Black metal has always revelled in tales of nature, from forlorn laments for a lost age where Earth ruled over man, to more aggressive tales of nature’s cold, impassive fury. One-man American project Yith operates somewhere between the two on latest album Immemorial, accentuating windswept blast-beats with the majestic might of doom metal and thus elevating those environmentalist themes to a whole new level of poignant melancholy.
Immemorial is mood music, the pinnacle of expression within the confines of a genre most famous for its stifling intensity and proclivity for raucous noise. As the towering cliff on the cover suggests, much of the music within conjures the feeling of insignificance one faces when confronted with true, unspoiled nature. It’s gruelling, gritty extreme metal informed by the seemingly infinite power of the Earth and the imposing scope of its history, but it’s also evocative in a bittersweet manner, like the strangely refreshing realisation that our lives are, in the grand scheme of things, rather inconsequential.
Like all music this hauntingly vivid, it’s hard not to want to know more about the themes behind it, so we caught up with the anonymous mastermind behind Yith to find out all we could about the album’s release, it’s musical composition and, of course, the intriguing concepts that inform it’s enveloping atmospheres.
You released Immemorial fairly quickly with basically no promotion, were you eager to get it out into the world?
Immemorial was released essentially the same way Dread was. I’ve never really been one for self-promotion or shopping around for labels so I just release my stuff online/on tape and see where it goes. Vendetta Records reached out to me again about doing a CD/LP release and it came out great.
Doom is known for ominous auras and slower-paces, whilst black metal is known for blast-beats and speedy assaults. How do you meld the two and maintain an overall feeling of cohesion?
I operate primarily on feel. While they’re structurally different, the best black metal and doom metal often overlap in tone and atmosphere. The dark, melancholic space that both these types of music occupy, along with the hypnotic/immersive effects on the listener are what I’m after.
As long as these sub-genres have co-existed there have been aspects of one found in the other. There are significantly heavy doom riffs on most of the iconic second-wave Norwegian black metal albums. Doom albums like Born Too Late and Dopesmoker have parts that are every bit as hypnotic as albums like Transilvanian Hunger or Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. It’s really just a matter of being conscious about where the two fit together in terms of feel.
The name Yith presumably derives from H.P. Lovecraft. Why do you think Lovecraft’s work, and dark fantasy in general, have resonated so much with metal musicians?
Different facets of his work compliment different styles of metal. Horrifyingly gross tentacled creatures (and his name being slapped onto gore movies) have made Lovecraft a staple of death metal.
I’m more captivated by the horror of the unknown… strange places and entities of a scale and age that exceed human comprehension. You find a lot of that in funeral doom and I think it works in the context of Yith as well. The big slow lumbering doom riffs building to frantic or dramatic black metal passages hopefully mirrors the way many Lovecraft stories work; a protagonist finds himself awe-struck exploring something or somewhere massive, ancient and totally alien to human understanding. The magnitude of these discoveries eventually drives him to frenzied madness. Pretty fuckin’ metal.
Who/what inspires your music?
It’s all over the map really. Of course, there is a ton of black metal and doom metal as well as darker non-metal artists (Amber Asylum, Dead Can Dance, Bohren, Matt Elliott). However, I think the best Yith compositions come about when I pull inspiration from unexpected places. I’ll hear things in soundtracks from Kung Fu movies or random TV shows, video games, jazz, folk or ’70s dub and translate it into Yith’s sound.
The album title highlights the past, and the occasional acoustic guitar passages held within remind of traditional, pre-classical music. Are they at all inspired by medieval music?
Certainly, but indirectly via pieces by bands like Ulver, Drudkh, and Horn. I also do most of my writing on an acoustic guitar and I often will come up with something that I feel should stay acoustic rather than plugging in and expanding it to other instruments.
Why the title Immemorial? Does the album have a historical theme?
I felt Immemorial was fitting as a number of songs (‘Immemorial’, ‘Ruin’, ‘Madness’) on the album have a loose theme about the ancient and ageless in contrast to our insignificant life spans.
The artwork features a large cliff, reflecting the monolithic nature of the music, but also suggests themes of nature. Are there any environmentalist or naturalist themes present in the music?
A lot of the lyrics and overall vibe of this album were inspired by time I spent hiking in the Pacific Northwest. I love hiking/canoeing/camping and greatly respect and admire nature. I would definitely say I’m an environmentalist on a personal level, but Yith has never been a political band. I’ve always kept my beliefs separate from the music I create and listen to.
The lyrics speak of “behemoths standing long before man walked the earth” and “barren wastes untrodden by man”. Are you pessimistic about humanity’s impact on the world and its ecology?
Yes and no. We’re clearly really fucking the planet up for ourselves and potentially making it uninhabitable for future humans, but a lot of the lyrics on this album speak to the idea that the planet itself is incredibly tough. We may get wiped out but this planet has survived a hell of a lot. There are LIVING trees that are thousands of years old, environments where humans can die in a matter of minutes and landscapes carved by glaciers… Earth will survive. Maybe we won’t. Maybe that’s best.
On ‘Frost’, you sing about nature as a living force, as if it were seeking revenge on mankind. Is your aim to address the arrogance of modern society and our disregard for nature and history?
That song’s main inspiration is the Jack London short story To Build a Fire. Fueled by greed, the protagonist’s arrogance and lack of respect for nature eventually claim his life. Now, 116 years after the story was published, we still have incidents like that soccer coach in Thailand that put all those kids in that awful situation and cost a guy his life. People watch reality TV shows or go on the internet for an hour and mistakenly think they’re prepared to take on whatever nature can throw at them.
What’s next for Yith?
Currently working on new riffs. Expect a healthy amount of Candlemass and Dissection influence as well as more interesting drum work than on previous releases. I’ve been talking with a few people about the potential for some live shows in the future, but I’ve yet to put together a full live lineup. I’m also working on finding an artist to work with on designing some merch.
Immemorial is out now via self-release and Vendetta Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr