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Babylon Mystery Orchestra

In the light of the release of The Great Apostasy: A Conspiracy Of Satanic Christianity by Babylon Mystery Orchestra, we managed to grasp the opportunity to ask Sidney Allen Johnson, the one person behind Babylon Mystery Orchestra, some questions about the album, music and faith…

Door: Twan | Archiveer onder gothic metal

Well, for starters, I can imagine that there's people out there who have never in their life heard about Babylon Mystery Orchestra. Could you tell them yourself who and what they are dealing with?
Well, Babylon Mystery Orchestra is essentially a musical device for delivering ideas that I believe need to be conveyed to the world. Unlike almost anyone else out there the subjects of BMO songs and the lyrics are the centerpiece of the presentation. There are enough bands out there trying to show off what great musicians they think they are, with BMO the music serves the lyrics. If I had nothing to say I would not be making the records. I fear that if everyone else had the same attitude as I do towards music that heavy metal would cease to exist as, unfortunately, most metal bands have either no message to convey or they are simply repeating what they think everyone wants to hear. They conform to their percieved expectations of what their potential audience desires rather than trying to find their own audience. With BMO most of the subject matter revolves around religious themes, though not often with a positive message. I tend to stick with prophetic themes as that interests me the most.

Upon first hearing, your album, The Great Apostasy: A Conspiracy Of Satanic Christianity, it appears to be very anti-Christian in theme. Yet, delving deeper into the album itself and its lyrics and of course realizing that, in fact, you are Christian yourself, we notice its themed slightly different than that. How did you come to feel how you currently feel about the church?
I would have to say that it is a lifelong evolution of thought. I literally grew up in the church(Southern Baptist). Every Sunday until I went off to college I was there. So I was fully indoctrinated in that belief system, and it is a belief system that I more or less have come to accept as truth even as I have been considerably critical of the system that teaches it. The church, and this applies to any church in any religious system, inevitably acquires life of its own. As with all living things, survival and expansion become "prime directives" and the ultimate motivators of its agenda. Jesus said his kingdom was not of this earth but the churches definitely are of this earth. You don't have to dig very deep into church history to see that earthly concerns all to often dominate their agenda over spiritual ones. It was my intention with this record to try and put some perspective on what a church really consists of. Too many people view the church as some sort of extension of God, and they are worshipping the church itself. There is this sort of belief that abounds that the church is some sort of sanctuary from evil. The truth is the church is a target for it. Creating large buildings and meeting on a regular schedule makes it easier for Satan and his angels to keep up with, control, and influence the people they are out to decieve. Do you really think that Satan goes to a Deicide show? That would be the equivalent of carrying your fishing pole to the supermarket! Those people DO NOT interest him. They are fish that are already caught. In his mind you can believe any one of his millions of lies and he will be satisfied to leave you alone. Its those people who are seeking out the truth of God that he has to expend his energy on. And that requires him to go to church. Just whose idea do you think it was to build those buildings and meet on a regular schedule? The early church, persecuted by the state (and consequently Satan himself), had to meet in hiding. The devil is not omniscient or omnipresent. He doesn't know where you are unless he or his angels find you. Organization and a structured heirarchy is neccessary for him. Not for God. It helps him keep up with and control the churches.

band imageWith your album you once again, as your past works has shown, deliver a very strong message, even political. How has it been received by people? Have there been any negative comments?
There have been negative comments to be sure. You cannot present a point of view without antagonizing those who disagree with it. Thats why most musicians are true cowards. They desire to be liked so much that they dare not venture into subjects that are controversial or they simply hide their real viewpoints. They merely repeat what they think you want to hear. But in truth there are way more positive responses to the new CD than negative ones. In fact many people who didn't particularly like the record due to its not being of the type of metal that they prefer, still went out of their way to say good things about the message. There are a lot of people who appreciate a record that says something, by someone who really believes what they are saying. In many ways I don't know who the audience for BMO is or should be. Because there is a strong study of Christian theology here you would think that a christian audience would react well to it. And to be sure very many do, but I also encounter many who do not like the negative approach that I take. The Bible is "good news" to them and they don't want that viewpoint challenged. But challenge it I do. Many people who absolutely do not identify themselves as Christians, likewise love the CD and the music. I realize one of the quickest ways to turn off a metal fan is to describe something as "Christian." Many times I have read editorials and reviews where a writer will say that being anti-christian is actually a definitive characteristic of heavy metal music. That's nonsense, but many people believe it nontheless. That would ultimately make me more rebellious than the other metal bands out there just by going against that kind of thinking. There's an irony for you. Christianity as rebellion. Strange, but its actually what Jesus was officially put to death for in the first place. Ultimately there is an intellectual and spiritual depth to BMO that I am very proud of. I see the purpose of this music as something different than what anyone else is doing. Usually good things happen when you find yourself described as different from everyone else. When people like this music they are often very enthusiastic about it. I like that.

How do you see God yourself?
I am not sure what you mean here. I am probably the odd person in the heavy metal world that will actually stand up and say I believe that the God of the Bible is real and the Bible is his divine communication with us. I don't however feel like its my responsibility in any way to try to convince anyone else of that particular truth unless they are wishing to hear it. I know that in a forum such as this there is considerable hostility towards my point of view by a lot of people. Not by most but definitely by many. I also don't feel that the way this record deals with this subject is pushing the listener towards accepting Christianity as a philosophy. It does present another way of explaining what many believe to be the failures of the religion. The fact is, a lot I have seen in the metal world has actually proven the wisdom expressed in the Bible. Its one thing to sell your soul to the devil but I fear most in the metal world have given it away.....for nothing.

Do you hope to achieve anything with the release of this album?
I view the album itself as an achievement. Just bringing this into the world totally uncompromised by the outside influence of the current music scene is enough to satisfy me. It would be nice if all the attention that it has attracted would lead to a situation where I could get better distribution for it. If you are an artist, then the creation of the art has to be satisfying in and of itself. You cannot control anything else.I probably need to say that though I think this is an important subject for people of faith to consider, I do not consider Babylon Mystery Orchestra to be some sort of ministry. I see bands claim that a lot in Christian music. I am not on a crusade to save the world or anyone in it. If this music speaks to you in that spiritual sense I am happy for you, but I grow tired of seeing Christian bands claim they are recording and touring to win souls for Jesus. No they aren't. They are recording and touring because they like the lifestyle just as much as the other musicians do. They are doing it for themselves. It irritates me when such a band claims their music is a ministry. That seems a very self-inflating way to view oneself.

The Great Apostasy: A Conspiracy Of Satanic Christianity is a very complex piece of work. Aren't you afraid people will misinterpret it? Or even just throw away the album after one song?
The fact is that happens to everyone. I really can't concern myself with other peoples inability to properly interpret what I have written. In truth the interpretation entirely belongs to the listener reguardless of whether it is what I actually meant or not. I will not "dumb down" the messages just to make them easier to digest. This is music that has every intention of conveying an important message and I am quite proud to go into these subjects in detail. I realize that there are a lot of people that absolutely do not care about anything but speed. Just play it fast and who cares what the singer is saying. Growl something about Satan and lets call it Heavy Metal. But being stupid is no virtue and all music carries a message. Usually the message is a tribute to how stupid the performer is, and the audience who follows him. Heavy Metal has largely become a useless form of music do to the worship of this attitude. You can hide a lot of ignorance and incompetence behind a double bass drum playing at 200+ beats per minute. The fact that there are so many bands operating in this manner only encourages me to continue to be one who is different. There is way too much conformity in metal today and I do not like what everyone is conforming to be.The serious nature of BMO music will turn many people away, but it also draws many to it as well. This album does what every black metal album has failed to do. That is explain why Christianity has always been, in a very real sense, a purveyor of just as much evil as the secular world...if not more. It also has another message...Don't throw out the God with the church that failed him.

band imageHow is it to work completely alone on something of this magnitude? Isn't it hard that you don't have a group to 'bounce' ideas on?
To be honest, I don't think subjects this deep can be dealt with in a "band" situation. Not unless it is a true dictatorial band with one leader and therefore, one point of view. This is that area where the difference between "artist" and "musician" becomes all important. You can't make artistic statement, or present a passionate point of view, by commitee. There has to be one vision and one goal. Thats not to say that I wouldn't, in some way, like to take this into a better studio with a bigger budget and see what I could do with it on that level. There would be some freedom for the musicians to work their influence into the music. I would probably add all sorts of bigger orchestral and choir elements too. But there would be no bouncing around of ideas. I am afraid that if I had that sort of situation that the sound of the music might drift to where it sounded more like some other bands. Sometimes the creation of a unique sound and style comes from the situation you work in. There is a reason why all the metal bands tend to sound alike these days. They all do things according to the same models. There is actually a lot of animosity in the metal world to the very idea of one man bands. Everybody worships the idea of the band as though it is sacred to the music. Well the price of that "band worship" is the creation of "least common denominator" music. The bands try to sound like what they think the audience wants them to sound like. They conform to the rules and expectations of the little subgenre of music they are playing. It's very compromising. No matter how many tattoos and piercings you drive into your flesh to look like a "tough uncompromising musician of integrity." When you look and sound like everyone else around are compromised. If you don't think so just pick up any metal magazine or go to any website and count the number scowling faces in the pictures, or the number of times bands describe their latest album as "brutal." They can't help themselves. Part of the allure of working alone is the ability to make this a true artistic expression as music was meant to be. I don't like music where the musicians and their abilities are the star attraction. If there are words in the songs, then they are the primary window into the personality of a band, and a band should have a personality. There is more to talent than just your playing ability. There must be a purpose beyond self glorification. Its something that has been lost in all of metal's scowling posers.

Where do you get your inspiration, musically? I saw quite a few KISS pictures on your website. Big fan?
Musically I usually describe BMO as a cross between Black Sabbath and Sisters Of Mercy with a healthy dose of classic and doom metal. I really don't know how accurate that description is, but its a starting point. I have been listening to music for so long and I have so many CD's that there are just about too many influences. Blue Oyster Cult, the Doors, Manowar, Tiamat, My Dying Bride etc. I love the music of Therion and I think that is the best band in the world today. Without a doubt though, KISS has always been there. I have a huge memorabilia collection and I have seen them more times than I can remember. Well over 25 times at least. They represent rock music in its best form: pure fun.

I'm not sure if you have ever heard of them, but your music reminded me of Laibach, both in the fact of bringing forth a statement as the structure of songs, in an almost militaristic way of composition.
The militaristic nature of the music is quite intentional and I am glad you recognized it as such. As was detailed in the second BMO CD "On Earth As It Is In Heaven," it was a musician that was first shown the secrets of warfare. So there is definitely a link between music and warfare. (Strange that so many musicians claim to be anti-war.) I very much compose in an orderly manner so as to make sure the music enhances and projects the statements in the lyrics properly. When you make the lyrics the main focus of the songs and wrap the music around them it tends to sound very bombastic, which is entirely the point. Unlike other bands I won't ever let a musician overshadow the message. That would be like putting the plumbing on the outside of a house! It is totally foreign to my way of composing. Music is the servant of Babylon Mystery Orchestra...NOT the master. Other bands are enslaved by their own music and they don't even know it. Until I read the Review in Lords Of Metal I had never heard of Laibach. But after you compared BMO to them I had to check them out. So you will sell at least one CD for them! From what I have been reading they have been around a long time. I should have at least heard of them...but until now I hadn't.

Could you describe how the process of creating an album goes for you, from the early idea-stage to the final release?
I actually have an outline for the records well in advance of starting them. While I am recording one I am actually gathering ideas and assembling the order of the next one. I have ideas for many. I have already recorded three songs for the 4th BMO CD. It too will have a big theme behind it. But I am pretty sure that the 5th CD will be the first one that will not be a full conceptual piece. I ought to try that at least once! Once I start work on a new CD I like to go back and forth working on different types of songs. For example, I don't record two acoustic songs in a row. That's sort of to keep me from stagnating in one area. I also don't record them in the sequence they will be presented on the CD but that is probably not unusual. Usually I have some of the lyrics written before I start recording a song. But I always know what the subject of the song is about when I start. I do not just compose music and later try to stick something on it. I prefer to have the choruses worked out before I start recording but sometimes I don't. With BMO, I look at the packaging of the CD as very important. Thats probably the KISS fan in me coming out. I am very proud that all BMO CD's are packaged better than most CD's released by labels. I believe the booklet is an important part of the presentation and I always compose a lot of extra text to guide the listener through the CD. It acts as a libretto for the performance and I consider it essential to getting the most out of what I am trying to present. I realize that most people probably just want music and don't care about such things, but I do. I make them the way I would like to buy them. If I wasn't BMO, I would buy the CD's myself. I think that is an important attitude to have.

As Babylon Mystery Orchestra is you, I imagine it gets a little hard to bring your music to the audience in a live setup. Will you be trying to anyway, or is there no desire to bring your music onto the stage?
I would love to assemble a band for performing. I am sure that this material would make for an excellent visual presentation but it is something I would have to be careful with. I would definitely want to be more than just a band onstage performing. I believe some sort of elaborate theatrics would be essential. The situation for BMO would have to change for that to happen. But I am open to changing the situation for it. Having said that I am entirely comfortable if BMO stays just like it is. Music to me has always best been enjoyed through records. I always wanted to make records and now I am. There are people around the world, who do not know me, that are liking them. This is a reward unto itself. It would be nice to be in a position to take BMO to higher levels of notoriety but as I said before: " the creation of the art has to be satisfying in and of itself," and it is.

As a last question, do you have anything to say to the people out there?
I appreciate all the attention that is coming to Babylon Mystery Orchestra these days. I hope I have added something different to the world of heavy metal. Jim Morrison said 36 years ago that he could envision a time when one person would be responsible for making an entire record by himself. He believed the technology was heading in that direction. I'll go him one better: I think bands are soon to be a thing of the past. Finally the artists are in a position to take music away from musicians. The good news: music will be interesting again.

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