Nocturnal Wanderer Bestows Upon Us The “Gift of the Night” (Early Album Stream + Interview)
When I was offered an early release promo of the upcoming Nocturnal Wanderer album Gift of the Night, I jumped on the chance to premiere it. The Pacific Northwest project's music is absolutely otherworldly, with a mesmerizing blend of some of black metal’s finest melodic underpinnings, classic heavy metal, and the dirty romping fun of genre classics a la Venom and Bulldozer without actually sounding like those bands. As I put those words to paper (so to speak) my mind is drawn to Malokarpatan, who employ many of the same influences and have a not-entirely-dissimilar approach, but Nocturnal Wanderer’s sound is their own; just as wild, but even more free, there’s a looseness that draws to mind something primordial dancing in the air, with the potential to be cruel but without the modernity to be construed as anything approaching evil.
Beauty is to be found everywhere throughout Gift of the Night and is a defining characteristic that draws together the music. Minimalism of both riffs and composition give way to frenzied heavy metal solos that are the pulse of the music, and the romping, bass-driven black metal can swiftly build up to one of those emotional solos before falling either into a sharp assault or a dreamy swell. Predicting the album is impossible and the entire thing is a journey; let it draw you in, and it will captivate nothing else. Listen to the album below and read an interview with the solo artist.
This is the first Nocturnal Wanderer release, and you’re approaching it as an album instead of as a demo or EP. Why did you decide to eschew soft introductions to the band and jump straight to a full length?
Cheers, Brandon! Almost nothing about the album was deliberately planned, so it wasn’t necessarily a decision to skip the demo release phase for Nocturnal Wanderer. I spent a good deal of time trying to decide between EP and LP, and solicited feedback from some close friends on the matter, to which I got mixed advice. The runtime is really on the line, and it’s shorter than what I would personally consider an LP in most cases. The final decision to release Gift of the Night as an LP came down to a feeling of completeness. To listen front to back, it unfolds more like a full length release than a “demonstration” or EP, and there is a single-minded aesthetic vision that I think you typically only get from a full length record.
Apart from that, I always find demo releases to be much less important for solo projects. In a band, it can take some time to find your footing with other musicians, and the songs can take a long time to mature in some cases. An individual with complete control has an opportunity (and hopefully ability) to make everything come together in a holistic way from the beginning.
But basically, in the end, intuition was more important to me than the details.
Is there any personal significance behind the difference between each of these formats beyond marketing, general feeling, and length?
I think it’s a little bit of each, and unless you’re strictly speaking about vinyl records, it’s more of an artistic/aesthetic decision. For me, again, it’s a question of completeness as much as it is runtime. A full length/album should sound like a deliberate selection of songs that are arranged in a way that there’s a beginning and end, like a novel. An EP always seems more like a handful of songs that, while they belong together, don’t necessarily need to have that feeling of beginning and end.
There is a tremendous amount of classic metal underpinning the black metal of Gift of the Night, and the music at times toes the line between heavy metal and melodic black metal. Was the process of intertwining your influences deliberate, and was it difficult? How easily and naturally did the songwriting flow?
Neither deliberate nor difficult. I think this was mostly just the result of influence. In the months leading up to the writing and recording of Gift of the Night, I was listening to a lot more classic heavy metal than I normally do; stuff like Kill Em All, Screaming for Vengeance, Too Fast for Love, and tons of 80s German thrash, in addition to all the same black metal bands I always put on.
Early in the process, when a picture started coming together, I knew I wanted these songs to sound ecstatic and tough, rather than gloomy and dour. The word “belligerent” was always in the back of my mind while I was writing and recording. I knew I wanted to capture equally the feeling of a tranquil summer night and getting into a fist fight. This was also the first time I’ve ever put at least one guitar solo on nearly every song on a record, which should have been intimidating, but at the time I was recording I didn’t really have any idea that there would be physical records or label support involved – I figured it would be a fun way to spend a couple weekends and see if I could push myself into new creative territory. In that way, the songwriting flowed incredibly naturally. All the music on the album was written and recorded at the same time. Lots of stuff was improvised as well.
Have you ever in the past leaned on improvisation in the same way when writing and recording?
To some degree yes, but I’ve never been so determined to keep moving forward without self-editing along the way or forcing myself to do yet another take until I get it just right. The music for Gift of the Night was written and recorded in just four or five days, and that was only possible because I was forcing myself not to look back.
To circle back to the heavy metal influence, you mentioned that it’s not necessarily normal for you to listen to as much classic material as you have been. Will future Nocturnal Wanderer creations potentially deviate from these influences if you’re not listening to the same stuff, or will you wait to write more music until the mood is right?
Most likely it’s going to have to be the latter – waiting until that same feeling comes around and trying to capture it again. The whole thing was motivated by this specific otherworldly feeling that I get around the same time every year. It’s difficult to put into words, and this was an attempt to try to convey it to the best of my ability.
It’s hard to say whether the melodic and structural aspects of the first recording will survive, since it was such a product of impulse and influence. On the one hand, I’m really happy with the way it turned out and I’d love to try to hang onto that sound if possible, but it’s a slippery thing, and trying to force it could result in a really uninspired album, so I’m just going to have to see what happens. It’s always a unique experience making a first album, without really knowing even what the “band” is supposed to sound like yet. It’s a process of discovery. But now there is a “supposed to sound like”, and that always has an influence on future work. Hopefully it will be a positive one.
The material on Gift of the Night is some of the most bass-driven black metal that I’ve heard in a while. Was that the intention from the start?
Not really. I wasn’t sure at the beginning if I would even add bass, but the songs felt like they had room for additional melody beneath and within the guitar riffs, so I started messing around and recording ideas, and it all came together pretty much in a single recording session. I felt like the bass melodies were strong enough that they needed to be present in the mix.
Bass guitar gets less and less important as the heavy metal influence gets further away in black metal. When the guitars and vocals become a medium for texture and melody, and the drums are mostly just a pulsing, hypnotic wash, there’s not a lot for a bassist to do other than fill in the low end frequencies of a mix. I love a lot of that stuff, but Gift of the Night is not that kind of record, and the bass parts add a lot of balls to the song, both sonically and melodically.
While working on these songs did you take into consideration the possibility of how they’d translate live?
Quite the opposite. I feel pretty confident that Nocturnal Wanderer won’t ever be a live band.
I like the freedom to record whatever I want regardless of whether it can be performed live. That said, I did strictly limit myself to two guitar tracks for the album, so in theory it could be played by a standard four-piece band if my feelings about it change.
Though you have extensive experience with bands you’ve let Nocturnal Wanderer remain mostly anonymous, not relying at all on any identity or reputation for success. How early into the process of putting together songs did you decide to keep your name out of it, and why?
Mostly just for fun. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. But to offer a more cliché answer, I did want the music to stand on its own. I didn’t want people to have an idea in their head about Nocturnal Wanderer before having listened to it, based on other bands and projects that could be considered as related. In fact, while I was contacting labels with the album, I didn’t divulge my name or previous bands or anything like that (Altare figured it out pretty quickly somehow though). A handful of close friends also know who I am, but mostly I just wanted to start over from the beginning again.
I’m not going to great lengths to protect my identity, and I’m sure someone will figure it out and that’s fine, but I won’t publicly admit it anyway. The only difficult part about this is that I can’t promote the release “as myself,” which is a challenge. Everything has to be done through email, anonymously. It has also been interesting to observe the ego wanting to take credit and choosing to deny that impulse. I think it’s probably a good practice.
Now that you’ll have some sort of established fanbase going forward for the new band, is acquiring label support any less significant with future releases? Where does the importance of anonymity and gathering power without resting on past laurels cease to matter?
Well, it remains to be seen if there will be any kind of established fanbase. I’m not sure if the failures or successes of this release will have an impact on label support in the future. I’ve had that go both ways in the past. I think these days, labels are more likely to just release whichever albums they hear and like at any given moment. It may at least help with getting future recordings into more label owners’ ears, and if so, it could be helpful in that aspect.
Regarding where anonymity ceases to matter… that’s a great question. There’s surely a gradation, but at least I can tell myself that any positive momentum will have been built from the ground up. Maybe anonymity just becomes a stylistic choice at that point, maybe not.
The minimalism of the artwork and logo for Gift of the Night belies music with a large amount of depth. How did you decide on the aesthetic that you wanted to match the band’s music?
My plan in the beginning was to use night photography. Nothing fancy, Just photos I’ve taken. I had an idea that I wanted to be completely responsible for everything up until the vinyl was being pressed. I spent a lot of time going through photos I’ve taken, making new ones, laying them out into an LP template, and I couldn’t capture the right feeling of the music. In theory, night photography of towering coniferous trees and the moon skulking behind wispy clouds should be a perfect fit for the songs, but I found photography was too much realism, and missing some of the more fantastical elements that I wanted to convey. A friend suggested Thaumaturge Artworks, and I was pretty much on board right away. I gave very little direction to the artist – just the basic ideas. I’m really happy with the way the illustrations came out. There’s some more on the inside of the LP as well as the cover art and ivy border around the photo on the back cover. I drew the logo and did all the lettering and layout.
I think the stark white background contrasts with the lyrical and visual content in a nice way (with the lyrics about night and darkness, and the illustrations of nocturnal animals). It’s also just a really striking look, in my opinion. I probably stole the idea from the LP release of Min Kniv’s Av Aske. I think I was subconsciously making decisions that are contra to what you would typically expect in black metal, without trying to completely abandon that style - this is, after all, a black metal record. As is the story for pretty much all aspects of this album, it was more of an intuitive choice than a deliberate one.
Intuition is a common thread to how you chose various aspects of this project. Is that a contrast from previous bands? Is there ever a heavy place for a calculated approach to music in your mind?
I have done recordings in the past where I spent months and months overengineering them, nitpicking every tiny detail, trying to iron out every single wrinkle. At the time, I’m sure I was making recordings that had a lot more wrinkles, but I’ve learned that there are diminishing returns for that kind of work. Everybody has a different style, and everybody has a different standard, but for me, I prefer to just try to make a good recording and then turn it loose with minimal production – “warts and all,” as they say. Most of my favorite albums are full of warts anyway, and it adds character.
Gift of the Night releases September 17th via Altare Productions.