Abyssian – The Colossal ExperienceSunday, 28th March 2021
Intertwining gothic and doom metal with left-field influences that can be Oriental, Latin, or jazzy in nature, Abyssian develop an intriguing sound and outlook through their records. Their latest album Godly contains a framework that explores Sumerian politics, ancient aliens, and settings of an Atlantean matrix while the music brings about the spirit and emotional whirlwinds of Tiamat, Novembers Doom, Paradise Lost, Candlemass, all the way through to Type O Negative and The Gathering. Contrasts between light and dark, the shades of grey hypnotic and breathing life into these longer arrangements, as you discover more about the band through each successive, intense listen.
We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Roberto Messina and he was happy to bring us into the world of Abyssian. You’ll discover his early influences, why the band signed with Revalve Records, how astronomy and archaeology play a significant role into the lyrical content, thoughts on his career between his previous band Sinoath and Abyssian, as well as obvious talk of coronavirus and the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you let us know about your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? And at what point did you discover heavy metal and eventually pick up an instrument to perform in your own bands?
Roberto Messina: I have very beautiful and tender memories, although rather occasional. The music that circulated in my house during childhood was definitely of quality, although experiences in a very personal way, and I had no particular suggestions about it. My father had a rather modest vinyl collection of Beatles albums, Mamas & Papas, Led Zeppelin, and some Italian acts from the 1960’s. But he also had a twelve-string acoustic guitar, which I used to take more for fun than anything else. It must have started there.
It was time to go to high school, and I, as a teenager in the mid-80’s, received as a birthday present from my cousin, Piece of Mind by Iron Maiden on tape. When I started attending my first year, I met in my class a companion who proclaimed himself a metaller who collected records. Of course, we quickly became very close friends, and it wasn’t long before we tried to set up a band, which originally covered Metallica, Iron Maiden, Venom, and Judas Priest.
Dead Rhetoric: You started Abyssian in 2010, originally as a one-man project. Tell us about how the act evolved into a full band, and also the changes in style from black/doom to more dark/gothic/doom as you released more material?
Messina: In 1995 my experience in my previous band, Sinoath, ended. After that project, which had started from a kind of black metal with some death elements, then moving on to a death/doom mix, and later on dark metal, I had a rather long period of musical inactivity. But not mental. As most of the time happens, with age you include in your listening music very distant from each other and from what you can normally play. While dark music was already in my preferences, I listened to electronic, folk, ethnic, jazz, and fusion styles. It was period where I deepened my interest in alternative archaeology and paleo astronautic, in essence, all the sectors given for imagination by official archaeology, which presupposes the existence of the ancient astronauts.
When the physical needs told me that it was time to resume making music, that miscellaneous of languages must have settled within me over time. So when I initially imagined the nature of the Abyssian project, I saw something in it, like a creature from the deep. Right from the depths, and indeed bared its name. But I also wanted to tie into this project with suggestions that I knew about space. That’s why, although I had initially imagined Abyssian as a one-man band, I soon felt the need to be able to have technical support on the rhythmic part. Even with an electronic framework. That was the moment I proposed to Francesco to enter the project And so it stayed for a period, even quite long.
In 2014 after the release of the EP The Realm of Commorion, we worked on the first album Nibiruan Chronicles, and during that time they joined the project, first Vincenzo on bass, then Riccardo on drums. Now we could also count on a more solid lineup for live shows. After the Nibiruan Chronicles release, Riccardo was replaced by Daniele.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you gain the interest of Revalve Records to release the new record? Do you believe it’s important to have the support of a record label even in these times where a lot of the promotion and support can be done by the musicians themselves with social media and technology at your fingertips?
Messina: For the new album, we were looking for some clever label who could understand the multiple (levels) of needs for our proposal. In this sense, Revalve immediately appeared that they both had the musical skills we were looking for and that they were very organized and efficient on the digital promotion side. In addition to having a very well-prepared staff of people and a varied roster of bands.
I remain convinced that a band must, at the end of the day, deal first and foremost with the role for which they were born. Create music and propose it. Today it is also forced (the term is not accidental) to make as much noise as possible around it, given also the very high number of proposals, but this can in the long run cause a defiance, as well as risking a lack of concentration musically. The role of a label, if they are really competent, can help a great deal.
It is true that today music in its physical case has almost disappeared altogether, and a band can safely do everything on their own. Before, physical time was spent on music, going out to buy it and coming home to listen. Today, you do everything in front of a screen. It’s all dried and colder. By contrast, digital music also gives (the listener) a lot of convenience.
Dead Rhetoric: Godly is the second Abyssian album. How would you describe the songwriting and recording sessions for this effort – and where do you see the major differences between this effort and your debut album Nibiruan Chronicles from 2016?
Messina: Godly certainly felt it was like a more mature album, and perhaps braver than Nibiruan Chronicles. On songs like “Nigra Lux”, for example, you can find juxtapositions that might usually screech. Moving from the tight riff of the opening, to the oriental suggestions, and concluding with something close to the samba, presupposes perhaps even a crumb of… unconsciousness. And, I fully realize that a depressive doom listener, if he doesn’t contemplate anything else among his ratings, will easily turn his nose up.
Godly’s songs then had a smoother gestation than Nibiruan, especially in terms of lyrics, and perhaps this is due to the fact that Nibiruan is more descriptive, ‘didactic’ about names, places and deeds. And the music present as a scene, a field has followed this whole process a little bit.
Godly is a mystical and religious narrative, though apocryphal. Nibiruan Chronicles is an epic and cosmological short story. In terms of realization, Nibiruan Chronicles we conceived as something that contained both a pasty amalgam between the instruments, and as something that had the appearance of a big Cthulhu among the millennial sands. I’d like this image to be taken by the listener. About Godly instead, we were looking for a more present and brilliant sound, but full-bodied too. Something that assumed less work on the part of the listener, on grasping some peculiarities. I don’t think a song like “Seven” can have the same impact without that sound.
Dead Rhetoric: Lyrical concepts for Abyssian revolve around the Atlantean matrix, imaginary submerged civilizations, ancient aliens, and Sumerian poetics. How did you gain interest in these subjects and how much research is involved to match up the words and themes with the musical support?
Messina: My father was quite passionate about astronomy. Like everyone else, we had some volume on the universe. For a time then, I remember that he became interested in a more alternative archaeology. I read something by Peter Kolosimo and Eugenio Siragusa, things that today are obviously dates, and some publication on Contactees. You will remember that there was a lot of talk about it between the late 70’s and early 80’s, the years of new positivism which also gave rise to all those films and tv series about the conquest of the cosmos.
I remember that it was the possibility of past and future which ideologically are two things at odds, could be connected through bequests. All we had to do was understand how it happened. And of course such an answer can not be found at all in official archaeology. What I mean by this is that, if you agree to climb over all those dating fences and descriptions that you studied in history books at school, but keep that apart certain pieces of puzzles that have an obvious shape that fits, everything incredibly becomes clear. It is also true that many suggestive theses have been discussed by further findings, that we must not try to see at any cost something that must be against the normally accepted theories.
The epic of the Anunnaki, Nephilim, and Gods, who landed on our planet in Sumerian times, are still the cornerstone of the themes of Nibiruan Chronicles, where you find struggles and revolts of a slave people towards their masters, suggestions of places where the sky is red and the suns are three, or of spaceships that finally bring someone back from Earth to where he was born. In all of this, the big swampy sonorities of 90’s doom, with its down tunings, are the most congenial way to talk about this.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering many of the songs on Godly are over seven-minutes in length, how do you ensure listeners retain interest in this epic format without becoming too monotone in terms of your ideas?
Messina: Every time I compose a song, I change its shape several times, until I get what may seem the best. The doom, as you know, consists of slow motifs, poorly articulated but full of effect. It is precisely that slowness, indeed, that gives it the appearance of colossal. But one of the side effects that this genre can have, if it goes too far, is precisely to make listening to it too long and boring. Even to a very well-predisposed listener.
Doom may be predictable, but if it’s well thought out, it’s an enveloping predictability. A full-bodied dark coat that envelops you slowly, gradual but inexorable. It reminded us of death, doesn’t it? This is basically the doom theme. I am thinking of albums such as The Silent Enigma by Anathema, October Rust by Type O Negative, or Shades of God by Paradise Lost. They are very long albums, but they could never bore you, because they were conceived with an emotional component at the forefront. I think the most effective ways to operate in doom have to have these elements. If they are there, minutes no longer matter.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles currently facing Abyssian to rise up the ranks in terms of popularity/respect in the international scene beyond your local interest?
Messina: Not a simple question, also considering the particular period that we are experiencing, and that music in general lives. Certainly the impossibility of being able to program live shows is proving to be the worst enemy of the moment. Precisely because bringing your music live represents both a moment of sharing with the public and the best way for promoting.
This virus, so sneaky, is denying us the best part a band is waiting for. That everyone is waiting for. About the rest, today we are now faced with a very jagged and frantic panorama, chock-full of bands compressed with each other, and which legitimately demand attention. Yes, the worst enemy is perhaps the chaos that all this generates. It distracts and lengthens recognition times for everyone. In all this, if a band has intellectual honesty, recognition in style, some peculiarity to be remembered for, attractive stories and, why not, a little luck that never hurts, it could really emerge.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Abyssian when it comes to your live performances and philosophy compared to the studio work? Do you favor one aspect over the other, or gain equal enjoyment out of both?
Messina: The attempt we carry out in our live shows is that of a real transportation on stage of all that we suggested to you, when you were at home listening to the album. We like to imagine that the listener after reading the lyrics and immersing himself or herself in our sonorities, has a counterpart in the dimension of the live (experience). Different is the situation regarding the aspects of the studio, which is made of a more intimate and internal work within the band. They are actually two very different pleasures, but both essential. Of course, they belong to the same flow and are consequently logical.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of your career musical highlights between your time in Sinoath and Abyssian, or other acts that you’ve worked with in the past?
Messina: Sinoath and Abyssian represent two very different creatures, also because they were born at very different times in my life. On Sinoath, I poured into music my first suggestions from the world of the occult and Satanism, all the aesthetic ones I absorbed from the American or Swedish death metal, and Scandinavian black, which had just developed. All this imagination, lived when you were twenty and as an absolute preview, but without too much awareness, over time has left a unique and unrepeatable magic. It’s a generational thing.
Abyssian for me represents a more mature and reasoned version of certain influences and includes even more recent ones, but which nevertheless also contains things that are part of my past. This is a more hidden and reasoned creature, but no less instinctive.
Dead Rhetoric: What are three of the most important albums – metal or otherwise – that helped shape your outlook on music and songwriting, and what were some of the most memorable concert(s) you’ve taken in from a fan perspective – and what made them so memorable?
Messina: Instinctively I would say Sgt. Pepper’s by the Beatles, Animals by Pink Floyd, and Reign in Blood by Slayer. I believe that the most important live shows remain Iron Maiden during the Somewhere on Tour (with W.A.S.P.) in 1986, Slayer on the Reign in Pain tour in 1987, both in Milan. Pink Floyd from the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, in Venice in 1989. In all three cases, very difficult experiences to put into words, if you have not been present. The sets, the sounds, the modes of the lights, colors, etc. They are of those cases where you are already aware, that you will witness something that will be of historical significance. However, the list would be very long.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies, passions, and interests away from music when you have the free time to pursue them? And how do you handle the balance between having a day job, music, and family/friends – do you have solid support from outside people for your musical interests?
Messina: Painting, graphics, and sculpture. Since I’m not a person who likes tv so much, I read a lot and whenever possible. I recently completed reading my first thriller/horror novel. After all, they’re not too far from music. I think that when you deal with something very intense and creative as a prevalent activity, even what you choose to outline, it is inevitably a part of it.
Being also a sculpture teacher in a high school and a father, I can only try to find time for all this when I have left, or in the evening. Often even late at night…
Dead Rhetoric: Have your views on life changed now that you are in your late 40’s compared to how you lived and viewed life in your 20’s and 30’s?
Messina: The way of life and the world in general in this last twenty years in particular has changed a lot in a totally unexpected way. One of the main reasons I think is mainly due to the advent of the internet and social media, that, look good today, they are the completion of a progressive process of the globalization of the world.
Although geographical distances remain, with a click on the mouse you can order pizza, cabinets, trips. It kind of comforts and scares me a little bit. It is this horse without reins called the internet, with which I live really hard, that distresses me. It forces you to rethink, reprogram all the time. And we’re not biologically designed to have to do it with such fast timelines. So you always have the idea of this world that can change its form several times a day. It is disturbing.
So it makes sense that I, belonging to a generation that has gone from analog to digital, from paper to a pc screen, warns today’s life as something perhaps a little too inconsistent. Everything went wrong behind remembering your fourteen daily passwords. Otherwise you’re ruined. Not that the past, made up of wars and nuclear waste, was better, but perhaps this present might not have to become this way.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Abyssian over the next twelve months to support this release? And how are you handling the pandemic/COVID-19 situation, as Italy was one of the countries hitting the news for its many casualties due to the virus?
Messina: As already mentioned, the pandemic has forced the music world to reschedule itself and give up its live shows, which are one of the first channels with which today stays alive. Unfortunately, in Italy the situation could not be more confused and ever changing, day by day. With yellow, orange, or red zones. And waiting for the supplies of vaccines, currently late.
We who have already had to postpone the release of Godly by about a year, are hoping that something will unlock and we will be able to reschedule our activities. Currently, we are working on the realization of the “As the Sun” video, which was already scheduled, and thinking about structuring also a live streaming show. It appears to be the only possible fallback to promote the release of an album, which we hope will be able to circulate and be appreciated as much as possible.