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An interview with Damián Antón Ojeda from atmospheric black metal project Sadness about their latest album, Alluring the distant eye.
Young Fenimore Lee | May 22, 2020

In atmospheric black metal, blackgaze, post-metal, and other subgenres of metal music that oftentimes sound like strings of random gibberish syllables and hyphen-separated mashups of supposedly related words, screams are utilized, but not in ways that are grating or ear-shattering. Fans will tell you that in these subgenres, screams are hypnotic.

Which is not to say that these screams wouldn’t present as particularly vexing to the most of us. The intention, though, is made clear by production choices that blend screams into tidal waves of distorted sounds. Or sometimes, they are placed behind glass cabinets of noise, hidden in plain sight to temper their full effect. This is all to create atmospheric black metal’s namesake atmosphere: an effect considered equivalent to ambient music in its philosophical aims.

The music of prolific blackgaze artist Damián Antón Ojeda, who primarily makes music as Sadness, is no different. As described in our review of Sadness’s 2019 album I want to be there, Ojeda is deft at creating music that is part-ambient part-metal, with atmospheres being the core of his approach. Born in Mexico City, Ojeda began the Sadness project while living in Illinois, and has since charted a prolific musical path, having released 18 albums alongside 5 EPs and a smattering of collaborations with other metal projects - not to mention his work on other projects, such as Life. And yet, the emotional core of Ojeda’s music has never waned, and seems to have only strengthened over time. While a small number of online communities (particularly Rate Your Music, where I want to be there has been rated by over 900 users) celebrate Ojeda’s work, on, for example, the subreddit r/metal, he’s never been mentioned. It’s only a matter of time before more mainstream metal grapevines begin to take notice of his work. Editor-in-chief Young Fenimore Lee sat for an COVID-era interview with Ojeda to discuss Sadness’s latest release, Alluring the distant eye, and his future plans for the Sadness project.

Alluring the distant eye Album Art

Young Fenimore Lee: First off, I want to congratulate you on the release of Alluring the distant eye. The description for the album on Bandcamp notes that the songs are old - all the tracks are from 2018 except for “Cerulean,” which was written February 2015. What inspired you to return to these songs in particular and release them now?

Damián Antón Ojeda: Thank you. I think I already knew that those four songs were going to be on the album a long time before the release, it just needed to be 100% done. Sometimes it might take a really long time for me to get around to adding the final touches on a song because I have so many other things I’m working on. Typically, it will be a patch of vocals or something. In the case of Alluring the distant eye, I didn’t track drums for “Cerulean” until the beginning of this year. Same with “Sky you feel,” “hope you never forget,” “paroxis” from Life, and other songs that took a while to finally release. Before the end of 2019, I didn’t have a drumset or any place to record drums for a while, so a lot of music was on hold. I think I decided to re-record “Cerulean” because every now and then, I would remember that lost song, and I liked it so much that one day, I just felt this surge of inspiration to re-record the whole thing from scratch. I’m glad I did.

YFL: I’d love it if you could tell us more about your music journey up until now. It’s well known that the Sadness project started in Oak Park, IL (not that far from Buffalo Grove, where I’m from!), and that you’ve been a member of other black metal bands such as An Open Letter and Born An Abomination. When did you begin to play music and find your interest in black metal?

DAO: I’ve played instruments all my life and always knew I would spend my life making and playing music. I had some bands when I was a kid that obviously didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t until 2012 that I started actually recording songs and putting them on Youtube. This was around the same time that my friend and I started making music as Born An Abomination. We were originally a real band with some other people in Oak Park, but that fell apart, and so Tony and I just made it our “depressive black metal” project. I had just started getting into all that kind of music, so I naturally started making whatever was inspired by it. An Open Letter was a band I was going to be a part of, but shortly after I joined, it disbanded. My first exposure to black metal was probably with Cradle of Filth’s Dusk and Her Embrace when I was 12. Then, when I was 14, I started really discovering a lot of underground music and black metal, and black metal subgenres started to stand out the most to me.

YFL: What draws you to atmospheric black metal / blackgaze as a framework for your music? Comparisons can be drawn between some of the calmer moments in your music - for instance, the opening of “You dance like the June sky” from I want to be there - and the atmospheric works of shoegaze artists - take “A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut” from Deathconsciousness by Have a Nice Life. What inspires these atmospheres, and what emotions do you want them to instill in listeners?

DAO: When I discovered atmospheric black metal / post black metal etc., I instantly knew I had a strong affinity with everything about the music. The wall of sound and attention to atmosphere is captivating and emotional, which is exactly what I’ve always looked for in music. The melodies, too. I listened to a lot more “emo” music in my younger years, which doesn’t typically have a compelling atmosphere but is full of just straightforward emotional melodies that touched me deeply. Some atmospheric black metal I would discover kind of had a similar melodic style, only this time with a thicker atmosphere that sounds like pure sadness and emotion. I remember when I first heard Woods of Desolation’s Torn Beyond Reason I thought, “I REALLY wish I had known about this when I was 14 in 2011” because the melodies on that record were exactly what my life was like at that time. Of course, there are more corners of atmospheric black metal that convey completely different sounds. You have atmospheric black metal that perfectly captures the pure essence of nature, which is a totally different body. And as someone who has lived their whole life being in love with exploration and wandering through nature, this is music that instantly appealed to me (think of albums like Acjétêc and Rain). I never actually gave too much thought on why I make the style of music I do; it kind of just feels natural. This kind of music is very hypnotic in the same way that I feel when I make music in the first place. No overattention to composition or anything other than just pure streamlined expression.

What inspires these atmospheres are my emotions, a dreamlike state, a pure immersion in sensation and the timelessness of an unforgettable moment. The formlessness when experiencing something beautiful. I want people to listen to my music and feel some sort of magic. The pinnacle of capture would be to somehow directly transmit the the feeling and magic into someone as though they see and feel exactly the world I wanted to create, but of course that doesn’t happen, and there’s a multiverse of possible experiences each and every individual person can have with the same piece of music. I want to convey any meaningful experience no matter what it is. I want to create stories and moments and memories with my music, and I wish I could feel everyone’s experience. I can only imagine all of the different stories there have been. In general, I think a lot about all the millions of impactful stories and moments in the lives of so many people. All of the feelings and colors and dreams and memories. I wish I could live them all. I want my music to be one of those.

YFL: Your music is relentlessly emotional. However, you don’t provide access to the lyrics for your songs - no lyrics are included on Bandcamp, for example - and it’s difficult to make out the lyrics to screamed vocals. What’s your reasoning for this, and can you tell us more about your lyrical content?

DAO: It feels like something stops me from being so open about the words I write. Like I’m oversharing. Sometimes the lyrics are completely secret and I won’t let anyone see them at all. People who support me on Patreon get to read the lyrics, but beyond that you will only find them on the physical release, if at all. I like leaving them in some sort of obscurity too.

Damián Antón Ojeda Portrait

(Photo courtesy of Damián Antón Ojeda.)

YFL: Your production techniques have clearly changed over time. When listening to your older albums, such as Leave, the production feels somewhat muffled and very distant, as opposed to your more recent output (I want to be there and Alluring the distant eye), which feels more conventional in its production quality. Was that a conscious choice? How have your production choices changed over time?

DAO: When I’m producing and mixing my music, I feel like everything needs to fall exactly into place to paint the image I feel it needs. Most of the early Sadness albums suffer from a lot of mistakes, and not because they are lo-fi but because of these screechy hi-end frequencies. I’ve since gone back and remastered a lot of the previous albums to kind of fix the sound. I personally think that Leave and I want to be there have similar intentions for the production, but Alluring the distant eye is definitely more “clean”. I’m not sure why. I guess over time, when I move houses and get new drumsets and new spaces and new software and lots of things change, they end up shaping the sound. Same with my personal state at the time. “Cerulean” was originally a song for Acjétêc and would have originally sounded like the rest of that album. When I re-recorded it, I guess I didn’t just want to make another “demo” quality version of the song and I wanted to really make a big production out of it. I was just proud of that song and I guess I felt that it would’ve been a good song to make more accessible.

YFL: You’re credited as “Elisa” on your releases as Sadness. What’s the reason for the alias, a typically female name? What pronouns do you use (he-him, they-them, etc)?

DAO: Before I even started Sadness, I went by the name Elisa as female in my personal life. I didn’t bring this over into the music, and actually everything about my identity was completely a secret - at least it would have been. The first time I showed my face or anything to people was several years down the line. People found the name Elisa because they would find my personal social media. Also when I first released physical copies the distributor would market “female project” for promotional purposes, and of course he drew all that from my personal facebook I used to contact him. I never intended to have any public identity in Sadness, to be honest. And then people would input details on metal archives and youtube that Sadness is “Elisa.” I think the only time I ever credited myself on any sadness release I would put “E.” Kind of like how depressive black metal bands would always have a single letter as their stage name. Elisa was just my personal name for a while, which I stopped using around November of 2014.

YFL: What are your future plans for Sadness? Do you have intentions of trying to sign to a label? When can we look forward to more albums?

DAO: I have 3 or 4 Sadness albums I’m working on. I think my only plan is to just keep making music. I would love to perform live and tour, I would just need to find people to play with. I’m planning on moving soon anyway so I can focus on that later. I work with the label Flowing Downward who produce all the Sadness vinyls, but I wouldn’t say I’m really signed. I don’t really know what it means to be signed. I guess it helps you have people market the music well, and you’re given money to go to a real studio and produce an actual album. Sadness works fine being independent, plus I don’t care about recording in a real studio anyway. If Sadness gets session members and wants to hit the road, then yeah I would like to be signed. I’m not good at marketing or business or anything, so if someone else could do all that that would be great. I have a 3 track EP that’s almost done. It might even be out before the month of May is done.

YFL: Thank you so much for answering these questions - stay safe and healthy!

DAO: Thank you for this interview. You as well.

To support the music of Damián Antón Ojeda / Sadness, stream Sadness’s music on Spotify or Apple Music, purchase Alluring the Distant Eye from sadnessmusic.bandcamp.com, and donate on Patreon. Please consider supporting artists through direct purchases during this pandemic.

(Thumbnail photo courtesy of Damián Antón Ojeda.)


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Editor-in-Chief
Young Fenimore Lee
(he/him)
Pictured: Henry, his pet Jellybone

Young is the child of two Korean musicians and was born and raised in the Chicago metropolitan area. They identify as queer and non-binary. They’re currently going through emocore/screamo essentials, and they love indie rock, indie folk, emo, post-hardcore, and math rock. Feel free to take a look at their rateyourmusic account, their last.fm, and this collage of the 100 albums they consider most personally important.