(Argentinian journalist Matías Gallardo rejoins us with this interview of Antonio Sanna, the man behind Downfall of Nur, whose fine debut album Umbras de Barbagia was released earlier this year.)
The year is coming to an end and the black metal scene has many things to toast to. One of them is the appearance of Downfall of Nur, the one man band from an Italian-Argentinian multi-instrumentalist named Antonio Sanna. Hailing originally from the land of Sardinia, Italy, Antonio moved to Argentina as a kid, and now at only 19 years old he has become one of the more interesting faces in the genre. Mixing the raw and classic sound of Scandinavian black metal whilst identifying himself with the Cascadian sound of masters like Wolves in the Throne Room and the folk influence of giants Agalloch, he released Umbras de Barbagia, one of the most exciting debuts of the year. In this interview, Antonio talks about the beginnings of the band and how much his indivisible emotional link with his homeland remains as the key influence in his music.
Before Downfall of Nur you played in projects like Dreon, Drowned in November, Funeralopolis, and Philosophie des Toren. What can you tell me about them and how different were they from DON?
They were all experimental projects, stages where I was interested in a musical style/genre and in recording something associated with it. Funeralopolis was the previous name of Philosophie des Toren, and then I changed it. I can´t remember why, it was a long time ago, anyway. None of them were serious projects. The project that may have been a bit more serious was Drowned in November. I’ve learned a lot thanks to the recording process of those projects, but they never had any other purpose than to experiment. DON was created with the idea of making a serious project, and beyond an experiment in sound and composition, although keeping some parameters.
You live in Argentina, but you were born in Italy and Downfall of Nur is related to Sardinia’s history. How is that relationship between Nuragic civilization and the band’s music?
Yes, I was born in Sardinia in 1996 and lived my childhood there. Then I moved to Argentina when I was eleven years old. The relationship between Downfall of Nur and the Nuragic civilization was born because I wanted to make a tribute to my homeland and to my ancestors and also to leave some nostalgic feelings in the songs. By 2013, I started to work on Downfall of Nur.
Downfall of Nur is a one-man band because of a lack of musicians or because you feel more comfortable playing alone?
I love working with other musicians, but working alone is what I like the most. Sometimes, as in this case, not everyone can understand you, understand the concept behind the band or just feel it like it should be. So with Downfall of Nur I decided to work alone. I don’t have to depend on anyone except myself for my inspiration, which lightens the backpack and makes things flow.
DON’s debut album (Umbras de Barbagia) was released this year. It feels like a continuation of what you did in the Umbras e Forestas EP. Do you agree?
Yes and no. The songs in Umbras e forestas were recorded during the same period as Umbras de Barbagia, and were going to be allocated to it. But in the end, they were left out because their concept and sound was a different one, more focused on nature, and the lyrics were written in the Sardinian language.
Did the environment where you live influence Umbras de Barbagia’s music?
Yes, of course it had an influence in the songwriting. By those times, I was living in Valeria del Mar, a little quiet town between forests and sea, by the Atlantic coast, and in March of this year I moved to Mar del Plata for studies, a bigger city. Personally, I hate to live in a city, but here in Mar del Plata I have the sea two streets away from home, and besides, it is a quiet city, so maybe that’s what makes the difference.
How was the recording process for the album?
I started recording and composing in November 2013, in my house. I usually write and record demos to make things easier and keep adding ideas. This process ended around March, after all the instruments were recorded in my home studio, and Dany Tee recorded all the vocal parts in Buenos Aires in May. Once everything was ready, I began to mix the album with Dany’s help, a process that took a long time and lasted until December, when it was ready for mastering.
As you say, Dany Tee from In Element did guest vocals on the album. What would you say was his contribution to the album? Are you happy with the results?
The voices of Dany added more magic to the album’s atmospheres and gave to it a final shape. They were a key element to the album. I gave Dany free will for all the vocal parts, and he did an incredible work! We also worked together in the production of the album, where he helped me a lot, and thanks to the fact that neither of us is narrow-minded, the work flowed easily. We were both satisfied with the album.
The album was released by the Italian label Avantgarde. How did it happen?
When the production and the mastering were finished, we made two trailers with song previews. Those trailers were uploaded to YouTube to start promoting the album on the internet and see what the public and some record labels which I had been in contact with thought about it. And with great surprise Avantgarde Music was the first to want to sign a deal to release the album.
On Umbras… there’s a lot of participation of non-conventional instruments. Why did you choose to include them?
I decided to add them to give a mystical touch to the album. Certain kinds of instruments and sounds transport your mind to different places, and I think that’s very important. The instruments that appear most frequently are called Launeddas and Quenacho flute. The Launeddas are an archaic Sardinian wind instrument made of cane, which my father taught me to play.
Could you give us an in depth description of every song on the album?
‘The Golden Age’.
The first track is divided into three parts where I try to narrate in a theatrical and metaphorical way the so called “Pre-Nuragic Age”, when the Nuragic civilization flourished on the island of Sardinia. From this period remain more than 332 menhir, 100 Dolmen, and more than 2,400 hypogeum tombs called Domus de Janas. Then, “The Golden Age of the Nuragic Civilization” located in the middle/late Bronze Age and the Iron Age, refers to the time when the Nuragic Civilization was in all its splendor and population growth due to the flourishing trade of metallurgy products and handcrafts all over the Mediterranean Sea, from the Near East to Spain and the Atlantic. All this made the “Nuragic” civilization a power of the Mediterranean area, and at last the first “Invasions” made by other civilizations (Carthaginians, another big power of the Mediterranean Sea), the first expedition led by Malco in 540 BC against a still strongly Nuragic Sardinia, failed, which caused a political revolution in Carthage.
Then, there was another expedition against the island, in 509 BC, after the Sardinians attacked the Phoenicians/Carthage coastal cities. The Carthaginians, after a number of military campaigns in which Mago, King of Carthage died and was replaced by his brother Hamilcar, overcame the Sardinians and conquered coastal Sardinia. The Nuragic civilization survived in the center and mountainous area of the island (this Area would be called by Romans “Barbaria” in Latin and “Barbagia” in Sardinian language).
‘The Downfall of Nur’.
In this song the topics that are covered go from the invasions and the fall of the “Nuragic” civilization to their conversion to Christianity. When, in 238 BC, Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the first Punic war, all the colonies and the Sardinian territory of Carthage fell in Roman hands. Romans started a heavy colonization in the island but only succeeded in colonizing the Carthaginian territories and the center of the island. The mountains of the island remained in the hands of the Nuragic civilization’s descendants, which at that time were divided into several tribes which rebelled against Rome on many occasions. For this reasons, Romans started to call this area “Barbaria”, land of barbarians.
After several centuries, when the Roman Empire split into the Roman Empire in the West and the East, the Byzantines conquered Sardinia and interior populations of Barbagia. Guided by Hospiton (Dux Barbaricinorum), the Sardinians began to attack the Byzantines and they defeated them innumerable times until they reached Calaris walls, and put the Byzantine dux Zabarda under siege. After this, the pope “Gregory the Great” found out about the situation in Sardinia and sent a letter in 594 AD to Hospiton, in which he proposed the conversion to Christianity of him and his people and the peace between him and Zabarda, saying that his people were inferior and lived like animals, worshiping gods of stone and denying the true God. The story ends when Hospiton was convinced to make peace and let monk missionaries start converting to Christianity.
“Black clouds announce the storm,
The acceptance of another god,
The surrender of the biggest Hospitón
The extinction of the blazing flame.
Blood runs from the edge of a wounded land
Enshrouding all the great monoliths
And throwing them into the dust of Earth.
The downfall of Nur has reached end.”
Fragment Taken from “III – The Downfall of Nur
At this point the album writing was more focused on the modern era. In this song, I wanted to make a little reflection on what remains nowadays, of the shadow of this civilization and sacred buildings that thousands of years ago shone. The point was focused in the “Holy wells temples”. When I was in Sardinia, my father had a small farm in the village of Rebbecu near the town where we lived, and near it was a beautiful “Holy well” called “Su Lumalzu”. At the weekends we used to go to the farm and visit this place. Sometimes, we had lunch next to it, or just stayed there for a while. This place was left in ruins for many years; there was no way to go, because the way to get to it was very wild and dangerous. If I remember well, my uncle had made a little path with poster indications to reach it. I believe that nowadays it is forgotten by many people, and most of the young people are more interested in staying home, in Facebook, and in buying iPhones than in visiting such a place. Fortunately, there remain some people who appreciate it, not all is lost.
‘Umbras de Barbagia’.
‘Umbras of Barbagia’ — it’s dedicated to the abuses that befell Sardinia and her people along the years and about a flame, the flame of the independence movement of Sardinia (nassiunalismu saldu) to fight for a better Sardinia and the independence from Italy. Now if I should explain in detail this part of the album, this Interview would seem never to end and might result in it becoming boring — we would enter into talk about political issues, mismanagement, corruption, and more shit like that, that has affected my homeland and her people for centuries, and everyone has their point of view.
In the music of the band we can hear influences from bands like Darkthrone, Ulver, Agalloch, or even Burzum. But what other non-metal influences are present on DON’s music?
The main bands that inspired me to write music and create Downfall of Nur are Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, Burzum, and Ulver. Those are my favorite artists. I’m also a huge fan of ‘70s rock/folk, experimental music, classical, jazz and alternative rock. I love punk, country, Led Zeppelin, Nick Drake, King Crimson, Vashti Bunyan, Nico, Brian Eno, The Velvet Underground, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Espers, Fabrizio de Andre, Björk… I don’t know, there are too many to mention. Literature is also an influence. I love science fiction, drama, poetry, realism, and fantastic literature. I’m quite broad in that too.
Thanks to bands like Deafheaven, post-black metal has become some sort of a “thing” lately. Do you feel identified with bands like that?
No too much, personally. I respect Deaftheaven a lot, I really like their works, but I do not feel identified with them. I usually feel more identified with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Panopticon, Alda, and the Cascadian Black Metal movement rather than the Post-Black metal.
The band sounds really refreshing, but what do you think is DON’s greatest virtue?
I don’t know if the sound is fresh. Maybe it’s because nowadays I don’t listen to much “Black Metal” and “Metal” stuff. I’m not a metal head or something like that. I’m just a musician who likes to play Black Metal. Maybe this can be the reason for the refreshing sound you mention and the concept of the project, maybe it is the “ace of spades”.
How do you see the black metal scene in general and in Argentina in particular?
The truth is that I’m pretty far from the “Black Metal” scene with the exception of some friends here in Argentina. However, every year new projects are born that give great hope to the black metal scene here. And worldwide it seems like there are a lot of new projects but only very few bands that propose something interesting. There’s a big saturation of stuff to listen to and no time to do it. Anyway, I’m used to listening to very few bands. I like the US Black metal scene a lot and some underground bands from Iceland and eastern Europe. And I’m so fucking tired of Post-Black Metal without soul (if that term has a meaning, anyway). This is my opinion, doesn’t mean a shit, you just can agree or not.
I know this is a very personal project, so how much did affect you in the creation of music for the band?
Well yes, it is a very personal project and its creation affected me pretty strongly, either from an artistic or sentimental point of view. Artistically I decided to do something serious, better than I had been doing so far. And by the sentimental side, it helped me a lot to express myself better, to put in the songs some feelings and ideas that I have. Downfall of Nur helped me to grow a lot in an artistic and emotional way.
Right now I’m trying to put together the themes and concepts for the next Downfall of Nur record. I’m also writing music for a solo project of experimental rock/folk which still has no name, which I have been thinking of maybe putting it together as a band. That’s all for now.