Shattered Shields, Pt. 2 by illuminihilation | INTERVIEW
Author: Thommy Delaney
Hey, John [Gnesin - aka illuminihaliton]! Congrats on your new album, "Shattered Shields: Pt. 2." Tell us a bit about how you began this project and how you developed your style.
Hello Thommy - thank you so much for the opportunity to do this interview!
Illuminihilation officially began way back in the late 90s, when I was a high school student in Montville, NJ. That is when I came up with the band name, started writing songs, and envisioning the musical career I was hoping to have.
While I did end up having a bit of a musical career in my twenties, working for Earache and Relapse Records and doing a bit of music journalism on the side; the bands I started or joined never really got off the ground. Most of them never even got out of the practice space!
In my late thirties, I had a strong urge to re-invest in my music and finally bring these songs from my dusty old notebook to life. It took some time to learn how to make demos and come up with a plan to start recording and releasing them, but I got on track (literally) starting in 2020 with a demo called "A Portent" before diving into the material that would become Shattered Shields Pt. 1 and Pt. 2.
In terms of my style - I'll always be a metal/hardcore guy first and foremost, but I never felt limited by these genres in terms of expressing myself. So it all starts from a desire to write music that is dark, dramatic, poignant, and powerful - but how that music comes out is anyone's guess (even mine!).
This album is the second part to "Shattered Shields: Pt. 1." Why did you decide to do two parts to this album?
When I looked at my collection of songs for this project, a clear delineation appeared between my epic metal songs, my punchier and simpler hardcore songs, and a hodgepodge of material that could be called indie, folk, emo, punk... whatever.
Following the demo, I decided to focus on the hardcore and hodgepodge first. From a practical standpoint, these were the easier songs to write and record, and I felt that by sequencing the albums and the songs in the way I did, there is a broader autobiographical story being told over the course of both records.
Upon listening to the album, I noticed you have written in all sorts of different styles. What kind of music did you listen to growing up that influenced your style?
The foundation of my style is in my deep and abiding love of heavy metal music in all its myriad forms and my discovery of punk, hardcore and emo as well. The folk influence came from my folks appropriately enough - we used to listen to all the classics on long car trips. While I don't think of it as an active influence, it's hard to deny I am a child of the 90s as well, both in terms of all the great alternative and indie rock that exploded at that time, both nationwide and particularly in New Jersey when I first started going to shows.
The album begins with a song called "An Ode to Regret." What is the meaning behind the title?
This is one of the first songs I ever wrote - basically as soon as I could string a few chords together. At the time, we were learning about Shakespeare and the classic renaissance poets in English class, and everything was an Ode to this or that. To this day, I'm still not entirely sure what an "Ode" is - but I ended up calling a few of my songs an Ode to this or that as well. In class, we focused on poetry that was positive and uplifting in nature, so I naturally had to subvert that and write my Odes to various forms of angst I was feeling at the time.
The second song, "My Screeching Halt" opens with some light acoustic and electric riffs and then builds to an explosion of overdrive and powerful metal drumming. Is this song about a crazy relationship you went through or is it about something completely different?
Yup, this one was about a very particular relationship, and I feel the clash of genres really helps accentuate the tension and release as the song progresses. This song was in my notebooks under the working title "SWEMO", referring to the mix of Swedish-styled melodic metal riffs in the verse and emo/indie rock chorus and refrain. I considered this combination to be one of the best, bad ideas I ever came up and was really surprised it worked as well as it did!
"An Ode to Friendship, Lost" kicks off with an interesting yet cool riff that nearly sounds a bit classical, which then goes into a slightly funky riff that builds up to the entrance of the vocals. Where did the name for this song come and what is the message that people can take from it?
My previous answer covered my weird obsession with Odes. The song bitterly describes the disappointing dissolution of a friendship, though I'm not sure there is a particular message to be taken from it - other than don't be a bad friend, I guess?
"Swinging in the Wind" begins with what sounds like someone who went through a rough relationship, which then builds up to an uplifting sounding ending. Have you gone through any rough relationships that may have inspired the lyrics and how did you lift yourself up after they were over?
Oh, I have gone through some rough ones, and - even worse some good ones that ended anyway - which can feel even rougher than the rough ones.
"Swinging in the Wind" is a song about the latter case, where the narrator is coming to that realization that the relationship has decayed and is holding them back. There is a lot of frustration and resentment, but ultimately the liberating realization that while there might have once been something worth savoring, there is nothing worth salvaging, which is what inspired the ending of the song.
My goal was to write a song where either partner in the same relationship could be singing/screaming these lines to each other - I hope someday to do another version with both male and female vocals to accentuate that aspect of the song - so if anyone reading this is interested in breaking up with me via duet - please reach out!
"What Would Jesus Do" caught my attention before I even heard it. What made you write a song with Jesus in the lyrics and what message are you trying to convey through the track?
I was raised Jewish, but with a nominally Christian parent as well, so I grew up with all kinds of interesting notions - both positive and negative - around the character of Christ. At some point, I read The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis and finally felt an affinity with the character, which is somewhat ironic, since the book and movie was very controversial with the Catholic Church and some other Christians.
Around the same time, you had these bumper sticker slogans like "What Would Jesus Do?" - implying that this would be the moral choice, even though a lot of the motivation and money behind these types of campaigns was coming from very conservative, capitalistic, and authoritarian right-wing elements.
If this half-Jew knows nothing else, he knows that Jesus would've hated those guys, and cast his lot with the poor and persecuted instead. So "What Jesus Would Do" is a moral prescription based on that reading of Christ and scripture - that based on 99% of his words and deeds, Christ was deeply compassionate towards the least powerful in society and that is what so-called Christians should focus 99% of their religious fervor on.
The third to the last song on the album is called "The Folding of The Wings" and has a completely different vibe from the rest of the songs since it's mostly on acoustic guitar with a bit of a clean electric now and then. Why did you decide to write a song this chill and what is it related to?
This was the latest song written for this project, I believe I came up with the basic chord progression around the time I was starting to work on making Illuminihilation a real thing and didn't write the lyrics until I started the final pre-recording demos in 2021. The chord progression always suggested a song about nature to me, and since I covered all other kinds of relationships on this album, I felt one about my relationship with nature would fit in nicely.
The second to last track on the album, "This Orphan Earth," has an interesting title. Tell us a bit about the meaning behind the lyrics and what the message of the song is.
The title is an ode (ha) to the classic Sci-Fi movie, This Island Earth. I wrote this song in college as sort of an act of emotional activism, seeing and hearing a lot of divisiveness among members of my generation, mostly based on the same-old, same-old grievances and fault-lines that divide people up and make them easy to conquer. I am hoping this song makes listeners feel less alone, more open to making common cause with other people, and more empowered as a result!
After people listen to the album, what message do you hope to convey to them with these songs as a whole?
I sequenced the songs on Shattered Shields, Pt. 2 in a very intentional way to put the angst, bitterness and resentment in the front, and the realization, revelation, and release in the back.
I really hope people who may be hurting or may have been hurt and feel stuck in that hurt, listen to it in that context.
The expression of frustration and sadness, feeling of stasis and bitterness is in fact a healthy part of a healing process, but you must allow that process to progress. Even the more upbeat and positive songs at the end of the album were written aspirationally when I was in a darker place, and in writing and recording those songs, I was able to light the end of the tunnel and find my way out.
Can we expect more music from you in future? If so, will it still be part of your solo project or will it be with other musicians?
Absolutely there will be more music!
The final album from the old, dusty songbook will be my epic metal material, which I am starting to work on as of the date I am completing this interview. That album will be called Post-Teenage-Waste-Landfill. On this album, I plan to bring back live drumming, but play everything else myself, and am hoping to complete it, if not release it by the end of 2024.
In some ways, recording the demo then Shattered Shields, Pt. 1 and 2 first was a way of building up to this moment of tackling my most technically challenging and ambitious songs and I am excited to get started.
Once released, I'll have released around 40 songs in a 4-year period, which basically will satisfy my goal of recording the vast majority of songs from my notebook.
I'll probably give myself a little celebration and a little break at that point - and decide whether to continue Illuminihilation as a solo project, look for permanent band members, or just end it there and start a new project. Part of my motivation of getting all these old songs out of my system is to clear my head and heart to start writing new material - and I want to leave the direction I take with that new material as open as possible!
Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
If they got this far - thanks for reading all that! I'm just a 45-year-old heavy metal dad from Northern NJ who gets 100% of my gratification from just making the music and knowing a few people out there are listening - I am absolutely not in it for money or fame whatsoever.
Every listen on Bandcamp, Spotify or YouTube (or wherever) and every like and follow on Facebook or Instagram means the world to me! Getting comments, messages and meeting other musicians and music nerds makes my whole damn day, week, month and year!
Thank you Thommy for the interview as well and Lazlo and Blow-Up Radio for all the love and support!
Illuminihilation is the primary creative outlet of John Gnesin, a guitarist, singer and songwriter from New Jersey, now based in Jersey City. Through his teens, twenties and thirties - he composed and compiled a huge notebook of metal, punk, hardcore and emo songs, though bands he started or joined at that time never got off the ground, or even out of the jam room.
Through those years, John interned at Earache Records in New York and then worked at Relapse Records in Philadelphia, writing for the now defunct DigitalMetal.com as well as writing and editing Relapse's catalog and magazine, Resound. He also moderated Relapse's infamous message board (for which he was once featured in Decibel Magazine) and formed worldwide connections with artist and music lovers throughout the metal and hardcore scenes.
In his thirties, he finally decided to go it alone musically - and started re-arranging and releasing his music in his forties, starting with the demo - "A Portent" in 2020, followed by the release of "Shattered Shields, Pt.1" in 2022. "Shattered Shields, Pt. 2" was released on September 1st, 2023.
About the Author: Thommy Delaney is a Senior Music Business Major at New
Jersey City University. He is also the lead guitarist and a vocalist in the Bayonne
Indie pop-rock band BreakTime: a four-piece writing modern pop tunes with
generous vintage allusions to artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Looking for something new to listen to? Be sure
to follow BreakTime @breaktimelivenj on social media and stream their music on