Following the release of the superlative debut full-length record from Sheffield based blackened post-metal outfit Ba'al, we decided it was high time to catch up with Nick Gosling (guitarist) and ask some pertient questions about the band, the record and refelctions on a life in the creative fringes.
Nick, 'Ellipsism' is your debut full-length release yet the title itself offers a hint of transience and finality. Tell us a bit about the background to the record and the journey surrounding it to this point.
Well they say that you spend your whole life writing your first album (or something along those lines). I think that is a fairly accurate summary of what this album is. Over the past 4 or 5 years this band has undergone numerous lineup changes, and indeed our fair share of hiccups. All these events in our past have informed our musical evolution, which I will discuss more later, so really this album is a reflection of all these changes and how the past 5 years of growth, and indeed strife, have altered us. Musically we are quite different now to how we were at the beginning, and although there are elements that have remained present throughout our journey, this album captures the band as it existed at the time of recording. Incidentally, that is not quite the same band that exists today, and our present incarnation is perhaps the closest we have ever been to a state of equilibrium, so we are interested to see how future releases will reflect that.
You have already released two singles from the record ('Long Live' and 'An Orchestra of Flies') but my favourite track on 'Ellipsism' is probably 'Jouska'. Can you tell me more about the background to this song?
Thank you - glad you like it! The genesis of ‘Jouska’ came from a riff that our bass/viola player Richard wrote way back in our early days. It was dubbed ‘the Deftones riff’, and it became what I suppose you could call the chorus of this song, about 3 years after it was written. Richard fitted it together with some other new riffs of his which make up the first ⅔ of the song but had no ending in mind. After a few weeks of work all together in the practice room, Nick brought it home with the more rhythmic riffs that comprise the ending, including some polyrhythmic stuff we spent a fair bit of time getting our collective heads around. It ended up coming out as probably the most melodic track on the record, and a lot of that is highlighted by the lead parts that our other guitarist, Tom, layered over the top of the riffs, which really lock in some nice harmonies that we hadn’t originally envisioned. The word ‘Jouska’ is in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (a great site if you’re not familiar) defined as the act of playing hypothetical conversations over in your head, when they’ve never actually happened. Joe’s lyrics revolve around that topic. We actually debuted this song live for the first time at the one gig we were able to play in 2020, in January in Sheffield supporting Wren - it went down really well, thankfully!
There are interludes on the record with Roman numeral dates - one in 1992, one in 2003 and one in 2019. Are you able to divulge the significance?
We prefer to keep them relatively vague and open to interpretation, although I can clarify that the titles of these three tracks refer to significant dates. When you consider this album as a reflection of past experiences and sadness concerning the future, as well as the overriding themes of grief and melancholy, I think it’s possible to establish several ideas of what they could signify. Suffice to say they are representative of singular events that had a tremendous impact on the lyrical themes of ‘Ellipsism’.
Why do Ba'al make music? What motivates you? Do you feel that there is a unity in your purpose or a symbiosis in your driving forces as individuals?
It’s always been the case in this band that all the members are at quite different places in our lives, sometimes in terms of age but also just in terms of general situations. As a result, we’ve never really been in this music game to try and make a living, or for any monetary gain or even particularly popularity - though of course we would love as many people as possible to hear the music we are very proud of. What unites us all - as cheesy as it sounds - is just a pure love of music, both making and listening to it. We’re all avid music fans and love finding new bands to listen to and share with each other, and that feeds into a palpable excitement in our practice room when someone wants to share a new riff idea or a song structure. We’re definitely one of those bands that strives to write the music we most want to hear, and with so many different music tastes, that often leads to something we ourselves find quite fascinating. We’re all pretty relaxed guys these days, so although the ‘purpose’ of us doing this does certainly feel like it goes a bit deeper than just doing it for ‘fun’, at the end of the day our driving force is really the desire for creative expression and satisfaction, whilst sharing good times along the way whether that be at shows, in the studio, or just together in the practice room. Also, we like playing loudly, and it’s hard to get away with that on your own in a terraced house.
You have released music that falls under the 'post-black metal' label, and 'Ellipsism' is a phenomenal example of that - what are your main influences and what were the factors that led you to this type of musical output?
Well the band was originally far more doom and stoner oriented, with some subtle black metal elements thrown in. It’s been a gradual evolution as the band has progressed and members have joined or left, so really the album is a reflection of our collective inspirations at this point. Our influences at present are quite varied, especially from member to member, but bands like Amenra, Deftones, Deafheaven, Primitive Man, and Alcest all occupy the centre of our venn diagram of inspirations. I think the music we write is generally determined by our emotional processes and ideas of overriding tone, rather than attempting to create something that fits in a particular style. And each track is pretty much written around a foundational riff or idea. So a track like An Orchestra of Flies is much more callous than Rosalia. Of course there are several elements that exist in both but it wasn’t a case of saying “okay let’s have this track sound really heavy and let’s make this one a lot more sombre”, it’s just what happened naturally.
How do you, as a band, view the world that we live in? Are you generally optimistic that mankind will see the errors of its ways and make amends? Or do you believe that we are on a downward spiral towards much darker times?
That’s a big question! As individuals and as a group, we are people who are, of course, very aware of the many societal issues negatively impacting people in the modern world, and as such we can find ourselves wallowing a little in despair at the state of things - many people can probably relate. We firmly align ourselves with anti-fascist and anti-racist ideals, as well as believing firmly in womens’ rights, trans rights and placing ourselves in opposition to any kind of prejudice and hatred - as well as in opposition to the current UK government. Again this puts us right in the firing line for torrents of misery when reading the news. But we do certainly also try to have hope - though it may not always come through in our music. There are plenty of people and groups out there - both in and outside of music - doing great things and furthering great causes, and wherever we can we try to do our part either in action or financial support through our music. There’s definitely power in grassroots movements and small-scale actions to kickstart solving widespread problems, and that’s generally where our heads are at when we try to think about how to make the world a better, fairer and more inclusive place.
Who do you admire on the UK scene right now? And should Ba'al get to share a stage with any band at all - who would that be?
Well we’re incredibly lucky in that there are so many, so please forgive me for being reluctant to start listing artists or we would be here forever! I think what we most aspire to as a band, is to emulate artists that simply put all their energy into creating something that reflects them as artists. As already stated we are not interested in financial gain, so it’s heartening to see so many artists with such integrity and commitment to their cause which correlates with our own musical ideals. Again I can’t speak for the others, but personally I would probably want to share a stage with someone like Deafheaven or Alcest, simply because I’ve never seen either but would love to experience them, and I hope that people who enjoy those bands would enjoy what we do.
How have you been coping in these uncertain times? Are you missing playing live and being able to take your music to those who admire you and those who are maybe yet to discover you?
What is there to say about these unprecedented times that hasn’t already been said? In many ways we’re muddling through just like everyone else, and remaining ever thankful that our livelihoods and the roofs over our heads don’t depend on touring. We definitely do miss playing live, though, especially with the album release falling during this time. We had some ideas for a really cool release show, as well as a string of other cool gigs and mini-tours in the works before this all kicked off, and we’re gutted not to be able to get out there and play this new stuff which we’ve already been working on for over a year at this point. However, we’re confident that we can rebook most of that stuff when it’s possible, and thankfully we hadn’t really invested money into any of it yet. We feel incredibly lucky that we managed to record our album literally right before the UK lockdown was imposed; during recording, we were seeing all the festival cancellations come through in real time and wondering how things would unfold. We finished up in the studio on Thursday 12th of March, and we were all then legally confined to our homes on Monday 16th. Most of us haven’t returned to our workplaces since. So although our plans were all thrown out of the window, at least we have been able to focus on the process of getting the album ready to release, and we’re excited to finally be able to put it out in spite of the situation.
As alluded to in the first question, 'Ellipsism' is the fear of not knowing how things turn out after you die. Do you believe in fate? Do you believe that the impact Ba'al will have on the world is already pre-determined? Or does it depend how much effort you put in - or, of course, is that already pre-determined too?
That’s a difficult question and one I can only really answer for myself. As with all things I try to approach this kind of concept with a degree of balance. I think that, in this arena, much of an artist’s success (by whatever metric you wish to define success) comes down to a mixture of hard work, and sheer dumb luck. I myself am guilty of pressuring myself to succeed at levels that are simply unreasonable, and any resultant lack of success I will regularly blame myself for, which is not a healthy habit. But I am comfortable in the knowledge that financial success in music is often a result of being in the right place at the right time (and a host of similar clichés) so I try not to heap any kind of expectation on myself or the band in that respect. It should also be worth noting that the kind of music we make is not made with the intention of it becoming a career. We’re in no way influenced by the prospect of making money, we do it because we enjoy doing it and it provides a wholesome and developmental experience for us as musicians and humans. So to answer your question, I don’t think anything is truly pre-determined. There are uncontrollable factors which give some an upper hand but ultimately, all you can do is put your energy into something that makes you happy, regardless of what success that might bring. That is what we do. We’re all dealt a hand on a daily basis and we do not control that, what we control is our attitude and how we play that hand in an attempt to make the most of it.
What's next for Ba'al?
As previously mentioned, any plans we had were thrown out by COVID, as is the case for most bands of course. Various COVID-related restrictions have meant that we haven’t all been together in the same room since we were in the studio either, which has been odd. However, we’ve kept in touch virtually and have already started thinking about general ideas for our next album. Richard and Nick have got plenty of home-brewed riffs up their sleeves, so as soon as we’re able to get in the practice room again, with a new second guitarist in tow, it likely won’t be long at all before we have more songs written. We’ve also got some other possible recording ideas to come before we come to record album 2, but we can’t say too much about that at the moment. Of course we’ll be back to gigging as soon as it’s safe and allowed to do so. Aside from that, Joe, Richard and Luke have been able to get some work done with their other bands remotely, and there are even some new ideas brewing alongside Ba’al too, so needless to say we’ve been keeping our creative minds busy during the enforced downtime. You’ll be hearing plenty more from us in the coming months and years.
'ELLIPSISM' BY BA'AL IS OUT NOW ON CD DIGIPAK, GREY/PURPLE CASSETTE AND ON ALL DIGITAL STREAMING CHANNELS.