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Nightland's Ludovico Cioffi: "I imagined this “nothingness” as the place where mankind is willing to hide and confine their guilts and sins in order to purify their souls..."

Interview with Ludovico Cioffi from Nightland
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 December 2021, 5:00 PM

Since reality has been a mind-set for most people, perhaps it would be best to sometimes, when out there roaming in wanders, to look up there, especially at night and simply look. At times, shapes would be created, converging through thoughts, as if those were celestial being, emerging and fading all at once. The Italian Nightland explore space, traveling beyond our recognition, telling a story that has its fair share of heavenly proportions, nonetheless, as an aiming for each person to look inside and explore one's own life experience, including pain. Steinmetal had a chance to talk with the band's Ludovico Cioffi about the band's sophomore album, “The Great Nothing”, exploring the story, feeling the music and more…

Hello Ludovico, it is a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things on your end?

Hello Lior, thank you for this interview! Things are going pretty good overall, and hope them to get even better soon!

As I approached the sounds and echoes of Nightland, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I discovered a new form of universe that is both enigmatic and bewildered. Prior to our lunging at your new album, these nearly two years of abnormality for mankind, how did the course of events, in particular of what happened in Italy earlier on, made their impact on your mental state as both a person and an artist?

I remember I was touring EU with my other band The Modern Age Slavery in Jan/Feb 2020 and we started to hear about Covid as something far away from us, like one of those things that happen on the other side of the world and had no chance to have an impact on us. Then, back home from the tour and after a few days we were in lockdown. No idea of how long this would last, no idea of how it would change our lives and projects. It happened in the worst moment, when I was going through hard changes in my private life.

As soon as the first tour cancellations were announced, I started to freak out because we had a lot of great things planned for 2020, and the fact that I was going to spend an undefined amount of time without concerts/travelling/touring was pulling me down like crazy. So I decided to get my mind busy with other things like hiking, mountain-biking, drawing and it helped a lot my mental health. I spent several months without playing, without even thinking about music sometimes, then one random day in January 2021 I felt like it was the right time to get back to my business and to what I love the most, so I opened a new Logic Pro project on my laptop, plugged my guitar and started recording the new album. These two crazy years have been a disaster for everyone, and music business was hit very hard. Being able to focus on something else beside music was literally what saved me from depression, and I believe it helped me also to grow up artistically.

Talking about the pandemic, your previous album, "Umbra Astra Luna”, came out later in 2019, were you able to support it properly, or simply all went abruptly off due to the spread of the virus?

Umba Astra Luna was released just a few months before the pandemic started, so we played a few concerts in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland then everything stopped. We didn’t even play any show in Italy to support the album, it’s been very hard especially because UAL was self-produced and we couldn’t count on any label or agency for a proper promotion.

Signing with Scarlet Records was no less but a wise choice, both local and a strong label. Since the previous album was released independently, what made you want to go ahead and become a roster band once again? What are the advantages that you see that you didn’t earlier on?

Umbra Astra Luna revealed all the difficulties that an independent band has to deal with in order to promote an album properly. It’s not easy to be the artist and the promoter at the same time, and that’s why obviously labels exist. They know the best way to sell the best product you give them, and in this moment of our career we just want to focus on creating the best product. Nothing else. So, when Scarlet Records contacted us in December 2020 we thought it was the time to finally take Nightland one step further; then they offered us a multi-album deal and we signed it, happy to be part of an Italian, strong and constantly growing label.

Your new album goes by the name of “The Great Nothing”, which had me thinking of “The Nothing” from the Neverending Story fame from the mid 80s. Nevertheless, the cosmic, and somewhat outworldly nature of the album strikes me as a little more than a consuming being. What can you tell me about it? How do you see this nothingness?

“The Great Nothing” is another name for the “Boötes void”, which is an enormous region of the universe (near the constellation of Boötes) discovered in 1981 and containing a very small amount of galaxies. At that time it was the biggest void of the universe ever known (nearly 101 megaparsecs in diameter) and the idea of this huge dark area filled by the absence of light gave me the inspiration for the concept of the album. I imagined this “nothingness” as the place where mankind is willing to hide and confine their guilts and sins in order to purify their souls; but they’re lost in this void, cursed to roam eternally without substance, without love.

In a sense, the album felt like a sort of journey through space and time, one of those experiences that aren’t easy to comprehend after a first listen, but rather need more attention in order to fully grasp a shred of its influence. Lyrically and symbolically, where does “The Great Nothing” lead the listener on its path for understanding?

The whole album is actually a journey through space and time with many references to mythology and astronomy, but the lyrics are not very “explicit” in this sense. I decided to keep all those references a bit veiled and blurry, in order to let people free to draw their own path through the listening.

Every time I mention “her” in the lyrics I refer to Callisto and how she became part of the Boreal sky (as Ursa Major) according to Greek mythology. For example, the song “For Once my Name” is actually her point of view; it’s the way she looks back at the past and sadly remembers of when she was a nymph, follower of Artemis, before Zeus transformed her into a constellation. Her sense of emptiness and resignation is metaphorically the price we have to pay to get redemption for our sins.

There’s much more to say about the symbolism behind each song, but that could take very long to explain, and as I said before, I would like everyone to give their own interpretation and see how the tragic, gloomy and melancholic mood of the album resonates with them. People react differently to music and lyrics; to someone, the “seeking and straying” in this nothingness, could mean fighting eternally for a love they lost. To others, maybe it means “I miss you, wait for me on the other side”.

The artwork of the album had me puzzled a bit, which I am sure was a pure intention, especially since its celestial characteristics appeared to me like a kind of a smoke screen, which actually bestows more than it shows. What can you share in regards to the vision behind this piece of art?

It represents the ascent of Callisto, abandoning her mortal form and letting her inner self expand to be part of the universe. White butterflies come out of her chest representing her pure heart, whose only fault was having been deceived and seduced by Zeus. Her soul is light and innocent, reaching for the stars where a good observer will notice in the upper part of the artwork the two constellations of Boötes and Ursa Major.

Nightland has never been a stranger to progression, and from what I can hear within the borders of “The Great Nothing”, it holds plenty of aces in its deck. Your implementation of contemporary extreme Metal, along with artistic, yet complex, arrangements, made the record a wholesome cinematic event that engulfs a listener’s very being. How do you find this album’s version of Nightland? How do you find the band’s development musically in light of the record?

This is honestly my favorite version of Nightland and I think it’s the most mature album we’ve done. We went from playing a “classic” symphonic death metal to a combination of melodic, symphonic and progressive death metal. This time I imagined the band as a self-supporting piece of the music, and not only as a complementary element of the orchestra. It made all the difference, because melodies and harmonies are built by a solid architecture of multi-layered guitars and bass, and this structure could work most of the time as stand-alone too. Orchestra then becomes fundamental to enhance particular melodies and to design the right mood and atmosphere in each moment of the album.

It’s the first time we also include acoustic guitars and give consistent space to instrumental interludes, long digressions and guitar solos; I decided to take all the time needed to evolve and idea through the song, and this led me to think out of some boundaries and allowed me to write a 10+ mins track and a three acts suite. I’m not good in putting myself into a music genre, but if this means in the future we’d be labelled as some sort of progressive/orchestral band I won’t be offended at all!

Certainly, one of the pinnacles of the album are the orchestrations, and let’s be honest, those became quite integral on “The Great Nothing”. What can you tell about the composition process of these arrangements, their setup and implementation within the songs? In this process of the songwriting, would you say that you found these orchestrations as a challenge?

This time orchestrations haven’t had a preeminent role in the composition, because the guitars already made a very dense weaving in the harmony, and I didn’t want to go overboard with more instruments. Maybe it made the composition process of the arrangements even harder, since I had to choose carefully where to give more emphasis to the orchestra, and when to make it just smooth and soft. But that’s the beautiful part of the arrangement, it gets more challenging, and you must fit together many instruments, find solutions, and try not to ruin the whole structure of the sound.

Another aspect of the album that became likeable rather fast is the vocal production. The heartwarming growls along with cold driven clean vocals really took their toll on the songs, providing another layer of depthness and atmosphere. What is your input in regards to the vocal line on this release? What makes it special to you?

Vocals represent another change in Nightland’s sound, because I decided to sing the whole album in a low range growl and not mixing mid/high as I did in the previous album. I thought it would match perfectly the new sound, more Swedish / melodeath oriented and definitely less blackish. Choirs have been a true challenge honestly. I had that kind of “cold driven clean vocals” you’re talking about right there in my mind since the first time I was putting together the riffs of the songs but had no idea of how to do it and what could have been the final result. So, I recorded by myself some rough layered clean parts and I realised it would work greatly, even if it’s not exactly the kind of vocals that people expect in a death metal album, but you know, I liked it and I took the risk.

Other than the orchestrations, which are a mega power up for you guys, there is the actual songwriting of the songs, the laying down of the riffs and actual forms of the songs. How did this experience help you evolve your capabilities both as a musician, vocalist and of course, as a songwriter? How did the course of the album open up your world to possibilities?

I’ve been writing songs since when I started playing guitar, it’s a very important part of my artistic path. I listen to many kinds of music and that’s maybe what helped me the most in my creative process. Sometimes I get inspiration from a pop song, or a classical piece, but in the moment, I write down the first guitar riff or melody, 80% of the song is already clear in my mind. What I learned from my experience is that every time I start writing a new album, I need time to clean and “purge” my ideas until the music sounds the way I want. As an example, I wrote around 20 songs (some roughly, some more defined) before I had the 6 ones I chose for “The Great Nothing”.

One of the toughest nuts to crack is finding a way for the music to embrace the lyrics, that mystical integration process that is never a walk in the park. How would you say that it came to pass on “The Great Nothing”?

Once I had the main concept of the album in my mind, I started writing down the music. Of course, during the composition process, it was already clear to me where to put vocals, choirs, etc, but the lyrics were not defined yet. Usually, I start focusing on the vocal/lyrical parts right before working on the arrangements, when the structures of the songs are ready, and Filippo begins adding his touch to the drum parts. Putting together in a very consistent way lyrics and music could be very tough, but if you know exactly what that particular moment is supposed to express to the listener, what kind of sensations or mood he/she’s supposed to feel, then you realise there’s only one right way to make it work properly.

The album’s sound is also one of the major aspects of the album that made this listening experience so rich and I would even say, divine. It appears that Simone Mularoni never fails, and always delivers with such a quality that is bound to not remain unnoticed. How would you say that Mularoni was able to capture the essence of Nightland on this album? How do you find the end result?

I L-O-V-E the final result! I said Simone to work on the sound freely, following his own taste and intuition, and I was totally right. I’m always curious to find out how other people imagine the album’s sound, and I try to get rid of all my expectations about it. I want to hear the mix as a “virgin” listener, and if it gives me shivers then that’s it! The first master of the album was already perfect, I loved his interpretation of the music and the way he built the “space” surrounding the band and orchestra. I couldn’t imagine of a better way to experience the listening of “The Great Nothing”, and to be honest I think a good part of the positive response we’re getting is thanks to his amazing job with mixing and mastering the album.

The three part epos of “The Great Nothing” is a musical event that had me sinking in, as if I could look into my soul with each passing minute. Such moments of inside looking in aren’t that common, I believe for every person that can appreciate music. What can you tell about the idea of this trilogy? What is the narrative that leads it?

It’s actually one 15’ song that I decided to split in three parts, but as you said, it’s supposed to be enjoyed as a single musical event. After the most catchy song of the album, “Further”, the listener must go through an instrumental track (“101 Megaparsecs”) which is extremely important for the change of mood in preparation for the last, most challenging act of the album.

The main theme of “The Great Nothing” is stealthily suggested in the ending of “101 Megaparsecs” and it persists during the entire song combined with blast beats and massive orchestrations. It’s the resolution of the whole concept, it speaks from the mankind’s point of view and shows the tormented, eternal, inner conflict on what we’re willing to lose and what we long for. In the second part of the song the lyrics go “Blind is my loving, mute is my pain / silently sealing this soul in chains / one day I’ll grow old, one day I’ll die / yet never having you in this heart of mine (…)”, and I think this is one of the most crucial moments of the album. Desperate people sometimes think they found “The Reliever”, the person who can finally heal their pain with love and empathy; but they don’t understand such deep wounds can’t be healed by anyone but themselves, and they’ll end up straying forever in this void without having experienced the feeling of being truly loved.

The final part of the trilogy, “Pursuers of Absolution”, is how exactly a trilogy and such a dramatic album should be closed. With a majestic form, encrusted by melodic flavors and an atmosphere that penetrates with ease into one’s state of mind, it is a prospect for the years to come. How do you relate to such a creation? What can you tell about this summarizing chapter of this adventure?

The final chapter of the trilogy summarises the entire album; the last words are “(…) Craving for turning from nothing to all.”. That’s the sum, the true essence of humanity, our eternal search for something that makes us forget of our inadequacy, and let us feel part of the universe, or the universe itself. It’s a dramatic and majestic end of an album, that's fades away to a very delicate outro and intimate atmosphere, as intimate it’s the existential question behind “The Great Nothing”.

When you listened to the entire album, and tried to capture that essence of Nightland that we talked about, how did it make you feel? Were you able to find thoughts that never occurred to you while listening?

When I listened to the first master of the album, I said to myself “yes, this is us, this is the essence of The Great Nothing”. I enjoyed it as a new listener trying to forget it was my own creation, and the feeling was absolutely positive; I saw the colours of the artwork in the music, I felt words and melodies were matching and all the work appeared very solid to me. I hope people are enjoying it the same way I did the first time, and capturing all the shades and details that make this album something I’m truly proud of.

Currently it appears that live action is slowly returning, what are the plans of Nightland for the coming months, and of course the new year?

Unfortunately, we can’t be sure of when exactly live action will fully come back. At the moment we have announced our participation at Hills of Rock Festival in Bulgaria for July 2022 (with Slipknot, Sabaton, Mercyful Fate, Testament, etc), and we’re planning a great return on the live scene for the next year in Italy and Europe thanks to our manager Alessandro Castelli (K2 Music Management).

Ludovico, thank you for your time for this interview and of course for letting me step into one of the most exciting musical journeys I experienced. All the best

Thank you very much Lior for the kind words, and for this beautiful interview, it’s been a pleasure answering your questions! Ludovico


 



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