Ava Inferi – Beyond Smoke and Mirrors

Saturday, 30th March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

Back when Mayhem was flaunting their ability to do as they pleased around 2000’s stunning Grand Declaration of War, it started to become readily apparent that the brains behind the band wasn’t drummer Hellhammer or the spectre of Euronymous, but guitarist Blasphemer (hereby known as Rune Erikson). Unwilling to adhere to the strict black metal confines that Mayhem was expected to be tied to, Erikson took the fabric of BM and virtually twisted it into shapes never quite seen before. The man’s daring guitar constructs reached similar fronts on 2004’s underrated Chimera, and 2007’s messy Ordo Ad Chao only complicated things further. This wasn’t your mother’s Mayhem, and before anyone could blink, Erikson had bolted and decided to fully commit to the band in question, Ava Inferi.

After a trio of rocky, albeit promising albums of female-fronted Goth metal, the Portugese-based ensemble has hit paydirt with this year’s Onyx. Already a shoe-in for one of 2011’s top albums, Onyx is another songwriting crescendo for Erikson – it literally bristles with confidence and climatic melodies, some of which are downright chilling, as heard on “By Candlelight and Mirrors” and “Venice In Fog.” The combination of Erikson’s cathartic guitar work and singer Carmen Simões’s vocals makes their previous output seem feeble, to be honest. That’s how mesmeric Onyx is.

Wanting to delve further into the splendor that is Onyx, Blistering snagged Erikson for a conversation centering on the aftermath of his departure from Mayhem, and more importantly, the magic behind his newest output. Read on…

Blistering.com: You’re now a few years removed from your time in Mayhem, so do you think you’ve been able to totally disassociate yourself from it thanks to your work with Ava Inferi and other projects?

Rune Erikson: Well, I’m not sure if I can totally disassociate myself from my albums with Mayhem, as they are reminders of my artistic life and therefore has my soul in it, obviously, but I do feel a healthy distance to the band, if that’s what you mean. It is a relief to be acknowledged, or to be seen as something more than “just” the former guitar player in Mayhem naturally, as I have always hated being seen as filling a role. And that was basically the way I saw myself in the latter years of my time there, too. Just another piece of the Mayhem puzzle, even though I steered the band musically.

With Ava Inferi I am able to express myself in other ways, possibly also to a deeper and more emotional extent. But equally importantly, it has built a new fundament for me and my life in general, taking things to a more personal level. Sure, I still do extreme stuff, and have more than enough grimness to cover the brightest of day’s worth of material stored on my PC, but now I feel free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and that is priceless. This further gives me more energy and will to keep working with my passion as well.

Blistering.com: Have you taken time to reflect on your work with Mayhem? Any regrets?

Erikson: No, I don’t regret. Sure, I’ve been involved quite a few things over the years that could have been questioned in retrospect, but all in all that has helped me to understand myself and the world better. I crave for knowledge about life and my existence, so more items in the sack, the merrier. But regarding the aspect of reflection: surely I have, but it’s all seen as a part of a bloodline of an artist and I don’t really get any feelings or sentimental issues when listening to it, it’s more like a window into my own journey, so to speak. It was who I was at the time, but I can proudly look back at these releases, as they are in my opinion still great records. Some more than others, but still…

Blistering.com: It seems you find more exciting musical avenues in something like Ava Inferi than traditional black metal. Is that the case?

Erikson: Yes, I guess you can say that. But I also feel that a certain labelling is somewhat biased, as I feel there are several bits from a wide musical perspective in my works. In my own eyes, I’m not an artist to be trapped in a box based on terms and subgenre´s and whatnot. I really need to explore to define what is me at all times, and that is certainly not within the confines of what is perceived as traditional black metal, or any other traditional “whatever” for that matter. In my opinion there is a huge field of inspiration and output within all the songs I have my name on, as you probably can hear on most of the albums I have been a part of. I have always wanted to push things a bit further, as the way I see it there is nothing as boring as “common art,” or music that fits the saying “goes in one ear and out the other.” I want it all to embrace the bigger picture, maybe that’s why I accordingly and subconsciously, collect things from here and there.

Blistering.com: Compare your songwriting exploits of today, to ten years ago. Would you have ever tried something like Onyx?

Erikson: No, not like what I have done and accomplished on Onyx. For me,Onyx is an album that is a result of a long and hard life being me. It’s really a soundtrack, as usually all the albums I have done, but this one feels more meditative and complete in terms of the actual idea of looking back. It’s something more present here, and I guess that thing is basically about being more receptive and have a greater understanding for how things work in this world. I am definitely more skilled now and fit to create better albums on all terms than when I was in my early 20s as well, so some of the aspects presented on Onyx would definitely be out of my league back then. However, I had a doom metal band together with some friends of mine back in 98 or so. We didn’t release anything except a rehearsal demo titled The Suicide Revolution. It was altogether a different beast though, being more straightforward doom metal and “true to recipe” then what Ava Inferi is. Yet, and as explained, it could never hold the depth and the musicality that Onyx possess. There is too much in this new album that is learned directly from hard events in life…and life has to be learned.

Blistering.com: Now that Ava Inferi is full-time, has it caused you to approach it differently than in the past?

Erikson: Maybe, but the essence of what is Ava Inferi will always remain what it was supposed, a free expression (within our own obvious boundaries and wishes) But I am definitely more hard on the aspects regarding musicianship and visuals et al than I was in the past. I expect nothing short of the best from everyone involved now, and maybe this has changed a bit over the years as my focus has gone in Ava´s direction. In the beginning, Mayhem was more dominant, and Ava Inferi was more the relaxed outlet, and therefore, on the two first albums it was some sloppier moments involved. We were all well aware of it, but we kept believing it was a human approach to it all, so we let it pass.

I was also under a slight depression during both Burdens and The Silhouette, so all this got weaved into the production and the songs too. When I listen to The Silhouette today, I can actually sense the shit I was going through. It’s a miserable and cathartic album, but under heavy medication it kinda does the trick as well, and you see the album and its mission in a bigger picture. I believe that the more “to the point” professional take on the band started with Blood of Bacchus. I’m not saying we didn’t take the two first albums in a serious manner, I’m just saying the mental state was so off that it was impossible to produce anything that could paint a more accessible picture…

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