Blyh vigorously burst onto the black metal scene with 2018's stellar Transparent to the World, and sophomoric effort Awake to Emptiness only serves to reaffirm the notion that this outfit is something special indeed. Balancing the visceral evocation of bleakness and despair with progressive and sophisticated songcraft, Awake is one of my personal favorite black metal offerings of the year, and shall be receiving a review within these unhallowed halls soon enough.
In the meantime, however, we are incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to ask some questions of Murul, Blyh's vocalist and instrumentalist. Read on:
Thank you for taking the time, and congratulations on a brilliant album! Now that Awake to Emptiness has left your hands, is there anything that has surprised you about its reception?
Thanks a lot for having me, and thanks for the compliments. The reception has been great so far - all the reviews I have read so far rate the album pretty highly in scores. That in itself is very surprising.
As a follow-up to that, the majority of interest for your debut seems to have been international. In the past few months, have you noticed a growing trend of interest from the German underground audience?
It’s difficult to judge… If I have a look at our Facebook fans, I’d assume we have a strong fanbase in South America, yet I am not aware of any major sales to that region. But judging from what we can tell from platforms like Spotify or Bandcamp, we see that we still draw international interest. Germany is the biggest part, followed by the US, UK and Canada.
In terms of live shows, I know you wanted to prioritize the quality of musicianship over the visual spectacle. Did Blyh's first ever show live up to your expectations?
I hope so. We sometimes have three or four guitar voices in parallel, so I had to rewrite some of the songs… and I hope it still worked well for the audience. With me playing bass and doing the vocals, I tried to adapt some of the guitar lines that I had to throw out of the compositions with my bass lines. That means everyone in the band is playing something quite different - every one of us has to be focused on their particular instrumental track. Therefore, it is quite hard for me to judge whether or not this works out. Being totally focused on the basslines, I hardly can hear our performance as a whole.
We decided to have a very modest and unobtrusive on-stage appearance. I think that goes very well with the music. There are few distractions for the audience, so they get the chance to fully dive into the musical performance.
Given your further forays into music theory for this album, is there a moment or passage that you are particularly proud to have created?
If you listen very closely, you will find that “What a Man Can Bear” and “...and Die Not” share one or two riffs. Both songs are derived from mostly the same chord progressions and harmonic ideas. Also the titles of the two songs correspond: “What a Man Can Bear and Die Not” actually is one big conceptual attempt. When writing this thing, I was very ill for a long period and could not find the nerve to come up with a decent song structure. So I wrote riff after riff serving the same harmonic ideas without actually moving forward. In the end I threw away more riffs than I actually used .
In the middle of both songs there is a melody which is the essence of the musical concept of the tracks. It is the exact same riff, but in a completely different context. Most people will not realize it. I am pretty happy with how that turned out. I’d like to experiment with this approach in future compositions.
In your discussion with Old Mill Zine, you mentioned that you derive inspiration from poetry. Beyond Georg Trakl--who writes more convincingly than most about the horrors of war--are there any particular poets that reflect Blyh's themes of isolation and grief? Otherwise, is there a poet, living or dead, you would recommend to us Village folk?
Of course there are some poets besides Trakl which I like a lot, such as August Stramm or Gottfried Benn - all of them being part of that very short movement of lyrical expressionism in Germany shortly before World War I. Also, I love the poems of Rilke, who lived and died around the same time as his fellow expressionist poets, but isn’t counted among expressionists. In recent years I’ve also tried to find poets who write in other languages than German: Arthur Rimbeaud is my most recent discovery there.
On this album, your vocals are astoundingly bleak--appropriately so, with "...And Die Not," in particular, representing what has to be one of the standout vocal performances of the year. Stylistically, are you influenced by any vocalists in particular?
That also is a surprise for me when reading reviews: Mostly of the time there is a statement about my voice. I was not aware it was so remarkable. Listening to recent Black Metal, I find vocal styles have become more diverse. Not all of the developments are pleasing to me. There is a lot of wailing these days, which I personally find doesn’t go too well with black metal. Also there is a trend to deeper voices, like you hear them in the latest Mgła or Deathspell Omega albums. Although I think I know where they want to go with that, I still believe Black Metal should have high pitched, raspy vocals - one of my all-time favourite vocalists would be Hoest. He has a very distinct and memorable voice.
Are Blyh's lyrics an expression of grief, dismay, and despair on a personal and individual level, or of humanity as a whole? Or both?
I seldom use the word “I” in my lyrics; when I refer to myself, instead I use nouns that reflect a certain facet of myself, like “a strange-one”, “silhouette” or “ghost”. That might suggest that I project these thoughts and emotions on humanity as a whole - but the lyrics are very personal. I can only speak of the grief I experience myself - to assume what other people feel and think would be very arrogant indeed. One’s feelings belong to oneself, and cannot ever truly be shared, no matter how hard you try writing them down. And that may be the whole tragedy within my lyrics: We are alone - isolated - with what we feel.
Given that you began this project as an experiment, has reading reviews and the general critical success of Transparent to the World had an impact on your creative process or the manner in which you conceptualize Blyh?
Although no-one ever can free himself from external influences, I think the reception of Transparent to the World had little influence on the new album. In fact, some of the passages on the first album that were highly acclaimed in reviews are no longer part of my musical vision. Of course, I wrote Awake to Emptiness with an audience in mind, but that didn’t change my approach - it only enhanced the dedication I put into recording. I didn’t ever want to please listeners or lovers of the first album. I merely wanted to push my instrumental abilities in order to create music that would be special for me as a listener.
Awake to Emptiness definitely requires multiple listens in order to grasp the depth and nuance of your songwriting. Do you believe that music (and art in general) should strive to challenge its audience?
Yes I do. With every form of art we stand in the shadow of an ancient tradition. Western Music - and all occidental harmonic concepts - are about 500 years old now. For hundreds of years we pushed the boundaries of what is possible with only 12 semitones into ever new directions, with their most radical climax in the sequential music of Schönberg or Berg. It is interesting how that period of radical music coincides with the radical poetry of expressionism. And although new musical concepts like jazz or blues developed in the first half of the 20th century, music has become more easy to grasp, and more entertaining. There is nothing wrong with entertainment, but I think we should also make use of the endless possibilities that music offers. And there are still listeners who do want to explore.
In the past, you've mentioned an interest in both Darkthrone and Deathspell Omega. Do you have any particular feelings about their respective new releases?
I tried both albums - with little success, alas. Honestly I like the first three or four Darkthrone albums for their uniqueness at the time, but the newer stuff never really hooked me. Different with Deathspell Omega: I am not really fond of their early work. Their best and most moving effort was Si monumentum requires, circumspice, which has a very special feel to it. As time progressed they became more technical and abstract, which was interesting in the beginning, especially with Paracletus which in my opinion is the climax of their work. With Drought they lost me.
In its current state, is black metal thriving?
Obviously it is. There are actually more releases coming out than I possibly could listen to. Also, I observe a lot of musicians moving from other metal subgenres into or close to Black Metal. In my opinion that development is quite understandable. With many metal subgenres becoming more and more overproduced and thereby dead and devoid of emotion, Black Metal appears to be the last refuge where you can express yourself in a rather unconventional way. At least that’s what drove me there.
Thank you again for your time and thought. Is there anything you would like to leave us with?
Just a big thank you to everyone who supports us. Without the mouth-to-mouth recommendations of our listeners, we would not have gotten the attention that we have. I am profoundly grateful for that.
P.S. Question from a fan: What anime is your skype profile picture from?
I’m not so sure. I used to have an old skype account but I lost the password and login - so I can’t even have a look.