The idea of beautiful metal music is jarringly oxymoronic. How would someone even go about mixing the oil of aggressive shrieks and wailing distorted guitars with the water of pure, intricate harmonies and shimmering melodic motifs? The answer lies in the enigmatic genre of blackgaze, a fusion of black metal (a more extreme, unconventional, and lo-fi metal subgenre) with shoegaze (a plodding, dense alternative rock subgenre with spacey guitars and drowned-out vocals).
As with most idiosyncratic genre fusions, Blackgaze is a fairly recent phenomenon, with its genesis being traced back to the diversification of black metal subgenres in the mid to late 90’s. Throughout this time period, atmospheric black metal artists like Burzum gradually shifted away from aggression towards building immersive, cold soundscapes. These works bore some similarities to the concurrent shoegaze phenomenon in Britain, but the first albums that were consensually labeled as blackgaze by critics and audiences alike were the mid-2000’s works of French musician Neige, under his projects Alcest, Amesoeurs and Lantlôs. Meshing the ethereality of shoegaze and frigid atmospheric black metal of the decade prior, Neige created a novel, dichotomic and expressive sound. Blackgaze would expand in scope and popularity through future works such as the 2013 album Sunbather by Deafheaven, which has become a near-universally lauded album in music circles throughout the internet.
While microgenres have a tendency to be static due to their inherently limited appeal, blackgaze has seen lots of different adaptations. As a chimeric genre in its own right, many recent blackgaze artists have been unabashed in combining the style with everything from screamo to dark jazz to ambient vaporwave. One of my personal favorite takes on blackgaze is that of Strawberry Hospital, a solo artist who meshes the sound of blackgaze with trancecore, electronica, and j-pop. I reached out to them on Instagram and had a conversation about their music and their uncanny ability to combine seemingly disparate genres into cohesive works.
Me: Hey! Thanks for your time. Mainly, what would you say inspires you and your music?
Strawberry Hospital: When it comes to composing my songs, and the sounds that I design to use within my songs, my primary inspiration is drawn from other musicians. My influences include a wide range of genres (ex: doom metal, denpa, shoegaze, trance, baroque, IDM, industrial, free jazz, etc). Although I do frequently listen to and work with current artists, I tend to gravitate a bit more toward music that was created around 1980-2010. I remember being about 7 years old and constantly searching for new bands on forums, college radio stations, genre tags on MySpace, etc. This is how I stumbled across artists such as early Bjork and My Dying Bride which you can probably still hear traces of in what I create today. Since then, my habits have stayed the same. As for the lyrics in my songs and aesthetics… most of that is derived from non-musical sources. My lyrics frequently cover emotionally heavy or taboo topics and many of the songs’ lyrics pertain to my own life experiences. I also often dedicate pieces to people I know/have known and sentimental objects + what they mean to me. Since many of these topics are deeply personal, I use figurative language as a means of obscuring detail without compromising sentiment.
Me: Can you describe your creative process?
Strawberry Hospital: My creative process has changed quite a bit in the years since I began making my own music. Initially, I didn’t have much direction. A lot of what I made back then was simple and slightly superficial, in my opinion. As I gained more experience and skill, I had this strong urge to purge my previous work and start fresh. I wanted to start a project that could be something I would feel proud of, and something that was an accurate reflection of my own personality and identity. Thus, I created Strawberry Hospital. Even since the beginning of this project, my creative process was constantly developing. With each record, I try to bring something new to the table. Otherwise, it gets boring for me. If I can impress myself, it’s more likely that others will appreciate it too. Most of the time between records is spent sketching and allowing my life to develop. Throughout that period, I write lyrics, and pick my favorite sketches and match them with the lyrics. Only after that do I actually record the song.
Me: How did you come up with your specific sound?
Strawberry Hospital: I think the reason Strawberry Hospital l sounds the way it does is… I can never really decide what I want to make! one week I’ll listen to a lot of J-pop and think to myself “okay this next album is going to be a pop record” and then later on I listen to a lot of DSBM or noise and think “no no scratch that, THIS is what I want”. Repeatedly, I revisit different projects and add new sounds based on these polarizing impulsive creative decisions and somehow it just works out. Then, I can listen back to a song and feel that it’s representative of almost every facet of myself.
If you’re eager to expand your listening habits, I’ve compiled a short Spotify playlist of some of my favorite blackgaze songs for your listening pleasure.
While they aren’t blackgaze per se, I would just like to add a special shoutout to my favorite black metal band, Gris. If you like any of this stuff, you’ll be sure to like them as well. I’ve added a link to their bandcamp page below.