WORDS BY : NATHAN MCLEISH
“Life Imitates art” is a phrase used all too often when describing the uncanny connections between creative expression and real life occurrences, and whilst the reality of these connections are almost always coincidental their importance and meaning can sometimes not be understated. This idea is clearly at play with the debut 2020 album “Shadow of Life” by Black metal newcomers Umbra Vitae. This record is an anger-filled release of cathartic expression that deals with the disconnected nature of modern existence and the effect that such an existence can have on the minds of those who reside within it.
IT’S GOOD TO HEAR HEAVY MUSIC RIGHT NOW
Sitting down and getting the opportunity to talk with Guitarist Mike McKenzie (The Red Chord, Wear Your Wounds, Stomach Earth) gave us the opportunity to shed some light on the processes and themes at play in the record, when asked how he felt the Album had been received Mike offered “ Really good! It’s been a while since I’ve put out a Death Metal / heavy record so for me it was exciting. I thought a lot of people would enjoy it, I just didn’t know to what level they would, you know?. It’s been pretty cool, Lots of nice comments. I think it came out at a good time, ‘cos everyone’s really stressed out so it’s good to hear heavy music right now.”
Fortunately for the band, as well as those who have listened to and enjoyed the album the effects of the current global situation have been minimal on this release. “Honestly I think that maybe we got a little bit more attention because people are at home you know” Says Mike in regards to the effects of the pandemic, going on to say “people are paying more attention to new releases I think.”
Like most though Umbra Vitae have had their setbacks, primarily in the form of physical distribution. “We did have to delay Physical media, We have vinyl in the works….but we are still doing it so that’s good.”
WE WANTED TO MAKE SOME DISGUSTING STUFF, WE WANTED IT TO SOUND PRIMITIVE
Umbra Vitae pulls from countless inspirations both musical and otherwise, when asked which of these musical influences were most prevalent in the writing process Mike offered that “In the beginning we were talking about old school Death Metal, I was really wanting to make something like early Autopsy, Dismembered and Immolation as well as a lot of classic Florida Death metal. Basically we wanted to make some disgusting stuff, we wanted it to sound primitive.” In response to this desire to create “Primitive” Sounding music Mike discusses the approach that the band took in writing the material. “You try to write a riff that’s dumb and it’s either, that riffs already written, or, you make it more technical and it’s not dumb anymore…There is one riff of the record where I tried to write a Mortician riff, I’m not gonna say what riff it is but it’s kinda hidden.”
Looking more into the non-musical influences of the band is really where the thematic weight of this album shines, with a major influence being Heym’s 1912 poem. “Shadow of Life” sees to incorporate these themes through the lyrical work of vocalist Jacob Bannon (Converge, Wear Your Wounds, Blood From The Soul). However the influence of literary work on the instrumental aspect of the album is strong as well. “Sometimes I’m more inspired by literature, something non-sonic to write the music that I am rather than actual music…I love reading a review where I’m like, wow this record sounds incredible. It doesn’t matter if I like the record or not I want to write music that fits that review”
“WE ALL SUBSCRIBE TO THE IDEA OF DOING WHATEVER WE FEEL LIKE DOING AT THAT GIVEN TIME”
The strong connections between the themes of “Shadow of Life” as well at the band as a whole are incredibly clear in this debut, when discussing the progression of the band Mike says “I do think it is very insular, with the titles and the concepts but whatever we do after this will be some extension of these ideas I’m sure…but who knows if we wanted to make a record with a completely different concept I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t just do that. We all subscribe to the idea of doing whatever we feel like doing at that given time…We wanted to make a heavy record, so we’ll do it.”
Throughout listening to the album, alongside having the chance to sit and talk to Mike about its creation it’s made extremely clear that freedom of expression is at the core of this record. Conscious efforts by the band to act purely on their own desires and interests rather than outside factors have produced a very genuine result, and, in a time where the world is feeling less opportunities for freedom, albums like this are all the more valuable.