Is it a review or an interview? In this “chicken or the egg” situation, the review came first, but I thought it might be interesting to get some insight from the band on this very complex album.
Every so often I come across a song or album that blows me away, but when I go to check out the Bandcamp page, it has criminally few supporters. I am going to attempt to right one of these injustices by introducing you to Somnus Aeternus. This genre-mashing band from the Czech Republic released their sophomore album Exulansis in April of this year. It’s a unique album that should bring fans of doom, black, and progressive death together. Part of an album’s success is obviously based on the ability to gain fans with prior releases. Their debut, On the Shores of Oblivion released in 2012, probably didn’t lead to much attention. Though it is technically proficient and well executed, I found that it was missing all the emotional weight and complexity that makes Exulansis so great. I wanted to ask them:
During the four years between albums, how did the band’s approach to songwriting evolve?
Wohma: There was a huge change in how we compose songs around the release of our debut album. Partially because of wanting to create a concept album, partially because of lineup changes and different expectations of some band members, we decided that I will be doing the whole initial stage of songwriting myself: Coming up with a skeleton of the track that has some basic instrument tracks recorded or programmed and only then sharing it with the band for gradual improvements and rehearsing. There’s still a great deal of input from all the other bandmembers in the second stage of songwriting and many times the tracks I came up with would be redone from scratch, but everyone has a very good idea what the track is about, what’s the vision and how it should sound.
We also consciously chose longer compositions – I think it gives you the freedom to play with the motifs, let them grow and intertwine with other motifs. And since we also slowed down significantly, it was quite a natural change to go for lengthier pieces.
Exulansis lures you in by starting with a tranquil passage, with clean guitar licks and a slowly building rhythm that has you expecting to hear something resembling an old Opeth song. Even once it opens up, the growls and keys all sound familiarly like that progressive tinged death metal. But about 7 minutes later, something sinister and doomish takes over, and by the end, the tremolo riffs and blasting have you thinking that maybe it was a black metal song the whole time. The album continues is this fashion, constantly shape-shifting and always pulverizing. They aren’t just shoehorning genres together either; each one is performed with equal gusto. Somehow they have no difficulty with these tricky transitions, which I partially attribute to the outstanding vocal performance. As the instrumentals slowly shift, the screams stay aggressive and constant, creating a fade that is hardly noticeable until you are too far away.
Some may think that cleaner vocals have no place in music like this, but Somnus Aeternus somehow sneak those through as well. “Insecure Pawn” opens with interesting speak-sung vocals that reflect a tortured and depressed soul, somewhat reminiscent of Woods of Ypres. Though this may seem like a backhanded compliment about possible inauthenticity, it feels like a really good acting performance that elevates the concept album to something truly theatrical. As a really bad interpreter of lyrics, I wanted to ask them:
Can you tell us more about the theme of Exulansis? The album title refers to the tendency to give up on telling a story for fear of the audience finding it unrelatable, which I am willing to bet is a common occurrence among metal listeners. How does that tie in?
Insomnic: Exulansis is simply a fitting title. The story behind the album is of a slightly delusional person, who lost his most beloved person, who in fact tied him to the every-day reality. He then sort of collapses the same way each of us has or will when we lose our closest, but with more fatal consequences. And why is Exulansis a fitting title then? I am convinced that nothing, and above all none of the most important things like love, death, understanding etc. can be shared using words. I believe, that each of us is a very fragile being in the core of our minds and hearts. But the world we make for ourselves is not suitable for being fragile. In the end we end up craving understanding and to be loved, while the best we can do is to hope, because we will probably never be able to express exactly what we need. One of the reason being that love and understanding are only words, their meaning is slightly different for each of us and each of us has to discover it on our own. We just know we need the understanding/sharing, all alone and with crushing realisation, that we have no means of expressing what is most important for us, because words would maim the message when spoken. Be it a need to be loved, need to express the grief after losing beloved one, helplessness of being abused, defiance against injustice around us, loneliness etc. We also know that not everyone will be so lucky. I believe that music is the best way to at least get close to express that need for understanding and I also feel that many metalheads know and feel this. That’s why the album is called Exulansis. But the idea behind the concept is not supposed to be entirely depressing. When we perform live, there is very strong connection with the listeners, we all are in a kind of trance. The idea was to use the concept, the music and the stories to connect with the listener even in his/her living room and to let them and us feel that for a moment, we are not alone.
Throughout the album, the synth provides an old-school atmospheric vibe that provides a consistent compliment to the ever-changing styles. Every once and awhile, they throw in a surprising key section that adds just a touch of melody to contrast a brutally aggressive passage. The drums never take a break from being interesting, always adding some unexpected flair to every rhythm, and a really thick bass tone adds a great flavor to the slower connective passages. In the wrong hands, the expansive variation in tones and styles between instruments could result in a chaotic disaster, so I wanted to ask:
Me: How were you able to take so many unique ingredients (genres/tones) and blend them into a cohesive sound? Did you have a producer that helped guide the overall feel, or did it just take a lot of practice to find what worked and what didn’t?
Wohma: There was no producer involved in the album, but basically all of us have experience from other bands, sometimes even recording/producing experience. As for mixing unique ingredients, I think it’s the fact that although we all love doom metal, we have quite varying musical tastes and backgrounds. And to be honest, the majority of my most favourite albums are some sort of genre blends or albums that have quirky and strange elements in them, so I naturally tend to compose music that is varied.
Even after three listens, I feel like I am just scratching the surface of this album. Every moment requires full attention, and the more I focus, the more impressive it all seems. I can’t help but give it:
5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets of Hell
Exulansis is out now via Epidemie Records. I should also mention that the deluxe version comes with a 20 page booklet of connected short stories that do an excellent job of reinforcing the concept of the album, and really gives the whole project a new dimension. Buy the album and also give them a like on Facebook.