Interview by Ellis Heasley
Sator (pronounced Sah-tor not Say-tor as the band kindly explained to me) have just released one of the fiercest sludge/doom metal records you’ll hear all year in Cleansing Ritual. Drawing generous influence from all over the place, it was great to chat with all three members of the band (guitarist Mauro, drummer Michelangelo and bassist/vocalist Valerio) about their awesome new record, the influences behind it, and the past, present and future of all things Sator. Enjoy!
How would you describe Sator to somebody who has never heard your music before?
Mauro: What we aim to play is some heavy music, but that can also be groovy sometimes, and psychedelic. We have different parts that you can headbang to, or dance to, or just sit back and listen to and enjoy the music. We like to have different aspects, from heavy to trippy psychedelic stuff.
Michelangelo: From metalheads to hippies!
What does Sator mean and what does its meaning represent to you as a band?
Michelangelo: Sator in Latin means sower, producer, father, and it creates the word Saturn – the Roman divinity. He was told that one of his children would dethrone him one day, so he decided to devour all of his progeny, and this process of making the ancient gods with all their little flaws that are more human than divine gave us the idea for the name of the band, because we imagine it as a symbol of our society that devours itself for its personal interest.
How did the three of you come together as musicians?
Mauro: I was playing in a post-hardcore band called Stalker, and by the end I was not really happy because we were going nowhere basically. There was not much interest from the other members. Michelangelo and Valerio played in another post-hardcore band from Genoa called Majak, and we did a gig together so we met each other. I talked with Valerio and we found out we had mutual interests in music – the same tastes – so we decided to try to put together a band and we asked Michelangelo to join us. Everything was great from the beginning and here we are now!
Who would you say are some of your biggest influences, both as a band and as individual musicians?
Mauro: Black Sabbath of course.
Valerio: All of us!
Mauro: I like a lot of 70s proto-metal like Pentagram, Sir Lord Baltimore and stuff like that. Also I grew up listening to a lot of hardcore – Italian bands like Negazione – and the first sludge bands like Eyehategod and Grief, and more psychedelic stuff and kraut-rock like Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and stuff like that. And then as a personal influence for my musical development I think Dave Chandler, the guitarist from Saint Vitus, because of his use of the wah-wah pedal; I never used wah-wah before but then listening to Saint Vitus something bit me. I like him a lot because sometimes he’s musical and sometimes he’s very noisy.
Michelangelo: Differently from these two guys I came from more of a hardcore background – drummers like Tim Latona of Botch and Ben Koller from Converge – so I had less of an influence from doom, but when I discovered Melvins, unfortunately too late, Dale Crover became my personal favourite drummer. I also really enjoy YOB and Middian, the band before YOB.
Valerio: For me, Electric Wizard and YOB, and also Converge and The Cure – Simon Gallup is a great bassist – and also hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Black Flag, Discharge, and Italian hardcore like Negazione, Indigesti and Angeli.
All of you have mentioned a lot about hardcore – how does that hardcore influence come through in the music you are playing nowadays?
Mauro: I think maybe in the violence of some songs we play. We are not such great musicians so I think the punk influence is clear with us, and maybe also in our attitude I think.
Michelangelo: Less technique, more feelings!
How have the last few years been for you as a band, in relation to the COVID pandemic and beyond?
Michelangelo: It certainly wasn’t easy, I think for all the bands in the world it wasn’t easy. We already had concerts scheduled but everything blew up. On the other hand, we had more time to close ourselves in the rehearsal room and create new songs and Cleansing Ritual came out of this period.
What was the process like for writing and recording Cleansing Ritual? Was there anything you intentionally wanted to do differently for this album?
Michelangelo: We came from Scorching Sunlight, which was the last EP we did, and compared to the previous album that was a particular experiment because for the first time we had one song which was about 30 minutes, so it was something different, and I think it had some influence on Cleansing Ritual. We went even further out of the canon of this genre of music and let our influences – not only as musicians but also from real life – infiltrate more into our songs. On tracks like “Murder By Music” or “On The Edge” you can hear there are parts that are more influenced by punk or hardcore, or even more groovy parts.
Mauro, you play a lot of noisy guitar parts on top too…
Mauro: For this record one thing I liked to do was to have a more live approach, so when I play some lead guitar there is no overdub of another guitar – it’s just the bass like we play it live. Like I said, Dave Chandler – one of my influences – is a really noisy guitar player in the solos he does, and I like to start from there and develop it further with some more effects or more noisy stuff to have a more psychedelic effect. It’s trippy, but also because I really like industrial and harsh noise, that’s definitely an influence in what I do. I think it’s cool to explore different styles of music and try to put it together.
Michelangelo and Valerio that leaves you to carry the groove – how would you describe your relationship as a rhythm section?
Michelangelo: It comes quite naturally.
Valerio: Definitely. We’ve been playing together since 2006!
Michelangelo: With Mauro it’s easier because this man is a human jukebox. He’s trying to be humble but he always has a riff or something and so it’s easy. We just find each other and it’s natural.
Could you talk about any of the themes that might have informed Cleansing Ritual?
Michelangelo: There are many themes, and they are not always clear in your mind when you write the song, but recently all of us have gone through a bad period, whether it was for personal reasons or a generic hint of pessimism which permeates this period which we are living in. This has fuelled our already low esteem for humanity.
Valerio: There are a lot of negative vibes and fears and anguish in the tracks of our records in general.
Michelangelo: I think all of this has been a catalyst for all these negative energies we have accumulated, and Cleansing Ritual, as the title suggests, has been a way to cleanse ourselves and be reborn.
Mauro: We put all of ourselves into playing and recording the record basically.
I really like the kind of ritualistic artwork for this album which really suits the music well – could you talk about where that came from?
Mauro: I did the artwork. I like to do collages in my spare time, from different sources like from pictures I take or pictures from books or pictures I just found. Religious images always have a great impact at least for me, I don’t know why but I like the atmosphere they usually have – like the pictures of processions, they are moody in some way. I did the collage for the cover before the album, and when we decide the titles I remembered I did it so I proposed it to them and we thought it really fit the theme and the atmosphere of the album, so it was quite easy to choose it.
I don’t remember exactly where I found that picture but I think it was some English movement from the 20s or the 30s that was something like to promote some reborn Paganism and they did some festivals in the countryside.
What does live performance represent for Sator and how important does playing live feel in addition to the song-writing process?
Valerio: They are at the same level, and playing live has the same importance as song-writing for me. We love sharing our songs with the people who follow us, and we like the adrenaline that rises before each gig.
Mauro: Basically it’s very important for us to play live for the exchange of energy – which I think is a common thing for people who play. I think it’s the best way to really feel the music when you play. I think we just write the stuff we like, we don’t think about what people could think honestly.
Michelangelo: If it wasn’t clear we are a little bit misanthropic [laughs].
What is the situation like for bands in Italy at the moment?
Mauro: It’s going back to normal I think. There are a lot of people organising concerts or festivals.
Valerio: There are many bands in Italy and they are all excellent, like TONS, Grime, Messa, Throne, Consumer…
Mauro: Yeah, so we really hope we will get back to how it was two years ago!
How do you feel about the current state of heavy music in 2022? Do you think it is evolving positively?
Valerio: Yes! A lot of records have already been released and for me there is a lot of excitement about this. I’m positive!
Mauro: There is always a good movement I think, there are always new bands and new record labels – we are positive.
What do you guys do to relax when you aren’t writing, recording or performing music?
Mauro: I do more music, like different styles, but also normal stuff like reading and watching movies and hiking when there is good weather, and doing collages.
Michelangelo: We are actually very simple people, nothing strange! We have simple habits – personally I’m a bit of a nerd, I love video games and retro-gaming and RPGs.
Valerio: I like cooking and travelling!