Italy’s Black Oath is a band that I feel haven’t really got the attention they truly deserve. Their 2013 release “Of Qliphoth And Darkness” was a fine piece of melodic doom metal, gaining a lot of playing time at my house. The band’s new album, “To Below And Beyond” was released on CD-format last month, and shows a more diverse sound, keeping the best parts from the past, and adding some new and fresh elements which give even more diversity and dynamics to the songs. Vocalist and nowadays also bass player A. Th gave us a pretty interesting update on the band.
First, let’s travel back in time to your debut album “The 3rd Aeon”. How do you view this release today? What would you name as the main strengths and weaknesses of that particular album?
-We think “The 3rd Aeon” is a good debut and we still play songs during our shows of course. I guess we can consider “Death As Liberation” and “The Black Oath” as classics for the band by now. They work very well when performed from a stage. Of course as of now, I would like to change something here and there, but most importantly, the album shows what Black Oath was back in time and it contains a very dark mood. We are still proud of “The 3rd Aeon”.
The things about it that you would like to change, Do they have to do with the songs or the production?
– I think the production is fine, not the best perhaps, but I can’t complain too much. That being said, I think we could have worked a little more on the arrangements, but it is something that is easy to say now when our way of composing is more mature.
Moving on a little bit – how satisfied are you with your second album, “Of Qlipoth And Darkness”? Were there things about this release that you set out to improve with the new album?
– This album is the right continuation of the first one and it contains other great songs which are part of our setlist nowadays too. “Of Qlipoth And Darkness” is better arranged and performed compared to the debut, but I think we could have worked a little more on it. The vocals are the weak point in my opinion. I should have worked more on them, but we had some troubles during the recordings. We used two different studios as the one where we started recording was soon to be closed. We did the whole album in a little hurry. I consider it half a step forward compared to the previous album, and it certainly prepares the listeners for the next step, because just like in a horror movie, at this point in time, the worst is yet to come…and its name is “To Below And Beyond”.
If I am right, the new album, “To Below And Beyond” is a concept album. Do the songs tell a story from start to finish? What functions do the intro and the instrumental piece “Sermon By Fire” have in the story?
-The whole album is a concept yes, from the beginning to the end every song describes a part of the process, the research, the experiment and the spiritual failure of men. It starts with “Donum Dei” which is supposed to be the goal, the formula which the alchemist is looking for. The whole first part of the album is about the research “within”. Then we got ”Sermon By Fire”, with its dark feeling it’s perfect to represent the moment of decadence and the fall into the abyss which leads below. Anyway, there is a sentence in the booklet which describes the whole album concept perfectly.
As far as I understand, alchemy is the main theme of the album. Are you familiar with the Norwegian band Magister Templi and their approach to lyrics about alchemy? Why is this theme so well suited for writing lyrics for metal bands?
– I know Magister Templi just by name, and to be honest I don’t know that much about their concept. This is the first time I write an album about alchemy, I got the idea after reading some books on the subject. I needed something very deep and interesting to fix the words with music, as I think “To Beyond And Below” in itself is a real crescendo of emotions, just like an experiment needs to grow up to the final result. About trends, aren’t witchery and Crowley the main theme for all so called occultists nowadays? I am not updated it seems…
How would you describe the concept of the album for those of us who just have basic knowledge about alchemy and its history?
– The gift of God (“Donum Dei”) becomes the art of the devil (‘Ars Diaboli”) through the hands of men. In fact, this is the sentence I referred to earlier. For those who want to learn about alchemy, they should better find some books, I just made an album and described a story in few songs.
Do you think it’s necessary to have knowledge about alchemy to fully understand and enjoy this album?
– Some sentences or metaphors might need a little knowledge to be understood, but as I just said, a book is probably the best way to learn. Those listening to the album should just relax, turn off the lights and enjoy the whole album with the right atmosphere. It will capture your mind and soul.
What separates Black Oath from other bands dealing with similar, or related subject matters? Occult rock is rather trendy nowadays, and I guess it’s safe to say the approach from many bands seems rather calculated.
– You must remember that we did this before this whole new occult rock trend started. I remember there was only The Devil’s Blood and few others at that time. We traded stuff with them since the beginning and only later, when The Devil’s Blood became famous, every musician and every band turned out as “occultists”. They then grew their beards and started dressing like Elvis or The Beatles to look as old school as possible. Most of them have words like “witch” or “ritual” in the band name, and as soon as they find the right bitch to act as front woman, the game is done. We have nothing in common with these bands! We have a totally different approach with our music.
Why is “Below And Beyond” a fitting title for the album and the concept?
– The title simply describes perfectly what I wanted to tell with lyrics. I had no idea what to call the album until one day this title suddenly came to me. In my opinion, it’s so perfect and mysterious!
What kind of challenges do creating a concept album bring, compared to writing an album with songs that are not connected lyrically or musically?
– I can talk for myself only, but the hardest part is to fix the lyrics with the music and to arrange the songs in the best possible order.
You label your music as “cursed rock musick”. Does “cursed” refer to the music or the lyrics, or both?
– Let me tell you something! This is the question I have waited for for a very long time, but you said it all already. We have so many superstitions here in Italy and some old bands are well known because they are supposed to bring bad luck, at least that’s what people say. Stories like people dying, or their lives getting worse day by day and so on. Let me tell you, we know many people already saying the same things about Black Oath. So after all, maybe it is not a coincidence that we played our very first show on October 31 and that a guy we knew hanged himself the same night. It seems we will continue this tradition.
Is it also a matter of trying to distance yourselves from doom metal?
– Yes, we also want to keep some distance from “doom”. Nowadays everything is doom, epic or psych. Our wish is to be free to play the way we want and need without hearing people complain because we do not slow our music down with each new album we release.
Did you feel that you fit in on the bill when you played at Hammer Of Doom recently?
– We fit well in on every kind of festival or gig, no matter if it’s death, black, heavy or doom metal. We got anything in our music: passion, melody, aggression and madness!
You have already said that this is the first time you are 100 percent satisfied with an album. What makes you sure it will stay like that?
– We worked very hard on every song and this time we also composed with two guitarists. It helped us a lot in creating the right atmosphere and mood. We never left the studio until we had recorded every little detail, be it a single keyboard, a vocal line, some drums fills or a guitar melody. It is perfect for us! Let’s see if we change our opinion in the future, if so, it will only mean we have made an even better album..so beware!
With the new album you seem to be open to incorporating a lot of different influences in the sound of Black Oath. Did you put any restrictions on yourself, or was simply everything allowed musically?
– We never had any restrictions, but we are better musicians and composers now. It’s easy to hear this during all of the album’s 55 minutes. All our past works are perfect for the time we made them, and we have no regrets at all. That being said, we have been listening to music since we were very young and now that we are over 30, it is just natural for us to express all kind of influences. In fact, they are not only musical. My personal passion for esoterism is clearer than before and also our passion for horror, be it literature or movies. The intro “Donum Dei” would be perfect on a horror soundtrack. Anyway, I am sure someone will complain about the greatness of this album, but this will only be further proof we just made our masterpiece.
You have described the creative process the lead to this new album as the most intense you have done. Intense, mainly in a mental or physical way?
– Both for sure! It took us two years to finish the compositions and it was a very pleasant, but also stressful period. We arranged and re-arranged the songs until we found the right mood. The lyrical themes took a lot of my brain energy too, but the end result is worth every drop of sweat and blood.
Judging from how you describe the process and the time and energy you have invested into this album, you seem like a real perfectionist working on your own music?
– You know, we all have regular jobs and sometimes it is very hard even to find time for a rehearsal session. This is very sad, but at the same time its what the reality is like. Anyway we did anything we could to make an hell of an album, taking care of everybody’s opinion and working as a real cursed team, except one member that is, but he is no more part of the band.
I guess you are referring to Paul V. Did he leave the band during the recording? Is it his or your bass playing we hear on the album? Is singing and playing bass on stage very different to singing and playing guitar?
– I won’t go into details, as he really doesn’t need space in this interview. I played most of the bass on the album, and also on the previous ones, but never put my name in the credits. In fact, I find it harder to play bass than guitar when I have to sing, mainly because I really love playing this instrument and sometimes I even focus more on it than I do on the vocals.
My first impression was that the album was considerably less heavy than the first two, but having listened to it many times, I understand it differently. It’s still heavy and doomy in parts, but the contrast between these parts and the calm and beautiful passages are more distinct than ever. Was this type of dynamics important for you?
– This album needs many listens, at first, it might seem to be less heavy or doomy, but once you feel the real mood, you can’t stop finding details and hidden melodies which captures your attention. What you think is too soft, becomes darker the more you pay attention on it, and what seems to be too melodic just becomes creepier. That’s exactly the kind of music I love.
I remember you being very happy about the fact that I called this new album “original” in our first conversation. Was it important for you to create something different, something that sounds fresh and exciting?
– The fact is this, the album really is something different! I can’t understand those who still try to compare our music to Candlemass or Pentagram or more recently… Ghost! Seriously, I am saddened when I read bullshit like that. We have our own scene, and still reviewers try to find the “band of the day “ to compare Black Oath to. I am pretty sure it is because of their lack of knowledge about music.
What do you mean? That reviewers should not compare your music to other acts at all? Very often people need to have an idea of how something sounds to know if they should check out the band or not.
– Oh no, a comparison is needed sometimes, but at least let it be the right one. I recently read we sound like Ghost. They’re nice guys and a good band but .. no thanx!
The vocals are very central in the sound of Black Oath, and on this album they seem to be pushed more to the forefront than ever. Is this due to the fact that you feel you have improved as a singer to such an extent that it can now be brought further forward in the sound, or are there other reasons?
– I don’t consider myself a good singer, and these are probably the only songs I can sing, but that’s okay. This is what Black Oath needs. We made some changes in the band so now I can express myself better, and as I’ve said before, we worked really hard on every vocal melody this time.
Black Oath has always been a band carrying a dark and weird atmosphere similar to bands like Death SS, Black Hole, Absysmal Grief and so on…As Italy also has give us masters of horror like Fulci or Argento, do you think the ability to create such an atmosphere is cultural thing rather than pure coincidence?
– Sure, Italy is the creepiest and darkest place to be when you look to find inspiration for both music as well as movies. I am glad you noticed it. Thanks for this interesting interview!