The black metal scene in the United Kingdom has, in my opinion, only a select number of bands which do the genre justice. I’ve found myself edging away from certain acts and was beginning to lose hope that I’d come across another band which actually ‘did it’ for me.
Fortunately, a friend randomly sent me a You Tube link to Arx Atrata, and I was captivated within minutes. I’m proud to present this interview with Arx Atrata and once you’re done reading it, I suggest you check out their exquisite debut album ‘Oblivion.’
My research failed to lead me to uncovering the history of Arx Atrata. Would you care to talk about the band’s origins and its members?
It was always the intention to reveal very little about who is behind Arx Atrata, for no reason other than to allow the music to stand (or fall) on its own merits. The first track was spread online in an attempt to reach interested listeners without relying on word of mouth, prior reputation, label promotion, or awareness in a local scene. Thankfully this succeeded!
Currently the band is a solo project, with all composition, performance, recording, and production responsibilities handled by one person. It will probably remain this way unless there is a specific demand for live performances in future.
How long was it from the formation of the band, to the completion and release of your debut album Oblivion?
Gathering ideas for the first track started back in late 2010, with the intention that the album would be finished the following year. Obviously that did not happen! It took almost 18 months to create the skeletons of the 5 tracks that make up Oblivion, and a further 6 months to complete them. As with almost all musicians these days, the album was written and recorded during the evenings and weekends to fit around other commitments, hence the extended time-scales. But in a way this is a blessing as it gives you time to reflect on the tracks and ensure you are producing the best work you can – not always practical if you are trying to fit everything in to a fixed number of studio sessions over a short period.
What is the origin of the name Arx Atrata, and how did you come to choose it? Did you find deciding on a name difficult?
Choosing a name was incredibly difficult! Perhaps one of the key challenges here was the need for a name that came with few connotations about what the music would sound like or what topics the lyrics would address, as these are likely to be fluid over the band’s lifetime. Arx Atrata is Latin – or something very close to Latin! – for ‘blackened citadel’. The choice of Latin, essentially a dead language, imparts some sort of timelessness as well as a hint of times that are now forever lost to us. Hopefully the name as a whole reflects the music well.
What are your thoughts on the current black metal scene in the UK? Would you consider yourself an enthusiastic part of it, or do you tend to distance yourself from gigs, festivals and social media forums?
The UK black metal scene is certainly vibrant at the moment. Winterfylleth and Wodensthrone are starting to reach the wider audiences they deserve, for example. And there are a whole bunch of great bands right now starting to make their mark: Fen, Cnoc An Tursa, Old Corpse Road, Fyrdsman, A Forest Of Stars, etc.
But to some degree it’s an arbitrary geographical division; a large part of the recent development has arguably been about bringing in outside influences, such as the folk-tinged aspects Primordial and Agalloch have been honing for years, or the soundscapes you might get from Alcest or Wolves In The Throne Room. Not to mention Drudkh, Negură Bunget, Dornenreich… Perhaps what is surprising is how little of the influence on the UK scene has come directly from Scandinavia, all things considered.
Do Arx Atrata fit into all this? That’s for others to decide. But it is a good time to be writing black metal, as long as you are bringing something interesting to the table.
Oblivion is an unforgettable journey. It’s an album which harnesses the atmospheric elements of black metal, and also the harsher, more primitive essentials. Can you talk about the creation of the album? Was it a straightforward process? What would you say were the biggest challenges?
Writing the album was essentially three separate tasks, though each were repeated and revisited many times during the songwriting period. The first aspect is deciding exactly what sort of music to write, which influences should be felt most strongly, and how the different instruments should be balanced to meet those needs. The second aspect is writing parts that meet those criteria, ensuring the message comes through while attempting to steer clear of musical clichés. The third part is arranging all these parts into a set of cohesive songs, ensuring each song is its own journey as well as making the album a unified whole.
Time constraints were already mentioned above so the only other big challenge to speak of was trying to get the balance of elements right. In particular, making sure not to let either the keyboards or the guitars dominate the other was vital to the vision of maintaining light and shade throughout. Whether that was a success or not is for others to judge!
Can you talk about the cover art for Oblivion and how you came to the art we are presented with today? Do you think album cover art in general is losing is importance, what with the increase of digital downloading and streaming sites such as Spotify?
The art for Oblivion was made by a talented graphic artist long before the album was finished; it was just luck that the work was available for Arx Atrata when the release date was approaching. It was chosen as it is stark and cold, fitting one of the album’s main themes perfectly, that of the inhuman cruelty of nature. Hopefully you see the artwork and know what kind of music you are going to get.
Having said that, I do think that album art is less important these days. Few of us spend our days idly thumbing through collections of 12” vinyl. But true fans usually do demand a physical copy of the albums they love, and high quality album art shows that you respect that choice.
What music did you find yourself drawn to during the creation of Oblivion?
Ultimately my musical interests remain constant no matter what I am working on so there is little I can say on this that would be relevant. Occasionally it would be useful to fire up the album of one of the influences to have a reminder of the musical landscape, but on the whole, writing music requires focusing on that rather than other people’s music.
What would you say are the principal influences for the music of Arx Atrata?
Oblivion owes a heavy debt to the German band Coldworld, and Swiss act Paysage D’Hiver. Both bands demonstrated that black metal could co-exist with keyboards without going down the symphonic route a la Dimmu Borgir or even the industrial route like Samael. But the other main aspect influencing our sound (though maybe not so apparent in the end product) is the folk-inspired aspects of bands like Agalloch, Winterfylleth, and Primordial, who use the instrumentation and approaches of traditional music as effective seasoning for their musical meal rather than the incongruous side-dish you sometimes get with bands that tack on a fiddle or accordion to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward metal sound.
Take those two major considerations, throw in hints of the modern “post-black” scene (though arguably that is a misnomer) and shades of blackened doom (eg. Forest Silence, Woods of Ypres, Forest Stream, Raventale) and that’s what Arx Atrata is aspiring to be.
Your debut album has been received with astonishing success. Did you expect such a response? How does it feel?
The response has completely exceeded all expectations. This means there is a bit of pressure in terms of ensuring a follow-up is of equal quality! But that is a good problem to have. All you want as a musician operating in this sort of genre is to be able to create the music that matters to you, and hopefully to be supported by fans enough to be able to continue to do so, and that is exactly what has happened. As such, it’s a great feeling.
The band is based in Nottingham, but the music would argue otherwise. When you create your music, is your mind far from home?
I think a lot of people, when they hear black metal, half-expect all the musicians to live in a hut out in the wilderness, only one harsh winter storm away from a Valfar-like demise. But the reality is usually much more mundane; we all have day jobs and fairly regular lives, which usually entails living in or a near a city. And recording an album usually requires that you have access to guitars, amplifiers, computers, and all sorts of technology. But modern life arguably brings with it a new kind of solitude, not one of physical distance, but one of anonymity and disassociation. It’s not hard, even for a city-dweller surrounded by others, to find themselves feeling alone, and the urban environment can often be no more welcoming than a winter landscape. So imagining desolate and barren places is not difficult to do. Besides, there are many other forms of escapism that can be drawn upon for inspiration when looking out the window will not suffice: books, films, and even some video games can set the mood.
What impact would you say winter has on you creatively?
Very little, to be honest! As mentioned above, writing is about getting into the mindset, which can be done a variety of ways. Besides, an artist can rarely afford to wait for inspiration to come to them; whatever the field, art is mostly about forcing yourself to create even when you’re not completely in the mood for it. And waiting for winter to make itself truly known is difficult in a city that has only seen a handful of snowy days in the last few years. The spirit of winter comes from within!
When it comes to collecting music, what is your personal preference?
I exclusively buy CDs, but they are immediately ripped onto the computer for listening. This is an interesting tension, I think. I have no interest in having to carry plastic discs around with me when I want to hear music, and the freedom to be able to quickly listen to what I want, whatever order, from whatever device, is important to me. But as a recording artist – with Arx Atrata and other projects – I know that purchasing CDs is essential for supporting the bands. Acts like this can’t make money from gigs and the demand for merchandise is too low to even cover the costs of getting the merch made. And streaming sites pay absolutely nothing. So album purchases are the only game in town if you want to support the smaller bands. The choice is between CDs and digital, and I like having the album art, sleeve notes, and a physical backup in case my computer is hit by lightning, so I’ll be sticking with buying CDs for the foreseeable future.
What can we expect from Arx Atrata in the coming months?
Currently I am busy with my other musical project, but there is a tentative plan to produce a second run of the Oblivion album so that those who missed out on the digipak can still get a physical copy. Ideally that will happen in the next month or two.
After that, there will be some reflection on how to approach a second album. There’s no point retreading the same winter theme for another fifty minutes of music so the main challenge will be to evolve the music in a fresh direction, interpreting the influences differently and coming up with a new subject for the lyrics and titles. I’m not a believer in re-inventing a band’s sound though, so have no fear – if you liked the first album, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the second, however it ends up sounding. Writing for that will commence later in the year.