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Album Premiere + Interview: Black Howling – Return of Primordial Stillness

By now, most of our loyal Vault Hunters should be well aware of my appreciation for Portuguese black metal. That being said, none of the bands I’ve covered have been quite like Black Howling. One of the longest-running–the only bands I know of who’ve been around longer are Infernüs and Corpus Christii–and most prolific bands in the Portuguese underground, the duo of A. (guitars/bass) and P. (vocals/drums) have pretty much always occupied a place of their own within that scene. Far more melodic and overly emotional than many of their peers, Black Howling’s expansive compositions have much more in common with the raw, depressive black metal of early Xasthur or Make a Change…Kill Yourself (though they’ve obviously been around longer than the latter) than any of the kvltness one would normally expect from a Portuguese band.

Even though Black Howling aren’t quite as prolific as they used to be, there’s been no corresponding decrease in the quality of their releases. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite – so much so that you can go ahead and mark this down right now: barring some surprise release that completely blows me the fuck away, the duo’s forthcoming sixth full-length Return of Primordial Stillness is my album of the year. Due out July 27 via Signal Rex (preorder here), we’re beyond thrilled to be streaming it in full today here at the Vault.

Anchored by two epic tracks – the 14+ minute “Celestial Syntropy (Übermensch Elevated)” and the almost 16-minute “Celestial Entropy (Emptiness Revelation)” – Return of Primordial Stillness is a four song, forty-minute excursion through bleakly melodic landscapes. Tormented yet triumphant, anguished but ultimately cathartic – this one is a must hear.

I also had the unbelievable good fortune to be able to a very enlightening conversation with vocalist/drummer P. about the album. Black Howling don’t give many online interviews, so be sure to give it a read while listening to Return of Primordial Stillness.

Indy Metal Vault: Hey, so first off – thanks for the interview. I’ve been looking around online and I haven’t been able to find any other Black Howling interviews, so I’m excited for the chance to talk a bit. I listen to a lot of the lo-fi black metal that comes out of Portugal, and Return of Primordial Stillness is one of the strongest albums front-to-back that I’ve heard in a very long time. Before we get to that, though, Black Howling has been active since 2001. The only other Portuguese black metal band I can think of who’ve been around longer is Corpus Christii, who formed in ‘98. Was there much of a black metal underground in Lisbon when you first got together? It seems to be thriving now, but were there many other bands playing that style of music when you started out?

P.: Hello! Black Howling started in around ’01 as some solo sketches/experiments by A. We decided to get together for this in mid-late ’02. Speaking of Black Metal in Lisbon, as far as I know, back in the day (almost 20 years have passed since we started playing together…time goes by, doesn’t it??) we didn’t really care too much about what were other bands doing. There were some bands, some coming from the first wave of Portuguese Black Metal who were inspired by the Scandinavian second wave, or so I think. Bands like Flagellum Dei, Celtic Dance, and some others were around already. By then there were a lot of bands using fast drum machines and so on, and while some appealed to me on a personal level (as a music listener.), as a band/project we wanted to do something slightly different: I’d say we’re more inspired by slower bands that focus more on introspective feelings, with a rawer atmosphere, be it some sounds from France, Finland, Germany… some from the United States too.

IMV: Assuming your Metal Archives entry is correct (which I know isn’t always a safe assumption), your lineup has been remarkably consistent over the years. Aside from briefly bringing in a drummer, Black Howling has essentially been you and A. for the duration of its existence. That kind of stability is rare for a metal band, especially over the course of 17 years and more than 20 releases. How have you managed to maintain that creative partnership over the years?

P.: I don’t know how, but seems like we just did it. Sometimes I was more in the leadership role to get things going, other times it was A. We’ve bonded, built a strong relationship based on mutual respect and comradeship and well…sometimes one of us was more out of focus but…I can’t properly explain this. Somehow, we’ve kept things going up until now. Sometimes there was a break for our mundane doings. These things are somehow negotiable (especially when it’s two people involved). As you mature, you find more common ground with people (and of course, on the other hand, are able to distance yourself from others). There are ones you find you have something greater to work on with: a Work that aims at inner Transcendence!

IMV: It’s been roughly three years since your last full-length, O Sangue e a Terra, which has kind of been the norm for Black Howling. However, unlike earlier in your careers, you didn’t do any splits or demos in between albums this time. After 15+ years of doing the band, are you at a point where you want to slow down in terms of making music? Or have outside factors been responsible for the reduced pace of releases?

P.: We haven’t slowed down. Life’s not linear and that affects whatever you create. In fact…it reflects on what you create. As weird as it may seem, unconsciously we were trying to get somewhere as musicians and were experimenting throughout the years, yet doing what we wanted to do. Nowadays, I don’t mind slipping some improvisation into what we’re doing, but we’re aiming at structuring everything after years of mostly improvisation and getting to know ourselves better as musicians.

Contrary to a lot of bands who appear as “complete bands” from the start, we’ve appeared broken, sloppy (I am still, at drumming) and over time we slowly refined our sound…until now…and if things keep at this pace, they are going to continue in an ascendant way. What I am trying to say is that – in my suspect view – this is more than a band. If one cares to listen to Black Howling’s discography (if one finds the patience) it will feel like there’s a common line through it all, but also a progression within that common line which one can also call the “essence” of Black Howling. That essence has always been there, as the core energy of what we do or go through, but as time passes by, changes are an inevitability, whether they be ones we create or the ones imposed by our surroundings.

IMV: Return of Primordial Stillness is really a remarkable album – easily one of my favorites thus far of 2018. I think what I appreciate about it the most is how well it works as whole. It should really be experienced as a single 40-minute piece of music instead of a song at a time like most albums. When you were writing the album, were you thinking of each song as a movement in a larger piece, or was that something that developed later? I’m particularly curious about how “Cosmic Oblivion,” the instrumental track that closes the album, came together. It almost has a psychedelic, Pink Floyd-ish feel to it, and it’s a perfect way to end the record.

P.: The story of this album…its first bones appeared in a semi-improvised session in ’13. Only years later did we pick up where we left off. A.’s always been full of ideas and great riffs and compositions. To me, he doesn’t only possess the technique to create whatever riff, but also the feeling to turn it into something that feels special, because your technique means nothing if you do not know how to put it to proper use. Speaking of music, you gotta give it a Soul, or else it’s just empty.

As for the album: it was semi-improvised when it comes to the drums. There were parts from the ’13 riffs we had to inevitably use, but others just were made around what drums turned to be. Then A. recorded what had previously appeared back in ’13 and restructured parts and created new ones. I didn’t take part in “Cosmic Oblivion.” It was entirely done by A. and it was meant to be a continuation of the hysterical silence of the previous track, as if the cosmos finally came to its demise.

IMV: Your last couple of albums seem to have drawn at least some of their thematic inspiration from outer space, which is something of a change from your earlier material. On Return of Primordial Stillness, you delve into the principles of Syntropy and Entropy, which are the opposing forces that govern the universe (more or less). What drew you to those ideas for this record? Is there any kind of concept running through it based on those ideas?

P.: The lyrics are personal and at times they are hard to explain because I really can’t rationalize certain parts of them. Somehow, some things just made sense. As I listened to the album before recording vocals, I was too afraid that I couldn’t come up with lyrics that would do justice to what the final instrumentals were sounding like to me. A. was a patient friend. We’ve had lots of conversations and lost hours reflecting on such matters. I knew what I had to write, but I didn’t knew how to translate it into a proper form that would reflect lyrically the ever changing nature of inner life and the vastness of the universe (the usual micro and macrocosmos and the energies that translate similarly in big and small things) alongside the inevitability of the disappearance of everything.

IMV: The cover art for Return of Primordial Stillness is…I don’t know the word I want, actually. Mostly because I can’t figure out what it is – at first I thought it was a close-up photo of a forest, and then I thought it might be some sort of celestial body. Now I’m wondering if it’s a double-exposed image and actually both. Who did the album cover? How closely did you work with the artist on the concept for the image?

P.: Because of that double concept of the inner and outer, of the micro and macro, I think you were pretty close to the point. I did the album cover with the aid of A. We do things together, and if one doesn’t like something or cannot change it for what we think it’s a better version, we simply discard it.

IMV: Return of Primordial Stillness will be your first release on Signal Rex, which actually surprises me. Not only is your sound right in line with what Flávio usually releases, you’ve also done splits with several bands that have been on their roster: Irae, Cripta Oculta, Infernüs, Mons Veneris, etc. How did you finally end up coming to work with them for this album?

P.: It was a rather hard decision, but one has to make such decisions and sometimes dive and take a risk. Up until now, we spent years working with Altare Productions. We’ve always supported and respected each other and they were a great help to us. Altare Productions was crucial in getting a good part of our material released. I think everything’s fine and the respect and support is still mutual because again, this was more than just label/band business…but Flávio invited us to join Signal Rex and we spoke about it. Both of us thought about it, decided to accept it, and here we are!

What’s in store for Black Howling after Return of Primordial Stillness is released? Do you play live much these days?

P.: While we are wanting to work on a new album (there are already plenty of ideas, by the way), we will be “promoting” this new album, so we’re more likely to perform live…more than we ever did in the past, but we always want it to be special. We’ll try and avoid what’s plain or concerts that seem senseless to us…but we never know. We have opened more to the world somehow? Before the next album there might be an EP at some point…but I’d say (and I never thought I would) that our primary focus in the short run will be concerts around Return of Primordial Stillness. While O Sangue e a Terra was already a special mark…we moved forward with this new one. That’s rather exciting and motivating…but it also can be overwhelming.

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you want to add?

P.: Nothing to preach. Nothing to add. Nothing. Nothingness.

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