Checking in with the frontman amidst a transitionary period brimming with anticipation.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
For as bountiful as metal's contemporary renaissance has proven to be, there's a select amount that have stood above the horde of releases that arrive on weekly basis. Atlanta's Irist are among those who do just that, allowing their craft to develop organically as a byproduct of their boundless approach to composition. Their debut album, Order Of The Mind, arrived via Nuclear Blast Records on March 27th, 2020 — perhaps not what one would consider to be an ideal time given the sequence of world events that unfolded shortly after. Regardless, the album pushed through and persevered to become a trailblazer among the genre's newcomers that year, and rightfully so, with the ensemble that is Rodrigo Carvalho (vocals), Pablo Davila (guitar), Adam Mitchell (guitar), Bruno Segovia (bass), and Jason Belisha (drums) delivering an effort that exists at the sonic intersection heavy and progressive metal, sludge, and Latin-inspired flourishes that radiate with each passing track. In short, Order Of The Mind is a thrill ride of a listen.
With two years now passing since that exciting debut cycle, there's much reflection to be had as a young band with an acclaimed response to their initial outing, especially as they segue into their next chapter through the recently released Gloria EP (Nuclear Blast Records). When asked how the debut informed the band's creative process moving forward, Rodrigo mentions, "We developed a pretty clear process to writing after a lot of trial and error. It came up naturally. It is not a fixed set of rules, but we generally started with Pablo writing rhythm and guitars for 2 or so parts. I then added vocals and Adam also tipped in with more later. It was basically the same process for 'Gloria' except some songs had very little before the 3 of us sat together to think of ideas." Straying from structure certainly paid off dividends for Irist.
It's common for audiences to set expectations set high after a successful record, which can certainly create a sense of pressure on the band and its members to put forth something of similar or better critical reception. However, Rodrigo and Irist still implement their organic, free flowing process. "We have no control of how people are gonna receive our music," he says. "We can just hope they will like it as much as we will." If Gloria is anything to go by, there's no doubt that audiences will gather towards the sophomore release.
Like its full-length predecessor, Gloria sports a brilliant cover by way of the talented Alex Eckman-Lawn, an artist know for exploring a myriad of mental and personal issues through unique and surreal collage artwork. When looking back at what sparked their initial collaboration and what brought it back for the EP, Rodrigo recalls, "We found him by accident on IG and it was a case of love at first sight. We feel that musically, the songs in 'Gloria' are unique but they still carry some things from OFTM. It felt right to have similar aesthetics." The visual continuation is certainly something that many great bands across history have implemented, and with art as meticulous as Alex', Gloria came well equipped.
Like Irist's music, the art is certainly ambiguous and contains many layers, rewarding those with patience to let the material unfold. There's a definite commonality between Alex’ work and the band’s output, but it's one that Rodrigo leaves to the eye of the beholder, "I would almost rather have our listeners make these connections than claim it was a fully aforethought endeavor." The beauty of this is truly that the relationship between art and music will differ among the audience's eyes, becoming unique to the perspective of each person keen on diving deeper.
The multi-layered nature of the protagonist's mind suggests that Gloria is an act of introspection with the lyricism of course touching upon the contemplative state. Alex’ surrealism certainly explores that as well. "I would say it has depth, and yes, perhaps to fully perceive/experience the many layers in them, you will need to focus a bit, reflect a bit, and have some quiet time to digest it all," says Rodrigo. "We can’t forget that our music has some more straight forward moments as well. It is not all so deep." As noted, Gloria, and the grandiose Order Of The Mind, are certainly accessible for those who engage on a surface level, in addition to those who prefer a more in-depth sitting.
Scrolling through Alex' work-in-progress drafts of the EP cover highlight the level of investment that goes into the Irist's audiovisuals. The visual continuity that was mentioned earlier is far from guaranteed, especially as the band continue to explore new sonic and lyrical terrain, but one can argue that it helps solidify a definitive visual identity as they continue their ascent through the flooded metal ranks .
Gloria, like Order Of The Mind, details the human mind and how it shapes our reality through the arts, at least in my view. There's a notable visual bridge between the two covers, though both distinct in their execution. The lyrical direction, which bleeds into the visual direction, sometimes comes as a byproduct of one's lived experiences and a very direct intention behind the head songwriter. Irist stand as an insular band that write first and foremost for themselves, and letting the rest develop from interpretation.
"The way we write music is very organic. We don’t always plan things," mentions the frontman. "We have a direction and we follow it loosely. It is always the case that everything we do in life can be interpreted from the point of view of our unconscious mind. We let that speak as much as possible."
That said, Rodrigo allows for his appreciation towards the arts to inform his creative investment within the band as Irist continues down their path. He understands the critical role that play in the contemporary human experience, as one could tell having learned that the EP came to be as a means of dealing with pain and loss. For some, that’ll resonate. "It can be seen as a biological need for creative people. It can be seen as relief in a world that constantly asks us to be more and more efficient, machine-like people. I guess in the end, it will be what people decide it will." He continues, "Some people don’t seem to care too much about it, or maybe they just don’t realize the importance of art. What I know is I couldn’t live without it. I’ve tried it and it almost drove me crazy."
Gloria is as good as an EP gets, continuing the upper echelon work that Irist have come to establish as they inch closer to a highly anticipated next chapter with 5 massive tracks worth basking in.
Gloria is available now via Nuclear Blast Records (Order/Stream).