If there’s one thing I’m almost always skeptical of in metal, it’s buzz. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve fallen for it – the metal blogosphere starts losing their collective shit over a band or an album, my curiosity gets the better of me and I check it out, and I can’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t know – maybe I’m just a grouchy old man, which would probably make buzz from the blogosphere those kids I keep yelling at to get the fuck off my lawn…
To further extend that awkward analogy, I definitely wouldn’t yell at the buzz surrounding Gaerea if it were hanging around my lawn. I might even be okay with it if said buzz let its dog shit in my yard and didn’t clean it up. The mysterious Portuguese black metal quintet (yeah, I know – but Gaerea definitely isn’t the sort of band I usually apply that descriptor to) have not only produced an absolute beast of an album with their debut long-player Unsettling Whispers, they’ve also recorded an album that doesn’t quite sound like anything else going right now.
Simply trying to describe their sound, though, doesn’t really do Gaerea justice. Black metal with a pronounced hardcore influence? Been there, done that, gave the t-shirt to a younger sibling because I’m over it. There’s something about Gaerea’s approach, though, that gives their music a sense of urgency that I haven’t heard from a band playing this style of music in a very long time. There’s a very real sense of anguish encoded into the DNA of Unsettling Whispers – a deeply introspective anguish to be sure, but one rooted in a place that makes it all too identifiable. Even so, there’s also something deeply cathartic in at the album as well. Granted, there’s a damn good chance that, much like in a Bergman film, the catharsis comes in the form of death – luckily, though, I’ve long been a Bergman fan.
Unsettling Whispers will be available on June 22 from Transcending Obscurity Records (preorder here). Until then, check out our in-depth interview with Gaerea’s equivalent of Jaqen H’ghar – the leader of this group of Faceless Men.
Indy Metal Vault: So for starters, thank you for agreeing to an interview. Unsettling Whispers is one hell of an album, and I’m excited to have the chance to talk about it a bit – especially since it doesn’t seem as though Gaerea has done all that many interviews, or at least not online. Let me start by asking you this: there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz through the metal blogosphere about this album, particularly for a relatively unknown band with only one previous EP to their credit (though that too was pretty well received). Has the reception to Unsettling Whispers thus far surprised you at all, or did you have a sense while you were working on the album that you might be on to something? Do you much care either way about the way bloggers/critics react to your music?
Gaerea: Hello, thank you for having me. I do care and carefully read every word written about this band. It’s important to acknowledge what people think and feel about your art, and although it doesn’t work so much on a motivational level, it definitely tells you which path the album is taking for each individual. The reaction has been overwhelming so far. We knew this was going to be a big step forward from the first release and I like to think we are ready for what’s heading towards us. Every step taken by this band is very well thought out, but we never actually stopped to think how big or small the reaction would be. Since we can never predict how everyone will react to our art, we’d rather not think about it.
IMV: Gaerea is a band that prefers to stay anonymous, which I’m keeping in mind as I’m writing these questions. I have to say, though, that neither the songwriting nor the performances on the album sound like the product of musicians who’ve only been playing since 2016. Is it safe to assume that the members of Gaerea have experience with other actively recording or gigging bands, perhaps even with each other?
G: Yes. Everyone is either a professional musician in other genres and projects or an enthusiast who has been around for more than ten years in the art business. Although relatively young, this commune is organized by strong, idealistic individuals who aim for the same goal: to open the portal and welcome newcomers into the Void Society.
IMV: How stable has Gaerea’s lineup been over your brief history? I ask mainly because there’s been an evolution in your sound from the self-titled EP to Unsettling Whispers– to my ears at least, there seems to be much more of a traditional black metal influence on Gaerea, along with a fair amount of hardcore. Is that evolution a natural result of having spent more time playing together as a band, or was there a change in personnel between the two releases?
G: The creation process and nest remains the same and nothing has been touched really, although you’re right regarding a more vast sound. That idea may be explained with the fact that the band has developed new ideals, has played together for a while now, and the studio experience for this album was overwhelming. Working with such a professional and creative being like Miguel Tereso has brought our sound to a whole new level. But as I’ve explained before, the album was written over a very short period after the EP was released back in November 2016. I never thought an album was coming our way as fast as this one did, but as living creatures who feed themselves with very short-timed feelings, we took advantage of that inspiration and started developing and going deeper into the Void Concept. What followed can be read inside the album. There was no turning back from that voyage and we emerged as different people from this album.
IMV: Since I’ve alluded to songwriting in the last two questions, what is your writing process like? Does one person write most of the riffs? Do you jam new songs out in the rehearsal room? A bit of both?
G: I do create all the music myself. Writing for GAEREA has always been something very personal to me. I take the time I need to write, record demos, and let them burn or flourish with time. If the last one remains, I will take it to rehearsals where everyone will start working on it, bringing new ideas, and at least for Unsettling Whispers that worked out really well. Apart from that, there is a strong topic to take into consideration, which is the concept. There is no music in my head without a feeling happening or vision that can support it. Otherwise, I tend to be devoured in a vast Void filled with uncertainty and doubts about something that should be clear and real.
IMV: I’m curious about your lyrical themes as well. You told Echoes and Dust a few weeks ago that the album was influenced conceptually by cult American horror author Thomas Ligotti and Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer José de Sousa Saramago. I’m guessing those themes are expanded upon in the 20-page booklet that accompanies the physical copes of Unsettling Whispers, but are you willing to expand upon how those works influenced the album at all?
G: On Unsettling Whispers, the tragic story of a lost society is told on the third person. The listener is nothing but a wanderer, someone who watches, feels, and touches the strict and abstract streets but is never to be seen by others. Within this you’d find a strong reference to Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), afilm by Wim Wenders. As the Voyeur steps into the everyday routine of these characters, he discovers a shy and inanimate will to die from others. On “Absent,” for instance, you’ll find yourself walking among thousands of people on a big avenue. At the end of the street, there is a big organized line of people who enter a huge building. Curiosity is a burden so we get in. Everyone is now going up on a big stairway towards the skies. The walking line finally sees the light of day again when they reach the very top of the building. As they proceed, all the individuals step into the abyss without ever blinking. They fall voluntarily off the structure, one by one. And as they hit the ground, they get up quickly after that and walk to the end of the line again.
IMV: I rarely say this about a black metal(ish) album, especially from a Portuguese band, but the production on Unsettling Whispers is outstanding. The sort of music that Gaerea plays wouldn’t be nearly as effective with the sort of kvlt production I associate with a lot of black metal bands. You recorded the EP with John Bart Van Der Wal at Hewwetover Studio in the Netherlands. Did you work with him again on Unsettling Whispers, or did you record this one somewhere else?
G: As previously told, the Unsettling Whispers album was fully recorded, mixed and mastered by Miguel Tereso at Demigod Recordings, Portugal. We simply couldn’t have found a better option for this release. Miguel is truly annihilating a lot of the more known producers, and I’m not talking only regarding his sound and technique. He is truly a good producer and not someone who only aims for a good result. He surpasses himself on every release, and that’s the kind of people we want on our working team. And no, this release wouldn’t sound such cathartic and desperate if we suddenly went for a more lo-fi production. Nothing against it, it’s just not for us.
IMV: Production elements aside, I’m always curious about the gear bands use in the studio. I really dig the guitar tones on Unsettling Whispers in particular. What did your studio rigs look like? How close are they to what you use when you gig?
G: Can’t really remember the drums we used for the recordings. I do know all the guitars were tracked with an ESP LTD EC-1000 Deluxe into a direct input and digitally processed later. For bass we used a Fender Precision Bass directly plugged into a SansAmp and two signals were recorded from it. It really closely approximates a lot of what we use live, since we use modern rigs such as 5150s plugged into a vast signal chain filled with delay and reverb pedals to recreate a lot of the tension you might hear on the album, mostly on the solos and clean parts.
IMV:The cover art for Unsettling Whispers is really striking. There’s something very Greek tragedy about it. How closely did you work with Khaos Diktator Design on the cover concept?
G: Really closely. We spent months coming up with the perfect briefing to deliver to the perfect artist. By the time we reached Stefan we knew exactly what to ask for and gave him total freedom to develop his art inside the conceptual lines we gave him. He took two months to deliver what you see on the cover, and from the beginning of his samples we knew we were working with the right artist for the job.
IMV:When you talked to Occult Black Metal Zine in 2016, you mentioned that Gaerea is more influenced by visual art than by anything musical. What are some works of visual art—paintings, films, etc.—that you’d recommend to someone who wanted to get a better understanding of Gaerea?
G: Definitely a lot from the long visual career of Bill Viola. In painting, I would strongly recommend the Weather man by Evgenia Arbugaeva (2014), Ölbilder by Ronald Franke (2013), Gestirn by Fritz Winter (1937) or even Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer by Caspar David Friedrich (1818). In other forms of visual art, we were inspired by On the Beach by Bedrich Grunzweig (1959), Postface by Frederic Moffet (2011), The Quiet Man by John Foxx (circa 1980) or The Encoded Man by Rocío Montoya (2013).
IMV: So what’s next for Gaerea after Unsettling Whispers comes out? Any touring plans in your near future?
G: Gaerea is currently planning some shows to promote Unsettling Whispers, and from now on we are open to working with promoters who can prove themselves worthy to work with us. Only time will tell what’s in the bucket.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
G: Unsettling Whispersis out this week on the 22nd June. Enter the Void.