Interview with frontman Dominik Goncalves dos Reis | By Thomas Pizzola
We all have a limited number of years on this planet. As we age, we learn that our time is short and we better make the most of it. German progressive black metallers Downfall Of Gaia take on the question of mortality on their fifth album, Ethic of Radical Finitude, out Feb. 8 through Metal Blade Records. The band have never been ones to shy away from tackling big issues, and with this album, they get right to the heart of the matter.
It’s something that has been on the mind of vocalist and guitarist Dominik Goncalves dos Reis for a while.
“I wouldn’t say ‘always,’ but the more time passes in your life, the more conscious attention it gets, the more ‘real’ all of this gets,” he says. “Somehow, it’s still surreal, and on the other hand, it’s something no one is able to hide or run away from. Life will teach you relentlessly, and these are lessons all of us have to take. It’s definitely one of those fascinating but also intimidating big topics of life.”
The lyrics on the album fit right into this theme.
“Ethic [of Radical Finitude] is telling a story about discontented minds and the never-ending pursuit for more. I guess everyone in life is trying to find this special ‘warm’ and safe place, their special place, to feel ‘home,’ to feel ‘safe,’ to feel satisfied, but maybe, at some point, you need to accept that it may never come, that you will never ‘arrive,’” Goncalves dos Reis says. “The time we have is limited, limited by death, but even if death itself has a bad reputation, it’s the only thing that makes the time you have worthy, since without it, everything would be forever and absolutely nothing would have any value. No one would try to use their given time; no one would ever be on the hunt for their special place. It simply would be meaningless. It’s relentlessly finitude [and] mortality.”
In order to meet the demands of their weighty subject matter, the band—who also include guitarist Marco Mazzola, bassist Anton Lisovoj, and drummer Michael Kadnar—have once again extended their sonic palette, building on their core black metal sound with progressive elements. The songs take the listener on an emotional journey. Moments of utter savagery are followed by moments of utter beauty. This is essential to their songcraft.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to have all of these ups and downs included if it’s not a classic three- or four-minute song, otherwise you are in danger of just repeating yourself for 10 minutes, which may get a bit boring at some point,” Goncalves dos Reis says. “I know there are also people who are into this, but it’s definitely nothing that would be satisfying for anyone from the four of us. Overall, it’s a completely different intensity, and I would say that songs like these are more like a journey with different stops on your way. I guess you can’t have one without the other.”
Ethic of Radical Finitude marks another turn in the sonic evolution of Downfall Of Gaia.
“I would say that this record has a lot of elements of our previous releases to offer, combined with the path we took on [2016’s] Atrophy. I would definitely say it’s ‘the next step,’” Goncalves dos Reis says. “Overall, it was really important for us to give all of these songs the time they need, to let them grow and unfold, but without losing the path of ‘harsh aggression.’ We definitely gave ourselves more time than ever before for this one, and that’s something you can hear, I think. Ethic of Radical Finitude is by far our most dynamic and melodic release to date.”
Downfall Of Gaia also enlisted a bevy of guest performers to help them enhance their vision on the new album. Former guitarist Peter Wolff plays on “Seduced By…,” while former drummer Johannes Stoltenburg provides drones on “The Grotesque Illusion of Being” and “We Pursue the Serpent of Time,” the latter of which also features guest vocals from Nikita Kamprad of Der Weg Einer Freiheit. Finally, Kadnar’s Black Table bandmate Mers Sumida provides a spoken word passage on “Guided Through a Starless Night.”
The album took a little longer than usual to come together, but the band didn’t want to rush themselves. They wanted to be satisfied with the results of their labor.
“I guess, for this record, we simply wanted to give ourselves the time it needs and not to rush anything,” Goncalves dos Reis says, “and, of course, because you can’t force your creativity, it’s not getting easier with every album you write, and an important thing for us is not to get stuck, not to repeat ourselves too often. Of course, we wanted to keep a classic Downfall sound but also wanted to add new nuances to our music, experiment a bit more to keep all of this interesting—at least for us. In the end, the whole process took about 16 months. Also, the fact that all of us are spread to different cities or even countries is another reason.”
Downfall Of Gaia are a truly international band. Kadnar lives in New York City, while the rest of the band’s members live in Germany, though this really hasn’t caused problems for them when it comes time to record new albums. In fact, it keeps them focused. However, for Ethic of Radical Finitude, they decided to switch up the recording process just a bit.
“I wouldn’t say that there is some kind of bad impact caused through the distance,” Goncalves dos Reis says. “I even would say that, from time to time, it can be the complete opposite: it can be really helpful. Due to the fact that we can’t get together as much as we want to, we are forced to work things out as much as possible before we meet in person. Distance and a limited timeframe can be a motivator.”
“About the recording, usually, the four of us are recording in the same studio, but this time, we did it a bit different,” he continues, “not because it wasn’t possible any other way, more because we wanted to record in the studios of our choice, studios that would work out the best for the overall sound. So, Mike recorded drums in New Jersey, while the rest of us were doing their stuff in Berlin. This worked out pretty good. For mix and master, we had the pleasure to work together with V. Santura of Triptykon [and] Dark Fortress, which was an awesome experience since his work gave the overall sound a whole new dynamic. It was exactly what we were looking for!”
Downfall Of Gaia plan to stay busy after the album’s release. In March, they go out as direct support for The Ocean in Europe, and in April, they will tour around Germany with Mantar. Then, they plan to hit Eastern Europe and Russia for a few shows in May. They’re hoping to make it out to the U.S. this time around too.
“We really would love to tour the States again in fall or winter 2019, but so far, nothing is confirmed,” Goncalves dos Reis says. “We are trying, but unfortunately, it became pretty tough for a band of our size to tour North America. Fingers crossed!”
Ethic of Radical Finitude is another giant step forward for a band who have constantly pushed themselves to explore new dimensions in their overall sound. The album’s ambitious sonic footprint matches its weighty subject matter. It’s quite the journey—one that makes great use of the listener’s finite time on this planet.