"The lyrics are focused around the universal perception of death. When you go really deep into the core of any religion or spiritual movement, they all seem to agree."

Few records released in 2020 were as magically transportive as Of Blood & Mercury’s debut, Strangers. Primarily a creative collaboration between underground mavens Michelle Nocon (Death Penalty/Serpentcult) and Olivier Lomer-Wilbers (also of Emptiness, another act involved in Roadburn Redux), the Belgians’ sublime blend of amorphous ambience, ghostly textures and bittersweet melody promises to be an oasis of shadowy calm amid the world’s ongoing turmoil. Most importantly, the band’s newly commissioned piece promises to showcase the real-time evolution of Of Blood & Mercury’s unique sound.

Dom Lawson

How have you adapted to our weird new reality over the last year? Any new challenges, in terms of being creative?

Michelle: “We have been quite successful in adapting ourselves through history to all kinds of changes. The question is, should we adapt to this, or rather fight our current situation? In terms of creativity, it has been challenging as well. Where we normally make all the music ourselves but play live as a quartet, we decided to play live as a duo. Covid restrictions were going back and forth on how many people could meet, so we took matters into our own hands and didn’t leave room for unforeseen changes. Because of this choice, we didn’t only have to write a new music piece in the time given, but we also had to produce and mix it, as we wouldn’t have all our musicians playing with us. Olivier has written all the music while working full-time and having to prepare for his band Emptiness as well. I wrote the lyrics and vocals. Concerning the rehearsals, we had to figure out a live set up: a backing track, samples, and all we could do ourselves as musicians on top of that. We also had to learn to work with new programs, new devices, some of which we build ourselves. So, a lot of challenges in an already challenging year, but there is beauty in that.”

What can you tell us about your forthcoming Roadburn performance?

“The lyrics are focused around the universal perception of death. When you go really deep into the core of any religion or spiritual movement, they all seem to agree. They all embody the exact same ideas represented differently and from various angles. But the very essence of it doesn’t differ at all. It is only now and mainly here in the West that the ideas on death, our beliefs are completely distorted. Nowhere on the planet, at no time in history have people been so deluded concerning spirituality as they have been for the last millenaries. We are not the rule, we are the exception, no matter how crazy that sounds. We have very poor understanding and insight on who we really are and what life or death really is. But that too has a role to play. Musically we approach this theme as Of Blood & Mercury, meaning that we merge our music with this topic. We build a noise-box around the concept that gives power, visually and sonically. Furthermore, it carries an element of surprise, randomness and chaos in itself that we found to be fitting for this project. Because of this, the performance balances between order and chaos, skills and fate. On our previous album we already explored the ghostly world surrounding us. We took that a bit further too by using distorted tapes; old tapes that we found and looped. These are tapes from people that already crossed the other side.”

What does Roadburn mean to you, as creative people and on a personal level?

“My first experience with Roadburn was playing there with my former band Serpentcult in 2008. I was very happy to witness such an already diverse music festival. Although more directed towards doom metal, it was a festival where you could easily discover a versatile range of bands. From then on, I was a frequent visitor to the festival myself. I had the honour to play there with my other bands: Death Penalty in 2015, Bathsheba in 2017, and now with Of Blood & Mercury as well. I’ve met many great people there that have become my close friends, I’ve bought music that has become very special to me. I’ve discovered bands I would have never discovered. As a musician, I never had to worry about not being able to do my job right. Roadburn is by far the most well-organised festival there is, and it is also the most honest, integrous and authentic festival I know. Apart from that I think the respect that Walter and his crew show for the artists is very touching.”

Can you tell us about your favourite past experience(s) of Roadburn? Were there any shows that had a strong impact?

“One of the best memories I had at Roadburn… it’s honestly a tough question, because I have so many, both as a visitor and an artist! But I have two memories that stand out. The first was in 2009 when I discovered Bohren & Der Club Of Gore. Their concert was a mind-blowing thing to behold. At the end of the gig, a fan recognised me and told me we were watching his favourite band and he was very happy I liked it too. He had bought their LP and wanted me to have it. Of course, I refused because although very kind, I didn’t want to take the gift. But he insisted on me taking it. Who knows, he will read this and recognise himself here!

“The other memory was Earth, in 2008. I was there with my friends from Serpentcult. I was very touched by that concert. Steven, our bass player saw that and said, ‘It’s beautiful isn’t it?’ I nodded and as I looked around me, I saw in people’s faces that they felt the same way. The whole room was as touched as I was. I will ever forget that.”

What are your hopes and plans for the (hopefully post-pandemic) future?

“We will focus on working on a new EP or an album and keeping creative. We hope that we can also go back to playing live. Creating is one thing but playing live is something we both enjoy as well.”

What else are you looking forward to experiencing during Roadburn Redux?

“Roadburn is always an opportunity to discover different artists and different acts. This time many things will be different, but not that. We are looking forward to seeing acts like Lustmord, Autarkh and Primitive Man. We are naturally curious to see how other bands managed to work under these special conditions. There are plenty of good bands on the line-up and many bands we don’t know yet, so we are surely going to discover a lot of great music. We hope to see a happy Roadburn crew as well. Walter and his crew have had a tough year with last year’s Covid situation. They made the impossible possible this year so we hope to hear from them too on the platform.”

Of Blood And Mercury will perform The Other Side Of Death on Sunday 18 April at 18.40.