Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio (Forgotten Tomb) interviewed

** Italy’s Forgotten Tomb may’ve helped spearhead depressive black metal, but they’ve moved on from the group’s early monochromatic, manic styling to emerge as a mature, self-aware black metal act with influences ranging from Burzum to Pitch Shifter to Eyehategod. Forgotten Tomb’s new album, Hurt Yourself and the Ones You Love, is massively heavy, penetratingly introspective, and, yes, pitch black dark. From its lyrics (read Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio’s response below), its stark cover, to its cross-over black, Hurt Yourself and the Ones You Love is Forgotten Tomb’s best work yet. And this comes from a diehard Springtime Depression fan. Forgotten Tomb is also featured in Decibel #125 (HERE).

Forgotten Tomb aren’t as black and white as it may seem. You’re adventurous musically. You’ve covered Nirvana and The Stooges. And the look isn’t traditional black metal either. Are you, as a musician and songwriter, looking for darkness, depression, and evil everywhere, in different shades? Instead of narrowing yourself to only following by black metal example.
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: The aim has always been to keep our trademark and lyrical themes, but at the same time adding a more powerful and refined approach. Personal growth, inspiration and aging certainly went hand in hand with the changes. Some bands aren’t meant to evolve or to experiment, but that has never been the case with Forgotten Tomb. We never played the same album twice and for me that’s what makes it still interesting after all these years. I get bored very easily of my own music, so I always look forward to create new music. I love and I’m proud of all the albums I’ve done, I listen to them once in a while, but I’m always focused on the future.

In fact, what inspires you these days?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: I’d say this album was written under a more “mature” kind of everyday dreariness, not really depression or such but mood swings, decadence, urban misery, disappointments, failure, a general bleak outlook of the future. Dreams played also an important role in the lyrics on this new album. I had these very strange and somber dreams for a few months prior to the recording sessions, which is very uncommon for me since I usually don’t remember my dreams and I have a kind of deathlike-sleep. Though I had all these crazy dreams, which seemed like some messages from another plane of existence, or some dark omen, and I thought the wiser thing to do was to incorporate the feelings I got from these dreams in the new lyrics. Strangely enough, dreams stopped after the album was done. I don’t write very often, but when I do I usually nail it, I wait for the inspiration to come over me. Though I take inspiration from my own life a lot and from what I see around me, and there’s plenty of negative things to take inspiration there. Musically speaking, I listen to a huge variety of music and above all I seldom listen to Black metal or to bands that our fans might enjoy. That might seem strange, but that’s it. Being open-minded in what I listen to is a good thing for me, though if I have some influences are certainly to be found in the past, especially in regards to metal music. I seldom if ever like recent bands.

What do you think is different about the way you approached Hurt Yourself and the Ones You Love and Songs to Leave? There’s a lot of time in-between the new album and your debut.
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: When I wrote and recorded Songs To Leave I was a 20-years old and I was a one man band, now I’m 35 and I got a full band since 12 years. I’m still the main songwriter though of course a lot of things have happened in my life over all these years, including some drastic changes in my lifestyle (not necessarily always for the better), and therefore my music evolved with me, since it is a reflection of what I am. Lyrically, I think I’m a way better lyricist these days, I think lyrics got really better since Negative Megalomania and the last two albums in particular are very good in regards to that. I’m more focused and I can express my vision better now. Musically, besides the eerie Black metal roots I think the rock influences, the doomy/sludgy stuff or the dark-wave vibe have been there since the beginning, maybe in a less evident form but they were there. We probably got heavier with years, which is a good thing to me, considering a lot of bands got softer instead. There is more rhythmic stuff, more riffs, more structures, more layers, we became better players… But I think we retained our classic trademark, even if we introduced a different approach. We still express the same darkness and the same unpleasant atmosphere, but the output got refined with a different view and with a more “conscious” songwriting.

One of your press quotes states you’re keeping the album “old-fashioned sounding”. Care to elaborate?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: We felt the previous two albums sounded a little too over-produced, a little too polished maybe, so this time we went for a more organic and natural production, with more punch and a little dirtier than usual. It sounds more in line with Negative Megalomania than with the last two albums, I think. We wanted the drums to sound more real and the guitars to be more in-your-face; basically I wanted to achieve what was meant as a “good production” in the ‘90s, meaning a lot of individual live-playing in the studio, with less software-tricks as possible, and realistic sounding stuff. These days productions sound very fake and standardized, with all these triggers, inhuman performances and auto-tuned vocals, and we thought this would not benefit our music. Personally, I probably would have gone totally in a Steve Albini kind of direction with the production, but in the end we found a good compromise between a modern-sounding quality and a old-fashioned approach to recording. On a side note, I had the chance to record the vocals with a microphone which belonged to Freddy Mercury himself. [Laughs] That was quite bizarre but the result is awesome, the sound-quality on the vocals of this album is the best we’ve ever had.

Terje Refsnes has done a lot of gothic doom, melodic doom as a producer. What did you find in Terje that singled him out as a the guy for Hurt You?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: Of course, we grew up with Scandinavian black metal records in the ‘90s and Terje’s name was kind of legendary at the time, having produced some very important pieces of black metal history such as early Carpathian Forest and Gehenna albums; to be honest we weren’t into the other gothic stuff at all, but what we were searching for was a producer with a lot of experience and with a knowledge of how good albums in the ‘90s were sounding. He produced other styles also, such as Scandinavian pop and prog rock, and the albums he produced in his career overall sold some million copies, so he knows what he’s doing and he got some good advice to give. He didn’t start originally as a metal producer, so he got a wider vision of how an album should sound, he worked with a lot of genres. Also, he’s not in just for the money and he will tell you if your band sucks or if you’re doing a good job. [Laughs] He’s a skilled and experienced guy, and he managed to get the best out of us and guide us towards the best choices for the sound on the album.

It terms of direction and overall aesthetic how do you compare Hurt Yourself to …and Don’t Deliver Us from Evil?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: I think they are both very dark and unsettling albums, both lyrically and musically. I still like …and Don’t Deliver Us from Evil songs very much, though I feel a different production and a few details could have been better, and the album would have probably fared even better. The feedback was mostly good but I think some people didn’t really understand that album and it’s a pity because I think the songwriting was excellent. I think the better and more suited production on Hurt Yourself…, as well as the freshness in the songwriting, will make this new album stand out above our last two. I think the best achievement on this album, compared to the previous one, is that the various elements of our sound got together in a better way even if it’s more adventurous, there’s a lot of groovy stuff but the black metal feeling is constantly there, it sounds very evil and massive in its entirety.
There’s a lot of groove on the new album. Even some “industrial” (I’m using this term VERY lightly) sounding stuff. I mean, if Pitch Shifter (early) had less effects. Or, maybe Prong with less funky bass. Where is your head at while writing songs like “King of the Undesirables”?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: You’re the first one to notice that. I like Pitch Shifter and that kind of early ‘90s industrial metal! I’m also into bands such as Fudge Tunnel and Prong, and Godflesh of course. “King Of The Undesirables” is one of the songs where you can hear the ‘90s influences better. I also cherish a lot of stuff like Buzzov-en or some early Unsane, Melvins, Helmet as well as some grunge/alternative stuff, most notably Nirvana and Alice In Chains, but also less known stuff like Gruntruck or Floodgate or Life Of Agony. Then, of course I love the whole Louisiana-based sludge bands, especially Eyehategod, Acid Bath and early Down. In general, the first half of the ‘90s still resounds in my ears and it’s a neverending source of inspiration, probably because I was a teenager back then and I grew up with a lot of that stuff, besides all the death and black metal milestones of that era.

The other side of it you have “Dread the Sundown”, which is very funeral sounding, despondent. Where do these types of songs come from?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: I always loved the eerie atmospheres of certain black metal stuff like early Thorns demos, early Manes, Burzum, so that is still part of my DNA when I write some dissonant arpeggios or melodies. I think “Dread The Sundown” is a very good song because the mix between that kind of black metal mood and the heavier, groovy stuff worked out flawlessly, the song has several breaks and changes that can catch you off-guard. It’s a pretty sick song and kind of majestic.   

Hurt Yourself And The Ones You Love is a pretty brutal title at face value. Where does the title and its meaning come from?
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: The exploration of death in its various facets for sure is a constant in our lyrics. The attack on society and its morals/values is another theme I cherish, as well as the glorification of some negative aspects of human behaviors. In an older song we did on Under Saturn Retrograde there was a line saying “Harm yourself and your loved ones tonight” and I wanted to expand that concept, so I slightly altered that sentence for the new title and worked on it. It’s basically a very nihilistic title and it expresses my contempt for society as a whole, it’s an invite to destroy all moral values and join the dark side of life.

Tell us about the cover. It’s pretty striking. Mostly black and white except for the blood-color on the hand delivering the bullet like a pill.
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: We noticed the material was coming out quite aggressive and twisted, so we definitely pushed ourselves into that madness further. We actually wanted something that looked extreme and that would catch the attention of fans. Our recent albums had some more “artistic” designs so we thought it was time to get back to something more crude, especially because the lyrics and sound on this album are very cruel and violent. Also, I really like photographs on cover artwork, but we didn’t want to use archive-pictures or stuff like that, so we hired a photographer and a model and we did it ourselves. I think the pictures turned out great, not just in terms of concept but also in terms of quality.

Where do you think black metal is headed? I realize Forgotten Tomb is probably more “dark” metal, but the point is, the genre of evil-sounding music has the potential to reach into the abyss even more.
Ferdinando ‘Herr Morbid’ Marchisio: I think the way we chose with our recent albums is a good one, though it’s difficult to see where the rest of the genre is headed these days; on a personal level, considering how the genre we helped forge back in the days (the now so-called DSBM) was distorted by other bands over the years in its original meaning and musical direction, I’m glad people say we took distance from that, ‘cause I feel there was an involution in the style all these younger bands play these days. They didn’t add anything to the style, they actually made it more minimal, which is something I don’t appreciate at all, and they just got the wrong attitude towards lyrics and image. It now seems like everybody is depressed for some reason, it does not look realistic or unsettling, it’s just a pathetic trend like many others. Others moved towards all that post-black metal stuff, which unfortunately too often results in some tree-hugging rubbish, which might suit some young hipsters but certainly not some old dogs like me. [Laughs] On another side, it seems like everybody suddenly wants play like Deathspell Omega and they all look alike with all their esoteric paraphernalia and such. It’s kinda funny. Trends come and go, it has always been like that, even in the ‘90s underground black metal scene when everybody wanted to be either symphonic vampires or satanic church burners. I prefer to do my own thing as always while every trend run its course. Though, if I have to choose some dark stuff that I currently support 100%, I think stuff like Primitive Man or Fister, which both start from a different musical environment, have a darker feeling than many black metal bands. I feel more connection with those kind of bands that with the current state of black metal.

** Forgotten Tomb’s new album, Hurt Yourself and the Ones You Love, is out now on Agonia Records. Several versions of the album are available HERE.