Track Premiere and Interview: Creature – Involution – Expectations
For a while now it seems that a lot of the metal underground has been pretty deeply involved in two different yet somewhat related streams: OSDM and dissonant black metal. Different, again, as those two tendencies are they do share a certain fascination with "ugly" as a form of aesthetic expression, one that, pretty much since forever, has lent itself quite well to metal. And before it may sound like I have a problem with any of that, rest assured that I too more than delve in "ugly." There's something thrilling about listening to music that seems entirely primal or "evil-sounding" to the point of being actually frightening. Some of my favorite moments in music had to do with that sense of shock, whether that be hearing the opening to "Blackened," the manic brutality of a band like Plebeian Grandstand or the emotional intensity of LINGUA IGNOTA's CALIGULA. However, as followers of this meek blog may have caught on by now I've always been a big fan of music that is both heavy, intense and almost exaggeratedly wrought or thought out. Other than the fact that I actually wrote an article just about exaggeration in metal, bands that fit that spot in my mind include (later) Death, Emperor, Blut aus Nord, and others. Bands that no only shock but confuse and lift their listeners to a whole other universe of distinctly "man-made" music. Not frightening in a primal sense, since there's very little that's primal about the sheer amount of thought their music seems to exude, but in a "how in the hell did anyone even thing of that?" kind of way.
Which brings us to the topic at hand, which is another proud installment in that very strange, grandiose, and moving tradition: Ex Cathedra, the latest album from French one-man black metal project Creature, due to release later this month via the great I, Voidhanger and a song of which we are now exclusively streaming – "Involution – Expectations."
Much like the celestial geometrical shape on its cover, the man behind creature, multiinstrumentalist Raphaël Fournier, takes meticulous care to lift, crush, and overwhelm in what seems like the most precise and yet unsettling manner. Fournier's project was, to be sure, larger than life from the jump, with 2018's Inquiétudes serving as a staggeringly accomplished and complex introduction. Ex Cathedra takes that size and breadth and stretches it into the realms of drama and, at times, classical music. Theatrical and immense, it is truly one of the most unique albums to have come out thus far this year,
And "Involution – Expectations," which can be heard following this wonderful cover below, other than being one of the standout tracks on this wonderful album, it serves as a great example for this classically tinged ode to monolith-building. The reason for that being that, as opposed to other tracks, it actually, literally builds into the raging storm of notes, time signatures, and instrumentation that characterize much of Ex Cathedra. From the tender piano intro, to the rhythmic riffing that comes in a couple of minutes into the track, and all the way to the excessive burst that follows and the dynamic, melodic parts that follow, "Involution – Expectations" is shows Raphaël Fournier flaunting his entire palate as songwriter and musician, all while meticulously constructing an arresting, dramatic track. Which is part of the reason why we are so excited to let everyone hear it here for the first time.
Before the song commences this is the part where we say that we just released MILIM KASHOT VOL 2, an unbelievable compilation album filled with some of the best forward-thinking metal and hardcore from around the world with the proceeds all going to good people doing good things. And also consider following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify and/or check out our podcast MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify, Apple). Cool.
Is there an album or song you heard as a younger person that really changed how you felt about music? Scared you? Surprised you? What element stood out?
The first album I heard as a voluntary approach was the self titled Slipknot album when I was seven. Until then music had only been something I passively received from outside, like most people actually do. The sudden energy, the mystery, the weirdness and extreme dark sides deeply altered my vision of music. I started to listen to it with attention, trying to understand every aspect, whether technical or conceptual. Since then metal has always been prevailing on other genres, because of its inexhaustible nature.Then, the discovery of progressive music, with Planet X's "Apocalypse 1470 B.C." or Ayreon's – "Beneath the Waves," which pushed the limits of the concept of music to another dimension. At first, I thought progressive music would just bring me longer times to digest, and that it was technically endlessly stimulating. But once I realized and understood the vastness of what music could be, and allowed myself to write in that way, it was life changing. Since then, I’m sure I’ll never get bored at composing or playing music.
As an older person and as a musician, can you make sense of what qualities about that piece of music held your interest? Perhaps even something you can link to your current interests as an artist?
The Creature project is a logical development considering those previous years. From those influences I kept the affinity with the deep feeling they provide, like fear, discomfort, gloriousness, exaltation, etc. Frantic and wild rhythms, and powerful chord progressions are, to me, the main keys. As I'm often bored with most music because it doesn't excite all the cells in my body. I crafted Creature, trying to make music which included the elements that shake me out and awake strong feelings. It is therefore an excuse to extract everything that upsets me. The link between me and the music is then fluid and without compromise, that's why I can't work on this project with others in the creating process.
Did you grow up in a specific “scene” in your local area or was your interest in music always solitary?
I grew up in a musician family, with many instruments at disposal, and music playing in the living room, going to concerts, learning and practicing music regularly. I created my first band at 11 years old, then another at 15, from punk rock to progressive metal, on the drums and guitar. I then joined a brass band playing saxophone and trombone. On the side, I continuously composed songs in various styles, mostly based on metal. Composing alone has always been familiar to me, and it’s always been more accomplished than group composition, feeling free to arrange in whatever direction or use any appropriated instrument.
Black metal has obviously had a tradition of well-wrought, extremely crafted music, going back to bands like Emperor, Dimmu Borgir and, more recently, projects like Sühnopfer or even Blut aus Nord and the later Death albums. But it seems those influences are rarer today, with a great deal of black and death metal opting for dissonance or a more primal mode of composition and production. Could you speak a little about what about this type of worked, sometimes overworked composition appeals to you? Does it have its roots in some of your influences?
Of course, I developed a musical taste that is deeply influenced by progressive music. After being impregnated by so many songs based on weird and unique ideas, I tend to prefer "overworked" pieces. It’s an opportunity to give more than what a standard song can carry but it’s not a reason in itself to reach a great song. For instance, I allow myself to keep working songs out of structures, for any lengths, until the musical idea has been reached. It can obviously lead to chaotic and boring results, and that’s why I return with a "cleaning session" to keep the essential of any idea. However, I totally appreciate short, straight forward and basic songs, as long as it elicits emotion, like the late Ulver albums.
One of the more elusive influences and forces in terms of today’s black metal is Summoning, a band noted both for very ambitious projects as well as for some of the keyboard/electronic sounds that can be heard throughout Ex Cathedra. Even with or without their possible specific influence, what would you say is the importance of the synthesizer in your work? Especially since they stand out as much as they do .considering the rest of the music is usually much more articulated and fast?
I use synthesizers for two different reasons. The first one is that they give you all the tools to craft exactly the sound wave and tone you want. It’s a very organic instrument that can be rebooted anytime and changed during the play, which makes it extremely interesting. The second one is the moods they recall. Even though you can create your own sound, it’s always associated with the 80’s, the retro-wave vibe and vintage video games, which ,looking back, seem full of nostalgia.
I always find it interesting that one-man bands have, at least in my experience, a very strong emphasis on drumming, treating the drums less as an accompaniment and more as an instrument with equal footing, such as in an orchestra. At what point do the drums make their way into your songs, and what is it that you see as their role?
My first instrument was a drum, so I’m always playing with paces and maths in the roots of the rhythmic sections. You can hear it in the very first song of the first album Inquiétudes, starting with some syncopated drum and bass. I have always found polyrhythm fascinating. They can be used to create frustrating moments, or on the contrary, overlapping sections that resolve after some effort, giving a satisfying taste of home. I also use them to emphasize the musical ideas by matching them or not, according to the context. Probably all of those points could be achieved without drums, and I’m working on side projects to see where it can lead. But let’s admit it, metal drumming is so cool! On this topic, I have to mention Baard Kolstad who is totally pushing the limits of today’s concept of drumming, and inspiring me a lot.
One of the effects of creating larger-than-life music, of the type you seem to excel at, is of fantasy. That the music, in some way, is not an attempt at representing the world as it is but some imagined outside world, whether fictional or interior. Is that how you view your own music? As fantasy?
I create music to empty my mind from thoughts I have. They often take the shape of fictional stories. But I put a lot of importance on keeping things unclear and blurry, as they are in my mind. It’s a great way to let the listener free to explore the addressed themes. For me, art is the only way to picture a world where everything is possible, where we can find profound, true and exciting circumstances. Nothing really has a perfect meaning; real life brings more pain than the one we can envisage, that’s why fiction is more important than reality. Even if real life is described through art, it will automatically become abstract because it carries the possibility to be applied in many different situations or period. Thoughts from reality feed the fiction that brings back improved thoughts. Creature is not about inventing worlds and landscapes. It is to assume that we make up our comprehension of life, which is impossible to understand. Once this statement is made, fiction is the loophole.
Looking back at Ex Cathedra is there something about that album that you’re especially proud of? A moment, a song, an idea?
I am especially proud of "Fugue en Sol Mineur" and "Involution – Expectation," because they really move me, more than I expected, while being powerful and intriguing. I’m also really happy with the collaboration with Perrine Neulet [on flute] and Alexis Bertran [guest vocals], which makes me think of doing that more with musicians. Finally, "Ethernellement" is a song that makes me relax when I think about death. I wrote it in the opposite perspective, after the collapse of a whole world (Atlantis), but strangely it’s a peaceful end.