- Interview by Faye Coulman
Year of No Light guitarist Jérôme Alban talks mesmerising fourth album 'Consolamentum'
If humankind’s consistently mindless, self-serving and hatefully bigoted behaviour during these continually troubled times has taught us anything, it’s that the vast majority of us are not particularly thoughtful or profoundly introspective creatures. Indeed, the government’s prioritising of commercial sporting events over the reopening of live music venues, galleries and theatres gives us a more than solid indication of how lamentably little value we seem to ascribe to the arts nowadays. Happily, though, such crushingly intense and beautiful entities such as French post-metal unit Year of No Light have long provided us with a hauntingly absorbing antidote to a world that, all too often, seems hopelessly bereft of beauty. And with fourth newly-released smash 'Consolamentum’ comprising the band’s most ambitious and thoroughly immersive outing yet, guitarist Jérôme Alban kindly took a little time out to report back on the making of this groundbreaking new long-player…
“A lot of songwriting nowadays is really kind of a closed form. You get your chorus, your verse, your intro… Just few things, really. But when you’re working with much longer tracks, you can deal with a lot of more stuff, extend time and just let things flow,” notes guitarist and composer Jérôme Alban of the fearlessly pioneering writing processes for which post-metal masterminds Year of No Light have long been admired. With its darkly absorbing wealth of bone-crushing groove, distortion-drenched atmospherics and expansive passages of elegantly unfurling fretwork forming a refreshingly complex antidote to a painfully unimaginative mainstream, it’s safe to say the Bordeaux natives have seldom concerned themselves with such narrowly constraining norms and conventions. Prizing immersive and fluidly instinctive songcraft over catchy, tidily concise tracks geared toward instant gratification and mass consumption, it fast becomes apparent that Alban is a songwriter in the most classic and authentic sense of the term. Soft-spoken and quietly contemplative from the outset of our Skype chat, there’s no mistaking what a monumental undertaking this most recent creative cycle has proven to be for the Bordeaux-based musician and founding member. And, as much as the band’s refreshingly individualistic approach to the songwriting approach has guaranteed them - time and time again - unfailingly beautiful and immersive results, the meticulous processes involved in producing such strikingly complex art inevitably bring with them no small amount of problematic trials and complications. Incorporating a whopping eight years’ worth of material compiled, on an almost constant, ongoing basis, since 2013’s critically admired ‘Tocsin’, the long and gruelling process of incorporating all these myriad influences and sketches into a single, coherent whole was one laden with a variety of difficulties. But with the life-altering arrival of COVID-19 bringing the band’s most recent touring cycle to a jarringly abrupt halt back in March 2020, Alban and co. were quick to take full advantage of the unexpected wealth of free, blissfully uninterrupted time that followed, throwing themselves headlong into the creative process that would eventually culminate in newly-released epic ‘Consolamentum’.
“Over the past eight years, we struggle a lot with composition and methodology,” the guitarist reveals. “You know, we are six-piece so it's pretty hard to get an equilibrium of creative energy, so we really struggle hard in order to be happy with the song. In fact, we write a lot of stuff, but we weren’t able to incorporate all of those ideas in the final mix. There’s like, two tracks from six years ago somewhere, others from eight years ago, some from two years ago… So it's weird, because with these five tracks, we have to find a way to make something cool around them in the form of a full album, because we like to make a record that feels like a complete journey for the listener. So we struggled with all that stuff throughout the process. We were pretty tired and because we tour a lot, we expend a lot of energy touring and with everyday life, as well as the jobs and problems of everybody in the band. So it was a pretty harsh process, but we are here to to make this album together in a way that is, from the beginning, kind of crazy. In practice, it’s a really long process.”
From pummelling blasts and gargantuan slabs of ceaselessly churning, tombstone-heavy groove through to delicately entangled flurries of guitar that audibly glimmer with otherworldly beauty, resulting long-player ‘Consolamentum’ is awash with evidence of its creators’ fearlessly ambitious creative processes. Born from a place of complex, deeply introspective musing on the darkest facets of the human condition and all that lies beyond, the album borrows its title from that of a little-known medieval offshoot of Christianity whose grimly-inclined fixation with death and existential darkness earned it a spectacularly unpopular reputation with the Catholic church. And with each of the band’s six members adopting their own uniquely individualistic stance on the album’s accompanying lyrical dimension, Jérôme here offers up his own thoughts on human spirituality and precisely how it pertains to his art.
“Well, I'm going to construct an answer for myself, because the others will all have different opinions on this. I'm an atheist and a scientist, so the really interesting thing about religion for me is that it's often the way humanity deals with emptiness. You know, we are on this planet, in the cosmos and it’s all pretty terrifying when you stop and think about it. So some people deal with the emptiness of human existence through religion, while others produce art. And that’s really interesting to me. For me, that’s the entry into the thematic part of the album, how we deal with emptiness. For myself, I like doing art and that's the way I’m able to deal with my everyday struggles. It’s strange. We are obviously conscious creatures, but at the same time all we really are is little more than just dust. I'm really interested in religion when thinking about it in these terms, but when religion is purely political, it really is just absolute bullshit. But, for example, I like the way people in the Atlas mountains deal with spirituality. The rituals people conduct in order to deal with the emptiness of existence. This question is really a core question, a universal question. For us, just getting deep into our sound and being loud within those main hypnotic structures is like the ultimate ritual for us. It's a spiritual act, but not in the sense that really religious people would understand it to be.”
While on the subject of darkly immersive and mesmerising rituals, it’s at this juncture in our conversation that talk inevitably turns to the tantalising topic of precisely how ‘Consolumatum’ might translate as a live experience ahead of the band’s awaited Damnation 2021 slot this coming November. Having also recently celebrated their 20-year anniversary earlier this month with a special wooden vinyl box set containing their complete discography to date, fans can certainly be assured of a truly monumental experience.
“In terms of how much gear and equipment we can bring with us to the UK, I hope we can bring with us some form of lighting engineer, which is always a big part of the show for us,” Jerome anticipates. “We play a lot with this kind of immersive experience, so I hope we can bring them, even if we don't know what the future holds for the moment, because it always adds a bit more to the performance. I feel this is one of the things that would make the show far better. So I hope we can bring them and focus on the light engineering as much as the music itself. To us, they are like the seventh musician and a key part of that whole immersive experience I was talking about.”
'Consolamentum’ is out now via Pelagic