Photo courtesy of Gold
Tapping into two strains of pre-millennial British darkness—the often glistening misanthropy of the 4AD roster, in particular Bauhaus, early Lush and Cocteau Twins, alongside the post-punk experimentalism of Crass, Throbbing Gristle and Current93—the Netherlands group Gold released their sophomore full-length album, No Image, on Ván Records last month (we streamed it here) and crept onto many year-end lists, including that of Converge's Jacob Bannon. Forming in 2011 after Thomas Sciarone left the prodigious The Devil's Blood at the peak of their fever-pitched adulation, he joined forces with his girlfriend, Milena Eva—who was named after one of Franz Kafka's lovers, and therefore destined to front a post-apocalyptic acherontic indie band—although she doesn't exactly remember it that way.
"I used to be in The Devil's Blood," Thomas begins the tale of Gold. "Milena and I were already together back then and that was a good moment for us to combine our musical talents..."
He is promptly interrupted by his emphatic and erudite partner. "This is not true," she says contemptuously, but laughing all the while. "He's telling it totally the wrong way. Obviously the whole thing with The Devil's Blood happened but he was already talking to some people about starting a band and then he didn't know what type of singer he needed. I was like, 'Dude, I'm right here!"
"That was a small moment where I thought I was good enough for a band," she continues modestly. "I never thought I would be. I'd always made music, my entire life, but I never was a singer. But I just told him and probably because he is my boyfriend I wasn't really nervous and Thomas said, 'Well, let's try' and so we did."
"That was already four and a half years ago," Thomas interjects, "and since then we've been paving the way until now, through all different landscapes and trying to find our way, find ourselves musically but also thematically or even spiritually. For me, I had The Devil's Blood experience, and it was a very intense experience, which probably changed how I looked at life and how I perceived myself and how I perceived all different parts of my life, of politics, of ethics, all the aspects of what makes someone him or herself. But after The Devil's Blood, in these four and a half years, I look back at it like trying to recover from that experience.
"That lifestyle took over me and took over a lot of people—a lot of people who were not involved in the band and who were touched by the band, and inspired by the band. The Devil's Blood somehow transformed a lot of people I think, a lot of people who, after experiencing that band, became different people than they were before. And I'm one of them," he admits with the hesitation of someone with post-cult trauma. "I used to be a very open-minded person, always looking at different types of cultures, movies, music and The Devil's Blood I think, focussed is maybe the right word, The Devil's Blood required a certain focus, losing a bit of that open-mindedness and now, I think, with the second Gold album we have restored that."
Having been one of those people for whom The Devil's Blood had a transformative effect in their short six years of existence, it's easy to understand Thomas' need to reach the tunnel at the end of the light, especially in the wake of the tragic death of the band's mastermind Selim Lemouchi in 2014.
"Very true, because Selim was the one who was dragged down all the way by his own art, but then the art was him and he was the art," Thomas says. "That it would drag him down, it would have happened anyway, but the power he had on everyone else, that's what makes The Devil's Blood so special, because there are a lot of artists that would drag you down anonymously and The Devil's Blood was not anonymous, it was a phenomenon."
"It was exciting," says Milena, herself in the center of that incredible storm as both a fan and a friend. "I met Thomas when he was in the middle of it and I was in that same scene too, or at least I saw a lot of shows but it's really nice to see Thomas growing back into the old Thomas that I never knew before, but I knew what he was like. It was nice to see, like he says himself, restored."
Prior to The Devil's Blood, Thomas has played in an upbeat hardcore punk band, Malkovich, a million miles from the ritual darkness of The Devil's Blood, but No Image is hardly the album you'd put on to get the party started? So is Gold a different strain of darkness to that of The Devil's Blood?
"I think so," ponders Thomas. "Because The Devil's Blood darkness, if it was Selim's darkness or a spiritual darkness, I don't know but my darkness is not Selim's darkness nor is it a spiritual darkness, it's just living in this world. It's probably more like a punk darkness, comparable to bands like Crass, not that I would say we are a typical 80s British punk band, but it's more a world-falling-apart kind of darkness."
"It definitely has a lot to do with the way I write songs, I guess. I think there is good in the world, but there is a lot of darkness around, too, so I don't mind singing about that or feeling those emotions," Milena adds.
The word "emotion" is interesting here as the promo photos see the band posed with their heads replaced with the emojis that have seemingly replaced language itself—almost a modern day heiroglyphic. Earlier this summer, the launched a lyric video for the song '"Servant", where the language was entirely in emojis cut to images of war and internet cat memes. Is this a comment on the way we communicate as a society?
"What's to say?" Thomas says bluntly. "We were thinking about what imagery to add to the music, we were thinking of a way to add another layer through visuals, because I think it's too easy to just be dark, you know? A lot of dark music is just dark, that's it. You can use skulls, you can use death, you can use Satan, but there's nothing surprising and what somehow occurred to us is that contrasting dark images to happy images somehow deepens the darkness."
"It's also what the songs are about, this dark idea, this pessimistic idea about the world, because there is a lot of shit going on and there are so many people ignoring it. That is the whole thing with the emojism where we never really know what people are feeling; nobody is vulnerable anymore, and everybody is hiding behind those emojis, so for us it was really simple to mirror the reality," he adds. "Everybody has room for improvement and with our imagery, at least in the video clips, it's showing the apathy that reigns in our society. In order for people to reflect on what they are doing, you need to hold a mirror to them, or at least a mirror to the society they are living in."
Gold's use of emojis also highlights the way we can communicate our support or disdain for something without ever actually expressing ourselves. We can "like" a HONY post, or share a Donald Trump meme or change our profile photo on Facebook to a French flag and feel we've "done our bit".
"Yes," Milena agrees, sighing. "We see these horrible things happen and we say we care but we don't really because we don't do anything. We don't really show emotions because if we really felt these emotions I don't think anyone would sleep at night."
There is another way, The Devil's Blood had elements of nihilism in their outlook, you could adopt a 'Fuck The World' mentality. But are Gold slightly more optimistic?
"Definitely," says Milena. "He's optimistic, I'm pessimistic but that's why I'm with him, it's hard to make Thomas feel pessimistic."
"I'm that element," laughs Thomas. "I'm a born optimist and I recognise all the shit happening but I also see people who would like that shit not to happen and that offers faith, that offers hope. What I would like to change in people is to take away the apathy and make them stand up and feel empowered. I'm not saying Gold are motivational speakers, far from it. Someone described our album as 'Silver-lining darkness' and that's what it is. It's dark, it's draining music but there is hope surrounding it."
Louise Brown is chasing the darkness on Twitter.