Black Opium lights up stage

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

Black Fortress of Opium recently released their self-titled debut album and is a deceptively small band compared to the many different musical arrangements of their songs. To hear their out-of-the-ordinary sound live, Black Fortress of Opium will be performing at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge on April 10 before moving on up to the Middle East Upstairs on May 20.

Their songs contain a distinctive mix of instruments making them stand out compared to other new artists. These range from strings, including the banjo and mandolin, to the usual instrumentation of the guitar and drums to give the band a folk-like feel at times.

"I like a lot of different sounds and I like to try to incorporate as many [instruments] as possible to the frustration of my bandmates, 'cause I usually drag along what they call a 'yard sale' to every show," said Ajda, the lead singer and lyricist of the band, in a telephone interview with The Beacon. "That's just a part of how I write. I consider myself a composer and part of that is just using the instruments that I know and have."

Along with Ajda, the band consists of Tony Savarino on guitar and Joe Turner on the drums. Their band name comes from the translation of a town in Turkey named Afyonkarahisar that they found inspiring and becomes another one of the many influences that the band incorporates in their music.

The songs on the debut album were written by Ajda and range all different human emotions. Most of the songs that are listed on their MySpace give a more mellow than rock feel. They have a slow pace to them and with the addition of the instruments mentioned earlier, their sound is different than many bands out there. The vocals on each of the tracks aren't screamed and are sung at a slow tempo to match the music. The band classifies themselves in the genres of "alternative, rock, goth/industrial and folk," but in the songs on their MySpace they seem to lean more toward the alternative folk side with a twist of goth and rock thrown in.

The members of the band, all who are either from or live in the Boston area, chose Cambridge as their headquarters and say they enjoy playing there because of its convenient location.

"We do like playing around here," said Ajda. "The Plough has been really good to us, every time we go there people are so quiet and respectful. People think it's a pub and people are just not really going to be listening and just are there to drink, but that's not true."

One of their best songs is the "Model Cafeacute;," which is a mellow love song that describes a time in Ajda's life when she was in a different band with her boyfriend at the time. The lyrics illustrate how they practiced their music close by the Model Cafeacute; in Allston and how it was a happy time in her life because of the peacefulness and love that surrounded her. When listening to this song in particular, there is a blissful feel. It is very simplistic with a beautiful musical arrangement accenting her voice and the lyrics of the song.

One of Ajda's favorites is the song "Ari," which deals with singer Nico's son Ari, whose story Ajda found interesting. "Its my favorite because I was really so touched when I heard the story," said Adja. "I saw a movie about Nico and it showed her son being interviewed and it just screamed out at me and a part of me I could relate to because I'm an only child."

The song focuses on the ideas of "addiction, loneliness and isolation," she said. In it there is also a strong concentration on the vocals and the musical arrangement becomes more apparent towards the middle and near end of the song.

With a wide range of sounds and songs, the band proves it is capable of tackling many different genres of music. They compare themselves to the likes of Dead Can Dance, Mazzy Star and Nico, yet are able to stand out on their own. Like any musicians they hope that their music reaches people and that people can relate to what their songs are about.

"We usually say that our songs are about the human situation, life, love, misery, happiness you know all those things," said Ajda. "To me, it's serious business and I know that the whole band feels that way about the songs that we do."

The Black Fortress of Opium will go on at 10 p.m. at the Plough Stars in Cambridge. Tickets are $6.