Negative Plane | Interview
Negative Plane are one of the very few bands that manage to straddle the often treacherous line between death and black metal without becoming either a circus of bad make-up and glossy, pristine overly technical limp-wristedness or simply falling between two stools by trying to please everyone.
They have taken that dark, musty and sinister feeling that is present within the best of death and the rotten anti-social negativity of the best black metal. If that wasn’t enough work for one band to undertake they have gone one further and added an orchestral swagger to the whole shebang while maintaining that evil pumping heart that is essential for this music to be truly effective.
With their 2006 debut, Et In Saecula Saeculorum, they landed a fist squarely in the face of the underground (and God, no doubt), producing a minor classic in the process, but this year saw the release of their second triumph of death, Stained Glass Revelations, and the band have managed to top even their own ridiculously lofty standards.
Dublin’s Invictus Productions were lurking somewhere in the background pulling the strings, in conjunction with the ever impressive Ajna Offensive. With a European tour planned for execution in the coming summer months I decided to dust off the old Ouija board and see if I could someone up some negative spirits. Here’s what happened…
Welcome dark spirit, please give us your history.
This could take a long time so I will give you the short version. Negative Plane was formed in 2001 as a musical exploration of the unknown and unseen. We recorded our first demo in 2002, released our first album “Et In Saecula Saeculorum” in 2006 and in January of this year our second album “Stained Glass Revelations” was released.
We have had lots of line-up changes, but right now the members are myself on guitar and vocals, Bestial Devotion on drums and backing vocals, and DG on bass. We have also recently acquired a session bass player for our shows in Europe since DG is unable to travel outside of the country for the moment.
The Negative Plane sound is both haunting and muscular, hinging somewhere on the thin divide between death and black metal. It is both technically proficient yet possessed of a sinister evil murk, keeping it deeply rooted in the underground. Is it difficult to balance both feeling and technique and is one more important than the other?
Feeling is definitely more important than anything else, but one needs to utilize certain techniques in order to create that feeling. I would never use a technical riff if it has no feeling or atmosphere, but I would use a simple riff as long as its atmospheric and not generic sounding. Putting the song together with just the right combination of riffs is actually the biggest challenge and it’s what causing the song-writing to take as long as it does.
Stained Glass revelations sees you take the instantly recognizable sound that you developed on ‘Et In Saecula Saeculorum’ and ratchet it all up another gear or three. The sound is more bombastic, perhaps even orchestral in scope, but there is an even deeper and more chasmic, sepulchral tone which paints pictures of grand gothic churches and towers and drags the listener on a voyage to a dim and distant past. Was it a conscious or instinctive development?
It was more of an instinctive development than a conscious one. We already had most of that sound on the first album, especially with the song “Unhallowed Ground”, so we just continued with those ideas onto the second album. We had actually tried to use choirs during the recording “A Church in Ruin” but it didn’t work at the time so we just decided to wait for the second album.
Negative Plane is a very striking name. It suggests hidden realms, parallel planes of existence/non-existence, opposing forces, and ultimately the ‘other side’ where all that we know is inverted absolutely. What does the name represent to you and is there a philosophy behind the band?
The band name comes from the parts of a picture. The positive picture plane contains the brighter and more prominent colours in the foreground and the negative picture plane contains the darker, more hidden colours in the background. This metaphor is the best explanation of our musical vision that I can think of.
Most of your lyrics deal with death, yet there also seems to be an element of religiosity behind the band. You have spoken in the past about Satanism, so what does Satanism mean to you personally an in terms of your music? Do you perform any specific rituals?
Our first album had roots in Satanism and this is definitely something tied in with Negative Plane’s music. Our new album deals more with eschatology but the same elements are there , just less obvious. In terms of our music, this ties into the stated purpose of the exploration of the unknown and unseen. Regarding our personal beliefs, we’ve tried to explain them in the past, but I don’t think we’ve done a very good job at it so we are keeping this to ourselves from now on.
Can black metal exist without Satan? Is it more important to be dedicated to Satan or to follow your own path?
I’ve always thought of black metal as not existing without Satan being present in some shape or form. However, that doesn’t mean that the lyrics have to bludgeon people over the head with these ideas for an album to be black metal. For example, albums like Master’s Hammer’s “The Jilemnice Occultist” or Ved Buens Ende’s “Written in Waters” aren’t nearly as blatant as Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” or the first Bathory album, but the ideas are still there lurking in the background. Regarding your last question, I don’t feel that anyone has a path of their own, and I believe that the left hand path is something that someone follows by design not choice.
The artwork on Stained Glass Revelations adds so much to the overall feel of the album, from the hazy and cold photo on the front to the detailed illustrations that accompany each song. Tell us how the artwork came together and how important do you perceive the visual side of the band to be?
Bestial Devotion did the layout for both the first and second album almost entirely by himself since this is something he knows well and is extremely passionate about. The photograph on the cover of “Stained Glass Revelations” was taken during a trip to Germany in 2007 I believe and the drawings on the inside of the booklet were done by Timo Ketola to match the content of the lyrics. Visually, our goal is to make the artwork and live shows look the way our music sounds, if that make any sense at all. The illustrations took a long time and caused the album’s release to be pushed back to 2011, but it was well worth it in the end.
The riffs on the new album are often quite mind-boggling in their complexity- you seem to take a constant lead-guitar approach to your rhythm playing if that makes any sense. Thematically it is an interesting inversion as it leaves the bass and drums to pretty much fill in the space with some wonderfully dynamic playing. Your influences seem to derive from somewhere outside the typical spheres of black and death metal. Tell us where you find inspiration.
When I was first learning to play guitar, I learned how to play leads before I learned to play rhythm guitar so this probably had a lot to do with it. As far as musical influences, there are so many that I can’t even list all of them without leaving some very important ones out. Besides the usual 80′s stuff like Possessed, Hellhammer, Mercyful Fate, Sarcofago, Morbid Angel , and so forth we also listen to bands like Black Hole, Death SS (only with Paul Chain) , Saint Vitus and Pentagram.
Outside of metal, I can name the early works by bands like Bauhaus, Christian Death, Joy Division, The Cure, Death in June, Current 93, Samhain and Dead Can Dance. Again, this list is not all inclusive by any means, but all of these things have inspired us in one way or another.
How do you find bringing these songs to life in a live context? Is it tricky trying to conjure up that same sense of darkness and otherness in a grotty venue? If money was no issue how would a Negative Plane gig look?
Like it was stated above, we try to make the visual aspect of the live show match the music. When we are able to, we use candles, incense, and low lighting but sometimes it’s hard to do this when we have to play in a bar or a small venue. We are trying not to play shows if they are set in inappropriate settings, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.
Recently, I have started playing the organ live for shows and also our bass player DG is taking on the role of second guitarist to make the sound more full. If money were not an object, we would play a show in an old theatre or maybe even a large gothic cathedral and I would hire people to play real bells and a real pipe organ. Of course, this is just fantasy and in reality we need to work with what we have.
You have recently added a new member on bass. Tell us a bit about him and his input into the creative side of the band.
Our bass player DG has been a part of Negative Plane since August of 2008 and he played five shows with us along with recording with us on the second album. He contributed to a few of the bass lines as well, especially for “Number of the Word”, and he was also there for some of the structuring during rehearsal.
The band started off initially with the intention of being based exclusively around church organ, which you then abandoned in favour of a more metal approach. There is still a lingering residue of that initial idea in your music but can you see it ever taking a more prominent role in future? Could you ever see yourselves releasing a full album of that type of material?
I definitely could see this happening, especially since I often need to take a break from playing guitar in order to be creatively refreshed. We have actually considered making an EP of just organ, choir and bell music, but whether this actually takes place remains to be seen.
How do you view the current black and death metal scenes and do you feel a kinship with any bands in particular?
I don’t know or care too much about the current black and death metal scene so I’m probably not the best person to ask. There are a few bands that we are in contact with and whose music I really like though. Probably my favorite thing associated with black and death metal right now is Necros Christos.
Their new album “Doom of the Occult” is pure genius and I think it’s one of the best death metal albums ever made. We’re also in contact with the guys from Portal, Teitanblood and Watain, and locally I hang out with the guys in Agrath and Villains whose new record “Road to Ruin” is great as well . I would also like to pick up the recent albums from Grave Miasma, Reveal, Cultes des Ghoules and Virus as well.
The new album was released by Invictus Productions. What drew you to this small Irish label?
The album is actually a joint release between The Ajna Offensive and Invictus Productions. We were needing a decent budget for the recording of “Stained Glass Revelations” since we wanted to record with analogue equipment in a real studio and we were having a difficult time getting the required amount from Ajna.
While I was at the first Nuclear War Now fest in Berlin, I met Darragh from Invictus and talked to him about the situation. He was interested in releasing our second album, and he suggested a joint release where he would release the album in Europe and Ajna would release it in North and South America, and both parties would pay for the recording cost. This provided the solution that we needed, and we have been extremely happy with everything that Darragh has done for us ever since.
Do you think it is possible to grow and become more prominent yet retain your sense of identity and otherness or is Negative Plane too smart/difficult for the major labels? Would you like to take the band to the next level and what sacrifices would you/wouldn’t you be willing to make?
We are very happy with the way Ajna and Invictus have treated us so far and the idea of a bigger label signing us doesn’t strike me as being very interesting right now. I would imagine that a major label would want us to make short songs with less reverb and delay in order to make the music more accessible and we have no interest in changing our sound to suit a particular audience.
Also, I can definitely say that we don’t want anyone owning our music and doing whatever they want with it. On top of that, there’s no way that we would ever agree to release one album every year so I think that we’re probably too difficult for a major label to deal with. Right now, we have full creative control of our music and we are getting to play two major festivals in Europe so that’s more than enough for us at the moment.
What does the future hold for Negative Plane?
The vinyl release of “Stained Glass Revelations” should be out by the time this interview is published. Also, we have plans to re-release “Et In Saecula Saeculorum” on both CD and vinyl as well. We will also be playing a short European tour this summer and then taking part in the very last Hole in the Sky festival in Bergen, Norway. Finally, we are working on new material for a third release sometime in the distant future.
- Interview by Andy Cunningham ::: 24/04/2011