Behind the Balaclava: On the Path of Decolonisation with Periodeater

I tend to be curious about an array of musical genres. From the free-flowing sounds of electric guitar in West Africa to the hollow vocals of Icelandic expressionism, there is always a story behind the music. Each artist is of a context (or more), and each of their songs show glimpses about it. The music that sticks with people the most is the most humane, with a message about the realities we face and how to push through them. To that end, I was invited by an old friend to peer into what really goes into his sounds and poetry. Behind the veil. Behind his Balaclava.

Sean is a childhood friend of mine dating back to the mid-’90s. I remember that I was five and he was only four at the time. We ended up going to the same Christian school together, carpooled together, built Legos together and even watched our favourite after-school cartoons together until our parents would finally get back home from a long traffic-strewn Los Angeles/Palmdale commute. How can we forget the countless trips to Disneyland, movie theaters and to get “melted moon” (aka pizza) from Chuck E. Cheese. However, sometimes life separates even the best of friendships for a time.

We sat face to face in what seemed like it had been literally forever since we last saw each other. Of course through Zoom. Sean from Thousand Oaks and I from Viña del Mar. A stark contrast of settings, mind you. Chile is now in winter, so I have my heater on in the apartment. Even make sure to drink some hot chamomile tea before we start. Then you have Sean who just got out of his pool, and is sunbathing during the Instagram call. To top it all off, he lights a cigarette, “I think I have always been interested in music, but I never really got into the performing aspect until I was like 17.” That is true. The closest he ever got to playing music was when we would air guitar with tennis rackets to the song ‘Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss me, Kill me’ by U2 numerous times. He loved Batman and I was always happy with being Robin.

He continues, “I used my sister’s guitar, and then went with it for a good while. Then I was like ‘nah it’s too hard’. So then I thought maybe I should start with Guitar Hero or something. A friend then gave me some shit and told me to pick up a real guitar, and that I at least would get something out of it.”  That he did, as he further explains that as he was getting into playing, at the same time he was reading about the colonisation of the Americas and letting go of Christianity. “Playing music has just always kind of been a method to like just get the craziest shit out.”

So what shit is he seeking to get out, I ask. Is it frustration, joy or is it just expressing himself as an artist? There’s a brief pause as Sean wonders with his eyes and thinks for a moment. Now the California sun was starting to be a little too much. As he sits back to find what shade is available and gets more comfortable, he responds, “All of the above. I think to express yourself as an artist is to be vulnerable with your deepest darkness and highest high. So it’s like the ecstatic triumph of letting out some emotion. Full range, you know? But at first it was like that sad bullshit… existential woe of being someone that thinks about things. For example in what was happening in the world at that time and finding a purpose, a place.”

In regards to “deepest darkness and highest of highs”, it isn’t like death metal was on the cards back then. He was first really into disco, and boy did we dance a lot of disco with the signature finger pointing from the ground to the sky. Then other music rolled along such as classic rock, Weird Al Yankovic and the blues. 

Along with these influences he started to get involved with magic and the occult. To look into darker themes of existence. “It probably had a lot to do with going to a Christian school,” he adds. “I really was into worship because of the ritual in participating in music, and how that feeling made everyone high. So this feeling has always been around even when participating in music class at Desert Christian Elementary School. They put you in class to say, ‘You are now going to think about music’, which I hope young kids have now.” From there, the later influences to his trajectory were ‘90s Norwegian bands due to their political messages. “Like, if you are going to do music rooted from your ancestors then maybe you should exchange it with something political,” he adds. “So that influence is from some old school black metal bands.” 

With that being said, I try to see how it all fits into Sean today, now known as Periodeater. I wasn’t in the picture around the time of his big changes, yet this project didn’t feel alien to me. It didn’t feel confusing. It still made sense because even though the Sean I knew and the Periodeater I know now are opposites in a contextual way, I still saw the same friend deep down, but just with an axe to grind about helping to make a difference in this world in a genuine way. To help turn the tide against the struggles and inequalities fostered by the establishment. 

We turn our attention to his first album, Worth More Than Your Life. A one-man band, but with a legion of ideas… that sounds like Sean. We share a laugh as I read out loud the project’s description on Bandcamp: “A culmination of a magical working that began in October 2019 that came to fruition as social fissures opened up amidst a plague, while the world burned. It deals with the end, and possible new beginnings. What is old, and what is yet to come.” It seemed like a prophecy with the way 2020 went.

Most importantly, he thought of the name from the brush fire event that happened near Thousand Oaks in 2018. “Just how the fires can rapidly consume. It destroys, changes lives and creates life afterwards,” he explains. “The name Periodeater is meant to conjure fear and disgust in the minds of feeble cismen. It references a sacred communion with lunar deities, blood rites and specifically references the jaws of the underworld consuming the mortal existence of all living things. The name and themes are total subversion.

“The Worth More Than Your Life cover features a foreboding basalt statue of the Aztec mother goddess, Coatlicue, creator and destroyer of all natural aspects of the world. The entire album’s theme is primordial maternal revenge. On the other side, I was concerned about how the name would be received, but then I recognised that the visceral response it conjured in some people was an opportunity to make an impact through the symbolism. Not to mention, a rough look through the music pretty well shows we don’t discuss sexuality at all in our music unless it’s a metaphor for a communion beyond the material realm.”

Although Sean is not Mexican, he mentions that there were linguistic connections with his roots as a descendant of Nicarao peoples. “It’s kind of interesting how you link your Nicaraguan roots to this mother god in a way,” I begin to ask. “To me it kind of illustrates that there is this mother god feeling, idea or presence that I think is especially felt in the Americas. It shows how rich and precious nature is, the land, what you receive, take, or give back. In a way you are giving back to that spirit with what you are doing here.” Sean pops up from his patio chair, still in the blazing sun. “Trying to!” he exclaims. “The worship of summer represents that more specifically.” Still, not only is there this spirituality about Periodeater, but also a “feeling of immense frustration with revolutionary rage that just bubbles into the surface”, as he explains it.

Sean’s ideas can further be explored by diving into specific songs from the first album. On ‘Rifle In The Lake’, he had the idea of mixing Arthurian legend with a Mesoamerican decolonisation message. “So, coming off of the war sounds of the album intro, it is like a revelation that you are going into a lost grove of a sunken cave with water where your ancestors probably did indigenous sacrifice. So it’s like part mythical revelation and part stumbling upon Marxism *laughs*. Some people treat Marxism as anti-religious or anti-spiritual, when in reality the movement is actually very spiritual. To remember the struggle and to be excited for the revelation, which is the fast part of the song. Then the slow gravity of what the revelation means by just washing over you. ‘Rifle In The Lake’ is stumbling upon that revelation.”

Another example is ‘Armado’, which portrays a battle of sorts. As you listen you’ll feel like you are in one because you can so clearly picture it. There is a start, a call to be ready-in-arms, and an end where the battle is over, the echoes of war still reverberating in the background. It really paints a vivid image. Although the song is complex in its way, it is easy for listeners to imagine the intended setting. He was inspired by Chilean folk ensemble Inti Illimani and their track ‘El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido’, which has opening verses that are like a march. “There is a sort of reclamation about the literal willingness to fight and the necessity to unify the factions of anarchists and communists under the red and black flags,“ says Sean. “People need to get their shit done that way.”

Our discussion moves onto the album’s closer, ‘Crush Them’. Sean confesses that it actually comes from what Bill Gates once said about crushing Microsoft’s competition. Surprised, I jokingly ask if he wants this part off the record, but he clarifies: “The main idea is to put the mentality of someone with that kind of power into the average person’s mind. Like to give people powers so for when an average person recognises their necessity. The fact that they need to crush whoever stands in their way of what is preventing them from achieving their freedom. It sets a stage that we are already dehumanised by powerful people, so we have to crush them. There is no nice way to be like, ‘can we… can we please have a little bit of human dignity?’. Coatilcue represents the power of this endless momentum from the beginning of time, which is at the core of the album. To the people who continue to normalise sexual violence through extreme metal, the literal rifle-fire featured in the entire album is for you. Crush them.”

So, what is the overall message of the album that Sean wants to share with listeners? “The real hope is for them to find that mental space to connect with what has always been, and recognise their power to make what could be,” he tells me. “Whether you are indigenous or not it doesn’t matter. Obviously any trickle of indigenous blood that we have must be fought for and reclaimed against the colonial attitudes. We are so far removed from it.” 

Sean is currently doing artwork for artists under his Red Nebula label, as well as releasing ‘Lengthening Of Days’ (a cover of a The People’s Temple song). When asked about any future Periodeater projects, he answers that we should expect a second album by the end of this year.

Periodeater’s music can be found on Bandcamp.

Words: Einar Galleno

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