夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) Reinvents Black Metal’s Wheel (Early Album Stream + Interview)
How far can something be pulled in multiple directions before it ontologically becomes something else? International group 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) have asked this question from day one, their debut demo 統合失調症の飢餓 fusing black metal tenets with psychedelia, krautrock, and ambient music to create something which is both black metal and entirely not.
Now, this trio (whose early Bandcamp releases credits as a US + Russian + Japanese entity) looks to completely dismantle any genre to which they initially called "home." With their first full-length LP Noč Na Krayu Sveta ("Night at the Edge of the World" in Slovenian, yet another example of the band playing with language, much like their name's use of Chinese characters), PBV, NN, and KJM craft something indistinguishable from anything else. Though riffs occasionally whisper beneath the collage sound cacophony, for the most part this release isn't really… anything in a categorical sense.
This near-musique concrète approach to something with metallic atmosphere is something new, at least in the metal world, and 夢遊病者's brazen denial of any specific home genre spits in the face of metal's own obsession with categorizing. Taking from ambient, soundtrack, harsh noise, jazz, and a host of other types of music, 夢遊病者 simply does not care about fitting into one specific mold -- they've already broken theirs. Listen to Noč Na Krayu Sveta ahead of its April 2nd release and read an interview with guitarist and vocalist PBV below.
Sleepwalker is an anonymous, international band/project. Do you feel this depersonalization adds to the project's ambitious approach to art?
Especially on the new album [Noč Na Krayu Sveta] and the one we are currently working on—this rings incredibly accurately. Anything kind of goes in a way, and it’s very freeing in that sense. As long as 夢遊病者 sounds like 夢遊病者, the "who" and the “where” kind of become blurred in periphery.
What do you feel specifically goes into 夢遊病者 sounding like 夢遊病者?
I guess I had this one coming. Personally, it’s likely setting an immersive mood to the music; while taking cues outside the musical sphere if that makes sense. In the end of the day there’s chords, and structure, and melody but that’s all just elements that make up an aggregate of a picture otherwise non-existent in any other context. At least that’s the aim. The style or genre is merely the medium—knowing how people painted in the 17th century and applying it to something you imagine people will do let’s say ten years from now. So thinking about sound in visual and textural terms, and not simply "I guess this will be a nice part for a chorus". I think contextualizing that story is as important as being observant of the now, or what may arrive tomorrow. If the summation of all of those parts feels idiosyncratic, then that is Sleepwalker I imagine. What does it sound like to you?
It's a curious and complicated sound which draws from a lot of influences, but I always come back to the question: is it black metal? Does that question even matter anymore?
What is black metal then? Can you whole-heartedly and sincerely Invisible Orange/Crystal Ball to the music? Does it warrant a visceral reaction? It seems to open further questions, which can be objectively good—I guess I would have to then ask, is it important for the listener to categorize what they are listening to and, to your point, why? The short answer is probably "it doesn’t really matter", especially to someone that takes the music as a whole experience as opposed to a visit to the library trying to thread together citations.
The long answer is that whatever you want to call this [and you can call it whatever makes you happy], no matter how frustrating it may be for those who seek to classify, likely holds roots in metal—with those roots being tended to in every release. The soul of this machine is likely metal too, with the body constructed of personal experience, a dash of history, some biomechanical cosmic junk for a head—and a strange, ever-evolving transmitter in deciphering human behavior and language.
Conversely, black metal [along with all the other sub-sub genres] used to be the question itself, the question of those norms and tiers and categories, so from a psychological point of view it kind of becomes a paradox, which again, might not even matter.
If it doesn't matter (or it's something about which you feel apathy), do you feel we have moved beyond the realm of simple classification?
Honestly less so apathy and more so distrust in the classification. Is there an "official" authority for Metal that determines what is what? So a couple of years back someone forwarded us a Metal Archives forum entry of a person pleading with admins to add 夢遊病者 to the website, or understand why we couldn’t be added. For [presumably] a fan, it was important that this band be catalogued into the “holiest of holies” of niche libraries. There is something ironic and somewhat satisfying about being "blacklisted" [a genre priding themselves for being rule breakers having terms and rules like blacklisted is quite absurd and somewhat hilarious].
I have been doing logos and artwork for metal bands since the late 1990’s and the thought does cross my mind on occasion, were people more close-minded then, or now? I’m honestly not sure of the answer; nor do I want to imply "oh how great things used to be!." It’s just a different time, pluses and minuses to both. But the answer to classification lies somewhere there I imagine. There is so much hyphenation in metal as a whole now, with waves of purists battling that tangent, that it’s probably better left to the "scholars" than the makers. :)
With such a distrust in the system you've watched change over the past few decades, how would you ideally rebuild it? Beyond that, how would 夢遊病者 fit into it?
There are already bands that are doing this, probably more successfully than we are, so I would say keeping this momentum going. The "scene" in Silesia is doing things their own way for example, USSSY from Moscow, in Osaka there are bands like Birushanah, bands like Swarrrm in Tokyo; we are lucky to share the label with Cryptae and Plague Organ who have a very individualistic and idiosyncratic approach to metal and sound as a whole, as well as a visual point of view. I think [personally] it’s a balance between feeling the freedom to create something honest and sincere and being choiceful and precise with how you present that out into the world so it feels singular and not a copy of a copy of a copy.
When you look at work by Denis Forkas Kostromitin, Aaron Horkey, Kilian Eng—you are immersed in their own, singular world. They might have influence from this or that artist, or this or that artistic movement, but in the end of the day their visual initials are imprinted on your mind, and it’s inclusive and exclusive to the medium they use to create the work. It’s their hand and their vision, and you know it, unmistakingly. Same with Piggy from Voivod. You understand that there are connections to Fripp, microtonal guitar, of course he loved Pink Floyd, but in the end of the day it’s Piggy—coupled with Snake's vocals, it’s instantly recognizable. Moreover when someone takes those synthesized methods which have been forged in fire and perfected—and references them as a motif [Poverty Metal - which is a great record!], that citation library mind shoots a synapse and goes “OH!”.
So the "ideal" if I would imagine it, would be a world where musicians try to have their own conceptual [remarkable] mark and vision, [not weird for the sake of weird], but something complete, cohesive and dimensional, which the crowd is not apprehensive in hearing because they are open as well. If there is an honoring of "heroes" [because the metal world wouldn’t ever be without this I imagine], let’s have it, but again, it must be choiceful. I think it’s as much about the maker as it is about the taker. Both ideally evolve simultaneously. That’s where 夢遊病者 likely fits in—the scholars put the “experimental” part first for a reason I imagine.
I feel like "scholars" means a few things here.
Yeah man, it’s a range of people that interface with the music—some are casual passer bys, some come from a place of context, some from a point of reflection and heart, some just want to dunk on you so to speak, some are trying to recommend it to a friend properly without throwing them off, some are friends whose opinion you really value and respect, some are strangers whose opinion also holds merit and weight. And so on and so on.
When you talk about genre music, especially metal [as in the Metal Archives example] there’s almost an expectation to "know your shit" so speak, so it becomes this universe of philosophers and professors. Not to mention actual trained musicians that have an objective base coming into this. And this notion kind of comes at odds with itself when you have people that just want to headbang and drink beer for example. I don’t know if all these personalities will ever coalesce or find peace with each other en masse; some have by making music themselves to fill that void they might not have been hearing. You’re a musician, how have metalheads responded to your music?
They react in a variety of ways, but I don't know if that's relevant.
So varying degrees of scholarship and response to the music, that’s what was meant with "scholars". I think it’s relevant in the sense that you are familiar with getting feedback on the work you create—positive, negative, or neutral.
Given the confines of genre and the means through which people consume it, do you feel 夢遊病者 changes black metal's paradigm? Or does it offer a different one entirely?
That’s a tough one man… I imagine the hope is that it does in some way shift perspectives towards a cooler and more interesting realm, and on that road offer something new. I am sure there are some folks that listen to this [even fans] and say “don’t fix it if ain’t broke”, and others that find parallels in Fleurety or Ved Buens Ende or Diapsiquir and say “oh yeah, more of that”—so hope and trust plays a big role in the listener. If they are able to make the mental leap and connection, then some sort of paradigm has shifted if even ever so slightly.
Follow 夢遊病者 on Bandcamp.
Noč Na Krayu Sveta releases April 2nd on Sentient Ruin.