Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Via Invisible Oranges : "I understand it took a long time for this album to come together (I'd seen the Atramentus name attributed to you first at least a few years ago but this is the first public material attributed to it). What went into creating this album?
Around eight years ago, I walked through a snowstorm for three hours in temperatures exceeding -20 degrees celsius and came back home freezing, miserable, angry, and anxious. I grabbed my guitar and wrote the song "Perennial Voyage." Atramentus was born on that night. The other song, "From Tumultuous Heavens…", came to me a year later during an autumnal evening. Rain was pouring down outside and the sun was already going down at 4:30 PM. I was in a really bad place mentally and the atmosphere outside as well as the colours seen in the obscured sky brought me to write that song during that single evening. I wrote a lot of other material from 2012-2013, but adding any other tracks alongside these 2 would've ruined the natural flow between them and would've ruined the way they coexisted with each other despite being drastically different in sound and atmosphere. This is why the album is only 44 minutes. In later years, our keyboardist François Bilodeau wrote and created the dark ambient soundscape that would bridge these two tracks together and this was the only addition to the album that was deemed fitting as it actually enhanced the natural flow of the two songs and bridged them together naturally. I usually like to do longer albums but here it is exactly the length it needs to be as it perfectly captures the transition between miserable autumn to eternal winter and it is more than enough to capture the feelings I went through. The only reason it took years for Atramentus to release anything is because it took close to six years to find a drummer willing to play such an extreme genre of music in a scene dominated by death and black metal bands, and I was not interested in releasing anything with programmed drums.
Do you feel that funeral doom exists in another level of extremity when compared to other styles of extreme metal?
I do. It seems that the term "extreme metal" is often associated with bands playing an extremely fast, highly technical and/or aggressive form of music these days. It makes sense. However, I personally consider funeral doom to be in a class of its own. It is a style of music that is meant to overwhelm you, to hurt you, to throw you in a cold and desolate place and to make you feel emotions you would rather not face or acknowledge, as opposed to the other genres I mentioned. Last Tape Before Doomsday by Worship is, for example, one of the most extreme recordings I have ever heard for these reasons, much more than any black metal, grindcore, or death metal bands I can think of. There's a reason why their music is such a big inspiration on Atramentus, as well, without it being that obvious. As much as the genre gained a lot of traction and attention over the last ten years, it still remains the most misunderstood, less accessible, and less common subgenre out there, be it because of the reasons I mentioned above, or merely because of its unfathomably slow tempos and uncompromisingly bleak nature. These two factors are an immediate deal breaker for a lot of people who feel it makes for an exceedingly repetitive and depressing experience. The repetitions are there to hurt, not to entertain.
Though the listener will make their own decisions about the music, do you feel Atramentus hurts in that way?
Sonically, maybe so at first, as everything was composed very spontaneously by a much younger version of myself that was looking to create the most miserable music possible. However, each note played throughout this album ultimately resonates with an intent to convey a specific emotion or event connected to how the story behind the lyrics unfold. It depends on how you choose to interpret it, but there is a bigger picture than just "hurting" -- the right word would be "feeling" overall. Like you said though, the listeners will make their own decisions about it all and they are also absolutely free to listen to the album and enjoy or hate it for what it is at its core level and not pay attention to my endless rambling.
The concept behind Stygian is constructed in a specific manner since it is divided between side "Autumn" and side "Winter". The way the songs and the story flow serves as a way to induce a varying range of feelings throughout its course. The first song introduces the main event and the main protagonist: the end of the world seen through the eyes of a nameless man who is unable to die. Powerless and petrified in fear, he first witnesses the death of the sun and the towering waves of darkness that submerge the lands around him and the death of all life itself. The second song is about the character falling into a deep slumber to escape the troubles of the outside world and his solitude in a lifeless world, only to experience horrible nightmares and the horrors of sleep paralysis and sleep apnea induced by crippling anxiety still lingering in the corners of his mind. It is also during that time when Autumn would draw its last breath only to give in to perpetual winter in one final cataclysm. The third and last song takes place centuries later and tells of the nameless character's awakening, and his unending journey throughout the world he once knew that is now covered in miles of ice under a sunless sky. It is during that endless journey where he endures perpetual physical pain due to blistering winter winds and utter despair and unbearable sadness as he is left with nothing but haunting memories of everyone he ever knew from his past life for eternity in the endless cold.
Of course, this story is told through almost Romantic-like storytelling, or much like an old tale found in an old book with many references to an imaginary medieval-inspired lore with numerous influences from Christian Theology/Eschatology & Greek mythology. We may be a funeral doom band, but we draw inspiration from other genres such as dark ambient and black metal (mostly for the vocals and for recreating a cold atmosphere, not much else). I'd say we draw even more inspiration from epic doom bands and even heavy metal bands, though. It is on an aesthetical level mostly, but at times directly in our music. It is why I chose to write our lyrics the way I did, to remain true to my heavy metal/epic doom roots and to further feed the imagination of the listener, to paint vivid landscapes in one's mind. But each emotion the character goes through in the course of this tale are real feelings that were experienced firsthand, in real-life settings, meant to be experienced and felt by the listener as the album goes on. Much like when you experience the loss of a loved one, and experience fear, denial, regret and go through a seemingly unending period of mourning that is so painful it translates into physical pain. Or when you experience and witness something so terrifying, you cannot even grasp what has just happened, if it is real or just a figment of your imagination and you try to fight through the petrifying fear taking hold of your body to come to your senses. Or it can be felt in the same way when you feel so unbearingly sad, you expose yourself to the outside elements where the winds are so excruciatingly cold it actually hurts you to your core, just to actually "feel" something else.
The concept is definitely interesting, especially the parallel between the seasons and the slow march to total death. What led to this concept?
I built the concept around personal experiences and things I have experienced and felt myself (the aforementioned cases of prolonged exposition to extreme natural occurrences, but also dreams, paranormal experiences, religious beliefs, and emotional trauma, etc). Every riff, solo, drum hit or synth note tells a story for itself. The key, however, was to establish several themes around these personal anecdotes in an attempt to create an epic (subjective) yet emotionally overwhelming experience (subjective), to further create a palpable atmosphere and feeling of coldness in a desolate, medieval setting not too different from ours. An alternate plane of existence filled with dark sunsets and once triumphant castles slowly being engulfed by colossal waves of water raised by the elder gods themselves. A desolate wasteland of ice and tumultuous blizzards filled with mournful frozen shapes in endless fields of toundra. This is the vision of dread, anguish and desolation I have aimed to conjure within this album, but the inclusion of these other themes is justified by a deep desire to create something that is more "immersive" out of my own existential dread and pain and expand upon it, as I feel that merely sticking to creating self-lamenting, self-harming funeral doom music is not powerful and not evocative enough. Don't get me wrong, I do think funeral doom is at its most effective when it is unbearably miserable, negative, anti-life, nostalgic, etc., and when the music comes from a deep and personal place. We certainly aim to create the heaviest and most emotionally-wrecking funeral doom we possibly can within these parameters as far as the music goes. This doesn't mean we should limit ourselves when it comes to concepts and lyrical themes and that we should just stick to certain tropes. I also think traditional doom metal works better when it is more "epic" and vivid. It so happens that I wanted to combine both approaches to create soundscapes as powerful and majestic as they are tragic, suffocating, dark, and sorrowful. The "funeral steel" sound as I call it. Maybe funeral doom would benefit from drawing a bit more inspiration from albums such as Lamentations, The Will of The Gods is Great Power, Ancient Dreams, or Resound The Horn while retaining its dark and suffocating core intact? And yet, I say this but I couldn't predict if this would happen on the next Atramentus album. You can't really predict that with music that is written so spontaneously and impulsively.
As far as how the narrative storyline was constructed and how the music can both be "felt" within the frame of the storyline but also outside, comparisons to Queensrÿche and Fates Warning could be made. I realize that these are two non-doom bands (false doom alert!), but I listen to these two bands a lot (plus Solitude Aeternus's Beyond The Crimson Horizon, a huge inspiration for me in doom metal songwriting, is also definitely based on the sound of John Arch-era Fates Warning. I'll take back my "false doom alert" joke. Only the true ones worship Fates Warning). I'm referring to the manner in which 'Ryche and Fates Warning created entire stories inside their albums with each song representing a different chapter of an intricate tale. However, if we take the albums Operation : Mindcrime or Warning as examples, the songs can also be appreciated individually outside of the frame of the storyline as they mirror a specific emotion Geoff Tate (or my riff-god Degarmo) wanted to convey to the listener, regardless of the listener's awareness of the album's narrative structure. This was very inspirational to me when coming up with this concept, as my goal was to make it all come together as a whole while ensuring the songs could stand on their own by themselves and portray exactly what I felt at the time.
You feel very strongly for what could be called "the classics" (of which I would definitely declare the Scald album a classic at this point, in its own way), but, given the current market oversaturation of what could be called "extreme metal," you see a lot of people glossing over those in favor of more music influenced by them. Do you feel people are missing out in not hearing bands like Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, and Candlemass (among many others)?
For sure, I do feel strongly about the classics. Doesn't matter what style of music you're into, you definitely need albums like The Spectre Within, Transcendence, Run To The Light, or Graceful Inheritance in your life, or the good old “PLeEeEAaAaAse let me die in SoOoLiTuUuUuUude” treatment from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. However, I don’t necessarily agree with your observation that there’s more people "glossing over the classics" more than modern extreme metal due to oversaturation. I think that’s because our interactions and experiences differ and I’ve yet to see this trend occur universally within the entirety of the metal scene. In my experience, this changes depending on the cliques I hang out or interact with, or depending of the type of shows I go to. I've met people at certain shows who were much more knowledgeable, interested and invested in the current scene, more so than what I’ve seen 10-12 years ago at local shows, and I've also seen the total opposite at other shows where my face-to-face interactions with people were limited to discussing the classics exclusively.
In any case, I feel that being up to date with what's currently happening within the current scene and appreciating it, is equally crucial as knowing the classics whether it's extreme metal or not. These so-called hidden gems do not only exist in the past. There's tons of amazing new bands seemingly popping up out of nowhere almost every day whether its a trad doom band like Smoulder, or some super obscure funeral doom group like EOS, or weird space death metal like Cryptic Shift or some new NWOTHM band from Europe or the US Pacific Northwest that's hot right now, like Blazon Stone who basically made the best Running Wild albums since Running Wild themselves got lazy after 2002 or so. Or Magnabolt, who carries the torch of Liege Lord and New York’s Destiny's End. I'd also consider the newest Atlantean Kodex album to be a modern masterpiece that EASILY surpasses a lot of '80s and '90s "classics" that people gloss over. I also think Dark Matter Secret is the best modern tech death band and everything Denis Shvart does basically outshines even the older bands. That phenomenon is occurring in other styles too. A lot of other genres like hip-hop are entering a new golden age right now. Speaking of rap, because of Viper The Rapper (I am a huge fan of him and I am NOT saying this ironically), I accidentally fell into a huge Vaporwave/Cloud Rap rabbit-hole recently. Fucking hell, it's truly insane how the list of new things to discover just goes on and on. To become jaded is to basically kill your creative drive and passion.
With that said, If I was to offer advice to other metal musicians who strictly listen to metal made after 2006, I'd say that having a knowledge of older, "classic" bands and drawing inspiration from many of them will only prove to be beneficial in the long run. This doesn't apply to just metal too. Doing so makes you able to diversify your sound and add more depth into it, regardless of the style you play. Me saying this is the equivalent of saying "the grass is green", or "water is wet" for most, but you have to understand that because of my other musical projects, I interact with a lot of metalheads that are more into the extreme modern sound and frown upon this idea, so this advice comes from an observation I have made after being exposed to that specific circle for a long time and noticing patterns within their framework. Musicians have nothing to lose in doing so. I'm not saying "spend 10 hours a day hunting down rare USPM and french heavy metal demos on SoulSeek and listen to obscure 70s prog rock and Alf-Svensson-core for 1 month straight," nor do I care to start gatekeeping because that's literally the lamest shit ever and I'm not an edgy 19 year old browsing Anus.com/dmu.org archives anymore. But hell, I honestly cannot imagine how my musical LIFE would be like had I not stumbled on that Timeghoul demo back in 2009 when I was on the hunt for old recordings to sink my teeth into. Or Jacksonville’s Prodigy/Oracle. Just examples amongst countless others.
Anyway, I think all 5 of us within the band would agree with this overall sentiment because we all individually bring something different to the table and that is all thanks to our individual musical tastes and personal favorite albums we view as "classics". It's not always something that sticks out blatantly obviously, as the music we play is morbidly slow and miserable and is distinctly funeral doom music. But for example, upon first listening to our songs, you likely wouldn't be able to tell Manowar's Into Glory Ride/Sign Of The Hammer and Will J Tsamis 's compositions in Warlord, Lordian Winds, Lordian Guard, etc, all played an extremely significant role in inspiring our musical and lyrical style, just as much as Thergothon's Stream From The Heavens, Unholy's Second Ring of Power and the 1995 Mournful Congregation demo. You also wouldn't expect someone who plays such miserable music to have a pile of FM, Night Ranger, TNT and various other 80s AOR LPs full of happy songs about girls and sappy songs about heartbreak underneath a pile of Pantheist and Tyranny CDs. Why do you think we put synths all over the place, huh? See, that's the beauty of it all.
François, for example, is into a lot of ambient music and it shows within our music and especially in his contributions. Our music needed moments of quiet ominousness and shifting soundscapes that do not involve guitars, drums, bass or vocals. That's where he came in, and in my opinion he nailed that element so well. We do not want to neglect the dark ambient side of Atramentus, ever. Due to this added strength within our band, I would be absolutely open to do 100% dark ambient releases on the side or in between "main releases." I mean, it is part of our music just as much as anything else, but time will tell. François is also the biggest funeral doom fiend I know and also one of the only persons that I know in all of the Quebec scene (beside me and maybe Sam from Phobocosm) who's into extremely sad and slow doom bands like Funeral, Fallen, and Colosseum (big inspirations for us), and who shares my deep love for Evoken's magnificent debut album Embrace The Emptiness which I value as high as Skepticism's Stormcrowfleet. Because of his extensive knowledge of the genre and our shared tastes, our ideas worked together perfectly. When I first started Atramentus, my vision was to create songs that would combine several different synth/organ sound textures that would shift during each section, all that but combined with piano and cello arrangements so we'd remain true to the original and majestic, melancolic funeral doom sound of the 90s. When François came into the picture, he understood exactly why this had to be done, and he understood exactly how to do it. We sat together and experimented with sounds for hours and he noted down what worked best for each individual section as we both referred to specific albums to better understand each other. We went through all our notes again a 2nd and even a 3rd time during the actual recording because we often found new ways to make each individual section stand out even more than the way we originally planned to. Obviously none of the synths are programmed so he had to invest a lot of time performing several different takes because we often discussed different sound textures to experiment with for each section and this process didn't phase him at all despite how slow the songs are. He wanted to make sure we nailed the cold, epic and miserable atmosphere of this album perfectly just as much as the rest of us. After all, why even attempt to make music that doesn't require as much time and energy and passion as the very classic albums that shaped our taste?
Xavier comes from a black metal background (Gevurah amongst others). As you know, he not only plays drums in the band but he also recorded/mixed the album. I produced the album and oversaw the mixing process but he did the work and obviously put a lot of his own personal touch into the atmosphere of this record much like in his other productions. He has done several production jobs for bands of varying subgenres but his clientele and niche has always been mainly black metal, much like the music he usually writes. I guess that'd be why some people get a black metal vibe when listening to our album. Other than our mutual appreciation of Bathory, I think that's mostly because of his mixing style and it may also be because of that certain mentality behind how we worked out the arrangements. I did include some blood-freezing black metal style vocals and a black metal riff at the end of the album, but at the time it only felt natural to do this as it was done to complement the doomed, glacial darkness of Atramentus. It wasn't because I had the conscious intent of doing "blackened funeral doom" or something like that. I already said this but Finland's Unholy is also a huge inspiration on the sound of Atramentus and they have a bit of a similar approach so that may also be why. When Xavier joined the band, obviously he wasn't used to playing slower than basically most metal bands out there. However, he was no stranger to traditional doom metal due to his involvement with a great band from Montreal called Cauchemar, so I knew it would work out well in the end. He understood the mentality behind the drumming style I was looking for and he adapted very quickly. He shares our love for Colosseum and Evoken and the elements that made these bands so great. Therefore, he understood we had to make ourselves very picky with each section and on how the drum arrangements would be laid out for each one of them. Funeral doom drumming may sound deceptively simplistic at first, but it requires a lot of work and patience. Every single hit must be played as if it would be your last. Every silence/rests in between the hits are as important as the hits themselves. The choice of cymbals for each section and snare placement are also beyond crucial and can totally change the atmosphere of the entire song. Low floor tom hits are also an extremely important element that would shape our sound in the end so we also put a lot of effort on those to make the drums sound thunderous as a whole. Stormcrowfleet and Lead & Aether by Skepticism were our points of reference when it came to that and of course my love for Scott Columbus’s drumming in the second, third, and fourth Manowar albums made me want to put an emphasis on these further. Ironically, I think his experience playing black metal is also what made him receptive to the idea of putting a lot of attention over such details to create a unique atmosphere, rather than only focusing on the technical aspect of the performance itself. During the recording, he tried out a lot of different ideas for each section and we carefully selected the ones that fit the most. I suggested a few drum arrangements to him as well so it was a collaborative effort on all fronts. Despite our different tastes, we had a lot of common ideas in how we'd combine these influences together.
Antoine's taste comes eerily close to mine, whether its extreme metal, prog, European/US power metal, or epic doom. We'll kick it to Solstice and Solitude Aeturnus anytime. I’ve already commented on how much epic doom metal impacted our sound but also aesthetic and lyrical approach and he shares that same passion as me. He also agrees with me on another crucial point : Cirith Ungol's King of the Dead has the heaviest bass tone of all time and is one of the best albums ever. We therefore had to inspire ourselves from that classic record and make the bass sound unbearably dismal and distorted on our album. We both have the same approach in combining influences from older bands and applying these influences in ways that are not obvious. I have to say, Antoine's role was also extremely crucial especially in the pre-production stages of the album. The moment he joined, he knew exactly the vibe we were going for and he helped us set the tone for the things to come. Our similar tastes helped that process tremendously. Speaking of similar tastes, Claude also has a very similar background to mine as he also grew up with classic death metal as much as tech/prog/thrash metal and shred. He's obviously a doom fanatic too and he's especially into Warning and Ahab. He's also a huge Esoteric fan like the rest of us and so he brought some of that along with him (of course, it was also a no brainer that we’d have Greg [Chandler] of Esoteric master our album because of this). He was the first to join the band actually, as I was alone for its first 3 years of existence. It was the most logical choice to do. One thing we immediately bonded over was our shared love of guitar solos. We're both big fans of Jason Becker, though I'm myself more of a Joey Tafolla and Tony MacAlpine kind of guy and so it was natural that we'd have a good sense of chemistry when it came to guitar solos. The solos on this album have a bit of a nostalgic, melancolic 80s flair to them (minus the shredding), with a lot of whammy bar accents. On the 3rd song, there is a lot of breathing room for these solos to evolve and shift and enhance the cold and sorrowful atmospheres of the song. We both value the importance of guitar solos in metal in general, and we feel they should never be omitted or neglected like so many bands choose to do out of laziness as they can prove themselves to be useful songwriting devices. Our musical inspirations showed us that. Mournful Congregation mastered the art of funeral doom soloing many decades before us, so it was also inspirational for both of us to adopt such an approach and make them stand out as much as possible. With that said, I think Mournful and Atramentus draw soloing influences from diverging sources and we don't really sound all that similar. We even gave individual names to all our solos because each one of them have their own personality and quirks, much like songs within songs. Maybe this is the nerdy death metal side of me showing right now.
Speaking of death metal, Claude, Antoine and I all play in Chthe'ilist so it should not really be a surprise when I say that all three of us share a love for classic death metal. It's not for nothing that most of the vocals on this album are ultra-guttural vocals and not exclusively "sung vocals" either -- that comes from a common love for early finnish death/death-doom metal classics, and the classics of early US brutal death metal. I sing in Chthe'ilist as well and since both bands are connected lore-wise, it was logical that I'd end up making a continuation of what I'm used to doing in Chthe'ilist. The approach is slightly different though. I think the vocals in Atramentus have more emotion and mysticism in their delivery than the rhythmic-oriented, insectoid vocals of Chthe'ilist. The sung vocals in Atramentus are also much more inspired by Bathory (Hammerheart/Twilight Of The Gods) and bands like Fallen than the cryptic Timeghoul-esque chants of Chthe'ilist. I wish I could sing like Agyl of Scald but alas, for now I must stick to what I can do as I have no vocal training or proper technique. Recording the sc