To me, black metal is a lot like cilantro. When consumed on its own and in decent amounts, it’s not particularly palatable as it has such a pungent flavor. But when you separate the leaves from the stem and chop them up all nicely to tastefully blend them in with a dish that has a lot of other flavors involved, now we have something I can’t get enough of. I am fortunate to not have the gene in which cilantro/coriander tastes like soap regardless of how it is used, excessively or just the right amount, allowing me to still appreciate the flavor that it can provide when used modestly.
When it comes to music, black metal is very much the same. For the most part, the music is incredibly static with seemingly endless blast beats, cavernous shrieks, and blistering tremolos with little dynamics in the composition itself. I am generalizing of course as not all black metal is like this, there are plenty of exceptions that I genuinely enjoy but even then, I don’t find myself gravitating to listen to this subgenre often as it requires a precise mood and mindset for me. Over the past decade and a half, black metal is being used much more alongside other genres and musical motivations, showing what the genre has to offer in an entirely different light. Much like cilantro/coriander, once the core elements of black metal are minced and sprinkled with other stylistic influences, only then does it make for something I want to go out of my way to listen to. Speaking of black metal that I can’t pry myself from, that brings us to our Weekly Featured Artist, Constellatia.
Constellatia is an atmospheric black metal project out of Cape Town, South Africa that features members from Wildernessking and Crow Black Sky. Relatively speaking, this is a very new and fresh project as Constellatia released their debut album just a few years ago and should be releasing their sophomore effort sometime later this year. Despite being a ‘new’ band, they collectively have many years and albums worth of experience from various projects under their belt, so it is to no one’s surprise that their debut, The Language of Limbs, already got the attention of a label as large as Season of Mist very early into their career, not to mention listeners all over the world. I spoke with vocalist/bassist Keenan Oakes about how this project came to be and he had this to say:
‘I used to play for a band called Wildernessking. I loved that band dearly, and when it came to an end in early 2018, I was unsure of what I would do musically speaking. I took a break from thinking about it and because I was going through a break-up at the time, playing in a band ended up being put on the backburner. Enter Crow Black Sky’s second LP, Sidereal Light Vol. 1, which engaged me with its epic atmosphere and melodic nature. I reached out to [lead guitarist] Gideon in August of 2018 and we arranged to have a meeting about potentially doing something together. After that meeting, I don’t think either of us were convinced, but he was the only person in Cape Town that I could think of who played metal and whose music I somewhat enjoyed. Gideon sent me 2 chord progressions, and I immediately had an idea for what would later become “All Nights Belong To You”. We met up a second time to start writing together and have been doing so ever since. Regarding our band name, Constellatia is taken from the word ‘constellation’ and it refers to the nature of existence, the cosmos and natural world, and extracting meaning and happiness from it all. We wanted a name to encapsulate these subjects which are inherently human, a distillation of life’s meander, sadness and tribulations.
‘This [Constellatia] is our outlet, our way of documenting our highs and lows to anyone that will listen. We both happened to find ourselves in a trying time when writing The Language of Limbs, as we had been playing in metal bands for the better part of a decade, and that’s a tricky prospect alone. Coupled with financial issues and personal turmoil, the road to the realization of our first record was a somewhat arduous one. With life’s daily challenges, it’s rather difficult to keep a band like this afloat as there’s no real infrastructure for this kind of music, and even then, what we’re doing in the Cape Town context is quite niche. This band has been a saving grace though; a vehicle to channel and communicate something deep and precious that we find at the core of our being.’
Not only is the lyrical subject matter regarding all the adversity one will experience throughout the duration of their life as Keenan just explained, but the music itself also directly recapitulates that subject with densely gorgeous atmospheres that truly do create this genuine sense of intimacy that one can easily relate to. If you were to separate the vocals/lyrics from the rest of the music, it still portrays the same breadth of overwhelming emotion that is easily recognizable and to me, that speaks volumes. Whatever may be ailing you at any moment, you’ll feel an instant wave of relief the moment the The Language of Limbs opens up with “All Night Belongs To You”, allowing you to put your guard down and just unwind. Constellatia have a knack for melding black metal with swirling post-metal compositions and folk embellishments making for a heavily dynamic aural experience that never fails to lift my spirits.
Musically, Constellatia now hoists the weight of the torch that Agalloch once carried with their marriage of enchantingly subtle folk/post-metal and blistering black metal. While many bands within this musical realm tend to overindulge in the folkier aspects of the music leading to unnecessarily tacky songs, Constellatia hone that down to a perfect balance. Across their songs, that folk tinge is never too much, nor too little, rather just the right amount all while being a core component of their tragically beautiful sound. That is why I consider them to be the unofficial successors to the almighty Agalloch; continuing the legacy but doing so in such a way that is unique to Constellatia and them alone.
‘The same bands that inspired me more than ten years ago are the ones that inspire me today, or at least certain records by those bands. Gideon and I have a few staples in common: Opeth, Cult of Luna, and Darkthrone. My favourites that inform what we do in Constellatia are Mastodon, The Cure, Wolves in the Throne Room, Pink Floyd, Neurosis, Beach House, Primordial, and Enslaved. Gideon loves Emperor, and Jessie Ware. We keep returning to music that had a grip on us when we were in our 20s, at least when it comes to heavy music and being inspired to keep creating within that realm.‘
As I was talking about a little earlier, “All Night Belongs To You” is the type of track that once my brain recognizes that this song has just started, a wave of relief and instant gratification courses through my body. Constellatia’s compositions aren’t written in such a way that they aim to provide the listener with instant gratification in the form of shorter songs and earworm choruses but once the warm, tender tones grace your ears, it’s hard not to feel at immediate peace. I won’t deny that there are seemingly countless artists/bands out that enrich their heavy style of music with harmonious melodies, yet there aren’t many that pull it off in the same way that Constellatia do. Regardless of the heaviness in their music, there is always this central feeling of hopefulness and optimism radiating from each and every note that I find incredibly contagious and cathartic.
The belligerent and unrelenting nature of the percussion is beautifully juxtaposed with the somber elements forward brought by the rest of the band. Not only that, but unlike most black metal bands who put blast beats everywhere they possibly can just because its kvlt, Constellatia only puts them where absolutely necessary; sometimes less is more and that is most certainly the case here. Doing it this way makes those moments feel actually purposeful magically enough, contributing something to the music that would be absent without. The heavier passages are balanced with plenty of gloomy, meditative breaks that create the most tranquil of soundscapes, allowing the featured vocalists to soothe all your qualms. I adore everything that goes on during these slower parts, from the warm, swelling electronics to the haunting acoustic arpeggios, especially since it all slowly builds up to the next release of tension.
Regarding the vocals, not only do you hear Keenan’s bellowing vocals, but you’ll come across additional voices provided by Lucy Kruger and HONEYMOAN’s Alison Rachel. The ebb and flow among the various vocalists really make this record feel so real and human with the dynamics they provide. These don’t feel like ‘traditional’ features that we see all over music nowadays in which they’re just fifteen-second-long cameos in reality, but rather a genuine collaboration between minds that spans the entirety of the record. Alison and Lucy’s luscious vocals are the honey to the vinegar that is Keenan’s bone-chilling shrieks and howls, and it really captures the duality of emotions one experiences when deeply invested in a relationship for example; the music truly does feel romantic in a sense, but also very melancholic and regretful on a personal level.
‘The break-up I was referring to earlier was in fact with Alison. From the inception of the band, I knew I wanted parts of the music imbued with a feminine touch. I was inspired by what Wolves in the Throne Room did on Two Hunters and Celestial Lineage. Those records left an indelible mark on me, and I wanted to see if we could tap into something as ethereal as they did. Alison and I share a deep connection and it seemed fitting to have her sing on a record that was ultimately about her. With Lucy, we really felt that her voice would lend itself well to our music, and because the Cape Town scene is tiny and we have access to most of its participants, we reached out and she graced us with a beautiful feature. We didn’t make too much noise about these guests, because as you said, they are a core component of that album. I’ll provide a little hint by saying Alison features again on the forthcoming LP.’
Considering the fact that Alison and Lucy’s appearances on The Language of Limbs are technically features, I was worried that they would be one-time occurrences. Their enchanting vocal presence truly feels like a fundamental component of Constellatia‘s sound and it’d be a shame to ‘do away’ with that in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean that this band is incapable of writing stellar music as that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyways, it brings me peace of mind to hear that we will be hearing Alison again on new material!
Given that Constellatia only have four meaty songs in their discography thus far, I am beyond eager to hear more from them as you can tell. As Keenan hinted at earlier, there is new material coming sometime later this year!
‘We were on such a high before COVID hit, having just released The Language of Limbs and playing our first (and only) show, and we were beyond thrilled about the state of our band and looked forward to touring the record and getting our name out there, especially since we just landed the Season of Mist deal. Needless to say, we were unable to do that, so we started working on the second album, and that wasn’t always an easy process. Everything felt uncertain and surreal, and up in the air really. We waited and waited and were pretty demotivated. We’ve been in this game for some time now, not necessarily as Constellatia, but as individuals playing music, and most of the time is spent waiting (although knowing that before wouldn’t change our desire to make music on a serious level). South Africa is somewhat abstracted from the music industry, at least for extreme metal, so there’s only so much we can do anyway, and for us it’s to write and record, and then wait for the necessary elements to align to release something.
‘We are incredibly excited about the new material. We’ve had it completed for some time now, and although I have no doubt that we have fresh ideas brewing, ways in which to push our sound further, it’s nice to arrive finally at this point, which marks a progressive shift in sound that listeners haven’t heard from us. The material builds on the foundation of the debut, whilst incorporating new elements. These songs feel more epic, more personal, more dynamic and more somber. The heavy parts are heavier, the melodic parts are more melodic; running the gamut from light to dark in a more genre fluid package.’
Adam Hill – Rhythm Guitar
Gideon Lamprecht – Lead Guitar
Keenan Oakes – Bass, Vocals
Lawrence Jaeger – Drums
From the sounds of it, Constellatia is going to be even further refining everything that they already excel on, so I am beyond excited to hear new tunes from this Cape Town group! If you want to stay in the loop whenever the news of their upcoming sophomore release is announced via Season of Mist, I suggest you give them a like on Facebook and Instagram, as well as a follow on Bandcamp. Given the quality of their music thus far, and Keenan’s comment about how they’re building from where they left off, honing in each and every aspect of the music even more, I am left with quite an insatiable appetite.