(EchO) – Witness the SorrowThursday, 12th January 2023
Italian quartet (EchO) embrace a massive pool of influences across the atmospheric melodic doom/death spectrum – developing an international following since their start in 2007. Now moving onto Black Lion Records for their fourth album Witnesses, the material possesses the best head turning, hypnotic qualities that reveal a love for early Peaceville doom/death releases, as well as some melancholy that penetrates the Scandinavian scene. We reached out to guitarist Mauro Ragnoli, vocalist Fabio Urietti, and guitarist Simone Saccheri to give us insight into their early musical memories, signing with Black Lion for the new album, the lyrical/music process and inspiration, how the band differs live from the studio, favorite albums/concerts, and future plans.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your first memories surrounding music growing up? At what point did you start listening to heavier / more progressive forms of music, and when did you decide to pick up an instrument and start performing in bands?
Mauro Ragnoli: I remember I was six or seven when my father brought home the Iron Maiden – Live After Death vinyl, being 12 and asking him to buy me Hey Stoopid from Alice Cooper for Christmas, and Pink Floyd albums were all over the house thanks to my mother. The very first CD I purchased with my own money was Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks. Those are my childhood memories.
I picked up my first electric guitar when I was around 16 years old thanks to Nirvana, Green Day, The Offspring. It was 1995, and ‘metal’ was not exactly my cup of tea at the moment, my heroes were not metal at all, and my heroes going into the 2000’s were Helmet, Korn, the Deftones. The doom wake up call is actually related to me joining (EchO). Our former singer and keyboard player asked me if I wanted to join a doom metal project they were creating, but I didn’t know what doom was because to me it was in the ‘classic metal’ field, and I was a contaminated metal enthusiast (I still am). But I accepted the offer, and they gave me Hope from Swallow the Sun. I was what, 27? And my reaction was ‘oh, so this beauty in melodies with vocal anger and despair exists?’ Really!? And here we are.
Fabio Urietti: My first memories of listening to music are unfortunately related to my first times in church. My parents didn’t listen to any specific genres of music, and they are Catholic. So, no fancy memories about this. I decided to start to learn to play the guitar around 12 years old, when I discovered Mastodon. I remember that I stumbled on some of their first videos on MTV late at night. I didn’t understand what I was watching, but they were so heavy and cool. I played in shitty cover bands after only a short time.
Simone Saccheri: I started playing guitar really young. I think I was 5 or 6 years old; it was just an activity I discovered casually and really stuck with me. Heavier music and the real passion for playing came in my early teen years, I would say when I was about 12, but never really wished to be in bands, since in my small town I was the only one listening to metal. And I didn’t meet anyone that was serious about playing and into the same music I was until I was in high school. (EchO) is actually the only band I’ve ever been a part of, other than a few jam sessions I did before, to be honest I can’t even play a cover from start to finish.
Dead Rhetoric: Witnesses is the fourth studio album for (Echo) – and first for latest label Black Lion Records. How did you garner interest from Black Lion Records, and where do you see the major differences in this latest album versus your previous discography? Were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges that had to be worked through in the songwriting or recording process?
Saccheri: We’ve been following Black Lion for a while since a band of our friends already released a couple of albums with them, since our previous label was from Russia. The moment the war started it became almost impossible to work with them due to all the sanctions that were going on, so we immediately thought of them. This album is definitely more aggressive than our previous ones, at least it feels that way for us, but it was born in a moment of huge distress for us. And as with our older works, our music is the snapshot of who we are and what we’re going through at the time of its writing.
Other than the heavy lockdowns that we had through 2020 and 2021 writing and production went pretty smooth actually. If it wasn’t for those things, we would have probably finished a few months earlier, but in the end, that’s okay.
Dead Rhetoric: Performing in a style that incorporates melodic death and atmospheric/doom elements, what qualities do you believe have to be present to make the final grade for (Echo)? Is it a push and pull, collaborative process for the music as well as the lyrical content to fit cohesively?
Urietti: Well, that’s a difficult question. I think we never tried to force our music into some direction. Mauro and Simone know each other very well after spending 15 years in the same band together. After the departure of the past singer and keyboardist who wrote most of the older stuff, they became the main composers, but I don’t think they have done a bad job. They live quite close to each other, so they don’t have problems trying new material together. They’re also very passionate about gear and recording and have improved a lot in the past few years. Simone recorded guitars and bass independently and we’re very satisfied with the final result.
I think that our only direction of writing is ‘heavy’ and soft’. Needless to say, the first one won out over the other on this album. As for the lyrics I always work completely separate from the others, and the lockdown / COVID has intensified this aspect. I wrote a lot of the lyrics without hearing a single note, and after listening to the music, I choose the most appropriate (words) for the songs, and I discard the rest.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the lyrical content, does the band draw inspiration from personal experiences or are there other sources / influences that you use when it comes to the ideas you get across? Do you believe there’s a sense of catharsis that takes place in the delivery of the vocals beyond the words that the listeners appreciate and engage with?
Urietti: I chose to write lyrics inspired by personal experiences for this run. For most of 2020 I stayed on my own, and not everything came along well. Some lyrics are more explicit than others, but they all come from my personal life or events which I was able to witness. And from this derives the name of the album. On the other hand, my writing and choice of words reflects my reading influences. I always read a lot, and my main influences in recent years are surely Roth, McCarthy, and Mordecai Richler.
Responding to the other question, singing has always been a very intimate experience. I started singing later in life, the idea was to do something good for myself, as treatment. I was struggling with some personal issues, and some friends of mine suggested I try this. However, after a while I realized that it was something much simpler than treatment, because I felt better. I never cared about the listener, and I always believed that it was better for me to be seen as a ‘teller’ rather than a singer. I feel the same way about my writing skills. I feel more comfortable. But, yes, I think the more art is honest and natural, the easier it is possible to connect to the audience.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the specific guest choices that appear on the new record, and the way that these outside musicians shape or color your work to make things even more special?
Saccheri: We usually don’t compose music for the guest. The only time we did that we ended up not being able to play that specific song live, which is the last thing we want. So, usually, after we finish composing the whole album, and actually being done the complete pre-production we listen back to the material and think about which musicians would fit on a certain song. Whether they’re a singer or not, then we contact said musician and see if he/she’s interested, and if so, we see how to make it work. We usually have to pay for a studio in their area to record, or in some cases they have a home studio.
What is really important for us is to leave full freedom for the guest to do what they want. We usually ask them to play a specific part, but if they feel like it, they can do more, like Heiki (Langhans) on our new album. We sent her a few songs to choose from, and she decided to sing on two of them, which was simply amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: Who designed the cover art and how did the concept come about? Was it a collaborative effort between the band and artist to reach the final product, and how do you view artwork and its importance in the metal community?
Urietti: The cover art and the layout were made by an amazingly talented artist named Adam Robert Martin from Ireland. The idea of the art concept is mine, but Adm definitely deserves more credit than me. He managed to transcribe my thoughts and feelings into magnificent art and images and helped me a lot with his precious advice.
The idea is simple. Seven figured with different moods, such as the number and the mood of the tracks, wandering in their homeland, although it doesn’t feel safe, it turns out abandoned and distant. More in detail, we decided to portray the most famous monuments and buildings of the city we come from, Brescia, which has been hit very hard by Covid.
Artwork in music is sadly underestimated, and I see a lot of great music with mediocre artwork, and vice-versa. Art is also subject to passing trends, unfortunately, but my view is that music and art have to go hand in hand, and the more the music is detailed, the more the art needs attention. We dedicated a lot of time to the cover art, so I think I managed to be faithful to my principles, and we think it’s a really good piece.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles that the band faces currently in reaching more of a foothold in the scene or achieving bigger the goals that you set about?
Ragnoli: We are pretty happy with where we’re at to be honest. We would love to play more gigs, bigger festivals, and embark on some tours, but all those things that we’ve been offered lots of times. Unfortunately, they cost a lot of money, especially nowadays. We are all workers, some of us even seasonal, we love doing music more than anything else, but we aren’t capable to drop thousands of Euros (even tends of thousands in some cases) to get a slot on a tour or on a big festival. Plus, even if we know that’s how it works since the modern music industry has been in existence, our deeper punk rock attitude brings us to be quite against that. We prefer to play less gigs and have fewer people there that actually care, even spending our own money for travel/flights, than spending a two-year salary to play in front of 500 people that are there just waiting for the headliner.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are three of the most important albums that helped shape or define your viewpoints on heavy metal? And what’s your most treasured concert memory that you attended as a fan in the audience, and what made that show so special to you?
Ragnoli: I would probably say White Pony from the Deftones, Hope from Swallow the Sun, and Betty from Helmet. I still use songs from that album like “Clean” and “Street Crab” as reference about how a good drum and bass should sit within a mix. As a fan I would say the best show I attended was Helmet back in December 2004. It was their first tour after Page Hamilton restarted the band, and he had John Tempesta on drums, Frank Bello on bass (who I met before the show, awesome dude), and Chris Traynor on guitar, what a lineup! It was a few days after Dimebag Darrell got killed, and ‘til now that’s still the loudest show I have ever attended. If I can be arrogant and mention another one, I would probably say any Swallow the Sun show I have attended, those guys are amazing on and off the stage.
Urietti: In Flames – Come Clarity, The Ocean – Heliocentric, Converge – Axe to Fall. One of the concerts which I always have a good memory is Mark Lanegan at Vittoriale degli italiani. One of the greatest singers that ever existed playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world, storms in the background. Amazing.
Saccheri: I would say Odd Fellows Rest – Crowbar, Human – Death, and A Sun That Never Sets– Neurosis. As an audience member I will always remember when I had a chance to see Isis in 2008, Portishead in 2012, Mark Lanegan in 2017, and Ben Howard in 2018. It’s hard to explain why, but some shows really leave a sign on you, and those did it for me. They might not be the best shows the band has ever done, I’ve seen Lanegan before and that wasn’t the best time I’ve seen him for example, but some events just happen at the right time.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe (Echo) when it comes to your live performances versus what listeners hear on record? What have been some of your more memorable show experiences to date on the live front?
Ragnoli: We bring to the stage our albums in full, except the guests of course (for now at least), even if we don’t have a keyboard player anymore, we use backing tracks to fill that void. But besides that, we are playing it all live and we are really energetic on stage, so you can expect to hear the albums as they are but with an extra gear and in a more aggressive way, especially our new material.
Our best memories on stage I would say our very first and last shows outside of Italy, so the Ghost Festival in Romania in 2012 and Doom Over Kiev in 2019. Big crowds, amazing bands to share the stage with, all the people really into the music we do, it was simply amazing in both cases.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the world coming out of this prolonged pandemic? What concerns you most about humanity and how we will pull through this – have you felt any long-term effects from this?
Saccheri: It surely is a mess, even if it looks like we’re out of the worst of it. The music business will take years to heal completely, from big tours to small bands like us it’s incredibly difficult to tour and even play single gigs. Everybody wants to play, and many small venues closed, our area has no venues left at all, or at least venues that are interested in metal. So, it’s hard to play, and to exchange gigs with bands from other areas, and the few venues left are congested for months and months.
For the rest of what’s going on I think we’d be in no position to formulate any proper statement. What we notice is that humanity will never learn from its own mistakes, and everything that is going on is proof of that.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of hobbies, interests, or passions/activities do you like to participate in outside of music when you have the free time and energy to do so?
Ragnoli: I am an extremely lazy person, and the pandemic made me even lazier. I am a seasonal worker, the area where some of us live is based on tourism so in the seven months I work I only focus on my job. I literally work 10 to 12 hours a day, so I don’t have much time for anything else besides music. In the other months my laziness explodes, I don’t leave the house much. I love spending my days with my wife (she’s a seasonal worker also), and my cats, and taking care of all the things I can’t follow in the working months. I write songs, I listen to hours of music every day, some tv series and books, that’s pretty much it.
Urietti: Reading, definitely. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I always will be.
Saccheri: Music is pretty much all my life outside the family/work routine. I don’t really do much besides that to be honest. Before Covid I loved to travel, which I hope to be able to do more again soon. I also love to play pool, although I’m not particularly good at it.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities related to (Echo) over the next twelve months? Do any of the band members have any other side projects/bands that they also participate in that you would like to mention?
Ragnoli: We would love to promote the new album the way it deserves, so the live part is a big focus for us for next year. Our minds are always spinning so for sure we will write some new material that will somehow pave the way for a new album.
About other projects I proudly joined Remina as a live guitar player. I am extremely happy about this because Heike is my favorite female singer on Earth, she’s pure magic. And Mike is a good friend of (EchO) since our very first album. I think they wrote a majestic album and it’s a pleasure and honor to jump on stage with them. At the moment Remina just has one show booked at the Stella Nomine Festival in Germany, let’s see what the future brings.