It took a whole lot of loss, pain and growth for local outfit Eye of Nix to make Black Somnia their second full-length record of avant-garde metal. In anticipation of the album's release, The Stranger spoke with Lead singer Joy Von Spain, who said Eye of Nix faced “some sort of hurdle with each step towards finishing the record.” In the two years since the dropped their debut, Moros, the five-piece changed bassists and drummers. As if a 40 percent member turnover wasn’t challenging enough, one of Von Spain’s friends passed away while she was recording Black Somnia in Portland with renowned producer Billy Anderson (Swans, Melvins, Jawbreaker).
Clearing those hurdles resulted in a distinctive and rewarding record. Black Somnia, which came out today, delivers meditative and morose sludge in the vein of seminal “thinking man’s metal” pioneers Neurosis, but takes the style in new and unfamiliar directions. Interesting samples add atmosphere and an overall uneasy sonic mood commensurates with Von Spain’s lyrical meditations on fear and discomfort. Occasional harmonized vocals and synthesizer melodies slice through the record’s gloom. The result is a mature musical journey with a surprisingly varied emotional palate.
Check out the full interview with Von Spain below.
They say the sophomore album is the hardest to make. “You have your whole life to write your first album. You have one year to write the second,” my old bass teacher once told me. Were there any greater challenges in making Black Somnia?
We began writing the songs that would eventually make up the new LP within months of recording the first one. Challenges, yes—but also we were armed with more experience under our belts. It seemed we met some sort of hurdle with each step towards finishing the record. However, the songs now have a greater significance to me knowing the struggles that have been weathered since the release of Moros.
You decided to re-record one older song for this LP. Why re-record “A Curse” and what changes were made for this new version?
This song began its life as a piece called "IVC” that Masaaki [Masao, samples and guitars] and I wrote and recorded, however it’s been through several transformations. There was also an unreleased version with our first lineup that included Will Hayes (Newaxeyes) and Joe Eck (Witch Ripper). The next lineup incarnation produced both the version on the Eye of Nix demo, and the one heard on Black Somnia, which we extended further and recorded with Billy Anderson. The song gained intensity as we played live and toured. We felt that evolution should be documented in the studio.
I’ve read that Black Somnia, lyrically, is about the sensation of fear, to some extent. At the same time, the band collaborated with occult photographer Carlos “Anima Nocturna” Melgoza on the record. Is there an innate relationship between fear and the occult?
If we recognize "occult" as meaning hidden, enigmatic, unseen [then] apprehension seems to me a possible natural response to confrontation with the mysterious or unknown. Where you find uncertainty, some outcomes will be enjoyable and some terrifying. Carlos' photographic work captures both the ethereal and material aspects of his subjects, and so I found him to be the perfect visual artist to interpret this album.
It also seems as though in Seattle right now that there’s a growing interest in the occult or at the least the visual language of occult in rock music and also in local fashion. Why are people interested in witches or, say, Crowley in 2017?
Symbols, iconography etc. can be seductive and alluring. I can’t really speak for another’s interest in these topics, but it could stem from a desire to feel one is controlling one’s own destiny in chaotic times. As for fashion, who can keep up? Sounds like a full-time project.
You also collaborated with an international group of Butoh performers for the record. Butoh is a modern Japanese style of dance, highly atypical stuff for a metal band. How did you come to be involved with the artform and incorporate it into your show?
In my view the form, which originated in post-war Japan, can manifest unseen forces, metamorphic being, channeling, impressions of life that has ceased. I began working as a musician with local butoh artists Vanessa Skantze, Kaoru Okamura and others nine years ago. While we don't incorporate dance into Eye of Nix live shows, the album art features photography of movement created by Vanessa with Seattle/NY artist Alan Sutherland, London’s Marina Sossi and local healer and vocalist Susan Dumett.
My favorite song on Black Somnia is “Lull.” Could you tell me more about that track in particular?
I had a dream that led me to write from the perspective of the controlling narcissist god, the self-righteous, the ravenous, the poison priest, and the greed-obsessed who rises to power by domination, manipulation. Two years later, how I wish I had chosen another topic. The music composition was a group effort, and I really loved being able to track those short harmony passages in the studio - that may have been Billy Anderson’s idea and were the icing on the cake in my opinion.
Is there a song on Black Somnia that has special significance to you?
Definitely. While I was recording the vocals for “Toll On” in Portland, a friend in Seattle was removed from life support. It’s impossible not to lament the tragedy of his death when we play this song.
What are Eye of Nix’s current goals?
This past year reaped upheaval and some lineup changes, but we couldn’t be happier to welcome bassist Zach Wise (Hissing) and drummer Luke Laplante (Spacebag) into the mix. We’re looking forward to playing shows, new songs, travel and eventually a new album of course. We’re also glad to be making a modest donation this year to RAINN [the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline], an organization whose work we strongly support.
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