Ex Nihilo: An Interview with Depths Above

Interview by R.S. Frost.

Formed in 2016, Czech outfit Depths Above have been conducting a unique blend of black death entirely of their own making, whilst traversing the seven levels of purgatory and contemplating creation through harmonic devastation and percussive execution.

I was able to make contact with the band’s anonymous representative in order to gain some insight into their music, creative approach and general outlook on the artistic environment they find themselves in.

- The band was born in a pretty unexpected way and the story of how we met is kinda funny. In short, a strong will to create something arose at some point and, at the same time, a very lucky series of coincidences led us to meet each other. Before the music, there had already been a good mental connection, which allowed us to work well together and put ourselves into the music.

The band’s first offering was the single ‘The Descent’, which was independently released on October 31, 2017, and comes with a rather fitting title as this song would be the perfect sonic companion for a journey through the great inferno. The heaving and lumbering nature of the track is only exaggerated by the remarkable drumming, care of founding member Sarapis, which invites the listener to venture deeper into this terrifying place.

- We agree with you, Sarapis is a talented drummer and the drumming fits well with the narrative purpose of the project… at times rarefied and open, at times dense and restless, we enjoy the versatility and power of his playing.

What did you want to achieve with this first single?

- The first single was basically a low-fi home-recorded version to assess how all the shit would sound together. I don’t remember the exact circumstances anymore but the recording was probably made in some evening/afternoon without any sense, not long after we had met each other and started creating music together.

Accompanying the digital release of this single was the following text:

“Beyond the wildest dreams
You need a thorn of shining silver
To neglect the scent of eternity”

Would you care to comment on the origin and relevance of this text?

- Well… the first point is about the source of such scent. A thorn can pierce through and silver has very interesting properties, but the whole story has to be explored by readers.

Just under a year later, Depths Above unleashed their most recent long-play offering, ‘Ex Nihilo’, once again independently. This EP (although its run-time would suggest otherwise) contains four songs, including the prior-released ‘The Descent’, and clocks in at a tidy 31 minutes in length.

The title is taken from a Latin phrase meaning “out of nothing” which can generally be found in texts dealing primarily with creation, mainly the creation of life – “creatio ex nihilo” or “creation out of/from nothing”. It should come as no surprise that said texts are generally of an Abrahamic, monotheistic leaning.

Depths Above

How did you come across this phrase and why did you choose it to represent your work?

- Because the so-called “creation out of nothing” is the mystery which stands out from the cause-effect ruled systems. By science it is explained in one way, by mystics in others. So we felt that this had to be the aspect treated by our first work and at the same time also fitting with the chronological status of the project itself. In Latin, all this can be expressed in two words. Short, simple and effective. Perfect.

What is your level of interest in Latin and/or religious history or studies?

- Some of us studied Latin at school, but we can’t say that we have deep knowledge of the matter. Concerning religious studies, we feel that whatever shaped the mind and lives of men throughout thousands of years of mankind's existence is worthy of interest, regardless the personal position (agreement/opposition) towards it, or the method you decide to follow.

Not unlike the correlation between track title and track contents on ‘The Descent’, every track on this release is titled fittingly. The opener ‘Here and Everywhere’ is a vast and expansive piece that takes the listener through various stages of rise and fall. ‘A Prayer’ indeed carries a somewhat liturgical feel, not least in the clean-sung parts, and the title track of the EP is a punishing and devastating affair, reaping discomfort and audible destruction. Each track seems to follow the previous like a wave, with an undercurrent of darkness ever-growing.

- When you say “various stages of rise and fall”, that’s exactly how we wanted the work to transmit. We intended to create a sequence of movements, exactly four, which didn’t have to be necessarily linked to each other thematically but certainly share some sort of background landscape, as if they were different happenings or scenes in the same place, or in different places but part of the same reality. 

 How do you manage to match your song titles with the musical identity of the song itself? Is this a conscious endeavour?

- Probably semiconscious… just as we are now. Sometimes it could be that the music is defined and we need to name that thing, or vice versa, sometimes there is a statement to which we want to assign a sound. Sometimes we also imagine visuals and try to give them sound, it’s a very variable process. Much of the oddities perceived about this project probably come from this lack of defined approach in the songwriting, so we try to use whatever might serve us. We use the same approach for the lyrics. 

Given this approach to songwriting, I’m curious if the material on the EP came together relatively easily or whether there were considerable obstacles along the way?

- The process of composition was quite smooth and proceeded without any substantial complications. In spite of the short time we have known each other, we’ve been able to quickly determine what we wanted to say and how. This is probably due to an indisputable chemistry that exists between the band members. Inevitable delays due to changes during the recording of course happened, but these have been, in the end, acknowledged as part of the creative process and for the sake of the better. 

Depths AboveImage credit - Honza Kurka

Throughout ‘Ex Nihilo’ one is greeted by moments of triumphant clean singing. These instances really stand out as something of a piercing light breaking through dark clouds. They come with their own sense of dread but are nonetheless a welcome addition to the release, used with just enough frequency to remain novel. 

- Also, in this case, they came out during rehearsal and it hasn’t been a predetermined choice, but we felt they had to be there, shouts out of lungs. As you mentioned, we like to dose them in a way to not sound redundant and kitsch. 

Do you think these clean sung parts help to separate the band from the current herd of seemingly formulaic black/death/doom bands out there these days?

- I don’t know… probably. The use of clean vocals itself is nothing new, if we feel that something might be somehow functional for the creation of a certain atmosphere then why not use it? However, from our side, there is no will to stand aside from anything, nor to belong to anything. From our perspective, these parts simply fit the music and thus we decided to include them. Certainly, the listeners could answer your question much more objectively than us.

Once again, this release comes with a short accompanying message:

“We are those who like to sit somewhere high
Listening at maximum volume is highly recommended”

- There are two meanings hidden in the first sentence but we don’t intend to disclose them. Concerning the second sentence, well it’s just a friendly recommendation for the listeners. 

The later part immediately brings to mind the advice given by Katharsis in relation to ‘VVorld VVithout End’ – “Listen in Darkness at maximum volume”.

- It’s merely a coincidence. Although V. is a huge fan Katharsis, there was no intention to recall the band. It is simply the way we think the album has to be experienced.

For some reason whenever I listen to ‘Ex Nihilo’ I am immediately thrust into Dante’s journey through hell. Maybe it’s the way the songs flow, maybe it’s the compositions themselves; the drums, in particular, have an extremely brooding and cavernous feel throughout the entire listening experience. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Are you familiar with the tale? Is there any relation to the story of Dante’s Inferno here? 

- We are all familiar with the Divine Comedy but we did not intend to recall any particular reference to it. At the same time, we dig the analogy between the inner travels with a physical one and vice versa… maybe this aspect is also touched upon by our music, but we did not intend to directly relate to Dante’s work. Especially because it has already been done by several bands. 

Depths Above

What does Depths Above represent as a creative entity?

- Good question man, hard to answer. Many times when composing music together we find new sounds within the material we’re creating, and trying to utilise them gives us new inspiration and perspective on our work. In this sense, you could say it resembles a Chinese-box system – while using it as an outlet for our own creativity we find it gives us ‘boxes within boxes’ of new musical opportunities.

It’s the result of each of us being influenced by different sounds and life paths. We found that the best description is the moniker of the band itself: “Depths Above.” 

How much of yourselves do you put into the fabric of the band and its output? 

- We can say that it can sometimes be a need, sometimes a call, but mostly it’s something we want to live with passion. Passion can also be meant as pain; of course, making music is satisfying but it can also be a struggle sometimes. As for the development of the project, it’s like a building holding on to a very delicate equilibrium, sometimes it requires abstraction and alienation, sometimes it requires to be present and lucid… in any case, when this component (passion) will start to lack, that will certainly be the end of the project. 

The visual representation of ‘Ex Nihilo’ is thoroughly striking. What did you want to communicate with the cover image?

- We wouldn’t like to go into the details of the symbolism behind the work, the reason being that what is meant to be occult and, in some way, subliminal has to stay as such. What can be said is that there is a projection. A movement upwards, downwards, from the sides. Outwards and inwards. And everybody who wants to go deeper into it can search inside those mentioned boxes.

Depths Above

As I was exploring other bands from the Czech Republic, it quickly became apparent to me that Depths Above don’t seem to carry the trademark elements found in other Czech bands in the genre such as INFERNO or CULT OF FIRE. In fact, the closest comparison I can make would be something along the lines of Altarage, but with more sophistication and room to breath.

- Certainly, we are not at the level of any of the bands you mentioned, them being much more accomplished and experienced than us. As fans of Altarage, we find the comparison very luring.

That partially answers my next question, but I’ll ask it anyway. What styles of music do the members of Depths Above tend to follow?

- We are all into different genres, although sharing common territories. Some of us come from black, some from doom. We can say that we really enjoy generally extreme and obscure music, not necessarily connected to metal.  

I’m curious as to your views on the current climate of extreme and underground music. The trends, beliefs, actions and themes found therein, as Depths Above seemingly follows none of these.

- We have to agree with you. We follow none of these and just try to focus on the music and the weight of our artistic output. 

What waits on the horizon for the band?

- Lately, we’ve been focusing on creating new material for the second work. We don’t really have any estimated release date yet but we would like to release it when we are deeply satisfied with it. We also have a few live shows lined up in the near future so there certainly will be more Depths to throw oneself into!

Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.

- We thank you very much for this opportunity and the positive feedback. We would also like to thank everybody who has contacted us and has come to see us at our gigs.

Check out Depths Above on Bandcamp here.