Interview: Luminous Vault

With this album I think our affective scope is expressed most fully, in that we’ve expanded it to include these euphoric major key sections, which arrive at key points in the album to suggest an alchemical transmutation.

Luminous Vault are a New York duo who have consist of guitarist / vocalist Mario Diaz de Leon and bassist / vocalist Samuel Smith and combine elements of black and death metal with electronic elements to create a formidable sonic assault. With the release of their debut album Animate The Emptiness, Gavin Brown caught up with Mario to talk about it and its creation, the sound of Luminous Vault, the pair’s other musical projects and the metal scene in NY.

E&D: Your new album Animate The Emptiness is out now. Are you excited to get the album out there and what can we expect from it?

Mario: The album has been a long time coming, and it’s been amazing to hear all the responses, now that everyone can hear it from start to finish. We’re gratified that a lot of people seem to be connecting with it very strongly, and experiencing something unique and distinctive.  

E&D: This is your debut album, did you feel any pressure making the album at all?

Mario: We took the time we felt was necessary to make a strong statement artistically. It was written in stops and starts between early 2017 and late 2018. In the middle of that process, there was a creative lull where it felt like there wasn’t enough strong material for a full-length album, so we held off on finalising any plans.

E&D: How have the singles ‘Regeneration’ and ‘Ancient North’ that were released first from Animate The Emptiness been received?

Mario: We chose those two as the lead tracks, as they are the most fitting representations of the stylistic developments on the record.  That said, they don’t encompass the expressive breadth of the album, so it was cool to hear the response once the full album came out, and people could hear the singles in their context as contrasting material. Both singles have been received very positively, although the response to Ancient North has been rather polarised. Of all the songs on the album, that one is the most heterodox in its hybrid of black metal with EDM elements, so we were expecting a mixed reaction.

E&D: Can you tell us about the artwork for Animate The Emptiness and what it represents?

Mario: Finding the right combination of elements for the artwork was perhaps the most challenging part of the process. I searched for a long time, but it wasn’t until we’d chosen a title and commissioned a new band logo from Andrew Tremblay that the direction became clear with lines, shapes, and energy…the cover and logo had to amplify each other. We chose both the cover and inner sleeve images from a selection of available works by a UK artist who goes by the moniker fivetimesno. They are very prolific and have quite a range of approaches, however much of it tends to be evocative of otherworldly landscapes and expressionistic digital abstraction. In terms of the album cover specifically, rather than a specific meaning, what I think is interesting is the resonance and vitality it creates in combination with our logo, title, music, and lyrics, as a springboard for imaginative possibilities. It has a primordial, mercurial energy that plays off of the cold, electronic aspects of our sound, without coming across as traditionally hellish or apocalyptic.

E&D: Is the visual side important for you as a band?

Mario: Certainly. Our name evokes visual imagery, and that’s something I’ve always found inspiring. Our previous two releases were quite different visually, in that they were representational and entirely black and white. For this release, it felt like the right time to work to explore the more kaleidoscopic possibilities around the band name, with a much more colourful and abstract approach. We’ve also designed a light show for our live events.

E&D: You have previously released the EP Charismata in 2017. What have Luminous Vault been up to in the give eats until this new album?

Mario: The writing process for the album started in early 2017, and finished up in the fall of 2018. ‘Invoke Radiant Gleam’ and ‘ Earth Daemon’ were the first two songs I wrote, with the latter going through many different phases of revisions. For months there were just those two songs, and I definitely hit a creative wall in regards to what the relationship was going to be between the drums and riffs – how to approach the stylistic alchemy, how to balance repetition and structural change. I was also working on a lot of different projects then, a lot of classical commissions, and by the summer of 2017 I just needed a creative break. We did a short east coast tour in September of 2017, which was a blast. But in terms of the album, there were just a lot of shelved demos until we played a show opening for Full of Hell in June of 2018. That experience inspired me to start writing again, and everything clicked with the drum and riff relationship, once I started incorporating the more 808 style kicks and hi-hats. ‘Incarnate Flame Arise’ and ‘Divine Transduction’ were written that summer, and the last two songs I wrote were ‘Regeneration’ and ‘Ancient North’ in September of 2018. Then the recording unfolded over three sessions. We recorded the guitars in January 2019, (re)recorded the bass in August of that year, and in January of 2020 finalised the lyrics during the vocal recording sessions. The album was mixed and mastered shortly after, but we ultimately decided the vocals were too loud…I remixed it in March 2021, and finally had it remastered entirely in August of 2021.

E&D: How is life of Profound Lore records?

Mario: Working with Profound Lore has been fantastic. Chris is great at what he does, and is a super enthusiastic advocate. He was also very patient with our long production process. Once all the elements were in place on our side, he laid down the hammer like lightning, and the rollout has been excellent.  

E&D: Did you always want to create an air of foreboding menace with the music of Luminous Vault?

Mario: One of my inspirations for starting the group was that extreme metal music had always been such a big part of my life, as a musician and fan, and at that time I was releasing a lot of music that was metal adjacent. I had a group called Mirrorgate, which was an instrumental synth and guitar duo with visual artist Doron Sadja, my Oneirogen project had a lot of black/doom styled dark ambient elements, often with guitars, and i’d incorporated metal elements in my classical music as well. So LV was a way to take that further, and I was also inspired to apply some of the themes I’d explored in my classical music in the lyrics. For example, there’s the psychospiritual experience of the underworld – depression, anxiety, fear, collective ancestral trauma – and how to provide a cathartic outlet to express those experiences, in order to integrate and emerge from the depths. Around the idea of emergence or catharsis, I was inspired by the wrathful deities in Tibetan Buddhism, as well as the “creator-destroyer” mother goddess of Kali. I found both of these to be liberating in an extreme metal context, in the former there’s a fierce energy that is intended to bring about spiritual wakefulness, and I was drawn to exploring the latter as a compensatory force that can offer a deeper archetypal meaning to things like the instability brought by climate change. And I’ve approached these in a syncretic way, by combining them with Christian themes of communion with the divine and charismatic experience, often by way of alchemical imagery. Beyond the foreboding, we’ve always had contrasting types of material in our music, for example the elegiac doom metal character of ‘Tower’ on Charismata, and the regal middle section of ‘Deliver the Wound’ from our demo. With this album I think our affective scope is expressed most fully, in that we’ve expanded it to include these euphoric major key sections, which arrive at key points in the album to suggest an alchemical transmutation.  

E&D: The band members also have other bands/projects on the go. Can you tell us about those and what you have coming up?

Mario: Yes, I have a new album of electronic music coming out under my own name on Denovali on July 29th, entitled Heart Thread. It consists of two 20-minute live electronic songs, with a strong element of riff-based improvisation and computer-generated melodic variations. I just presented the first live performance of that music on June 2nd, and we’ve so far shared a few single edits in the lead up to release day. Two new albums came out on June 3rd – Artificial Brain (in which Sam plays bass) released their self-titled third album on Profound Lore, and my electroacoustic improvisation trio Bloodmist (with Toby Driver and Jeremiah Cymerman) released our third album Arc. Aeviterne (in which Sam plays guitar) who also released their fantastic debut album this Spring.

E&D: Is it a difficult task balancing different bands at the same time, or do you focus on different things at different times?

Mario: It requires a lot of advance planning, and at times it can be a bit much. In the last couple months I had three different projects with releases around the same time, which was definitely exciting, but we’ll have to see how it works out for the future, as things ramp up with live shows. In addition to writing, recording, and performing, I am also a full time professor at a university. As my job has become more demanding, there is less time for so many different projects happening concurrently. 

E&D: You have a strong electronic music influence, which bands are artists influence that aspect of your sound?

Mario: Like Godflesh, the synthetic, machine-oriented sound of the drum machine is celebrated in our music, rather than programming with acoustic drum sounds in a way that attempts to imitate a human performance. The drums should be as minimal as possible, giving each individual hit space to breathe through the system, and along with the other instruments. In terms of the sounds themselves, I’ve been inspired over the years by artists like Skinny Puppy, Ministry, DJ Screw, Burial, Cocteau Twins, S4LEM, Charli XCX, Moor Mother, Puce Mary, Yabby You x King Tubby, Wolf Eyes, Alice Glass – just to name a few. So far, our synthesiser palette has been extremely limited, as we’ve used the same sound on just about every song. It’s a cold, ethereal, distorted tone colour that combines very well with all the other instruments. In fact it’s quite similar to a symphonic black metal approach, but without any pretence of evoking orchestral instruments.

E&D: Similarly, which black and death metal bands influence the harsher side of your music?

Mario: Xasthur, Evoken, Blut Aus Nord, Emperor, Summoning, Behemoth, Entombed, Liturgy, Morbid Angel, and Arise-era Sepultura are a few of the bands that have influenced our sound.  

E&D: Have you got any live shows coming up once the new album comes out?

Mario: Not presently, but we are discussing what the right timing and scenario for that would be.

E&D: Where are the best places to play for you in New York?

Mario: Of course, we’ve played more at Saint Vitus than anywhere else, and we’re deeply grateful that it continues to provide a home for so much of the scene.

E&D: In what ways does your New York hometown influence your music?

Mario: The underground and experimental scenes here are very vibrant with long histories. I’m quite fortunate to have a strong connection to a number of these communities, in particular contemporary classical, experimental and improvised music, electronic music, and of course metal. There are also quite a few NYC bands creating metal from an experimental perspective, several of which are mentioned here. I think my music has also been influenced by the transpersonal energies of the neighbourhoods I’ve lived in, in ways that are more mysterious and difficult to describe. The lyrics on the song ‘Incarnate Flame Arise’ are in some ways about that, about staying open to these energies and maintaining a sense of centeredness as they move through me.

E&D: What New York band do you find the most inspiring?

Mario: Definitely up there would be Liturgy for the boldness and scope of their ambition, and Krallice for their relentless creativity.

E&D: What have been some of the highlights of your time with Luminous Vault so far?

Mario: Sharing bills with Liturgy, Imperial Triumphant, Full of Hell, and Revocation were all really great experiences. Beyond that, the release of this album has been a highlight for sure, I’m quite surprised at how positive the response has been.

E&D: What do you hope to achieve with the band in the future?

Mario: I’m also a composer of modern classical music, and would like to integrate that side of my work more fully on a future LV recording. Beyond that, we’d love to play live at Roadburn.

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