Fear of a Prog Planet: Virus Blast off with Their Spacey New Album, 'Memento Collider'
Guitarist and vocalist Czral goes rogue on the Norwegian experimental trio's long-awaited new album.
For many music fans, the term "progressive music" carries an ugly connotation. Not so for a band like Norwegian legends Virus, who whom progressive music is a palatable thing with welcoming structures and competent musicianship. Born as a continuation of musical themes explored by legendary black metal act Ved Buens Ende, Virus has gone far past any associations with their members’ other work. Since their formation in 2000, the band’s angular, jazz-infused take on heavy progressive music has carried the urgency of bands like Voivod while trading some of the metallic leanings in favor of sparse and spacey sounds.
It’s been five years since the band's last album, 2011's The Agent That Shapes the Desert, was released, and Virus is ready to unleash the new sounds of Memento Collider upon the world. It’s an album filled with the same jagged song structures and vastness fans have come to expect, yet it feels bolder and more musically defined. In addition to being a step into deeper and stranger territory, Memento Collider marks the return of founding member Plenum, who departed in 2010. The regrouping of the band’s original lineup lends a focus and hunger that is palpable on songs like the tense, restrained gallop of “Rogue Fossil” or the ghostly melodies of “Steamer.”
The strange soundscapes the band crafts are all woven together by peculiar lyrics delivered in a half-spoken, half-sung bellow from frontman and guitarist Czral. With otherworldly lyrical content and narration to fit, Virus feels every bit like the musical equivalent of a seemingly barren planet that is secretly teeming with life just below the surface.
With the eeriness of Memento Collider (which is due to be released on June 3 through Karisma Records), Noisey decided to ask a few questions of Czral to complement the full album stream, which can be enjoyed below.
Noisey: There seems to be an apocalyptic bent to your lyrics and imagery relating to Memento Collider (and even The Agent That Shapes the Desert before it). What is it about potential devastation and subsequent rebirth that intrigues you?
Czral: There is something in the notion of devastation and apocalypse that opens up a poetic landscape. It might be that what we absolutely don’t want is something we can riff upon from the pleasant other side. I hope the lyrics have more facets to them. They’d be less worth if there’s no tongue in cheek. I hope people see that.
You made a nod to Chernobyl wildlife in your commentary on “Steamer.” Have you been there? What fascinates you most about radiation’s impact on life?
I remember Chernobyl. I remember that fear. It spawned and inspired a lot of great music. Look at Voivod's Killing Technology or Nuclear Assault's Game Over. Those records were released right after. They have Chernobyl written all over them. I have a thing for when nature takes over, after human failure. “Chernobyl Wildlife” is a new song we’re working on. I haven’t been there, but it’s on my bucket-list to go there some time.
There’s something oddly human to the disconnected spacey narratives you craft on Memento Collider. How do you stay grounded while reaching so far out?
I stay grounded only occasionally. When you’re making this kind of music, you have to be the music. Of course I have my mundane every day, where I have to function, but I'm often in a very childish and playful mood, which helps me make this kind of music. I don’t chase the riffs, they have to come to me, so I need to stay open to them.
Many bands are content to throw out a bunch of generic “darkness” for lyrics. Where do you find inspiration for the stories you tell on Memento Collider?
I’m not the sole lyricist in Virus. I’ve collaborated with Johannah Henderson, a writer from England. Her parts are molded into the lyrics along with my stuff, which I sometimes steal and sometimes come up with on my own. It’s a puzzle, the lyrics. Sometimes they’re quite fragmented, but that suits the music. They have to suit the music. We’re chasing a whole. The lyrics and music needs to go hand in hand.
Are you a big reader? If so, what authors excite your mind and imagination the most?
I like to read poetry. I find that inspiring. I like difficult poetry like Celan, who writes quite open sentences. Words that paint pictures and don’t explain. Lately I’ve read Exupery’s books on pioneering early pilots finding routes over the Andes and such. I want to make music inspired by that, though The Walker Brothers already did that with Nite Flights, which shares its title with one of Exupery’s books! But no, I’m not a big reader. I’m too all over the place to be focused enough. I wish I was a big reader, though.
Humanity seems to be destroying itself in many ways. Do you think we’ve reached a point where we’re just staving off inevitable extinction?
There are many shadows these days. To an artist it’s inspiring. For me, I don’t have any kids. It would be easy to say “yes” to your question and leave it at that. But that’s kinda dark, no? I don’t wanna be dark anymore. It’s exhausting. Think of all the promising youth of today. There’s still much hope!
Virus has grown well past the association with Ved Buens Ende. Do you find fans expecting something more “metal” from you at this point? Do you feel that your unique position as a band allows you to open folks up to new ideas?
Very early on, during the Carheart sessions, I understood that we were on to something special. Playing with Einz and Plenum, they’re very distinct musicians. We can’t be told what to do or meet any expectations. I guess that’s a very standard thing for a band to say. That playfulness I’m talking about is something that comes from within, you know. It would die if some kinda agenda came into the picture. “People would like it if we did this or that,” just wouldn’t work for us.
Plenum rejoined the band in 2014 after a few years away. With the original Virus lineup intact again, what is the group dynamic like now?
That was a dreary time, with Petter out. Not that Bjeima didn’t do a good job. He did a great job. But there’s something in Petter’s playing that’s so intuitive. It just feels right with him in the mix. He’s a hard worker. He brings work ethic into the band, which is quite a foreign element to Einar and me, but it does us good. We’re tighter than ever now, and a lot of that has got to do with Petter saying, “Let’s do the set once more,” when Einer and I are ready to pack up and go.
It’s been a decade since you had to give up drumming in favor of other instruments. How has this shaped your songwriting and artistic direction?
I’ve always played the guitar. Even before I picked up the drums, I played the guitar. So nothing’s changed really. I just don’t play the drums anymore. It’s probably made me a tad more focused; 15 years ago I was all over the place, playing in 900,000 different bands. I’m very focused on Virus and Aura Noir now. It’s got to be something very special if I’m to do anything else, like Fleurety.
There’s something so free and open about the instrumentation on Memento Collider in a way that even past releases haven’t quite touched on. How do looseness and space play into your creation process?
Well, like I said, we play more. We’re tighter and more confident in the material. When you can rest on the fact you have the material in your blood, it can be heard. Some of the few people who have heard the entire album say that one can hear that we’ve been playing a lot. I’m proud of that. It’s honest hard work.
There seems to be a theremin playing on “Steamer.” Who plays it and how did it come to be? What inspired this addition?
It’s not a theremin! It’s a saw. It’s Marita Ingelkjøn who’s playing. She also did some backing vocals and stuff on the album.
It’s been five years since The Agent That Shapes the Desert. You seem to have kept busy with the occasional gig, such as Le Guess Who and Høstsabbat. With Memento Collider nearly upon us, do you plan on touring more extensively?
We love playing live! But there’s just not enough gigs for us. We’d love to play more. We don’t have a booking agent at this time, which leaves us with very few gigs. When we’re a trio live, Virus sounds a little naked and minimalist. When we have a good gig, it’s magic. So, any good booking agents out there, give us a shout!
With Memento Collider, you moved from releasing on your own label to a collaboration with Karisma. How did this come about?
Pure luck. We met them playing a gig at the Inferno Festival and they approached us. Luckily that was a particularly good gig. We’re very happy about Karisma. They’re dedicated, and they’re also fans.
Ben Handelman is far afield on Twitter.