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Having grown from a duo to five-piece line-up over several years, German Doom band Cross Vault are back with a new album, composed by guitarist G., who is also handling all of the interviews over it. So, Comrade Aleks had to ask him about 'As Strangers We Depart'.

Interview with Cross Vault.
"Since the release of solid debut album 'Spectres of Revocable Loss' in 2014, a lot of things happened with German-based Cross Vault. The band was started as a (relatively) anonymous duo comprising M. (bass, vocals) and N. (vocals, drums). But the necessity of performing live gigs transformed them into a trio, and 'The All-Consuming' (2015) was released with a new member: B. as full-time drummer. Keeping good productive pace and welcoming new blood, the band recorded 2016 EP 'Miles to Take', and participated in both festivals and smaller gigs. F. (bass) and G. (guitars) added their voices to Cross Vault's mournful chant and it seems the band grew stronger still. All signs pointed to an inevitable new album, but good Doom needs time to be shaped and matured, so their third album, 'As Strangers We Depart', appeared in May and this time the songwriting, lyrics and concept were composed by G."

Talking to Comrade Aleks today, guitarist G. (Photo: Maria Buttafoco).

Hi G.! Thanks for your time, I hope you're quite busy with promotion of the new Cross Vault album, 'As Strangers We Depart'. How do you split your duties in the band regarding promotion nowadays?

Hi Aleks. It is a pleasure, thank you. For this specific release I am answering all interviews (if that is what you refer to as "promotion") as I simply have the most to say about As Strangers We Depart.

You joined Cross Vault in around 2015 as a session member, and then you became an integral part of the band, taking part in recording of EP 'Miles to Take'. How did it happen that the duo of M. and N. grew to the size of a full band back then?

The reason behind that is very simple, as M. and N. wanted to accept concert-offers and needed live-musicians. The first one to join back then was B. (on drums, already for the recording sessions of the second album) and then F. (bass) and me (guitar). We realized quite fast that this was more than just a line-up for live-activities and started working on what then became the EP Miles to Take.

Cross Vault - 'Miles To Take' (Official, 2016):

How often did you play gigs with Cross Vault before the pandemic happened? What typical offers you did usually accept?

We played more or less around 10 concerts (if I remember correctly), e.g. at the "Hammer of Doom" Festival in Würzburg, the "Doom over Vienna" Festival in Vienna or together with Procession on their tour in Germany.

Previously you played black metal with Khaos Aeon, you were a part of punk band Resistenza and did some dark ambient as Sitra Ahra. What made you turn to the Doom side of the Metal underground?

I did not turn to Doom Metal in that very moment (as I was being a fan of that specific style for years already), but indeed I stopped playing fast and aggressive music actively around that time. The beauty of playing things slowly and heavy revealed itself to me in those very first rehearsals with Cross Vault and I fell in love with the freedom that the doom metal genre provides. I personally have the feeling that you can do and talk about whatever you want in that genre; I do not see any limitations.

'As Strangers We Depart' is released by Iron Bonehead Productions. How did you get a deal with them? Their focus is more extreme bands, and Cross Vault is probably the only clean singing band in their stock.

I think this happened because of N.'s personal relationship with IBP, as they worked together in the past. Due to that we had the opportunity to present them our music and got signed. To be honest I am not into these business aspects at all, but I have to say that I like the fact that we do not seem to fit into the roster of our label. Just think about all those extreme black metal fanatics that are buying our record (maybe) only because it's released by IBP and then hear our music for the first time - that is something that makes me smile.

Cross Vault: F. (bass), M. (guitars, bass), B. (drums), G. (guitars), N (vocals).

I'm reading Moonspell's biography by Ricardo S. Amorim, there are some interesting things said about labels' ethics in the '90s. Well, it's interesting just like with Hammy's book 'Peaceville Life'. And it's clear that deals with labels in the '90s aren't the same as today. How big is the underground label's role nowadays in promotion from your point of view? I know this question from my side as there are active labels who send promos, reminders and etc. constantly, and there are also less active guys, but in the end none of them are rich dudes with Cadillacs. Or BMWs?.. I suppose BMW is more expensive…

I think that it is still important for a band, even though a lot may have changed through social media. I think you can do a lot by yourself nowadays, but as I personally do not like to bother people with my stuff on the internet I am happy that I do not have to perform any sort of promotion by myself (except of interviews - which I like, if the questions are interesting). When it comes to money: if you want to earn money with your music you should not play doom metal I guess? On the other hand, I do not know anything about the financial situation of labels in the nowadays underground; I hope they are doing fine of course.

I was surprised that the whole new album (songwriting, lyrics and concept) was composed by you. How did it happen? And what role did M. and N., as the band's founders, play in the writing process?

I started writing the first material that ended up on As Strangers We Depart back in 2016. Back then I never had the plan to compose a whole album, I just did what felt right and kept writing my stuff. At some point (I already had gathered most of the material) we decided that I should simply finish it by myself - and that is what I did.

However, even if I credit myself for writing the songs, I want to emphasize the very important role that the rest of the band had in the making of this album. Especially B., with whom I arranged some of the material. The two of us were rehearsing a lot in the winter of 2019. We had some magical sessions and gave life to the music, as some things reveal themselves only by being played live in the rehearsal room. This album would never have happened without the contribution of the other band members. It is a gift having the opportunity to create music with such talented musicians.

Actually, I can understand why it took some time to create As Strangers We Depart, with it's embodiment of traditional yet epic doom metal with some Bathory influences (as it's said in the press-release). And good things truly needs their time to be finished. How do you see Bathory's role in shaping the Traditional Doom style, and how much of it do you personally see in the new material?

I somehow have the feeling that this press-release will haunt me forever. I'll try to put this straight: Bathory did never influence me in any way and neither did any viking-related topics; I really couldn't care less for this stuff. I get the point that people need to compare music (I do this myself), but there is no Bathory to be found here - sorry for that. Instead, try finding some Metallica, I placed a very obvious reference as a tribute in one of the songs.

Cross Vault - 'Gods Left Unsung' (Official, 2021):

You recorded the album at Sculpt Sound Studios, didn't the pandemic interfere with your recording schedule?

It did of course (as it did with everything), but we were lucky as we recorded in summer and it was possible for us booking hotels and studio sessions. I was attending all of the sessions together with the respective band-members, depending on what we recorded. We had a fantastic time and I can only say that Laurent (Chapel of Disease) is a fantastic person to work with; he is highly professional, with a profound knowledge of what he is doing and a great taste in music.

Many bands prefer to record at home - this method has its own benefits, as well as side effects. What do you personally prefer about working at a real studio?

Everything - I am the blueprint of someone who wants to write and play music, nothing more. I have no clue about how to record and I will never have. That is why I need a professional (who will always be better than someone who does this at home).

You perform not only guitars but also zither parts on the new album, and that's an exotic instrument for Doom Metal. What's the story behind your relationship with this instrument?

I was actually looking for a new mandolin some years ago and so I stumbled over an advertisement in the newspaper: a nun that was selling instruments of her religious community (among those, a mandolin). While being at their place she told me that they also had other instruments to sell and so she showed me the zither (that ended up on the record). I had never seen such a thing before and I got very curious as this is such a beautiful and archaic piece of craftsmanship. I immediately bought it and back at home I remember playing that thing without knowing how to - one of the first melodies that came out of it was the one building the basis of 'Gods Left Unsung' (in fact the opening melody from which the whole song evolves).

She sold both instruments to me for a very reasonable price and I am very thankful for that to this day; I wish her and her sisters a long and healthy life and I am wondering what they would say if they knew that they somehow took part in a doom metal record?

Cross Vault - 'The Unknown Rewinds' (Official, 2021):

Such a story! But you say that you were searching for a new mandolin. I won't ask what kind of things could happen with an old one, but I'm wondering now how did you start to play folk instruments? Do you have a special musical education or is it just a simple thing for a guitarist?

I never had anything you could call "musical education" so far. It was all learning by doing, listening to songs and trying to find the notes on the fretboard. Regarding the mandolin, I simply love the sound and I bought one to play around with - it's quite easy to understand if you understand how a guitar works (let us just assume that I know how a guitar works - not sure about that sometimes either).

G., did you search for a new sound as the guitarist for the new material or did you find a balanced one during the recording of 'Miles to Take'? Do you find some new solutions at the studio, or did you already have certain ideas regarding your guitars before the session was started?

I had nothing in mind. I think I told Laurent something like "I want a real and analogue heavy metal sound", which says enough about how much knowledge I have in these fields.

It's said some of your works with previous bands were dedicated to the art of Italian painter, writer and anti-fascist activist Carlo Lèvi. And your new song, 'The Unknown Rewinds', is another tribute to him. Why do you feel it so important to tell about him to your listeners?

I have a special relationship to his work, as my whole family is originally from the very same region where he was exiled to by fascist Italy in 1935 (a region which was one of the poorest of the back then impoverished Italian south). Carlo Lèvi got arrested and exiled for being both of jewish heritage and founder of the anti-fascist movement called "Giustizia e Libertà". After being a political exile, he wrote the book "Christ stopped at Eboli" which is giving account of this specific time, describing the hardships of the southern people and their (in the prosperous northern Italy unknown) poverty. He not only opposed to the regime but gave his voice to the voiceless, bypassed peasants of southern Italy and helped to drive forward the "problem of the south" into national discourse after the end of the World War II.

There are several books that had impact on this album, "Christ stopped at Eboli" is one of them. A great read that I totally recommend to everyone who is interested in getting a new perspective.

Album artwork blueprint.

I've read that 'As Strangers We Depart' is "about the struggle of opposing forces, the detaching from the world of appearances, its shallow ideas and the realisation of self. An ode to the beauty of transience and the sentiments of a wistful but serene melancholy. Dedicated to a home that never was". Do other songs have connection with Carlo Lèvi's activity or is it a summing up of your own experience through reflections of past and modern days?

The title-track "As Strangers We Depart" is meant to be a salute to all who had to leave their home behind (whether out of free will or not) and for all of those who at some point returned - and realized that strangers they have become. The idea of that specific concept came to me while visiting Italy some years ago (following more than 10 years of absence) and realizing that I felt like a complete stranger, while being called constantly "the German" (while in Germany it happens vice versa, by the way). This is an interesting thing to observe and it changed fundamentally my idea of what "home" is.

The album as a whole contains a lot of reflections on own experiences. In the lyrics you will find a lot of what I got from books I read and that had an impact on me in the last years. Authors like e.g. John Steinbeck, Emma Goldman, Carlo Lévi or Max Frisch (to name some of my favorites) changed something in my life to the better.

Another thing that is also important to me is the positive atmosphere that I tried to put into both lyrics and music. I want to add an inspiring sort of hope to the fatalism for which the doom metal genre is best known for. That is what I am talking about when I refer to things like "a serene melancholy". This record is not meant to devastate you - it should (in the best case) give you strength and inspiration. That is what I love most in a good record.

That's an atypical point of view for a man who performs Doom. Cliché, I know, but that's it! Could you name your own examples of "non fatalistic doom metal"?

I can only say what records give me that specific feeling and I want to mention our German colleagues in Wheel with their new (and by the way, fantastic) album Preserved in Time. I hope they are fine with my interpretation of their music, but it is giving me an uplifting positive vibe, mixed with (of course) the beloved melancholia I always need in my doom metal.

There are for sure things in life that went wrong or devastated you, but music should not push you further down the hole - it should pull you out of it.

If I'm correct we did an interview with M. some years ago when Cross Vault had just released Spectres of Revocable Loss and there's a song based on the "romantic" line of Orwell's 1984. I'm meaning 'At Our Bleakest' which is a totally devastating song. And 'As Strangers We Depart''s title reminds me about this theme as well. How realistic do you see the ideas of '1984' nowadays in Germany?

To keep it short and simple: not very realistic. I observed one thing in the last year that really annoys me and that is the fact that more and more people start thinking that we are living in a totalitarian state that is trying to install some sort of mass surveillance (unfortunately, the pandemic seems to have boosted these kind of opinions). What we really do - fellow citizens - is living in a first world country that provides us with everything (and more!) than we need. Most people just seem to have too much time to spend on social media. By that, feeding the beast that they fear - a thing, ironic in such a way, that not even George Orwell has considered it for "1984".

That seems to be a good place to stop! Thanks for the interview, G. I suppose we've covered almost all the main points regarding 'As Strangers We Depart', but feel free to correct me and add anything we skipped!

Thank you Aleks for that interesting conversation we had and best regards to Russia!

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Cross Vault bandpage.

Interviewed on 2021-06-29 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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