is embarrassing. And to see how they demonise anyone who does not agree sits very well with my own experiences. I wonder how many people would say that it is legitimate to lock someone up under the Mental Health Act for refusing an untested vaccine? To separate families who refuse to comply and forcefully violate them..I can see this being the case in the future if this entrainment works successfully,and i think it has”.
There seems to be a lot of explicit gatekeeping of late in the music industry/press for very implicit actions, statements and associations of artists deemed to have engaged in all manners of “wrongthink”. I most certainly sense this in the reactions to Tau Cross and their removal from Relapse… “There is no real counter culture,just a manufactured pastiche that has emanated from the same well as the Frankfurt School and what we refer to as Cultural Marxism today. Everything is controlled at a certain level, there are very specific ideas and talking points that are absolutely forbidden within the entertainment industry. To voice an opinion that is even slightly off message results in either expulsion or demotion/demonetisation. Society as a whole reflects exactly this message now, despite the vitriol hurled at the conveniently stupid Political leadership we have, they all tow the same line at one level and will enforce a doctrine that is designed to demoralise and destabilise the Natural Law. The search for Truth is not ‘Hate Speech’ or ‘Thought Crime’, these ideas are preposterous and toxic. My own journey into heresy came about not through hatred or animosity for any particular person or group, but through reading about a woman called Ursula Haverbeck and following that, Sylvia Stolz. I tried to reconcile the idea of sending a ninety year old to prison for four years for something she said, not something she did… just a question she raised and i could not think of anything that could justify that treatment, I was shocked at the ugliness of people who hate what they are told to hate without questioning for a moment the process of indoctrination we have all passed through. I was speaking to a friend about this the other day and we can agree that people tend to calcify in their opinions at various points in their lives. But I have never felt the need to hammer a nail into the door and stop the questioning of all of this stuff we wade through year after year. You have to remain flexible,in the same way that a sword must be flexible to have the best properties, if you ‘lose the temper’ it becomes useless. Social Media of course is a massive contributor to the anti intellectualism of the Internet, we live in an age where people are unable to debate at all, they simply take sides and throw shit at one another. Nothing will ever evolve from that apart from an increasing sense of division and isolation,until we are a broken people,unable to respond to the real threat, which is now very much in front of our faces”.
In The Technological Society Jacques Ellul defined technique as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity”. Do you believe that the general advancement of technology is a means of control and subjugation? If so, are there ways that this can be curtailed or kept in check? “I have watched my life become more busy, more hectic with the rise of the Internet in particular. What was sold to us as a liberating blessing is very much a two edged sword. We have become increasingly integrated into the operating systems, always on call and alert to the Pavlovian signals being sent out constantly. We can look at the benefits of this technological progress but i am not sure there are that many, are our lives enhanced in any way? Do we have better relationships with our World and one another? Can we appreciate our life more deeply?”
In an increasingly interconnected world, Marshall McLuhan’s term “global village” couldn’t seem more real. As a swordsmith living in the relative tranquility of the Isle Of Skye, where Gaelic is still spoken as a first language, do you believe that encouraging a return to more archaic practices (such as your profession) and immersion in the natural world can serve a redemptive purpose to the chaotic, bustling modernity? “I absolutely agree. The only reality is Nature, simply taking time to observe the birds, the wind through the trees, the sea allows that essential part of us to drink in what we really need. When my World has been turned upside down I have found that shutting off all the outside noise and simply watching and listening is almost miraculous. There is a different heartbeat to Nature, one that we can clearly feel ourselves having stepped away from in our hurried slave culture, this is a living breathing Entity that we live on, reconnecting is imperative i feel”.
Whilst technology might render the everyday use of the sword as obsolete, without the sword much of what we call “culture” would be equally obsolete. Swords and blades permeate all histories and civilisations, whether in their original practical use, or on a wider mythological, metaphorical level. What do they mean and symbolise to you, and to your client base? “I don’t know about my client base, but when I started on this journey of the Swordsmith it was at a time when I was more in tune to the esoteric, studying the Western mystery tradition as well as dipping into Jungian psychology and alchemy. My initial reason for starting this was as an enquiry, to try and connect to the elements at the level of Will. I was in that zone for the first few years, but of course once the necessity for money comes into the equation we lose touch with the original source of the creativity in return for an income. I am still surprised at how people respond instinctively to the Sword, it is a very potent symbol on a spiritual/psychological level that acts as a kind of atavistic key”.
You make swords according to a lot of different historical and cultural designs. What are the technicalities involved behind a certain pattern or design, and what level of research has to go into crafting a particular blade? What factors of modernity or “industrial technique” come to influence your everyday work in an otherwise ancient art form? “I encourage people to bring their own elements to a design idea,often working form historical examples,but trying to make something very personal for the customer. Over the past thirty years of doing this I have had to assimilate and learn a number of different disciplines,and that is always ongoing, for instance I am currently trying to get my head around cloisonné garnet fittings such as the Sutton Hoo sword and hoard, when you actually look at the incredible workmanship of people living in what we term the Dark Ages it is apparent that we have lost a lot of skills and artistry. I am often stunned by the level of detail achieved by people working with only daylight and very simple tools. I use grinders, polishers all manner of modern tools to achieve what I can”.
You’ve stated on previous occasions that you view yourself as a Gnostic. Considering world history, and the capacity for societies, civilisations, countries, kingdoms, empires and all minutiae humanity to destroy, conquer, annihilate and dissolve some way or another, do you think this seemingly unchangeable pattern of cycles validates views the Gnostics would have held about human nature and existence? More importantly, what does Gnosticism, or to hold a Gnostic worldview mean to you? “My references to Gnosticism are very much aligned with the work of John Lamb Lash, with whom I have been in brief correspondence. He was one of the first non religious people to interpret the Nag Hammadi texts and to make the connection with the vast cosmological outlook that seems to have been shared by these groups of Shamanic people. It appears to have been a Pagan teaching system that was rooted in many cultures in the Ancient world, but with the advent and eventual domination of the Abrahamic perversion cults there was a concerted effort to almost completely eradicate any trace of exactly what it was that they ‘knew’ and shared. 1947 was a very odd year in many respects,the codices began to appear in the public arena, Crowley died, the first popular UFO flap took place in the U.S and Jack Parsons had recently completed his Babalon working which some occultists credit with having created a hole in time/space which allowed the entry of what we term extra terrestrials, although that term is completely misleading in my opinion. The Gnostics seem to have been familiar with a lot of the effects and consequences of Magick, and the Hierarchy of beings that comprise the otherworld part of the Messengers of Deception. They rely heavily on human agency in order to be able to interact and enter into our space, this is what i believe happened at the heart of our current World dominant Religion. I have been attempting to bring together a variety of streams of thought which have not all been connected in sequence to my knowledge. I do realise that my preoccupations are a bit strange to most people,but i am just following a path that has always been before me, stumbling along and trying to gain a little insight here and there along the way”.
Other than making swords and the upcoming Tau Cross, can anything else be expected from you in the near future? “I am aiming to continue playing music, generally I need to get one project completed before the substance for the next begins to present itself. I cannot sit down and write to order, it takes a period of calm and then trying to interpret whatever is coming through from the darker recesses of my psyche. I enjoy the process of writing, but the manufacturing part does take far too long for an impatient person”.
If there is anything that you’d like to add yourself, that ends my questions. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer them… “Thank you for your questions.I don’t really have much to add. You catch me emerging from a whole shit storm that seemed likely to overwhelm me at one point, I am more wary of people now and their cowardice, more cynical perhaps, which is not how I would want to be. I wanted to stay true to my own principles, to question everything and fear neither God nor Master in this life, I thought that other people were tuned into that but regret to see that people are for the most part “religious’ on their opinions, unable to accommodate any other views than the prescribed ones. On the other hand my journey has also allowed me to find a lot of new friends who have gradually come out of the shadows along the way. People who are concerned with the principles under which we live. I am thankful for that and also thankful for having passed through this fire into a very different space, the ground has been cleared,the weeds pulled up and thrown aside. It is time to sow new seeds”.
This interview originally appeared at the excellent EXCUSE THE BLOOD site. Pay them a visit HERE