Interview with Phorgath (Bass/Vocals) | By Eric May
Belgian experimental black/death act Emptiness is at it again, with their latest album Nothing But The Whole. It’s a definite tour-de-force of slightly bleak, yet devastating avant-garde and progressive experimentalism, complete with the same oppressive vigor that one should expect with the genre. Phorgath explained to me the history of the band and the nature of the album, as well as discussing some influences and a few unfortunate horrors on the road.
This is truly a much different and refreshing take on the style of black/death metal, complete with sections of funk, groove, prog, avant-garde and all around experimentalism that completely turns the genre on its head. But how did you come to the decision to play this kind of metal and what bands were you playing in prior to this one?
Pleasure is ours really. We have been a band since 1998, and our sound hasn’t stopped evolving and spreading out but we respect where we come from and try not to lose ourselves in experimentation. I prefer seeing our music as something personal and elaborate. I think we just simply composed without inhibition, and pushed the concept as far as we could. We present something uncommon that somehow sounds obvious. Or at least that’s what we’re hoping. We also have musicians who are experienced in different types of music, which helped in expanding the sound and it gave us that extra freedom to do anything we wanted.
Nothing But The Whole seems quite gloomy, despite its rambunctiousness, giving it a sound that resembles faintly funeral doom, yet with several other influences that you just wouldn’t hear in any other doom act of this nature. What would you say was your original intention for the release, and do you think that Nothing But The Whole achieves it, or goes much further?
It was important from the start that the music should be visceral and getting away from clichés. We wanted it to be a trip, a challenge and an experience for the listeners. Like making them feel the “deja-vu” the fear, and the desire in order to put their animal instinct face to face with the illusion of being infinite and perfect. We wanted a spiral of emotions where feelings fuse and end up lost.
Where did you record this album and how long did that take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
We recorded in our own studio, the Blackout. We produced our two latest albums there, as well as many other recordings. It was a long process that asked for a great deal of concentration and inspiration. We gave the best of ourselves over a period of six months, all included. We sat around and everyone was bringing ideas, we would shape songs from there and then start recording straight away and shape the music to the sounds, instead of shaping the sound to the music. We were cut out of reality and for a long period of time; a perfect head space to follow our inspiration let ourselves slide in.
I realize that the tone of the material is quite depressing, dreary and even frightening at times, but with songs titles like “Go And Hope” and the fiery “Tale Of A Burning Man” I begin to wonder what inspires your lyrical matter for the band. What exactly is Nothing But The Whole about and what does that title refer to?
I think it means that everything can have a meaning and sound like a truth but the opposite can always be imagined or demonstrated. We look for codes or a logic, but everything changes face all the time. The nothing is the whole and inversely. The elements, just like emotions, mingle and lose themselves in a non-sense in the eyes of humans but that “rhythm” is without a doubt the key to something bigger, that doesn’t concern us men.
What bands would you say helped to inspire Emptiness on this album? What are some of your favorites?
Some of them are Lustmord, MGMT, Connan Mockasin, Wagner, Beach House and Jacques Brel. And I might mention that this whole thing is very much infused with the taste of a Lynchean vision. (The director David Lynch) As for favorite albums, it’s hard to select only a few. But Portishead – Third, G’N’R – Appetite For Destruction, Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Michael Jackson – Bad, Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here are some of them.
What do you do when you aren’t pursuing music? What hobbies do you have?
For me, it is production. For Olve it’s painting. Jonas is so busy touring as a drummer all the time and Phil is more into traveling and changing his perspectives regularly.
Since your inception in 1998 I’m sure that you’ve participated in some rather heavy tours throughout the years. Of these, what can you say was most memorable? On the other hand, what are some rather unfortunate circumstances that have happened while on the road?
Emptiness has not toured that much actually, but there was a decision to get busier with that from now on. The most memorable tour is probably the one in Poland two years ago. We all were in a dark period of our personal lives and were constantly looking to fall deeper in the hole. The worst one must be in Germany when we were kicked out of the venue after the gig with all our gear during plain winter with no transport, as our driver was asleep at the hotel and just wouldn’t wake up. There started a pretty dark adventure trying to deal with the local skinheads and scum. We barely made it out alive…
Have you ever toured the United States?
We’ve never had the chance, but it is on the projects list though. There seems to be a good interest for us over there and I hope we’ll get the opportunity soon enough.
Who came up with the name Emptiness and how would you use it to describe the band’s sound?
The name came to life before even a single sound was created. Olve and I were teenagers and unsure about our English. We first translated “le vide” literally from French as “the empty” for the first months, until we decided on “emptiness.” Looking back years after, I actually quite like “the empty.” It was to evoke the emptiness that we’re trying to make the listener feel at the moment we stop playing. Like the trail we leave behind us.