Interview with experimental maestro Ephel Duath
The project Ephel Duath was created in February 1998 in Padova, Italy, with the precise intent of experimenting in the sphere of extreme music. At the root of the group’s name lies the concept of a dark and fleeting sound: Ephel Dúath is in fact the mountain range that defends the kingdom of Mordor in Tolkien’s masterpiece. Initially the band started out as a Duo, with Giuliano Mogicato (voice, guitar, synth and programming) and Davide Tiso (guitar), the only founding member still in the line-up, both were eighteen at the time. In October of the same year the demo tape “Opera” is released; 6 tracks of extreme metal with symphonic traits which brought the name of Ephel Duath to be compared with the style of Limbonic Art and Emperor.
At the end of 1999 the first release contract was signed with Code666, at the time an emerging Italian label known for its courageous decisions and opposition to the general trend. In May 2000 the debut album “Phormula” is released, produced at the time by Riccardo Pasini. Between 2003 and 2009 Ephel Duath have intensely played live, headlining several European Tours, taking part to some of the most important European summer festival and sharing the stage with some of the finest metal acts.
Currently based in San Francisco, CA, Ephel Duath and signed to Agonia Records from Poland, featuring Karyn Crisis on vocals, Marco Minnemann on drums and Steve di Giorgio on bass. A new full-length album is in the works and is expected in 2013.
HMA: About “On Death and Cosmos”, can you tell us about this incredible record?
Ephel Duath: When I felt it was time to return composing for ED, I noticed pretty soon that the material was going to be very dark and cryptic, longer songs with riffs upon riffs melting on each other, everything in order to create as many intense moods as possible. I let my inspiration go, without questioning too much were I was supposed to bring the band this time, and the songs came out effortless, the whole process was extremely liberating.
In 2005, with the album “Pain Necessary to Know” I started working with open song structures and more dissonant riffs, that mindset was probably the only pre-defined direction I hold onto while composing “On Death and Cosmos”.
HMA: I believe a new full-length record is to be released in 2013… what musical directions have you in store for us eagerly waiting?
Ephel Duath: The new ED album is absolutely the most ambitious piece of work I have ever dealt with. I’m in love with what we created this time around. Since at the very early stages of the production we knew there were definitely a lot of challenges to be overcome. Once in studio, together with producer Erik Rutan we decided to not force the entire production into a specific deadline, but to give the songs all the time they need to shine and breath. Between the recording process and the final mix there will be a few months of break and the whole album will benefit tremendously because of it. It will be printed at the end of July, ready for early Fall release.
Musically the songs are very layered, there’s a lot of dynamic, there are peaks and valley, there’s a lot of sorrowful but empowering melody. Each song feels like a journey and each song has a specific and defined personality.
HMA: Karyn Crisis delivered the vocals, how did this relationship started?
Ephel Duath: Karyn and I got introduced in 2009 by a common friend, Eraldo Bernocchi, that was supposed to produce her solo album. I was asked to help with the guitars and we worked on the project for several months. Karyn and Eraldo didn’t get along during the production, the project got dropped and he song dismembered. Karyn and I, that at the time started a relationship, decide to move to California together, to finish the album and starting a life together.
That album was a tough one to be completed but we are almost there, it would be probably ready at the end of the year.
HMA: Dehn Sora is responsible for the artwork, what symbolism and meaning are concealed?
Ephel Duath: I wanted the artwork to put in image the strong title chosen for the EP. To me there’s nothing that symbolize life as much a tree: a tree on fire is one of the most painful image to look at and that is how I wanted to portrait the idea of Death. The Cosmos is represented by a black, starred sky without atmosphere in the background.
I think that Dehn Sora’s poetic imagery fits extremely well Ephel Duath. I didn’t know his work before, this very young French artist was suggested to me by Filip of Agonia Records and we’ll absolutely keep working with him in the future. The fact that Dehn Sora is also a big ED fan is making this collaboration even more exciting: he’s working the extra mile for us and I’m so proud of what we are creating together.
HMA: How best describe your style or artistic philosophy?
Ephel Duath: I hide myself in the music I compose, I feel at home right there, hence, my artistic philosophy is based on giving everything and, being ready to sacrifice everything, for my music. This has a lot of collateral problem, like my hard time letting my music go. After a musician record an album he’s usually eager to share it with people. He’s curious to know what people think about it. He’s hoping for praises or worried for negative feedback. When I record an album, I just want to keep it for myself..
Everything I compose is based on gut feelings: if a riff, a melody or a passage give me the chills, or make me drop a tear or two, it’s a keeper. That’s how I start. To put together a song I spend a lot of time making sure that every part has a reason to exist and it’s well valorized in the whole contest. I treat each and every song with the most care possible, and, composing, it extremely rewarding for me to see the songs grow day after day.
HMA: Your musical approach is often described as Avant-Garde Jazz, are you confortable with this label?
Ephel Duath: I would probably say Avant-Garde Metal more than Avant-Garde Jazz. My knowledge of jazz is pretty limited and my approach to Ephel Duath is probably the antithesis of jazz being based so much onto structure, but there’s something about jazz chords that deeply resonate with me: I feel there’s an hidden, secret beauty in most of them, even the more dissonant. Through the years, I somehow managed to incorporate some jazz flavor in my musical palette and it became part of Ephel Duath sound.
HMA: Kind of exceptional for a primarily Metal band, right?
Ephel Duath: I consider Ephel Duath a metal band with a pretty wide range of influences: I would say that death metal, jazz and post rock are three main music genres that one can easily point out listening to our music. I spend more time arranging my songs than composing them. I want everything to sound flawless and natural, I never liked bands who cross over genres but keep them well separate in their sound. I want my band to sound like the result of a lot of musical inputs, an elegant blend of it, not a showcase of different genres forced in the same song.
HMA: Lyrical subjects are unusual and uncommon, yet they provide incredible experience and unexpected emotions. What is the inspirational world of Ephel Duath?
Ephel Duath: Writing lyrics is a very deep and demanding process for me, I love to do that, but it is consuming me as the same time: like puking for minutes straight. I put in poetic images very personal thoughts, I try to put my fears out: I get as naked as possible with my words. “On Death and Cosmos” holds together some of the lyrics I’m most attached to. These words erupted from me, and all three songs are lyrically tied together by the theme of Death and mourning, and the escape represented by the Cosmos.
After a personal loss, I felt in a terrible depression and returning to compose for Ephel Duath was the way out from that paralyzing state. Some days I was feeling so bad that I felt my mind getting take over by the spirit of my dead beloved, who was not accepting his death and wanted to keep living through me: the opening song Black Prism pictures the hopeless search of oneself in the splitting process of spirit attachment.
“I lie between layers of perception
I’m neither here or there
Twice but still nothing
My image multiplies
While my sight plays dead and regress”
The song Raqia, the ancient Hebrew word for the english “firmament”, marks the pain caused by abandonment and the excruciating consequencies of letting go.
“You may be as lonely as I feel
But the emptiness around you is cosmic
Mine tastes just like flesh”
Composing the lyrics of “On Death and Cosmos” I spent a great deal of time out at night, listening music, smoking cigarettes and looking at the sky. Considering the turmoil my life was in at that moment, writing new lyrics I was literally pushing my sight and my mind as distant as possible from that mess I was in. I wrote this way every time I got the chance and I started to feel a pretty strong comforting sensation while immersing my head and thoughts into the sky/firmament/Raqia entity. I read that warming feeling like the confirmation that my healing process was supposed to pass through that stage to get to the core of my pain and I kept going.
The closing track Stardust Rain is an ode to self-purification through inner death of senses.
“I am the black coat
Where stars hide in
I protect each of them
One by one
They keep shining to live
I let them burning to live
To my slow death I aim to”
This is probably the song I feel closer to. Everything in life has a positive and a negative power, I think that bad situations are the one that teach us the most: loss gives us the chance to readjust or even reshape ourselves during and after the mourning process. This positive chance offered by such traumatic experience is blurred out by the big dose of pain involved but I’m confident that each of us while suffering, on the long run, have the chance to know how much they are changing and self transforming day after day.
I changed for better while mourning: I was an unfocused and worst person before my grandfather died. His death brought some good to me, I had the chance to find myself again, and as I wrote inside the booklet of “On Death and Cosmos”: “It took one’s death to give life back to another”.
HMA: “Through my dog’s eyes” proves this. How did the concept developed?
Ephel Duath: Since I was a kid I always been intrigued by dog’s eyes: they are probably among the warmest among any pet or animals out there. Looking at a dog’s eyes it’s almost impossible to think that animals don’t have a soul. Trying to not do a condescending comparison between the cold side of human souls and the warm side of the animal one, I developed a concept album based on short stories I wrote with an imaginary dog as main character. In these stories the dog face simple daily actions, but I made sure to always keep the animal point of view, and writing I quickly discovered how much more intensity the action itself was gaining.
HMA: How do the media and reviewers handle these incredible diverse topics?
Ephel Duath: Once in a while a journalist during interviews seems interested into talking deeper about the band’s lyrics but it happen rarely. I remember people being intrigued by the “Through my dog’s eyes” concept, but it was more a matter of curiosity: you don’t see a metal album with a title like that that often.
HMA: Is Italy experiencing a new musical rebirth?
Ephel Duath: I really hope so, but I miss from Italy since a while now and what I can tell you about the Italian scene is entirely based on what I read online. There are great bands from Italy, almost in every musical genre. Among of my favorites there are: Ufomammut, Cripple Bastards, The Secret, Hours of Penance, Aborym. Unfortunately a couple of years ago we lost the best band ever born from my country: ZU. That was a jewel, one of those bands that pop from nowhere just once every ten or fifteen years.
HMA: Thanks once again for joining us look forward to your next release!
Ephel Duath: Thank you so much for the interview and the support. For updates on the upcoming album please follow the band at facebook.com/ephelduathofficial
Copyright 2013 © Alex Milazzo, Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.