Clandestine Convos: Entropy Deity (Poppet, WageMage, Lodge of Research)

(Credit: Christopher Riggs)

So if you’ve wandered into this article simply out of curiosity, and you haven’t ever heard a note of the Entropy Deity’s music…I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to prepare you for what’s ahead. Best known for his kind of black metal/kind of dungeon synth project Poppet, he also has at least half a dozen other projects of various genres, hybrid genres, and at least a couple of genres that I swear he made up while answering these questions.

Regardless of which of Entropy Deity’s projects you’re listening to, there are two things to keep in mind:

  • There will be familiar touchstones within the music – moments that make you feel like ‘okay…this isn’t all that out there.’ These are generally an indication that things are about to get that out there.
  • When it comes to the lyrics, it’s best to just go with it.

In fact, it’s probably best to just let the Deity himself take it from here. A bit of breaking news first, though: later this year, Akashic Envoy Records (full disclosure: AER and CS have common ownership) will be releasing an *extremely* limited-edition 3xCS Poppet box set with Infernally, I Wander, Borne of an Eldritch Fortress, and Mastery ov the Arcane Crafts.

Without any further ado, here’s my conversation with Entropy Deity…

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Clandestine Sounds: Hey, so thanks for the interview. I have to say up front here that you are probably – and I mean this as a compliment – the most unrelentingly, deliberately strange artist in the Dungeon Synth (or Not Dungeon Synth, But…) world. Poppet, Wage Mage, Lodge of Research, Fishterbation…I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one – all pretty rad, all very different from each other, and all with their share of straight-up ‘what the fuck?’ moments. From the way I see you present your music, you seem to be aware that the strangeness has a limiting effect on your audience – so why so strange?

Entropy Deity: Thanks for having me on! My strangeness comes from two factors. One is my love for unique and unusual music. I grew up in a family that played Sun Ra and other obscure jazz, no-wave, post punk and outsider country artists on regular rotation. One of my dad’s former co-workers was Josh Landes from power electronics act Limbs Bin. I grew up in New York City, which has always been a hotbed for weird music – the downtown and no-wave scenes, the krishnacore movement, Haitian gospel music – and I suppose I absorbed all of it when forming my musical tastes. I was drawn to weird and unusual music from birth. It’s natural the music I would make would follow that pattern.

The second factor as to why my music is so strange is partially my personality. I have Autism, and because of this I will often think and process emotions and concepts differently. Musically, I tend to play whatever is  the most interesting thing I can do within my abilities, as opposed to what would sound the best. My first album as Poppet, Enter…the Numinous Realm, was my attempt to create an atmospheric black metal album inspired by artists such as Aniroe from Poland and Burzum. Instead, it came out as Dungeon Synth with goblinoid vocals. I often feel like when I’m writing music, even if I’m composing by the seat of my pants, playing with melody and rhythm willy-nilly makes the piece come out weirder than I intend. This is less of a problem in the genres I work with than in other, more commercially viable  genres, since weirdness and innovation is appreciated. My music acts as a playground for me to explore different sounds and scapes, not to mention soundscapes.

CS: Okay…now I feel like an asshole for calling your music ‘strange.’ Since it sounds like you were immersed in this sort of avant-garde musical environment from a very young age, did you also start playing an instrument at a young age? What was the first instrument you picked up yourself?

ED: About the “strange” comment: It’s fine; my fellow autistic people think I’m strange as well. I wear it as a badge of pride, if anything. I started taking piano lessons at age 10, and I’ve been playing ever since. Most of my music is based in the keyboard, since I can’t play any instrument without keys well. Around the time I started playing the piano, I was goofing around on GarageBand, making weird nu metal/funk/doom metal  songs that should never see the light of day – for now at least. The name I used for it was Red Death, and it was true outsider music. I continued learning piano until I could properly improvise, and then I wrote some impromptu neoclassical drone/doom metal tracks which you can hear as Celestial Cataclysm. Overall, I feel like my background in piano has helped me make dungeon synth.

CS: Based on your responses to these first two questions, I get the sense that you never really intended to be a dungeon synth artist – it just kind of happened. Given your unorthodox musical upbringing, I’m really curious as to what your gateway was into the genre. I could just as easily see it being Tangerine Dream and Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII as Mortiis and Summoning.  

ED: The Dungeon chose me! I actually used to listen to a lot of Nox Arcana (Not Dungeon Synth, But…?) when I was 14, because around that time I was really into Lovecraft-inspired literature. I didn’t really think of it as “dungeon synth” though, just dark ambient. I also remember looking up Popol Vuh around this time and being really weirded out. In addition, I’d listen to a lot chiptune covers and MIDI versions of thrash metal around this time.  My main introduction to the genre as I knew it was Burzum, and I was familiar with Dungeon Synth through Daudi Baldrs primarily. I’ll still go back to the album, although less frequently because of my problems with Varg.  

I generally thought of Dungeon Synth as non-metal synth music with structures, moods, and modes influenced by metal. If one listens to Bitter Old Wizard, for example, they will hear as strong evil, kvlt, and trve vibes as from Torgeist, for instance. From Daudi Baldrs, I expanded into [Mortiis’s] The Stargate, which is a really unique album. I had listened to quite a bit of Bal-Sagoth and Summoning as well, not to mention Caladan Brood, but I thought of them more as fantasy black metal than dungeon synth.  Unfortunately, a lot of Dungeon Synth wasn’t readily available during my search to expand my interest since Spotify and Apple Music didn’t have much outside of Mortiis. I was aware of Blood Tower early as well, but didn’t delve deep into them until recently.

In 2018, I decided to get my music out there just to see what people would think. As my first album had a lot of very explicitly synth driven moments and wasn’t quite black “metal,” I tagged it as dungeon synth. A couple of weeks later, Andrew Oliver of Chaucerian Myth sends me a letter saying he loved my music, and I was exposed to Chaucerian Myth, and Erang, Digre, Ur Pale, Fantratt and Xynfonica soon after.

TL;DR: Nox Arcana, then Burzum, then Chaucerian Myth.

CS: Damn…I guess the dungeon did choose you. So you weren’t really involved with the DS community when Enter…the Numinous Realm came out?

ED: Not really, no. The only scene I was involved with was the NYC metal scene, where I still have some friends. Most of my projects went unnoticed in their circles – I got some plays on SoundCloud for my Celestial Cataclysm stuff, but generally my art was obscure and underground.

CS: Do you feel like you’re part of it now? Or do you even want to be – are you more comfortable with that outsider status?

ED: I definitely feel at home with the DS community now, and I appreciate it. Dungeon Synth often has an outsider/raw aspect, and the welcoming aspect of the community really helped me ease into it. No one really identifies as an “outsider artist.” Usually the  outsider status amongst musicians is achieved through unintentional means. I will make my music intentionally weird and experimental, but I will never make my music intentionally bad.

CS: Since I’m sure that I’ve missed a couple of them, can you go through your currently active projects and give a rough approximation of the genre of each?

ED: For sure!

Poppet, my main project,  is roughly experimental dungeon synth/black ambient.  It’s a channel for me to explore religious, spiritual, and theoretical themes in a unique fashion. The sound varies from album to album, but I want it to.  Poppet is a tool for me to tap into different genres, scenes. and concepts. I will often use black metal vocals, distorted synths, and long, expansive, yet still minimalist, song structures.

WageMage is my EBM/Industrial/Synthwave project, with  a very clear science fantasy/cyberpunk feel. WageMage is a way for me to make electronic music with a heavy drum focus, stuff that has beats and moods and melodies. Arpeggiators abound, and most of the samples I use are arpeggiated. There’s a raw quality I like to tap into while writing it.

Fishterbation is my Cybergrind/Digital War Metal/Noise project. This is probably the most “shitposty” of my projects,  with lyrics and themes taken from the darkest, deepest corners of the internet. I will usually use drums, but heavily distorted. This is also the project where I can tap into Power Electronics and Noisecore, genres that I am quite fond of. I am serious about the music, despite the goofy feel.

Xanthar is similar to Poppet in how it is Experimental Dungeon Synth, but the themes are a lot more singularly focused on Gravity Falls, one of my favorite shows. Xanthar is a more intentional understanding of dungeon synth, and takes cues from Tyrannus, Xynfonica and Basilica Rift, among others. Here I use black metal vocals, loud EDM synths, and samples from Gravity Falls. The Xanthar album is one of my favorites. I think it’s very consistent and also very unique in its sound.

Lodge of Research is my Neofolk/Dark Folk/MIDI Folk project. Taking cues from Current 93 and the Legendary Pink Dots, I try to make music influenced by Freemasonry and other fraternal orders. The Mason’s aesthetic of esoteric Americanahas always appealed to me, and Lodge of Research allows me to explore more Western concepts of esotericism, as opposed to the Eastern esotericism of Poppet. I use slap bass samples extensively in this project, creating a more bass-heavy feel.

Celestial Cataclysm is my oldest continuous project, and probably the hardest to describe genre-wise. I take cues from doom metal, power metal, and thrash metal, but the music ends up sounding like neoclassical drone-doom, if that makes sense. My piano teacher often plays guitar when I play keys. The album Johnsonian Demos essentially consists of us jamming. I usually write out Celestial Cataclysm songs before I record  them, which creates more coherent choruses, riffs and phrases. There’s going to be a new album, possibly this summer.

Lastly there’s my Family Guy-themed DSBM project Petergeist. I feel like that description speaks for itself. All I can say is while the lyrics are jokey/ironic Family Guy stuff, the music is me trying to do black metal on GarageBand and creating a unique soundscape of arpeggiated guitars and typewriter drums.

And that should cover it!

…For now

CS: Holy shit. Yeah… I missed a couple. I have a bit of catching up to do. After reading that, I have two questions. First – is all of your music somehow conceptual? Do these projects all start with a concept in mind, or does it develop naturally? Did the Fishterbation choose you the way the Dungeon did? I love that band name, by the way – it’s like a hybrid of Monty Python and Frank Zappa.

ED: Yeah, my music is usually designed with concepts in mind, but often the music is just abstract with a certain mood. Often when I’m writing music, I choose to compile similar music together weeks, sometimes months, sometimes even years after the fact if they work together. As for the name Fishterbation: it was taken from a picture I saw on Know Your Meme of a cropped hentai comic that said “Fishterbation is amazing! Ohooooo!!!!” I thought that the name would be perfect because it suits the project’s irreverent, perverse, and madcap nature. Often when naming bands and albums, I will look at what I’ve done, or what is possible for me to do, and create something out of that.

CS: Secondly, even before you mentioned writing out the Celestial Cataclysm songs, I wondered how much of your music is improvised. Considering how prolific you’ve been, my guess would be that quite a lot of it is composed spontaneously.

ED: Aside from my Celestial Callings album as Poppet, most of my music is completely improvised. Even Celestial Cataclysm has improvised sections within the music. Often this improvisation helps me more fully engage with my creative process.  With Lodge of Research and Poppet, I will improvise the lyrics in a stream of consciousness: what I’m thinking, what sounds cool, what strikes a chord with me. In addition, when writing my music in my DAW, I may come up with a riff beforehand, but generally I will put it on the seat of my pants, and write music based more on feeling than forethought. Often this leads into me thinking “here would be a good place to put this.” It makes for an easy, fun, and interesting way to create music. I don’t consider Dungeon Synth a full-time career, but rather as a sandbox where I can spend my time honing my craft of sandcastlery.

CS: So then on average, how long does it take you to record an album?

ED: It depends, but I usually take two weeks. I generally make one or two songs per day, and there are usually songs that I have to cut because they’re not up to snuff, don’t fit with the theme, or just sound too far off. When I’m doing vocals, I’ll often have to wait so I don’t disturb my roommates The stars must align. I’ll sometimes work on a project, and sometimes I’ll record for fun. I’m always making music, which I believe is the key to honing one’s craft.

CS: I’d like to back up a bit and ask about this stream-of-consciousness approach to lyrics. Since all of your projects have specific themes, how does that work? I expect it would be fairly easy to do that with Family Guy, but stream-of-consciousness lyrics about Western esotericism?

ED: It depends, truly. With Poppet, for my Mastery of the Arcane Crafts album I read a lot about Luciferianism, especially Michael W Ford. I’m not a Luciferian, or even a Satanist in general, but his philosophy was a lot more coherent and less “edgy for the sake of being edgy” compared to a lot of Satanic stuff I’ve seen. Reading his books and grimoires helped  me find subjects to talk about. I would improvise lyrics about Egypt, demons of light, and other wholesome topics.

A lot of my music is based on impromptu rhymes, both in the music itself and when I’m singing, I’ll look for a word that is both on topic and fits best in the situation. It’s unlikely when writing Lodge of Research or Poppet that I’m going to start singing about Family Guy, for instance. For my split with Orqestria, I based my song on the Six Yogas of Naropa, a series of practices based on attaining enlightenment in Buddhism. While the lyrics were improvised, I read about the practices and the series in which they are performed, so I could have a proper song.

I’ve considered writing lyrics out beforehand for Lodge of Research because Neofolk is so dependent on lyrics. When working on that project, I’ll generally be more personal and have a very direct stream of consciousness, sometimes bringing myself back to the topic but generally focusing on my moods, emotions and ideas. With Poppet and Fishterbation, I can probably just scream over a track without words and make it work, but Lodge of Research is a lot more difficult. When I cough on a song, I will often work it into the song rather than doing it over, as in I will make the cough the sound of me dying, transform it to laughter. This allows for a more organic and honest  sound, which is generally what I strive for in production.

CS: I remember those coughs – it actually made me pause for a moment and wonder ‘was that deliberate, or did he just happen to cough and then keep it?’ Anyway…you mentioned your DAW earlier, so let’s talk gear for a minute. What does your setup look like? Has it changed much since you started releasing your music?

ED: My setup has mostly remained the same, with a few changes. I made my earliest music as Poppet with the Musical Typing setting on GarageBand and recorded over myself playing. I continue to do this, but ever since Cosmic Cacophonies I’ve been experimenting with adding effects to my samples to create unique sounds. This usually amounts to more reverb and added ambience. I think it creates a better, roomier sound. Starting with Cosmic Cacophonies, although regularly on Future Tense to Fever Dream, I’ve been using an Oxygen 49 keyboard. It’s a MIDI controller, so I’m still using GarageBand, but it has allowed me much more range and control, with the pitchwheel and its fluctuations, to create a more surreal sound. I haven’t used it as frequently, as I’m not in my apartment too often, so I feel like I have more of a grasp on the musical typing feature. Starting in 2018, I have occasionally used my Korg Kaoscillator as a drum machine. This is most evident on Dungeon Dub, which is one of my favorite albums. I’ve also felt more confident in doing drum programming as of late, and I’ve managed to make guitar and drum mock-ups on GarageBand by experimenting with plug-ins, EQ, and reverb. My dad is a professional sound engineer, and I admire his craft, but I tend to prefer an atmosphere to coherent and clear production. In addition, my album Carnival of Contemplative Chaos primarily uses my CTK-2400  Casio and its settings, and it won’t be the last Casio album. I hope to record a power electronics album with it, as well as a black metal album using it as distortion. Over the time I’ve made music, I’ve become more confident in musical production, although by no means am Ia professional.

CS: You actually managed to make something coherent using musical typing? That’s kind of astonishing – I’ve tried using it, and I ended up getting hella frustrated because the lack of responsiveness made it damn near impossible to stay in time.

Between your various projects, you’ve had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 releases – that’s a lot of music. If someone came to you and said ‘I want to check out what you’re doing, but I have no idea where to start,” what would you tell them? What do you consider to be the ‘essential’ works of the Entropy Deity?

ED: My secret to using musical typing is that I don’t really use time or metronomes all that frequently. As for my albums I have some certain favorites:

I would recommend (from most accessible to most challenging):

At the Feet of Reality…The Court of Madness – This is my most traditional dungeon synth album. It’s still weird, but I set out to make a coherent album with a coherent song structures. If you like DS mini-film scores or RPG soundtracks, this is probably the Poppet album that comes closest.

Western Wizards and Eastern Ascetics – Split with Skull Bearer. This album is one that I think came out really well and would be a great entry point as Skull Bearer and I complement each other’s noisy and dissonant, GarageBand-dominated sounds well, in an engaging way.

Future Tense – One of my most personal albums, but also one of my most accessible. I use synthwave and minimal synth elements to create a futuristic soundscape. Recommended for people into horror synth. It’s very weird, but I feel  its weirdness adds to its charming and personal nature.

If you like Future Tense,  WageMage’s Meta-Tations is also  one of my personal favorites.

Infernally, I Wander – One of my most out-there albums, but it has a heavy focus on songcraft and consistency. On this album, I draw from Avant-folk and Neofolk,  to create a very rustic, surreal feel. Recommended for getting into the weirder side of Poppet.

If you like Infernally, I Wander, check out Lodge of Research, a similar attempt at folky free-improvisation, but this time with more vocals and more active influence from neofolk and neoclassical projects.

Mastery ov the Arcane Crafts – My most “black metal” album, and  one I really enjoyed making and mastering. The vocals are my standard black metal vocals, but complemented by distorted dungeon synth instrumentals. It’s one of the most unique atmospheres I’ve created, and a good entry point for people into black metal.

If you like MotAC, I draw from similar influences with Fishterbation, which would be a good way to examine my noisier side.

Dungeon Dub – Dub Reggae mixed with DS and black metal-type atmospheres. It has to be heard to be believed.

Enter…the Numinous Realm –  My first album, and also one that has resonated with fans the most. This album was created as an attempt to make French-style, spacey Les Légiones Noires black metal like Mütiilation, and it didn’t really turn out how I wanted. Regardless, I feel like the album is a surreal, strange, and utterly bizarre experience, and one with epic and theatrical moements.

If you like EtNR, check out Xanthar. A lot of the themes are similar (Lovecraft and Gravity Falls), and it attempts to create just as bizarre an atmosphere.

I wish I could recommend more, but I feel like I’ll be here all day. These albums are ones I tend to revisit quite often, and the ones that have struck the strongest chords with people.

CS: So that’s…seven albums with a couple of sub-recommendations. Seven is a good number – let’s stick with that. Imagine that same person came back to you and said ‘dude…what the fuck?’ What seven albums would you recommend to help them wrap their heads around what you’re doing?

ED: Oogh, that’s a toughie.
Seven albums that inspired me are:

  1. Xynfonica – A Feast for Famished Ravens – not for the faint of heart, this is a dungeon synth operetta about Vikings and the Zodiac. With croaky black metal vocals over jazzy synth guitars this album is a Pollack painting brought to life
  2. Aniroe – Alef Mem Shin – this is dark ambient black metal, music that is inspired by Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism in general. It was one of my main influences for the original Poppet.
  3. Konjuro’s Keep – S/T – A great MIDI DS album by a good friend of mine with strange sounding synths, angular and bizarre movements, and a surreal, sword and sorcery atmosphere.
  4. Nazgûl – Die Expurgatione Elfmuth – A candidate for my favorite black metal album of all time. Goofy synths, bizarre vocals and serious riffs doing the fusion dance together and creating an incredibly catchy, quirky and epic album.
  5. Mistveil – Drunken Voices Echoing through the Trees – some really well put together dungeon synth with black metal vocals. If you want to see an album with a similar black metal/DS vibe, but with a more accessible production style, this is your choice; it’s some great stuff.
  6. Basilica Rift – Through the Unknown Rift – mysterious, heavy and challenging music with historical themes. It gives the feeling of black metal without being black metal at all.
  7. Finally, an album people might have heard of: Thunder Perfect Mind by Current 93 – this is the album that most influenced my Lodge of Research stuff, really beautiful, atmospheric and sombre neofolk. Sometimes when listening to it, you feel like you’re in the clouds; other times, you’re in the 7th pit of Sheol.

CS: This is starting to be novella-length, so we should probably wrap things up. Western Wizards and Eastern Ascetics, your split with Skull Bearer, came out on May 7. Since you’re never quiet for very long between releases, what’s next for you? Anything in progress that you can talk about yet?

ED: Over the summer, I plan to record an entirely solo piano Celestial Cataclysm album. It should be a fun and interesting experience. I also have plans to record a second Lodge of Research album, a third WageMage record, a split with WageMage and Edge of Decipher, a black metal split with Poppet and Realms of Isolation, and possibly a black metal concept album about the Beat Generation.

I’m going to go by the seat of my pants, really.

CS: And finally…where did the name Poppet come from? I know the whole British term of endearment usage from Mrs. Doubtfire, but there’s something about applying that sentiment to your music that creeps me the fuck out.

ED: The term Poppet, as I use it, refers to a doll used in folk magic. Think the English equivalent of what is called a Voodoo doll – an herbal figure used to cast spells, be they curses or blessings. For my themes, mostly curses. As a fan of folk horror, paganism, and occultism, I feel the word “poppet” captures a sinister yet crude atmosphere. After I finished writing my first song, “A Ritual Most Foul,” I decided to choose a name and considered Beelzebub, Priapus, or Phallus, but there were already bands with those names. I wanted to reference something obscure. I ultimately decided on Poppet for the rustic, occultic and evil vibe affiliated with it. So I guess that’s why you’re creeped out by it. There are similar figures in Tibetan cultures, which helps me connect my music with my Buddhist obsession.

CS: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artist – anything else you want to add?

ED: Thank you so much for having me! Thanks go to the dungeon synth community who have supported and befriended me, including but not limited to: Andrew O, Daithi, Izaac, Nan, Justin M, Louise and ZH Syle, Obsculta, Kieran, Tony, Jordan, Jesse, Knut, Chad,  Ed, Yuval, Daniel, Christopher R, Jacob, Josh, Shane, Nick H, Sean, David R, Keegan, Silu, Adam and others who I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

Keep Dungeon Synth weird and stay numinous!

 

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