There’s nothing wrong with being firmly rooted in one genre. If death metal, for example, floats your boat and you have no interest in playing outside of those boundaries, then you’d be in fine company. That being said, some of the best stuff out there is made by artists that aren’t worried if their album will be picked apart by the genre purity ponies. When you aren’t worried about there being some black metal influences in your death metal or you stop caring if you are making a death-doom record or a doom-death record, it can free you up to follow your inspirations across a variety of genres and make something wholly unique that speaks from your gut.
Spectrum Mortis, founded in Spain in 2015, isn’t bothered by genre limitations. Although typically labeled a death-doom band, it’d be hard not to hear influences from other subgenres of extreme metal mixed in there. The final product is a dark and brutal mix of styles that is unique to Spectrum Mortis. Coming off 2022’s stellar Bit Meseri – The Incantation, guitarist Aath took some time to chat with me about the band’s history, influences, and what the future holds for Spectrum Mortis.
First off, what is the origin of Spectrum Mortis? How did the band get started and what, initially, did the band want to do from a musical standpoint?
Aath: The band started in 2015 with the idea of creating dense and dark death metal. At that time, the composition of the band’s first material began, which would finally be released in the form of our first EP, titled Blasphemare Nomen Eius, a work in which we expressed our vision of doom/death metal and the basis of what would be future works. We were clear that the first stone of the temple had to be strong and rigid, this first release had to be perfect and capture the purest essence of Spectrum Mortis and so it was.
How did you guys come up with the name? Were there any other ones that you considered?
Aath: With this name, what we try [to convey] is that our figures vanish as mere spirits, that our bodies and souls become shadows that carry the most accurate message we possess: the existence of death. That name echoes in our consciences and blends in with our own flesh until we become messengers of the darkest face of existence.
What got you guys into extreme metal in the first place and who are some of the bands that got you into the genre?
Aath: We started listening to this music in the nineties, bands like Incantation, Profanatica, Mystifier, Necromantia, early Paridise Lost, Morbid Angel… that stage in which styles were confused and death metal, black metal, or doom always mixed under a mystical and dark aura. Those first works of these bands are the ones that mark the musical base of Spectrum Mortis, especially the releases of those bands that emerged between the years ’88 and ’93/’94. At that time is when a large part of the best records of this style were created and that are a clear influence on our music, such as Mortal Throne of Nazarene, Altars of Madness, Lost Paradise, The Oath of Black Blood, [and] Weeping in Heaven, records that navigate between death-black-doom but that contain that atmosphere, dark [and] sinister, and at the same time tremendously violent.
What’s the writing process like for the music side of things? Has that changed at all as time has gone on?
Aath: The composition process has not changed much since the beginning of the band. In general, we take previous ideas worked on at home to the rehearsal room, where we give them shape and the final look. That is where we definitely build the songs, their different parts and their structure, but there is always a more thoughtful previous work. Sometimes before starting with the composition of a song, we also establish a general idea about how it should be, for example if it should be something more atmospheric, faster, or more aggressive, but we leave some room for spontaneity and for the songs to go, growing little by little according to their own needs. We therefore try to find a balance between control and spontaneity, which is somewhat the key to our compositions.
What’s the writing process like for the lyrics side of things? What do you try to do with the words to a Spectrum Mortis song and is there anything that you turn to in particular for inspiration?
Aath: We have always given an essential role to our lyrics, searching and digging into the depths of knowledge in order to be able to put into words what we want to put into our music. We firmly believe that both things should go hand in hand and no aspect of the band should be left out, which is why we invest a lot of time in designing the concept of each of our works, both aesthetically and lyrically.
With Bit Meseri, the work has been really big, since we have tried to investigate about an already extinct culture, looking for references to those darkest and most mystical parts of the Mesopotamian culture. We try to access all this information in the most rigorous way possible, since there is a lot of information on the internet that is really very unscientific, so we use books and other publications with a historiographical basis, which implies an important search exercise and then interpretation and translation into lyrical form, but it was an interesting and enriching process.
How did getting to make Bit Meseri- The Incantation come about and how much of a learning experience was the process of writing/recording that one? What did you learn making that album that you took to future recordings?
Aath: Bit Meseri was a really demanding album. From the point of view of composition, it was clear to us that the record had to be a sort of compendium of everything we had done up to now, that is, it had to be a dark, dense, aggressive death/doom metal record but also with a mystical atmosphere that we believe is the essence of Spectrum Mortis. Constantly, throughout the composition process, we tried to look for those elements, but to that we must add that we wanted to achieve a record with a great identity of its own, so all the songs had to make sense to each other and there must have been some continuity and connection between everything. That’s why we found it very interesting to use those acoustic intros and outros that somehow try to serve as bridges between the different songs and achieve that more global aspect. Also, we wanted an ominous aspect for the album, serving as a kind of homage to that great culture, trying to capture the omnipresence of a great ziggurat. For this we try to work a lot on different voices used during the album, the arrangements of guitars, keyboards and other elements that try to give to the album that greatness. As for the recording itself, it was very demanding as well. It wasn’t complex from a technical point of view since everything was very prepared before entering the studio, but it was demanding in the sense of squeezing every last resource and breath out of the band. In that sense, we believe that Bit Meseri is a total, majestic and tremendously evocative album that pushed our skills to the limit and has undoubtedly helped us grow as a band.
What makes you all work so well together and how do you keep a healthy band dynamic?
Aath: The main thing is to have a clear idea and not hesitate to make the decisions that lead to completing those ideas. Spectrum Mortis is a band in which its members submit their will to something collective where personal aspirations are completely buried under something higher.
I wanted to ask about the lyrical and musical inspiration for a few songs on the debut album. Could you tell me how the song “Utu-Abzu” came about from a musical standpoint and where you got the ideas for the lyrics on that one?
Aath: As we have told you, the lyrics of Bit Meseri revolve around the ancient Mesopotamian civilization, its darkest traditions and several of its rituals. In fact, the title of the album itself, Bit Meseri, refers to a rite intended to cure the sick. On the album we deal with different aspects that orbit around death, the cosmogony of its culture, and the mysteries that surround life and existence itself. In the end, there are aspects that continue to interest us today and that continue to have full relevance. In the specific case of “Utu-Abzu,” the song is somewhat more focused on the theological aspect of this civilization, how aspects such as creation and human passions were understood in that culture. We took those letters from poems, books on art, and Mesopotamian culture.
“Uanna” is another favorite of mine. Where did the musical and lyrical ideas for that one come from?
Aath: “Uanna” tries to explain how the human being accesses knowledge through contact with the divine. This idea seemed very attractive to us since in the Judeo-Christian worldview access to knowledge by human beings is considered something sinful and prohibited, linked to the figure of Lucifer, the bearer of light and knowledge. However, prior to this vision, in the cultures of the Middle East it was considered the opposite, the divine beings themselves are the bringers of this cognition: writing, science, knowledge. It seemed to us a very interesting reflection to see how this paradigm has changed from those polytheistic religions to the current monotheistic religion predominant in the world.
“El Sol de Eridu” is another song I really dig from there. Could you talk about the inspiration for that one?
Aath: This song focuses on the ancient city of Eridu, how its splendor was surrounded by rituals linked to agriculture, religion, and even the political and social organization itself. Our intention with this theme was to try to transport the listener to the majesty and grandeur of its temples, its walls, and towers.
The cover to that record is really memorable piece that feels inspired by classic paintings. Who did it and how much direction did you give them?
Aath: The cover represents the healing rite that we talked about before and that also gives the album its name, Bit Meseri. In the drawing, different elements of the ritual are represented, as well as different deities and characters that we talk about on the album. The idea was to evoke that ritual: its darkness and evoke in the listener the fear and despair of the patient. The cover art was drawn by Khaos Diktator. We gave him certain instructions of what we wanted and he was able to capture everything we wanted to represent with that image. He is a very talented person and probably one of the best cover artists out there today, so we are tremendously grateful for the work he has done. In addition to the cover, inside the disc there is an image of a ziggurat that is really spectacular.
How affected has the band been by the COVID pandemic, either in terms of recording new music or getting to play live?
Aath: As regards the preparation and composition, nothing. It is true that from a logistic point of view we had some difficulties cause we live quite far from each other, but we managed to make everything more or less follow the times we had set. What is curious, but it was not something premeditated, is that the title of the album focuses on the disease and how that ancient culture dealt with its cure, something that we have experienced in recent years, so it is very easy to draw parallels with the past and see how in the end, the concerns of the human being remain essentially the same.
What’s your local scene like there in Madrid and how has that shaped the band?
Aath: Madrid is the capital of Spain, a city of about 4 million people where there is always movement, so there are always bands that appear and disappear. Bands like Teitanblood, Qayin Regis, Proclamation, Aversio Humanitatis, [and] Sacrificio, have been based in Madrid and are bands with which we have had a relationship. Madrid is a tough city like any big city, so you have to learn to live in it and survive, but it can also bring certain positive things. In our case, we do not believe that it is something decisive, in fact not all the members of Spectrum Mortis live in Madrid, but it is our center of operations and our reference city.
Lastly, what’s next for Spectrum Mortis? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Aath: Our intention is to perform our album live. We are preparing several shows and festivals for 2023, but we are also already thinking about new material that we will gradually prepare for future editions. Spectrum Mortis is a fully active band with a clear and defined path ahead.
Photo at top: Album cover for Bit Meseri – The Incantation.