A look inside the illustrious making of a Surrealist sludge metal gem.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
Regardless of the time or place of inception, the arts have a way of bridging people through a commonality of ideas. This commonality is often seen within the realm of music, specifically when musicians harness from works of decades past to create their own full-length composition. Whether these works be used in album covers, lyrics, concepts, or even merchandise, the musicians relate to the previously existing work in such a significant way that it guides their own approach, speaking to the power of the arts. In the case of today's subject, one would think that Denver's ORYX worked hand in hand with Swiss painter Ettore Aldo Del Vigo to illustrate the cover for their new album, Lamenting A Dead World. However, the painting itself was created years ago and yet serves a symbiotic companion to the themes of duality present throughout.
Arriving on April 30th, Lamenting A Dead World marks the band's Translation Loss Records debut and comes well equipped with earth-shattering sonics that are sure to level the live stage. From the explosive rage of opener Contempt to the 15-minute ode of terror that is Oblivion, Lamenting A Dead World proves itself as a beast of towering proportions, a beast with visuals just as grand. It delivers on all ends and encourages a patient listen through a lyricism that becomes one with the surrealist wonder of Ettore Aldo Del Vigo's The Solitude Of Judas.
We go Behind the Cover of Lamenting A Dead World with Tommy and Abigail Davis of ORYX and artist Ettore Aldo Del Vigo to dissect the true meaning of Surrealism, the synchrony of the pairing despite each component being crafted years apart, Denver's camaraderie, and more:
It tends to be the norm for bands and the publicity around them to claim that their newest record is them at their “best”, whether or not it’s true. However, ‘Lamenting’ is truly that, sonically and even visually with Ettore’s illustration being your most captivating cover yet. What a way to make your Translation Loss label debut! Where are you as a band coming into this release, especially given the events that have transpired since 2018’s ‘Stolen Absolution’?
Oryx: Thank you! We really appreciate the kind words. We’ve come a long way since 2018, adding our bassist Eric Dodgion and using the extra time in the Covid lockdown environment to expand our writing process. 'Lamenting a Dead World' is our most dynamic album yet.
No doubt about that. Looking back, Primitive Man’s Ethan McCarthy took on the cover for ‘Stolen Absolution’ (2018) and for ‘Lamenting’, you’ve entrusted the talents of Ettore Aldo Del Vigo, specifically that of his "The Solitude of Judas" painting. What inspired your transition to Ettore and your selection of this painting in particular?
Oryx: We have a deep connection with Ethan’s art, since we have worked with him on every previous release (except for a split LP) and various merch designs. Each time, Ethan has provided an incredible piece of art to match our music and we are inspired by his style and creativity. We began researching artwork online a year before we even recorded 'Lamenting a Dead World'. When we came across Ettore’s stunning work, we immediately connected to his visuals and complexity. This painting in particular matched the tone of our songwriting and we knew it was the right choice for this album.
Indeed it is. With 'The Solitude of Judas' at the forefront of ‘Lamenting A Dead World’, the record presents itself as a tantalizing audiovisual endeavor. Ettore, when first painting ‘‘The Solitude of Judas’’ a few years ago, what did you look to envision?
Ettore: 'Solitude of Judas' is part of a series called Sancta Sanctorum, which is a well-known Latin phrase whose meaning is "the most holy place". It is an exclusive place, particularly reserved, to which only one person can access, as there are things of great value and great importance. In this case, my research is an introspective "journey" into the subconscious in search of my own Sancta Sanctorum where, through the theme of the transfiguration, the most hidden fears are faced, but also the most ancestral beliefs.
It reminds us of the fleetingness of life, but also the power of faith. In summary, Sancta Sanctorum is a journey beyond the flesh, which is only a shell, in search of profound truths and spiritual passages. It's a cathartic explosion of the bodies where death does not exist, but on the contrary, there is rebirth, described in this case through spermatozoa released from the putrefaction of the flesh.
Thanks for touching on the sperm cells fading out from the flesh, which is of course a recurring element on several of your other paintings. One can argue it’s symbolic of life letting go and fading away, given the obvious biological significance of the sperm cell itself. That's just my interpretation of course. Surrealism has evolved with the times with artists now having access to a wealth of new technologies. Where do you see this particular genre of the arts now compared to when you were first exploring your own direction?
Ettore: Being born "surrealist", I would like to explain the true meaning of the word Surrealism…
I would first like to premise that Surrealism has never evolved at the level of new technologies. Surrealism has been within us since the very beginning of human existence. Surrealism is not an artistic school, nor is it an aesthetic movement, but it is a philosophy of life, which is expressed through art, poetry, cinematography, and music. Surrealism fights the "rationality" inherent in each of us, which is oppressed by a "system", that through certain traps, tends to cancel the non-rationality of being in its favor. Only through Surrealism (which means Super-reality) will it lead to the liberation of being from all social conventions. The artist, the surrealist, is the one who does not stop in front of the visible, but has a superior view, and only when an epoptic gaze lets the artist see beyond what we see. That is when we will begin to see what a work of art is and this is where the dimension of beauty begins. A work of art is such when my gaze does not exhaust it. It refers to another meaning and being enchanted consists of the fact that in front of the work of art, I continue to look for that ulteriority of meaning.
The difference between the objects and the work of art is that the objects are exhausted to my gaze that captures the meaning. In the work of art, I cannot capture the totality of the meaning. If we want to capture it, we must abandon our rationality and remember that without the immersion of madness, a work of art would never be born. When you admire a work of art, it is like when you admire a pearl, forgetting that the pearl is the disease of the shell. Without the artist's disease, that work would never have been born.
Marvelous insight, Ettore. It's evident that these works exist beyond the medium in which they were painted. Judging from the picture of you besides "Solitude", it appears to be quite large, allowing for you to meticulously layer it with detail. Thankfully, that detail is preserved with the high quality scans that end up being on the album cover itself. What dimensions was this painted on and what inspired the pleasant evening sky visible in what appears to be the outside of a cave?
Ettore: The painting in question has a size of 180 x 140 cm and required two months of work, working with a very fine brush for the details and with an airbrush, because mainly, I am an airbrush painter, a choice due to the speed of the instrument, as while I am working on a subject, my mind is already projected to a next job.
Put simply, the execution is just technical. The real picture is the concept. As for the choice of colors for the "Solitude of Judas", the reference to the sky outside the cave is a clear symbol of a glimmer of Light, the same Light that is within us.
Music illustration isn’t something that typically finds itself among your line of work, though notably your work has found itself on Culted’s ‘Nous’ (2021) and Inhumankind’s ‘Self-Extinction’ (2018). Seeing as commissions meet someone else’s artistic needs rather than your own, is music illustration something you see yourself doing on occasion in the future?
Ettore: I never thought about musical illustration or anything else in my works. My target is clearly something else and when Oryx asked me about the license of the image, not having had the opportunity to listen to their music, I gladly granted it because art in general is universality. Visual art, poetic art, musical art...it's all a symbiosis and mental connection and I find it fantastic that the bands in this case go outside the conventions dictated by the norms.
A big applause to Oryx, who I'm sure have found affinity with their album.
That they have. Oryx, the painting goes so well with the towering sludge that you all deliver, making it as if it was indeed commissioned rather than licensed. When approaching this particular aspect of the release, what were you looking for as far as visual representation?
Oryx: We had the rare opportunity to write 'Lamenting a Dead World' having already gotten approval from Ettore, which gave us the chance to write alongside the concepts taking place in the artwork for about a year. Our music has always contained a lot of juxtaposition and joins ambience with heavy elements. Ettore’s artwork contains just that essence we were looking for.
In breaking down “The Solitude of Judas”, which can take hours given the vast amount of details and elements at play, where does it fit within the album’s emotional nature?
Oryx: The themes taking place in “The Solitude of Judas” and 'Lamenting a Dead World' coincide, but the nature of art is interpretation. What we take from his art is a representation of grand concepts like “good and evil”, “life and death”, “duality of man”, “creation and destruction”. These themes exist in the album as well and point to the audacious nature of man and the death of one world to give birth to a new one.
More than just conceptually, it's quite fitting on a sonic level too! Despite us being far past the time where music and the arts were consistently censored for their imagery a la Cannibal Corpse, reimagining religious iconography under a darker lens is still somewhat taboo, though it serves a purpose. Here, we see crucified corpses flowing from the decaying Judas as symbolic rather than it being “evil” for the sake of being metal, as tends to be the case. Where do you find common ground with the painting in terms of your interpretation of it?
Oryx: We feel strongly that the intent perceived from metal bands as “shock value” or “offensive for the sake of being offensive” is in a more broad sense an effort to portray the coalescence and lack of purity in religious organizations, which traditionally hold a pious reverence and in the same token have also committed mass atrocities. Metal music art historically has served as a reflection of society’s hypocrisies. The elements Ettore uses in “The Solitude of Judas” are exactly that.
Right on. Touching back on Ethan’s contribution for ‘Stolen Absolution’, he also makes an appearance on ‘Lamenting’, as does Erika Osterhout and Paul Riedl, all of whom are staples in the thriving Denver metal scene. Alvino of Of Feather and Bone did your promo photos too. As a regional hotspot that delivers consistently, how much has being a Denver band played a role in your development over the years, especially in terms of camaraderie?
Oryx: We began playing shows in Colorado Springs and Denver many years ago when we were still living in New Mexico. Ethan booked one of our first shows in Denver and vice versa, we helped book early Primitive Man shows at a DIY venue in Las Cruces. Building that relationship with Ethan years ago while also commissioning artwork from him for several releases has been a big part of our journey as a band. Denver has an incredible community of musicians and creative folks that we’re happy to be a part of.
For those unaware of the greatness of the Denver metal scene, give a quick shoutout to your favorite local bands!
Oryx: Hell yeah! Our favorite locals include Of Feather and Bone, Primitive Man, Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, Matriarch, 908, Chthonic Deity, Vermin Womb, Dreadnought, Black Curse, In the Company of Serpents, Wayfarer. Almost too many to name! In Colorado Springs, check out Clarion Void, Kalakuta, and Alone.
Fantastic bands! If you're reading, you'll want to dig in. Eric Wolfe Sahlsten, who’s work we admire, had a part in illustrating one of your t-shirts. Between Eric, Ettore, Ethan, you’ve partnered with a good ensemble of creatives, which of course speaks to the good eye you all have at finding the right visual companion. Is this something you constantly keep an eye out for or is it more of a task that you take on as you get ready for a new merch drop or album cover?
Oryx: It’s generally a mix of both methods. We are constantly keeping an eye out for new artists to collaborate with, but over the years, we have built relationships with artists we like to work with consistently. We just released new merch from artists Nate Burns and Tyler Pennington, whom are both very talented and a pleasure to work with.
It's great to see that visual investment. Visually, Surrealism hosts illogical juxtapositions and distorted figures among a plethora of other elements, making it such an appealing genre of art. Aside from Ettore, who is of course one of the more notable surrealists of recent decades, were they any reference images or ideas in general that led you towards this art style? Perhaps the works of other surrealists?
Oryx: Generally speaking, we enjoy the complex nature of surrealism and the layering found therein. We are fans of Clark Reichert, who is an abstract expressionist that explores dimensionality and geometric patterns. Another mention is the late Denver surrealist and abstract expressionist, Vance Kirkland. Some of those works just pull you in!
Kirkland's works definitely do! Many will come to know ‘Lamenting A Dead World’ on visuals alone. Do you recall an album cover, movie poster, or any art piece in general having the impact of captivating you from the start and perhaps introducing you to something you wouldn’t otherwise check out?
Oryx: Seeing the movie poster for 'Mandy' (2018) for the first time was one of those moments. Made us stop in our tracks and go, “I HAVE to know what this movie is about." Of course, that ended up being an amazing film.
For album covers, when we saw Bell Witch’s cover art for 'Mirror Reaper' by Mariusz Lewandowski, it immediately grabbed our attention, as it did for most folks! We would have checked out the album regardless, but it was one of those moments where before even seeing who the band was, you knew it was an album worth listening to.
Some great choices here! That Bell Witch cover remains one of Lewandowski's best to this day, essentially his breakthrough into metal covers. In typical Translation Loss fashion, the colored vinyl pressings for the release are fantastic and even include a foldout poster of Ettore’s artwork. All around greatness! What do you hope fans take from ‘Lamenting’ once they hold that sweet vinyl copy in their hands this April?
Oryx: We hope that people give the full album its due. The album was intended from the start to be pressed onto vinyl and as such, holding that record in your hands is its truest representation. We’re stoked to have the full artwork foldout included! Translation Loss really focused their energy on the layout details and hit the nail on the head. Couldn’t be happier with the final product.
They knocked it out the park, that's for sure. In closing, Ettore, your art is going to be introduced to an entirely new audience through this record, audiences that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have found it. For those who will be seeing your work for the first time, what message do you hope "The Solitude of Judas" conveys?
Ettore: Being a gnostic I would like to add just one thing.
I absolutely do not pretend to send messages, but I would like to make people understand a very simple thing. This life is only a fragment of existence that takes place in a universe in which the present, past, and future are one. The more a man runs after false goods, and the less he is sensitive to what is essential, the less satisfying his life is. It will be limited because his goals are limited and if we can only understand that we have a link with the infinite, our attitudes will change.
No one comes to its truth, being what society wants it to be or to do. In reality, family, society, church, political profession, ethics and commandments, none of these things lead to the true welfare of the soul, but on the contrary, these are often the traps that keep us away from true spirituality.
Lamenting A Dead World arrives on April 30th via Translation Loss Records. Get it HERE.