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Of The Muses - ''Feelings are what makes us human'' Interview

’SENHAL (and Of The Muses) has been in the making for a really long time— practically a decade. I really had to overcome my insecurities and come to terms with the fact that I was allowing time to merely pass by, growing older in the process, while forgoing my aspirations, before I could muster the courage to establish this project and start working on what is essentially a solo album. I never placed too much trust in my skills as a musician, so for the longest time I assumed the only way I could get to make music was to do it alongside other people, in a band, that is. However, this was complicated by the fact that it’s hard for me to stand up for myself when I’m working with other musicians and, for this reason, it’s difficult to convince people that I’m seriously invested in what we’re doing and therefore get taken seriously. Plus, I’ve always had a very specific idea in mind, of what kind of music to make, and people who get it are hard to come by— not because it’s this completely alien concept but because I have a very specific taste in black metal and it’s difficult to even convey that let alone get someone to understand. And so, I waited and waited and waited, until I found myself in a scenario where it was either take the leap of faith or lose your shit and go completely insane. And so, I resolved to do what I could, with what I had at that time, and it helped me survive a shitty, impossible situation I was essentially stuck in.

Cristina Rombi is the creative inspiration Of the Muses. Art that reflects the solo instrumentalist’s dedication to creating something unique. From Black gaze through doom and dream pop, the debut creation is Senhal, a confessional to grief and pain that is both beautiful and harrowing. Delving into the depths of heaviness yet also ethereal and dreamlike like in others. It is a stunning masterwork in five intentional nameless parts.

‘’Absolutely. And I’ve had people express discontent with this, but if you look at the meaning of the album title, which describes a poetic device meant to conceal someone’s identity, the choice to ditch song titles starts to make sense. In my head, the songs are also fragments of the same conversation because the lyrics follow the very same narrative of being in love with someone and clinging on to hope while doing your best to live through the hardship of the present so that your dreams might one day come true. I like the way you describe the songs as ‘acts' because it’s basically what they are; they’re not separate songs that deal with entirely different topics, they’re more like branches of the same tree. Individual song titles would’ve set them apart from one another disrupting this synergy, it didn’t feel natural to me.

As a muse what inspires you and what do you hope to inspire with your music?

‘’My feelings about things, or people. Of which love is a huge part, because I’m forever a hopeless/hopeful (depending on the day) romantic. Love is everything to me and feelings are what makes us human. There is nothing more valuable, more inspiring, or more inspirational to me than our ability to feel emotions, and this pretty much answers the latter question as well. I am happiest when people tell me stuff like ‘I cried while listening to your song’.

It is a very intimate yet dedicant offering? Is sensual a better way to describe it?

‘’You’re the first person to use the word ‘sensual' in association with this album and I’m so glad you did, because your choice of words is honestly so spot on. I am most definitely a creature of desire and I’ve experienced the kind that completely unravels and overtakes you to which screaming is a completely logical and instinctual response in my humble opinion. While pain is interwoven in the lyrics to this album, so is pleasure or at least the anticipation of it.

What is intended to be so personal? It has many influences, were there any specific thoughts or emotions when creating it?

‘’Totally. Love, desire and even the fact that the song structures can sound very meandering or chaotic in places— someone has pointed out how the music sounds like it was written by someone who is practically insane and torn by internal conflicts and I have to say it’s an extremely accurate description. I could have tried to make the songs more palatable, scream in a more controlled/disciplined way, and I reckon I could have done a lot to make them sound better even to my own ear but whatever ended up on the album is essentially a byproduct of the person I was at the time and to a large extent still am.

The themes of grief and pain in your music? Is this a way of relieving sorrow or representing it for others to experience and take solace in?

‘’Yes, grief is part of the human experience and its most definitely part of mine, it’s only natural for it to flow into the art you make if you have a lot of that bottled up inside. Emotional connection is something I highly value, so it’s definitely important for me to know that someone is finding comfort in something I made.

Your vocals style is wide and varied. are you inhabiting/portraying the character of each song that leads to different interpretations?

‘’It’s more about portraying different personalities inhabiting me. Partly because I enjoy music that has a lot of contrast to it, and also because that’s what my personality itself is like, I strive to be kind and decent, but I also have a more destructive side to myself which occasionally comes out. And then when I’m comfortable around people I’m also a complete idiot who doesn’t really take herself that seriously but that’s another story for another day. So, I like to keep things diverse because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to recognize myself in what I do.

Are these things that give you joy whilst representing sadness?

‘’I would say yes. It feels very fulfilling to allow yourself to express the full spectrum of your emotions even if it’s done imperfectly. Particularly sadness, which is still largely a taboo in our society even though we recently made a lot of progress when it comes to de-stigmatizing psychological suffering. But we’re still far from living in a world that is completely accepting of grief and emotional pain. Which is why it can be good to share one’s experience or funnel it into art so that the experience itself can be normalized and seen as something that happens to people as opposed to a moral failure or a sign of weakness.

A beautiful melancholy? Is it something you experience? Combining darkness with rays of beautiful light?

‘’Totally. I do have my history with depression and such, but I could never make a DSBM metal album because I’m not looking to get even more depressed, or, worse, to glorify depression, because being clinically depressed sucks balls and ass. I’m more drawn to complexity, nuance, exploring the intersection of darkness and light, as you said. Ironically life is very rarely black-or-white, for instance there is a morbid kind of comfort to be found in self-destruction, whereas sometimes having beautiful things happen to us can fuck us up especially if we’re not prepared to handle them. Life is a complicated affair and I like music that conveys that complexity without flattening or meme-ifying aspects of it.

Is music the only outlet for your passion and is it the best way to express yourself?

‘’It’s definitely the most fitting way for me to express myself, and the closer I can get to giving voice to who I really am. Since I’m painfully introverted, it’s not easy for me to connect with people unless I go out of my way to make them comfortable. Music is great because we don’t need to conceal the weird, or the awkwardness, or even our mental health issues / neurodivergence in order to be liked. It’s a space (mostly, a safe one even though that’s not always true) where you can be real and vulnerable.

''I enjoy writing poetry as well and I occasionally dabble in photography, but music is where I feel truly free to be who I am because it’s a prismatic combination of several aspects— the visuals, the sound, the lyrics, the meaning, the energy. You have more at your disposal, you can showcase more, convey more, experiment more.

What drew you to extreme music. Is Black gaze a descriptor you are comfortable with? It also has some alluring pop elements.

‘’I got into extreme music shortly before turning 15 and I was drawn to the sheer intensity and passion it exuded. I was at someone’s place, and they put on MayheM’s 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and it was a total epiphany. I recall thinking ‘this is the kind of music I always wanted to hear’. It sounded grotesque, unhinged and even inviting, in a twisted, perverse sort of way. In a word, extreme. I was a severely traumatized teen full of rage and it felt like meeting a soulmate. To this day, extreme music is largely about emotional catharsis for me. I don’t really identify with the label 'blackgaze’, and I think blackgaze as a subgenre is far more structured, restrained and even elegant compared to the music you can hear on Senhal which sounds a lot rawer and more chaotic in a way. Blackgaze is very sumptuous, it also poses many creative limitations if you want to fit in the box so to speak. I reckon the -gaze influence is audible in places, but it comes straight from the source, from bands like Chapterhouse, Ride, Lush or of course Slowdive, which I love. I do enjoy listening to some blackgaze every now and then but it’s not a word I would personally use in association with my music, even though I’m ok with people using it to describe what I’m doing at present. I usually just describe Senhal as a black metal album because by now, in 2023, we’re mostly open to black metal being a diverse genre that can incorporate many different influences and sound in radically different ways.

‘’You’re also spot on in pointing out the pop elements— I do listen to a lot of pop music, and I’m very curious about pop culture in general. I do love melody especially when it manages to be both infectious and intelligent, and the fun thing is, every single one of the shoegaze bands I listed had a remarkable knack for melody! Pop is a lot more ubiquitous than people care to admit and it’s fun to play with it.

The importance of continuous experimentation in your music and pursuing other genres? Discovering different subjects to explore and constant change for your music? ‘’I would say this is essential to me, yes. Life changes you and your music is supposed to reflect that, I think. You can try and write the same song over and over for the sake of other people’s comfort at the expense of your personal growth but it’s going to sound trite and soulless at some point. You need to find where your heart resides, and you need to do that time and time again.

What is next for you and your art?

‘’A second album, for sure. The songwriting process is basically complete and I’m working with a producer who is also going to take care of bass and rhythm guitars so I can focus on less things and do them better. In the future, I hope I will succeed at making something relatively unique and recognizable, and that makes people feel seen and understood. As for me personally, I’m rediscovering my inner sound geek and trying to get back into stuff like mixing and production even though it’s not something I plan on putting into practice with OtM, maybe one day in the distant future if I get really good at those things.

Top six albums of all time? JUST six??? WHY are you doing this to me!!! Ok let’s try.

Soulwhirlingsomewhere — 'Eating the Sea’: my favorite album to ever exist. I am this album, and this album is me. It sounds like it was recorded underwater, with those flowy synths and muffled yet earnest vocals and strange echoing sounds you have no idea what kind of instrument they’re coming from. The songs on here are eerie, haunting and I would say nocturnal, but this is not the night we know, it’s the kind of inky darkness at the bottom of an ocean where you’re surrounded by frightening yet somehow harmless deep-sea creatures. I will forever be grateful to Michael Plaster for making this. ‘Drained' is basically the soundtrack to my existence; it reminds me of living in a small town by the sea and being miserable. I love this album so much I’ve been gatekeeping it for years, there you go, it’s yours too now.

Boards of Canada — 'The Campfire Headphase’: this album lulls me into a state of relaxation and daydreaming. Whenever 'Tears from the Compound Eye' comes on I always picture it as the soundtrack to the extinction of humanity; the Earth is finally healing, and animals are no longer scared and we’re no longer suffering because we’re dead. This record has luscious textures, otherworldly chord progressions and optionally you can dance to it. Which is great.

Jonathan Hultén — ‘Chants from Another Place’: yet another instant love affair. One night I stumbled upon the opener ‘A Dance in the Road’ and found myself completely mesmerized, transfixed by Jonathan’s sultry velvet voice hovering over those folksy dreamlike guitars. It was like being lured into the trees by some cunning forest creature. To this day I can’t believe a record like this exists. It sounds so familiar yet coming from, well, a distant place. One of the most genuinely beautiful, touching albums I’ve ever heard, with incredible vocal harmonies and overall, a visceral, passionate vocal delivery (just listen to ‘Next Big Day’ holy fucking shit). Hell, I would marry this album if I could and I’m saying marry but you know what I really mean.

Ulver — 'Shadows of the Sun’: this is not an album, it’s an ancestral liturgy dedicated to the forces that keep the Earth spinning on its axis. Love, lust, survival instinct, fear. It makes me think of our ancestors’ eating berries in a cave and wondering when does the Sun go when it disappears from the sky and being scared of the night. This is a MASTERPIECE for the ages and the sonic equivalent of open-heart surgery and such a poignant portrayal of the human experience through the ages, we should totally make the aliens listen to it.

Fen — ‘Epoch’: just the opening notes of the first track give me full body chills. I love, no, ADORE this album beyond a rational degree. I hope these guys know they created a masterpiece, and that this album is one of the first things I’d save if my house was on fire. It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry.

Novembre — ‘Materia’: I am utterly and wholeheartedly in love with the combination of ferocity and gentleness that lives in Carmelo’s soulful vocals as well as the contrast between angelic melodies, tight drumming, and heavy guitars, plus the romantic yet energizing blend of metal and -wave influences (their cover of Arcadia’s ‘The Promise’ is TO DIE FOR). This album is perfection, an irresistible blend of tenderness and violence and it makes me mad how this band didn’t get half the recognition they deserve. Go listen to Novembre NOW!!!!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!

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