by Niklas Göransson
Roberto Mammarella, the creative force behind Italian cult band MonumentuM, is an underground relic with deep roots in the second-wave black metal movement. Passion still burns through spiritual exhaustion.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, Mortiis, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.
– MONUMENTUM was created like an architectural project – not with instruments in our hands, but with pen and paper. Our personal version of rehearsals was meeting up and sitting at a table with notebooks… we’d put together tens of song titles, lyrical excerpts, and cover layout sketches before we even had a single riff! All we could do was hope and trust that all these conceptual ideas would, in their final recorded stage, turn into something decent and close to our expectations; that our dreams would become reality when instruments replaced the stupid hummed riffs. So, our ‘rehearsals’ were pretty much just verbal discussions about what to play here and what to put there, which instrument to use in certain song parts and what to use elsewhere.
Milanese quartet MONUMENTUM was founded in 1987 and released their classic demo tape “Musaeum Hermeticum” two years later. CELTIC FROST was clearly a massive lodestar, but I don’t think many other bands combined such a foundation with strong influences from CHRISTIAN DEATH and THE SISTERS OF MERCY.
– That was our ideal creation, the exact hybrid we were aiming for. First of all, CELTIC FROST… I mean, “Into the Pandemonium” changed our lives. As if “To Mega Therion” hadn’t enough already! The name itself, MONUMENTUM, was outright stolen from CELTIC FROST with no fair play at all. They used to ‘spoil’ the titles of their next records in fanzine interviews: one of those was supposed to be “Monumentum”. We didn’t feel especially guilty since, after all, CELTIC FROST ceased to exist before creating such an album. Simultaneously, the other three original members and I were all dying for the 80s darkwave scene. It was so alive and creative. Actually, I didn’t know any other guys around town who’d literally die for both HALLOWS EVE’s “Death and Insanity” and CHRISTIAN DEATH’s “Catastrophe Ballet” – those scenes were dramatically different and distant, even in the urban meeting points typical for the time. The golden years of the music world were flowing through our heads, we were made witness to and tried breathing back something that was in the atmosphere already. You simply had to capture it.
Given its age, there are quite a few musical innovations present on “Musaeum Hermeticum”. For instance, there’s something that sounds like a violin – several years before MY DYING BRIDE made a name for themselves.
– Yes, it was a real violin. A guest performance by some friend of our bass player, probably invited unknowing of what he was contributing to – just like the piano outro, courtesy of our drummer’s uncle. We were very lucky to team up with each other and find such a creative union, at least on perspective and goals, although we could barely tune our instruments. We weren’t a band as much as a declaration of intent. In fact, back then, CELTIC FROST had the very same problem as us: Tom and Martin were more architects and philosophers of music, rather than actual musicians.
MONUMENTUM released a split EP with ROTTING CHRIST in 1991. The Greeks made a killer re-recording of “Feast of the Grand Whore” from “Satanas Tedeum”, but the Italians only contributed recycled demo songs.
– From our side, it would’ve been impossible to record anything new. MONUMENTUM as we knew it from the demo tape had already disbanded. I was in the army for a full year and lost contact with almost all the old members. When I got back, I had too many things going on to even try to put together pieces of a broken pot. Actually, thinking back on these events and trying to actualise and explain them makes me even more conscious of how my perception of time has changed later in life, because all these things I’m now describing to you in a few sentences seemed instead like an aeon back then.
Roberto was also active in the underground with both Obscure Plasma Records and his ‘zine, Thanatography. One of the bands featured in the publication was Norwegian black metal pioneers MAYHEM.
– Now, I truly do not remember which one of us got in touch first, but it was sort of in both parties’ interest. I ran my small distro and the ‘zine, so I had much to do with Deathlike Silence Productions and MAYHEM. Apparently, Euronymous liked the “Musaeum Hermeticum” demo a lot, so we started making fantasies about potential collaborations. He signed MONUMENTUM to DSP before I’d even composed a single song for the album. Euronymous told me that he didn’t have the funds to cover our recordings; back then, nobody was really using computers or jerking around with home recordings. If you wanted to have something halfway decent, you had to enter a professional studio and spend money that today would be unreal to invest in an underground project. So, his proposal was, ‘Why don’t you release this MAYHEM live album and’… well, besides all the copies I was supposed to give him to cover band and Helvete sales, ‘make money to record the album?’
MAYHEM’s iconic “Live in Leipzig” was released on vinyl by Obscure Plasma in July 1993. It’s difficult to estimate just how much of an impact this release had on the black metal scene. Without a doubt, it must be the most influential live album in the genre’s history. And it almost didn’t happen – the arrangement nearly fell through in 1992, after Roberto had been in talks with Dutch black metal band BESTIAL SUMMONING about releasing their “The Dark War Has Begun” album on CD. At the time it had only been issued on LP, courtesy of No Fashion.
– Haha! Holy shit, how can these stories still be floating around out there? Incredible… we don’t even have the right to have our backgrounds forgotten these days. Anyway, yes, I got a phone call from Euronymous one day and he was pretty much angry. I can recall his voice even now, although Scandinavian people tend to be walking corpses when it comes to emotional response. He was seriously threatening me. I don’t know what Euronymous’ issue with the BESTIAL SUMMONING vocalist – or ‘the taxi driver’, as he called him – was, but his message was clear. As was my decision, haha. God damn! They were extreme, although a bit poor in song-writing. I’m not sure why he hated them; probably because they weren’t from a weird country.
Did Euronymous get to see the finished product before he died?
– No, he did not. I was supposed to bring some copies with me on a train after visiting Sweden in August 1993. All this was in a world that’s impossible to explain to younger people – a reality without cell phones and internet, when communication took its due time with all of its faults. For example, a few years earlier, Euronymous, Necrobutcher, and Metalion had come to visit me, but they didn’t have my street address. My published address for letters was a PO box, so they literally went to the post office where nobody could tell them a fuck about me. They just sat there outside for a few hours, hoping I’d randomly walk by. So, it ended up in chaos: I showed up in front of a closed-down Helvete, then saw pictures of Euronymous in Norwegian newspapers, trying to understand a fucking word… only to realise that I arrived a little too late for everything.
Did you know Varg too?
– Yes, we exchanged some letters before he went to prison, as you did with everyone in those days. I remember Varg was very, very naïve back then – he assumed that I, being Italian, had mafia connections. He asked if I could help him get weapons and dynamite to blow up churches. I didn’t even have time to respond before word regarding church burnings and so on reached us down here. After that, it all happened rather quickly, or at least this is my perception and memory of the whole story. These days, I have certain dates carved in stone; in between BURZUM’s debut album and Euronymous’ murder, I think we have seventeen months, right? March 1992, until the first half of 1993. I repeat myself: we were living in a world with no mobile phones and where no one even knew the word ‘internet’, so any kind of news and events spread slowly and by letter. But I was well aware of the thin line between the two of them, set to snap at any moment. I thought Euronymous was sort of jealous of Varg growing in importance. He probably felt the same way about Dead. I think he would’ve preferred to keep the contact with the scene to himself, especially the commercial part, while the other two should stay more isolated and only care about their roles in their respective bands.
Roberto was one of the people who received a piece of Dead’s cranium from Euronymous. Interestingly, I read in an older interview that he doesn’t believe the MAYHEM vocalist killed himself; rather that it was Euronymous who held the shotgun and then staged a suicide scene. It was a long time now since I last came across that argument.
– I’m sort of half-and-half debated on this: it’s not that I don’t believe a character like Dead was capable of killing himself, but I find it hard to accept that Euronymous would use or react to his suicide in the way he did. Not to mention that infamous post-mortem photo used on the “Dawn of the Black Hearts” bootleg: do we really need CSI staff to observe that a knife can’t be found in that position? Or that a gun can hardly fall right there, so close to the body, after a self-shooting? I mean, do we all even know what it means to shoot a shotgun? It’s a heavy weapon; firing rifles is a physically tough thing. It’s not an Xbox joystick you just smash the buttons on. The whole crime-scene to me seems very much made-up, arranged to take a picture.
Besides the split EP with ROTTING CHRIST, it was Roberto’s friendship with Euronymous that laid out the future path for MONUMENTUM. It’s interesting to note that they were more or less musically inactive during all the years the band garnered notoriety in the black metal scene.
– Basically, that was the real magic of this project: despite there being zero activity behind it, MONUMENTUM constantly gained popularity. I literally didn’t do anything besides write riffs by singing them on a tape recorder. I asked my drummer to keep faith in this and promised him that we’d eventually record an album. Meanwhile, between the demo and the album, I got very active in the underground scene with my fanzine and label, and I took that time to twist and turn the band into an open laboratory where musicians close to me on a personal level could be invited, join, and then leave again without emotional suffering. What happened at the very moment I needed to involve other members was that anybody teaming up with me had to bear with my credo: ‘Please, trust me. Now, it sounds ridiculous but then it will be beautiful.’ For “Musaem Hermeticum” this ‘workflow’ was very spontaneous, but things got more complicated with the debut album when ambitions increased dangerously.
“In Absentia Christi”, the long-anticipated debut album of MONUMENTUM, was recorded between August 1994 and May 1995, then released by legendary UK label Misanthropy Records in September ‘95.
– I had to explain to the studio producer that all I had was about forty-five minutes of ideas and basic structures. I told him we were not a band anymore and that I didn’t have the energy to look for other musicians. So, what I foremost needed to do was record the drum tracks that would constitute the spine upon which I’d draw the remaining painting. I rehearsed with my drummer for about eight hours before entering the studio to record his parts. I played a guitar to guide his performance, and then, using this drum recording – on a cassette tape I still have – I simply started writing the album and all arrangements for real. It was an almost blank sheet with forty minutes of drumming, but it was all clear in my imagination. I guess it felt like being a sculptor; the sculptor takes a big square stone, and from this he carves and cuts whatever figure is shown to him in his mind’s eye.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, Mortiis, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.