Album Premiere: Enter the Subterranean Humanity of Noise Project Batrakos
Say you went into a museum in 1917 and say a urinal. Chances are, unless you're a urinal person, you'd be pissed (pun intended?) and dismissive. "There's nothing creative there," you'd think, or perhaps it's a concept, an idea that had cannibalized its form, leaving just an idea. Not beautiful, not elegant, not wrought, just there. I don't know how I would respond that object in 1917, but I do know that the me of now has a tendency to be taken aback, shocked, and sometimes, in very rare occasions, delighted by the premise of an **almost** unadorned humanity in art.
There's so much unadorned humanity in the debut full-length from Italian/American noise artists Batrakos. It appears mostly in the form of what feels like a voyeuristic, post-modern eavesdropping. People, regular people, chattering over static, people speaking their mind, people being simple or incoherent, cold and inhuman commercials. That much is "found material," no unlike that urinal I just mentioned above. But it is, as I just said, **almost** unadorned. And that "almost" goes a very long way, using simple, small, humble melodies and musical interventions that transform these stark documents of everyday humanity into what feels to me like a beautiful elegy. A heartfelt, unceasingly sensitive and warm long goodbye. Like watching a ship sink, but that ship is populated by people. Not just the people seen and heard here, but all of us too.
I realize this all comes off as a tad more poetic than even my inordinately poetic self, but this album, this masterclass in humanity, is what's bringing all this out. Believe me, I would way rather write something with "oppressively heavy" in it. But this just isn't it. What it is heavy with, however, is heartfelt emotion and a slight sense of slipping away, or of terror. And I guarantee it'll be one of the most unique and moving listens you will experience all year.
And so this is me burying the lede: Here's an exclusive first listen to the new album from Batrakos, made up of the founding pair of the excellent Italian label Xenoglossy Productions, as well as American artist Kuranes (Maestus). Get it now. And while you listen to their amazing debut, read about the music that has inspired and continues to inspire them in the interview below.
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What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?
Heliogabalus: I think it was Fallen by Evanescence in 2003 or 2004 at a motorway service area, haha. I don't have that CD anymore (I sold it to a friend of mine), but I really liked that kind of music at the time. Even though Evanescence hasn't been part of my listening for many years, I still think Fallen could be a good example of well done mainstream alternative rock.
Stilgar: Automatic for the People by R.E.M. in 2005 at the now defunct Messaggerie Musicali in Rome. I grew up in a small town so back then the only chance to visit a record store was going to Rome (which is two hours by car from where I live). Everytime I would visit the city with my parents during a Sunday trip I would go to that big record store and grab an R.E.M. CD and listen to it on the way home or on my bedroom couch at night. That record absolutely floored me, I only knew about the singles but didn't have a chance to listen to all of it so I loved its hidden gems like "Ignoreland."
Kuranes: Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe at my least-favorite childhood mall.
What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?
Heliogabalus: During my teen years I listened to a lot of Italian artists like Franco Battiato, Fabrizio de André and Avion Travel, plus some Italian comedy rock like Prophilax or San Culamo. I still like all that stuff. An important turning point was represented by Hammerheart from Bathory. I discovered metal music around 18, and Bathory was immediately meaningful for me: Hammerheart one of the albums I've heard the most growing up. The aforementioned Franco Battiato was and still is one of my favorite artists, I think I've listened to his album L'era del cinghiale bianco something like millions of times – even if my favorite album from Battiato is now Patriots.
Stilgar: R.E.M. is my favorite band so of course I would mention one of their records. I'd say Reveal since it was the first album I listened to from start to finish, I borrowed a burned CD from my sister. Then I became a nu metal kid and absolutely loved (still do actually) System of a Down's self titled LP. Later, when I started discovering extreme metal I remember being absolutely in love with In Flames' Whoracle.
Kuranes: My dad likes classic metal and big stadium shit, so there was plenty of Scorpions, Foreigner, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Dio, Ozzy, that era. Lots of Boston and Queen, too.
What albums taught you the most about the technical aspect of making music?
Heliogabalus: It might be a strange answer, but I probably took many rudiments of making music from Pentagram by Gorgoroth. That album taught me to build riffs, create atmosphere and such things. Honestly I don't listen to Gorgoroth anymore, but Pentagram influenced me a lot during my early days as a "metal musician".
For ambient and electronic music, I think my main influences are Franco Battiato's experimental albums (like Clic and M.lle le Gladiator), but also international artists like Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream.
Stilgar: I learned that mostly by experiencing it myself first-hand actually, both for writing and recording.
Kuranes: Cryptopsy’s None So Vile, Leviathan’s The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide, King Crimson’s Discipline, Cephalotripsy’s Uterovaginal Insertion of Extirpated Anomalies, Von’s Satanic Blood, Rammstein’s Sehnsucht, Blut Aus Nord’s The Work Which Transforms God, and too many more.
What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?
Heliogabalus: I'd say Zwart Vierkant by Grey Aura (which you considered your album of the year of 2021, if I remember correctly). That album shocked me because it's the perfect compendium of what I really like in extreme music: beautiful atmosphere, adventurous music, a well crafted concept with a lot of cultural references I can recognize (even because I like early 1900’s avant-garde art and stuff like that). Also, they worked on every single detail, from the vinyl colors to the additional essay you can buy from them: they did an amazing job, Grey Aura would deserve more recognition.
Stilgar: I've been digging Mark McGuire's discography lately, and his 2010's album Dream Team is absolutely beautiful, I love his layered guitar textures. As for 2022 material, recently I've been really impressed by Tholos Gateway's sophomore album. It's one of Colin Marston's projects, a superb mixture of ambience and jazz.
Kuranes: The Garden’s Kiss My Super Bowl Ring.
What album relaxes you or centers you the most?
Heliogabalus: I fell asleep listening to Carcass once, but I don't think I can consider Necroticism as a relaxing album. Jokes aside, meditative and ritual ambient stuff generally relaxes me a lot. In particular I really like Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura which is absolutely one of the most relaxing albums I can think of. I can also mention Ambient 1: Music for Airports by Brian Eno.
Stilgar: Greenvale Soda Pop 'n' Clinic by Echo Lane Recreational Dept.. I always come back to it when I need to relax or when I'm just chilling outside. It's a very serene ambient / field recording album.
Kuranes: Anything from Wrong Hole, Cory Strand or SBTDOH.
What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?
Heliogabalus: Recently I'm listening to a lot of extreme metal music, even more than usual because this year I'm curating a weekly issue on Aristocrazia Webzine focused on the "newest and notable" underground black and death metal releases (also, let me say that your "Nine songs I liked this week in list form" was a huge influence on me for starting this project). According to that, this month I've listened to Ashenspire's new album and Scarcity's Aveilut a lot, very good and innovative albums. I also can mention Earthbound by Tome of the Unreplenished, which was released on tape by Stilgar and I via Xenoglossy Productions (sorry for the shameless self-promotion): it's an amazing atmospheric/epic black metal album and Hermes is a great guy who also supported our upcoming Batrakos album (among the other things). Outside of metal, I'm listening to Black Midi's new album Hellfire and Franco Battiato's L'arca di Noè.
Stilgar: Fictions EP by Reflet Crépusculaire (J. L. Borges-inspired raw black metal), Fall Dorm Recording by Tape Sounds (lo-fi guitar ambient) and This About the City / The Sound of a Handshake EP by cLOUDDEAD (one of my favorite bands, experimental hip-hop).
Kuranes: Blackout’s Dreamworld, The Batman OST, and Cyriak Harris’s Animation Mix.
What album is grossly underrated?
Heliogabalus: In my opinion a grossly underrated album is Resplendent Grotesque by Code, the UK progressive black metal band. I mean, they even released some of their albums under big labels, so they're not exactly what you can call "underrated". However, that album in particular is particularly impressive: there you can find one of the best vocal performances of all time in extreme metal, Kvohst is amazing on that album. I think Resplendent Grotesque should be considered legendary, but sadly many black metal fans don't even know the band.
Stilgar: First thing that popped into my head while thinking about this question is Supervillain Outcast by DHG. It's not because it's considered a bad album I think, but because it's between a seminal record like 666 International and a beloved avant-garde masterpiece like A Umbra Omega. I love Kvohst's vocals and I dig the almost nu metal-ish vibe of the album.
Kuranes: Cynic’s Promo ‘08.
What album would you recommend from your local scene?
Heliogabalus: If we are to talk about Rome-based bands only, I can name you three albums:
Bedsore – Hypnagogic Hallucinations (death metal)
Demonomancy – Poisoned Atonement (black/death metal)
SVNTH – Spring in Blue (post-/progressive black metal)
Considering Italy in its entirety we have a good death metal scene, also thanks to some good labels that are helping the scene growing up. Italian black metal isn't that good actually (in my opinion), even if we have some good old bands like Opera IX, Mortuary Drape, Inchiuvatu, etc.
Stilgar: Spring in Blue by my homies in SVNTH. It flew a bit under the radar compared to what it deserved but it's a stellar progressive black metal album. Recorded live at Colin Marston's Menegroth.
Kuranes: The first Rye Wolves record, Oceans of Delicate Rain is a completely slept-on masterpiece.