Interview: L’ Impero Delle Ombre
The name, music and presentation of the newly founded quartet are all steeped in occult mysticism. There is no colour. Only shades of black and white intermingle with powerful symbols and a fusty smell of a long forgotten age. Their fluid guitars, morbid organ passages, spooky whispers and melancholic voices invoke that tradition of oppressive, blood-chilling, horror. But it is far from impenetrable, even if the Italian tongue is unfamiliar, as they have provided English translations of the text to guide any fellow apprentice. Then again, that is only one dimension of their craft. There is a need to delve much deeper, with a sharp wit, to fully comprehend L’ Impero Delle Ombre. Brothers Giovanni and Andrea Cardellino were at hand to offer an inside perspective of the sect.
Greetings Giovanni and Andrea. Allow me to take your cloaks. Pull up a stool by the fire. How have you spent recent weeks? Have you any tidings to share?
Hail Danny! Thanks for a welcome truly from another era… just as we like it! What can I tell you? We’ve recently moved again, from southern Italy, where we come from, further north to Florence. We move house around every two years: we’re gypsies, maybe we’ve got nomadic blood! Each time I have to reorganise everything but nevertheless, we’re working on the second album.
All Hallow’s Eve passed us by some nights ago. Does its significance vary between traditions in Italy? What does it mean to you? How, if at all, did you mark it?
Unfortunately, Halloween has become a fashion in Italy too. Years ago, my friends and I celebrated it at a time when nobody else did. I have a lot of respect for the pagan and spiritualist meaning of this date and Valpurgisnacht exerts great energy over us. This year, as is our habit, we ate a hearty meal prepared by a very powerful witch, washed down by lots of good red wine.
As little is known of L’ Impero Delle Ombre, how, where and when was the band formed? What were your musical backgrounds, shared inspirations and goals? Have the latter remained unchanged since the beginning?
I founded the band in 1995 in southern Italy, influenced by listening habits based around old Death SS, Paul Chain, Black Widow and Black Sabbath, and occult and esoteric readings. In the past, I played drums, then I switched to vocals and, since the first album, I have remained in the Metal underground just like my brother Andrea, the guitarist. Then, when we arrived in Florence, we had the valuable co-operation of Dario and Enrico Caroli, members of the historic group Sabotage, on drums and bass. Their aim was to play Sabbath-style, mine was to play cemetery rock, and since then fate has not stopped us.
L’ Impero Delle Ombre translates as The Empire of Shadows. Which realm then does the band represent? What is the importance of it?
In esoteric terms, the Empire of Shadows means Hell, the Hell of the self, of this not very human, not very happy, unjust, unequal life. The internal artwork contains a symbol that is the key to interpretation, our logo enclosed in an ancient magic protective talisman of Agrippa.
Like a cloister, the name seems essentially reflective and inward looking. But what is the significance of retaining your native tongue? Are you paying homage to a specific Italian tradition?
I sing in Italian so as to be as spontaneous as possible, and so that the emotions I want to recount flow properly including from a technical viewpoint, through the scansion and exact pronunciation of the lyrics. It is also more logical since I’m Italian. If you like, we’re paying clear homage to our great groups of the progressive movement in the ‘70s.
Tell me about your early rehearsals. How did you create the desired mood to craft and play your songs? To what extent did these versions evolve before they were first captured on cassette?
As regards the tracks on the debut, I can tell you that Andrea and I came up with the riffs, structure and lyrics during some pretty magical nights, together with a few visits to old, abandoned cemeteries, and only arranged them later in the rehearsal room as a group. Every rehearsal was an excuse for interminable ‘70s-style suites, with long, always improvised, jams.
How would you describe your one and only demo? What memories does it recall and to what extent were you satisfied with the finished product? Was it officially released with artwork or widely circulated for feedback?
Demo tape? What demo tape? Two or three copies of a demo exist, one of which served to get us the contract with Black Widow Records. It is simply a Spartan live rehearsal recording made with a basic home stereo recorder.
By this stage, had any friends been invited to view your rehearsals for comment? Had you even played live? Who do you think is your audience? What, if any, were the early responses to your music?
In the past, before the record, we only played a few shows, but they were meaningful ones, with lots of make-up and crosses on the stage, arousing appreciation and great surprise in the audience, which was truly impressed. In the rehearsal room, it was common for us to have lysergic jam sessions with musicians of all types and loads of flute, sax and similar instruments! It seems that our listeners are fans of ‘70s rock and prog and of dark Doom Metal, but I can tell you that we have received opinions from a very wide range of scenes, from darkwave to extreme Metal to classical.
Well, Black Widow Records was certainly impressed! How did that make you feel? What were your respective expectations from the partnership and album deal?
For me, Black Widow is something magical. I grew up together with their policy of true damned rock and with their releases, and when it was time to produce my and our artistic expression, a dream, a dream came through, a form of alchemy. What could I hope for except to continue working with them? Their work on the first album was really praiseworthy!
Your self-titled debut album surfaced late last year. For the uninitiated, how would you describe the flavour of the band and your music as captured on it?
Okay, the record is based on old-style Sabbath and Rainbow Heavy Metal mixed with ‘70s dark progressive, a distinctively Italian style of melody and some symphonic touches. All of this is brought together in a very simple and spontaneous manner, seeing that it was recorded in only three days.
The album was released on both LP and CD formats? Was that important? To what extent do you think they provide a differing experience given that they present the same music and information on each?
The fact is that both we and the label have an almost fetishistic passion for good old-fashioned vinyl… that goes without saying! Carefully putting the needle on an old LP and daydreaming while looking at a large gatefold cover is the greatest! The differences and similarities depend on the listeners’ feelings seeing that the two versions are similar.
Who designed the album cover and was it specifically commissioned for that purpose? Please offer an interpretation of the scene and the symbols it contains.
The cover image is liberally based on a German edition of the book “Orrible Murder” by Leonard De Vries, which recounts tales of horrendous and mysterious crimes in the late 19th century, with lots of illustrations. It is interesting that I found this book many years ago while exploring an abandoned ship that was letting in water along the coast of my town, which really brings to mind “Sea Shanties” by High Tide! I would say that the meaning is fairly explicit. It seems that the grim reaper has come to free the prisoner, whose time has come as can be seen from the hourglass and the candle which has run out, just like his life, while a ray of “light” shines on his face… Everyone can find their own meaning.
At a glance, the inner sleeve appears to be merely an impressionistic photograph. However, after closer inspection of the gatefold, there is a discernable human or spiritual form in the top left hand corner and the Paul Chain logo adorns the headstone. Would you care to elaborate?
It is the negative of a photo taken in Staglieno in Genoa, cold and icy and so eternal. In reality, Paul Chain’s logo is an ancient Christian icon that he used due to the similarities in initials. It’s really a monogram made up of the Greek initials of Christ, X (chi) and P (rho).
That very landscape is somewhat reminiscent of “Il Giardino Dei Morti” and hints at planes beyond the earthly sphere. In your mind, is the grave a passage to another existence? Where do you expect it will take you?
Let’s say that this is a spiritual vision of mine. Where, if anywhere, it will lead us cannot be known, and the mystery is even more impenetrable given that I do not subscribe to any religious creed.
“Ghost” grapples with faith and timelessness, sanity and dreaming. How are they connected?
Like a gloomy 19th century gothic novel. Do you know those old English Hammer horror movies? Or, more recently, “The Others”?
In the final act, “L’ Angoscia” why is the text deliberately printed back to front? Is the ghost essentially leaving Purgatory and experiencing eternal damnation?
Your observation is your own and very interesting; no comment. Add to that the optical effect of the backwards writing in the style of Leonardo da Vinci.
The character in “Condanna” is also suffering. Was he formerly a Templar or religious zealot before being transformed into a vampire? Was it intended as a divine punishment for his blood crimes?
“Condanna” is based on the tragedy of Dracula through a metaphor of people who suffer and decline physically and mentally.
Was the passage from “Dracula” by Bram Stoker woven into the text with the intention of binding the vampyric tale as well as paying homage to the author? What impact has he had on your imagination?
The lines from Bram Stoker are above all a tribute to this great author, our favourite in his style, given that I have been greatly influenced by his novel. I have read it many times and it has irreversibly marked and fascinated me. It is an intimate, disturbing experience.
Probing further, “Rituale” recalls earlier times when man and woman were at one with their surroundings. Why do you think that sense of freedom has been lost? Can it be recovered?
Because, in evolving, man has become convoluted. Selfishness, power, overdoing things, ignorance, baseness of spirit and social climbing have come with the progress of so-called modern times. The ancient magic can certainly be found, but within us.
As a musician, to what extent do you think the introductions to each side, “Il Canto Del Cigno” and “Nel Giardino” colour the atmosphere of the record? What are the roots of the latter? Is it an excerpt from a film?
These introductions are indispensable, particularly for the person who conceived them, and come together in an unbreakable philological whole. “Nel Giardino” is a monologue taken from the Italian film “Mortacci” (1989) starring Malcolm McDowell and directed by the recently deceased Sergio Citti, truly a great director. The film recounts the story of the souls of the dead who, by night, populate a small Italian ceremony. It is really in harmony with the band – a must!
In the twelve months that have passed since its release, how has the album been received? Have you garnered favourable press inside and beyond Italy?
Very positive, excellent I would say. All the Italian and foreign reviews have been more than positive, from all over Europe, South America and North America, where the great Ray Dorsey of Chaos Realm has been really impressed by us. We’re very pleased and thank all those who have entered into our world and understood us.
Touring is often an integral form of expression and promotion. Will this also be the case for the L’ Impero Delle Ombre? What are your aspirations?
Unfortunately not! It won’t be like that for L’ Impero Delle Ombre. Unlike the bands of today, we are not a well organised operation with manager and crew. I am telling that to you, and it saddens me a bit. We would like to play lots of concerts, but for now it is not possible. Be aware that for us it is a magic, intimate and honest art.
How was your concert supporting Death SS? If you had seen them play previously, how did this experience compare? For you, does the band still have that magical spark and relevance of its early career?
The concert in Rome supporting Death SS was not a completely positive experience for us, but it was still an experience. You must know that our drummer, Dario, played drums on the first official Death SS album in 1988, “In Death of Steve Sylvester”, so we know them very, very well, and I can promise you that, in the past, they were truly something else, something truly mysterious and restless.
Please detail your introduction and exploration through local and international music to the present day. Were you aware of changes in atmosphere, style and technique? What most impressed and disappointed you?
My brother and I are quite young and, besides our underground apprenticeship in small bands, we have experienced very little that is historical, other than that which we have been told about by the “old guys”. I confess that I am a real fanatic about ‘80s Italian Heavy Metal. Dario and Enrico, our rhythm section, lived through that historic period with Sabotage, releasing 3 LPs and a split 12” with Paul Chain. They have many stories to tell, such as when they toured Italy for gigs with little reward but enormous determination and passion; values that, as you know, are very scarce today!
Italy is revered for nurturing some unique, obscure and moody music. To you, who were the greats? Have you any special memories relating to them?
I think the absolute best were early Death SS, Paul Chain’s solo work, Antonius Rex and his Jacula. I really lived those records. The first time that I listened to “The Story of Death SS” as a teenager I nearly shit myself it was so atmospheric!
No doubt you heard the announcement late last year from Quasar Records regarding the “artistic death” of Paul Chain. How did that make you feel, given his creative genius and legacy? Will it really be the last we hear of him?
Paul Chain is a very good friend of ours. And a few years ago, I was about to work together with him. We rehearsed at his house in a totally improvised manner, Atomic Rooster-style jams, but nothing came together in concrete form. Then suddenly he had the classic identity crisis and serious internal conflicts that distanced him from everything and everyone. It even seems that he broke with Quasar Records. We are sorry for him both as a friend and as an artist that we value as unique and truly wonderful. I think that one day he will re-emerge with some new experimental project and his evil laugh!
Your fellow band mates, Enrico and Dario Caroli played in the old Heavy Metal band Sabotage. They recorded their “Welcome” Split LP with Paul Chain in ’87. How did the collaboration happen? Did they have any direct contact with him or tales they can share?
Certainly! They were good friends, and Paul Chain suggested the split to them given that he was very prolific and open to collaborations. Anecdotes and curiosities: firstly, when Sabotage sent in “Welcome”, their track for the split, his response was “shit, this track is better than mine!” and secondly, at an Italian Metal festival in the ‘80s, while Sabotage were playing Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”, he climbed up on stage and gave a totally crazy evil laugh over the microphones!
How do you think Paolo Catena, the man, and Paul Chain, the musician differed throughout the years?
Not at all! Paolo and Paul were the same thing. This is the characteristic of a certain type of cursed artist like we might be too… very little fame, delicate themes, but authenticity. I would like to use this interview to pay homage to an Italian artist who died prematurely from a tumour last year but who nobody remembered, the great Sanctis Ghoram, the second singer who replaced Steve Sylvester in Death SS in the ‘80s and participated in the majority of Paul Chain’s solo career. I don’t know how to put into words the estimation and respect that I have for this artist, for me he was second to none for that obscure feeling!
Returning to the present, how would you describe the current climate in the Italian music scene? Do you still consider it capable of pioneering a unique sound? Please recommend dark Doom and Progressive bands, including albums, which deserve greater recognition.
Bah! The current scene is up and down: Metal is now becoming stale, though in Doom and Prog there are some isolated cases of exceptional bands such as Presence, Abiogenesi, Fiaba, Areknames, Wicked Minds and some other underground bands that are on the rise.
There is a strong scene of the occult, horror, orchestration and cinema in your compositions. What then are your interests relating to and beyond music?
You’ve already answered the question! Mainly horror cinema from all eras and also American Indians, places such as England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece. My personal interests are collecting records and films, Andrea is interested in musical instruments, Dario paints and Enrico works with wood.
If L’ Impero Delle Ombre were transformed into another art form, what would it be? Why?
Definitely a surrealist B-movie or a philosophical theatre noir production!
Who is your favourite author and film director? Why?
In Italy, Pasolini, Bava, Freda Argento, Pupi Avati, De Martino, Fulci and many more for that feeling of anxiety they created and the ability to work on ridiculously small budgets. For foreign directors, Murnau, Dreyer, Romero, Polansky, Herzog, Kubrik and Crushin because they are great dreamers and, each in their own way, have succeeded in representing the horrors of the lack of humanity.
What makes Italy Italian?
The Italians. In other words, the art of knowing how to cope in any place and in any situation, not to mention our history and the race of people that created it.
How do you perceive the following?
Discipline is fascism, in a negative way.
Hierarchy belongs to devils.
The Papacy means oppression.
The Occult is internal.
Reality is day to day.
Finally, if you could ask me a question, what would it be?
It seems you like our record! What emotions does it give you deep down?
Yes, indeed! I was impressed from when I first heard it. At times, it has a calming and meditative impact by virtue of the eerie music. However, there is an inherent sense of power lurking beneath the surface, and whenever it rises, it sweeps over my body in waves and carries me to a mystical realm. It taps into the occult. My mind flashes between old films, Moorcock, spells and distant memories. I am at home and at peace.
The rite is complete. Thank you Giovanni and Andrea for casting some light on L’ Impero Delle Ombre. May your dominion continue to grow. If you have any closing thoughts then speak…
This is one of the most interesting and detailed interviews that we have ever been sent. Thanks! I send you my compliments and hope that we, us as a band and you as a journalist, can continue with the same passion and humility. Finally, thanks to the readers, they can post their opinions on our site: www.limperodelleombre.it
LONG LIVE CEMETARY ROCK!!!
You may contact L’ Impero Delle Ombre at email@example.com