Even people who regularly seek out strange and mind-bending music stumble across records and bands which they struggle to fathom – bands like Inhumankind, whose sound is so niche and unique that they fit into their own little pocket of extreme music. It’s the greatest thing for a music scribe because it forces them to abandon their reliance on comparisons, reference points or genres to describe out-of-this-realm records like Self-Extinction.
The Barcelona outfit is a project of two featuring Pablo Selnik and Àlex Reviriego on the flute and double bass respectively. The two avant-garde and classical musicians came together with a passion for black metal and began covering a couple of old school BM tracks on their traditionally classical instruments. Once the two heard how the genre sounded in this dimension, original material began to take form and Self-Extinction was brought into the world.
Some would expect this combination of genres to birth a screaming mutant begging for the sweet release of death (a bit like Alien 3) but instead, it’s a glorious creature which soars with way more grace than it has any right to. Whilst it may sound like the brainchild of (The Mighty Boosh‘s) Howard Moon and could just be labelled as a fusion of genres, put the record in a void and you can see that it’s very much its own beast.
Did you get into music like experimental jazz and avant-garde around the same time you got into extreme metal? Or were they very separate? Which came first?
Pablo: Well, in fact, I started studying classical music when I was a child, but the music I used to listen at that age was thrash and death metal the most. Later, when I was a teenager, I developed a taste for jazz, avant-garde music, and I opened my ears to black metal stuff whilst I was discovering the classical 20th-century composers.
Àlex: Extreme metal came much earlier. It was a natural progression from my early teenage influences: grunge, indie, punk, ’70s stuff (early Zeppelin, Sabbath, etc.)… slightly heavier every time… I still remember the day I bought Death’s Leprosy at Revolver Records in Barcelona. I got really hooked on early American death metal and especially European black metal. Emperor blew my mind into a thousand pieces – years and years later I still feel a very special emotion every time I listen to the first riff from ‘Ye Entrancemperium…glorious! Mayhem, Darkthrone (those covers…so much money spent on “deluxe reissues”), Burzum…I devoured everything I could put my hands on.
Experimental stuff came later, as a convergence of two heavy influences: noisy indie-shoegaze (especially My Bloody Valentine) and 20th-century classical music. I was familiar with Ligeti or Bartok way before I knew who Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane were. In a way, it always felt more natural than jazz or pop or strictly classical music.
So you guys have played in various projects before, is that how you met? What were those bands like?
Pablo: I met Àlex when I was teaching modern flute in Liceu Conservatory, in Barcelona. I had created a free-jazz ensemble and without any doubt, Àlex was one of my best students ever. I decided to call him sometime later to play together, and being aware of his black metal delicatessen tendencies I thought it could be a good idea to propose him a BM cover duo. As I expected, he was pleased with the idea, but very soon we decided to start writing our own music, naturally.
Àlex: Pablo was my teacher in a free jazz ensemble at Liceu Conservatoire. Then we just naturally started playing together in different situations: free improvisation,
recording sessions, larger ensembles… mostly free improv or weird avant-garde stuff.
How has working on this project been compared to others? Was it more challenging or did it come together easier?
Pablo: It was more challenging in terms of musical difficulty, in both technical and conceptual levels, but easier at the same time, because working with Alex is always fast and straight to the point.
Àlex: Super easy. I loved the idea from the very first minute, and working with Pablo always felt very natural. I play in many different projects, and I did a lot of sideman work, but this project was very special. Technically/musically it’s (possibly) the most demanding project I’ve ever played in, but extremely satisfying.
How are the metal and experimental music scenes in Barcelona? Are there a lot of like-minded musicians and shows about?
Pablo: I suppose it’s like most of the places… the more risky, creative and innovative the music, the less gigs you’ll get. There’s no money at all in these scenes, and you must believe very strongly in your music and in your own capacities to keep going through the years. There are tons of people playing their instruments at a very high level, but unfortunately the closed orthodoxy and sectary minds are everywhere no matter which style you play.
Àlex: There a lot of things going on in Barcelona’s underground, with many brilliant musicians. As usual, the problems have more to do with the interaction of those artists with the economic and social realities. The Spanish economic crisis made a huge impact, and the job opportunities (either as a musician or at a “regular job”) are every day more precarious, so to keep an artistic project going demands a lot a energy and sacrifices. I’m sure that this situation is similar to many other cities/countries, but it’s not stopping great music from happening everywhere. I’m convinced we are living in a fascinating artistic period, much more diversified and complex.
What first inspired you to play cover black metal songs on flute and double bass? What songs did you cover and how did they sound?
Pablo: At first it was more a “just for fun” thing, I think we played some Darkthrone (in fact, you can find a tribute hidden in one of the album’s songs) and we planned to do some early Mayhem but never did it, ’cause soon after we started to play our own stuff.
Àlex: Personally, it all came from my deep love for the music. No second intentions, just play music that feels true to me. I’ve been a Darkthrone fan since my teen years, so the idea of covering a song of theirs was very natural (in fact, I’ve been practicing extreme metal tunes and ideas in my personal practice since a long time ago). I did many drafts of arrangements for tunes that we wanted to cover (Pablo suggested Immortal, I really wanted to do some early Ulver), but in the end, the originals took over.
Once you started writing your own material for this project how did you find the process? Did you write a black metal riff on guitar and then convert it? Or were you able to just pick up your instruments and figure it out?
Pablo: The process is more like I’ve got some noise in my inner self and I try to crystalise it into sounds. I’m not very much into thinking in aesthetic and stylistic terms. Obviously there’s a lot of influences, from avant-garde to free-jazz to death or black metal there but I don’t think “from 4th to 8th bar we’ll play more ‘blackish’ and from 9th to 12th we’ll get more into ‘droneish'”, or whatever. It just comes.
I mean…it’s just the music I’ve got inside. I’ve never been into particular language or instrument cliches neither. I firmly believe in the music that’s behind the instrument, not the instrument itself, which is only a tool after all. It’s clear I’ve learned the qualities that a flute can offer, but at the same time, I’ve always tried to extrapolate the languages and concepts I like, whether it comes from Bösendorfer, Mark VI, or BC Rich sources.
Àlex: Pablo is responsible for the major part of the writing, so I’ll only speak about more specific ideas about the bass or the tune I wrote for the album. I hardly ever compose with my instrument, usually I just figure it out in my head and then write it down on paper or just play it on the double bass. But, obviously, some of the techniques are a clear “transcription” of metal guitars on my instrument, like all the bowed “tremolo picking” bass. It’s not like I picked up a guitar and composed those parts, but more like how to mimic that sound on the double bass.
Where is the amazing artwork from? Why did you choose it and how does it represent the record?
Pablo: The artwork comes from the master Ettore Aldo del Vigo. Luciano from I, Voidhanger proposed it to us and we were caught instantly, I think it reflects perfectly the vibe of the “self-extinction” term and of the album itself. Besides, it’s a beautiful piece of art.
I, Voidhanger seem like the perfect label for you guys, how did you get involved with them? Were you a fan before you worked with them?
Pablo: Well, I knew some of the bands on the label, of course, they’re the reference point on avant-garde extreme music. We suggested to him [Luciano] to release the album under his label and he was instantly excited about it. His enthusiasm, support, professionalism and high understanding of our music and the whole concept is something we appreciate infinitely. Furthermore, we’re glad to share such an amazing label with all those great bands.
Àlex: Honestly, I, Voidhanger was on my radar, but I wasn’t really familiar with it. Amazing catalogue, both in individual quality and general concept. Luciano is doing a brilliant job, I feel really honoured to be part of his label.
What or who are you lyrically inspired by? What are the lyrics on Self-Extinction about?
Pablo: Lyrically there’s a lot of references and influences, from the fantasy of Poe, R.E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft to the work of those who explore the occult through the ages. I prefer to keep the lyrical subjects open for free interpretation – there are multiple layers of analysis there, from numerology and cabbalistic meanings to the more specific archetypes of certain ancient culture’s pantheons.
Àlex: I’ve been very influenced by eastern religion/philosophy for a long time, so the idea behind ‘Blue Skin’ just came out almost spontaneously. I thought that the cult around goddess Kali was extremely related to many of the ideas that Pablo put into his lyrics. Destruction as a creative action-energy is one of the concepts that lie at the heart of Inhumankind, and approaching it from a Hindu perspective seemed coherent and logic.
Self-Extinction is out now on I, Voidhanger. Purchase here.
Words: Jack Richard King (@Jackingy)