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  • Words by Faye Coulman

Portuguese black metal talents Gaerea talk darkly cathartic second album 'Mirage'

When musing on matters of creative artistry, there’s a tendency to talk in terms of everlasting legends and ageless legacies. Of timeless, towering monoliths of unparalleled ingenuity. Of leaving behind indelible marks and career-defining cornerstones that will far outlast the rapidly diminishing frailty of its mortal creators. But rather than fixating on the heavily clichéd notion of preserving something of ourselves via the enduring medium of artistic output, Portugal’s Gaerea instead choose to revel in the fragile, ever-transient impermanence of the present moment. Luxuriating in those fleeting yet vibrant flashes of beauty and existential darkness that ignite the body and soul from the inside out, only to slip through our fingers like the finest grains of ethereal sand. Presented to us in the raw and visceral yet hauntingly absorbing entity that is 2022 opus, ‘Mirage’, these darkly cathartic aggressors here reflect on the rich art to be sourced from the neverlasting nature of being...

“Everything is very brief, you know? And I tend to think that we are both doomed and lucky at the same time for being alive, because what are the odds of us being here now?” contemplates Gaerea’s founding on the fragile precariousness of the human condition – a stark and thoroughly unpalatable truth that precious few of us stop to entertain in the midst of our often manically paced and preoccupied modern lives. Indeed, such unsettling ruminations on our own mortality tend to surface only during those most wretched, crepuscular hours of the early morning, when the waking world has fallen silent but sleep frustratingly evades us, leaving exhausted minds free to run amok with all manner of morbid imaginings.

But while, for the vast, overwhelming majority, such existential musings invariably lead us down unhelpfully grim and depressive avenues of contemplation, it’s precisely the fleetingly transient nature of being that serves to ignite the darkly incandescent fires of Gaerea’s delectably absorbing craft. Melding together the most frantic and viciously frostbitten elements of black metal together with a plethora of sweepingly expansive atmospherics, theirs is a sound unmistakably forged in the searing heat and immediacy of the present moment. Severed from both the troubling preoccupations of the past and the undeniably bleak future that looms ominously ahead of us, a desire to channel these immeasurably precious moments through the act of artistic self-expression has, for Gaerea, long been fundamental to the core of their creative being.

“In the beginning I just wanted to put into words and music some thoughts and ideas I’d been having,” the songwriter explains. ”I just wanted to record and get these feelings out, but then it kind of started to grow, and I'm talking specifically about our first EP in 2016. We got signed and shortly after, invitations for shows started to appear. And slowly we started to become a band and without us barely even noticing, we were already recording the first album within the space of just a few months. So it's very much baby steps for us and it still is, really. We never really know what we will be doing in a year from now. Of course now it's more way more structured than what we used to have, but we’re still very much going with the flow and seeing what the world brings to us, and this is a feeling that goes throughout all members, that all of us share. Living in the present and not much caring for the past or the future.”

But while these primal, intensely cathartic instincts may have figured prominently in Gaerea’s sound from the very moment of their inception back in 2016, it wasn’t until the making of 2020 debut ‘Limbo’ that the Portuguese aggressors set about crystallising these darkly turbulent energies into the stuff of bleakly observed, apocalyptic brilliance. Catalysed by the recent, catastrophic effects of COVID-19, both ‘Limbo’ and follow-up opus ‘Mirage’ sourced no small amount of inspiration from this exceptionally bleak and desperate period of human history. Together with the resulting, tremendous loss of human life and hardship incurred during these devastating years of existence, the creative world we had once so casually taken for granted was, too, irrevocably altered beyond all recognition. In the horrifying wake of countless gig venue closures, the dissolution of long-running labels and musical collectives, the year 2020 left the foreseeable future of human civilisation hanging in the balance, with the deafening silence of nationwide lockdown remaining the only concrete certainty of which to assure ourselves.

“We lost so much on so many different levels,” the frontman recalls of this devastating period. “It would have been absolutely mental for this band if we could have toured with ‘Limbo’, but we just couldn't. The UK tour was the first one that we managed to tour with that album, so we had these big plans to tour the whole world that just never happened, so that for me was a bit tragic. It didn't help much, but I will say that the writing of the new album happened super-fast once we started writing it. It was a two-week process and, prior to that, we never wrote anything so quickly. I still don't know where the inspiration for that came from. Normally we start to write songs and they just very gradually flow and flow, and it normally takes two to three months to have a complete piece of an album ready. But this time was super-f***ing fast, and in two weeks we had the whole basis of the album together with lyrics and the first bits of concept, and two months after that we were recording it. So it's been a ride, a very intense ride with this record so far.”

With its nightmarish blend of battering warp speed, vocal cord-lacerating screams and hauntingly evocative atmospherics, debut single ‘Salve’ evokes, only too vividly, the seemingly unending psychological torment suffered by so many during this unprecedented time period. And from the numbing ache of terminal depression to the quietly maddening throes of rapidly spiralling anxiety, resulting long-player ‘Mirage’ hurls the listener headlong into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.

Its creator elaborates: “We have known people that either went through the pandemic with albums such as ours and overcame depression or suicide problems, or other very harsh moments in their lives, because the pandemic was not only a time for reflection, it was also a very depressive dark time for a lot of people, so that truly bleeds into this album. I wouldn't say the event of the pandemic itself helped us to write this album. But just taking that frustration of not being able to do what makes us breathe as a band, which is play live. It's the thing that really culminates and helps us finish a cycle. So the ‘Mirage’ album was written before us being able to properly close a cycle and that was really frustrating, and I guess that feeling bleeds into some of the moments throughout ‘Mirage’. For instance, we have progressive songs very inspired by the act of being in a performance with no one watching, and the theme of the song that we released, ‘Salve’ is exactly about that. It's about suffering in public, suffering throughout the performance, only to discover that there's no audience in the end to witness all of that.”

Indeed, as tired and hackneyed a cliché as it may be, Gaerea’s recent explosive stint of flourishing creativity richly illustrates the limitless reserves of inspiration to be sourced from human suffering. And for a band that, by its frontman’s own admission, thrives off the feelings, actions and energies of those with whom it interacts and meticulously observes, it’s evident that ‘Mirage’ is just the beginning for this uniquely talented collective. Indeed, anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the band’s electrifying support slot alongside Gaahl’s Wyrd back in October will no doubt attest to the raw and ritualistic intensity they manifest at every brutally frenzied turn of these darkly riveting performances.

“We are very minimalistic onstage these days,” the frontman comments of the band’s understated yet emotionally explosive stage presence. “We used to have a lot more stuff on stage and relied a lot more on that, but we’ve learned since then that the way we move, the way we present ourselves, the way we fill these songs is way more powerful than any f***ing prop that you can have on stage. People can watch that in videos and on the internet and photos. I want people to experience the very natural way that we have about these songs. It's the look, the movements that we have, the way we feel these songs. That’s what drives me into continuing this. It's not about fucking fireworks or anything else. It's not about all the things that we could have around us. It's about us. It's about what this band can do with few instruments, mad vocals and our bodies. I think it's something that we've come to learn that the people who come to our shows also care very much about as well. So we are very pleased by that because it's exactly how we want to portray the ‘Mirage’ album. It's a very minimalistic show, no amps on stage, no fucking big fireworks. Just five dudes letting their souls out with music.”

'Mirage' is out now via Season of Mist

For more on Gaerea, visit the band's official Facebook page


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