Skelethal are a French duo whom I first encountered via their ripping Morbid Ovation demo, which was re-released earlier this year as a split cassette with Swedish death metal miscreants Inisans on Caligari Records, a label that seems to have a knack for digging up quality acts from across the spectrum of heavy metal. I was impressed by the savagery and exuberance of that tape, and looked forward to hearing more from this promising band; little did I know my wait would be such a short one. Only a few months after the split with Inisans, Skelethal is back with a proper EP in the form of Deathmanicvs Revelation, a release which both capitalizes on the promise shown on that aforementioned demo and ups the ante considerably.
There are brutal death metal bands, and then there’s Benighted. The French five-piece do everything they possibly can to shit all over the subgenre’s rule book by crafting catchy songs that you can actually tell apart, utilizing highly eclectic vocals and injecting their music with a classiness that other bands just flat-out lack, and yet somehow they come out the other end sounding even more devastating because of it. What’s more brutal, a beating that you can recall nearly every bone-snapping minute of, or one that goes by in an unmemorable blur?
Leave it to Caligari Records to make waves with their first foray into full-on death metal by unearthing not one but two of the gnarliest demos out there and cramming them both onto one cassette. The label has already proven with just a few releases under its belt that it has a knack for digging up killer black metal, but this nasty little bastard of a tape proves they’re no one trick pony. In one corner, we have French horde Skelethal and in the other Swedish psychos Inisans; it’s an old school DM battle royal that sees them serving up four tracks each of blood, guts and buzzsaw riffs.
As an unfortunate byproduct of growing up in the asshole of the Midwest, I live in a city, but I’ve never truly experienced The City. I’ve spent pretty extensive amounts of time in places like Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis, but I’ve never fully immersed myself in the everyday chaos that is living in the clutches of of a wasteland dominated by skyscrapers and surrounded on all sides by unforgiving concrete and steel. I’ve never lived in that grotesque, hyper-active human funk that I imagine city life to be; I’ve only been a long-term guest at best, a lame-ass tourist at worst. Fortunately I can live vicariously through Diapsiquir’s A.N.T.I., an album that epitomizes what I imagine existence in the bowels of urban Hell to be.
2012 has been more stressful than a motherfucker; probably one of the most all-around stressful years of my life. Buying a house + assorted family and work-related issues that I wouldn’t even dream of getting into here managed to turn the year into a goddamn pressure-cooker. I’m pretty sure the only things that kept me alive were my wife’s unwavering love (and limitless patience) and an avalanche of incredible music. In 2011 I was feeling pretty jaded and dissatisfied with the state of heavy metal, this year I found myself feeling better about things than I have in years. That isn’t to say there weren’t great albums released in 2011, there were, but in 2012 I felt like there was so much greatness that I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all.
Aluk Todolo’s Occult Rock is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year; a monolithic double LP of blackened experimentation of the highest order. With help from the incomparable Nathan T. Birk, I contacted the band via e-mail to gain some insight into their instrumental alchemy. The following interrogation transpired…
I’ve been avoiding writing about Aosoth’s III for some time now. Why would I avoid writing about such an excellent album, you might ask? Well, to be perfectly blunt I was intimidated by it. Intimidated by the idea of attempting to translate its greatness into mere words. This is no bullshit hyperbole; I honestly believe that III is one of the most enthralling black metal albums of the last ten years; utterly devastating in its frightful, hypnotic magnificence.
Crawling out of the darkest depths of the underground, France’s Manipulator is a one man death metal entity that will appeal to fans of ugly and atmospheric DM practitioners such as Teitanblood, Void Meditation Cult and Antediluvian. Multi-instrumentalist M. creates a musical landscape mired in morbid filth, all blackened, buzzing distortion and howls of unholy agony.
Raw, primal, hypnotic. These terms describe the hellish, killing floor blues of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf just as aptly as they do the grim, violent black metal stylings of Darkthrone and Mayhem. And yet the two genres are complete polar opposites. Or are they? French black metal quartet Glorior Belli doesn’t think so. Beginning on 2009’s Meet Us at the Southern Sign, the band began experimenting with combining black metal and the blues, to devastating effect. On The Great Southern Darkness, the devastation is complete, resulting a in sound that brings to mind a whiskey ‘n’ weed-fueled musical brawl between Eyehategod, Pepper Keenan-era COC, and the aforementioned Darkthrone and Mayhem. I met Glorior Belli guitarist vocalist J. at the crossroads of black metal and the blues to discuss the making of the new album, the French BM scene and other esoteric subjects.
THKD: First of all, tell us a little about the making of the new album, The Great Southern Darkness. What were you looking to accomplish with this release? How would you describe the album’s conception?
J: Same motivation as usual, we always aim to top our past efforts, this time by going even further into incorporating those Americana/Southern/Blues sounds that we cherish. Our last record “Meet Us At The Southern Sign” left me with a feeling of non-achievement, sort of, it’s still a good album but feels like a transition record while “The Great Southern Darkness” emphasizes all the best of Glorior Belli elements into a monolith of Deep NOLA grooves and blazing darkness. The entire process of creation went smooth, took us about half a year from the very first riff ’til we could hold the Master CD in our hands.
THKD: Unfortunately, my digital copy of The Great Southern Darkness did not include lyrics. What can you tell us about the lyrical themes being explored on the album?
J: Well, it took me longer to write the lyrics than the damn music as I’ve spent a lot of time studying and arranging the texts in a poetic way, like I always did in the past. A French guy rhyming in English and singing about the forces of the nightside, it can’t get any better. It’s really important for me that people understand the lyrics, as my ultimate goal is to give them the opportunity to forge the weapons of their own liberation, yet my words will confuse the weaker minds just like the fire of Lucifer can both illuminate and destroy. This is one of my favorite parts (taken from ‘Negative Incarnate’): “From behind the nervous curtains of my trembling cosmic prison, the dark Gods are firmly waiting filled with hatred for the cosmos; outside the frame of creation lies the darkest of all secrets, the magic of the queen dragon waits for us to crush the gates!”.
THKD: You started incorporating blues elements into your sound on Meet Us At the Southern Sign and have continued to refine your fusion of black metal and blues on The Great Southern Darkness. What for you personally is the connection between the two genres? How are they alike and how do they differ from one another in your eyes?
J: It’s kinda like playing with what may seem like 2 opposite elements but in the end they interact with each other. The very first thought that comes to mind when you think about a desert for instance would be the heat… Yet if you go further more into the reflexion, you’ll realize that it can also be deadly cold at night time. Just like the Blues can be devilishly attractive and hypnotizing too. It’s nothing complicated to mix up the genres if you keep in mind what you’re going for in the end. I wanted this record to be almost inviting but still dark and this duality, that could apply to any other life situation, is what keeps the balance in the right position.
THKD: Is blues music popular in France? How did you discover the blues and what prompted you to attempt combining it with black metal? What classic blues artists have influenced you over the years and more specifically your work on the new album?
J: I wouldn’t say it’s really popular as in “trendy” but lots of musicians of course enjoy it. I personally have a thing for Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson obviously, John Lee Hooker, also some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best hits, more or less all the classics. I’m really in love with a record called ‘Negro Prison Blues’, the convicts were singing over a beat that they actually made while breaking rocks at the penitentiary. Primal, deep and going straight to your gut and soul. That’s how I like my Blues.
THKD: Which genre do you feel a closer kinship with, black metal or the blues? Has your work in Glorior Belli influenced you more in one direction than the other or have you found a balance between the two styles?
J: Like I said earlier, I think I found the right balance now. Made peace with my past, I’m not fighting against Black Metal anymore now and I don’t want to be influenced in one direction more than the other but rather maintain that balance.
THKD: Black Sabbath started out as a blues band. Do you think heavy metal has always been some sort of mutant form of the blues at its core? Do you think Robert Johnson and Leadbelly would’ve invented heavy metal if electric instruments had been around back then?
J: Now come on! Basically all the genres are some sort of mutant family tree. People experimenting, mixing, giving birth to a new sub-category and so on. But those things take time and Robert Johnson would still have been Robert Johson even if the devil had given him an electrical 8-string Meshuggah guitar.
THKD: Many black metal bands I’ve interviewed believe that the genre is an inherently Satanic form of music. Do you agree with this and why or why not? Is blues music also Satanic? Certainly the legend of Robert Johnson would seem to support this. Is Glorior Belli a Satanic band?
J: I think we’ve been talking about Johnson a bit too much already. Anyway, Glorior Belli is a satanic band if you base your definition on the fact that we are fighting against the lies of the Demiurge, for our essence is to defy and challenge the bastard gods and to pierce through the walls of our cosmic jails. On a more personal note I have been gathering knowledge over the past 10 years or so and experiencing my own path through practices that you wouldn’t even dare to dream about. I don’t think it’s mandatory to sing about Satan when you’re in a Black Metal band as evil can be found in many forms and most certainly in our very own essence.
THKD: Are you at all influenced by any of the bluesier metal bands that have come before, such as Danzig, Corrosion of Conformity or Eyehategod? Why do you think the incorporation of the blues into metal has been mostly an American trait in recent years?
J: CoC and Eyehategod are amongst my top favorite bands. I don’t think Metal bands in France/Europe understand exactly how to incorporate Blues elements into their sound, it’s more like they’re trying to get as close as possible to the American Stoner Rock scene but fail at defining their own identity, at least for the most parts.
THKD: Glorior Belli recently released a music video for the song “They Call Me Black Devil”. What made you choose this particular song for the video? How would you describe the experience?
J: Well basically, there’s a lot of humor in that video, starting with a fake budget-denied letter that I made myself underlining the cheapness of what’s to come. It’s kind of a fuck off to the music industry that echoes to the Red Fang video clip “Wires” where they waste $5,000.00 on trashing random stuff with a car. I understand it can be confusing but that was the whole point of the video clip anyway. The rest is just really random, as I did it on my own with just a small camera. The most important thing here is the music, and they actually call me Black Devil for a good reason.
THKD: The Great Southern Darkness is your first album for Metal Blade. How did you hook up with the label and how has the partnership been so far? At first glance it seems like kind of a strange pairing.
J: I got to know Andreas from Metal Blade ‘Europe’ by some contacts/friends. But it’s not like we had a special pass or whatever. Sent the new record, they loved it and super agent Ula from Clandestine Music helped us seal the contract. being signed on Metal Blade is definitely the greatest achievement for what started 10 years ago as a small yet ambitious band. I only expect the best out of this collaboration as we are absolutely determined to do what we have to in order to promote our new record the way it should be. I can feel that not a single drop of energy is being wasted and there’s a cool symbiosis in the collaboration. I’ve never been confronted by such professional and yet really supportive people, they know how to take care of business with high levels of passion and perseverance. So that’s one less thing I need to worry about as a musician, and it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders to be honest.
THKD: Will you be doing any touring in support of The Great Southern Darkness? How would you describe the Glorior Belli live experience to someone who hasn’t seen you? Any chance you’ll make it over to the US?
J: Nothing confirmed yet, besides an Australian tour next year with friends from The House of Capricorn that should happen in early 2012. Got a couple of shows in November booked in Belgium/Holland/Germany and an exclusive Canadian date in Montreal on November 25th. Basically you will experience the sense of trekking through dark deserts and evil fields with Lucifer as personal guide.
THKD: The French black metal scene has always been strong and extremely diverse. Why do you think this is? How do your surroundings influence your music, if at all?
J: I’ve never been one to believe that actual geographical frontiers could be determinant in the creative process. I don’t even feel like I belong to any kind of scene, if you close your eyes for a minute and listen to the CD, well except maybe for my ugly accent, I dare you to say this is French BM. What? You did?! Alright then. I guess it must be well-deserved somehow. It’s true we have a bunch great bands around here, but mostly great individuals who don’t care about limitations, just like me. Guys who don’t have to pretend.
THKD: What are you currently listening to? Do you have any recommendations for THKD readers?
J: Lately I’ve been listening to The Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch, Rome, 16HP/Woven Hand, Down, Alice In Chains, Neurosis, Mastodon, Acid Bath, Kyuss…
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
J: We will defeat and bring down the cosmic scheme! See you all Frogerz somewhere down the road.
If you need proof that black metal isn’t dead in 2011, look no further than Aosoth’s III. The French trio have released a queasy, droning, suffocating beast of an album that easily tops their already impressive body of work. I spoke with guitarist BST via e-mail to gain some insight into one of the year’s best black metal albums.
THKD: III is much heavier than prior Aosoth albums. Was this intentional or merely a natural part of the band’s evolution?
B.S.T. : It does sound heavier and I’m guessing there are several reasons for that : the tuning we used is lower, which gives this really muddy effect, I thought it would be interesting to experiment in that area in a black metal context. Also the gear we used (amplifiers and instruments) and the recording process was different, as we were aiming for a very organic sound. But I’d say the main reason for this heavier aspect is that we have opened our compositions to new influences, outside of black metal, some bands like Amenra for example…
THKD: When and where was III recorded? What were the circumstances surrounding the conception of the new album? What were you looking to achieve?
B.S.T. : Like the two previous full length, it was recorded at the Bst Studios. Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and depression. I consider that we did achieve something, and that’s producing something nasty, oppressing, difficult to listen to, but a true experience in darkness and death through art.
THKD: My review copy of III does not include lyrics. Can you discuss what sorts of lyrical themes are being explored on the new album?
B.S.T. : Mkm’s lyrics on this album were pretty introspective and could be compared to his work on Antaeus’s “Blood libels”. They do appear on the CD and the LP, so people can make their own interpretation .
THKD: There is an eerie, droning quality to parts of III that is quite unique when compared to most modern black metal. How was this achieved and was it intentional? Are you at all influenced by drone music?
B.S.T. : I wouldn’t say we are, but we did use the talents of an industrial/ambient artist named HostiS for all the interludes and some samples within the songs, which may give that effect.
THKD: Is Aosoth a Satanic band? Is black metal an inherently Satanic form of music? What does Satan mean to you on a personal/spiritual level?
B.S.T. : Aosoth is satanic, and yes black metal is by definition satanic as well. All three members have their own conception of what Satan represents, and we do not share or even talk about it that much. Even though we are different individuals, we do complete each other in more than one way, and that’s what unites us. As far as I’m concerned, I see Satan, and the whole notion of evil, as something linked to human interpretation. I am a believer, but I therefore deny the idea of an absolute form of good and evil. I do believe in higher powers amongst us, and above us. However each person sees a demon or an angel into them according to what his own soul contains. Like said earlier, the two other people involved in Aosoth most certainly have a different perspective on that issue.
THKD: The name Aosoth comes from The Order of Nine Angles. Can you elaborate on the significance of the name and what importance it holds for you personally?
B.S.T. : The link between this band and the O.N.A. is our singer. I am in no position to speak of it. From the readings that were made available to me, though, I must say I felt a connection to quite a few principles of their philosophy.
THKD: Aosoth works as a trio. Your new/third album is called simply III. Does the number three hold any special significance for Aosoth or is this merely coincidental?
B.S.T. : It just happened to be the time when we decided to include a third member. Was is a mere coincidence? I wouldn’t know. It probably was meant to be, and probably has a meaning.
THKD: What does each member of Aosoth bring to the band? Would you ever consider adding more members?
B.S.T. : The way the band works is quite simple. Mkm is in charge of the lyrics, the visual aspect, the ideology. He is linked to the band as he is the image of the band, the spokesman. I write all the music, and produce the albums, I also recruit the mercenaries who play with us on stage. Inr, our newest member has been involved in the arrangements of the songs. Although his role seems lesser than ours, he has been involved in the project for a long time now, first as a session musician, and his dedication did inject a lot of new blood into Aosoth. If we do find the right person, I’m guessing we might hire a full time drummer some day, but they are quite hard to come by. And we’ll have a second guitar player for concerts, but that person will remain a session member.
B.S.T. : I will answer for Mkm from what I know of that matter. Aosoth has a very different musical approach. As far as the ideology goes their is a certain link between the too, but saying they are opposite sides to the same coin is stretching it, in my opinion.
THKD: France seems to have a very strong and diverse black metal scene. What is it about life there that is conducive to this music? Are you in any way influenced/inspired by your surroundings?
B.S.T. : This country is grey, bitter, and our cultural heritage is falling apart. We have lost faith in our nation and feel betrayed. There is no unity in our community. I’m guessing that would be a cause…
THKD: What are your thoughts on the current state of French black metal? Who do you consider to be your peers? Are there any other French BM hordes we should be listening to?
B.S.T. : I have a lot of respect for bands such as Hell Militia, Vorkreist, Blacklodge, DSO (obviously), Spektr, Ritualization, Temple of Baal, Haemoth… And a few others… Those bands are those I consider to be my peers and I would advise you to listen to.
THKD: Will you be playing live in support of III? What would the ultimate live Aosoth experience entail?
B.S.T. : We will play shows according to what we are offered. A live performance is not something we need or seek. Releasing albums is satisfactory enough to us.
THKD: Are you or any of the other members of Aosoth currently involved in other bands/projects that we should be aware of? What can you tell us about them?
B.S.T. : Mkm is still in Antaeus, the band is still a bit active as they are to play a couple shows. Can’t really say if a new album is meant to happen or not, not my place to say anyway… Inr plays in VI, which is supposed to release its first full length by the end of the year I guess, he also will be appearing as a session live bass player in Antaeus. I play in The Order of Apollyon, black death metal band which released its first album “The Flesh” on Listenable records last year. I also will be joining Antaeus as a session guitar player for the few shows to come.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
B.S.T. : Thanks for the interview. 616