Terra Tenebrosa came out of nowhere, it seemed, from a dark abyss or a fog covered moor located somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Their debut LP The Tunnels, released in 2011, was a massive album, fusing eerie, looming atmospheres with crushing riffs. An exploration of what a term like the over-used “post-metal” moniker can only hint at. Terra Tenebrosa combined the harshness of Black Metal with the impressive heaviness of Doom with the structural approach of a Post-Hardcore band. Add to that a refined sense for songwriting, creating ambience and subtely included noise elements topped with a crystal clear yet heavy production and you have a killer album.
But who were those guys who preferred to hide behind masks? Where do they come from, where will they go? On their second LP, which has been released this year on Trust No One Recordings and Apocaplexy Records, the Swedish band still provides no answers, or at least none that are intelligible. Although we now know that at least one member used to be part of the almighty Breach, when it comes to the concept and the people behind the band we know almost nothing. It’s time to get at least an idea of what this project is all about. So I got in touch with The Cuckoo, as the core member of Terra Tenebrosa calls himself.
A translation of what you are about to read will be published in an edited form in the German Ox magazine. The following interview was done by e-mail and is mostly unedited.
Little is known about Terra Tenebrosa and it seems like you prefer it that way. You don’t reveal your real names and, on your promo pictures, wear masks. Why do you opt for remaining anonymous? Was it to make clear that Terra Tenebrosa is definitely not “Breach, Pt. 2”?
Initially we weren’t going to play live and wanted photographs to visually correspond to the mood of the music. Standing in front of the camera wearing regular clothes would rob the music of some of its glamour. And considering the experimental nature of the project, we have no fixed setting, we switch instruments back and forth and often I record entire tracks by myself, I considered this more of an art project than an actual band. So there was no need for us to present ourselves as a band. We wanted the visuals to be an extension of the music. And when using masks there was no need to use our real names. It’s not about trying to be mystical, the individuals behind the project is simply not interesting. And we didn’t think the music have that much in common with Breach. If we thought so we could as well call ourselves Breach and pick up where Breach left off.
The Purging shows the three of you on the cover. Do you want to play with people’s expectations, showing them three people who they can identify as “the band” although it’s possible that it’s not even you behind those masks?
We want to bring you the whole package, tickling as many senses as we can by letting these characters become the representatives of the music. And like I said, the visuals is as important as the music. We want our masks to enhance the mood of the music. And not only the masks. It was of great importance for both albums that the photographs could be art in itself.
The masks you wear, what do they symbolise? And who makes those masks?
The Cuckoos mask holds some importance for me on a personal level. It’s an effigy of something that scared me as a kid, something I’ve seen in dreams and that I now consider my own guide or in a Jungian context an archetype out of the collective unconscious. The first one I made myself in papiér maiche and when we decided to play live I needed something I could actually sing in so a friend of mine that works in movies and theatre made the one I now wear in latex. The hoods the others wear on the cover of The Purging I sew in an attempt to make them look like gnomes, being the elementals of earth and in this case the dark earth. Dark as in the obscured parts of our psyches.
The Cuckoo’s voice is processed and altered until it almost doesn’t sound human anymore. Which surprises me, as the lyrics, though of a general nature, seem to address individual topics. Am I wrong there? And was it a deliberate choice to create a sort of ambiguity between the lyrics and the way they’re delivered?
I wanted the vocals to sound as if being possessed or as if something not human is trying to sound human, I wanted them to be ugly and creepy. The Cuckoo is a mixture of all things hiding in the dark and supressed parts of the soul. I don’t know about the lyrics. Most of them revolve around subjects I read about and reflections over this world and the soul. What I think about a lot are those areas of the soul that are neglected and the integration of treasures found therein and the work you undertake in order to fulfil yourself.
Also, the constantly overlapping the vocals creates a rather eerie atmosphere. It’s almost like the musical equivalent of having a dissociative personality disorder. Is that something you aimed at or is it a topic in your lyrics that you’re trying to express in this particular way?
The voices chattering over each other is to create the feel of being lost within the tunnels at the depth of your soul, a turbine where everyone and everything that has been, are and will be exist side by side. If we all would lift the lid and peek inside ourselves I’m pretty sure everyone has a dissociative personality disorder. We have safety blocks that prevents it from turning into chaos. We have a constant chattering inside our heads but we don’t think about it. There are worlds inside us that are both dark and beautiful and also I wanted to convey a sense of horror and drama because the darkness within us might scare us at first, but shine a light on it and you will find wonders beyond imagination as well as negative elements we must either sublimate or fight off in order to fulfil ourselves.
Regardless of your shyness when it comes to revealing your identities, you perform live and thus expose yourselves to the public. Why do you even do it? And how to you manage to recreate those quite complex compositions in a live setting? And seriously – isn’t it freaking hot under those masks?
We do not expose ourselves but the characters that are synonymous to the music. And playing live is fun. It enables to expand on the characters, making them come alive instead of being depicted on stills. But we are far from where I want us to be in that department. And I reluctantly had to accept that Terra Tenebrosa on record and live is to different things due to all the effects we use. We could use backing tracks but I’m not attracted to that idea at all. Then we could as well do it playback. Also the overlapping vocals is a bit hard to do but I think we managed to distil the essentials into the live performance. I use an effects box for the vocals and the essential samples I control on stage. And it is hot under the masks but not that bad. The worst part is the smell. Latex doesn’t smell that good to begin with but wearing that mask I can’t really close my mouth so all the spittle runs down my chin. Add to that the sweat. But at the moment I slip into the mask with all its smell I get overtaken by the character so I guess in the end it´s a good thing.
If you’re willing, it’d be nice if you could explain who is who in Terra Tenebrosa and what every individual member is responsible for. Do you have a main songwriter or do you work as a collective?
The only constant is that I do the vocals. Other than that we switch instruments back and forth. If someone has an idea for a particular part, instead of trying to communicate it he records it. Sometimes I record entire tracks by myself. I usually do all the core writing but the others contribute. I don’t believe in democracy when it comes to making music. I have the vision, and whatever ideas the others might have is filtered through me.
Some of the songs that were released on The Purging were actually recorded while your first album, The Tunnels, hadn’t been released yet. This struck me as odd because I had previously considered both albums to be two separate entities. Is it important for you that both records stand for themselves? How did you decide which songs were suitable for which record?
Black Pearl and The Nucleus Turbine were already recorded but I wanted The Tunnels to hammer the listener into a state of trance and since most of the material was small variations on the same theme and a track like Black Pearl was not I decided it to be the one to set the tone for the next album. I already had the idea that I wanted the next album to be more violent and maybe a bit more traditional in composition. The Nucleus Turbine would’ve worked on The Tunnels but I didn’t feel it needed more tracks than it already had. It’s quite monotonous and spans 45 minutes. A track like The Nucleus Turbine I feel would have just made the journey unbearable.
In comparison, The Purging seems to focus more on creating an ambience, it has less Metal elements in it which, in my ears, added a lot of density to the overall sound. Did you deliberately try to move on into a different direction, musically?
I think we created more ambience with The Tunnels. At least that was the goal with it. And in my mind The Purging has more metal elements than The Tunnels. But the goal was to have songs that were more traditional in a verse/chorus sense. And since we already had begun work on the new one it all came down to choosing which tracks goes on which. We could just as easily have done two albums that sounded about the same but I want every new release to be exciting, not really knowing what to expect. No point in doing the same album over and over.
Apart from a vast range of musical influences, you obviously draw from a lot of non-musical sources. Not only fictional, but also mythological and religious writings seem to play a big role. What is the concept of Terra Tenebrosa made of, which ideas and/or ideologies fuel your artistic vision and expression?
Mythological and religious writings play a big role in my personal life and of course it rubs off on Terra Tenebrosa. The ideas to the lyrics come to me either from reading about excursions of the mind or by first hand experience. I always seek ways to break down the border between the conscious and the subconscious be it by meditation, psychoactives and other ways. It is during those moments I get the most ideas or feelings I try to communicate through the lyrics or translate into music. Also I’m a big fan of horror be it in movies or fiction. I want the music to sound as if you’re lost in a nightmare or are about to lose your mind. I want to combine that feeling with that of beauty and also the dramatic feeling I often find in classical music.
While Tim Bertilsson of Switchblade released the CD versions of both of your albums on his own Trust No One Recordings, Maik from Apocaplexy took care of the vinyl versions. What medium do you prefer personally and what medium would you say is the most suitable for the music of Terra Tenebrosa?
I don’t know. I personally prefer vinyl before cd. The artwork comes out better in that format but the good thing about CDs is that you don’t have to get up to flip it over. The best way to listen to our records I would say is from beginning to end with no interruption, letting each song give birth to the next, preferably with headphones and your eyes closed so CD I guess. But the artwork as I said comes out better on vinyl. I don’t like CDs at all. And I don’t like the new way of consuming music, digital downloads and so forth. I use Spotify but whenever I hear something I like I try to get it on vinyl if possible. Before when you bought an album and didn’t like at first you gave it a few chances and possibly understood something you didn’t get at first. Nowadays you listen to half a song, dismiss the band and jump to the next.
Your last tour was rather short and unfortunately you had to cancel your gig in Berlin. What happened there? Anyway, any plans for another tour in the near future? What are your plans with the band in general? In an interview I’ve read that you have already written new material – can we expect another album soon? Which direction will you take this time?
The gig in Berlin came up in the last minute when we were trying to hastily put up some more shows in connection to the ones with Neurosis so there was too little time for promotion and such. We are planning a longer tour this winter but I have no idea which cities or how long it will be. We have tasted blood with the few gigs we did so we hope it will be long. We have started recording for the next album and judging from what we have recorded so far it’s going to be an overall faster pace to the album. But who knows, I might go in a totally different direction tomorrow. It’s how it goes. It’s when we sit down and decide what goes on the album we know what it will sound like. We have a leftover that was supposed to go on The Purging but due to it being almost 18 minutes we decided to leave it, but it’s too good to throw away so we will probably release it digitally. Not my favourite way of releasing music but other options like splits I don’t like either. It will not be on the next album because we have a new studio and I wanted a clean slate when starting to record there. So that track is the last thing we recorded at the old studio before we torched it.
You can stream The Purging on Trust No One Recordings’ Bandcamp Account or pick up the CD from their store. If you prefer vinyl, head over to Apocaplexy’s webstore both albums as well as the amazing Godbox EP by Breach are still available. Read my feature on the guy behind Apocaplexy here and check out the interview I did with Switchblade’s/Trust No One Recordings’ Tim Bertilsson here (German only).