When people traditionally think of the term black metal it conjures up images of the frostbitten mountains of Scandinavia and the idea of some inner darkness coming to the forefront. Kindness and empathy are not exactly words that you would necessarily associate with the genre, but when it comes to the musical musings of Unreqvited it is the beauty and compassion in their music which has led to them generating a loyal following.
Shrouded in an element of mystery, the person behind the project, 鬼, has always used Unreqvited as a form of coping mechanism. But as interest in the project grew, the approach 鬼 takes has changed and evolved to reveal something which is more beauty than brutality.
In the latest offering from the one-person project, entitled Empathica, the artist has once again redefined what is considered post-black metal or symphonic black metal. Yes, the record has blasting drums, monotonous riffs, low-fi sound mixing and of course, symphonic elements. But the way the record is put together will take anyone by surprise. It is not the metal component that stands in the forefront of their sound, but the orchestration.
We had the opportunity to pose some questions to 鬼 and get a deeper understanding of where the inspiration for Empathica came from and how they don’t stick to black metal traditions to create something which is truly unique and refreshing in the scene.
You have previously said that Unreqvited started as a coping mechanism, is this why you keep your identity hidden or did you want the music to speak for itself, rather than have you as the focus at its heart?
I think all of those things play a part in my decision to keep Unreqvited anonymous. I’m a little less strict on my anonymity now, but when it began I wanted to keep it solely about the music. The music itself doesn’t really have many human qualities, so I wanted the entity that was behind the music to have an ethereal feel as well.
When it comes to writing, do you find it difficult to craft the uplifting moments in an otherwise sombre genre such as black metal?
I don’t really consider the music I make to be black metal, nor do I listen to much black metal in general. I’m far more inspired by things like post-rock and film scores when it comes to writing those more joyful parts. The juxtaposed depressive/uplifting feelings in my music are also essentially just a bi-product of my mood swings. Records lean in one direction or the other because of the headspace I’m in when I’m writing it.
How has your perspective on the project and life as a whole changed with each album that you have released?
I’m constantly changing as a person, and Unreqvited has drastically changed my life in many ways. From a very young age I knew that music was the only thing I’d ever wanted to pursue, and that still hasn’t changed. I’m lucky to have such an incredible fanbase that has allowed me to live off my craft for over a year now. I don’t necessarily view the project through a different lens though, even now that I’m doing this full-time. I still, and will always write music solely for myself.
Do you see a lot of self improvement as the project has grown?
I’m not sure, I don’t ever really sit back and think about how I’ve grown as person, I try to just keep as busy as possible so the existential dread doesn’t settle in, hahaha. I do see improvement in my work ethic and my production though, for sure.
As a one-person project, how do you compartmentalise your songs? Does the writing process take a lot of focus as you are finding that balance between darkness and beauty?
Before I start writing a record, I generally have a conceptual idea and a vibe that I’m going for. I also usually have many different projects on the go, so when I get inspired to write I don’t have to work within one record’s specific vibe. I currently have four and a half records on the go between all of my projects. That may seem like a lot, but it makes it easier to know what project I’m writing for since a lot of the music I write varies in sound.
Is there a meaning behind the symbol you use to identify yourself, and why the mystery to begin with?
It is the kanji character for “ghost”. I’ve always liked anonymity in dark music, and I wanted to come up with a moniker that had an ethereal vibe to match the music that I make. I went with kanji simply because I’m really into Japanese culture.
Even though you don’t put too much out personally on social media etc, you do have a tight bond with your fans, do you feel that the mystery around you and the vulnerability of your music has helped people endear themselves to you?
I think it’s a combination of that and me just genuinely caring about them. The black metal community can be pretty cold, a lot of artists care more about upholding their “spooky scary persona”. I prefer to just be kind and real with people. As much as Unreqvited is anonymous, it’s still just me behind it. I’m not really playing a character at all. Perhaps people just find that to be a refreshing change from the standard black metal guy.
With this new record were there certain themes that you were drawing inspiration from?
I was listening to a lot of symphonic metal and power metal when I wrote Empathica. Those influences don’t necessarily come across in the music, but like those genres, I wanted it to have a fantasy world vibe. The title comes from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.
Aesthetics seem to also play a big part in your work, how much thought goes into the visuals of your records? Do they go hand-in-hand with the music or is it something you think about once all the writing is done for a record?
Actually, a lot of the time I like to reach out to artists to get the cover art done early on in the writing process. Usually by the time I have a title, a few song ideas and titles, I’ll hit up an artist and get the artwork done. Sometimes how the artwork turns out inspires me to write new songs for the record.
You have said when you started the project it was just an outlet for yourself, but since it has evolved is there now the pressure of whether fans will like it?
I occasionally have those thoughts when the album is complete and I’m transitioning my headspace into release mode, but I don’t think about that while I’m actually writing the songs. I will always only write for myself, it’s the only outlet I have.
You break away from a lot of black metal traditions with some of the instrumentation, is there any instrument that you would like to incorporate in the future?
Thanks to technology I can pretty much already include any “instrument” I want to into my music. Outside of software instruments though, I’d like to track real drums and bass at some point instead of programming them. I’d also like to experiment with a seven or eight-string guitar which I don’t have at my disposal right now.
Even though there is a clear link between pain and relief in your music, there is a lot that is open to interpretation. Is this done on purpose or do you want your listeners to dig through the layers you have created?
Completely on purpose, I haven’t really revealed any of the songs’ meanings to anyone. I like putting the creativity in the hands of the listener to craft their own meanings. I think this is one of the coolest elements of instrumental music. I also don’t want to ruin each individual’s interpretations by exposing the true meanings behind the songs.
On a more topical issue, how have you been finding quarantine? Has it given you time to write new material?
I’m quite well-adjusted for quarantine, since this is how I spend my days either way. I’m a little more careful when I leave the house, and I certainly go out a lot less, but nothing has really changed. I’m sitting on quite a bit of new material right now, so it’s been fairly easy to keep myself busy.
What do you hope fans take away from the new record?
A lot of my music is highly emotional, so I always hope my listeners can find some solace in the music I create. The world is a mess right now, so hopefully immersing yourself into the wintery world of Empathica can help take you away from that for a while. We all need a little bit of escapism right now.
Empathica is out now. Order here.
Words: Tim Birkbeck