ROAMING THE WINDS: AUSTERE

After the experimental journeys of the issue seven, Kaleidoscope returned to its roots. Or not so precisely – first time there was a strict theme and red line going on. Because I have been always interested in the borderlands of extreme metal, I wanted to gather different bands which share daring and somehow artistic view to their music. Therefore I picked Triptykon, Fleurety, Austere, Altar Of Plagues, Crooked Necks, Crystalline Darkness, Saros and ColdWorld for these 48 pages. Norwegian Black Majesty was a bit outsider in this group, but as I wrote in my foreword, also the lyrical and spiritual devotion can be considered experimental and artistic. There was also a some sort of an article about this topic including thoughts from Neige (Alcest), Vintyr (Hateful Abandon) and Jan Kenneth Transeth (In The Woods…) which turned out quite well. In overall, I was pretty satisfied of this issue and also the editing those interviews (instead of a basic Q/A structure) was nice change.

The first pick from this issue is the interview with Austere. Although this Australian depressive duo has broken up (by the way, read the end of this interview – quite prophetical!), their legacy lives on in many ways: there are / have been other interesting bands like Grey Waters (why did you quit, dammit!), Germ, Ill Omen and Temple Nightside. Also Austere’s farewell album, To Lay Like Old Ashes has become an epitome of epic, sorrowful metal to me.

 

(originally released in Kaleidoscope zine #8, 2010)

How personal is black metal? Usually the band members are unknown persons behind their masks and aliases, and this can be understood in two ways: maybe they are like priests, who practice rituals and inverted morbid ceremonies with their gowns, symbols and weapons, or maybe they want to alienate themselves from their weak human side in order to reach the darkest essence of black metal and bestial freedom.

But how about being naked, being yourself? Who is more honest, a man who hides behind an evil-sounding moniker and tons of spikes or a man who stands straight and tall against the listener, defending his/her art and words with his own name and soul? Of course the thing isn’t so black and white, but when ‘lords’, ‘azathorghs’ and ‘herr totenkopfs’ turn to ordinary human beings, something special happens.

This is the case with Austere. Entities called Desolate and Sorrow are now Mitch and Tim, and although they still keep their faces away from camera lenses, this is an important step to bring Austere’s emotionally strong and surging music closer to the listener.

– Yes, the reason behind it is simple, we see and use Austere as a personal reflection of our inner anguish and we are not just figures or entities of a lost cause. We have a clear direction which we feel should be expressed if one is to be honest with their self and art, says Mitch, who is responsible for guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals in Austere.

But being totally personal and truthful – everyday and real, you could say – is very hard when you try to transform your feelings and thoughts to such abstract forms as poems, paintings or music. Imagination and life full of strong experiences usually go hand in hand, because art is about being poetic to a certain extent. Mitch says that Austere’s goal is to create an aura and feeling within their music.

– It’s a mirror image of how we feel at any given moment or all of the time. Austere is not the type of band that one can simply ”pick up and start writing/rehearsing for” everyday. These topics are ones we feel we must deal with at the correct moment otherwise it just does not work or ”feel right”. This band is like an ever open book, ready to scribe our thoughts and feelings whenever one sees fit.

So the moment and the certain state of mind are very important for Austere, and it makes me wonder how it is possible to get two minds on the same wavelength in a band. Mitch, whose sole creation Austere has been in the beginning, tells how he needed to appoint a likeminded individual and a capable drummer, and so Tim was asked to contribute to Austere. However, Mitch doesn’t feel that his ultimate source has been changed through this – natural evolution is the key.

– I think his ideas and contribution helped shape Austere the way it is today as I personally come from a very ”black metal world” and I must admit, I am somewhat narrow-minded because of that (although I wouldn’t change this at all). But I came to the realization that if I’m going to be talking about my personal feelings and aura, it must be done right and things must be left to evolve naturally. I think this is where we stand today…

So what would be this inmost idea/feeling/vision behind all this?

– Since both Tim and myself contribute lyrics to the band nowadays, there will always be some variation in the topics we write about. Basically we like to keep the book open so to speak, we like the freedom honest art/music gives its creator/listener. So I guess that expressing what we feel could be considered a ”goal” of the band but doing this is not something that we have to think too hard about and it all comes from within our withered hearts and minds.

So the road is wide for Austere, but as listeners we only see our own reflection from it. Usually it’s just a surface: a metal band playing sorrowful and anguished music. Mitch – as an artist – certainly sees things from a different perspective.

– The emotional landscape is as wide as it can be I suppose, otherwise you’re trapped in your mental prison. It’s impossible for one to feel down every minute of every day nor would I suggest people to try it… It’s like these ”DSBM” rubbish bands playing empty music for an empty army of people who think playing this style of music will get them further in the music world. Who the fuck cares about going places in the music world anyway? If it’s going to happen, just let it all happen naturally…

So are even positive feelings allowed in Austere? This question may sound childish, but in the world of black metal where darkness and sorrow are “total”, “absolute” and “uncompromised”, creating lighter tunes is almost a sin.

– Austere may contain some positive avenues here or there in an unconscious manner (meaning I have not put them in there on purpose) but I think it is fairly clear what we usually express within our music, articulates Mitch.

Let’s get back to genres, which is one of the main topics of this issue.  Austere have been labeled as depressive black metal in most places, but at the same time this “depression movement” has been dragged into mud through countless hollow bands whose music, lyrics and emotions are totally artificial – like Mitch stated above. Therefore Austere wants to stand aside from the whole genre:

– All I will say is that Austere has zero interested in being held to any movement or organization, Austere is expressive freedom and shall remain to be so.

LET’S FLOW TOGETHER

Depression still runs in Austere’s veins, but it’s too narrow-minded to say it’s the only side of this band’s music. It’s not just about being down but also about rising on the cliff and screaming your anguish and hate out to the face of the world. Personally the long songs and their epic feeling fill my mind with visions about wide landscapes and man’s loneliness and indifference in them – how confusion and depression don’t just stay in your bedroom but transform into musical paintings. Austere isn’t just about playing with thoughts inside your mind but also about being in a dialogue with what is around you. Mitch admits that sometimes his environment gives inspiration and physical metaphors for Austere’s music.

– Since I live close to the ocean, I like to sit in a private spot and go over song ideas and lyrics in my head with nothing but the sound of the ocean in the background. So in turn, when I begin composing new songs and ideas at home or the rehearsal room, I reflect back to these moments and write about them in more detail. Although I recently reflected back to a time when I was travelling throughout Europe in the fall and some new ideas came to mind. Although I’d like to add that we are not a ”nature band”, although we do have some references to it in both lyrics and cover art. The link between the seasons of change and the patterns of the emotional scale are interesting to me. One is helpless and the other is constantly at war with itself. Everything has a plus and a minus in the end…

Although Austere’s songs are well-structured and the riffs hit some nerves with their partly grieving, partly crushing feeling, these little spices like keyboards and clean vocals add that certain “something” to the music. How strict and careful are you with these additional elements, and how do they usually find their place in the songs?

– Sometimes we base sections of the songs around the keys/clean vocals and others we don’t. Sometimes in the rehearsal room they just feel like they are lacking something so we re-write a part for it to contain a new element or direction. I believe we are strict with all our songs and ideas, we won’t just put something in there to try something new or different. Everything must contribute and flow together to create a steady atmosphere from beginning to end. Actually, the first album Withering Illusions and Desolation originally was meant to have keys all through it but I decided to not use them as I felt this record was sitting comfortably for me at the time in the state it is today. Eventually we started using more clean vocals and keys up until the To Lay Like Old Ashes album. Perhaps we will use more or perhaps we will use less of them in the future, only time will tell…

Like Mitch said before, he’s coming from the black metal circles, so the general atmosphere of Austere is therefore clear. However, Tim’s vast musical influences are taking their music to new directions.

– Perhaps this contributes to a uniqueness of the band in the end? I don’t know; we will just create what we will and continue on for the same reasons that we did from the beginning.

Some different sideways have been explored, though. The most sharp-eyed have probably noticed how Austere informed about a band called Crimson on their myspace site, and if you have listened to this mystic band’s Fading debut you have maybe detected the similarities between Crimson’s melancholic and acoustic instrumental music and Austere’s mellowest moments. Well, this isn’t just a coincidence, because you can find Mitch and another entity behind Crimson.

– Musically it’s an acoustic piece with subtle keyboards/atmosphere, very skeletal and minimalistic. Music to detach from the world and a bleak soundtrack to the horizons of eternity. To be honest, the original concept/idea behind creating this music was simply for myself and I had no interest in getting it released. I wanted to create something for me to do exactly as mentioned earlier, detach from all thoughts and movements.- But as time went on and the record was finished, I sent it to some people and Total Holocaust Records was one of them. They sway within my mind towards releasing the Fading album basically came from the expressed support and interest from THR which is greatly appreciated. Perhaps others can feel the void I did whilst creating this work.

How important is it for you to release your music to people who you don’t even know personally?

– I don’t think the word ”important” is the correct word as to me. It’s not overly important to make and distribute one of my own releases. The reason for doing Austere is for my own inner sanctum and expression. Basically in the end, making it public is for the few out there in the vast and wide world who can perhaps have some connection to it. But as stated, the most important fact is that for me/this band is that the material must remain to be honest and expressive… This is a natural step for us before we even begin to think about making any steps towards a public offering. Creating a band or song just to ”get it out there” is totally wrong and undesirable in my eyes… I guess the reasoning behind the promotional avenues such as interviews, advertisements and a myspace site is due to helping out the labels who have supported us by spending money and time on us.

But back to Austere. There are no songs in the band’s discography which would go under five minutes, so creating and invoking those important feelings and getting them to flow naturally takes time. Of course we are not talking about just two or three unimaginative riffs in one song, but certain Austere’s songs are taking the borders of monotonic repeating to the maximum. I’m talking about Coma I and II here, which occur as the album finales on the Withering Illusions and Desolation debut and To Lay Like Old Ashes. To be honest I haven’t got into these two lengthy (18-21 minutes) songs, which wander without hurry or tempo.  So Mitch, help me please, what would be a listening guideline for those tracks?

– The idea behind these tracks was to steal the listeners’ thought for the duration of the songs. To attempt to place them in a ”coma like state”. Again, these tracks are quite skeletal and minimalistic which was something I felt was necessary for these tracks/idea but I understand it’s not something for everyone to get into or understand.

INNER AUTUMNS AND INNER SPRINGS

Australia as Austere’s home country and their connection to the nature has been discussed in many interviews. People have thrown typical and narrow-minded statements about how a band coming from such a hot country as Australia can make depressive music or something else as idiotic. However, many haven’t noticed that the artwork of the To Lay Like Old Ashes album was made by a Finnish artist Timo Honkanen. These distant and stagnant images of grass and nature in general suit Austere’s music very well but it also makes me think that in the end Austere’s music doesn’t have too strong ties to the musicians’ heritage – the sorrow is universal.

– Yeah, I don’t believe we have a strong connection to the Australian (or any other for that matter) landscape nor think it really matters for us. These pictures just really took my eye when I saw them and I thought to myself that these would make great simplistic artwork and carry the correct feeling for the album. I didn’t add any textures or colour to them, what you see is how they were taken and I can appreciate that.

So although Austere doesn’t literally walk in the fields and forests to find inspiration, on the metaphorical level Austere uses the seasons and elements of nature to a certain extent. For example in This Dreadful Emptiness the storyteller describes himself as a “like a flower that will never bloom, forever in this dreary autumn”, while the others “bathe in the sunlight of spring”.

– These seasonal changes are a link to the mental states/changes that we all go through frequently. I like to keep my lyrics a little cryptic whereas Tim’s are a little more direct/straightforward, tells Mitch.

Another thing is this general atmosphere of Austere’s lyrics which comes present in the lines quoted above; they are like dream-like visions or hallucinations of the deepest despair, which flow – again – naturally. So it’s a little surprise that Mitch thinks about his lyrics a lot and works hard on them.

– They should compliment everything else and be equally as important to the band as the songs, so I guess these words are of an entirely conscious state. There is always a strong contemplation of words and phrases to get things right, I’d prefer to take the time needed to get everything together and carry to correct atmosphere.

Like Mitch mentioned before, although despair and depression are the main feelings in Austere’s music, the real palette of emotions is very wide for them. So it’s good to get deeper into that This Dreadful Emptiness, song which can be understood as a love song with its comparison of two different entities and their impossibility to match. Well, you Finns know the song Päivänsäde ja menninkäinen (A Sunray and a Troll)… Although the lyrics are written by Tim, Mitch has his own words to say about the song.

– To shed a little light on it, I personally don’t see it as a love song. I see it as a yearning for something that one cannot connect to. I guess the best way to explain it is it’s about someone who has been locked away from the light and warmth and referring to someone/something that hasn’t and drawing a comparison to one’s self. I don’t think it refers to lost love or something but more a state of emptiness.

But is this hollow and sad feeling of your music/lyrics created always in yourself or are there social relationships and disappointments present sometimes? As for myself as an artist the real sorrow and anguish is something very unconscious, not a result of my ´real´ life. I guess I’m more close to that idea of an imaginative author mentioned before, but how is the situation with you?

– The topics I deal with for Austere are topics I have been battling for many years, both in a physical and mental state. Social and other environments are not the most comfortable for me and therefore these things get recycled to me in many aspects of life. This is not to say I feel this way 100% of the time though, that is of course impossible. The mind is a very powerful tool and has the strength to cause many different things to the body. Personally I feel the best way to deal with it all is to take everything one day at a time and not plan too much in advance.

To Lay Like Old Ashes ends with the lines Reaching toward a pale illusion / One which will never become real / Just suppose for a moment / It was not just a dream. It makes me think about life and also Austere as a journey – we go through disappointments and betrayals, we bleed our anguish and pain to the songs to be free of it, but we’ll never be totally clean. But still we go forth… Do you have any explanation to this – what keeps Austere and you going on through these pale illusions and dreams?

– It comes from the willingness to create our blend of expression and personal reflection in a never ending form. Sure, we could hold it deep within our hearts and minds until the day we pass, but the day we do, our “physical” material will not die with us… It shall be left to roam the winds for an eternity.

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