From Celtic Frost’s Into The Pandemonium to Metallica’s S&M to the mind blowing latest from blackened chamber doomers Wolvserpent to the fucking insane Bach shredding of shred dominatrix/violinist The Great Kat, many metal artists have flirted with or amalgamated classical influences into their sound, to drastically varied levels of success. Ontario’s The Visit, comprised of Musk Ox’s very skilled Raphael Weinroth-Browne (cello) and the strikingly talented Heather Sita Black (voice), get it more right than most of the others put together.
Starting in the reverse fashion of four feet and cello planted firmly in classical yet with a deep, romantic and soul pulling fascination with the darker side of the musical world, the pair have managed to make music that could stir esteemed concert halls and gothier types alike. Through Darkness Into Light, a late self-released 2015 triumph, was one of the loveliest and most breathtaking releases of late 2015 (with a stellar Alan Douches mastering job that really makes it feel cinematic). Additionally, this was one of the most primary of a handful of albums that kept me “sane” last year (along w moody stuff like Tearist, The last temptation of christ, He Whose Ox Is Gored, Vowws, Marriages, etc.)
During a particularly dark time I found The Visit‘s gossamer heartache and striving sounds that float throughout Through Darkness Into Light to be a comforting sort of oxygen that I could trust in, a record I didn’t talk much about because I was holding it rather close. That is, ironically, often the best compliment we can give something…exclusion via the intimacy of overly processing how something powerful makes you feel which you aren’t yet willing to vocalize.
Metal fans of a certain type may scratch their caveman heads but others will get that heavier stuff like permanence, desire and the magnitude of self in a vast cosmos are at play, a certain naturalist’s existentialism that perhaps is a product of being an avant garde act from Ontario. Or maybe I am just projecting. When the bowing gets heavy enough on “Without This Flesh” I dare you to not be hit by the impact of feel anyway, even if other passages are somehow too floaty for you thrash types.
Personally, I think The Visit are a breath of cold, fresh air and make inventive, soul stirring art of the highest musical caliber.
Raphael and Heather answer my questions below.
What an amazing album. From classical to Persian influences to dizzyingly
long and ambitious arrangements or vocals not out of place in a traditional
theater environment, how did this stunning record come about? “Into Light” in
particular is such a lengthy but rewarding trip.
Raphael: Through Darkness Into Light arose from the musical connection between
the two of us and the intense energy resulting from this bond. Most of the
pieces on the album were written very quickly in the span of two or three
days. All of The Visit’s music to date features very non-standard, open cello
tunings. I would improvise in these tunings and try to create a specific,
immersive tonal and sonic world, and then populate it with different riffs,
patterns, and variations. Gradually, a structure would emerge. Once this form
had been established, Heather and I would improvise around it and she would
compose vocal melodies. Into Light was an interesting process because we
essentially wrote the entire piece together in a park over the course of a
day. The bookends of the piece, which are very reminiscent of medieval
liturgical chants or organ music came as a result of us attempting to blend
our respective sounds, as opposed to covering opposite ends of the musical
Initially, all of our pieces were wordless, like Between Worlds. At a certain
point, Heather began adding lyrics. The first lyrics she penned were for the
verse in Offering which begins over eight minutes into the track. I had never
seen any of her lyrics prior to this point, and I was pleasantly surprised by
their uncompromising darkness and poignancy. This was the beginning of a
conceptual thread that would tie all of the five pieces on the album together
As the only instrumentalist in The Visit, I try to cover a great deal of
musical territory and convey the effect of guitars and drums or a self-
accompanying texture so that my cello playing feels more like a band than a
single instrument. Being in a duo with a singer gave me the opportunity to
explore the possibilities of my instrument in exciting and challenging ways. I
think that the style I’ve chosen to use for the band was also a catalyst for
Heather to explore the incredible intensity and power of her voice and deliver
a very wide dynamic range.
What are some of the themes that run through the album? I honestly haven’t
been able to process the vocals much yet because the overall feeling is so
enchanting. “Without This Flesh” made me think of a letter I wrote a friend
the other day about how life is brief so we should aspire at all times to
cultivate our real soul and speak from the heart.
Heather: Some of the themes that run through the album are birth, death,
rebirth, human love, spiritual seeking and union with what Sufi poets call
“the beloved,” and the ancient Sanskrit texts referred to simply as “that” –
the energy of creation and destruction. Without This Flesh features post-
apocalyptic imagery – it’s an urgent call to live life the way that you would
if you knew that the end was near. What would you choose to hold onto? What
would you choose to let go of? Death asks “how will you spend your final
days?” There is definitely a bittersweet quality to the lyrics. In a way they
are a love letter to life itself, filled with grieving and sorrow at the
knowledge that one day death will envelope each of us, yet they also allude to
the beauty, connection, and growth that can be gained during life, like a
glimmering light against shadow.
Do you find it easier to work as a duo then perhaps other groups in the
past? Some of the greatest groups, from Lightning Bolt to my friends The Gold
Hope Duo or Jucifer have a lot of luck pairing down that way.
Raphael: Working as a duo makes rehearsing and touring much easier; generally,
a single run through rehearsal is enough to prepare us for a show and we can
do this without renting a practice space or playing through amps and speakers.
We have a minimal setup, so we can walk and take public transit with all of
our gear. I always wanted to play in a project that could perform in any venue
and any musical context but deliver a high level of energy and intensity. I
would say that The Visit has managed to achieve this.
How was your release show in Ottawa with your other act Musk Ox and
Raphael: Our Ottawa release show was excellent. We played to a full house, and
some people even travelled from Toronto and Montreal to see our performance.
It was a beautiful experience to be able to play our first show with the new
CD for so many long time fans. Esmerine has been one of our favourite bands to
listen to since the release of their 2013 album Dalmak, so having them join us
for our album release was definitely a dream come true. All in all, it was a
great convergence of progressive sounds.
What made you decide to independently release Through Darkness Into Light?
Hey, even Miley Cyrus just did it with her Dead Petz release. I think a lot of
artists relish the control of being able to put out more challenging material
from their catalogues themselves and not having it get fucked with.
Raphael: We have never been approached by a label, so it seemed more sensible
to release the album independently and allow our reputation to grow naturally.
We have been developing a loyal fan base both at live shows and through our
email lists and social media; before we completed the album, we knew that we
had a dedicated following and we trusted that we would be able to sell CDs and
digital albums independently without difficulty. Sure enough, we are selling
consistently even now, nearly half a year after Through Darkness Into Light
was released last October.
Bandcamp has proven to be an invaluable service for
us since they take the smallest percentage of any major online store. Bandcamp
also allows artists to collect email addresses from all customers in order to
reach them directly. This is a powerful tool, one that might not have been
afforded to us as readily if we had signed to a record label. Bandcamp is also
a great platform because it is more discography-based than other online
stores. The way it is laid out allows artists to build upon an existing fan
base with every new release. For now, we have no debt and are simply preparing
ourselves musically and financially to make another full-length album. While
we are totally open to offers from labels should they arise, we are not in any
hurry to seek out a record deal.
Do you plan to cross the border and play some American shows anytime soon?
I feel like select, brainier markets would be thrilled to have you. You should
try and play Basilica Soundscape sometime in Hudson, NY.
Raphael: We hope to finally perform in the US towards the end of the year. We
are returning to Europe this spring, so the logical next step for us will be
to tour in the States.
You have played Prague, the Czech Republic and other areas of the world. Did
any certain place particularly lend itself to the group’s musical charms?
Raphael: A large contingent of our fan base is in Europe, and we believe that
our sound has more in common with dark music and contemporary chamber coming
out of Europe than the cultural mainstream in Canada, and particularly Ottawa.
We are definitely a musical anomaly in our home city and in many parts of
Canada, and we hope to venture to many new places to perform for audiences who
will connect with our music on a deep level.
Does it seem funny sometimes to have such ethereal music raved about by
metal journalists? I mean, you have done session work with Woods of Ypres who
were as gloom as it gets (RIP). And doom cellist Helen Money (who is such a
nice lady) just toured with Agalloch, so there is precedent for this.
Raphael: Since the release of our album, at least 90% of the reviews we have
received have been from metal websites and magazines. This comes as no
surprise to me as metal is the genre of music I listen to the most; I grew up
listening to heavy music from a very early age and I think that the language
and syntax as well as the spirit and energy of metal is very present in The
Visit’s music, despite our instrumentation. I see Animals As Leaders,
Meshuggah, and Cloudkicker as strong influences on my cellistic approach in
The Visit’s existing work and I think that is one of the factors that
separates us from other “new chamber” groups who are perhaps more influenced
by the Western Art Music lineage. I think that metalheads sense this and are
thus able to understand and deconstruct our music very intuitively. I’ve
noticed that the feedback we’ve received from heavy music websites has been
overwhelmingly positive, much moreso than from mainstream music blogs and
newspapers. Although we are not trying to be a “metal” band and we want to
integrate ourselves within a variety of musical contexts, it is clear that our
sound has a great deal in common with metal, particularly from an aesthetic
point of view.
I should add that The Visit often shares the stage with metal bands in
Montreal. My other band Musk Ox has also opened for Agalloch on a number of
occasions. While these projects are not defined by distortion and blast beats,
their connection to metal is undeniable.
Upcoming live actions.
MAY 16 WAVE-GOTIK-TREFFEN 2016 LEIPZIG, GERMANY
MAY 28 KOERNER HALL TORONTO, CANADA
JUN 03 SILENCE. GUELPH, CANADA
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