Today, Secrets of The Moon is helping to shed light on the creative process behind their brand new Prophecy Productions album, Black House. This is the seventh full-length to come from the German quartet, a reinvention of their now well-known sinister rock music. Creatively speaking, the band has hit their stride like never before now that they have been reunited with founding member Lars Plegge. While SUN was emotional and relentless, Black House exudes a musical self-confidence you’ve never before seen from this group, getting close and closer to a climax of furious elegance. It’s a musically unique blend of styles that extends well beyond conventional tags like goth rock and post-punk.
The recording process primarily took place in guitarist, producer and engineer Michael Zech’s The Church of Sound Studio over the last year or so. The studio environment really helped in shaping the sound of Black House, to the point where the band members became obsessed with the intensity of the recording process. Lending a helping hand for some of the songs were a few special guests, including Jarboe and members of Empyrium, (Dolch), The Ruins Of Beverast, Dark Fortress and Enemy Of The Sun.
Not to be disregarded is the record’s visual component that brings sophisticated artwork to go along with some sophisticated songs. There’s a special artbook edition of the album and video clips were made to accompany each album track. Each video was filmed, directed and designed by French artists Metastazis (Led Zeppelin, Morbid Angel, Ulver) and Dehn Sora (Deathspell Omega, Amen Ra, Blut Aus Nord) over several months of relentless effort. There’s nothing that isn’t ambitious about this album; an audio-visual extravaganza.
To elaborate about Black House and all of the audio-visual effort that went into its creation, we spoke with lead singer and guitarist Phil Jonas who discussed the inspiration behind the artwork, working with acclaimed artists Dehn Sora and Valnoir, and all of the details behind this massive collaborative effort.
What was the inspiration for the album’s cover artwork?
Phil Jonas: “There were two main inspirations for the actual artwork. One was a drawing by Sharon Ehman (Toxic Vision). It says, ‘He who has the key may never find the door.’ This became a guiding line for the entire album. I asked her to use it and she gave me the art-print of the drawing at a later point. The second inspiration was the idea of musical isolation. We wanted to build our own walls where we could work in.”
Your new album cover is without a doubt crazy-cool. Tell us more about the artist(s) and how you found them?
“The entire artwork, as well as all the videos, were designed and captured by French artists Dehn Sora and Valnoir. We worked with Valnoir before on two album, so we knew what he was capable of. He brought Dehn Sora to the table and they both took it from there.”
Please elaborate on the medium(s) used when creating the art. We’d love to know how the artwork (plus videos) were created.
“I asked the designer Valnoir directly. Here is his answer; ‘It was a complex cuisine, Dehn Sora and I used the entirety of our toolbox to make this work. Basically, the tools in use there were mostly Cinema 4D, After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator. And then jumping from one to the other back and forth, to make what we had in mind happen. It was a mix between 2D and 3D technologies. The band was shot in studio on a green backdrop and integrated in decorums designed and modelized in 2D and 3D. We didn’t invent nor revolutionized any techniques though, but this definitely asked plenty of various technological human resources and power to create this world and give it a heartbeat.’
The printed/cover artwork was just a sample of what has been developed for the nine music videos directed for the project. To put it in a nutshell, let’s say that the record artwork is basically made with screenshots from those videos. Of course that’s a stretch to put things that way, but those videos were definitely the most complex and time consuming facet of the Black House visual prism.
I always wonder though why people always ask about ‘mediums,’ technical aspects of an artwork elaboration, and rarely about its conceptual substance, why this or this choice were made to support the story telling. I mean, everybody use the same tools, the same software… This doesn’t make any difference in the outcomes compared to what happened in the brain of the artist. This is where the real magic happens.”
What were the partnership’s dynamics like? For example, was a specific look given, or did the artist have full free range?
“It was me who came up with the visual concept of the album and I worked on a small screenplay for the videos beforehand. The rest was totally up to them. There were no corrections or anything when they showed us the direction they wanted to go with the artwork. We were in love immediately.”
Would you consider the artists additional band members, or someone contracted for just this piece?
“Yes, for a limited time this became a very close collaboration. A great team play so to say.”
Did Dehn Sora and Valnoir hear the album beforehand? Or, what kind of input did you give them?
“Yes, they heard the album beforehand as well as reading through the lyrics and the concept. I’m happy we chose those two designers for they really understood the intention behind it.”
Have you ever purchased an album solely because of its album artwork? If yes, did the music live up to the artwork?
“There are actually two albums that come to my mind. One is Dawn of the Black Hearts by Mayhem for obvious reasons. The music quality didn’t live up with the artwork. The second one is All The Witches Dance by Mortuary Drape which became one of my favorite black metal albums.”
With the increasing popularity of digital music, most fans view artwork as just pixels on a screen. Why did you feel the artwork was important?
“We come from a time where artwork had equal importance as the music or at least had to become a fitting symbiosis. We want that tradition to live on that’s why we still focus on making albums instead of ‘songs for Spotify.’”
When people look at the album cover artwork, what do you want them to see/think?
“I want them to know that this house is an island of shelter and that they can step in. They are welcome but our house rules apply.”
Have any favourite music-related visual artists?
“It must be the ones we have worked with I guess. But at times I browse through Instagram. There are many talented visual artists out there.”
What are your thoughts and/or the pros and cons of digital art versus non-digital?
“There are no pros and cons if both are used in a subtle artistic way.”
What do you think are some of the cover artworks that have translated best/worst onto t-shirts and other merch?
“Well, Venom’s Black Metal goat might be the best shirt design ever existed, along with old Samael shirts I guess. I personally dislike squarish front covers in full color on shirts. That looks ridiculous in most cases.”
Was the album art influenced by any of the themes explored on the band’s album?
“Yes, very much. The entire artworks goes very much in hand with the lyrics and the explored themes.”
How do you think the album art will affect the listener’s perception of your album?
“Music and artwork always go hand in hand, especially when you buy a physical sound carrier. So it definitely has an effect. Our new album is very much about isolation which is pretty well displayed in the cover artwork. At least in our opinion.”
What’s your favourite thing about this album cover?
“It takes the listener to a place where he hasn’t been before. It really does… if he/she finds the time and the will to enter.”
Did the artists work on any art for the album besides the cover?
“Yes, both artists did the entire booklet/artbook design, as well as nine music videos for each song on the record. Been a crazy run.”
Do you have a favourite album cover of all time?
“Maybe it’s In the Nightside Eclipse by Norwegian band Emperor because again it offers a perfect symbiosis with the music. Moreover, I think a few Dead Can Dance covers (Spleen and Ideal or The Serpent Egg) or Faith No More’s Angel Dust connect perfectly with the music.”