Drawing inspiration not from fiction but the immense, irreversible tragedy and horror of the human experience, Aragonese dark death dealers Ataraxy have been delivering uncomfortably thought-provoking Death Metal decadence for 15 years and counting. Contemplating the everyday existential nightmare that inspired their latest full-length abomination, ‘The Last Mirror’, two members of this cursed brotherhood – JMA and EMR – discuss the disintegration wrought to body and mind by the relentless march of time; the inevitable demise of all living things; and the strong bonds born of Death Metal fanaticism.
What is the last mirror and what horrors are revealed when you gaze into it?
JMA: “The last mirror is the vision of those things you can expect in life. A real vision you can see and touch, in yourself and others: how time will drag you to disease, to mourning, to physical and mental deterioration and finally to the immense nonexistence.”
‘And no thing will be safe even the cosmos itself, everything we know is doomed to be destroyed, any trace of life will be erased by time, nothing will remain…’ Time is the irresistible destroyer of all worlds. We are engaged in a perpetual battle against the clock – a ticking time bomb – and it is a fight we are preordained to lose. Is time man’s greatest adversary or does its ominous passage lend purpose to our existence?
JMA: “Time is without doubt the axis in which everything revolves. It devours us slowly, like a worm devours a piece of fruit, but at the same time, it’s the factor that has allowed everything to be created. It’s difficult to make sense of something like time if we keep in mind that someday time will destroy itself as well.”
Nothing in this world is more certain than the inescapable fact that every living thing is destined for death and decay – and death doesn’t always come first! It’s a disturbing, depressing and potentially damaging thought to dwell upon, yet Ataraxy appears steadfastly focused on this uncomfortable truth.
JMA: “Why would you look for horror themes in fictional stories if we have the greatest horror there, before our eyes? Maybe it’s a disturbing, depressing and potentially damaging thought but our existence has many of those things, and it would be absurd to look away as this is something that won’t ever change and we have to accept it.”How important a role has Death Metal played in your life? Can you remember the first DM bands or albums you listened to and what it was about these recordings that appealed to and influenced you so much? What do you make of the evolution of the genre over the past 40 years or so? Are the originators still the best (why change a winning formula?!) or have we consistently been spoiled with a variety of great Death Metal from around the globe across the decades?
EMR: “This music and its underground ethos is definitely a big part of my way of life. I spend most of my spare time in different activities which are all related to it… listening to albums, talking about bands and releases with friends, attending shows far and wide, running a label (not anymore) or a fanzine, promoting local gigs, rehearsing… Most of my friendships are also related to this world. I really like to listen to and support new bands, but the old quintessential milestones are untouchable for a reason. Anyway, since we all know and love them already, I’d prefer to drop the names of some newer bands whose recent releases have really caught my attention: Black Oath, Asphodelus, Into Darkness, Thulsa Doom, Sanctuarium, Purulent Remains, Lex Luciferi, Misty Grey, Witchtower, Estenosis, Bones…”
If anything, the overarching theme of your music seems to be moving further away from the more fun-orientated and old-school arena of putrefied gore towards the aforementioned morbid reflections on the approaching carnage. Does this heavy subject material reflect genuine suffering and emotional trauma of the artist or are you fairly positive, upbeat individuals away from the studio / stage?
JMA: “I think we are ‘normal’ people, with good and bad moments like everyone. However, the feelings and obsessions reflected in our music are truly genuine; we try to channel them in this way and doing it often represents a relief. I don’t know if that could be considered an emotional trauma, I think everyone has these kinds of feelings sometimes and in our case we use them to create our music.”
Preceding ‘The Last Mirror’, the second Ataraxy full-length, ‘Where All Hope Fades’ was – as the title suggests – another decidedly morbid affair. From the harrowing opening instrumental ‘The Absurdity of a Whole Cosmos’ through to the oppressive finality of the thirteen-minute finale, ‘The Blackness of Eternal Night’, this record displayed a tangible all-consuming darkness. Was that album a turning point of sorts for Ataraxy or a natural continuation / evolution?
EMR: “Indeed, ‘Where All Hope Fades’ was somehow a turning point in our discography, yet it was also part of our evolution as a band and as individuals. ‘Revelations of the Ethereal’, our debut album, already had some atmospheric and doomy elements that may set it apart from your usual traditional death metal, but with ‘Where All Hope Fades’ we dragged our sound down into the abyss, with different influences added from the early funeral doom releases of Finland and the USA, a heavier use of keyboards, and more personal and introspective lyrics. It may remain as our darkest effort so far, as one could argue that ‘The Last Mirror’ has brought back some of that early aggressive sound, combined with the darkness we unveiled during the years of that second full-length. It wasn’t something deliberate, that’s how things came out, but different reviews pointed that out and we have come to realise how this last album could be a balanced combination of both worlds.”
So there is no pre-planned path mapped out for Ataraxy (outside of channelling darkness and death)? When making music, do you prefer to work intuitively and instinctively, drawing inspiration from how you feel in that particular moment?
EMR: “I don’t think there’s a plan. As far as I know, when SCR works on some new songwriting he just lets inspiration flow with no roadmap whatsoever. And I think that’s the best way to do it.”
Ataraxy has existed and evolved for a decade and a half already and I’m sure it has been an interesting journey. What have been the high points and low points thus far and what remains to be achieved?
EMR: “Crafting a strong friendship and bond between us, great times at our first rehearsal place eating and drinking total crap and blasting death metal, recording albums and creating music together, road trips and shows, meeting new people and underground maniacs and penpals around the world… It’s not easy to find a band that has kept the same four members for almost 15 years at this point. If I had to drop some more concrete moments: the recording of ‘Curse of the Requiem Mass’ in 2010 was very special to me as it was my first actual recording, as well as the excitement when we got the release confirmation message from Detest Records / Me Saco Un Ojo, who meant everything to us in the underground death metal scene back then… I remember that moment perfectly, we were at a local bar and it felt like we had just won the World Cup. Playing at KillTown DeathFest in 2014 with amazing bands such as Imprecation or Cianide was also very unique, as I had been a fan of the fest since its early days.
“About more recent moments, playing in our hometown last year (where we have always been some sort of outcasts) in front of 140 people with plenty of maniacs in the front rows was also a surprising and special experience, plus it was probably our best performance so far. No big low points or drama, but if I had to choose some displeasing moments I guess it would be the long waits and delays you often have to face when you are working on a new release. It may be due to pressing plant delays, label and PR schedules, artworks and everything in between, but it can be really frustrating. This kind of stuff happens to most bands nowadays anyway. If you look at the credits for ‘Where All Hope Fades’, you’ll see it was already recorded by late 2016, yet it wasn’t released until 2018. That’s probably why we just did a couple of shows to support the album; our minds were already focused on creating something new at that point. Same happened with the ‘The Festival / The Tomb’ EP. Artwork delay forced it to be released four years after ‘Revelations of the Ethereal’, and just two years before ‘Where All Hope Fades’, even when those songs were recorded during the ‘Revelations…’ sessions. We deliberately wanted to leave some time between both releases, but not four years!
“Surprisingly enough, everything went quite smoothly with ‘The Last Mirror’, considering pressing plants were experiencing tough shortages and big delays due to the wild circumstances we all know. We just had some issues with the artwork, we discarded one initial piece from another artist and we then had to work with Rodrigo Salvatierra in a rush to get everything in time for the appointment with the plant. Props to him for his great job! This smooth schedule may be the reason why we played more shows than usual to support this album and why we were still excited and pumped up to play those songs live.”Even though you are shedding light on what people might generally consider to be dark and negative themes and topics (as you intimated earlier: nothing is darker than reality!), has Ataraxy thus far been a fairly positive and uplifting experience?
EMR: “Sure, why not? We are above all a bunch of friends, so the band also works as a common hobby, and we always have a good time when we rehearse, record or travel and play live. On a personal level, it also helped me to become more social in my late teens, as I was kind of reclusive before I met the guys.”
As we are currently living in times of tremendous unrest, dissent, confusion and turmoil worldwide, one could argue that people need the escape of music, art and culture more than ever. What gifts or curses will Ataraxy be bringing to the unwary masses in the coming months and years?
EMR: “We are already working on new music. No idea yet what format it will become, but a new full-length album would be the most desirable option, of course. About new live activities, we aimed to get in a few festivals this year, but most festivals, even within the underground, are now booking their line-ups almost two years in advance, and it’s not easy for us to plan so far ahead due to our day jobs and other obligations. I guess it’s another consequence of the worldwide turmoil you were talking about; everything’s planned so far in advance nowadays that it becomes paradoxically stressful. Time will tell – if we can’t play live, we will just focus on new Ataraxy music, as we have done many times in the past.”