Interview : Transcending Obscurity Zine vs Zealotry
Via Transcending Obscurity Zine (now a label) : "Zealotry is a rather new band from US playing music that transcends time – it’s merging US Death Metal of Immolation and Timeghoul with Finnish Death Metal of the early ‘90s such as Demilich and Adramelech in particular and creating something that’s outstanding in this era. This is a band with few peers, crafting music that’s a niche with its discordant yet somewhat melodic strains. - Conducted by Kunal Choksi Transcending Obscurity (Kunal Choksi): What led to the formation of this band after years of being a discerning critic? Zealotry (Roman): Being tired of being a discerning critic, as you put it. Ha! I was tired of bitching about what I saw as the problems plaguing the death metal scene and decided I wanted to do something about it. That's the extent of it, really. I started learning theory on my own and trying my hand at instruments so I could better understand what I was critiquing, but pretty soon I decided that wasn't enough. TO: Please tell us of your struggles of forming a band – I believe all band members are from different backgrounds which makes playing live impossible perhaps. Are there any plans to recruit live musicians and get touring? Zealotry (Roman): The scene in New England is just not very vibrant. It was difficult finding people locally who shared my vision, and, to put it bluntly, a lot of it was a matter of ego on my part. I had a pretty firm concept of what I wanted Zealotry to be, and I wasn't willing to cede any sort of creative control to anyone who was a more experienced musician, but maybe had a different idea of where the band should go. Phil was the first person I worked with who really got what I was trying to do, and even that wasn't immediate. I think now that we have an album out and a second one written, and the public has at least a general sense of what were about, it'll be easier to recruit members. But recruiting people from the New England scene is still easier said than done. I've had to be proactive in reaching out to musicians in the area who seem to be of a like mind to myself, asking if they'd like to be part of the live lineup. So far they've been noncommittal at best, but we'll see how things continue to progress. I'm hopeful because I'd like to play live, for sure, but with Phil living in Quebec, coordinating things becomes that much more difficult. But I figure if Luc Lemay can put together a lineup with musicians who live in New York for Gorguts, I don't see why we can't get it done as well. Zealotry (Phil): Like Roman said, the fact that I’m the only member from the band not residing in the United States does make it harder for us to even think about playing gigs, let alone rehearsing, but nothing is impossible. After all, Longueuil (Québec) isn’t THAT far from Boston. When the right time comes, playing live will become a possibility, but I think recruiting live members could be a decent short-term alternative for Roman. TO: Are you happy with the response your new album ‘The Charnel Expanse’ has received? Do you believe your music isn’t understood as well as you would’ve liked? I mean, after all, these are times of instant gratification and slams if you know what I mean. Zealotry (Roman): The response has been above and beyond expectation. There have been a few negative reviews, but the idea was never to please EVERYONE. If you're trying to do that, you're compromising in ways you almost certainly should not. As for being understood... Yeah, there have been a few comparisons that have left me scratching my head, but I think everyone has some point of reference for things they hear that they seem to fall back on when nothing else comes to mind. I'm sure I've been guilty of drawing comparisons between artists in the past that would've made those artists say, "Dude, just shut up before you further embarrass yourself." What matters is that people get something out of the music. If they feel some sort of emotional connection with it, you've done your job. Zealotry (Phil): I am definitely satisfied with the (overwhelmingly) positive response the album got, and actually, I was quite surprised, not because I am not confident about ourselves, but because I am well aware that the style we play is mostly aimed at a very, very small niche of underground metal fans. TO: Is there anything you would’ve done differently looking back? The band has had a good run so far, getting signed to a respectable record label in Memento Mori and creating a buzz in the underground. Zealotry (Roman): Mostly certain missteps that we made during the recording process. It was a great learning experience for sure, and the job Eliot did mixing the album really covered up those mistakes, but I can say unequivocally that the next album will blow 'The Charnel Expanse' right out of the water. Zealotry (Phil): I’m honestly pretty satisfied at how everything came out, but like Roman said, the next album is just going to be something else. TO: Tell us about your highly intriguing T-shirt design with an innocuous-looking bird. What’s the concept behind that? And of course, also that of your album artwork done by the great Turkka G. Rantanen. Zealotry (Roman): The bird on the T-shirt is called a great grey shrike. It might look cute, but it's actually one of the most sadistic predators around. It kills its prey by impaling it on thorns, and the males attract mates by showing off their collections to females. On the shirt we have one of these things using humans as its prey, impaling them on barb wire, as it would do with an insect or some lesser animal. It ties into this whole overarching lyrical concept weve explored of humanity having sort of reached its evolutionary apex as the dominant species on earth, and having done that, there's nowhere to go but down. Many cultures on earth already seem to be going down that path, exhibiting, decadent, almost insectile tendencies. And I'm sort of obsessed with the idea of human extinction - speculating how it'll come about. Either it'll be ourselves doing the damage (most likely) or some other force, whether it's alien invasion (as in "The Unmaking") or something much smaller, like some mutated super-bug. The album artwork plays into it as well. On the rear cover we have a human infant incubating and mutating into something more closely resembling an insect. TO: How are you planning to take the sound forward? I believe it has a certain coarseness, now whether that’s deliberate or inherent, you’d be in the best position to clear my doubt. Would there be a further refining of the sound? Zealotry (Roman): I believe we shall let the new preprod tracks we've posted speak for themselves on that one. Long story short, the new material focuses on counter-melody - complementary guitar sections that overlap into a much greater whole, but eschew the typical lead-rhythm idea that most multi-guitar metal bands are built on. Some of this stuff is gonna sound pretty alien, and I expect well probably lose some people who liked 'The Charnel Expanse' along the way, but we've always understood that you cant please everyone. Zealotry (Phil): I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost a few fans with the new album either, but you’ve got to take some risks sometimes. With that said, we definitely feel that this new album is a logical evolution from where we left off with 'The Charnel Expanse'. If I were to describe the album in my own words, I’d say the new material is much more atmospheric in the sense that the melodies and the overall vibe evoke a wider range of “colours” and “emotions”, not to mention that there will be a more frequent use of synths (like in “The Unmaking”) as well as other instruments such as Cellos. There is more emphasis on doomy sections, especially compared to 'The Charnel Expanse', and the arrangements and riffs are much more detailed and complex, but never for the sake of being technical. We plan on introducing new elements in the vocal department as well, since we are both involved, and you can expect the guitar solos to be even more twisted and varied than before, as I plan to bring the whole “Trey Azagthoth meets Daniel Mongrain/Allan Holdsworth/Michel Cusson”-influenced fusiony vibe to the next level. Take the solos in “The Dysgenicists”, “Codex Mysterium” & “Avatars of Contempt pt II” as an example, but better. Chaotic “lava” solos are also a must. However, if you preferred the Jason Becker/Tony MacAlpine/Yngwie Malmsteen influenced solos in tracks such as “The Unmaking” & “Blighted”, I will incorporate some of that as well. Those are the sort of contrasts that will still be present on the new Zealotry album. TO: How did you manage to get Lille Gruber of Defeated Sanity to be a part of the album? Were you concerned of his style not suiting yours? Zealotry (Roman): Lille and I had been corresponding for quite a while. He's an amazingly intelligent guy and while we don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues pertaining to music, he really has a lot of interesting things to say about both composition and performance. He didn't seem like a natural fit, and yes that was a concern, but he's an amazingly professional guy. Learned the material very quickly and performed above and beyond all expectations (which were high). Zealotry (Phil): Personally, I wasn’t concerned. Lille has a unique sense of groove. He’s not someone who would mindlessly blast-beat his way through all the songs. Not to mention Lille seems to have an incredibly rich musical background and I was well aware of that. I assumed he would easily be able to adapt his style to fit with our compositions, not only because of his versatility, but because he quickly understood the style we were playing and what we were trying to do. After all, he does listen to some of the bands that influenced us, so that also helps. The results were fantastic as expected. TO: Where does the inspiration for the term and band name Zealotry stem from? Zealotry (Roman): The name has no specific significance. It's just one of those words that I felt worked well as a metal band name because it has a certain malevolent connotation - taking belief to a violent extreme. But it doesn't also have the downside of tying us to some specific lyrical theme or sound. Like, if you name a band Guttural Secrete or Necrotic Disgorgement or Blaspherian, or something along those lines, you're basically tying yourself to an aesthetic and everything that goes with it - artwork, lyrical themes, you name it. So if you want to break out of that box and do something different in one way or another, it seems contradictory. Gorguts is a classic case. You don't expect a band with such a name to write sweeping seven-minute compositions about Tibetan Buddhism, right? But here we are. So yeah, that sort of flexibility is important to me. It might not be a huge thing, but I look at things holistically. Zealotry will always play death metal, but we've given ourselves enough wiggle room to play around with different permutations of the genre. And we intend to take full advantage of that. TO: Is there anything significant about your lyrics that we should know about? Any personal experiences while writing them? Zealotry (Roman): The lyrics are about as impersonal as they can possibly be. I write about stuff that interests me, but I have no interest in saying anything about myself with my lyrics. For one thing, I'm not that interesting a person. For another, I think that when extreme metal bands attempt to be introspective, the end result is almost always embarrassingly clumsy, and completely contradicts the purpose of the music. Extreme metal (and metal in general, really) has always been about looking outward for inspiration. It's the ultimate nerd music in a lot of ways, and I think that's served it well. TO: Most bands are dabbling in spirituality nowadays. What’s your take on all of that? Do you follow a different belief? Do you believe in karma? Zealotry (Roman): None of that for me. I'm a materialist/atheist through and through. I have no interest in bringing religion or spirituality into our lyrics in any capacity (and that includes railing against it). Leave that to bands like Immolation. Those subjects have been done to death. I'm far more interested in sci-fi and speculative fiction, the rise and fall of societies and species, the splintering of the human psyche... Zealotry (Phil): Yeah, Roman just took the words right out of my mouth (errr, fingers, actually) with this one. TO: Have you guys planned to explore a different style of music? Do you sometimes feel that Death Metal is too constrictive for your music ideas to be expressed to your satisfaction? Zealotry (Roman): Sure. But not with Zealotry. I'm working on another project that's more along the lines of Joy Division + Alice In Chains + later Katatonia. But we're not going to be one of those bands that changes styles overnight. If I decide that Zealotry has run its course, and want to explore other styles, I won't do so using the Zealotry name. I always get annoyed when bands do that, and I have no desire to be a public hypocrite. Zealotry (Phil): Zealotry will always be death metal and even though there is always room to expand and refine the band’s sound, Zealotry will always stay true to the genre’s main aesthetics. On a personal level, if by “playing a different style of music”, you meant a “different metal subgenre other than death metal with another band”, then yes, because while I am a huge fan of Fusion Jazz, Hip-hop and certain electronic subgenres such as IDM (aka Intelligent Dance Music), synthpop and Breakcore, I do not see myself playing these styles anytime soon. Except maybe Fusion Jazz, but then again, I still have lots to learn. I am a heavy metal musician and nothing else. Other than that, I currently have two Funeral Doom Metal projects in construction (Yes, two, because one isn’t enough). The first one is called “ATRAMENTUS”, while the other one is still unnamed. I also have a Black/Death metal band under construction (also unnamed for now), and I will soon be joining D.D.T. the now-active traditional heavy metal band that my father and 2 uncles founded in the late 70’s. Beside all these projects, all my other bands other than Zealotry (Chthe’ilist, Vengeful, First Fragment, and Serocs) are all related to Death Metal in one way or another, and for the moment, Death Metal is the subgenre that is the most satisfactory to me when it comes to expressing ideas and emotions. That might change later, though. TO: Thank you very much for taking out the time to do this interview, Phil and Roman Temin, who has also contributed to this site as a writer during its Diabolical Conquest avatar and has done exceptionally well from an outspoken critic to a revered musician and I’m sure the band will continue to rise with the support of these competent band members. Last words are yours. Zealotry (Roman): You're very much welcome. I'm not one for having the last word, but I will say that the best is definitely yet to come. Zealotry (Phil): Cheers & merci beaucoup. Heavy Metal is the law."
Interview conducted by Kunal Choksi for Transcending Obscurity Zine