Black Moth guitarist Jim Swainston on their new album and the bizarre waxwork cadavers that inspire it.
The Anatomical Venuses are a bizarre chapter in the history of the study of the human body. Created in the early 1780s by Clemente Susini, the waxwork figures were designed to replace cadavers whilst teaching anatomy, but whilst that may sound relatively ordinary, the figures themselves have become the centre-point of much discussion, and even a book by Joanna Ebenstein. Their strangely idealised appearance is so incompatible with their purely educational function, making them a peculiar example of the impact of the male gaze. They raise questions about the lines between beauty and death, which are so frequently kept separate – and for good reason. Now, almost 240 years later, they have formed the basis for Anatomical Venus, the new album from British rockers Black Moth.
Building on 2014’s Condemned To Hope, their third full-length finds a balance between stoner/desert rock, straight-forward rock’n’roll, doom metal, garage rock and Sabbathian riffs, proving their most accomplished LP to date. Embracing Kyuss-esque riffs and an Alice In Chains-esque proclivity for droning melody, guitarists Jim Swainston and newcomer Federice Gialanze provide the filthiest riffs the band has put their name to thus far, whilst vocalist Harriet Hyde delivers haunting but instantly catchy melodies.
Enraptured by the album and the intriguing concept behind the title and artwork, we had a chat with Swainston to find out more.
The Anatomical Venuses are a bizarre thing to base an album on, how did the band come across them and come to name the album after them?
I suppose you could say it’s an unconventional topic! But why explore areas already well- trodden? Many of the themes across the album are observations on the female spirit. I think the Anatomical Venuses’ imagery encapsulates these and provides a snapshot of one of the many lenses that women have been perceived through over the centuries. Harriet first came across them when she found Joanna Ebenstein’s book whilst searching for a birthday present for Jess Green, her co-lyricist on the album.
There’s something disturbing about the waxworks. When writing the album, was the aim to sonically recreate the feeling felt when looking at these sculptures?
It’s interesting that we find them disturbing. I wonder if it’s because they appear rudimentary compared with modern techniques for educating on human anatomy? Having said that, Dr Gunther von Hagen’s plastinated bodies caused a storm and you can’t get much more realistic than those. Maybe the majority of people just don’t like to look beyond the surface?
That’s not answering your question though! Actually, much of the music had been written before we came across the Venuses so I’d say we were more tapping into a number of different moods, from the fury of ‘A Lovers Hate’ to the more wistful ‘Buried Hoards’. Maybe the closest or most obvious sonic representation of one of our themes is the guitar work conjuring up squealing barnyard animals at the beginning of ‘Pig Man’.
One would assume that an album somewhat inspired by anatomical models that were meant to replace cadavers would centre around themes of death. However, what’s also often noted is how the idealised appearance of the subjects seems unnecessary when you consider their intended function. As a result, are themes of female identity also present on the album?
Haha yes, one might think that but there’s actually a lot less death on this album than we’ve previously had on Condemned To Hope and 2012’s The Killing Jar. Maybe this is us lightening up? A scary thought! We were inspired by exploring female identity and the Anatomical Venuses were interesting to us as they provoke a reaction that’s a reflection of how we think about women today. To us, the poses look sexualised but according to the research at the time they wouldn’t have done and are more rooted in divinity.
Beyond the Anatomical Venuses, what other lyrical or conceptual themes can be found on the album?
‘Sisters of The Stone’ is an anthem for wronged women, inspired by some horrible stories Harriet has heard from close friends about abusive relationships. ‘Moonbow’ is an ode and an offering to the moon and has its roots in Jess Green’s interest in Dianic Goddess Worship. ‘Screen Queen’ looks at how easy it is for us to become obsessed with each other when we share so much online and can end up getting caught in a weird space between fantasy and reality.
As your first album on Candlelight Records and with a new guitarist, is it fair to say this album marks a new era of Black Moth?
I think we all feel that it’s our most accomplished work yet but it’s still rooted in what we first set out to achieve. We’ve just developed and got better at doing it! I’m glad people don’t seem to think we’re getting worse which unfortunately can happen. Too often bands lose a sense of who they are. There’s a fine balance between growing as an artist and doing something different and interesting but still retaining your own spirit.
It has been fantastic working with Fed on this record. She clicked with us all musically pretty instantaneously. I find it a joy to write melodies over the riffs she’s come up with and vice versa – I’m always fascinated to hear what she’ll come up with over the top of something I’ve written.
How would you say you’ve evolved musically since Condemned To Hope?
I think we’ve all improved as musicians and you can hear that. Hopefully, that’s not to the detriment of the raw energy I usually look for in music! I don’t think so. We experimented a lot more with melodic interplay between dual guitars on this album, which we had a lot of fun doing and liked the effect so I expect that to continue. I also feel like there’s a lot more dynamism in this record.
Who/what would you cite as influences?
We’re a bit of a melting pot of influences, to be honest. We’re all huge music fans and have a diverse list of things we listen to and bring to the band. Personally, my biggest guitar influences have been James Williamson, Ron Aston, Tony Iommi, Jerry Cantrell, Kim Thayil, Buzz Osborne and Matt Pike.
What can we expect from Black Moth in the future?
Well, we’ll certainly be coming out to play shows and you can expect a good time at those. As for future records, you’ll have to wait and see but we’re fired up by Anatomical Venus and eagerly building up the riff bank!
Anatomical Venus is out now on Candlelight Records.
Words: George Parr