zondag 13 mei 2018

Whispers In The Shadow: I have no high hopes for humanity anymore.

Whispers In The Shadow has made a name as a supplier of gothic rock inspired by occult themes. After a break of four years - the band kept playing live and singer Ashley Dayour made a number of records with The Devil & The Universe and Near Earth Orbit - they are back in a strange transformation. 'The Urgency Of Now' is in fact the most political record of the band. And of course we wanted to know everything about it.
Dear Ashley. The new cd ‘The Urgency Of Now’ sees a thematic shift for Whispers In The Shadow. You finished your occult series counting four releases - ‘Into the Arms of Chaos’, ‘The Eternal Arcane’, ‘The Rites Of Passage’ and ‘Beyond the Cycles of Time’ - in 2014. The new cd seems to focus on current events and politics. Why this shift?

For me, everything was said and done concerning the occult driven themes. It took 7 years to complete the cycle and after that we really needed a change of things, otherwise everything would feel far too safe for my liking. Besides, in these times I would feel sort of silly still singing about magicians who are dead and buried for 100 years or more. Don’t get me wrong I’m still very much drawn to these sort of things, but there are more pressing matters at the moment. As an artist you do have a certain responsibility to speak up. For your audience but also for yourself. We don’t have the luxury anymore to say: this isn’t my concern.
The title track ‘The Urgency Of Now’ seems like a call to action. You said you wanted to evoke a sense of urgency. What’s so urgent about the current situation?
It’s actually less a call to arms as such, it’s more a call to be aware of the here and now, not getting distracted by everything else going on. And if you see it as a call to arms, which isn’t completely wrong either, well the urgency is kind of obvious isn’t it? Open a newspaper, walk down the streets and look into people’s eyes and tell me these matters aren’t urgent. If you still think that way, well ignorance can be a blessing. 
‘Detractors’ seem to handle the problem of ‘fake news’. Conspiracy theories are popular, people and organizations are trying to influence elections by spreading messages on social media… ‘No one controls the controls’, indeed. Though I am skeptical about some measures authorities put forward which could lead to censorship. Is the real solution not to raise critical awareness while maintaining free speech?
There is a big difference between free speech and the use of F-News to influence people. The problem of course is how democracy can survive without giving up one of its basic rights. As for all these conspiracy theories and why they are on the rise, look it is pretty simple. We are living in uncertain times, we are standing on the crossroads, but people want certainty. A conspiracy theory provides exactly that. The world becomes black and white, things become clearer. There is someone to blame and for sure that is not yourself or your kind of people. That is exactly how all the populists in the world are working. They provide simple answers to very difficult questions. Questions nobody has the answers for actually. The problem with all that, people seem to forget there is and never was any certainty of any kind. Every certainty is an illusion. 
‘A Rhythm Called Zero’ refers to an artistic performance by Yugoslav artist Marina Abramović, in which the public could do to her what they wanted with a number of objects. Some people did hurt her and at one point someone even pointed a gun - one of the objects - at her. Other people in the public intervened to stop these destructive acts. It seems a good metaphor for today’s society. If people are given power and freedom, will they use it in a destructive or in an ethical way?
Indeed, humans have a thing for destruction, for self-destruction actually, because that’s where it leads to in the end. And as we are living in a total capitalist society, profit will always be the one thing that spins the wheels. It’s all a machine. I have no high hopes for humanity anymore. The only thing one can do is: be a better person with the people you know, but also in general. Don’t give in to all the hate and fear mongering going on. And always, always think twice before screaming out in anger! And never ever raise your hand. Violence can never be the answer to anything.
I’m a humanist. I value life. I will never understand why someone would be so stupid to raise the hand to another person. I don’t get the concept. I never have. Not even in schoolyard. I never understood the fighting, it always seemed like total weakness to me.
But I have to point out this very song is also about the respect artist and audience should have for each other, especially the former to the later. Today, I sometimes have the feeling the audience thinks they kind of own the artist, which of course never is the case.
You said the lyrics of the closing song ‘Exit-Gardens’ are central to the theme of ‘The Urgency Of Now’. You refer to the Greek myth of Kadmon and Europa, in which Kadmon leaves Syria to look for Europa, who has been abducted by Zeus. It is not difficult to see a link with Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe. On the other hand, people are looking for the Exit-Gardens, so as not to be confronted with this problem.
Exactly. You got it a 120% right. Exit-Gardens is written from the point of view of that kind of person. Someone who thinks he can stay away from all that, who just wants to have a good time and is not taking responsibility to speak up and go against what is going on. A total egoistical asshole, so to speak. When I write songs, even when singing in the first perspective, I don’t always necessarily write about my own point of view. Sometimes I invent “characters” and sing from their point of view. I think about how they would see things, what are their motivations, et cetera.

Were you inspired by events in Austria? I mean, the far-right party FPÖ have reached a high score in the presidential elections and are now in the government led by the christian democrat Sebastian Kurz, based on an anti-immigration agenda.
Well by far not only in Austria. It is happening all over the world. The despots and detractors are on the rise everywhere. I have to point out the album was already recorded when they won the Austrian election. But it wasn’t exactly rocket science to see that coming, to call myself a prophet would be total self-indulgence.
The sad thing is that the conservative party is now also way more on the right side. There is not much difference anymore between the far right and the center right. There is no center right anymore, actually. Their anti-immigration politics are just the tip of the iceberg, though. There are a lot of things going on. Education, labor politics… It feels like everything is going backwards at light speed. It’s frightening really. But what concerns me the most is that I have the feeling that a lot of people are about to give up on resistance, at least here in Austria. I’m afraid that people are about to get used to this kind of ultra-right-wing politics, it’s becoming “normal”. I totally despise that.  
So international politics inspired you too. I might be wrong, but I can’t help thinking about Trump when I hear ‘The Rat King’, which of course refers to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Perhaps it’s the line: ‘Trumpets instead of flutes’…
Yeah. Like a said above, it’s the overall state of the nations. The whole metaphor with the piper and all that, well I couldn’t think of a better one. This album is very much rooted in the here and now, hence the title. It has nothing to do with escapism and in that way, it is the total opposite of what we did before. But - and that is very important - I’m not telling people what to do. I ask questions, I don’t have the answers. What we did with this album is providing a mirror to reflect the times we are living in. A mirror to reflect one’s self in all this mess. It’s upon the listener to look into it, to reflect. If this album makes just one listener think twice it has fulfilled its purpose and was worth it.
There’s a reference to Aleister Crowley in ‘Watchcry’, some occult references in ‘Lake Of Fire’, and H.P. Lovecraft was the inspiration for the ‘Exit Gardens’, which Alan Moore used in his comic ‘Providence’. It seems you can’t completely leave these references -which you have used for a very long time - behind. Why are they so dear to you?
Because they are still part of my life and always will be. Like you said there are some references here and there, but they are more hidden, they are more part of the songs but the songs are not about them.
You said it is very important for you to be understood correctly this time. Some of the references require some knowledge and perseverance. Do you expect the audience to understand all these references? And why is this so important to you?
I personally think it is kind of lazy to write a song with lyrics like
“Fuck Trump and the FPÖ” or something like this. Other bands do that way better. For me it needs to be a little bit more lyrical. I also think our audience is clever enough to decode some of the metaphors. The big difference this time is, it’s an album that actually can be understood. With the predecessors, I knew 80% of the people out there wouldn’t have a clue of what I’m writing about. And since I’m not a preacher, I couldn’t have cared less. But this time there is indeed a message, which is: think twice, don’t give in to all the hate and fear mongering, stay human and c
hoose life!
Pictures: Maria Wagner

dinsdag 8 mei 2018

Ground Nero: The derailed capitalist system has made luxury wage slaves of many people, in whom the hunger for luxury seems to have no limits.

Ground Nero has been able to become one of the best Belgian gothic rock groups in a short time. After their first EP BEYOND from 2016 they are now back with a second EP called SCALES, which contains four magical tracks. But where is that full-length record then? Dark Entries put on their bravest stance and asked the gentlemen themselves.
After the wonderful debut BEYOND you are now back with SCALES, a second EP. Two EP's in a row, is not that too much?
After BEYOND, we continued to work and soon we had a lot of new material ready. But we thought it was too early for a full album.
As the name implies, SCALES is a kind of "trade-off exercise" in which we explore and scan the quadrants within our genre, the cold / dark wave & gothic rock genres. We did that already with BEYOND, but with SCALES we have gone a lot further, especially in terms of production. That is why we also chose 4 completely different songs.
Personally, I think that SCALES is very much a sequel to BEYOND, but I know that you have worked hard on the arrangements and that there is additional electronic programming. Can I say that you have chosen to work in depth, more quality instead of quantity?
SCALES is a deliberate choice, and it follows as a logical evolution on BEYOND, but also as an intermediate step, one leading up to a full album. Indeed, compared to BEYOND, the arrangements are much more complex, which has also been translated into extra studio time. It has taken much longer than with BEYOND. That has also led to the songs sounding richer and fuller. In that sense we have indeed worked more on quality, rather than on quantity, and we will probably continue in that direction in the future.
Shall we take a look at the songs? 'Bannockburn' refers to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, a major victory of the Scots against the English. How did you come to that theme?
That is actually pure chance. Our guitarist, Nomad, was experimenting with new sounds. After listening to those sounds, we found that there were certain riffs, which looked very much like the sound of a bagpipes. We have worked on this and have made a "Scottish" song out of it, which sounded very militaristic because of the beat, and from there to the battle of Bannockburn, which today is mentioned frequently when it comes to the Scottish independence struggle, is but a small step. But in terms of content the song also has a double layer: in addition to the historical character, there is also the story of the "universal soldier" who is eventually confronted with his individual situation on the battlefield, and his choice, which he has or does not have ...
'Parasites' is a very dark number. The title suggests that you have a hard time with people who 'parasitize'. What should I imagine?
Yes, despite the fact that some of our songs contain an autobiographical content, this song has a universal character too: everyone does have people in his or her environment who benefit from the goodwill of others: at work or in the family, friends, neighbors, or in politics, you always meet them: people who think they are entitled to the goodness of others, and who abuse it without any scruples.
'Plethora' is one of those songs where you have clearly made work of danceable programming. A conscious choice, I assume ...
Indeed, the song has been developed from the beat and the associated programming. That is also one of those differences with BEYOND: the percussion and the arpeggiator synths that we have used on SCALES give the songs more vibes and power, but on the other hand, and specifically in this case, more danceable.
We also hear a quote from Churchill in the song. That makes me curious about the theme of the song ...
Yes, it is in fact about the "abundance (Plethora) of information" with which we are confronted on a daily basis, and which also manipulates us enormously in forming our opinions.
In the time of Churchill, there was the radio - or a TV for some people - as almost the only mass communication medium. It was only one voice that communicated to the masses. Today you have "multi-level" communication from everyone to everyone, including through social media and so on, which makes it very difficult for people today to develop a "consistent" opinion about something and to act accordingly. In that sense, the text of the song is also pretty ironic.
'Karoshi' closes the record. It is a Japanese term for dying from too much work. I don’t think that is a purely Japanese phenomenon anymore today. Many people break down because of the burnout epidemic. How do you see this problem evolve?
Yes, Karoshi is no longer an exclusive Japanese phenomenon, but Japanese is the only language - as far as we know - that has a specific name for this. And that is very interesting from a linguistic point of view, in the sense that the language is a reflection of a society and a culture.
How do we think it will evolve? The derailed capitalist system has made luxury wage slaves of many people, in whom the hunger for luxury seems to have no limits. This extreme materialism makes people ill, because their dependence on that luxury is directly linked to the fact that they are not allowed to lose their work and have to earn more and more. That gives people so much stress at work that they get burn-outs. That will probably continue for a while and get worse, until people start to see that they do not need that mess and start to detach themselves from it. Some people need a burn-out to come to this insight and see that all those luxury products have no value at all.
You pay a lot of attention to the lyrics. Why are they not published?
Indeed, much attention is paid to the lyrics, and they are now being published. They were not there yet at the first vinyl version of BEYOND, but they were later on with the CD version. Future releases will also contain the lyrics.
You had a contract with Gothic Music Records to release the EP on CD, but I now understand that this is not so certain anymore. Will there be a CD release or will it remain a digital publication?
That's right, there will be a release. We have a new record label, the German "Danse Macabre", known in the scene, and SCALES will be released on CD by them. That will happen sometime in the coming weeks.
And finally: when can we expect a complete record from you?
We are working hard now. It will be planned in consultation with Danse Macabre somewhere in the spring of 2019, but a concrete release date is not yet fixed.
Ground Nero: bandcamp / facebook
Pictures: Luc Luyten (Winterfest 2018)