CARPE NOCTEM – The stark contrast between beauty and the grotesque

by Jacopo Silvestri

Versione italiana

On April 24th, Carpe Noctem released along with Árstíðir lífsins the split album “Aldrnari”. Following this release, that presents us two of the nicest icelandic black metal bands, we did some questions to Andri, guitarist and founder member, about the history of the band and some aspects of the local scene.

Hi Andri, thanks for the time and welcome on Metalpit. First of all, who are Carpe Noctem? Could you introduce the band to our readers, tracking the growth that lead you to be one of the best Icelandic acts?

We’ve been around since 2005, but the band wasn’t fully formed until 2009 after our self-titled EP was released. There wasn’t much of a scene in Iceland back then and it was more focused on death metal. Most bands didn’t last longer than a year or two and very few got any press since the releases were mostly homemade demos. As we were all quite young the first gigs were predominantly in all-ages venues and art spaces in previously abandoned buildings. This allowed for more freedom to create a unique atmosphere and make the performance special. Many bands made the most of this freedom to develop their stage presence and hone their craft. We became known for creating a very immersive atmosphere that has paired well with other bands, such as in our performance of Vitrun in its entirety with NYIÞ at last year’s Ascension festival. Our first full-length album via Code666 Records, In Terra Profugus, was released in 2013 and soon after a lot of people started taking notice of Icelandic black metal. However, our situation was slightly different as a few of us moved abroad so we became less active. We still performed live once in a while and kept writing music remotely, but Tómas and Helgi were mostly performing with Misþyrming and Árni with Helrunar. After having released our second full-length album, Vitrun, in 2018 and our split album Aldrnari with Árstíðir lífsins on Ván Records this year, we’ve now become more active.

Your latest release is the split album with Árstíðir lífsins. Could you tell us something about the origin of this work, what was the idea behind this project and how you managed to find a compromise on the sound, as you got different visions of black metal?

Although the members of both bands have known each other for a long time (and Árni of course plays for both) the idea only came to us in October 2016, when Stefán and I met for drinks in London. Even though we have different approaches to black metal there are many similarities and we saw great potential in utilising each band’s qualities to express different sides of the concept. The album’s concept is best described in our press release:

Aldrnari explores themes of death and war, fire and life.
Fire I see burning, and the earth aflame. The travelling blaze, bright alive and ash-black in absence.
The death of every tree.
Trees we are, numerous in forms, but a single victim all together. Sacrifices we are named, carved from driftwood. Fire for the sake of fire. Destruction not as antithesis to life, but its unmasked core. A relentless force of insatiable hunger.
Voracious tongues create glorious visions, swords of death carried on its flame. We yearn for the oblivion of the yew tree. We pray for the biting worm to sever the chain, once and for all.”

I appreciated how you kept the efficacy of your sound even in a song that does not completely respect the standard structure you usually deal with. Is this some kind of anticipation for a more various record in the future, or is it a feature that will appear only on “Aldrnari”?

The structure and sound of Hrækyndill very much relates to the concept of the album and the format of the release. Although we have a certain consistency in our sound and approach to writing music, we don’t like to limit ourselves too much or become stagnated. Since the start, we’ve written music that binds contrasting sounds together, paired with lyrics that allow for interpretation. That’s part of our essence as a band and we will keep evolving and revealing different sides to Carpe Noctem.

The collaborations in Icelandic black metal scene are nothing new. As a matter of fact, three members of your line-up are also part of other bands. Watching all these collaborations I can imagine how solid are the relationships you have each other between musicians there. How much does this great atmosphere helps you? And is it tough to handle the activity with all these line-ups?

Collaborations are great for artists, especially when sharing ideas and developing them. We inspire and push each other to greater things. Although we are a part of the scene and community of bands, those of us who now live abroad are slightly removed from that. When we’re all together in Iceland a lot usually happens in a very short time. Tómas is in an almost countless number of bands and most of us have other music projects so we sometimes have scheduling clashes but nothing serious. We make it work because passion outweighs convenience.

What would you define as the most influential releases for your local scene? The ones which somehow built the background for the growth of the current Icelandic black metal. And what are the ones which influenced your music?

No one can deny the massive influence of Svartidauði’s Temple of Deformation demo in 2006 and their full-length Flesh Cathedral in 2012 on today’s Icelandic black metal scene. The prog-death metal band Momentum also released a demo in 2006, The Requiem, which had a huge influence on the whole metal scene. Their original vocalist was H.V. from Wormlust. Before that we had Flames of Hell, Forgarður helvítis, Potentiam and early-Sólstafir leading the way with a more traditional approach to black metal. The hard rock band HAM has also had a big impact on anyone interested in heavy music in Iceland and so have the 80’s post-punkers Þeyr along with the 70’s prog-rockers Þursaflokkurinn and Trúbrot. I think everyone in the band would have a different say on what influenced them the most and, to be honest, our influences are mostly not Icelandic, but it gives you an idea of what came before.

Talking about your albums, are there any substantial differences between “In Terra Profugus” and “Vitrun”?

Absolutely. Lyrically, In Terra Profugus is a concept album with a linear journey, whereas Vitrun is a collection of revelations that interconnect. Musically, we go much further in psychedelia, experimentation, dissonance and creating bigger soundscapes, almost space-like, in Vitrun. And while you have some very heavy and bleak parts, there are just as many to rock to whilst losing your mind. In Terra Profugus still incorporates many of those things but the execution is different, as it should be. It can be described as a more of a conscious trek of self-flagellation towards greater understanding that you have chosen for yourself, whereas Vitrun is closer to a freefall through revelations and visions, that you have no control over and can only accept as fate while you wither and transform.

What about the themes you deal in your songs, what are they generally about? The lyrics in Icelandic are surely something characteristic and well related with the songs also musically speaking, but not very easy to translate and understand.

Like the music, the lyrics themselves deal a lot with the stark contrast of beauty and the grotesque. In Terra Profugus is ethereal journey within and without the self, exploring concepts of life, death and the nature of evil. It is about overcoming and reaching understanding through strife and hardship, about self-flagellation of the soul. The album title calls upon Cain’s journey into the wasteland of Nod, the self-made exile from God’s creation. Imagery from nature and light references to Nordic myth permeate the text, which is both vivid and esoteric in description. Vitrun, however, explores the liminal space of the surreal and mundane. Everything is taken and nothing is freely given in return. The album deals with revelations and visions of nightmares, fever dreams, curses, stagnation, fate and establishing life as a malevolent force in a world that is ultimately nothing but a tomb.

Your artworks are perfectly connected with the music. The one for “Vitrun” immediately attracted me, so I wanted to ask what the story behind it is.

The cover artwork for Vitrun was made by Stephen Wilson. We approached him because we were familiar with his amazing work and funnily enough, he had just been listening to our first album when we made contact with him. We shared our vision with Stephen by translating the lyrics to English, offering visual references and describing the main themes but also left it to him to bring his interpretation and perspective to it. He created an illustration for the cover, back cover and every song on Vitrun, which I think adds a lot to the listener’s experience. We’ve used this approach for most of our releases and it’s proven very effective. By selecting an artist to work with that already shows elements of the atmosphere you’re after in his previous work, giving him some guidance and then let him do what he does best, you’re usually going to get something even better than what you had in mind.

Thank you so much for the time. The last question is about your future: have you got any plans for the next months?

There aren’t many shows happening in the world for the next months. Maybe we’ll squeeze in a live performance before the end of the year. We’ll also continue with writing our next album. Cheers!

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