Beyond the obvious connections in its ties to Scandinavia, something about the coarse production, raspy shrieks and bitter blastbeats of black metal has always given it a wintery feel. Where death metal is often stifling, like being stuck in a swamp on a hot, humid day, the atmosphere of black metal is more akin to traversing an icy forest, the flurries of snow constantly raining down and the slender trees offering no protection from the biting wind. In short, it makes you feel exposed, isolated, helpless. Of course, these are feelings that many of us encounter on a daily basis anyway, and in recent years we’ve seen this reflected in black metal. Where once every album seemed to be set amidst frozen tundra or dark fantasy realms, black metal has now ventured into the towns and cities of the world and found that they can be just as cold and empty as any remote mountainside.
On 2019’s Love Exchange Failure, White Ward seemed to tap into the loneliness ironically felt by so many of those living in cities surrounded by people, whilst more recently the stark cover of Stasi, the new EP from blackened post-metal act Apnea depicted a person strung over the edge of a brutalist structure like a towel hung out to dry, its lack of colour hinting at the monotony of modern life.
A similar sense of contemplation arises when listening to ‘To Paint Hollow The Skies’, the new single from Brazilian five-piece Vociferatus. It’s a track with a sense of anguish that builds gradually, hiding just below the surface during the slow intro but soon overtaking the foreground as the biting, barbed-wire guitars and blistering blastbeats come into play. The accompanying music video features enigmatic black-and-white shots of a city, presumably the band’s hometown of Rio De Janeiro, but only ever from ground level, peering up at the towering buildings whilst taking in the details on the street, from a cat absent-mindedly cleaning itself to the scrawls of graffiti on the sides of buildings. The building sites seem as empty as the multi-story buildings, the structures of the city paying no heed to the people below nor the messages on posters pleading for Covid relief measures. Throughout, the message of “a rua fala” (the street speaks) is repeated.
The anguished cries of vocalist Pedrito set the mood:
“Hope lies shattered and lost
In the monolith of souls
Skyscrapers escape from hell
Where we stand
And die side by side”
The poignant but pointed track makes a change from the band’s previous material, from their demo in 2011 through to their debut full-length, 2016’s Mortenkult. Though the group have always made an effort to address important issues with their music, their new material seems a little closer to home. “The early stuff was mostly about anti-religion, war and a bit of mythology,” Pedrito tells Astral Noize. “Mortenkult is about war and how mankind is addicted and ‘dependent’ on it, about all the loss and destruction it brings to everyone but those in command.” So if Mortenkult saw the band making observations on the futility of war, ‘To Paint Hollow The Skies’ features the band’s own perspective not only as residents of Brazil but of this capitalist-dominated planet as a whole.
“‘To Paint Hollow The Skies’ is about being human in the modern world,” Pedrito explains. “We suffer from expectations created by the digital society we are in, we watch the world around us falling apart being exploited by big corporations, the same corporations we sell our labour to in exchange for a false promise of prosperity. War is still very real, but war as we pictured in our previous works is not part of our reality. We wanted to speak our hearts, to put out our anguish, our fears and anger.”
To do this the band have changed not only their lyrics but their music as well. The slower intro of the new track signals from the off that this is a band with a renowned sense of purpose and priorities that have shifted somewhat. “There is a tremendous change in our musical approach from Mortenkult to ‘To Paint Hollow The Skies’,” admits the vocalist. “The line-up changed drastically, since only me and Luiz [Mallet, guitars] remained from the time we wrote the album. Back then we were focused on sounding brutal, angry and fast, like the bands we used to listen to more often. Nowadays we’re moved by the very same things, but with a more mature perspective on the world and things that surround us. Sound-wise we bring new influences and different musical backgrounds from our current (and past) members who collaborated with the songwriting, influences from Opeth and Deftones to jazz, passing through post-rock, hardcore and more.”
It’s taken the band some time to get to this point. They formed as teenagers after Pedrito met the band’s original drummer Augusto Taboransky on an online metal forum. Taboransky enlisted the help of Luiz, and Vociferatus was born. “Our previous releases are more black-death oriented but we tried to bring aspects and instruments of Brazilian and middle-eastern folk music,” Pedrito tells us. “Today our music is more atmospheric, ‘colder’ black metal, with some influence from post-metal, hardcore and contemporary black metal bands like Déluge, Deafheaven and Oathbreaker.”
Having garnered some momentum from the new single, Vociferatus are already discussing future releases, but the Covid situation in Brazil makes the situation difficult to say the least. Despite being one of many fantastic bands from Brazil, and Rio in particular, Pedrito explains that there is not much scope for new music in their local scene right now. “Sadly, Rio is leading the number of Covid casualties in Brazil and most bands don’t have the proper resources to produce and collaborate remotely,” he says. “So there isn’t much happening besides a few live videos where band members record their instruments from home. Hopefully we’ll have lots of new records written when it’s all over.”
Given that president Jair Bolsonaro’s complete lack of response to the virus is just the latest in a line of actions showing his contempt for ordinary people, it’s no surprise that in recent years more artists from the country have been outspoken about their beliefs. “Since the presidential run started in 2018 a lot of bands started talking more about their political views trying to prevent Bolsonaro’s election, sadly in vain,” says Pedrito. “And as his government continued it’s run of genocide, revocation of rights and enviromental destruction, more and more bands came out speaking against his goverment. Being political in times like these is crucial and it’s at least heartwarming to see who is beside us in this fight.”
To Paint Hollow The Skies is out now. Order here.
Words: George Parr