An ambiguous cover welcomes all to a menacing feat in the world of experimental metal.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
On August 12th, Chicago's Locrian released New Catastrophism, a monstrous multi-faceted being of drone laden experimental metal that came accompanied by the band's Ghost Frontiers EP. Each of the album's four tracks serve as a comprehensive journey soundtracked by dark ambient passages and boundless post rock that tells a tale of apocalypse, urban decay, and environmental destruction. It's far from an easy or accessible listen, but it's a rewarding one for those with the patience to dissect its wonders. It all starts with artist Trevor Paglen's vibrant infinity cube, which graces New Catastrophism's cover. What appears to be a mere cube is far from it, as you'll learn here today, and it successfully becomes one with the many elements injected within the sonic formula by Terence Hannum (synthesizers, vocals, tape loops) and co.
Dive into our conversation with Terence Hannum and learn more about New Catastrophism while seeing its previous design phases:
Several listens into ‘New Catastrophism’ and it’s clear that it’s a high point in the Locrian discography, which now enters a new chapter. Would you argue that this is simply a culmination of your growth as musicians and the camaraderie you’ve been able to build within the band over the years?
Terence: First thank you, we definitely feel that way. 'New Catastrophism' and 'Ghost Frontiers' are slight looks back at our past discography, but also a look forward to what we are doing and who we are – so yes, a culmination of sorts.
It must feel rewarding, I'm sure. Before one gets a chance to engage with the boundless nature of the record, we’re met by the work of Trevor Paglen. Is there something to be learned from the cover's simplicity? As we will explore here today, the central cube is far from one-dimensional, and I don’t mean that in the geometric sense.
Terence: I have long been a fan of Trevor’s work. He is literally a genius – he won a MacArthur Genius award – but his work has so many layers. Sure, it is a formal piece, a cube, but it's made of irradiated glass from the Fukushima reactor and Trinitite, the melted sand of nuclear test sites. It also has a lot of layers since it's crafted and then reinstalled within a reactor at Fukushima. This adds a lot of layers to me, of meaning beyond the object to the real environmental weight of nuclear power and waste, as well as the sense of something sinister and beautiful.
Without that context, many would've glanced past those layers. That said, where did you and Trevor find common ground when interpreting the music through the visual component?
Terence: Trevor and I are linked by our alma mater at the Art Institute of Chicago where we both attended. I always admired his work. He tends to deal with more overt political implications of the surveillance state but here I felt was his most overt environmental expression. Locrian is a very visual group, we essentially make mood boards of books and references. Visual art is very important to us. I reached out to Trevor after we had been sharing his work with each other and found out he was a fan and was really into working with us. It was such a great feeling to know this artist we admired was also into what we were into.
The cover certainly rewards those with the patience to engage and dissect this wondrous cube. Talking to you about it all is proof that you’re as invested in the art of Locrian, which is crucial to ensuring a cohesive release. Did you take anything from seeing the art evolve from concepts and ideas to its final version? Perhaps your viewpoint changed from engaging in conversation with Trevor throughout it all?
Terence: Every cover is different. From David Altmejd on the cover of 'Infinite Dissolution' (2015) or to Richard Misrach on the cover of 'Return to Annihilation' (2013), we love working with artists and forging new relationships and partnerships. I tend to let the art be the art and the design around it unfold. Chimiere Noir designed it and they are the in-house designers at Profound Lore. They really rolled with every idea, concept, and change. The final result is a very special physical release, which is essential to us. We’re all record collectors in Locrian, so the whole package has to be engaging and different. From UV spot gloss to fold out posters and interior flood prints, we just believe that the object has to be engaging.
Those who have already received their copies surely appreciate that level of investment. Looking back, what drew your interest in Trevor’s work? David Altmejd certainly left a high mark with ‘Infinite Dissolution’, but I’d agree that the diversification of your visual output is important as well.
Terence: I was drawn to his work because of Trevor’s politics and intelligence. I was raised on Sonic Youth albums as a kid and it set this bar high for learning, not just about their sounds BUT also the visual art from Gerhard Richter to Raymond Pettibon to Mike Kelley. These albums were special to me because of the art and how it expanded my visual vocabulary. I feel like it would be a disservice to not work with artists and respect their practice, be they Trevor Paglen or Sean Dack, Scott Treleaven or Justin Bartlett.
I want our listeners to find something, a trail of breadcrumbs to our ideas. David Altmejd for example was an artist I admired since his severed heads of werewolves full of crystals that confounded me. I tend to make lists of artists I think are interesting and weird and fit aesthetics I am compiling.
I'm curious to see who you work with next. Putting ideas down on paper and seeing them evolve into music and art isn’t always an easy process, but do you feel that it has gotten easier over the years? There’s a great deal of intentionality invested into every one of your efforts and it’s likely you’ve found it difficult at times to express exactly what you’re looking for.
Terence: For sure. Being an artist, I know how to handle other artists and their galleries and studios. I think with Locrian, we have a track record of respecting artists and their work, giving them the platform and space to represent themselves. We’ve only had a few things not happen, but we always get to a good resolution. No one has said no and we always come at it as artists ourselves. The album cover and art and design is very important to us.
It shows! Personally, I find Trevor’s cover to be quite accessible in that it allows viewers to develop their own narrative in conjunction with the record. Visually speaking, would you say that the goal here was to have viewers embrace ‘New Catastrophism’ as one comprehensive being rather than just another body of music?
Terence: Absolutely! We tend to hold in one hand a real concern for the environment but on the other, a twist that allows for what I call our sci-fi leaning. For every non-fiction reference to climate change, there are references to writers like Samuel Delaney or David R. Bunch or something that anchors it in speculative fiction.
Continuing on that point, is it cathartic in any way to see ‘New Catastrophism’ fully realized and now released to the public, especially with this being your first release in an eventful seven years?
Terence: Completely! It’s just great to get something out there but also something we really wrote thinking of the fans who’ve been with us for a while. Something that people who have known us a long time would appreciate.
In closing, what role do you feel that the arts play in today’s sociopolitical climate? As you know, art is more than art and serves as a spark for conversation.
Terence: I think it’s huge. Art has a way of telling us things we didn’t know. Art has this way of making us think and work toward critical thought to get out of our comfort zones.
New Catastrophism is available now via Profound Lore Records (Order).