A warm talk with the founder of Neraterræ on his upbringing, consciousness behind the sound signature, artwork & symbolism, collaborations, releases during the pandemic and much more.
How did Alessio Antoni’s upbringing influence the person he is today, musically?
I guess it all started in my early years, my father was an architect, and he loved art, photography and music; I grew up listening to some amazing music and browsing through his art books.
Music-wise, since I was a kid, my parents (mostly my father) invited me to try various musical instruments and I got my first drumkit around the age of five. A few years later I discovered the piano, which I played for quite some years, then I got into Rock and Metal music and the electric guitar became my thing during my teenage years. It wasn’t long until I got back to drums; I’ve been hitting drumheads and cymbals for over twenty years now.
It’s pretty clear to me what brought me here, where I come from and why my path led me here, musically speaking. I’ve always been a very curious person, I enjoy exploring different music directions, movements and cultures, I think this is something that every musician, producer and artist should keep in mind: evolution is contamination and that’s the key to good music.
I embrace the philosophy of pushing the boundaries of my music forward as far as I can, remaining true to myself. On a side note, I guess this is why I believe that even making just two similar-sounding albums is a sort of failure for the artist itself.
In the end, I think these are the reasons why, over the last decade, music got me into travelling the world (which is something that everyone should do, in my opinion); I’ve become more and more eager to discover, understand and learn about other cultures, places, religions, voices, sounds.
What sparked the birth of Neraterræ, and was it only in 2018 that you started writing music? When was the start, and what brought this up at that time and not earlier?
I’ve been into writing music and lyrics since 2002, both by myself and with bandmates, but It wasn’t until 2017-2018 that I officially gave birth to Neraterræ. Its roots go way back to 2008-2009, under different nicknames (such as NHART, and others). Back then I used to experiment with industrial sounds, power electronics, and noise, it was about more aggressive styles mixed.
The very beginning of my let’s call it “electronic music behaviour” can be found in 2005 though; I used to sample audio portions from radio transmissions, get them on tape and mix it all with field recordings, to create mainly experimental atonal soundscapes.
As previously mentioned, the birth of Neraterræ as we know it is somehow recent; It was 2017, and I knew I had channelled what was necessary to build a long-lasting essence.
What’s special about the name; Neraterræ?
I wasn’t looking for anything particularly “special” actually, I wanted to think out of the box, so I discarded English and opted for Italian and Latin.
Neraterræ is of course half Italian and half Latin: ‘Nera’ mean black in Italian, while ‘Terrae’ means Earth or soil in Latin, depending on the context. The concept behind such a name sounds like a good omen to me; it represents the resilience, strength and perseverance of life and ideas that slowly grow back after the passage of fire (fire which can also be considered purifying, of course).
How does Alessio Antoni’s consciousness translate into his sound?
It’s a complex question to answer; many people described my music as “engaging and heart-moving, yet cold”, and I feel like they’re somehow right. Neraterræ was born with the intent of channelling the darkest and most interesting ideas of mine, all of them come from the observation of our times, our era. It all gets through a nostalgic filter, someway.
I perceive a sense of fragility, ephemeral delicacy and hope in the horrors we face every day and I’ve been mirroring such elements in my music over time.
On my first album, The Substance of Perception, my perception of substance, or reality, was the main focus, and even if there’s a lot of room for one’s interpretation, which is something that I like, I think those tracks speak by themselves, considering their nature, and the context given. I can feel the desolation of our race, the bewilderment of humanity, fear and broken hopes.
When it came to my second album, Scenes From the Sublime, it all changed; it is a more experimental record, even though I don’t particularly like that word, I’d probably consider it a bold work, as I tried to give voice to some of the most famous artworks of all time, and I’ve let them guide me through the process.
That was a labour of passion, love and rationality as well, something I consider unique and I won’t replicate ever again in terms of concept and approach, and I knew it’d have been like that since the beginning.
Scenes From the Sublime has been a very conscious act. Very rational in its way of guiding the listeners’ experience through the painters’ masterpieces.
As you can tell, one album differs from the other quite a lot, and the rational part of me still pushes me toward new ideas, approaches, and sounds which I have never experienced before. It’s been intriguing to face and welcome what the future (which is already the present, to me) has brought me since the more I kept on producing, the more conscious I’ve become of what Neraterræ could be.
My purpose has now become to find new ways to achieve diversity, and how to achieve it without repeating myself sonically or conceptually.
Our look at the world changes when we are consciously evolving; how do you see that applying to you and your music writing, eventually to Neraterræ’s sound signature?
I totally agree with that. Conscious growth translates to the evolution of the I, and it dramatically changes the way we perceive the realities that surround us and as we know them. I embrace change and evolution in every form, there’s no better way of living this limited amount of time we were given to spend on this pale blue dot than changing our perspectives as we grow both as individuals and as a collective.
My music reflects that, as you can tell by the differences between my first and second albums, of course, the difference is even more significant if you listen to the Kegaal release. No spoilers intended: over time you will perceive a progressive detachment from my musical past, while still maintaining my integrity, that’s because I cannot stand repeating myself throughout my works and because I need to try different things, embrace new approaches, and to change my point of view.
There’s nothing worse than being repetitive and predictable when it comes to making music. I’ve been observing and metabolizing (even not so) recent history and events, and I feel the need to take a few steps back, to return to what we thought we’d have been, and not to what we’re becoming.
There’s something horribly sad in realizing that there’s not enough room in our lives for self-listening, and this is leading us to forget and lose what’s important and what we need. This is the reason why I’ve been concentrating on listening to my own self over the last years, through a path of understanding and self-acceptance, embracing what I want to be, and the directions I want to follow to achieve a better and complete version of myself, though my music as well.
Neraterræ’s last two releases were released in the year 2020, the year of the pandemic. Did this global crisis fuel Neraterræ’s musical fire, or else how would you justify the release of two albums in one very different year?
The year of the pandemic fueled my musical fire, no doubt about it. It’s been a humanitarian, psychological and economic crisis, but, to me (and many other musicians, producers, and artists) it’s been a new stimulating scenario.
I found myself alone in my studio for months, with no human contact, just video calls, and I kind of enjoyed it, It was all about the music, writing, rearranging, trying new things, mixing, etc. I delivered the final master of Scenes From the Sublime to Cyclic Law in December 2019, way before the outbreak of the pandemic in Europe and Italy’s first lockdown, the album was scheduled to be released in March, so we agreed to stick to the original plans, the record had to see the light no matter what.
On the other hand, Pillars: Seeds of Ares happened to be more of a sort of unplanned release, in a sense. When I firstly got in touch with Gabriel Mc Caughry at Anathema Publishing Ltd (Canada) in early 2020 I told him about my idea of creating music for a book and Gabriel replied that it was something he had been looking for for quite some time. So that happened coincidently. We, Kegaal (New Risen Throne, Taphephobia, Neraterræ), were already working on something and this opportunity turned out to be the right outlet for our music.
Scenes From the Sublime and Kegaal albums were both released in the year 2020; the year of the pandemic – Did the pandemic affect the music writing, sound and the outcome in general, psychologically speaking?
The pandemic and lockdown(s) gave me the chance to stay more focused during the process of making music. Time was dilated, there was more clarity, a strong sense of purpose and direction.
I took all the time I could’ve possibly wished for to work on five releases, and complete a couple of them.
I’ve been let’s say lucky and determined enough to channel all of my energies into music, this led me to enjoy the whole process, and I felt no psychological pressure, no frustration, it’s been an interesting period for me, which I quite enjoyed. I’ve also been lucky enough to be able to hear from all of my loved ones and friends who were doing okay, that’s been a big plus.
Kegaal album released under Cyclic Law features a collaboration with a plethora of artists; New Risen Throne, Taphephobia and Treha Sektori, as well as Fredric Arbour from Cyclic Law. What is the story behind this collaboration, and how did this come to reality?
I enjoy exchanging ideas, comments, and feedback, especially when it comes to music; New Risen Throne, Taphephobia and Treha Sektori kindly appeared on my 2019 debut album The Substance of Perception and we have all stayed in touch since then. And of course, Frederic Arbour and I have been talking regularly since 2018 – they were the first people I thought about when It came to creating a brand new project.
Musically, the process usually starts with an idea, a sound, or texture that one of us shares with the others, it gets processed, modified, or used, and the outcome gets shared over again, it keeps going on like that until we’re satisfied.
It’s a very free and open-minded process; conceptually, it may happen to start with a title, a phrase, an image, an event, a tale or a movie that we all enjoy and agree upon and start brainstorming about.
Mixing & Mastering
Alessio Antoni probably mixes and masters all of Neraterræ’s releases, how does that work for you and why didn’t you think of an external expert to perform the required duties?
I enjoy handling both mixing and mastering phases as I did on The Substance of Perception, but I don’t like repeating myself, so I preferred having someone else behind the mastering phase of both Scenes From the Sublime (Kjetil Ottersen) and Pillars: Seeds of Ares (Frederic Arbour).
Of course, mixing is something personal and I prefer to do it myself, but when it comes to Kegaal, the three of us exchanged roles and we all mixed / co-mixed our tracks.
While mixing is very personal and for certain aspects an almost artistic duty, I’d say, mastering is purely technical and sometimes having an external trusted person handling your material works well for me.
What is the symbolic concept behind Scenes From the Sublime and Kegaal album cover designs?
The artwork for Scenes From the Sublime is by Anirudh Acharya, I came across this artist’s works in 2019 and I felt that the person had what I needed for my album artwork.
The album consists of ten tracks, each one inspired by a different painting, it is, by all means, an ode to the beauty, the unfathomable and the minds capable of channelling the sublime. That being said, I wanted the artwork that represents the sense of transcendence from this tangible reality, which can be perceived by the geometric forms on the wall, and the opportunity to move on to a higher plan, represented by the mirror revealing the outside, the light and the clouds, instead of the inside of the room it is placed in.
This concept matches the ability of the geniuses capable of channelling the sublime through their paintings, masterworks that transcend space and time.
Coming to the Kegaal release, It should be said that it wasn’t originally planned to be released as a companion CD to the book Pillars, Vol.2: Seeds of Ares (issued by Canadian Anathema Publishing Ltd), and Adrian Baxter was already in charge of realizing the artwork and overall concept for the book cover, and we, Kegaal, have had the pleasure to witness what he was up to.
The artwork reflects the investigation of the human condition, what uneasiness or reassurance this thought may bring to the forefront of consciousness, and how one proceeds to harmonize these aspects of the Self through the usage of such polarizing angles.
You have assigned the talented Adrian Baxter to execute the Kegaal album artwork, tell us how the approach took place, and about the graphical brief given to Adrian.
Adrian Baxter is a super talented, visionary, well-known artist, his story speaks for itself. I’ve been admiring lots of his works over the years and it’s been a surprise for me to discover that he’d have handed the artwork for Pillars: Seeds of Ares, I say so because it was thanks to Gabriel Mc Caughry at Anathema Publishing Ltd, who got in touch with him way long before, that Adrian Baxter got involved, I found myself admiring this beautiful artwork even before completing the music.
The Kegaal release comes as a companion CD to the second issue of Pillars, the book (I quote):
“Explores the ‘martian’ side of magickal practice, and analyze phenomena of psychic violence, what it means to engage in transgressive and subversive art, to dive deep into shadow-work, to embrace the unconventional and the radical, the vicious and immoral, perhaps even the damning, and the taboo. To understand one’s wrath and conditioning, and the fearlessness that inspires work with such currents.”
“Transcending time and space” is a sentence mentioned within the introductory text about Scenes from The Sublime album; how is transcendence expressed throughout the album’s sound?
As Kant stated in his theory of knowledge, being transcendent translates to being beyond the limits of experience and hence unknowable. Beyond the limits of possible experience.
I feel like there are very few ways to transcend time and space, to me, there are three: certain genres of music, certain types of graphic art and higher states of consciousness achieved through deep meditation.
I did my best to merge these three pillars to obtain a visionary sound capable of engaging the listeners’ subconsciousness, to drive them towards a higher state of appreciation of the essence of the moment.
Each track on the Scenes From the Sublime album is inspired by a painting; please walk us through that concept and influence.
My father was a huge fan of everything related to art, he introduced me to this universe when I was a child and I am grateful to him. I feel this passion has been growing in me over the years, and I believe ‘Scenes From the Sublime’ represents the pinnacle of this passion – I didn’t know which paintings I’d have taken inspiration from, I didn’t plan anything at all in the beginning; I had a few preferences though.
Let me spend a few words about a couple of painters I paid tribute to.
What fascinates me the most about Beksiński‘s art is his ability to portray a surreal, phenomenal dystopian and desolate environment.
The deep and dark desolation of the paintings which he has gained recognition for is truly unique, you can profoundly feel the fragility of the flesh and the imminent collapse of life as we conceive it.
On the track The Last Abjurer (inspired by ‘AA72’), the main objective was to reproduce the feeling of impending doom that one can feel when contemplating the painting. It all seems inevitable, slow and overwhelming.
In his AE78, the dramatic and almost otherworldly concept was the perfect starting point to create a dark, eerie and ethereal atmosphere. We can say that both the artwork and the related song Doorway to the I have a sci-fi feel, in a way. I think AE78 is one of the best examples of Beksiński‘s creativity.
Moving on to another painter, Goya, well, to say that I like the works of Francisco Goya, especially those he realized during his so-called Black Paintings period, is obvious. Considering the period, around 1820, these visions were stylistically innovative. The atmospheres are, to these days, dense, disturbing and intense. I find that the use of gold and brown colours on the dark/black background, which often represents the night, adds a dramatic force to the events depicted.
In Thou, Daemon (based on Goya’s ‘The Exorcism’), I wanted to represent the concept of two opposing forces fighting against each other, the demonic and the holy, in a sense, intertwined in a mortal dance.
And, to me, the vocal performances by Yann Hagimont (of Cober Ord), and George Zafiriadis (of Martyria), can instil this feeling in the listeners’ minds. I feel like such contrast is visible in the painting as well.
In another one, Füssli’s Nightmare, in my opinion, there’s something conceptually interesting here: there is a subject, the woman, and this subject is placed inside another subject, which is the whole scene itself, the dream/nightmare. So, even if we cannot say that there are two subjects, we can say that there is a concept within the other. I love the chiaroscuro technique and the harmony and balance of the scene. There is a pyramid scheme that embraces the horse, the nightmare and the woman, everything is dynamic yet perfectly still.
In The Unfathomable Lives Again, inspired by Nightmare, I experimented a lot, given the idea of the painting itself; I think the music reflects the feeling of confusion we can experience after/during a nightmare. It was important for me to keep that feeling throughout the song. You can hear subtle details, whispers and drone waves appearing and dissolving, to replicate the absurd dynamics of a dream.
Since 2020, Neraterræ has not released any material – Is there any upcoming news regarding a possible release?
Yes, there is. I was recently told by Cyclic Law that Lamaŝtu will be out in November – Lamaŝtu is the first collaborative record between Italian act Chaigidel and me; I enjoyed the process and final result and I’m very curious to know what the listeners’ reactions will be.
It’s a record inspired by Mesopotamian culture, religion and mythology, and, musically speaking, it’s something different from what you may expect from me, at this point.
Lamaŝtu is of course a direct reference to the Mesopotamian malevolent goddess, and I feel this album reflects the subject just perfectly. It is immersed in darkness, it’s profound, deeply obscure, ritualistic and organic, capable of creating vivid images.
This is one of the releases I’ve been working on since 2020, and you can expect more music from me in 2023 for sure. The best has yet to come.