PTAHIL: "Death is the Gateway"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Who or what is PTAHIL? The answer is twofold and part of it lies deep in the obscurity of antiquity.

Ptahil is pronounced "fet-a-hill" and is the name of a god worshipped by the Mandeans. This Middle Eastern faith is little remembered by the mainstream today, but in its time was considered a revolutionary religion. Ptahil himself was created by the Mandean god of light Abaddon, with the sole purpose of inflicting chaos and unease on the world of man. Ptahil's task was to keep the world from being "too perfect". He was the darkness to Abaddon's light, but instead of being despised like Satan was by Christians, the Mandeans realized he had his place in the scheme of things.

The name was not chosen randomly for the band Ptahil, hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Like the god they take their name from, members Jeffrey Mhaghnuis and Luathca feel it is a duty to celebrate the darker things in life. As you will read in the interview that follows, they embrace the concepts of death and sickness as being intrinsic to man's nature. They embody the darkness of chaos and death in their extremely heavy and barbaric death metal. One listen to their newest album "The Almighty Propagator of Doom and Despair" or its predecessor "For His Satanic Majesty's Glory" and you will feel their conviction. Very few bands in the extreme metal scene are able to create the authentic rawness that Ptahil does.

I spoke to drummer Jeffrey Mhaghnuis recently about the intense music and philosophy of Ptahil and found out first hand these guys are dead serious about what they are doing. This is one of the most extreme...and extremely interesting...interviews in Wormwood history.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Ptahil is a relatively new band. How about a brief history? Were you guys involved in any previous projects?

JEFFREY MHAGHNUIS: We actually released something in 2009. Me and Luathca had jammed here and there, but those recordings were just me doing everything. He was involved in the band Fog before and also Hordes of Lunar Eclipse, which he is still involved in as well as the band Lurking Corpses. I've played in Typhus, Malign Starfist, Warkult, Harvist and I'm currently drumming for Demonic Christ.

WC: Well, it ain't your first time in the rodeo, that's for sure.

JM: Oh no!

WC: I wanted to find out more of the meaning behind the name "Ptahil". I know it's an entity from Middle Eastern mythology. Maybe you can explain a little more behind why you chose the name...

JM:  Well, it was taken from the Mandean cosmology. They believed in an idea of the light, the untouchable essence of God. From that emanation came Abaddon, who was the creator of the world of light. But he believed the world was too perfect, so he created Ptahil. Ptahil was ordered to create the world of darkness to torment mankind. And from the stories I've read about it...I'm not claiming to be an expert...but from my interpretation, it seems almost like Yin and Yang. The god of light yearned to create the god of darkness, because he wanted the world to have more turmoil. Ptahil created that turmoil because it felt turmoil was right for humanity.

WC: Like we are fellow creatures of darkness...

JM: Yes.

WC: Regarding the title of your new album, who exactly is "The Almighty Propagator of Doom and Despair"? Is it God, Devil, man or the band itself?

JM: It's our yearning as human beings to reproduce ourselves, it's our yearning to remain trapped in the prison of flesh, the yearning of the penis to puncture the wound of the vagina and create more disease upon the world, that disease being mankind itself.

WC: We're getting pretty close to the tipping point as far as population goes.

JM: Yes, yes. We believe life is a prison.

WC: I always thought a body of flesh was something that kept you anchored in time and space. When you escape that prison, those concepts would no longer have any hold on you. That's my personal take on existence.

JM: It sounds very good, it feels very right., definitely.

WC: When you casually read the band's thoughts, it seems your philosophy is kind of a cosmic death worship. Not to be too much a joker, but if that philosophy works out to its ultimate, your record sales would be pretty low. (laughs)

JM: Well, you know, people should definitely find their own path. We believe that wholeheartedly. I don't believe in setting myself up as a priest or a god or anything like that. Creating something that means something to other people, that's the thing in life that gives us spark and gives us meaning. Everyone lives their own life the way they do, but we don't feel that we should lie to people. There are good things about life, but if people see the prison that's around them, they'd be more willing to break those walls down.

WC: That's close to the Tibetan philosophy. They seem to be very comfortable with the concept of passing on, whereas in Western society it seems to be brushed under the rug.

JM: Yes, yes, death is the gateway. It's not anything to be feared. I will never claim that I know the answer to everything, but it's nothing to be feared in my opinion.

WC: I'm not really afraid of death, but I'm more afraid of being miserably sick in the period preceding it.

JM: Within Ptahil, Luathca is the real survivalist type. He and our roadie Coyote will just go out into the woods. They sleep in wooden cots with no heat. As far as I go, I'll sometimes deliberately do drug overdoses or purposely get myself sick or get food poisoning to get myself into a miserable state for rituals before writing new material or new lyrics. Sometimes we will push our bodies to extremes. It is what it is. If you're going to write songs about pretty flowers, then pick flowers. To us, we're just being realistic when we write about death and the weakness of flesh. It's our own morbid fascination that helps the creative process. (laughs)

WC: Well, Native Americans would usually push themselves to extremes to leave the body. The sweat lodges, fasting, even self-mutilation. So what you're doing is not a new concept.

JM: No, it's not, it's not at all. I think it's a concept that's definitely missing in modern society.

WC: If you want to experience a state of misery, they're hiring right now where I work. (laughter) If you want to live in a spiritual wasteland, that would be a good place to start.

JM: There is a lot of misery now!

WC: People have never had more but at the same time, they've never had less.

JM: Exactly, exactly. That's a very good way to put it.

WC:  I'm not rich, in fact I'm pretty broke, but yet I have access to things in my everyday life that the kings of antiquity never had. I can flip a switch and have light, I can have heat and running water, I can hear any music I want or turn on entertainment.  And yet, the people were more spiritual when they didn't have these things.

JM: Yes, I do agree with that.

WC: It seems the idea of chaos plays a big part in your music. You often seem on the edge of totally going off the rails. How important is the concept of chaos to you?

JM: We really wouldn't be Ptahil if it wasn't there. It is nothing we plan, it's nothing we seek out, it's how we are and how it comes out through the music.  That is one part of ourselves that does come out in the music.  We have to work regular jobs to support ourselves, which is very constraining. So this is our way to break the chains.  I don't just play the drums to make a good beat. I am internally breaking my chains when I play. I try to physically destroy myself and it's the same when Luathca does the vocals and plays the guitar. It's trying to rally your mental facilities into a state of euphoric rage.

WC: Would you say the songs are spontaneous?

JM: Yeah. When we recorded "Almighty Propagator...", we also recorded another album that we're getting ready to lay the vocals down for.  In the midst of recording all that, we started writing more material...we have two more albums that we have to track, now. Materialwise, we're into our fifth album now, but as far as the public's concerned, we're just getting our second one out. You don't want to write crappy songs, so Luathca will go off and do his meditation and rituals and put together riffs. We'll just kind of jam them out. I'm almost like the master arranger. We see eye to eye easily, so there's little disagreement on things.  Because I'm the drummer, I see what beats go with what riffs. And then I have my own rituals I perform.  The lyrics take the longest. We have a general idea of the mood of a certain song. If I don't know about a certain subject, I do my research and try to find anybody who's done rituals about certain things. Or I'll create my own rituals.

WC: I've always heard it's the intent that makes the difference in a ritual, not the actual content.

JM: It is. Very much so. It doesn't have to be this ancestral thing. There are things we see from today's world that inspire us to do ancestral rituals. There's a rape case from my hometown of Steubenville in the West Virginia/Ohio area. Are you familiar with it?

WC: Yes. It seems to be the usual case of the community rallying around the athletes accused of the rape.

JM: Yeah. Anonymous people are getting involved. I grew up in the area so I kind of know about what a shithole it is there. (laughs)  The material inspired by this is done. We had the idea of two songs that would be paired together and they would be opposite forces to each other. The songs are about Lamashtu and Pazuzu, which were opposite forces from the ancient Iraq area. Lamashtu was known as the perverter of chilldren, she took child from mother. Pazuzu was the protector of children, but how he protected them would be by creating famine and drought in the area where the child was molested by violence. So we are composing these two songs for a split we're doing with Rites of Impiety. Rites of Impiety are a black metal band, but they have their grind/death/political component.. It fits with the songs we're doing, which we relate to the Steubenville situation.

WC: With so much material written, can you see an actual progression in Ptahil from one release to the next? Is it a progression or tweaking what already works?

JM: Well, its kind of tweaking what already works. We're such fans of extreme music.  Definitely the darker side...we're not big Meshuggah fans or into Slipknot or anything like that.  It doesn't necessarily have to be extreme metal. It can be like the old anarchy punk stuff or industrial. Luathca, not so much, I will admit, but we have such a wide range of influnces that come out naturally with Ptahil. We'll always get better at our craft, of course, and we feel we've found our sound, so to speak. We will continue to tweak it and get better, of course. If we were going to experiment on this album, it would feel like we're TRYING to create something instead of bringing out something that's always been there.

WC: That's kind of a profound statement to make. Are you guys always going to remain a two piece or will you add new members to Ptahil?

JM: Yes, we can add someone, but the right person hasn't come along. We are actually in talks with a couple of people and they know what's involved. It's not just "hey,let's get together and jam", it's connecting with other individuals for a similar goal, to make the worship and spells that we do even more impactful and potent. We worked with a fellow, a local musician from around here, who never really played any shows with us. He felt very uncomfortable with outside things that we do involving the band. Those things deal with creating music, but not with picking up the guitar or writing a killer lick or something like that. He felt very uncomfortable and we seen it and we just kind of patted him on the head and let him go on his way. Good guy, but it didn't feel right. We've remained a duo since then.

WC: Do you consider yourself more of a studio band or do you play live?

JM: We play live.

WC: Is it controlled chaos or an ordered ritual? What's it like when you play live?

JM: It's always different. We're very much a band that doesn't want to duplicate our performances. You might get the same songs if you see us twice but you're not going to get the same atmosphere. Even in the next show, you may not see the same thing. It depends very much on what happens to us during that period. We're very much about taking energy from something we want to change in the world and instead of picking up a gun and shooting something, we do it through our music, we do it through our spells. It's harder to do it that way, but more beneficial. We feel more enriched with our connection to the forces that not only have a hand in the creation of this world but go beyond the level anything most people can comprehend. We feel it's a better way. It's more passionate to us.

WC: It's not like a surrender, it's more like an attack.

JM: Exactly! And when we attack, it feels like we're filled with electricity. It sounds kind of generic to say, but I can feel my arm hair standing up. It's something that's more's our god, it's our religion! It's what it's all about for us.  It's fantastic when other people can see it, but even if they hate us, that's fine.

WC: At least it's some kind of visceral reaction.

JM: And somebody's thinking, too. It's like they took the time to actually think outside the box. We don't want to be a fad, either. As soon as you become a fad, it's over! (laughs)

WC: I don't see Ptahil doing Gangnam style anytime too soon. (laughs) There was one song from the new album that I just thought was a total anthem and that was "Possessed By Death". That song was everything I used to like about the early black and death metal. What's the story behind that track? Was that just a desire to return to the roots of the scene?

JM: I guess you could say that in some aspects. It wasn't deliberate on our end. The riffs definitely have that feel, that conjuration. Lyrically, what I put into it was pretty much the praise of death. Not in a destroyer kind of way, but as a bringer of change.

WC: That's what the Tarot card for Death meant. It wasn't always a negative card, it just meant a great change.

JM: Yes, yes.

WC: Are there any books, films or authors that you draw inspiration from?

JM: Any and all, I would say. I'm 38 years old so I don't get where people say I can only read or listen to certain things. Everything pretty much inspires me.  Of course, we have our little bubbles we gravitate to, but I could throw you this big list.  Tomorrow, I might say, oh, I could have put 2 more authors on the list! Really, any and all religious disciplines are interesting to me, anything like that. Even the more non-traditional faiths like the Process Church of the Final Judgement. There are all these people in the Satanic community who say "Satan means this" and "here are these rules you must foflow". Gillis from Teratism...I highly respect this man...he recently said that it is basically the adversarial spirit. It's almost self-deification...not having a master.

WC: Question everything.

JM: Yes! Exactly, exactly.  For a Satanist to put a tag on us, I would almost rather tell them we were Christian. Just to piss him off. To be an adversary to them. But our goals are not Christian, you know? (laughs)

WC: I couldn't see any of your videos popping up at a Baptist jamboree...

JM: No. Though I will say, and I do believe this, that Jesus Christ was probably one of the first Satanists. Because he believed he was the Son of God and he was against violence, but the way his enemies...the Romans, the Jewish sects...dealt with him was very violent. In those aspects, I do really regard Jesus Christ as one of the first Satanists, because he was adversarial to the norm. He was an adversary to the status quo of the time. What has been carried out in the name of Christ, however, is really just power play.

WC: I have no problem with anybody's personal religion, no matter what they believe, but when it's organized into a church, it stops being about the religious or spiritual, it almost automatically turns into an economic or political organization. There wasn't one quote in the Bible where Jesus said "Build a gigantic world conquering church with enormous economic influence". Who knows what he might have really believed? How much it's become distorted down through the centuries, we'll probably never know.

JM: Exactly. This doesn't make me a Christian at all, though. But let me say this. This is where I go off on tangents, my friend.  I don't believe in following the herd. But there are aspects that are worthy. If people could just be cool with each other, it wouldn't be so bad.

WC: All faiths have a piece of the puzzle. The Buddhists believe in living in the moment, Islam has a lot of discipline, Christianity is charity...or should be.

JM: What Christianity should be and what it is are two different things. That's why I have trouble saying stuff like "kill all the Christians". Just as I wish to not be blindly judge, I also do not wish to blindly judge others.

WC: I can definitely relate to that...except when it comes to Gangnam style. (laughter) Or rap music. I'm never giving that stuff the time of day, I don't care what it is.

JM: You don't like the sound of clicks and whistles?

WC: No, but there's always one example of everything, even the stuff I hate, that stands out as an exemplar, as a defining example. Moving on, what was the last CD or release you got just because you wanted to check out the band?

JM: That's a hard one. Just for my own shits and giggles, I threw on Darkthrone's "Dark Thrones and Black Flags" and also Iron Maiden's debut.

WC: Along the same lines, what was the last performer you saw live just because you wanted to check them out?

JM: Again, I'd have to say Iron Maiden.

WC: That's one of the last big rock shows left to see on the planet.

JM: Yes, unfortunately.

WC: I grew up in the late 70's and early 90's and saw a lot of big shows. I guess you could say they were pretentious but I miss it. There's no equivalent in today's world.

JM: Oh, I agree! And I don't this it's pretentious at all. Those older bands wanted to really put on a show, so it was over the top. It's like superhero stuff, especially like Kiss. If the budget was there for us, I'd be all about doing firepots and that stuff. We've talked about doing side curtains in front of the amps, like scenery. We've got two different banners we take with us for shows, depending on the room we're playing. We're very much about that. The older bands took it as show, we take the "Church of Rock and Roll" aspect and bring it into our rituals. We actually get very angered if we can't light candles and incense at a gig. We usually light the incense anyway. I have a tendency if I'm really in a pissy mood, I'll grab a dead animal and throw it on stage. I don't care what it is. It's my own weird psychotic mental angst against the bar or something.

WC: I'm sure that goes over big with all the girls at Ronny McGillicuddy's Sports Bar.

JM: (laughter) We don't play places like that. While we're a live band, we're very selective. We won't even play Fort Wayne, Indiana any more. We played a couple of places and we know where we want to go back to and where we don't want to go back to.

WC: There's a big show coming to Chicago that I bet you would enjoy, the Cathedral of the Black Goat...

JM: I'll be there. I'll be drumming for Demonic Christ.

WC: Oh yeah! You will be there, I forgot about that. I hope to go. It depends on a few things. I've been to a few underground metal shows over the years, but never one where I thought there was a good possibility of somebody getting killed!

JM: (laughter) Well, I went to the second edition of that and there was a certain amount of craziness. It's funny, though, because in this day and age, an intelligent Satanist is more likely to be gentlemanly and courteous than an elderly Christian.Most folks were there to support and see the bands, but my girlfriend went to the bathroom to see a sex act happening. When the last bands was playing, the promoter and a couple of other people were cutting themselves up. The police were taking them and then bringing them back in because they were friends of the promoter. The cops were kind of like, well....(laughter) Everybody was like, no, it's cool! We're OK! It's all fine!

WC: It's probably not worse than the Chicago bars after the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs.

JM: Yeah, yeah. I can understand some people not wanting to get blood on them, but I don't think anybody cared. I was there and I didn't give a shit. My friend bled for the devil!

WC: Any last words for the faithful out there?

JM: Be yourself, be as happy as you possibly can be. Don't let anybody tell you what you should do or what you should think or who you should give your money to. Live your life. If you gotta kill people to make yourself happy, then kill people to make yourself happy.If you can be happy without doing that, then more power to ya.