Swallowing Bile: An Interview and a Review of Secluded
Many of us have had thoughts of revenge. Someone cuts us off in traffic while text messaging behind the wheel, they veer dangerously close and cause us to have to pull sharply out of the way. An overzealous employer micromanages every minute of our day and criticizes us down to the smallest detail of our work. We are scorned in a romantic relationship by the sudden revelation of impropriety. For a brief moment, we imagine causing great bodily harm to our oppressors. Most of us would not act on these thoughts, but they are altogether very common. Sometimes these thoughts linger past fleeting moments, and we entertain the idea of revenge longer than we consider to be acceptable or practical. We become aware we shouldn’t still be feeling these thoughts, and the anxiety of this inappropriate consciousness wears on us. Tension builds. We can not escape this singular idea which has taken over our minds. We begin to plan. We begin to act. The perfect opportunity is just around the corner.
Swallowing Bile’s release Secluded (Die Song, 2014) tells the tale of a revenge fantasy. It does so through lyrics, track titles, and Swallowing Bile’s blend of power electronics and harsh noise wall; this album leans towards the latter throughout. The album’s first track, “Dormant Killer” gives us a cue as to what awaits through its name, but opens quietly. This is a rare instance in Swallowing Bile’s collective output that doesn’t cause immediate oppression of the senses. Has Swallowing Bile gone soft? Say it ain’t so. Fear not, this is simply is not the case. “Dormant Killer” slowly builds with a distant, ominous echo that sounds somewhat like gears turning; static and feedback creep in near the end of its near three minute run into a cacophony of harsh noise which leads into the album’s second track, “Never Again”.
“Never Again” explodes in a mess of harsh noise electronics and introduces us to Swallowing Bile as the crazed narrator of this tale. Swallowing Bile’s vocal delivery is a pained, maniacal shout, easy to comprehend but delivered with unquestioning menace.
“PROWLING THE STREETS COMBING THE BACK ROADS SEARCHING FOR THE IDEAL SPOT
I’VE ALREADY SELECTED MY LUCKY TARGET CROSSED ME LONG AGO DOUBT HE EVEN REMEMBERS BUT I NEVER FORGOT”
Swallowing Bile’s lyrics often form a strange prose, long stretched out lines drawn into poetry, this is not entirely consistent through “Never Again”, but appears often enough for the listener to take notice. The narrator describes waiting outside his victim’s apartment at 3:00 am, finding him returning home drunk, and kidnapping him with a crowbar. This kidnapping was planned in advance, the narrator lined his pickup truck with plastic to avoid getting blood in the bed of it. The harsh static sharing space with this narration is overwhelming, until the track changes tone when the narration cuts off about two minutes in. The noise sounds windswept. Learning this project was recorded on location reveals a great deal. While most power electronics, despite their ferocity, have a cold, sterile, or robotic sound to them, Secluded, in its whole, has a rustic, outdoors feel to it. This points to the rural locations its narrator describes. “Tainted Vision” continues the movement to the rapidly approaching climax. It begins with two more minutes of howling noise and feedback, with the same windy definition, until the narrator explains his motivations, “[my conscious] is impervious to morals, immune to ethics, and blind to reason”. The reason for his often self-exile is so he won’t have to kill again, and describes a plot of graves behind the schoolhouse, under a cornfield, where he has placed many victims. Warnings are proclaimed of “keep your distance, stay away, stay away” before the track disintegrates.
“Lurking The Trails” offers a small moment of relief; similar to “Dormant Killer”, it begins quietly and crescendos gradually. These moments are surprising at first; but they have led me to believe this is the most fully realized Swallowing Bile project yet. This is a sign of an artist becoming comfortable both with this particular project and in his overall sound and concept. Secluded does not simply rely on destruction and devastation, which is the modus operandi of the power electronics genre. Secluded still manages to produce anxiety by its completion. “Lurking The Trails” offers dull static, and sounds weave in and out that could be noise or a cult like chant by the narrator. The narrator is moving his victim from truck to a secluded location of his choosing. “Dumped Into The Creek”, while not the loudest moment on Secluded, opens with harsh static that sounds like a bomb compared to the previous track. “Dumped Into The Creek” is Swallowing Bile as harsh noise wall, imposing over the course of its near six minutes, until it fades into nothingness.
Finally, the climax. “By Her Tongue” opens on haunting, distant noise. It becomes increasingly hostile. Swallowing Bile begins to sing, in a very bizarre, off key manner (the killer gleefully carrying out his task?) amidst increasingly intense power electronics blasts. Swallowing Bile’s pained vocal delivery returns, however, in the album’s final two minutes. We discover this “target” is a woman, and that this ghastly story features more than victim. This leads credence to the grave plots described earlier on “Tainted Vision”. We get the impression this won’t be the last victim, either. Swallowing Bile closes this album by repeating the phrase,
“THIS IS NOT A THREAT THIS IS A FUCKING PROMISE
THIS NOT A THREAT THIS IS A FUCKING PROMISE”
Have these events occurred, or have they occurred simply in the narrator’s mind? Has he imagined these killings, as perhaps many of us have imagined similar horrific events? Secluded is the most fully developed Swallowing Bile album yet. Secluded benefits from quieter passages as they build tension to its conclusion. It is cohesive, and carries the listener through its thirty minute, harrowing run. Swallowing Bile continues the tradition of being one of the darkest, most abrasive noise musicians in the genre today. His catharsis is our weakness.
After covering Swallowing Bile for the Toilet Ov Hell, I reached out to him to let him know he was featured prominently in a series about dark and difficult music. Ethan Ebeling, the sole individual responsible for Swallowing Bile, responded to me and allowed me to interview him for this site. I found Ethan to be the diametric opposite of his musical persona, he is courteous, enthusiastic, grateful, and seems extremely knowledgeable about music (a quality I greatly admire in others). What follows is the interview I conducted with Ethan via email. I would like to extend my thanks to him for taking the time to talk with me about Secluded, Swallowing Bile, some of his other musical ventures, and music in a more general sense.
Edward: You described Secluded as your most personal work to date, can you elaborate on that a bit further? It sounds like the soundtrack to a kidnapping/murder.
Swallowing Bile: All of the locations mentioned (whether it be in track titles or lyrics) are places that I spent my formative years living in. Although the basic plot of the release reads like a typical Power Electronics album there are segments lyrically that I tell stories from my childhood…mostly involving my uncomfortable and haunting experiences from living in an incredibly small town in a very rural area. Nothing but corn and woods.
Edward: Can you tell me what exactly you used to produce Secluded, equipment wise?
Swallowing Bile: The equipment used to create the material on “Secluded” is relatively simple. What makes the impact, however, is entirely in the sourcing. Every sound generated on the release was captured organically by myself via field recordings (these were produced in the locations depicted within the individual tracks, too!). For instance, I recorded during storms, in the creek, the middle of cornfields, late at night in the backwoods, etc. I believe that there is never a need to drown everything in pedal distortion and mask the natural beauty of unadulterated sound. I also utilized scrap metal, assorted knives/hunting supplies, chains, barbed wire, shattered mirrors, crushed bones, and my own voice.
Edward: Wojtek, released in 2012, appears to be your first album available on Bandcamp. Did you record any albums or music prior to that? If so, was any of that music available to fans via cassette or CD? You have been quite active since, releasing albums, featuring on splits, and have also toured and performed at events like Summer Scum. Is there anyone you have not worked with yet that you would like to?
Swallowing Bile: Wojtek was my first full-length release. However, I had recorded a few small-run cassette splits prior to that (one with Wet Dream Asphyxiation, one with Deceiver…). I had been recording material on the ambient end of the spectrum for about two-to-three years prior to the inception of Swallowing Bile…I have all of that material still but haven’t the slightest idea what to do with it. It’s a primitive mess. I’ve been fortunate to have such great friends within the Power Electronics/Harsh Noise scene…without them allowing me to play their shows, release material via their labels, and being so courteous I would not have had the reach that I’ve achieved. I am currently in the process of working with a few artists I have been dying to work with for a couple years now…but ideally I would love to do a split/collaboration/anything with Slogun, Brad Griggs, Ahlzagailzehguh, or Bagman. There are others that, in a dream scenario, would be on that list but they are all entirely unrealistic (working with Grunt, Bizarre Uproar, Pleasure Fluids, Deathkey, Brethren, etc.).
Edward: You have given me (and our readers) a wealth of new stuff to check out. I am a new fan of Grunt! It’s been kind of a running thing in our site and community. Are you also a fan of Deathspell Omega?
Swallowing Bile: Grunt is a great project, one of my heaviest influences (especially “Seer of Decay”, “Terror and Degeneration”, and “Ritual of Morality”). Deathspell Omega are interesting… I only really listen to “Infernal Hatred” when I am in the mood for them though.
Edward: How did you / what made you decide to follow noise / power electronics? What are your musical influences inside that genre? Some of the artists you have worked with? What influences your Swallowing Bile project outside of noise, be it metal or any other genres of music? Are you influenced by anything else, apart from what you mentioned about small town living or your rural environment?
Swallowing Bile: Coming into contact with noise was a gradual movement from one extreme to the other…I grew up listening to Black Metal and late 80’s/early 90’s Death Metal. From there I ran into Black Ambient/Ambient that gradually would bleed into experimental/noise territory. I try to keep my influences indirect (not have my work sound too similar to that of my idols/peers…I never want to be a perpetrator of plagiarism). I believe that music/noise should be atmosphere first and musicality/technicality second. Because of this I am incredibly fond of Harsh Noise Wall (Cannibal Ritual, Dead Body Collection, The Rita, Wet Dream Asphyxiation, Werewolf Jerusalem, Burial Ground, etc…), Black Metal (far too many bands to name), and surprisingly Shoegaze (Slowdive is one of, if not, my favorite project of all time…). Creating alternate existences and transporting a listener into these landscapes with only sound is riveting and has become my ultimate goal…to generate space. Back to shoegaze, I am very fond of Catherine Wheel, Lily’s, Flying Saucer Attack, Drop Nineteens, Rocketship, and Duster to name a few.
Edward: I got a chance to chat with Doug Moore of Pyrrhon recently while they were on tour with Artificial Brain. It’s fairly common knowledge that there isn’t a lot of money in underground metal. I am (I’m sure our readers are as well) dying to know, is there any money to be made in power electronics? Selling cassettes, albums on Bandcamp, shows, tours? If not (which I am already under the impression of), what is your real motivator to stay so busy as Swallowing Bile?
Swallowing Bile: There is little-to-no money to be made in Power Electronics/Harsh Noise/Harsh Noise Wall. If I am lucky I’ll make back the cost of purchasing tapes, shells, printing artwork, and shipping! When on tour the money I make from merchandise is either thrown into the gas tank, used for food/beer, or given to other artists for their work. Certain projects have different appeals, however…popular artists can wrangle deals with large scale labels and profiteer a bit from selling copies of their albums, etc. I don’t believe that there should be money, however…this is a niche…a small group of deviants that love bizarre sounds and atmospheres. I create because it’s my addiction…not only to making my own material but to listening to the work of others! It is my driving pulse and making a living, although fabulous hypothetically, isn’t necessary to keep any of “us” going…that’s not what’s important.
Edward: Correct me if I am mistaken, but I read that you front the sludge metal band Black Houses. I listened to the demo, I thought it sounded rad. How did this project come into existence? Do you consider Swallowing Bile to be your main musical project and Black Houses to be a side project? Do you have plans to release more music with Black Houses any time soon?
Swallowing Bile: You are correct, I was involved in Black Houses. Our bassist and guitarist are both in the process of moving (one out of state and the other within state) and that has put BH on an indefinite hiatus. Talks of starting things up next Fall have begun but that is merely a speculation at this point. At the time BH was active I considered SB and BH both to be entirely separate entities. I was only a vocalist in BH so I hardly considered myself a member anyways! SB takes the work of only myself, therefore I am able to write, record, release, and tour at any time that is comfortable for me. Bands are much different…you have more hands in the kitchen trying to make the same meal.
Edward: What’s next for Swallowing Bile? Are you working on anything you can tell us something about? Plans for upcoming shows or tours? Are you working on any other musical projects currently? Is there anything else you’d like to talk about, plug, promote, they could be projects of yours or friends of yours?
Swallowing Bile: Swallowing Bile has only a few live shows lined up for the next few months…I don’t like to play out too often. In late December I will be opening for Ancestral Shadows, Intolerant, Yersinia Pestis, and others at a private event in my home city, and there are currently plans in the works for me to travel down south to play an event in Texas. In terms of recorded output there is a lot on my plate… an upcoming Breathing Problem split + collaboration, a split with Plagues (already recorded…), two possible splits that are being ironed out currently, and plotting out ideas for another solo effort for late 2015.
Currently there are no other projects actively in motion aside from Swallowing Bile. Black Houses is on hiatus until next fall and I don’t have any aspirations to get anything else “cooking” musically right now! I have been working on some private material that isn’t related to SB but that hasn’t solidified entirely just yet…always a work in progress!
I would like to thank you, Edward, and Toilet Ov Hell, for giving me the opportunity to take part in this interview and for the “Secluded” review! Although I would love to take the time to thank absolutely everyone who has helped me/supported me/been a great friend over the past few years I don’t want to shred my fingers into dust…you all know who you are and the impact you have left on me. I recently did a tour with Breathing Problem and Public Health and they are absolutely essential Power Electronics/Industrial project, so please take the time to check both of them out (Breathing Problem just released a new full length “The Keyhole” and Public Health has a tape coming out via Ascetic House very soon…). James Light and Die Song for releasing “Secluded”, distributing fantastic titles and working tirelessly to constantly expand the labels horizons, and for being a great friend over the past year. Also, direct some attention towards Obscure Vanity and label-owner Justin Stubbs project Reinforcement:Punishment. Devastating Power Electronics…we recently did a split that is still available on his site (alongside a bundle of other distributed/label-released items).
Once again, thanks to Ethan for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview. Remember to check out his music at Swallowing Bile’s Bandcamp and pick something up, I’d like him to be able to afford playing a Minneapolis date (no jk).