I consider Botanist to be one of modern black metal’s great “projects.” Germinated by a solitary San Franciscan named Otrebor, it’s a band whose music is both utterly bizarre (floraphilic paeans from a misanthropic hermit, rendered only in drums, voice and hammered dulcimer) and emotionally devastating. This is all to say that when Otrebor tells us that the Australian black metal brood Pestilential Shadows is one of his favorite bands, we listen to what he has to say about them and their new album Ephemeral. And then he interviews the band. And then we run the interview on the Deciblog.
Australia’s forceful black metal mark was made in the trenches of war and speed metal. Sadistik Exekution, Destroyer 666, and Bestial Warlust were figureheads of the sound and fury, suggesting that the Land of Oz was a very rough land with very rough dudes, whose frenetic, chaotic music should be high on the list of any metal fan seeking the vibe of barbarism above all else...and often at the expense of anything else.
If there’s been a second major wave of Aussie BM, it’s been highlighted by forays into more delicate, thoughtful...musical compositions. Elysian Blaze, with its evocative gargantuan monolith Blood Geometry. The further travels down the shoegaze path on the past two Woods of Desolation albums (As the Stars is one of the best metal albums of 2014). Even the one-man black metal landscape has changed importantly, from the iconic rainforest rawness of Striborg to the manicured bedroom-metal perfection of Midnight Odyssey.
Make sure to include Pestilential Shadows in the second wave argument. Yes, they’ve been around for more than 10 years, and they’ve still got one foot in the old-school bucket. But their progressions into that special kind of epic territory -that signals catharsis as much as it invokes misanthropy makes them proof of the health and well-being of Australia’s black metal scene, and also candidates for top 10 black metal album of the year. And that album in this case is Ephemeral, the best record by this New South Wales four-piece since 2009’s essential, underrated In Memoriam, Ill Omen. Ephemeral continues to show that Pestilential Shadows has a knack for writing black metal that seems at home with your favorites of the genre, but with phrasings and expressions that are signature to this band; and with Ephemeral’s steps forward in sound production, Pestilential Shadows’ new-school aspects make them an eminently relevant project for today’s worldwide black metal scene.
Otrebor: Ephemeral may be my new favorite record of yours. It for sure has the fullest and most dynamic sound. What did you learn from previous recordings that you applied to your most complete work to date? What did you do differently this time in recording or production that has marked this change in sound?
Balam (guitar/vocals): Previous recordings were either done by other people or done with outdated recording techniques and equipment. This time I had full control of the recording and some updated equipment. There was still a lot of experimentation with the recording to get the right sound but with time and conviction in the work at hand, we were able to mould not only the music but the atmosphere and sound we were striving for.
In Memoriam, Ill Omen is so unlike the rest of the band's discography -- more mid-paced, less musically familiar within a black metal context. It's got wonderful compositions and arrangements, and is an album that only gets better with familiarity. Do you look back on that period of the band with any particularly remarkable memories?
It was a time where the previous album, Cursed, felt a little stagnant -- a straightforward black metal album with no real boundaries pushed. I thought it was time Pestilential Shadows grew as a musical and artistic entity, journeying outside the confines of regular black metal. More time and more thought was put into In Memoriam to create a more interesting album. Since then PS hasn't pushed to release an album within a certain time frame but taken time to work on the music, art, structure and concepts to create albums that are richer and more experimental.
What were the toughest periods in the band's history? And the best successes?
The toughest periods would have to be lineup changes over the years. People would come and go from lack of conviction or sometimes just lack of interest from the band taking so long between albums. Some people just didn't fit the ideal of the band and were ejected quickly.
There's no real success in any type of underground black metal so I guess the only success in the history of the band has been the completion and release of the albums over the years.
Life and death is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, like the album, but the end game is most inevitably death. The album is bookended by two pieces of ambient classical music we composed (“Throes” and “Expire”) that express the emotion and concept that we were trying to capture.
The Australian scene as a whole made important marks with bestial, raw and war-oriented styles and sounds, but quite a few players are emerging with a more refined, expressive and artistic vision. I'm thinking of Elysian Blaze and Woods of Desolation, and particularly the latter's As the Stars, as I see some broad parallels between that outstanding work and Ephemeral in how you use guitar riffs, tones and harmonies that evoke bittersweet triumph and a sweeping, epic feel, while still maintaining the harshness and melancholy familiar to black metal. What the public is calling the shoegaze influence in black metal seems to be getting infectious and splitting into new and re-thought variants. Was this so-called shoegaze sound of any interest to you when you wrote Ephemeral? Do you have an opinion of some of the newer waves of Aussie black metal?
I was an integral part of writing, structuring, producing and mixing the new Woods of Desolation album so that might be why some of it sounds familiar! I'm not really a fan of this new shoegaze black metal hybrid, it's just the way I’ve been writing and structuring songs since PS started in 2003. I've always maintained that the bass is an integral part of the music to carry the driving tone and the guitars wash over, usually not even following the bass lines to give that space and atmosphere to the music.
I tried to find some info on your lineup, and the best source seemed to be Metal Archives, which lists you as a three piece with no current drummer. What's the case with the lineup at this time, and will this prevent promotion for Ephemeral?
The current lineup is our strongest to date:
Balam (myself) - Guitars, vocals Somnus - Guitars, backing vocals Gaap - Bass, backing vocals Basilysk - Drums
Somnus and Gaap have been with the band for quite some time and will continue with the band due to their conviction and great songwriting abilities. Our drummer, Basilysk, played also on our previous album, Depths, and is perfectly suited to the erratic time frames of the band. His style and conviction will see him carry through for as long as the band is alive.
What are the challenges of being a non-mainstream band in Australia? Is the continent big enough to support a career? Can you leave the country much for touring?
Pestilential Shadows will never make a career out of playing music. The genre itself is self-destructive in nature and therefore has a limited lifespan. I will continue to make music until I die. Getting the funds for touring anywhere overseas is near impossible seeing as Australia is probably the farthest country from anything. Getting someone to even somehow help fund an overseas tour would be well beyond our reach so it would have to be self-funded. Australia realistically has only a handful of major cities to play so touring usually consists of around three to four shows!
Speaking of which, is Australia its own continent, or is it part of Oceania? There seems to be a good deal of conflicting info on this (I've read that technically, New Zealand is also a continent as it's on its own set of tectonic plates).
Australia is both a continent and a country, part of the Australasian/Oceania region. It is the smallest continent but largest country in the world. New Zealand is classed as three separate islands, not a continent and is part of the Pacific Islands.
What would it take to have your Impaled by the Moon demo re-issued on CD or LP?
Seance Records have plans to re-release some of our old albums and demos on CD and or LP in the near future.
What does Pestilential Shadows bring live that makes it a remarkable show?
It brings conviction in black metal rather than lackluster, pseudo-intellectual black metal that is the fashion these days. We still play black metal in the old way with corpse paint and blood, giving a ghostly atmospheric vision, rather than four short-haired guys with skinny jeans playing boring, technical, over-hyped, business-oriented music.
Pestilential Shadows on Facebook: facebook.com/PestilentialShadowsOfficial
Enter Botanist’s Verdant Realm online: botanist.nu