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The Blacktones

The Blacktones leverden vorig jaar november hun album 'The Day We Shut Down The Sun' af, een zeer krachtige plaat in zowel muzikaal als tekstueel opzicht. De titels van de nummers en het artwork (enigszins gebaseerd op Tarot kaarten) waren meer dan genoeg om deze band te interviewen. Wij spraken met Aaron, die verantwoordelijk is voor de ijzersterke vocalen op deze plaat, en gingen dieper in op wat er zou gebeuren als je bij de mens omstebeurt alle waarden zou verwijderen die ons mens maken: het concept van 'The Day We Shut Down The Sun'. Verder praten we over de metal scene op Sardinië, dure wijn en vette album covers.

Door: Bart M. | Archiveer onder doom metal

'The Day We Shut Down The Sun' is an awesome record, very powerful in sound and feeling. In fact, when I first put it on I was not able to put it off again until 13 hours later, when my cat was scratching my arm open, demanding food. How have the reactions to your album been so far? (Both the good and the bad.)
Hi, Aaron's here! The album went very good everywhere, and we couldn't be happier than that! We're from Italy, Sardinia, so we were very curious about the results, expecting more severe reviews than the local ones. The fact that our record have not encountered a bad review yet, says to us we're on the right direction.

The album seems to be one, a unity, as opposed to twelve songs that were recorded separately and just happened to be on the same album. One of the things that seems to emphasize this is the awesome artwork and the idea of the Tarot cards. The title, 'The Day We Shut Down The Sun', is very vivid and strong. What does that title mean to you and for this album?
We choose 'The Day We Shut Down The Sun' because it is very evocative, and synthetizes the human race ability to stay always in between its salvation or its total destruction. Try to imagine it: It is even possible to shut down a star before its natural decay? And will we ever be able to do that? Or we will just close the sky, as in ‘Highlander II’ (Not the best movie of the nineties, but had some really cool moments)?

Also, should this be considered a concept album, and if so, what is the concept that the album revolves around?
The album is a concept, with different layers of interpretation. The Idea comes from the comic ‘Promethea’ by Alan Moore, where the main character is introduced to magic by the interpretation of tarot cards. She discovers that each card represents a moment in the universe's creation from the big bang to the end of the world. But every tarot may even be associated to a feature of the human behaviour. So what happens if we start to deconstruct our mind by removing one feature at time? What become of us, our integrity, our inner self? Are we still ourselves if we remove our faith, our courage, our wisdom, sense of justice, our intelligence? Or we are just the last tarot, the Fool? That's the main question that brought us to the concept of the album. But as I said there could be other interpretations. You could listen the album backwards starting from the Fool. So, in this reverse path, you are rebuilding up your conscience, piece by piece.

And how do the Tarot cards tie into this concept?
Every song after the card is ‘reveleas’: represents a story in that particular state of mind. 'The Day We Shut Down The Sun', the title track for example, comes after 'The Pope' and 'The Emperor', so the listener at that moment has already lost the faith and intelligence. The song talks about the world after the sun is gone. The civilization has failed and humanity goes back to tribes, starting to burn all the books and praising the moon. A moon that is no more enlightened by the sun, but stays in the sky, a silent black hole.

band image

As I said earlier, the artwork is astounding. I love it. While doing some research I noticed the artist, Andrea Cara, is from the same city as The Blacktones are. How do you guys know each other, and what went into the creative process in regards to your album cover and additional art?
Andrea is a good friend of ours, and knows our music very well. We really like his art, he's a very talented artist. It's not the first time we worked together, he has done for us the cover of our first EP 'Distorted Reality' in 2011. For this album in particular, we gave to him the preproduction tracks, exposed the concept we had in mind, and brainstormed together about the cover. The result of this process is the artwork as you know it.

The artwork somehow reminds me of the Queen video for their song 'Innuendo'. I was going to ask if this was a coincidence, but then I realized art has always played a big part in the metal scene and that there are bound to be some overlaps here and there. Still, an interesting question: what do think about the video 'Innuendo'?
It's absolutely a coincidence, but that's because there are similarities. 'Innuendo' was the last album before Mercury lost his struggle against AIDS and his bandmates know that, and that influenced the mood of the record, and so the artwork. The clown on the front side is just like our Fool: a person who can't win against his own fate. The official 'Innuendo' video is very cool, captures the mood of the album and sets a standard for other videos of the nineties, although the Claymation technology was already used before.

On a related note and in regards to your own album, what do you think the relation between music and visual art is? And how can they amplify each other?
It's very important but we don't want to force the listener to embrace all of it. Music is passion, but also entertainment. If you just want to listen to the songs, skip the Tarot cards, no problem, you'll be able to still enjoy the album. That's why this time there is not lyrics on the booklet. But if you want to scratch the surface and go deeper, you can do it, and we hope you will enjoy that too. Artwork, music and lyrics mix together giving visuals, sounds and personal introspection as a full experience.

In the history of metal and album covers, can you name three albums that you feel have great cover art and can you tell us a little (or a large) bit about each of those albums?
Not in any particular order:

• ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’ - Blind Guardian – a great cover by Andreas Marschall for a great album! All the dark atmosphere and epicness from the tale ‘Silmarillion’ translated into music. Songs like 'Curse Of Feanor', 'The Storm', 'Nightfall'... Blind Guardian started doing power metal and they just invented their own way to play metal.
• ‘Blessed Are The Sick’ - Morbid Angel – I really liked ALMOST all their records, but 'Blessed […]' got the best cover, a painting by Jean Delville called ‘Les Tresors de Satan’. 'Fall From Grace', 'Day Of Suffering', 'The Ancient Ones', 'Thy Kingdom Come' are masterpieces! My favourite soundtrack while reading Lovecraft's works.
• ‘Fire Of Unknown Origin’ – Blue Öyster Cult – Frankly I don't know how it is even possible that this band is completely ignored in Italy (I discovered them thanks to Iced Earth that covered a couple of their songs). The cover is wonderful, tries to re-elaborate their name logo once again. And the record is a jewel, featuring songs like 'Veteran Of Psychic Wars', 'Sole Survivor' and 'Joan Crawford'.

You hail from the isle of Sardinia. I'm not sure isle is the right word, since Sardinia is bigger than The Netherlands, where I am from. Anyway, how is life in Cagliari like? I mean, what does a typical day look like? What are the people like? What do you guys do when you want to go out in the weekend? And how, if at all, do your surroundings influence your music?
Cagliari is a very sunny and windy city and it does not rain frequently, even in winter. It embraces the Mediterranean sea with its beach and harbour, so you often have a chance to do some jogging or pick up your bike for a quick ride after job or in the weekends. There are also metal pubs and venues (like Cuevarock, Bodie Art, Il Covo, Fabrik) if you want to drink some beer and watch local and international bands. Sometimes we underestimate this, but we live in a little paradise, with its contradictions of course. I don't know if it influences our music in some way. But stoner/doom/sludge genres feel more appropriate with our environment in Sardinia, if I consider festivals like ‘Duna Jam’ or ‘Doom Over Karalis’ for example.

About going out in the weekend: do you prefer beer, drugs, or just being high on life in general?
I don't drink beer (I know, I know...kinda weird, uh?) but I can really enjoy a glass of good red wine. My fellows are more into beer (especially our bassist, Gianni) and we like to drink something before our shows, with our friends. We're not into drugs, but we're absolutely not against them!

The Italians I know (they are all somehow involved in the world of heavy metal) always complain about how bad Italians are at English. To me, this is a really strange thing to hear, since all of them, and in this I include many of the metal bands from your country, are really good at it. What is your vision on this?
I noticed that it depends how you approached English at high school. You started studying it in primary school, but if you lose interest in it when you're growing you'll hardly recover that. As a kid I needed to understand English for lyrics of my favourite bands, readings, RPG games, and future studies, basically everything. So it was impossible to avoid English. But I know many people who just weren't interested at that time, that I see now instantly panic if they have to start a talk with a foreigner.

Continuing with things Italian, what is your favourite Italian (preferably Sardinian) dish?
‘Su proceddu’ (or ‘Porceddu’, ‘Procettu’ and so on...) a slowly roasted domestic pig of twenty days, with rosemary or myrtus to eat, and a bottle of Nepente of Oliena to drink. Just Google it now!

In regards to music and bands, you have power metal legends Rhapsody, Nanowar Of Steel, one of the best parody bands around, but also awesome bands like Satori Junk, Hell Obelisco and of course yourselves. Is there an Italian metal scene? Do you identify yourselves first as Italian or first as a metal band?
Due to geographical reasons, we don't identify in the Italian scene, but in the Sardinian one. Sadly we haven't so much contacts with Italian bands, because it's very difficult to play for them here, and vice versa, and that's a shame. But something improved in the recent years, and we are happy to listen to some good band from our Italian brothers.

Many different bands making different music for different reasons. The one political, the other emotional, one venturing into the realms of mythology and fantasy, etctera. Do The Blacktones have a message that they want to confer? Or is it mainly the music you are interested in?
We let our music decide. Sometimes a song is more suited to tell a story, sometimes personal thoughts or private moments, and other times we talk about political stuff. 'I.D.I.O.T.S.' Falls in the third case, is a song against all populist parties that drag votes playing with fears and ignorance of our people.

I noticed The Blacktones started out as an instrumental band. What happened to make you change direction and add vocals to your music?
After one year that Gianni and Sergio started the project together, they came to conclusion that something was missing. There were so many riffs good for vocals that they decided to search for a singer, that's why they engaged Simone Utzeri to sing on the first EP 'Distorted Reality'.

Regarding the title track, 'The Day We Shut Down The Sun', I have to ask this, as a huge My Dying Bride fan: that song sounds like a very successful My Dying Bride experiment. Was that the intention, or am I hearing that just because I am too much into their music?
I'm afraid not, the title track has nothing to do with My Dying Bride, but the hypothesis is very intriguing! The song was written even before I was in the band, with no vocals on it. Then Sergio brought it to us and I was shocked by its potential. One of my favourites of this record.

I asked about The Blacktones changing from instrumental to a band with vocals, and I must say that the vocals of Aaron Tolu are some of the most powerful I have heard in a very long time. To me they are like a mighty bulldozer razing through the mind, it is an absolute must in combination with the very heavy music that you make. How does something like this happen? I mean, Aaron could have ended up with a mediocre band and this band could have ended up with a mediocre singer, yet somehow all of the band members have a power and strength that make The Blacktones into the force that it is now. Tell me how all of you guys met up, please.
Thank you, you're too kind! We met at a gig where our bands were on bill (I also sing for the epic thrash band Shardana), the Sardinian scene is smaller than others because our insularity, so at the end you know everyone. I know the band by their first EP and I loved it, for their riffs and the vocals of Simone. Simone is a totally different singer from me, more close to Alice In Chains and Chris Cornell stuff. After his departing and trying other singers for months with no success, they call me and we agreed to rehearse an audition. After less than twenty days, I was already on stage with them!

And what can we expect from you in the future?
We’re still promoting the album, but we are working on some official videos we want to release this year, and preparing a mini tour in Europe!

Thank you so much for answering the questions of this interview. If there is anything I left out or/and you want to elaborate upon, please feel free to do so!!
Thanks to you! Very interesting questions. We hope to let you know something new very soon!

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