Harnessing from past teachings to inform one exquisite black metal act of understanding.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” - Hermann Hesse
For Umbra Conscientia's Aether, the words of Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse ring true in ways that spark an introspective act of creative development. The Costa Rican / German based band released their sophomore record, Nigredine Mundi, last week via Terratur Possessions. For Aether, it stands as a byproduct of his own comprehension of life's shortcomings and the opportunity said shortcomings provide to overcome and triumph as a self-sufficient individual. Every profound lyric and sinister atmosphere plays a role conveyed by the prowess of Dávid Glomba who so intentionally excelled at capturing the duality present within Nigredine Mundi. It's a comprehensive package worth basking in physically, akin to anything from the Terratur Possessions catalog.
We go Behind the Cover of Nigredine Mundi with Umbra Conscientia mastermind Aether (Esteban Sancho) to talk of the Hermann Hesse influence, the art of Dávid Glomba, and to provide you all with a look inside the album's meticulously created art booklet:
It’s a thrill to help welcome ‘Nigredine Mundi’ to the world, a sophomore record that encompasses the power of audiovisual cohesion. ‘Yellowing of the Lunar Consciousness’ (2019) was a strong debut, a debut that I’m sure came with some lessons and realizations as a relatively new band. What did you take from that initial Umbra Conscientia release and how did it shape the development of ‘Nigredine Mundi’?
Aether: When you create something (in this case, music), it kind of takes its own form, its own life, and your creation talks back to you. When you listen to it, when you see it, when you think about it, the music you make or the creature you have created starts talking back to you, if that makes any sense. So after finishing the record, hearing the final result of the music, artwork and everything that happened with the label, it becomes this time of contemplation, kind of like a relationship with what you've created. In this time, I think what I take the most out of the first record is that I learned what I want to explore more, in terms of "experimentation". You kind of realize things like, "Oh, this would be cool to try or expand even further," or, "Crap, I hate this, this can't happen again." You kinda learn your potential and your areas of improvement. The first record taught me a lot about myself and the things that I want to do with this project. I say this because in the beginning, it really didn't have any sense of direction. I was just writing songs that I liked and it ended up being a record. It happened the same with the artwork, specifically with the physical format of the record. I thought to myself, "This is really cool, I need more of this," so it taught me as well that for the next one. The artwork needed to be even stronger.
For you, entering a new album cycle was an act of reflection, so to speak. Musically, 'Nigredine' carries plenty of depth. More than it being an ominous black metal record, the varying song structures and tempos allow for flourishes of serene guitar melodies to prosper, presenting itself as a multifaceted record of sonic maturity. Where did you look to take ‘Nigredine Mundi’ from a compositional standpoint?
Aether: I always try to make songs that give me something that's not out there, and that I personally enjoy. I make music for myself, before anything, so I looked at what I wanted to hear from a black metal band: the different kind of sounds, song structures, intentions, layers, atmospheres, etc. that I wanted to hear. Yes, a lot of bands give you that, but I wanted a kind of a mix of it all in just one single record, and it had to be fitting of the album concept. I'm proud to say I find this second record much more mature than the first one, exploring more atmosphere than just pure speed and brutality. This record has a much more emotional energy put into it, so it needed to focus more on the atmosphere and overall feeling it would generate on the listener - slower tempo, but more feeling, more atmosphere, more emotion. This record's concept is about the blackness of the world, the darkness found in every aspect of the universe and its inevitability, so it had to be darker. Vocals needed to be darker, the riffs as well, and the atmosphere definitely needed to be darker without losing the intensity that was achieved in the first record. This time, intensity is not achieved by speed, but through atmosphere and tension.
It becomes immediately apparent too. Speaking of the artwork, you’re transitioning from Misanthropic Art to Dávid Glomba, who excelled at creating this album cycle’s visual identity. There’s much to dissect throughout the entire physical package, but in terms of the cover itself, what did you envision when approaching David for the project?
Aether: Working with Dávid Glomba has been a life goal of mine since before I even had an idea for Umbra Conscientia. His work with Ascension and Death Karma has always left me speechless. So, considering that for the second record I had the support of Terratur Possessions since the preproduction, I thought, why not ask? Thankfully, David said yes.
Part of the reason why I approached Dávid was because of his ability to create such detailed and impressive artwork, not just for the front cover, but for every single song in a record. The way he expresses the ideas behind the songs on each of his artworks is just incredible, and I wanted that for this record.
My initial idea when I first talked to Dávid was to of course give him the album music and lyrics. Knowing that the concept of the record is about the inevitable suffering that existence has and the relationship between man and the aforementioned, I wanted to capture how darkness, death, destruction, suffering, and the devil's work are part of nature's impulses and they are everywhere just as "positive" things are. I wanted to see what ideas he would come up with. I definitely wanted something darker, so we went with much less colour on this one.
Dávid has a way of capturing a vision so eloquently. Expanding on the cover a bit further, this album’s visual identity seems to revolve around a protagonist, which we of course see on the cover and on the art booklet. The painting, “I am the Impulse of Nature”, is truly a work of art and it places this protagonist amidst a deadly scene consumed by snakes. Where do you feel this protagonist, and the cover overall, align with the overarching narrative you present throughout ‘Nigredine Mundi’?
Aether: It portrays the devil's work in the world, and how individuals are surrounded by it every single day, wether they see it or not, wether they like it or not, and about how all of us are part of it as well. It reflects as well on the feelings that individuals might experience whilst meditating on those ideas, on their surroundings, on what existence is, which is brutal. The reason why it's called "I am the impulse of nature", which actually comes from Spanish "yo soy un impulso de la naturaleza", is because of a book, a very small book, very simple, nothing academic, but very powerful in an existential way by Hermann Hesse called 'Demian' (1919). Suffering can be overwhelming, it can slow you down, it can destroy you...or it can make you grow.
Strong, profound words here. As noted, the protagonist individual is seen again on the art booklet, but no longer sorrowful and instead invigorated, shrouded in death with blood soaked wings atop a flaming pedestal that reads, “Esto y solo esto” (This and only this). Can you elaborate on the duality we see here? It seems to stem from biblical text.
Aether: Has it ever happened to you that you think about something, or that you have certain feelings but you don't have words for it, then you come across any art form, could be a book, a movie, a painting, a song, and it perfectly describes everything you have been feeling or thinking? Well, I'll give you a paragraph, which I pulled from the book I mentioned previously. This is not a word by word quote rather notes that I took based on what I read, parts that I liked and put together. It's in Spanish, but who can't access a translator in 2022?
"Yo era un impulso de la naturaleza, un impulso hacia lo incierto, quiza hacia lo nuevo, quiza hacia la nada, y mi oficio era tan solo dejar actuar este impulso, nacido en las profundidades primordiales, sentir en mi su voluntad, y hacerlo mio por entero. Esto, y solo esto, era mi oficio. Para nosotros no había más que un deber y un destino: llegar a ser cada uno perfectamente fieles a si mismos, conformarse tan por entero a la semilla de la naturaleza activa y vivir tan entregados a su voluntad, que el futuro incierto nos encontrase prontos a todo lo que consigo pudiese traer."
Assuming a translator was used, I can tell you that this primordial feeling, this loyalty to oneself that's mentioned in the previous text, for me, it means accepting that just as there are positive things in the universe, there are negative things. For every creative force, there is a destructive force - everything is one and the same and not separate to each other. As above, so below, as within, so without. Accepting this dark nature inside and outside of us, accepting the devil's work through the hands of death as part of our deepest nature, is what I think will make us more loyal to ourselves, to our true nature, hereby removing all pain from suffering, being in line with every single impulse that flows through us, stopping trying to swim against the current of our own nature, which is creative just as it is destructive. It is light just as it is dark, which is aligned with god just as it is with satan. Hermetic traditions talk about the philosopher's stone and a state of perfection; perfection is nothing but being able to be as loyal as possible to ones own nature. We can only aspire to ourselves.
No translator was needed my friend, and it's great to see your understanding and expression of the quote come alive in this way. ¡Soy mexicano! Continuing, the opening notes of ‘Constant Self Sacrifice in Devotion To Darkness’ set the tone from the start and Dávid's artwork completes it entirely, as we mentioned earlier. How significant do you feel that the arts are to the ‘Nigredine Mundi’ purpose?
Aether: As significant as any other aspect of the record. Music is an exquisite form of art and expression, and being able to align it with visual art, creates a whole new experience in many different levels. So, it gives it a visual aspect to something that was more sonical or untangible, it brings the music to life, it materializes the message flowing through the music.
Beautifully put. Was there much deliberation when agreeing upon a visual direction for the record or was Dávid’s interpretation ideal from the start of the development process?
Aether: From my personal opinion, and I hope it was the same for Dávid, it was a complete honour to work with him. It was easy, our ideas clicked together very easily. Something I said triggered an idea in him, then that idea triggered another one in me, and that's basically how we created the booklet artwork. This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time, to exchange creative ideas and create art with someone else in this way. Dávid is an absolute professional and a true master at what he does.
The bloody touches on the booklet pages of course resemble the dark nature of biblical text despite its prominence as a guide to life by Christianity, at least in my view. Is there something to be learned from this irony?
Aether: To understand that the same hand that feeds is the one that destroys. That there's no duality, no good nor bad. Things just are what they are. God and Satan have been a part of the same thing since the beginning of any theistic philosophy. You can call them by different names, but the archetype they represent, it's always just been a different face of the same coin, yet humans haven't really realized this yet. Therefore, all the struggle that you see in a lot of people in their everyday lives, as well as in their spiritual lives, this never ending battle between good and evil, sinner or no sinner, etc., is one of humanity's biggest enemy.
That's an interesting perspective. Black metal is more than a genre but an art form that is unique across time. With each passing release, you expand upon your craft and offer much in the realm of immersion beyond just working with Dávid, but harnessing from the religious works of Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld as well. What role do you feel the arts play in black metal and metal in general during this contemporary time?
Aether: I think since its inception, arts play a crucial role in black metal. It sets the tone for the music, it materializes the sounds that are coming out of the speakers and they become part of the whole comprehensive work that a black metal record is. I personally see the artist behind a record's artwork as an additional member of the band, and I think that the music, specifically black metal, because of its dark, deep, philosophical, spiritual, and existential nature, has been pushing contemporary artists to new limits as well. The collaboration between a band and an artist pushes both to the limit and ends up creating a very, very interesting creative relationship.
I agree, and I'm thankful to have explored that relationship with many of your genre colleagues, Whoredom Rife included. Terratur Possessions, your label, is rooted in a DIY nature and it seems you’ve sat on the release until a time where you feel everything aligns. There’s a genuineness to that because there’s mainly no pressure to meet any particular deadlines or whatnot. You release a record when it’s ready and that’s that. What does it mean to you to have the support of Ole and Terratur since the band’s inception? The label certainly shares the same direction.
Aether: It probably means more than I can express or even Ole thinks, haha. Being from Costa Rica, where until a couple of years ago no single record label had any idea of whatever music was coming out of this small country, having someone else from another country believe in your work, invest their time and money to help you give life to whatever project you're trying to create, means the world. I said previously that I see the artist behind the artwork as an additional member of the band. Well, I think the way Ole gets involved, how he pays attention to the details and the energy he puts into his work with Terratur makes me think of the label as another member of the band that helped this project become what it is until now. I don't think this project would be where it is without Ole, Terratur Possessions, and the Ván Records support. So, I take advantage of this space to give my public thanks to them, there are just a few left out there that do this out of pure passion, and they're definitely one of them. Thank you.
Among the countless underground labels, Ole is definitely among the most detail oriented without a doubt. ‘Nigredine Mundi’ is representative of the good standing that contemporary black metal finds itself in. Bands both new and old continue to deliver. Where do you personally see yourselves among it all, and perhaps specifically as a Costa Rican and German black metal band?
Aether: I don't really see ourselves as anything among it all. There are a lot of musical acts out there that are untouchable and I am no one to say where we are among any of them. What I can say is that I'm happy with what we've done, grateful for the support shown to us by the label and people who has supported us in any way. As a Costa Rican metal band, and I need to clarify, I don't really see myself as someone with a single drop of nationalism or pride for my country, for we are born randomly in wherever country our parents were at at the moment of our birth, haha, I think what we have done is important, to set foot outside of our borders unto the world is definitely important considering the lack of visibility the music from this country has had in the past. I have to say it's an honour to be able to have an opportunity such as Beyond The Gates, to see a Costa Rican band among the all fathers of black metal such as Mayhem, Emperor, Enslaved, Satyricon, Mercyful Fate. It's something I'm very honoured and grateful for. The dark flame of black metal should not know any borders, for it comes from beyond and not from the material world.