Space has always been a fascinating topic to humans, and it has often been thematized in music. Especially in Metal, we have seen many projects focus on the subject, be it in Death Metal with bands like BLOOD INCANTATION, or Black Metal with the likes of DARKSPACE. Another promising new project takes space as something hostile, relentless and bleak. THANATONAUT aims to move away from misconceptions about the nature of space and takes a grim, somewhat depressing, and yet enthrallingly realistic look at our chances and capabilities of space-exploration. Along with the review of his debut full-length “Interstellar”, we welcome Eija Risen, the creator of THANATONAUT, to be our guest at the Blessed Altar.
– Hello Eija, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, welcome to BAZ!
– Thank you for this opportunity, too.
– I always like to start with the basics, so: What can you tell us about yourself?
– Speaking as Thanatonaut, it is not important who I am, ego-wise. I am just a vessel, in which this idea has materialized. If we were to talk about some of my different projects, then my personality would matter. In Thanatonaut, most of the design choices were subconscious.
– How did you first get into Metal and dark music?
– Metal music has appeared briefly after chaos had appeared in my life. I believe this to be a universal consequence. There were and still are issues I have to overcome on a nearly daily basis. Spotting and solving issues, also the more universal ones, has become my main drive to speak. Metal music not only conveys this chaos, but also aggregates people who are familiar with it. Therefore, it is a great field to explore concepts like this.
– How did you get into making music yourself and how did the THANATONAUT project come to be?
– Music has always been an attractive form of communicating, because it could easily convey what words are incapable of. If I were a more successful writer or movie director, Thanatonaut would be something else. Music is a trusted medium and Thanatonaut is one of my many high-level ideas I have. It has appeared during my 2015’s astronomy lecture binge and remained one of the strongest concepts for metal albums I have at hand.
– What can you tell us about the band-name? How did you come up with it and what does it mean?
– Thanatonaut is Greek for “death sailor”. It shares the root “-naut” with “astronaut” which is the standard term to describe someone who’s been to Outer Space. This connection made it the right choice for the album’s plot and design. I have borrowed it from Neige et Noirceur’s single of such title.
– Your album “Interstellar” is out on December 7th, how would you describe the sound and atmosphere of your debut full-length?
– The album is a narrative that depicts mankind’s desperate attempt to colonize beyond the Solar System, once they realize that this is the only chance to survive as species. The speed of light (c = 299,792,458 m/s), with which we are very familiar, and whose implications we do not appear to fully comprehend, is now one of the greatest challenges in our way to survival. Theoretically, we are able to manipulate the spacetime and avoid this limitation, but practically, we are not. If this proves to be true, we will be left with harnessing as much solar energy as we can. To do that, we may be forced to deconstruct most of the inner Solar System, to mine all the required resources. Next, we would build generation spaceships, that would carry human seeds towards other planetary systems and possible exoplanets, suited for near-lightspeed travel in the interstellar void. This means protection from interstellar radiation, effects of zero gravity on human bodies and collisions with particles at near light speed. This makes the ever-idolized concept of space colonization we know from books and movies a very improbable task. Especially if we take into consideration that resources we have at hand (mass of the Solar System) are limited and the time may be short for a vast endeavor like this. This is not aesthetic conversion of depression to music. This is science and the destination of mankind in the hundreds of years to come.
Musically, it is a fast, monumental, epic and dramatic passage of restless and relentless black metal. Stylistically, the most obvious connection and inspiration would be Darkspace. There is less emphasis on darkness and heaviness though. More on the human aspect of space colonization and feeling of dread, awe, alienation and hopelessness. It feels much closer to home than what Darkspace portrays, but is still nested within that same cold, hostile and ruthless universe.
– “This is not aesthetic conversion of depression to music. This is science and the destination of mankind in the hundreds of years to come.” – Would you call yourself a realist?
– I would call myself an epistemological agnostic. The only thing I am certain is uncertainty. In practice, I am drawn to the search of objective truth. That means, the how’s and why’s of everything my senses registers and brain analyzes. I am conscious. But of what? This will be the subject of second Thanatonaut album and I will expand this concept much further there.
– How did the “Thanatonaut Manifesto” come to be?
– The manifesto is science and inspiration behind the concept of this album. Without the spoken-word intro, listeners would be left with mere dramatic and intense piece of monumental space black metal. It is the context and how deeply rooted in reality it is, that makes this expression universal to every human alive. Tastes may vary, but the message is equally applicable to each and every one of us. The manifesto is in fact the content of the spoken-word intro. Something that needs to be read and understood to get most of the music that depicts it.
– Yes, the spoken-word intro set the mood extremely well. Getting the concept was essential to my enjoyment of “Interstellar”!
The artwork was what first sparked my interest in the album. How did you choose it and why does it capture the albums feeling in your opinion?
– The artwork is a snapshot from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which is (and likely will remain) a timeless science-fiction movie. It portrays the death of Frank Poole after he was tricked by rogue AI HAL 9000 into getting out of the spaceship, to repair a seemingly broken part of it. The death scene is silent, which amplifies the true horror of dying in the deep space. His body recedes from the tiny capsule and from the ship, as he is plunging into darkness. I have tried to challenge this idea and find a more suitable one, but I was unable to. This is what death in space is best represented by.
– Very true, an interesting, timeless movie and a fitting snapshot.
What about the concept of space and space-exploration is interesting to you?
– As I previously mentioned, I believe black metal to be an attempt to familiarize with dark and negative aspects of being. The more extreme, the more interesting. In the past 30 years, the vast majority of the scene was driven by hate, disgust, disappointment, depression and other personal issues that often were translated to mythological, occult and war-like imagery. I was content with this direction and it has helped me to understand many aspects of existence and eventually sort them out. But then it has begun to be tiresome. With knowledge, comes deeper understanding and it may seem like some cynicism kicking in. Whenever I look at new albums that pop out once in a while, I see more iterations of the same “I’m not well and the world is broken” type of expression, or equally frequent “we are the manifestation of true evil”. It just lacks a trademark on it. My belief in Thanatonaut is so strong, because not only it is an extremely dark, depressive and desolate vision, but also REAL and universal to everyone. To this day I couldn’t find a subject for a black metal album that would be heavier in meaning and darker than this one.
– Why do you feel like these themes go well with Black Metal? Are there any emotions that you feel only Black Metal can accurately portray?
– Of course, this narrative could have been made a lot more accessible if it were presented in a Hollywood manner or by going with clean part of “Approaching”, arranged to pop, to a Eurovision Song Contest, but I am primarily a black metal listener. Well executed black metal should in my opinion be the most extreme piece of chaos and darkness humanity is currently capable of. This is the niche we have in our society for expressions like this. To represent Outer Space more truthfully than it usually is, is to scrap all the colorful, marble planets and dreamlike nebulas, and replace it with bleakness, vastness, harshness and sense of sensory deprivation.
– “Cosmic / Space Black Metal” has been around for some time, with some prominent projects. Can you perhaps tell us about your musical influences?
– Space black metal is a phenomenon I have helped to popularize as a teenager. Back in the Blogspot days we were trying to find and promote all black metal acts that were even remotely cosmic. Rooted in my vast love for astronomy and Swiss band Darkspace, having a similar project was a dream of the last decade. There were many unsuccessful attempts. The idea behind “Interstellar” was the one to spark real pursuit of the project that was not just going to be aesthetic, but meaningful. It took additional four years and a live Darkspace experience to get where I wanted it to get.
– What role do the electronic / synth elements play in THANATONAUTs sound?
– Conceptually, I could say that they create a synergy between organic elements like biological humans and technological elements like spaceships and energy collectors. The combination necessary to break our bonds with nature, learn how to maintain balance on our own and begin to exist beyond the planet Earth. Practically however, they were just means to achieve the desired sound and atmosphere.
– The sound undoubtedly benefits from it!
What things outside of music have inspired you? Where did you get the knowledge and inspiration to build the extensive concept of your project?
– I can be inspired by just anything. If I were to list them, they would be very uncanonical for black metal listeners and their expectations. Consciousness consists of everything it encompasses and since everything is connected, the least expected sources can influence the least expected works. As long you ask new questions and rigorously test your answers by comparing them with results you observe, your knowledge expands in the directions you only wish it to expand.
– This is the picture taken by “Voyager 1”, 6 billion kilometers away from Earth. The pale blue dot in the sunbeam is earth. Would you say this picture accurately captures the menial role of humanity in the overall cosmos?
– I would say it overestimates it, because it highlights it, albeit small one. In reality, it appears the only entities to highlight us is ourselves. This photo is a result of human activity. An act of scientific anthropocentrism. A stellar selfie. On the other hand, we are the only entities we are aware of that yield the power to manipulate the environment around. A cosmic anomaly to any external observer. That means we may be miraculously significant if events unfold differently than on “Interstellar”. There is potential to become a galactic civilization in the future. We won’t be likely there to witness it, anyway. Call it sad? I’d say neutral.
– Interesting take!
What would you say is perhaps the biggest misconception about the nature of space that many humans have?
– The misconceptions stem from our evolutionary perception which is adapted to earthly scale. We are built to perceive what is immediate to us. We have this miraculous ability, though, to visualize abstract concepts and scale micro- and macroscales to models we understand. Solar System, for example, is a model that is too large and has way too large proportions to be mentally available to our senses the way it is. I find it remarkable we were able to manipulate it so that everybody could understand it. What I do is the next step to help understand its true nature and that is a scary, cautionary tale in the form of a black metal album.
– Thanks for your answers and insight into THANATONAUT! Is there anything else that you would like to get out there and share with our readers?
– I believe in superdeterminism and the absolute lack of human free will. Actions and their outcomes are already contained within the entirety of time dimension and we are just here to witness them frame by frame, like a movie. Whatever happens to humanity in the space age is already decided. However, by doing what I do, I feed my aimless sense of wonder. Will my work be at least a small impulse that contributes to the outcome for all humanity? Or will it be forgotten? One cannot say that life is meaningless when answers to all these interactions remain unsolved. Be curious. Explore and interact.
– It has been a pleasure to have you as our guest, Eija. I’d like to say that I’m very much looking forward to more music from your project. “Interstellar” is a late gem of 2019 and may very well enter my AOTY list, great work! Thanks for being here with us and answering all our questions.
– Thank you once again. I hope that the vision and what it stands for will satisfy you, and the readers. If not, feel invited to check “Futurism” album by Cold Womb Descent that comes out December 7th as well. It rejects all this knowledge and dreams about the thrills and adventures of space colonization that may await us in the future!
Interview by the trve Medvson
The review for THANATONAUTs debut “Interstellar” is also out now on BAZ! You can check it out right here.
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