“If you feel you put 100% into something, how can you feel regrets or disappointments? Sure, sometimes it gets annoying when people don’t get what you are trying to express but how can someone else’s point of view make you feel down about yourself if you know you gave your best? This is one of the biggest lessons to apply to life and art, and I’m doing it with relative success”-Davide Tiso.
The above quote is food for thought but also far too modest once you hear Ephel Duath mastermind Davide Tiso’s latest monster prog-metal EP. “On Death And Cosmos” (Agonia Records) features three soul shattering, mind liberating songs that twist and turn and regurgitate your mind out the other side. You’ll feel like you melded with dark matter or entered the negative zone or something. It’s jarring and massive stuff.
The best music takes you back to when you first heard it. I hear “Strange Television” by Dax Riggs and remember gazing out the window of the Lower West Side apartment where I used to live drinking malbec and dreaming of a woman. I hear the warm guitars of “Rocket” by Smashing Pumpkins and lose myself in the summers of my youth. “Toxicity” by System Of A Down brings back the metallic fear of 9/11 America. Similarly, “On Death And Cosmos” will rivet you and etch the time and place into your skin like a tattoo.
I talked to Davide Tiso and wife (vocalist) Karyn Crisis about the EP, the amazing line-up of themselves plus Steve DiGiorgio and Marco Minnemann, working with producer Erik Rutan (Cannibal Corpse, Agnostic Front) and more. Karyn even talks about her recently painted Major Arcana.
Click HERE to read the interview.
Morgan Y. Evans: Ok, where to start! Wow, the EP is stunning. I was struck by the melodic dissonance and labyrinthian maze of sounds. It really feels like a cosmos, a dark expanding cloud. How did you decide the direction for the record in comparison with past releases under the Ephel Duath name? I love Karyn’s voice over these amazing arrangements of riffs, Davide. What a great combination of players.
Davide Tiso: When I felt it was time to return composing for ED, I noticed pretty soon that the material was going to be very dark and cryptic, longer songs with riffs upon riffs melting on each other. Everything in order to create as many intense moods as possible. I let my inspiration go, without questioning too much where I was supposed to bring the band this time, and the songs came out effortless, the whole process was extremely liberating.
In 2005, with the album “Pain Necessary to Know” I started working with open song structures and more dissonant riffs, so that mindset was probably the only pre-defined direction I held onto while composing “On Death and Cosmos”. Karyn’s voice fit the ED music extremely well. Her raw and cutting way of singing is able to bring the songs to higher emotional peaks and I’m so pleased by how well our two different musical backgrounds collapsed together in this EP that marks the first step in this new collaboration I’m absolutely thrilled about.
MYE: What were some of the overall themes you knew ahead of time you wanted to discuss on the record? What did the songs reveal to you or how did they startle or reveal their own truths more as they were written/unfolding? “On Death And Cosmos” is a rather epic title for an album.
DT: Writing lyrics is a very deep and demanding process for me. I love to do that, but it is consuming me as the same time: like puking for minutes straight. I put in poetic images very personal thoughts, I try to put my fears out. I get as naked as possible with my words. “On Death and Cosmos” holds together some of the lyrics I’m most attached to. These words erupted from me, and all three songs are lyrically tied together by the theme of Death and mourning, and the escape represented by the Cosmos. After a personal loss, I felt in a terrible depression and returning to compose for Ephel Duath was the way out from that paralyzing state. Some days I was feeling so bad that I felt my mind getting taken over by the spirit of my dead beloved, who was not accepting his death and wanted to keep living through me. The opening song “Black Prism” pictures the hopeless search of oneself in the splitting process of spirit attachment.
“I lie between layers of perception
I’m neither here or there
Twice but still nothing
My image multiplies
While my sight plays dead and regress”
The song “Raqia”, the ancient Hebrew word for the English “firmament”, marks the pain caused by abandonment and the excruciating consequences of letting go.
“You may be as lonely as I feel
But the emptiness around you is cosmic
Mine tastes just like flesh”
Composing the lyrics of “On Death and Cosmos” I spent a great deal of time out at night, listening to music, smoking cigarettes and looking at the sky. Considering the turmoil my life was in at that moment, writing new lyrics I was literally pushing my sight and my mind as distant as possible from that mess I was in. I wrote this way every time I got the chance and I started to feel a pretty strong comforting sensation while immersing my head and thoughts into the sky/firmament/Raqia entity. I read that warming feeling like the confirmation that my healing process was supposed to pass through that stage to get to the core of my pain and I kept going.
The closing track “Stardust Rain” is an ode to self-purification through inner death of senses.
“I am the black coat
Where stars hide in
I protect each of them
One by one
They keep shining to live
I let them burning to live
To my slow death I aim to”
This is probably the song I feel closer to. Everything in life has a positive and a negative power, I think that bad situations are the ones that teach us the most. Loss gives us the chance to readjust or even reshape ourselves during and after the mourning process. This positive chance offered by such traumatic experience is blurred out by the big dose of pain involved but I’m confident that each of us while suffering, in the long run, have the chance to know how much they are changing and self transforming day after day. I changed for better while mourning. I was an unfocused and worst person before my grandfather died. His death brought some good to me, I had the chance to find myself again, and as I wrote inside the booklet of “On Death and Cosmos”: “It took one’s death to give life back to another”.
MYE: How did Steve become involved on bass? His playing is so fluid and suits the EP very well.
DT: I wrote to Steve after I knew that Marco Minnemann was going to record the drums. I badly wanted this fantastic rhythmic section to become reality and somehow we made it happen. Steve and I quickly clicked both on a human and music level and working with him has been such an enriching experience. Steve is such a lovable person and a really raw talented musician. He worked his ass off to find his own way into my compositions and, while doing so, he managed to bring his absolutely unique style into my music.
MYE: Did you feel any pressure going into this release or was it really just planned to let the art unfold at its own pace, respectfully?
DT: The only pressure I usually feel is the one I put on my shoulder myself. I try to get better at what I do, every damn day. I always like to please my label, press and public with my music but the one and only priority for me is to make any Ephel Duath release shine on its own in our catalogue. I know my band will never leave the underground where we came from but this factor is absolutely not stopping me from offering extremely professionally made music that I will always be proud to stand for.
MYE: You recently shot a video for this release, I hear? Is this accurate? Can you tell us more?
DT: We are going to shoot the video at the beginning of August. Visionary director Mitch Massie wrote a masterpiece of a script for the song” Stardust Rain”. He claims this will be the most challenging and ambitious project he ever worked on and I’m positive he will be able to create a fantastic clip. Did you ever seen what he did for the last Cattle Decapitation’s video? What a fantastic song. Mitch’s images are able to bring those notes to a even higher level.
MYE: I Love Cattle Decap. I was thrilled to interview them awhile back for Crusher Magazine when they worked with Jarboe. I haven’t seen the video. Will have to check it out! Thanks!!! What keeps music still vital to you everyday? That is such a vague, lame question, but…it is personal to make art and frankly, when I make my own I don’t always want to share some of it. But, it seems the “heavy” underground has reconnected to more cerebral artists the last few years.
DT: Music is the most suitable way I found to express myself, not just as a musician but as a man. What it is worth of knowing me for is probably in my notes. I am trying to become a better and more experienced person every day. I see only two way of doing things: giving everything one has or not. If you feel you put 100% into something, how can you feel regrets or disappointments? Sure, sometimes it gets annoying when people don’t get what you are trying to express but how can someone else’s point of view make you feel down about yourself if you know you gave your best? This is one the biggest lessons to apply to life and art, and I’m doing it with relative success. When you enter in this frame of mind you can free yourself from external expectations and just try to get better at what you do simply because you badly want it. Working this way, your art becomes more and more spontaneous, challenging and liberating.
Regarding sharing my music, well, I have a lot to learn on that aspect. I’m really not that good at it. I perfectly understand what you mean when you say it is difficult for you to give out some sides of your art. I’m extremely protective of my music, to the point of being ridiculous. To me the most difficult moment in dealing with a new album is when it is time to let it go and release it. I put so much of myself into my music that sometimes, when the album is available to the public, I feel out there too, naked, ready to be dissected. Doing interviews is not that simple either. I think music doesn’t need to be explained. Unfortunately some questions demand that, and I have more than one trouble finding any words to add to my music. It feels like a used car salesman exercise that makes me feel empty. Some people are very good at it. I try my best, all the time, but I suck at it.
MYE: I have to disagree. You are very poignant and self-aware, in a good way. I admire that, Davide. Now… Karyn, could you talk, on a side note, about the art for the Major Arcana tarot that you recently did? I thought it was an amazing collection of your work. Especially loved the “Temperance” card. So cool to see how your artwork has developed over the years and is still very much “you”.
Karyn Crisis: Thank you, first of all, for taking a look through my paintings. I’ve always wanted to paint a Tarot deck, but it never seemed like the right time. As you noted, my artwork has developed a lot between 2006 and the present. I was selling my paintings in the early part of those years, but when Davide and I moved to California together he rented me an art studio and encouraged me to just explore and then figure out what I wanted to paint if I could paint anything I wanted. The search to learn how to improve my technical painting skills was difficult. I struggled to make paintings look the way I wanted. I had no process. I almost gave up oils until an “other worldy” experience happened where my main Spirit Guide introduced herself to me and began teaching me and training me in occult arts. I decided to devote my art to what I was learning, and that’s when my art really started changing. She’d help me work on my paintings as well, in my mind’s eye, and simultaneously I found a magazine article about the Italian Verdacchio technique which I began to use. I painted a few large pieces using this technique to get me started each time, yet the bulk of each painting painted itself.
After those paintings, it felt “time” to do the Tarot Major Arcana, and over a couple of sessions sitting in the woods the visions of each painting came to me and I jotted down rough sketches, complete with symbols and colors. While I studied several interpretations of the Tarot, I went with what I felt to be the “vibe” of each card, rather than follow tradition on certain things like gender and color and symbols. Throughout the painting process of the deck, which took 15 hours a day for 2 months, I was reassured by my Guide to “keep the paintbrush on the canvas and we’ll do the rest”, meaning there were spirits helping me paint the many things I didn’t know how to paint.
For “Temperance”, specifically, I focused on the persona of the card as the Spiritual Alchemist. I immersed her in dark waters of the subconscious or the “shadow self” and it was my attempt to show her transforming cosmic energy (fire) into its opposite (water) to become a peaceful presence through processing the experience of knowing both. In the spiritual path we find that from the darkness comes the light and being wholly ourselves requires balance of both.
MYE: So true. Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing, Karyn. You always inspire. So, how did you get involved with Agonia for the release, Davide?
DT: Filip from Agonia tried to contact me for years, but for a reason or another we were able to talk to each other just last summer. Since the very first emails I was surprised by his absolutely contagious enthusiasm for my music. For a while we talked about having my one man band project Manuscripts Don’t Burn coming out for Agonia, in the meantime Filip kept mentioning his interest in signing ED. Once I decided to return to dealing with my main band full time, I chose Agonia for a label because of the perseverance and passion showed to me by their label manager. The support that this small but ambitious label is offering to Ephel Duath goes beyond every other experience I had with labels in my career, and my sense of gratitude for this Polish reality grows day after day.
MYE: Has anything about the experience of making this Ephel Duath release or anything in your lives recently changed any of your perspectives or further entrenched long held beliefs?
DT: “On Death and Cosmos” was the way to open a whole new page for me. I knew that I had a lot more to say musically speaking, but I didn’t expect to be hit by such a big creative urgency. Thanks to this EP my confidence as composer has grown even more and now, writing the new album, I can push my limits even further. At the moment I’m doing the guitar’s preproduction, I have really a lot of new material: I think I’m reaching the pick of what I have to say through ED and without this EP all of this would not have been possible. It was a very smart idea to return with just three songs instead of a whole new album. It was a good way to touch base, to make a statement: “the band is here, and well alive, so be ready for what is coming next”.
MYE: What was the best part of the recording process and how does it feel to hear the great reaction so far from fans. Thanks.
DT: The most rewarding moment during the whole “On Death and Cosmos” experience has been to see the songs grow day after day, and realize how every piece were naturally falling into place. Guitars, then drums, bass and voice, everything polished and made shine by the great work done by Erik Rutan during the mix and by Alan Douches with the mastering. Probably the most touching moment for me has been seeing Karyn singing my lyrics, and to realize, after the very first take in studio, how well our two different worlds were collapsing on each other. Recording “Stardust Rain” we both started shedding some tears, I remember she kicked me out the room to avoid starting sobbing like two kids.
Pics by Bonnie Rae Mills