by RS Frost
Australian black metal outfit GRAVEIR have been honing their craft since forming in 2014. With the recent release of their sophomore album, ‘King of the Silent World’, through IMPURE SOUNDS, the band offers insight into their past efforts, contemporary black metal in Australia, and the eternal call from the grave.
I caught up with founding members Gloom (vocals) and XI (drums) to gain some insight into the band’s formation and the ingredients that have gone into the forthcoming album.
From what I can tell, Graveir was formed by members who had been playing together previously in various bands, namely VYRION, DEFAMER and MOON. How did the band come together and what role did these previous bands have in Graveir’s formation?
Gloom – Very little. I’d had the riffs and ideas gestating for the Graveir demo since 2009 when I lived in Wollongong. I moved to Brisbane in 2011 and had met XI through another project that ended up falling through. I was unaware of any of those bands at the time. We looked for members with a similar interest to help complete the lineup and things worked out as they did.
For me it wasn’t a new band, it was a chance to express the ideas I had been sitting on without compromise. I had initially described the approach to writing as trying to write riffs that made you feel like you were alone on a beach, staring up at a tidal wave at the end of the world. I like to think we have tried to keep to that ethos.
Brisbane is a place known for its extreme metal, particularly of the darker and more atypical, maniacal kind. How would you describe the black metal community in Brisbane?
XI – Brisbane has a lot of talent with some musicians doing some truly unique and powerful music. It takes scratching past the surface but there is a circle of musicians putting out gold. MIDNIGHT ODYSSEY is out of this world. PAROXYSMAL DESCENT's new album deserves more attention and bands like MONGRELS CROSS and CONSUMMATION always deliver the goods.
Graveir’s first effort was the 2015 demo, ‘Caloian’, which was released independently and only in digital format from what I can gather, contrary to the general tape or vinyl demo release black metal has become known for. What went into these first songs, what were you guys wanting to express and how did you want to portray yourselves as a band?
Gloom – Outside of the musical elements, lyrically ‘Caloian’ was themed around death and funeral practices (Tibetan sky burials, suicide in western societies, and the practice of widow immolation in India). The intent was to write the lyrics in a way that was trying to show how these scenarios could be considered positive from one perspective and abhorrent from another and those things were only a few degrees apart from one another.
The demo was actually released on a limited tape run via WULFRUNE WORXXX. Outside of that though, I think digital was the most direct way to get the songs out there. Having sat on them for so long, once the opportunity arose to do something with them we were quite impatient to make it happen.
Were you playing shows at this stage?
Gloom – No, the recording came first. We’d only had a completed lineup for a short time so really put the new members through the wringer in terms of showing dedication to practising. It could have quite easily gone horribly wrong, but it was a good test of character and one which paid off in the end.
The following year would see the release of the band’s first full-length, ‘Iconostasis’. As the title would suggest, this album would act as a display of conceptual icons that are, I can only assume, of some esoteric importance to the band members.
I was intrigued by some of the track titles on ‘Iconostasis’; ‘Wolf Halo’ and ‘Throne of One Thousand Rats’ would suggest a link to animism in its various forms whereas ‘Agonistes/Ekstasis’ refers to a rapturous inner struggle of the existential nature. But the one that really stood out to me was ‘Codex Haruspex’.
Unless Graveir are big Warhammer fans, Haruspex was the title given to one who would practice Haruspicy, a form of divination from ancient Rome where the practitioner in question would be charged with inspecting the entrails of sacrificed animals, in particular the livers. This form of divination was in direct correlation to what was known as Hepatoscopy; the reading of omens specifically from the livers of animals.
Gloom – It is in reference to Haruspicy, the idea of gleaning and also inscribing knowledge into human skin and entrails. With every scar and wound we accumulate there is a learning and a permanent record of the lesson. Even today we seek to glean knowledge from and of the human body, whether through medical science or forensics, I just explored it in a more horror/occult context with the subject being forcibly mutilated and killed by the song’s end. The beginning references scars, which suggests this is a repeated and survived event, with lived experience. The end references entrails and ultimately death, which is the final lesson of all. Whether the subject is a willing participant or not is left open to interpretation.
‘Wolf Halo’ is about the need for humankind to be pressure tested. The subject cuts along their hairline (the titular Wolf Halo) in order to attract wild beasts and fight for survival. The intent is less around a death wish than needing to feel alive, to be pushed to your limits and find new limits within oneself to overcome adversity.
‘Throne of One Thousand Rats’ is themed around delusions of grandeur, madness and violence. The subject imagines themselves to be a king but is actually living in squalor and filth with only rats for company. Discarded like refuse and forgotten by society, hatred and bitterness build towards an inevitably violent conclusion.
‘Agonistes/Ekstasis’ is about the struggle at the end of life – the agony of dying and the ecstasy of release from suffering and the rot and decay of the body thereafter.
What was the process in the year leading up to this album being recorded and released? XI – Our first album was created very naturally. We rehearsed as a band regularly and formed the songs one riff at a time. The buildup to the recording process made us a tighter band and the outcome shows. We put every song under the microscope to ensure the output was something we would be proud of.
What does this album mean for you and what are you communicating with it?
Gloom – Lyrically, the themes revolve around the thin line between the sacred and the profane, majesty and decay. The things that are most oppositional are often, in reality, the closest to one another, which often leads to them being diametrically and sometimes violently opposed.
The next two years would see the band releasing a split 7” with Melbourne’s MAR MORTUUM in 2017, followed by the ‘Cenotaph’ EP in 2018.
XI – We played our very first show with Mar Mortuum and built a very strong connection instantly. We respect the band, the imagery and the direction. After the first album we spoke about doing a split and they were the first name on the list. We both agreed to put our best foot forward and spared no detail. Hails to Wrest (LEVIATHAN) for supplying the artwork. The shows and recording of that 7" are some of our fondest memories as a band.
‘Cenotaph’ was always designed to be urgent, weird and raw. We made an active decision to commit to a “less is more” approach. We hired MKH (CARBON) to help us create something sonically reckless. He nailed the atmosphere and idea of the release perfectly.
In recent times Graveir have made their way down to Melbourne to perform as part of both the Malign Rites Festival and the Winter Solstice Damnation. On top of these jaunts, the band have shared the stage with the likes of 1349, AURA NOIR, BELPHEGOR, PRIMITIVE MAN and BÖLZER.
Given that you are, as previously mentioned, from the home of some of Australia’s most respected black and death metal acts such as PORTAL, IMPETUOUS RITUAL, GRAVE UPHEAVAL, DISENTOMB, and many others, how do you find the national live scene after a few years on the circuit?
XI – Real underground shows happen few and far between. There are a few diehards left that put it all on the line to put on festivals and shows with substance. But aside from the odd international support show a few times a year, black metal shows don't really happen. I guess you could say it's on a quality over quantity basis.
The Aura Noir shows were something special as I have looked up to each member and their musical output since I first got into extreme music. Getting to meet them, getting along and playing some cool shows was definitely a highlight. We have been very fortunate in regards to the calibre of bands we get to share the stage with. It's truly humbling to meet other musicians that walk a similar path and are still grounded and interesting humans.
The band photos included in the promotional material I received feature all members adorning either facemasks or full face-covering hoods. What’s the reason for this anonymity?
Gloom – It really ties back into the question about not wanting to be defined by other influences, the removal of familiarity and trying to let the music speak for itself. The purpose of creating the art is to build a certain atmosphere, which should be maintained. From an audience perspective, we aren’t your friends. That isn’t to say that we are impolite or aren’t friendly, but when it comes to Graveir the time for jokes is over, as it must be to maintain focus and clarity of vision. XI – It helps remove the human element and prepare for the state of mind required to execute and perform the Graveir material. It's not about trends. It's part of the evolution. Our music gets darker. So does the frame of mind. And subsequently, so does our attire.
As I was listening to the new album and going over the press information provided, it became clear that, as with previous efforts, this release has been filtered through a meticulous sieve musically, lyrically and conceptually.
The music itself is akin to being in the mind of someone with Bipolar disorder. A song will start off with an almost pleasant motif, lots of soaring melodic guitar work and breathable space within the composition, and then at the turn of a hat dives deep down into audible lunacy. There are harsh moments of violent dissonance and hysteria woven around their sonic antithesis.
Once again, I’m interested in how these songs came to be, what went into them and what is expected to come out of them and into the listener?
Gloom – I think that goes back to the whole concept of diametrically opposed things often being extremely similar and sparking tension. I only know despair because I have felt hope, and it’sall the more crushing because having known hope, I feel its absence all the more keenly. The contrast is a deliberate one to help better draw out the emotions and motifs within the songs.
XI – We really focused on songwriting and making the best soundscape for each riff and idea. We spent probably a year and a half dissecting and reworking ideas until they had their own energy. The intent is always there. Make the angry riffs sharp. Make the mournful songs deep. With conviction or not at all.
Are there any specific musical influences at play here?
Gloom – Speaking solely for myself, as we have multiple songwriters in the band, I try not to think about other bands when writing riffs. I take a sense of what feels “right” to me. If I were to list influences they don’t necessarily make sense on paper. For me its THIN LIZZY, which shows up as our two guitars rarely play the same thing as one another, IMMOLATION for the unusual chords and structures and CROWBAR for the downtrodden atmosphere. Filter that through a black metal lens and this is what you get, apparently. XI – I personally don't let music I listen to influence my songwriting process. My inspiration comes from moods and experiences. We all share interests in similar bands but our goal is not to emulate but more to just let our own sound emerge through trial and error.
What is the intended emotion behind these songs and where is it coming from? Gloom – Lyrically, it’s quite themed around the inevitability of age, decay and death, confronting our mortality and being haunted by our failures. Humans are frail and pathetic in many respects and we often deceive ourselves around the darker aspects that lie within us. This dishonesty or unwillingness to reconcile our full nature often leads to us suppressing our less acceptable qualities which manifest themselves in negative ways and often end up controlling us. Overall, the album is an exploration of our feelings towards ageing, the manner of our death and of dying itself. The emotions the listener experiences could range anywhere from triumph to tragedy, such is the nature of our existence.
On top of that, the track titles are once again topics of inspection themselves. ‘Phantasms in Daguerreotype’ caught my eye in particular.
The daguerreotype process, or daguerreotypy, was the first publicly available photographic process, widely used during the 1840s and 1850s, and was named after its inventor, French artist Louis Daguerre. Each image captured using this technique was exposed, through a camera, onto a polished sheet of silver-plated copper and would then be made visible by fuming the sheet with mercury vapour, resulting in the image appearing as both positive and negative, depending on the light and angle from which it is viewed. The idea that these types of images would contain ghostly images, or phantasms, is not difficult to comprehend, nor is the possibility that these ghastly visions were perhaps a direct result of utilising mercury in the process.
Gloom – It fits with the visual and the theme. Typically when writing lyrics I get vivid imagery in my head and use that image to explore a concept that exposes the uncomfortable parts of our nature. This song was about a person in the twilight of life, mourning their past, the loss of youth, the mistakes they made and what could have been. I envisaged they were looking at an old photograph.
The positive/negative aspect comes in as, on one hand, their idealised younger self is unable to move forward, trapped forever in the moment of capture, while the present self is unable to go back and is destined only to decline and expire.
The phantasms part comes from imperfections in the daguerreotype process or the plates being prone to decay and scratching, which sometimes resulted in “apparitions” appearing in photos. In the song they represent being haunted by the past and being unable to properly live in the present as a result.
How much research goes into your song lyrics and how are these lyrics woven into the music?
Gloom – To me it’s less about research as much as it is following a line of thought and connecting it to the visual that forms around it. I’m philosophical and curious by nature so I end up absorbing a lot of information incidentally, but it is rare that I would actively research an idea, usually I’m drawing on pre-existing knowledge.
What do you have planned for the immediate future regarding the new album and the band in general? XI – We are planning to release this album and let it run its course. We have begun working on new material for future releases and we have something a little different in the works for our next release. All will see the light when they are ready.
Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.
Gloom – I would like to thank you for your considered questions. The exchange of ideas, rather than the exchange of noise passed off as conversation, is genuinely refreshing.