Ouranos’s Voir la lumière was an impulse listen that had popped up as a suggested artist on my Spotify for fans of dissonant death metal and black metal. Little did I know that I would find my obsession for months, as I tend to be a repeat listener for albums that catch my ear. It’s hard to describe exactly why it clicked with me – but it’s just a really well done record. The pacing for each song is done really well, and the motifs and counter-motifs complement each other well. Each song is distinct enough that it doesn’t sound like the same thing over and over again, but they also seem to blend well in the context of an album as a singular vision. It’s atmospheric, brooding, and intense. Since the idea behind a Weekly Featured Artist is to shed light on a band who’s been overlooked and deserves more attention, I thought Ouranos would be a perfect candidate. I was also interested in asking them some questions about their influences in music and what inspired their lyrics, as both resonated with me deeply, and doing a WFA would provide me this fortunate opportunity.
Silmar from Bordeaux, France – a country rife with incredible and influential metal bands – is the mastermind behind Ouranos, a project with post-rock, dissonant black metal, and industrial influences. I asked if how his pseudonym came about:
‘I saw that Silmar can be used as a first name, mostly in Brazil, but to me it is a very old pseudonym. I took it from Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion and used it for role-playing games and such in the late 90s. When I started getting into black metal, I kept that name considering it was a pretty big common interest I shared with the scene.’
When you read, ‘solo black metal project,’ what often comes to mind? Usually it’s raw black metal, poorly written and produced with retched vocals which is often written off as part of the aesthetic (and that is true in some cases). There’s nothing really captivating about your common solo black metal project. This is where Ouranos steps in, with his experimental approach to metal. Right from the beginning of Voir la lumiere, “Apnée” feels different – either a sampled or extremely clear bucket brigade delay on a single guitar note rings through with some bitcrushed noise in the background, giving an airy and almost meditative atmosphere. Ouranos clarifies: ‘[The delay] was made with VCV Rack, a software that emulates modular synths. At the time, my hardware modular system wasn’t as big as it is now, so most of the modular stuff was made with VCV. Next album will be with a lot of hardware synths though, including some nice analog filters and oscillators.’
Silmar is a master at taking one motif and building it with other counterpoints or supporting motifs – something that many post-metal bands attempt but fail spectacularly. Yet Silmar joins the ranks of bands like Cult of Luna, The Ocean, and Caspian who understand the power of repetitive motif and unconventional songwriting.
Like many spin-off projects of incredibly talented musicians, Silmar has had a long history of other bands and music preceding and accompanying it.
‘My first black metal band released a demo in 2005 (Iniquus – Hymne à l’extermination), but I was already gone at the time of its recording. It is a shame that Iniquus didn’t last because the lead guitarist was a riff machine and the singer had a great voice. Our drummer also played in Vermeth with Les Legions Noires member Lord Beleth’Rim. I later led a band called Synode, which recorded two demos and a split. But the stars didn’t align either and only the second demo was released, in 2009. I had stopped making music and even playing guitar after the demise of the last full-sized metal band I was a part of. We were pulling in different directions and nothing significant was ever achieved despite a steady schedule of rehearsals and motivation on each side. When the will to make black metal came back a few years later, I decided to stay alone and start Ouranos. More recently, I sang in the duo Wisdom of Dust and we released two digital albums in 2019 and 2020. I wrote the lyrics, engineered and did some guest appearances on Funayurei’s first album Soleil Brisé. Ryujin recorded the album at my place, it was a great experience to help a friend give life to his project.’
Ouranos’s discography currently consists of a demo, and two albums: Les Visions du Vide, Hiérophanies, and Voir la lumiere.
I had wondered about Silmar’s inspiration behind his lyrics – lines (translated from the original French) like, ‘Every night I weigh myself down a little more, I have loaded myself so much to get down there that the bottom seems closer than the surface. My memories come back in bubbles, exhaled to continue my descent into this Great Black, the apnea of thought’ or ‘The echo of blurred days does not fear the sun, it twists the outside and bends walls and streets’.
His lyrics echo sentiments of melancholy or depression – someone who deeply feels emptiness and the insignificant weight of our lives in the grand scheme of an infinite universe. It seems that he often draws from personal experience, and writing lyrics is essential for the project – he additionally writes novels.
‘Ouranos marked the first time that I wrote lyrics for myself, and not for another band member, so I thought it made sense to get more personal. I started writing long before I touched my first musical instrument, it has always been an essential activity to me. I have published two novels already (in French, obviously) and a third one should be released in early 2024 (I am currently integrating the editors’ comments into the final version). Musical lyrics are an opportunity to write in a different format and style than in the books, and screaming is a different way to express my words and thoughts. Ouranos’s demo, Les Visions du Vide, is named after Marguerite Yourcenar’s book about Yukio Mishima, who is my favourite author. The first album, Hiérophanies, is inspired by Mircea Eliade’s work about shamanism. Literature is very important to me, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how it impacts my music compared to the influence of bands.’
And Ouranos is absolutely rife with influences – you can sense the history of a lifetime of listening and analyzing music – Voir la lumiere alone contains psychedelic metal, black metal, post-metal, and doom influences.
‘I am influenced by the second wave of black metal and most of the music that is derived from it. I love sophisticated black metal as much as I love raw recordings where they keep playing the same riff for five minutes. I’d say that Urfaust has been a very big deal to me for the last 15 years and Dissection is my favourite metal band ever. I am also into stoner and doom metal, with bands like Sleep or Reverend Bizarre.’
Silmar leans quite heavily on the electronic aspect, weaving electronic textures with majestic riffing and including industrial-like rhythms.
‘The idea behind Ouranos has always been to build a bridge between black metal and experimental electronic music, and to show that you can do a lot more with synths than imitating classical instruments. I am heavily influenced by the late British industrial band Coil, which was also praised by several Norwegian bands from the second wave of black metal. For instance, Coil is the reason that Ulver turned to electronic music.’
I also was incredibly interested in “Au bout du tunnel”, which is a whopping eleven minutes and forty seconds long, which closes out Voir – it’s an intense track that has constant blast beats with a Shepard’s tone which is a tone that sounds like it’s constantly ascending or descending, but in reality isn’t changing at all. As a result, the tone lends the song its feeling of incredible tension and anxiety, like one is falling with no end in sight, ever.
‘It is indeed a Shepard’s tone! This is typically the kind of sound you can only get with synths, I love the idea of bringing this kind of radical aesthetic into black metal. The song is about the light at the end of the tunnel, but I wanted the tunnel to be really punishing and intense. I started by building the Shepard’s tone on a synth and tweaking its parameters. I programmed it so it would slowly evolve on its own, then I added the programmed drums and played my modular synth over it. “Au bout du tunnel” is the most commented track of Voir la lumière, with strong opinions for or against it. I think that almost everybody that ever gave me any feedback about the album spent more time talking about it than all the other songs combined. I knew it was a bold move, but the reactions were even stronger than expected.’
“Au bout du tunnel” is an excellent example of what Ouranos aspires to achieve:
‘Ouranos is supposed to fill the gap that Ulver elegantly jumped over, between their fully black metal album Nattens Madrigal – Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden and the fully electronic Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I really feel like there’s room to make great music in that weird place. Outside of metal and Coil, I’d like to mention Current 93, Swans, Pink Floyd and Master Musicians of Bukkake as influences… Outside of black metal, I play modular synths and video synths in the duo Beyond the Great Filter. We make improvised psychedelic/ambient/industrial music. Finally, I play modular/video synths live and release experimental music under my real name.’
Being a solo project, there’s a lot of freedom to work as one pleases, rather than having to work in tandem with other collaborators. Each process for any artist in any discipline is unique to them – the painter’s atelier or Brian Eno’s routine come to mind as examples. I asked Silmar what his unique process is, and it gives some insight into why a solo project might be the best medium for how he works:
‘I get ideas at completely random times, usually when I am doing something unrelated. I start with imagining the overall structure of the song: what kind of atmosphere I want, the variations in speed and intensity, am I making several variations of the same riff or am I going to chain different ideas… Sometimes I directly hear music, play with ideas and improve it in my head until it vanishes.
‘My inspiration is really arbitrary, which makes it difficult to be in a regular band. I can be completely useless for six months straight and then have half an album’s worth of ideas in ten days. Once I have a strong enough base, I sit down with my guitar, compose the riffs and assemble them into the structure. I like to work directly in the DAW and move loops around to get a rough, but complete, demo before doing the real recording. Sometimes the music is built around the guitars, sometimes around the synths.’
I asked Silmar about some bands he’s currently excited about and that he feels have a lot of potential to create some astounding music, as well as some closing thoughts.
‘The most recent black metal band I am really impressed with is Wiegedood, they blew my mind the first time I saw them live. But to be honest, I spend more time digging into older music. This year I have been exploring the work of French experimental composers Bernard Parmegiani and Eliane Radigue, and American composer Terry Riley. They are now either dead or around 90, but they still have so much inspiration to give. I’ll have more time to work on Ouranos’s third album once my last novel is published. I already have all the ideas I need, but I have to build them into actual finished songs. I hope it will be ready and recorded for late 2024.’
Silmar – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Synth/Electronics, Drum Programming
 Author’s note: big mood