Earlier this month, Blyh’s Transparent to the World managed to earn a rare A rating from yours truly, with its combination of black metal of both the furious and introspective varieties. It’s a dense album filled with high-concept ideas, top-shelf musicianship, and some truly harrowing atmosphere. Now, Blyh’s frontman Murul has taken the time to sit down with me (via Skype) to chat about his inspiration, albums he’s been digging, and the German black metal scene, among other things.
Indy Metal Vault: I’ll cut right to the chase, what initially had me interested in Blyh was the tidbit in your promotional blurb where you mentioned you had an extensive history in both hardcore and metalcore. Do you feel that your time in this scene has shaped the way Blyh’s music sounds, or do you feel there’s enough separation between the two that no hardcore sound bleeds through?
Mural: It depends on the angle from which you look at it. Traditional black metal builds up dense atmospheres by employing the element of monotony very much. Especially in longer tracks, you see a lot of building up of atmosphere by repetition - in a similar way as electronic music does. I think our inclination towards drastic tempo changes as well as a lot of variation in the tracks is a child of our history in HC. Also, there is something rather hardcore-esque about the way we wield our instruments. We play down-tuned on very very thick strings for example… which also is a remnant of the more groove oriented MC of our past.
IMV: You mentioned in one of our earlier conversations that you became disenfranchised with the overall metalcore scene over time. Though, are there still any bands of that style who hold your interest?
M: Frankly: no. There are some bands whose recent work I follow - but usually only if the guys in the band are friends of old. I find newer metalcore difficult to listen to: production quality nowadays is so perfect that I miss the auditory edge I need in order to get a grip on the music.
IMV: That’s perfectly understandable. When bands get production jobs that are too clean, it gives the music a nasty “sterile” feel that I can’t stand. But here’s the obligatory “can you tell me about your influences” question: are there any of your black metal peers who have influenced your sound? Any bands you’ve heard and thought “now THAT’S cool!”?
M: Of course. I was drawn into black metal by the novelty the sound of some of those bands produced. Though the “original“ 2nd wave of black metal heroes from Norway like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, etc were influential to a whole genre, and I sometimes enjoy listening to them, my personal influences are more in the abstract world of black metal. I was immensely impressed with the work of Deathspell Omega, Leviathan or Ruins of Beverast. On the more melodic side I enjoy Taake and Batushka.
IMV: Ruins of Beverast are indeed amazing.
M: But all in all - It’s the bands who are less approachable, that took my interest. And - oh - I forgot Weakling!
IMV: Now, do you see Blyh as fitting in amongst those bands, or are they simply part of a wider range of influences? Listening to Transparent to the World, I could almost hear some faint shoegaze-y elements in there as well.
M: I don’t see Blyh in the musical tradition of these bands, but in a way we follow in their footsteps. Black metal always is a statement. More so if the bands in question are either one-man-bands (Leviathan, Lurker, Xasthur, Ruins) or completely unknown (Deathspell) - I think this is for me the essence of black metal: not only singing about isolation or dissociation, but also living it by taking your own person out of the equation. And well, I haven’t heard enough of shoegaze to know which of our element fit in that category… I just follow the feelings that I want to transport, when writing.
IMV: I take it you’re not a big fan of bands like Deafhaven?
M: I enjoyed Sunbather a lot, but I am not too fond of New Bermuda.
IMV: Haha, that’s pretty much exactly how I feel.
M: But to me DFHVN are more a logical development of black metal. necessary, regardless of what the true guys say. When talking about shoegaze I think more Alcest, Lantlos or Lifelover, and that is just not my cup of tea.
IMV: Now, here’s a question every interviewer dreads asking: Personal politics. On Transparent to the World, many of the themes centre around societal isolation, and a lack of empathy. It’s seems recently that the prevailing political sentiment is to look out for yourself, and to simply not consider others at all. Do you feel this helped to shape the themes on the album, and do you feel TttW was shaped by, and by extension, is a product of its time?
M: My lyrics are written in the tradition of the German Lyrical Expressionism, which flourished around 1910 - and perished with World War I - around 1925… so the topics I handle are at least 100 years old. But I guess in a way you are right: they are a product of their time - or of their era. Modern life changed men. The causes may be manifold, but I guess the root of this development is ever increasing speed of life - starting at the beginning of the electric age, and now in the age of instant communication, of worldwide travel and immense and unconceivable knowledge even more so. It’s probable that the flood of information and the simply unmanageable possibilities of communication led man to focus on one self. Leading to self absorption, jealousy and egoism.
IMV: It’s interesting that you trace this back all the way to the beginning of the electric age. It’s quite clear that you’ve given this lots of thought. Though you mentioned that this traditional form of Germanic expression more or less died with the onset of the First World War. Do you see Blyh as an extension of this form of art, or as the new torchbearers of it?
M: It’s just the only way that seems appropriate for me. I stopped reading lyrics to music some time ago, because I felt there seldom was substance to it. Mostly inane repetition of stereotypes, which in the end de-valuates the music they belong to. I think that if you have something on your mind for which you employ something as complex as music, in order to express it, then you also need a lyrical form to match that complex articulation.
IMV: Now, can you tell me a bit about the disappearance of this form of art? What was it about WWI the led to this form of communication dying off?
M: It’s simply that most of the poets died in the war. My all time favorite Georg Trakl, who was a medic on the field that treated 90 wounded people after the Battle of Grodek. He went crazy over that and soon after committed suicide, though historians are not so sure about this. He wrote “All roads lead to black decay.” Well how more black metal can you get? You might want to give it a read.
IMV: It certainly is a time period/subject ripe for black metal exploration.
M: Bands like Endstille revel in this subject.
IMV: You mentioned earlier that Blyh is a two-man project. Do you and your partner share songwriting duties, or does that fall mostly on your shoulders?
M: Yes we do share songwriting duties, we usually write the riffs together. When it comes to arrangement, harmony and recording I do a great deal of it alone.
IMV: Since you operate as a two man band, do you bring on other musicians to play live, or do you consider yourselves to be a “studio band?”
M: We started blyh as an experiment. How far could we go with almost no equipment, no budget, no intention? What happened, happened. In the beginning we didn’t plan to bring our music to the stage, because it only was planned as a statement. Now that we see that we actually hit a nerve with the record, we are looking for people to help us out bringing the music to the stage.
IMV: That’s interesting. You’re looking to dip your toes in the water to see how well it would translate to a live setting?
M: We will have to see. Finding the right musicians for a live band is one thing. The other thing is the German black metal scene, where we are not so well received yet as to be offered opportunities to play live.
IMV: That leads into another question: has the reaction from black metal fans in Germany been what you expected?
M: There are some people who support us and have our tape on heavy rotation. But these guys are as few as I am able to cultivate through personal contact with these guys over Facebook. Media is a different thing entirely. We have not gotten quite much attention in German media yet. So, to answer your question: yes the reaction is as expected 🙂
As far as my experience goes I think the North American scene is much more open to small names. To get attention in Germany you better have a big name. I was pretty surprised that the first review for our album came from the States and not the local newspaper.
IMV: Do you find that fans in the States/Canada are more open to experimentation in black metal than in Germany?
M: Difficult to answer. In Germany usually things which are tried and tested work best. No different in black metal. I have the impression that most underground BM in Germany is very limited in its stylistic elements. Not saying that there are not also great German BM bands. But if I have a look at underground releases I seldom see something surprising.
IMV: Do you feel that now that Blyh has an album out, there will be more Germanic bands willing to experiment with their sound?
M: Oh, well I don’t consider us that experimental and also not so influential. But there is of course a wealth of talent in the underground: the question is if those talents get the opportunity to get their stuff out. You see: there is a reason, why TttW is self-released and has no label backing it.
IMV: Ahh, there’s an abundance of talent, but no major label support for the underground?
M: I believe Nuclear Blast operates out of Germany, but I don’t suppose they have too much to do with underground metal anymore these days.
IMV: So, here’s another easy question, but one I’m very curious about: what does the name “Blyh” mean?
M: It means pale, bleak, bleached… It’s derived from the old high German word blyk for bleak/pale… and that is also how it is spoken like the German “bleich.“
IMV: Sounds properly grim, haha.
M: That was the intention.
IMV: Now, here’s a question I HAD to ask: on “So Willingly Dead,” you used the “my name is Jeff” soundbyte. It was the most out-of-place, yet insanely glorious musical moment I’ve heard all year. What was the thought behind that?
M: Haha I was afraid that would come up.
IMV: Hah! I couldn’t not ask.
M: I guess the answer will be somewhat disappointing. See, since we watch most of our movies dubbed with German language, I wasn’t aware of the pop cultural impact “my name is Jeff“ had over in the States. When I was browsing for a paranormal sound byte for the intro, I found that intro as it is.
IMV: That’s actually amazing.
M: I was completely unaware of the meme in it. I was made aware of it by one review on Black Metal Daily and then researched it. Well. Now there it is… but let me put it this way: in a sense it still is one true grim black-metal-esque “fuck you.” I am absolutely not concerned with anything popular or any currents … how to put this…?
IMV: Well I’ll be honest, I was in complete shock the first time I heard it. Sitting alone in my house, I cheered. I was in utter disbelief, but I absolutely loved it.
M: Now that I know the background, I can imagine. And yes, why not… why does a “wake up call” always have to be something devastating? Why not something totally out of place like that? I simply have no explanation: I didn’t know what I was doing!
IMV: Well I can’t stress enough how awesome it was! Now, the way things are shaping up, Transparent to the World will very likely be on my top ten list for 2017. But I’m always curious to ask others: what are your favourite albums of the year so far? I also feel it’s a question worth asking artists, as sometimes their answers can reveal a lot about them.
M: That would probably be Woe’s Hope Attrition and Nightbringer Terra Damnata.
IMV: Hope Attrition. Amazing album. Are you the sort of person who assembles top ten list?
M: Not at all. I don’t deem my taste important or significant enough to assemble a list. Also, time is the most limiting factor in my life. When deciding whether to listen to music or make music, I opt for the creative option. Also there are some well-loved older albums that I occasionally want to revisit… so unfortunately I can’t even make up an entire 2017 top ten list.
IMV: Haha, getting through all of the new music out there can be a chore. But sometimes giving through piles of new albums reveals some hidden gems. Are there any up-and-coming bands in Germany you’ve taken a liking to?
M: Yeah, just last week I discovered Sun of the Sleepless which I took a liking to. Also Beltez or Magoth are worth listening to. If you haven’t heard Fyrnask yet, do so! Also, not so up-and-coming but well established are Coldworld, Helrunar, Der Weg Einer, and Freiheit, who I follow and highly recommend as an example for exquisite German black metal.
IMV: Coldworld and Helrunar are indeed excellent. I’ll have to check the others out! Now, here’s something I’m very curious about: what are your career goals with Blyh?
M: My goals are pretty modest: getting TttW out on vinyl, getting a band together for playing live… and successfully finishing the follow-up album which I am currently working on.
IMV: Haha, well there go my next few questions! “Do you have any plans for vinyl?” “Are there plans for more albums in the future?” “Are you currently writing anything?” All in one!
M: There you are! Since we have no label yet, I am saving up money for a micro release of 200 vinyl records of TttW, hopefully I will be able to get this into press in September. There will definitely be a follow-up release since Blyh grew that dear to me, and I still have a lot to express… and also to learn through writing. The writing of the new album is in progress. Songs will be shorter, around 7 to 8 minutes I guess… but they are more compact and dense. I recently posted a video-teaser of the writing process on Facebook.
IMV: With these new songs, will you carry on the themes found on TttW, or are there new territories you’re interested in exploring?
M: The themes found on TttW are basically the essence of Blyh. So yes, I will carry on that thread. But of course these will develop, change form and evolve. other than with TttW I write with an audience in mind now. So I will pour more thought into it. Musically the songs will be harmonically more complex and hopefully mature. But of course I will expand my horizon, pushing the limits of my capabilities and understanding for music.
IMV: Well considering how much I loved TttW, I can’t wait to hear what Blyh has in store for the future. I really want to thank you for taking the time to answer all these questions, it was my first interview and I was pretty nervous, haha!
M: It was a great pleasure chatting with you.
On behalf of Indy Metal Vault, I want to extend a warm thank-you to Murul for talking with us, especially in such detail. If you wish to purchase Blyh’s latest album (and I highly recommend that you do,) you can find it on Blyh’s Bandcamp page.