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Nothing in life is black and white - the ethos behind Forgotten Sunrise's "elu". An interview

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Photo: Evert Palmets

by Stina Isabel Gavrilin

Last month saw the eagerly anticipated launch of "elu", the first album in ten years for Estonian outdustrial band Forgotten Sunrise. Released on the Brooklyn-born record label Ohm Resistance, it's also the first full-length LP to feature the newest members Kadri Sammel and Jaan Pullerits aka Suva. The middle chapter in the "Hall elu jah!" trilogy is characterised by a raw post-industrial sound, featuring growling vocals and pounding rhythms. The band's founding member Anders Melts sheds some light on the hows and the whys of the new album, Forgotten Sunrise in its current form, and life in general...

In Forgotten’s lyrics, one of the most predominant recurring subjects is death. Is it right to claim that through the years the band has, so to say, ‘befriended’ it more and more?

An interesting choice for the first question, with the album title meaning life. If I’m honest, I’ve always been on good terms with the subject matter of death. I don’t even know what it is that makes it so attractive. Perhaps a kind of unfamiliarity and inexplicability. Life and death are most definitely not opposites, right. Life is a certain period and death is just a moment that marks its end. It comes as a surprise even to me that over the years, I’ve actually come to a kind of reconciliation with life. 15 years ago I would’ve definitely said something different. I get along with myself better and let things flow more in life. I believe that love and the understanding that things are actually much simpler than people make them out to be have a role in this.

“elu” begins and ends with references to chaos. Is there generally too much or too little of chaos in a person’s life?

A good observation that I haven’t even noticed. With this record, many things somehow melded together into a whole by themselves. This also in a way answers that same question. There’s chaos, then you polish and control it moderately, and most things actually click into place on their own. Just recently, listening to this album in the car I thought that the snippet of Kenneth Anger speaking on its final track “Elukas” concludes the album perfectly, and again, when the idea came to name the record like that and leave this specific track for last, the record didn’t even have a name yet. Things found each other on their own once again without much control. By the way, we wanted so badly for Kenneth himself to say some wise words specially for our record, but despite getting really close to finding the contact, it didn’t happen, and he left us before “elu” was released.

Going back to the question now, I think the relationship between chaos and controlling it is very different for people. It depends how big the holes are in the sieve that this chaos is put through. I’m a man of quite strong intuition and gut feeling. I tend to control only when the chaos part tilts the balance over too much. Everyone has to sense for themselves how much they can or want to let things in life flow on their own and how much they want to direct consciously. Let the grass grow, why trim it just for the sake of trimming.

What exactly is happening on the cover of the record?

I don’t know, but Evert made the promo photos of us and then we chose a photo where we’re standing on a cool staircase to put inside the album. After it was released, I randomly saw that the stairs on the cover and on our photo are coincidentally the same size and Evert counted that there’s even the same amount of steps. Well, that’s how things usually go for us. I guess someday I’ll find out why this exact cover image spoke to us when making the choice. Maybe you’ll find out before I do, or another listener.

You’ve used the Christian symbol Agnus Dei on the cover of the album “Cretinism” released ten years ago as well as the complete title of the future trilogy “Hallelujah!” in a context that rejects religion. How, if at all, does Forgotten Sunrise define god?

I can only speak for myself, I don’t know how my bandmates would define it. Maybe they’d take some clothes off or make weird moves on the dancefloor. I’ve had my own relationship with it my whole life. I think in today’s world, we should come up with new words for both, god and love. Two of the most important things in life and both words often give completely inadequate impulses and create false interpretations because of their devaluation. How we define it, you ask? I think to define it is already a slip-up. Let’s leave it at that.

“Missing Parsons”, the psychedelic instrumental piece finishing the A-side of “elu”, is especially mind-altering. Could you unwrap a bit of its background?

This track was penned by Kadri and it was originally part of the Forgotten Sunrise Syndrone project. Our little experimental digression that we sometimes bring out to people. It seemed a kind of fitting and binding piece. I improvised when playing the guitar and have never done it the same way live. I don’t even know what I played there. Kadri added the synth with the Virus in the same way and that’s what came out. For Suva, it’s probably also the best track on the record. He has praised it many times, already when we played it live before the recording. At first it was called “Missing Person(a)”, people that have gone missing and the mask of Jung kind of put together, but then, instead I started to like the idea that there should be more of Jack Parsons in the world and people – a person who believes in the impossible and is on Earth and the Moon at the same time.

The record has the effect of a cathartic cinema experience. What directors or movies have you followed the example of most in the making of it?

We haven’t. Everything around that touches us has an impact anyway, but there have been no conscious influences in our creations probably ever. The fact that Forgotten’s music is very visual has been made clear to us since the beginning of time. That isn’t related in any way to the art of cinema. I think it’s even more like reading a book. Everyone gets their visions and thoughts in the process of listening to it. We’re not trying to put forward anything unambiguous.

"elu" release party in HALL, Tallinn. 19.08.2023. Photo: Ketter Raudmets

Who or what is Elukas?

On one hand like ‘the beast’ and in Estonian, elukas as an inhabitant and a traveller in life too. The beast is like that earthly part in us. The flesh that we live in. Because Anger speaks in this track and he was a big Aleister Crowley follower/sympathizer and also because Crowley’s infamous nickname was “The great beast 666”, it all fit with the theme perfectly once again.

It’s as if mixing together styles and sounds that seemingly shouldn’t fit together is in Forgotten’s nature. Do you feel that as time passes, the band’s sound is becoming even more extensive or is it starting to narrow in a more fixed direction?

It remains the same, I think. When you do everything that comes to mind, you can’t really do even more of everything. We condensed it a just a bit now because when the trilogy idea emerged, the plan came to divide different traits between three records. When previously everything was together on one album, now that everything is sorted a bit between three discs.

Does writing tracks start from a vision or does that form in the process of creation?

Pretty so and so. I don’t know exactly how Kadri begins tracks. But for me, sometimes a stupid idea comes to do another folly and combine something. I get totally excited when I imagine sometimes how, for example, psychobilly and drum & bass could sound together, and at some point I take it up to try and start doing something like that. I have one big shortcoming that in some ways is also my fortune – I can’t imitate anything. Even when I have an idea that oh, the beat should be like that and the bassline and vocal should be like that, something completely else is born in the making of it. What comes always comes, not what originally inspired me to do it. Damn, already as a kid I couldn’t even draw Mickey Mouse or play Nirvana songs, immediately some totally different things of my own came out. Well, what can you do when you can't.

Do contemporary trends also influence Forgotten to some extent?

Not significantly. Musically sometimes some things create interest, à la in the track “Meating 8:08” there’s a tiny trap moment, and I remember on “Cretinism”, the song “Sisters, Brothers And Other Hellborn Creatures” was influenced by dubstep. Otherwise, it’s rather the opposite. When something is popular, we intentionally try to eliminate it from our music or aesthetic. Similar to how I usually wear skeleton gloves in the winter, but avoid it during Halloween. I have thought about how growling would sound with autotune, but so far haven’t tested it.

After many line-up changes, how has assigning creative decisions in the band changed? Does the founder have the last word?

I think so, but at the same time I definitely don’t push an idea through by force that doesn’t speak to the others at all, even though it seems very cool to me. Creatively, everyone has always had a say, and I like it a lot when others make music for Forgotten and I have the opportunity to twist it according to myself. At the moment we definitely have the most creative team in the band. Everyone is a strong creator on their own. I believe that Suva’s proportion as a writer becomes evident on the next album, but half of the tracks on “elu” are penned or started by Kadri. Quite a few people have said that “elu” sounds a bit closer to our roots, like Forgotten from a couple of decades ago. But nobody from the line-up of that time except for myself has remained in the band. Forgotten is one fascinating motionless change. Seeing as it’s the same all this time, but also simultaneously spiralling in some new cycle.

What’s the one comprehensive message that the listener should take from “elu” into their own life?

To build directly on the name of the trilogy, it’s that nothing in this life is black and white. Everything is relative. There is no absolute good or bad, right or wrong. Once you sense that in the world, you actually learn to love, forgive, and deal with your ego much less devastatingly towards others. You are everything and nothing. You can change everything, even though you might seem insignificant. It all starts from yourself, and always be one to make the first step, not respond or compare yourself to what others have done. Be yourself and let others be too. We live here together with nature and animals. We have no right to exploit and destroy them. Try to see the world also without yourself.

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