British black metal tour de force Calligram enter with guns blazing on their first full-length, The Eye is the First Circle. Following two EPs in 2016 and 2018, The Eye is the First Circle is the band’s most blackened effort to date, shedding some (but not all) of the hardcore punk trappings for atmosphere and burnt melodies.
The Eye is the First Circle is an eight-song affair and the listener isn’t given a second to breathe until the seventh track, giving Calligram most of the album to assail with bursts of icy tremolo picking and scathing breakdowns. This is demonstrated throughout, but the Brits are at their peak on “Kenosis”—in addition to utilizing their best and most dissonant riffs on the song, Calligram find a balance between black metal and hardcore that delivers a truly satisfying (and moshable) payoff.
Decibel spoke with vocalist Matteo Rizzardo about The Eye is the First Circle, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Calligram’s plans following the album release. The Eye is the First Circle is out April 10 via Prosthetic but you can listen to an advance stream right now.
The Eye is the First Circle is a “document of the personal struggle” the members of Calligram faced in the process of creating this record. What was going on in the lives of the band members and how is this reflected on The Eye is the First Circle?
Let’s just say that we had to face many obstacles while writing this record: deaths, money issues, unemployment and depression just to name a few, and I think the tone, the style and the structure of the album capture exactly the chaos we went through.
Instead of moaning and feeling sorry about ourselves, we sublimated our feelings and used them as a trigger to reach a more profound and self-aware level of darkness. It’s like we had been sinking for so long that at that point reaching the bottom was easier for us than swimming back up. And this is what we did: we kept on drowning. The fact is that, as humans, we belong to that bottom, as we belong to pain and dread. Death, chaos and absurdity lay the foundations for existence and embracing this truth is the only authentic way to be human. Sometimes people have a glimpse of this truth but they ignore it, trying to forget it. The Eye is the First Circle, instead, is our personal way of grasping this truth. We had a glimpse of it, and instead of running away we dug further and crystallized what we found.
The album title is derived from a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem that begins with the line “The eye is the first circle.” Can you elaborate on how you choose that as the title and what significance the poem has on the content of the record?
Where a line defines a purpose, as it goes from a starting point towards a final one, a circle is the exact opposite. A circle defines a lack of purpose: it has no beginning, no end. A circle is, quite literally, pointless.
But at the same time, a circle defines a boundary, like our eyes define our visual field. A circle delineates a range of possibilities within itself, within the boundary of absurdity. It’s a concept that manages to hold together two opposites.Within the circle, within this boundary of absurdity, we still can find possibilities. We thought that Emerson’s essay—with its system of overlapping circles representing the fact that every end is a new possibility—could have worked well as a counterpart to the album’s lyrics, which are quite pessimistic and desperate.
This is your first full-length album. Previously, Calligram released a pair of EPs in 2016 and 2018. Did you approach writing for a longer release differently than you did for your EPs?
The approach we have when we write is always the same. We try to be as focused, accurate and detail oriented as possible. Sometimes we can write a song in a couple of weeks, but most of the time it takes several months of changes, twists and cuts for us to finally consider ourselves fully happy with a song. As a band, we set ourselves really high expectations, we constantly push ourselves as hard as we can. Therefore the writing approach of The Eye is the First Circle wasn’t any different from the one we had for Askesis or Demimonde.
However, this time there was a lot of extra excitement for joining Prosthetic and the pressure increased a lot: we had strict deadlines to meet, and this was a great challenge because, as I just said, time is not our best friend. All considered we managed to make it and we’re really happy with what we did.
This is an unprecedented time to be an artist releasing new music, especially because the album release was planned before the world saw the effects of the coronavirus. Has this affected how you feel about the record in any way?
Our greatest concern is that we won’t be able to promote our album as much as wanted. Going on the road and playing gigs is the only way for a band like ours to get people to know your new music: you don’t wanna lose the momentum. But it is what it is, there’s not much we can do about it and we don’t like to moan about things. When this madness we’ll be over we’ll be back on the road and we’ll sound as angry as ever.
Calligram had an April tour scheduled that obviously had to be postponed. What is the next move for the band while touring is indefinitely placed on hold?
Quarantine is a pain in the ass for everyone but we all know it’s the right solution. People are now looking at a long period of free time ahead of them and everyone should try to make the most out of it. We’ll do the only thing we know: write a faster album.