The United States has some of the most stunning atmospheric black metal around, as there are a number of different groups that have been inspired by the sprawling landscapes and vast wilderness in certain parts of the country. One of my fairly recent finds is Ovnev, a one-man project based in Texas. After releasing a two song demo in 2015 that encompassed material written as far back as 2008, Ovnev released their debut full length ‘Cycle of Survival’ in late November via Naturmacht Productions. A concept album that explores a man heading off in the wilderness to live off the land before ultimately meeting his end at the hand of nature, the album uses sweeping atmospheric passages and soft acoustic moments to tell this tale.
What stands out to me the most is how well the acoustic and distorted elements are integrated throughout ‘Cycle of Survival’. A song like Thrill of Pursuit might start off with that familiar wave of distortion that creates a cold, icy feel and a chaotic, violent feel. But after a short period of time it transitions over to calmer acoustic guitar work that has a more serene, warmer feel, allowing listeners a period of pause and reflection. Whereas a lot of black metal of this type sprawls outwards with repetitive layers that pummel the listener with cold wave after cold wave, Ovnev takes a more calculated approach to its attack, allowing the harsher elements to come back with even more intensity after lulling you into a false sense of security. The acoustic sections are just as fleshed out as the rest of the material, with closing number Suspended in Spirit conjuring vivid imagery with its swaying melodies. Project creator West’s vocals skew towards the harsh, high pitched side, and it’s sure to send chills down your spine with each word.
‘Cycle of Survival’ is a strong debut for a project that’s able to express a lot through its take on atmospheric black metal. With the album now out for a few months and another on the way sometime later in the year, I had the chance to ask West some questions about Ovnev.
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. ‘Cycle of Survival’ has been out for a little while now, what has the reception been like so far?
Ovnev (West): I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on it in terms of what I am doing well and what I can improve on. People generally seem to enjoy the album a lot from what I have seen and heard.
TO: ‘Cycle of Survival’ is a concept album about a man heading into the wilderness to live off the land, ultimately making some mistakes that lead to his demise and becoming a part of the mountain and nature. You’ve based the story off of your own experiences living in the wilderness and mentioned Into the Wild as a prominent influence. What are some other films/novels that had an influence on you as you came up with this concept?
Ovnev: Another one is The Grey with Liam Neeson. The aspect of being killed by wolves in the song Cycle of Survival was influenced a lot by that movie. Man vs nature is my favorite movie genre so movies like Everest, Wild, All is Lost, The Edge, Castaway, 127 Hours, The Revenant and The Hunter all had an impact on it.
TO: Going along with the previous question, what are some of your personal experiences from living out in the wilderness for four months that shaped your narrative for ‘Cycle of Survival’?
Ovnev: The main thing I took from living in the wilderness was the overall feeling of reverence for nature that cannot be expressed with simple words. It is a feeling that I can only come close to describing with music. After living in the woods, I learned to appreciate the little things in life like a tranquil sunset/sunrise over a vast landscape. Being alive to see things in nature like the Milky Way at night with zero light pollution to hinder the view of the stars always puts things in perspective, mankind is insignificant.
TO: Writing a concept album where the music and lyrics come together to form a complete narrative seems quite challenging. What did you find to be the most difficult aspect of writing ‘Cycle of Survival’, and how long did it take for everything to come together into its final incarnation?
Ovnev: When I approach writing a concept album, I start with a general concept and work from that as I compose and record all of the instrumentation. I write lyrics only after all of that is finished which I find to be the most challenging because I think lyrics are a crude translation of the overall feeling that music gives. The whole process of creating the album from start to finish took around 6 months give or take.
TO: You handle all of the instrumentation and vocals yourself, did you also handle all of the recording aspects as well? I have yet to hear the two song demo, but how did the recording for these two releases differ?
Ovnev: I handled all of the recording on both. The main difference between the two is the guitar tone, I refined it much more on ‘Cycle of Survival’. I also used different recording interfaces and software on each release.
TO: Ovnev writes black metal that explores elements of nature and its tangled relationship with mankind. Some of the other bands that come to mind with similar themes have recorded portions of their material in the wilderness (Wolves in the Throne Room comes to mind in particular). Is this something you’ve been able to do or would be interested in exploring with Ovnev?
Ovnev: I would love to do something like this but it just wouldn’t be practical in my current situation. Maybe I will one day when I live in a scenic area with more solitude. Living in East Texas, there really aren’t any options like that. The closest I have done to this is field recording sound effects like the footsteps on The Observatory.
TO: One of the elements that have stuck out to me over repeated listens are the acoustic guitar melodies, particularly at the end of the album where the narrative explores the elements of nature that remain even after man is gone. When it comes to the acoustic side of your music, are there any particular guitar players/bands that have influenced your style?
Ovnev: The biggest influence on my acoustic style is Agalloch, particularly ‘The White’ EP that is almost entirely acoustic. Others are bands like Gallowbraid, Falls of Rauros, Alda, Oak Pantheon, and Old Graves on the black metal side. I was also influenced by neofolk artists like Jeff Dodd, River, Ulvesang, and Musk Ox.
TO: I really like the digipack layout of the CD and the imagery of the mountains. Were these taken from your time living in the wilderness?
Ovnev: Thanks. I took those on a hiking trip last year in Colorado. I was living in the wilderness of western Colorado in 2008.
TO: ‘Cycle of Survival’ was released by Naturmacht Productions, a label that’s known for releasing black metal that skews towards the atmospheric and melodic sides. What made them the right label for releasing the album?
Ovnev: Naturmacht was actually my first choice of label to be on so I was very excited when I heard that Robert enjoyed my music and wanted to release it. I think it is a great fit because it is one of the few labels that respect nature as much as myself. I love the fact that Naturmacht does not use cellophane on any of the albums to reduce the plastic waste that is piling up in the ocean.
TO: Do you think you might do any kind of video accompaniment to your music at some point down the road? I could see footage from wilderness explorations fitting quite well with the material from ‘Cycle of Survival’.
Ovnev: I definitely would like to do a video when I get a chance.
TO: You mentioned in a previous interview that a second full length is already in the works, tentatively set for some time this year. Will this be another concept album or are you exploring separate themes this time around?
Ovnev: It is a concept album as well but the lyrics are a bit more abstract and the theme is more complex.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Cycle of Survival’ or Ovnev?
Ovnev: I just want to thank everyone that has supported Ovnev so far and I look forward to sharing more music.