It’s been a long year, and tons and tons of records have been accessed, processed, and released from memory. That’s just the way, considering how much music is unleashed each year, so when we get to the end, it’s nice to sit back and immerse ourselves in the work that meant the most to us and had the most profound impact. This year, sitting atop that list is Yellow Eyes’ stunning “Immersion Trench Reverie,” a record that’s hard to describe but easy to embrace.
It’s also difficult to explain Yellow Eyes to someone who hasn’t encountered them before. Simply labeling them a black metal band is not enough because they go beyond that sub-genre descriptor. This band, long helmed by brothers Will and Sam Skarstad and joined by bassist Alex DeMaria and drummer M. Rekevics, makes hypnotic, strange, and powerful sounds that aren’t really paying homage to any era of black metal and instead exist in a plane all its own. This record, their fourth full-length document, builds on the foundation they have laid in the past and constructs a monolith to the sky brimming with gold charges and frosty white ambiance, feeling like an ideal collection for this winter we’re in. But it really can shine through at any time. The music here is surrounded by field noises the Skarstad brothers captured on a trip to Siberia, and that oddness and desolation, the sounds of active villages and bootsteps crunching the snow, help pull you into their atmosphere and experience a world many never have before. It’s a record that’s like none other not just in black metal, but in metal as a whole. These guys have been doing things that way since their start, and they continue to invent new ways to devastate and captivate at the same time.
Guitarist/vocalist Will Skarstad took time to answer our questions about this record, how their time in Siberia colored the songs, and how the cabin studio they inhabit for each recording works its way into their music. Many thanks to him for his responses and for the band for creating our favorite metal record of the year. (Oct. 20)
MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “Immersion Trench Reverie” one of our top 5 favorite metal albums of the year. Right off the bat, what does the title of the record signify to the band?
WILL SKARSTAD: Sam is responsible for the lyrics and song titles. Unfortunately, this is Will writing. Let’s just say it’s open to interpretation.
MMM: Much of the sounds and especially field recordings are from your time spent in Siberia. Talk a little bit about that experience and how it colored the record? Did you know when you went you were looking for inspiration for new music?
WS: I’ve spent years going back and forth to Siberia, so I’m fairly comfortable with how weird it is at this point. Having Sam there gave me new perspective though; we were able to interpret the strangeness together in real time. It’s a crazy place, and there’s rarely an explanation for why. From finding fresh bullet shells outside our apartment to having the temperature dip 70 degrees in a few hours one night, we were always off kilter. We knew a new record was on the horizon, but being there is so intense that we weren’t exactly sitting around talking about riffs. Fighting bouts of insomnia, drinking vodka with strangers who looked at us like we were zoo animals, and coping with constant darkness and cold were what occupied our time and thoughts.
MMM: The music on the record feels very frigid and icy. Is that attributed to the Siberia trip, or is that how the music formed organically?
WS: Ultimately, I don’t know that the trip impacted the songs themselves; many of the riffs were written before we left. We knew that we wanted to gather Siberian field recordings for the album; this was purposeful. As the record started coming together, we realized our experiences in Krasnoyarsk created an appropriate theme for the record, but that most obviously emerged lyrically and in the transitions between songs. I like to think that our songwriting would have become more adventurous regardless.
MMM: I often find the band’s music entrancing and hypnotic (especially during “Shrillness in the Heated Grass” and “Jubilat”). Where does that element come from, and how do you feel it balances out the harsher sides of the music?
WS: It’s hard for me to say. I think that the way our riffs weave together can create some sort of dizzying effect, but it can’t be like that all the time. We strive to write balanced songs. Each type of riff is in service to an alternate feeling one, hopefully. We spend most of our energy trying to get the songs to flow. It’s more about the story a song tells as a whole and less about rapid-fire riffs or something like that.
MMM: As usual, this record was recorded in the same Connecticut cabin you used for past releases. Yet the music sounds different and has progressed from your past work. Does that cabin provide an element of comfort? How does the band keep changing within those same confines?
WS: Every note is scrutinized before we head up to record. Once we’re up there we are free; we just have to hit the notes. Unlike a traditional studio, we have no time limitations and no distractions. The progression of our sound happens in the months and months of basically free association riff-writing, typically done in the city or wherever. We’ll pull from about 3 hours of material before we start working on song structures. I don’t ever want to feel comfortable or fall back on an “appropriate” sounding part. It’s inevitable, but we try to avoid it.
MMM: This is your second release with Gilead Media. How do you feel about that relationship, especially since the band did so much on its own for a long time?
WS: It’s great. It makes our lives a lot easier. We still release cassettes and make shirts, pins etc. I feel very involved with the physical releases, but I wouldn’t be able to handle shipping records on top of everything else. It’s also amazing to be in a record store and see our record on the shelves. I don’t know how to do that.
MMM: The band has some big things coming up this year with older material being reissued and the Migration Fest appearance. What else does the band have in store in 2018?
Back to Europe in April for Roadburn, then hopefully as far into Eastern Europe as possible for some shows to round out the trip. Working on it all now. Also, always writing new music.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Yellow-Eyes-659862920738821/
To buy the album, go here (preorder up soon): https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://gileadmedia.net/
And here: http://www.sibirrecords.com/