I’ve probably made this point before, but there’s something about using ‘technical’ and ‘black metal’ in the same sentence without also including some variation of ‘not even remotely’ that feels incredibly odd to me. Yet here we are, with me about to describe Tennessee’s Oubliette as a technical black metal band. However, given the band’s membership–which includes members of Inferi and Enfold Darkness–technicality is kind of a given. Fortunately, there’s also plenty of melody to be found in their three-guitar attack on sophomore full-length The Passage. Due out July 13 on The Artisan Era (preorder here), The Passage is a Victorian Gothic-themed concept album that at times sounds a bit like Andy LaRoque joined Whoracle-era In Flames, and they decided to make a black metal album. In other words, it’s not much like anything else I’ve heard recently. It’s also really fucking good.
I had the chance to talk to guitarist/main songwriter Mike Low recently about the band’s history and the new album. Check it out, right after the appropriately grim (but, since they’re from Tennessee, not frostbitten) promo pic below.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey, so first off – thanks for the interview. The Passage is one of those albums that grows on me more and more with each successive listen. There’s a lot going on with this record, and I’m looking forward to talking about it. Before that, though, I very rarely ask the ‘where did your name come from’ question, but I love the word ‘oubliette’ – the sound of it, the definition (a dungeon only reachable by trap door). How did you come to choose Oubliette as the band’s name?
Mike Low: I think you just answered it yourself, haha. The sound of it is very unique, as well as the definition. It felt like a good fit for the style of music we were writing. I’ve always hated picking band names because almost everything is stupid, but this is one I was really proud to have chosen.
IMV: When The Passage comes out on July 13, almost exactly four years will have passed since the release of your first album Apparitions. There’s been a fair amount of change in the band’s lineup over the course of those four years, though, with only you and Emily Low remaining from the Apparitions. The biggest change, though, seems to be in the guitar department. I can’t think of very many current metal or even rock bands—Periphery, um…Diarrhea Planet—with three guitarists, and I can’t think of any black metal bands that have done it. How did you evolve from a single guitar band on your debut to having three guitarists on the new record?
ML: Oubliette was meant to be a studio project. The way that I wrote everything on the first album was using a lot of layered guitars. Once we made a live lineup for the band, we had to make a few lineup changes and decided on having three guitarists so that we could express more of the parts in a live setting closer to the way that they were recorded.
IMV: I think it’s generally known that you and Emily are married, so I hope I’m not out of line by bringing it up. I’ve only had the opportunity to interview one other band where a married couple is also the main creative force behind the band – Mike Lamb and Chloe Bray of Sojourner – so I want to ask you the same thing I asked them. What effect (if any) does your romantic partnership have on your creative partnership?
ML: I wouldn’t say there is a huge effect, but it’s nice to be able to sit at home and discuss songwriting and whatnot. It’s also convenient to be able to get a quick opinion on riffs I’m writing or be able to record anytime we’re both home! We generally already know when the other person is going to like something or not.
IMV: I was looking at an interview from 2015 (I think?) online, and it mentioned that you wrote pretty much all of the music on Apparitions. Was that still the case on The Passage? I’ll be honest – if someone played me tracks from the two albums back-to-back, I’m not sure I’d guess that they were both the same band. That record felt a little more aggressive overall, but with what sounds like the occasional Alcest influence. The Passage almost sounds like one of the Gothenburg melodic death metal bands trying their hand at black metal. Was that the result of a more collaborative songwriting process for this album, or something that arose naturally from the three-guitar lineup?
ML: I still wrote the majority of The Passage, although I did get the privilege of having input from Todd and Andrew during the writing process. I’ve always loved the Gothenburg sound, so it’s cool to hear that it is showing through. That’s one of my main influences on my writing actually. I think the sound for the album was mainly just a natural evolution for me. You also mentioned Alcest, which is also one of my favorite bands and big influence on Oubliette.
IMV: So The Passage is a concept album. In looking at the lyrics, they have a very Victorian Gothic sort of feel – there seems to be a dead child, a grieving young mother, some kind of vague supernatural force, and the requisite tragic ending. What made you decide to go the conceptual route on this album? Was there anything in particular that inspired the story – book, film, etc.?
ML: We felt that that time period would be a pretty ideal setting for an album like this. I’m not sure I know of any others that have done the same. The idea for a concept went right along with the setting, since we wanted to use that type of imagery throughout the album. I think what made us become interested in the beginning was the seeing the bizarre photographs that people used to take with their deceased family members, so we dug a little deeper and expanded on it quite a bit. The song “The Curse” is really the only reference to that supernatural force you mentioned. We ended up leaving that open to interpretation a little bit, but basically a family of three moves into a home that had been uninhabited for a long time. A curse had been placed upon the land it was built upon long ago, one in which sacrifices had occurred. When they move in, it awakens the supernatural forces that begin to wreak havoc on the family. Continuing onto the rest of the album, to sum it up, their child falls ill and passes away. This drives the mother into extreme depression and she commits suicide, thinking she will reunite with her baby in the afterlife, which ends up being a futile effort.
IMV: You recorded The Passage yourselves, and I know that you also do some of the engineering and mixing for a few other bands on The Artisan Era. What does your recording setup look like? Do you actually have studio space somewhere? Or is it more of a ‘have laptop, will travel’ kind of recording process?
ML: I don’t really have a fancy setup. I have a home studio, but yes, it is a “have laptop, will travel” sort of thing, haha. I recorded the drums at Autograph Rehearsal Studio in Murfreesboro, TN, and completed everything else at home. I’ve used that same room to record for a couple other albums before too. Most of what I do is “in-the-box,” so to speak.
IMV: I always like to ask about gear, because the topic fascinates me. What did everyone’s studio rigs look like? Are they essentially the same as what you use live?
ML: We tracked all of our guitars direct, and then I re-amped using my Peavey JSX and Mesa 4×12, which is what I use live. I will likely explore more options next time around. Todd uses a 5150 live and Andrew uses a Peavey Triple X.
IMV: I’m very intrigued by the cover art for The Passage. It’s a beautiful image, with the same Victorian Gothic feel as the lyrics. This is also a bit odd to say, but the largely brown color palate also makes it stand out from the usual array of blacks and greys in black metal album art– there’s a strange kind of warmth to it, even though it’s a graveyard scene. How closely did you work with artist Justin Abraham on the concept for the art? Is it actually a painting, or was it done digitally?
ML: It was done digitally. I’m glad you had to ask, haha. I think he did a phenomenal job! He sent me lots of early versions and was very open to our suggestions. We went back and forth for quite some time but in the end everyone was very pleased with it. He also did a separate piece for the back. To break it down, the cover depicts the mother kneeling in front of her child’s tombstone in the woods. In the background, you can see their house poking up from the top of the tree line, and a raven in the foreground, gazing down at the mother. The back shows a close-up of a tree with the song titles carved into it with a dagger stabbed into the side of the tree, as a reference to the dagger the mother uses to commit suicide in the song “Barren.”
IMV: What are your plans after the album is released? I’ve seen that you have a release show at Little Harpeth Brewing in Nashville on July 14, and then you’re off to Slovenia for the MetalDays Festival. Is there any US touring in your late summer/early fall plans?
ML: We plan on doing some weekend regional shows but with everyone’s schedules, we might not get to do much else until next year.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists. Anything else you’d like to add?
ML: Thanks for reading this and checking us out! We won’t take four years for the next one.