Dissecting decades of thought through atmospheric metal.
The trilogy of Modernisme initiated by Catalan's FOSCOR now has a proper second chapter with Les Sepulcres Blancs, further exploring the cultural movements of yesteryear and applying them to life as it stands. Picking up where Les Irreals Visions (2017) left off, the atmospheric metal unit harness personal and global struggle for a record that displays an arrayed sonic palette. seamlessly merging sound elements for one cohesive listen. Though musically triumphant, the cover itself however hides pain beneath the somber and mystique of photographer Deborah Sheedy's work. This is a band requesting rebirth on all ends and with days having passed since the album's arrival, many will agree when one says that FOSCOR have hit that musical rebirth.
We talk to Joan of FOSCOR, photographer Deborah Sheedy, and illustrator Maria Picassó i Piquer for an in-depth look beneath the white veil fronting the wonder that is Els Sepulcres Blancs:
Since releasing Les Irreals Visions, much has happened on both a global scale and in your own personal lives. Do any of these external and internal factors affect the conceptual approach to the trilogy you began two years ago?
Joan: Must admit that some of the things we lived here in Catalonia during autumn 2017 have clearly affected the way I faced some lyrics and the topic development, but in general terms, everything was drawn before when we opened this new era as a band with “Les Irreals Visions”.
We speak of this album as part of a trilogy because its general concept responds to the 3 premises set from reinterpreting the end of the XIX century cultural movement so called Catalan Modernism in literature, son and evolution of Decadentism.
For those artists, a new balance and dialogue between the beyond and the here should be reached as far as they felt not belonging in a sick society so similar to what happens these days. A new attitude and sight over the world for which:
-Common things must acquire a new meaning
-Visual things, a new secret appearance
-The already known, the dignity of the unknown
Let’s say that watching and being part of a peaceful collective being beaten for voting, among many other traumatic things from then on (politicians in jail and a never ending pressure over an ideology, also disappointment for many things) had its consequences on me while writing the lyrics. We, as a band, have always tried to treat and deal with reality in a poetical way, using metaphors and so. We don’t deal with an objective reality, but the effects it generates on us, as humans.
So, each album, as a living entity is related to a moment of our lives, but in this case, all lead by a coherent speech which speaks of a social and cultural aim from the past which may be translated to our modern days with the same significance.
You’ve now released Els Sepulcres Blancs, the second chapter of said trilogy and it’s clear it represents an evolution in both sound and lyrical meaning. Was there something you wanted to achieve early on?
Joan: First of all, with the aim to confirm those tools defined before the previous album composition. In terms of music, we seek to achieve catchier songs and a way more personal language transcending the few traces from other references we still might have. This is the constant evolution a band must have for taking its language to the higher level.
We picked the most prominent moments from “Les Irreals Visions” as foundations and started composing almost 15 songs in demo level. We defined the 7 track list final collection and dressed the album with some additional decisions in order to get a much more timeless result.
The use of no distortion in the album for the very first time might appeal to other genres distant from Metal, which still was present in terms of production in the previous album. The roots of “Els Sepulcres Blancs” still are deep down in what for us is emotional music trying to use the universal music language, with no more boundaries than the spiritual ones. Any open minded listener eager for tragic tunes, dense and intense experiences should find something to connect with in the album.
Your music is strongly connected to that of the fin de siècle movement of Modernisme, encompassing many things as it involves turning the page into the beginning of a new era. What does this “new era” mean to Foscor? And why should one be hopeful for it?
Joan: It means the most global, coherent and solid stage as a band we have been able to reach since being involved with music as a channel to express us to the world. Most of the ideas and resources here used in terms of music, aesthetics, or concept were always present since our very first steps.
Look at our first logo, it was based in a drawn typography for one of the Gaudí’s drawings for the Sagrada Familia. We always wanted to connect our art with our culture but for some reason, we never took the way of going straight to its essence. Previous to 2017, and now once again applied in this album, you may find lyrics only using our Catalan tongue, which we speak, think and feel with; only clean vocals; and a general speech which connects to our culture all the lyrical parcel. Despite humanism being a general topic present along all the albums, finding a direct connection with an own cultural and social movement in times of change, where we may translate what we live now to, opened a new and wide horizon.
The summary of Modernisme in itself defines our aim on trying to poetize the world, it plays with extremes and finds beauty on the morbid and decadent reality. It changes our point of view as it did a century ago, and baths every single decision on our proposal with a vital core, which we expect the audience to recognize and feel as unique.
A motivational quote referred to how a tree must dig its roots deep down the earth if it wants to touch the sky with its branches may be translated in our case to how deep down our reality and culture is as we set the creative band’s foundations and seek to shine with own voice. We are not taking a simple art and cultural speech and reproducing it in a different time, but translating and reinterpreting it.
Foscor may translate as "darkness" in the native Catalan tongue; however the music on the record itself is uplifting and creates a sense of hope, establishing a fine balance between the two opposite extremes. How do you establish said balance musically and lyrically?
Joan: Totally agree with that. The evident sense of hope and vitality has to do with the fact of reaching your own limits for a deeper knowledge and overcoming the weaknesses and threats that a sick society generates on you. Our music deals with density and intensity in the same way, and the tragic adjective is perfectly suitable for describing its approach.
Look at the previous album, where common things were translated into a new meaning. The city and its net of places, ways, wefts and margins meant to be how social interaction works. There are situations and processes which may take you to the limit and definitely break you or be the excuse for a change. There’s no sadness and a no hope attitude on what we express, but recognition of struggles and fears.
‘Cançó de Mort’ has been the third single premiered before the album release, and I do believe it manage to mix both most contemplative and furious moments... light & darkness, real & ideal, both part of the same thing.
Aside from this being a conceptual record, it’s also a very personal one that touches upon personal demons and ideas of a better world. Is it difficult at all to invest so much of your own heart and worry into a body of work aimed for global consumption?
Joan: Actually, it might be understood as a cathartic personal exercise, though it is not the personal diary of a tormented soul or so. Writing lyrics is a sort of journey through past, present and future ideas and knowledge. It allows me to reinterpret knowledge from the past and explain my daily world while projecting a better tomorrow, to me, and why not for who might be interested. Lyrics complement music, as well as the artwork does. Everything must speak with a unique voice; my role is just part of the whole entity, as as each one, must reach its higher and best expression.
Photography seems to be the direction you’ve taken when it comes to album covers for the conceptual trilogy, first with Nona Limmen and now with Deborah Sheedy. To what do you attribute this decision?
Joan: Opposite to what writing music or lyrics is about, photography is prepared and planed but only depends on the skills of the artist and conditions of a single moment, which is captured as a living entity frozen in time.
Our music deals with both the here and the beyond... a hidden reality in a human level. We play with hallucination and monumentality, intimacy and sensuality in order to excite the senses. So, after working with graphic design or illustration in the past, we thought that only photography could be the language chosen for dressing this new game based on the real and the ideal.
Also, the fact of working with women and getting their own perspective of the world is so important for our message, and again complements the connection with the Modernisme movement. It has to do with the fact of watching the world through the eyes of women, from their emotional reading of those conflicts mentioned. Perhaps the world would be so different treated and managed by them, so, it has to do with the aim of speaking through their eyes.
Nona is a classy out of this world artist, with a very unique language we were lucky to have in the first album of the trilogy. A monumental landscape and action for the first album, while a more intimate and delicate approach for the upcoming “Els Sepulcres Blancs” with Deborah. We needed to get the artwork evolved and naked as much as our music was supposed to be. We thought that her more controlled use of the space and intimate scenes might be the right choice to bet for. Time has proved it.
Seeing as the video for Malson was recorded by your own guitarist Falke, it would seem that you prefer to take control of the creative components of the release. With that said, how did you approach the collaborative process with Deborah and Maria for the release?
Joan: Maria is a long time collaborator and contributor to the whole visual approach of our proposal. She has added order to most of the chaotic ideas we sometimes work with aside from the layout or the logo we've been working with since 2014’s “Those Horrors Wither”.
I might simply answer your question by saying that no one of us has enough skills for working by our own the parcels those ladies handle; and it’s true... But again, it’s a matter of confidence and knowing that what we suggest will be transformed into a beautiful thing because of their eyes and knowledge.
Although Falke has always edited and directed those the past videos, we have worked with other teams. It is now, for the two videos prepared for the new album promotion period that he is also dealing with the camera, light, etc...
Though simple in nature, there’s a large underlying meaning to take away from this cover, perfectly representing the more painful themes of the music itself. In working with Deborah and Maria, what did you envision for the album cover?
Joan: It is a good thing you and or whoever may see the cover, takes his own impression and lecture. We are here just for setting the general scenario and topic, but as far as we work with metaphors, feel free to adapt its meaning to your own world.
Deborah received from me a document with a summary of ideas based on the lyrical content, which at the same time spoke about the general album title and its connection with the overall concept and chapter within the trilogy.
“Visual things must acquire a new meaning” and it is through the world of dreams we set the scene for the album visual approach. “Els Sepulcres Blancs” translates as “The White Tombs” as a metaphor for this “bed” where laying and resting free to imagine the change. That change should be developed within the third chapter of the discography trilogy. We play with poetry, and consider the act of dreaming as the most individual state of mind. Loneliness, intimacy and silence were concepts we shared with Deborah and later were complemented by Maria in the layout design stage.
Deborah Sheedy translated those ideas into her own language and photography, while Maria Picassó enriched and complemented the approach from a general lecture close to what the band is for her. She set the pictures final frame because the monumentality our music offers, the use of a gothic typography related to how fiery it sounds, and the final blue dye as text color connected with the game between contraries. Sad blue for the real life opposed to an optimistic attitude within the dream realm. Despite having some of these works developed one after one, everything works complementing the whole speech.
As Joan mentions, Les Irreals Visions is a record with a lot of emotional weight, much like is seen in your own photos. How much of an emotional investment goes into your work, if any?
Deborah: It depends, I may create because I’m angry or sad. Most of the time, I just want to create, so just go for it! I probably create nearly everyday, not just images, I’m interested in other mediums. I always have something on my mind I want to make!
Seeing as you seamlessly merge multiple elements to form one cohesive visual, can you touch on some of the images or concepts that helped form the idea behind the album cover?
Deborah: Movement was a key element to include within the artwork. I wanted the images to flow together so I included fabric, as it naturally flows and creates beautiful movements. Below are some of the references Joan sent me. I took these images over the years and I referenced the middle one the most, using a slightly different technique, as I didn't have the exact dye.
As many mention, graphic design elements serve as something secondary and essential to let the main photos or artwork shine. How did you come to the conclusion that the blue hue and the vibrant pink logo and borders would perfectly complement Deborah’s photography?
Maria: Foscor had a clear idea about using a blue hue. I wanted to present that in a contemporary way, so I used the blue as “paper” so we don’t have white in the design. The bright pink just came naturally as a way to convene the contrast and viscerality that comes with Foscor's music.
Your goal is of course to ensure that the vision for the physical package is being met, which can mean a lot of trial and error due to symmetry and other factors. Do your previous experiences as an architect influence this is any way?
Maria: Trial-error is key. When I have an idea or the band’s got a suggestion, I never say no before trying it out, that is something that I learned in architecture but it can be applied to any creative field.
To add to the architectural question, do you have any personal preferences or guidelines that determine when you feel you’ve presented a project in the best way?
Maria: No, and that’s one of least favorite aspect of my work. I know I’ll always try my best, but I can only evaluate the result objectively after a while. Therefore, I always try to work with deadlines that allow my eyes to rest so I can be critic with my own work.
How did you go about taking this on after being presented with Deborah’s photography and the band’s conceptual aspirations for the record?
Maria: Foscor have always had a solid aesthetic concept in their heads, so their photography choices stablished the base for the visuals. After that, we had a good conversation about what they want and feel so I could transmit that with the subtleties of graphic design.
Your work on this record is unlike the colorful, geometric caricatures you often illustrate. How did your contributions to Els Sepulcres Blancs differ from that of your other work from an artistic standpoint?
Maria: My caricatures are happy and colorful. Graphic design works, such as this one, allow me to explore my darker side, and let me to feel closer to a music I really enjoy as a fan. Although the results might differ so much from my illustration work, the procedure is almost the same: finding the most attractive solution to a collection of requirements.
What was different about your take on this piece given that you were now creating something in collaboration with someone else compared to taking your own pieces in whatever direction you'd like?
Deborah: For my own work, it can start from anything and gradually develop into concept. Whereas creating artwork for someone else, the end is set from the beginning. That isn’t always the case, but I’d have to keep the artwork close to the music. There’s a theme from the start. I tend to experiment quite a bit with my work, a lot of the time I’ve no idea where I’m taking something until close to the end. Although I kind of hate completely finishing something, everything is a work in progress!
How much did the album’s lyrical and conceptual themes affect the outcome?
Deborah: Joan explained key elements to include in the artwork, so I wanted to keep it very close to his vision. He knows his work and exactly where it came from, I think he had a visual piece in mind, I was basically following his guidelines.
Aside from the band’s input, were there major external factors or influences that played a role in the development of this piece?
Deborah: Absolutely, the weather! It rains a lot in Ireland and I tend to do most of my shoots outdoors. When I spoke to Joan we decided I’d shoot outdoors but because it was raining in Ireland when I was making the artwork, I had to bring the shoot inside. That’s why I heavily referenced the photo I mentioned, which was from a shot I did about 6 years ago, I made a print in the darkroom and toned it with cyan dye.
Like any work of art, your photography is open to viewer interpretation and I’d argue that it’s an accurate representation of the body of work that lies within. Do you feel as though your photography is in synch with the music itself, assuming you’ve had a chance to listen to the record?
Deborah: I hope so! The most important thing is that FOSCOR are happy with the artwork and they think it’s an accurate representation for the album.
Any neat details on the physical version of Els Sepulcres Blancs that you’d like to share?
Foscor: Yes! My favorite note on briefings is “you can use special inks” so we used silver ink on the digipack instead of the pink. It adds value to the format and for me, a shiny ink, goes really well with such majestic and bright music.
Els Sepulcres Blancs is out now via Season of Mist. Order your copy HERE.