Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Chthe'ilist
This is the 51st installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Le dernier crépuscule
Label: Profound Lore Records
Favorite Song: "Tales of the Majora Mythos Part I"
The Bare Bones: Le dernier crépuscule is the debut – and to date the only – full length album by Canadian death metal band Chthe'ilist.
The Beating Heart: There are many ways to go about this intro, but I think I'll just start with the obvious: Le dernier crépuscule is one of the most terrifying, dense, and all-encompassing death metal albums in recent memory. Combining hellish imagery (hats off to Paolo Girardi for one of his best cover arts ever), massive and contorted riffs, odd timings, and suffocating atmosphere, it is quite simply a high watermark of modern death metal, and one of the very few relatively recent albums of that genre that measure up to the classics of the 90s and early 2000s. So, what better reason than to sit down with Chthe'ilist main man, and man of a thousand riffs, leads, and bands (Atramentus, Worm, VoidCeremony, and First Fragment, to name but a few) Phil Tougas and speak about the inspiration behind, and the making of, this wonderful nightmare of an album.
Before the interview, and as always, check out my various interview projects and other cool shit. And if you'd like to keep abreast of the latest, most pressing developments follow us wherever I may roam (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and now also a tape-per-day series on TIK TOK!), and listen to my, I guess, active (?) podcast (YouTube, Spotify, Apple), and to check out our amazing compilation albums. You can support our unholy work here (Patreon), if you feel like it. Early access to our bigger projects, weekly exclusive recommendations and playlists, and that wonderful feeling that you're encouraging a life-consuming habit. On to Phil.
Do you remember a moment you had with an album, or a song, or artwork, a live show, or whatever, that really changed what you thought about music? Or that scared you or shocked you? That really kind of rewired your brain as to what music can do? With the added caveat that obviously creative people have these kinds of experiences, or would like to have those kinds of experiences, quite often. So I guess I'm not talking about the last time it happened to you, but maybe about the first time. Do you remember that happening to you?
Yeah, many times. But if we're talking about one of the first times, I would say my father’s drummer burned us a copy of the Judas Priest Live Vengeance 82 DVD, and I remember we were in the countryside, we were on family vacation, and my father put it on, and that was that really struck me, you know? Seeing a bunch of dudes, all wearing leather, going crazy on stage. I had just never seen that before. I mean, obviously my father had been in the metal scene in the 80s, but I was not familiar with Judas Priest and seeing that really floored me. Obviously, later on I saw them in concert for real and also that floored me. But that was really the first one when it comes to that.
And how old? How old were you?
Probably like 12 or 13.
And your dad played in bands?
Yeah, so my father and my two uncles were in a band called DDT. They were among the pioneers of Quebec heavy metal. They started in ‘79 and they were amongst the first few bands to play heavy metal and also call themselves heavy metal, in Quebec.
This continued throughout your childhood?
I was born in 1991. DDT existed from 1979 to 1991, so the band disbanded when I was born and DDT changed their name became more like a rock band. But my father was involved quite a bit with the metal movement in Quebec. So obviously I had the chance of growing up with parents who had a very musical palette. My mom was and still is into progressive rock and my father was into metal music. So I guess I inherited my love for classic rock, classic heavy metal, and progressive music early on. Which I guess is why I play in all these bands today [laughs].
Would you say that you kind of grew up with rock and metal just playing around the house?
Not that often, but on special occasions, and every time it caught my attention. Before I got into metal and rock I was even heavily into stuff like The Exploited, The Casualties, punk music. But I guess I was repeatedly hearing rock and heavy metal too, and by the time I turned 12 I started getting into those styles of music. And after [my parents] noticed I was becoming more receptive to it would be played more around the house. I discovered music by myself. It helped that it was the early days of file sharing, back in the early 2000s, I was using programs like Kazaa and LimeWire [laughs]. I would get into bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and go: “Oh, I want to hear more stuff like that,” and then would ask my father for more bands like that, and then go on Limewire and download a bunch of New Wave of British Heavy Metal [laughs]. So that was kind of how it went. And obviously my parents had a lot of CDs too, so getting into their collection and discovering various albums that way also helped.
Since I've been having these interviews as often as I have, and since this is a question I always ask it's really helped my parenting, because I've found that, more often than not, kids pick up love for music not necessarily because their parents tell them to, but because it's just there, the physical objects are in the room. So when your dad is not looking, you can flip through his collection and develop your own curiosity, right?
But, going back to the burned Judas Priest DVD: What was it about it? Was it the leather? The music? The spectacle?
Everything, everything. It was a mix of everything. Just hearing the riffs…. You know, they start with “The Hellion,” and just hearing that triumphant intro. Obviously in the DVD it's playing in the PA, as a backing track, but it just leaves an impression. And then the build-up towards “Electric Eye” and then the opening riff. I had never heard a riff like that before. And then Rob Halford makes his entrance and it's all theatrical, and then you have Glenn Tipton doing the solo for “Electric Eye” and it’s just, wow, it blows you away the first time you hear it. And then the longer you watch and you see how synchronized the performance is – the solo trade-offs, the riffing, the synchronized headbanging, and everything. It's just the entire experience, both sonically and visually, that leaves a lasting impression. Obviously it wasn’t until I saw them in person that it solidified the idea for me that I wanted to play that, but it was the DVD that really struck me the first time. I saw them live in concert a year or two later, that was when I decided I wanted to play heavy metal music. Between the moment where I watched the DVD and the moment I saw them live I was getting into metal, being curious about it, but I was still involved in punk and I wanted to start a punk band. But after seeing them live I just said: “OK, I'm not going to start a punk band, I'm going to do a heavy metal band. I think I was like 13 or 14 around that time.
It's interesting you mentioned punk…. The question I originally wanted to ask is that, basically, you're describing performance, performativity, theatricality. Projecting something that isn't just the music toward the crowd. But you also mentioned this idea of a buildup, right? That there you set the tone with a kind of atmosphere you don't just toss everything at once. You kind of work your way into it, create some kind of anticipation.
So I guess the question would be: Is there a way in which you, as a musician, feel like you have kept that idea in mind? The word I have in mind right now is “seduction,” that you have to reel your listeners in, that you can't just bomb them with “the riff.” That you need to do some work to set the atmosphere. Is that something you keep in mind when you write music?
Most of the time, yes, and I suspect that's one of the reasons why I stepped away from punk, subconsciously. As much as I respect that genre, with metal, there was this theatrical aspect of it – in combination with the music, of course, the music is the most important thing. But there’s something that makes it more than just music, it's an experience. You experience it and it reels you in and pulls you into another dimension, or something. I feel like that's something I try to keep in mind the most when working on music, regardless of what band I'm involved in. There were a few projects I've done in the past which were more about pure “in-your-face” kind of an experience, but I think, when it comes to making music, I've enjoyed it a little bit more when I was creating something that felt like what you just described, an experience, reeling the listener in. Just making them experience something completely alien for 40 or 60 minutes, depending on what the length of the album is, throwing them into an alternate dimension and seeing how they come out of it [laughs].
That's a great point, and going back to the punk thing, it's feasible for me to say the punk has a kind of theatricality about it, but that theatricality is not embedded in sending you into a different dimension. That's theatricality is kind of opposite – it's making you feel what you see now, even on the political end of things, making you think about now, about the real world. I haven't talked about this in a while, because it hasn’t come up, but it used to be a big topic, this idea of the theatrics of authenticity, of putting on a show that is “that is really happening,” which is really a big part of punk. It's still, to me, a performance, but that performance is of something that's really happening. But what you're talking about is something completely different, right? You're talking about leaving this world, and kind of, not escaping, going somewhere else, right? And so I guess my first question would be: Is that what you have in mind?
Well, yes. If I may go back to that Judas Priest DVD, when you listen to it, when you watch that DVD, it's obviously a kind of going back in time, but there's more to it than that, in my opinion. When you listen to the lyrics to, say, “Desert Planes” or "Heading Out to the Highway," you have these mental images going in your mind that are sort of evocative of a feeling that you get from listening to the lyrics in tandem with the music. It does feel like it's not just a time capsule, it really paints an image in your head. And I guess that’s also why I got into Judas Priest, or Iron Maiden, because of that same reason. Listening to some of the albums that painted images in my head. Images or colors in my head, because that was also the time I noticed I could see colors when listening to a piece of music…
Exactly. And it got so important to me that, subconsciously, when I was looking for the kinds of bands I was going for at the time, when I was trying to get into music that evoked the same feeling. I was looking for. The music that would paint an image in my head, or a color, regardless of subgenre or band. That was something I would constantly look for, so it's something very important to me. Obviously there's music that I can just enjoy on the surface, or as background music, and just enjoy it for how fun it is. But, ultimately, the bands that stuck with me, whether it's Judas Priest or a band that I would discover later, the reason why they stuck with me the most is because of what I said. Beyond appreciating the riffs and the production and the technical aspect of it, it’s just that feeling when you hear it, you see things.
A lot of the imagery that comes with a band like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden has to do with the fact that you understand what they're singing, because they feature clean vocals. So you understand what Bruce Dickinson is singing, or anyone else for that matter, along with the quite significant stage show. So, my immediate reaction to that would be to say: Wouldn't that be more difficult to recreate in a style of metal that is, say, based on growling or is not played in huge arenas that have these elaborate sets? You're in a club, in a basement and you're growing into a microphone, that might not be that best microphone.
So, one would think that the ability to be theatrical in that space diminishes, but I guess a partial answer to that, if I may answer for you, is what you said about evoking emotion, right? So, you could attack it from a different angle, but still reach the kind of impact or color palette. Would that be a fair assessment?
Absolutely a fair assessment, and one thing I could say is that when it comes to death metal, to me, it's almost more like experiencing a horror novel. When it comes to the lyrics and the vocals, when it comes to growls…. If you want to understand what is being said, you gotta open the booklet and look at the lyrics. But then this is where the experience becomes interesting to me, because you're reading a horror novel or story, and then the music is what accompanies it. Obviously, when it comes to death metal the lyrical aspect is not always the most important, but there are bands in extreme metal that I felt very connected to, and it was because of that experience where you look at the lyrics and you you listen to the music at the same time, and the combination of both succeeds at doing what a band like Judas Priest would be doing, just in a more complicated way. But I'll give you an example. A few years later, I got into death metal when I was 15, we can go back into that later. But when I was about seventeen I discovered Ripping Corpse’s Dreaming with the Dead and Timeghoul’s Tumultuous Travelings, and those two releases, reading the lyrics alongside the music, really had a big impact on me. They were the first bands that I really liked where I was listening to the music and learning reading the lyrics at the same time, and that it painted the images in my head, and colors – the same feeling I was looking for a few years back when I was starting to get into metal, to have that feeling of being literally sent into another world. My appreciation for death metal started before, but the connection wasn’t as strong as that.
Once you become a musician yourself, and you were obviously involved in other bands before Chthe'ilist and, actually, when you think about it, Chthe'ilist has been, for me as a listener, a very prominent part of your portfolio as an artist, but not a very active one in terms of releases, right? You're a very busy man. I mean, I just assume that people that have tons of projects, have tons of projects for a reason, right? Because each installment of their creativity fulfills a different function or lights a different angle. So I guess the question I'm interested in is: What did or does Chthe'ilist fulfill in the Phil Tougas fictional universe? Is it the pure horror part? Is it the complete alienation part, the scary part? What function does it fulfill for you? What side of your creativity do you feel It expresses?
Going back to how I started, I just want to say that Chthe'ilist was born very spontaneously. I was already involved in bands around that time, when I was 18 years old, around 2010 or so. And while I was grateful to be part of the scene we had in Montreal, one part of me was already fed up with certain aspects of it. Chthe'ilist was born out of a reaction to that, of being subjected to too many bands at the same time doing the same thing, and I just wanted do something different from what was happening in my neck of the woods, as much as I respected what my friends were doing, I wanted to step out of that and evoke something. Not just play a different style of music. Because, if you looked at the aesthetic of the bands around 2010, it was obviously different from Chthe'ilist, and obviously I wanted to do something different on that side too. So, I don't know. It was born out of spite, really, at first, but then I started writing more music and it was just like I was trying to paint the same images I had in my head when listening to my own music that I was know the first time I heard Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes, or the other records I mentioned, and I was like: “OK, well, I can maybe use that to create the lore around it, so that it really expands upon that experience. It makes that experience even greater than it is.
So, it went from being created out of spite, after writing the first song and a half, going: “OK, there's something in these riffs that when I play them I see something, and I want to continue to evoke that feeling. So, that was like: “OK, I see a temple door in a haunted forest when I listen to that riff, so I want to recreate that same feeling of horror throughout the rest of the song.” And then: “OK, I'm going to write lyrics for that, it needs to accompany the music,” and that’s where I say “OK, it's going to definitely be a horror, dark-fantasy themed band,” and that was the kind of thing that couldn’t be expressed with any other project I had at the time. As much as this project was born out of frustration, spite, and anger, or whatever you want to call it, I felt like directly expressing these emotions through this music won’t do the music justice, it would paint a completely different image with the music. Also, it would be more cathartic to talk about things that are not human: indescribable, weird creatures and weird situations involving a traveler entering a crypt who is devoured by shapeless entities.
And so I got into the lyrical aspect of it way early on, I wanted to write something that people will read and be disgusted by, but at the same time still curious. I want them to want to know more about what's happening in the lyrics. I remember I sent the first lyrics of the first song when I wrote it to one of my bandmates in another band, and he was like: “Holy shit. What happens next? Is that for a book, or something?” and I was like: “No, that's the lyrics for songs” and he said: “I want to know what happens next!” [laughs]. So I said “When you hear the demo” – because this was when we were making the demo, in 2011 – “you'll get to experience the rest.” It was like telling a story, and that was just something I couldn’t do with any other project at the time. And so I guess it satisfies that itch of creating a musical experience that’s a horror or dark fantasy book.
One of the things that I found out about the bands and the albums I like, whether we’re talking about the 2010s or the 90s, is that you would be surprised how many times they're projects born out of people intentionally trying to be different from their scene. That they come up in, say, the punk scene, and that they feel good about it, as you said, respectful of it, right? And also there’s something about punk that's very alluring for young musicians, because it's easy to play, and easy to start your first band. You're in a band, you're being watched, you have an audience. And then time goes by and you're like: “No, this is boring to me,”I'm like everyone else. All of which is to say that that impetus, trying to be different, is kind of an important step, right? But I guess I'm interested – and I don't know if you can answer this – but, other than the lyrics, could you now, in retrospect, also identify what was it about the way you wrote the music that you could point your finger at and say: “This is what I did differently”?
Well, let's take a look at the Quebec scene at the time. In late 2000s, 2010, the three main subgenres that were most popular were technical death, deathcore, and black metal. Obviously, Chthe'ilist’s music has some slight technical elements to it, and there are also a few parts that have a slight black metal influence, but to me…. You know, going out to Foufounes Electriques, which is one of the biggest cultural hubs for youth in Montreal, you get to meet a lot of people. I had a lot of friends from different backgrounds, a place where all sorts of people – metalheads, punks, “scene kids,” jocks – who listen to different kinds of music. And so, just going to shows and seeing what was happening around, I felt like, as I was saying before, a little too bombarded by these bands, following a lot of interactions with people and hearing a lot of that music live, and so on.
And so the first thing I’d mention is the production. Obviously, I love the newer bands playing technical forms of music, but there was something about the time when it was all coming out at the time, I was like: “OK, I feel like I love the music, but everyone has these bands that they hold in high regard, but as soon as they sound a little less clean, a little more raw, it was frowned upon, literally. And I didn't understand that, because, as somebody who grew up listening to Morbid Angel and Possessed, it was like: “Well, why? Why is this not good? Just because it's not perfectly recorded or perfectly produced?” As a youth, it was almost like a feeling of rebellion, where you're being told that your taste in music sucks because you're listening to bands that don't sound as polished and as produced as the bands your friends listen to at parties and concerts. And I went: “You know what? I would love to play a style of heavy death metal that has a fucking disgusting-ass production, just out of spite,” just to see how they would think. So that was one of the first things that came to my mind, that I wanted to write heavy music but with a really raw, organic production. Just as a protest against that trend that was going on in Quebec at that time, where everyone is trying to sound as clean as possible, and as “br00tal” as possible, and I wanted to have a production style that completely differs from that.
Obviously when it comes to the music aspect of it, that's another thing too. I was telling myself that I love neoclassical noodling and all that stuff, for sure. But I can say the same thing, I can convey the same emotion by playing less notes. And also I wanted to write riffs that I can just play off the top of my head, without noodling around on guitar pro for hours, trying to figure out what it that I was playing. So, it's like: “OK, I want to create something straight to the point and that, in a way, feels unique. Like, when you first listen to the riffs of “Into the Vaults of Ingurgitating Obscurity”: It's all straightforward, but the snare placement changes throughout the middle of the song. The way I wrote that song is that I came up with one theme, just one series of notes, and then from that series of notes I wrote the entire song. So like it's almost written like a classical piece, except it doesn't sound classical at all, it’s just using a central theme and basing the song on that. That was something that I felt not a lot of bands were doing at the time, in my own scene. I thought it was really cool, and not only that, but also succeeding in keeping that approach to song structures, but with riffs that don’t sound flashy or melodic. So it was the total polar opposite of what I was doing with, say, First Fragment, which uses central themes as part of the songwriting, but has a very flashy, show-offy kind of sound. With Chthe'ilist I wanted to do the opposite. Because, one part of me loves that, but the other part of me also is constantly subjected to these sorts of bands and I felt saturated by what was going on in my neck of the woods. So, these riffs are weird and dark, and the note choice is kind of odd, but, at the same time, you can headbang to it. So, one part of it was done out of spite, but the other part was that I could make it weird, but also make it so that people will headbang when it’s played live, and also that people would try to discover what it was they liked about that sound and discover the actual classics. That was something that always came up when interacting with people…. In 2022 the term OSDM comes up often, and it's the big thing right now, but in 2009 or 2010 everyone in my scene, especially in my age bracket, did not. Like, if you played Dawn of Possession by Immolation you’d probably get dirty looks [laughs]
That’s literally how it was, I'm not joking. So it was like: “I want to put this style of death metal back on the map in Quebec, play traditional death metal, but with an interesting twist.” It's not going to be Obituary-style death metal, I'm going to do something a little bit more interesting. Not that I hate Obituary, I love Slowly We Rot, but that's not my point. I just didn’t want to just play slow power chords, I wanted to create something that has a feeling of arriving in an old decrepit dungeon and you’re listening to the soundtrack to it, these riffs that just mutate one into the other. That's the thing, when I hear these riffs I almost see like a tentacular being trying to talk to you and I feel like that's what I wanted to try to do: a central theme where the riffs could just mutate into one another, to keep that feeling of sliminess in the music.
As a listener, who is not a musician, I have a theory or – I don't know if “theory” is the word I would use here. I guess “a hunch” or my own intuition as to how it is that Chthe'ilist achieves this thing you’re talking about. And it’s really two things. One is that there's this element of simplicity here, right? This is not technical death metal, per se. There's an element of simplicity, or of rawness or grossness, whatever you want to call it, about the production. But the overall feeling is that you're listening to something that is simple and complex at the same time. And I just gave this theory a name today. You want to hear it?
It's “harmonious fragmentation.” The reason I call it that – and, again, I am not a musician, so I might be wrong about both terms – is because I feel like part of what Chthe'ilist does and that makes it simple and complex at the same time, or gross and technical at the same time, is that it feels almost as if it’s a composition of the different instruments that are not not necessarily working at the same time, and aren’t doing the same thing, but are working off each other. So when you listen to even something like First Fragment, the drums and the and the riff are kind of following each other, for the most part. Whereas when I listen to Chthe'ilist, it feels like the drums are doing whatever the fuck they want…
… while the riff is doing whatever the fucks it wants, while sometimes the bass slaps out of nowhere and just appears, which is not the traditional way in which bass is used necessarily in traditional death metal. And so, it feels like everything is loose, every musician, every instrument, is doing its own thing, but somehow they're in conversation with each other. I don't know if “counterpoint” is the right word here, but it feels like they're working off each other. So does that make any kind of sense?
It does. Going back to the song you mentioned earlier, “Into the Vaults,” there’s one portion of the song where…. You know I told you about the theme I had going at one point? So, I'm kind of just playing the same notes, but with a different groove to it, and then the drum pattern slightly changes too, the snare placement changes. So, it's almost like it's the same riff, but then the guitars and the drums are kind of doing a separate version. It's like the dialogue was fractured into two, and then there's two people having a different dialogue next to each other [laughs]. But it somehow works, you know, and then that's just for like a few seconds.
And after that there's a second variation of the same riff. Those same notes, but then I changed the length of certain notes, and I had the drummer place snare accents differently. Because I also wrote a significant portion of the drum arrangement. And so what I meant by having the riffs mutate. When I do a counterpoint arrangement, I usually have both guitars doing a separate thing, and there's instances of that in “Tales of the Majora Mythos Part I.” But when it comes to the song I mentioned before, it was an idea taken from listening to the Confessor album that does a lot of that. Carbonized, Demelich, these bends do the same thing too. It's like they take the same riff and then the drum arrangement changes under it, and it sounds like two different things going on at the same time, but you can still nod your head to it.
I love that.
That was a big inspiration for me, to try to do that. The riff is simple, but then the other instruments are conversing with each other in a way that makes it sound like it's completely fucked up [laughs].
I don't know how you define yourself as a musician, though I think guitar is your main instrument, but it never ceases to amaze me how important the drums are if you're interested in creating a sense of disorientation or confusion. It's almost like the drums are the guide, they tell you what's up. Even if the riff is all over the place, you still feel the drums and you kind of get a sense of where things are going. And if the drums “betray” that function, if they begin to change, then there's something very interesting there. Obviously, some people might find it very annoying, but for me, personally, it's like the secret sauce. It just unhinges you, and there’s this feeling that everything is possible now. That you can’t trust anything. And I like how you describe it as “mutate,” because it really feels organic, the way things change. Not necessarily drastically, even though that is cool too sometimes, but by small measures, gradually, almost like an arm turning into a head, or whatever.
It creates a very – and I hate this word because it has become an ASMR word, but it's very satisfying, in a gross way [laughs].
Yeah, I agree. And coming back to what I said previously about trying to do something different from the rest of the scene I was in, I thought it was something that Chthe'ilist was doing differently, even from the other, more old-school-inspired bands that were slowly creeping out of the crevices on the Internet at the time. But especially when I compare it to, say, my local scene at the time, where everything was cut-and-paste “technical part and then breakdown,” or just cut-and-paste black metal riffs. Just like having a piece that mutates like that, on a songwriting level…. If we're not talking about production aesthetics, just the musicality of it, I thought it was, at the very least, doing something from the output of the local scene, at the time.
Yeah, I think actually in terms of the full length ,the production is very important. Because, everything we just described, all that interaction between the instruments, on the one hand, you want to keep it muffled because the focus is on the unit, the musical experience as a whole, and if you isolate the instruments too much then it turns from a unified thing to too much of fragmented thing. But, on the other hand, if you can't hear the instruments individually you lose that satisfying element of fragmentation, right? You know what I'm saying?
So, the production of that album is a very big reason why it's so great, because it really hits that sweet spot of enough gross that it's gross, but enough clarity that can pick up the different parts of the machine at work.
Not only that, it also amplifies the theatrical aspect of the music. And that's one other thing I want to talk about. You know, some people have pointed out how different the demo is compared to the album in terms of production, especially when they’re the same kind of songs. When I did that demo in 2011, it was, like I said, out of spite and wanting to make something weird and disgusting to listen to. So, obviously the production on the demo [laughs], it's kind of weird…. A few parts were omitted in the mix, so that's why we were never satisfied with the demo and I was playing with dead strings too, so the guitar riffs and the tone they feel like…. One of my friends put it in the best way possible, he said it was the audio equivalent of bacon grease at the bottom of a frying pan.
So it has that weird aspect to it. But when we were going to do the album it was: “OK, I want to take our favorite parts of the demo when it comes to production, but make it more grandiose, in a dark way, more monolithic sounding. So the balance we have to achieve: keep some of the rawness to it, but expand upon other areas in the production so we don't lose track of certain elements that will enhance the theatrical aspect of it. So that's why we went with Greg [Chandler] of Esoteric. We were big fans of Esoteric growing up, and when you listen to his Esoteric, there are so many layers, so many things happening at the same time, and despite all the small layers and details to it, he creates a cohesive sound. It’s the kind of thing where you can listen to it ten, twenty times and every time you hear something new. That was the kind of music I wanted. On the demo there was less of that, and on the album I wanted to focus on creating the same kind of sound, but with more attention to detail. And so that's why the album ended up sounding this way. I can still nitpick the hell out of it, but to this day I still feel like it was one of Gregg's best jobs, and honestly one of the favorite things I've ever done. Like, I don't know, I stopped keeping track of my discography count at this point, but it's definitely one of my favorites.
I agree. And I also think that saying it's one of Greg's best jobs is saying a lot, because he has done a lot of great jobs.
I think he’s one of the best at that. It’s like watching a painting of a cloud, like one of those Turner paintings, where, on one hand you can appreciate it as a cloud, but if you look very closely you can see all the details. That's a a very difficult thing to do. But, I'd like to pick up on something you said, and I want to talk to you about pretty music.
And the reason I want to talk to you about pretty music is that we've been spending all this time talking about gross horror, but – and this is something that I have expressed to you in the past – I'm a very big Marty Friedman fan. His solo stuff, but mainly since Megadeth was my favorite band growing up and so I got to see them live in ‘95 with Marty Friedman was a very big part of my life. And one of the things that Marty Friedman did very well is that he was a master in bringing beautiful melodies, even though they were kind of weird at times, and making them feel at home in very rough music. It didn’t feel seem foreign, it didn't feel like it negated the roughness of the music, more like a sudden splash of light. That's how it feels to me. And I feel like your lead work…. I mean, this is really off topic for what we're talking about, but the new Worm album [Bluenothing], your stuff there, I don't think I've been moved by soloing like that since I was fifteen, listening to Marty Friedman. Seriously.
Because it feels genuine. It feels like whatever emotion is being expressed with those beautiful lines and those beautiful melodies, it's genuine, it's not just there as a throwaway. It's not you shredding, it's really part of the music. So, how does that work, when we're talking about gross, horrific music? Not all the music you participate in is gross and horrific, but you could imagine a doom album like a Worm album without that kind of lead work, or VoidCeremony not having that.
You could always have really rough, dark metal without that. In fact, if I had to guess…
Oh yeah. It doesn't happen.
I would guess it doesn’t happen that much, at all. And actually might be frowned upon. You said that if you put on Dawn of Possession back in the day then people would frown upon that, I feel like we've reached a point where really tasteful leads, beautiful melodies, might be frowned upon. So, in a way the fact that you're bringing it back is another act of spite, but very beautiful. So I guess my question to you, after all this rant: Where does beauty fit into all this nastiness? What is the function of writing beautiful lines, beautiful melodies, and beautiful lead work? What does it do? What kind of color does it add to the gross mutations we were just talking about?
Well, when it comes to Chthe'ilist, I felt like, for one, it all stems from the same source, whether we're talking about the influences for the rhythmic section of the band. I mentioned Confessor, Demilich, Carbonized, all those bands I'm trying to use as a template to create nauseating, disorienting rhythms, or the sheer heaviness of the band: obviously I took a lot of notes from Swedish, Finnish, and American death metal in the 90s. But all these little niches of music, they all go back to me discovering Morbid Angel way back, and way before that discovering Judas Priest. It all stems from the same source: heavy metal. So for me, when it comes to genre classifications, it’s all heavy metal. Regardless of the sub genre, it should always have a heavy metal attitude to it, so that's the first thing I'm going to say.
What is that attitude?
Fuckin’ rock n' roll. Be louder than everyone, be heavier than everyone. You want to blow everyone's minds, you want to create an experience. It's all rock n' roll, man. In the end it's all rock n' roll. There's this hipster mentality in the scene that says that all solos should be out, blah blah blah. And I feel like: “Dude, this is not a fucking art rock thing, this is heavy metal. This is rock n' roll.” So, for me, when it's stripped down to the core, it's all rock n' roll. So that was the little thing I wanted to say about subgenres, that a metal band should always have some kind of metal spirit to it, otherwise it's not metal, to me, anyway.
So when it comes to the actual practical place of the solo within the song, I feel like when creating a darker-sound sounding music, having a little ray of light in between all of it, it makes the darker parts even darker, in a fuckde-up way. Some people think it breaks that mood, but I disagree. I actually think music without contrast is not interesting to me. So, I can enjoy an album that maintains a mood or tone for the entire duration, I can appreciate it, but I will not come back to it as often, because I need these contrasts when I listen to something. One of the best examples of that is Brutality’s Screams of Anguish. It's angry, it's dark, it's heavy, but there's pretty moments throughout the entire album. And when you come back to the darker parts, it's like: “Oh my God.” It's like you're back in the depths of hell. It has much more of an impact on me. So those are the two reasons. It’s that rock n’ roll spirit always be in metal because metal stems from rock n' roll and heavy metal. You listen to Black Sabbath, to Judas Priest, to Iron Maiden, it has that spirit of being loud, and evocative, and crazy, and everything, and I feel like this should translate into extreme metal as well. It's just weird to me to see people who say they don't like solos in death metal. it's like: “Really? Don’t you like heavy metal?” and they’re like: “No, I don't like heavy metal, I only like death metal.” It's like, what the hell are you doing here, man? It's the same kind of people that stop listening to death metal after three years, you know what I mean? Get the hell out of here [laughs].
I can completely understand what you're saying, but also, I always feel very…. I don’t know if “guilty” is the right word, but I started listening to metal I'd say around ‘92-’93, and the metal of that moment was still very much kind of the leftovers of thrash from the 80s, right? So my first big albums were probably Youthanasia and then Countdown, or And Justice for All, but all of the kind of late-80s, early-90s thrash group. Sessions in the Abyss, that kind of stuff. So I always feel bad about that because I never had the heavy metal moment myself, because I was inserted directly into the subsequent generation. But where I do feel like that I connect was, at first, Marty’s lead work, because, in a weird way, he retains that flashy beauty that really, when you think about it, wasn't very popular at the time. Even within thrash metal. He's a very strange character in that genre, because a lot of the soloing that went on was a lot less melodic and a lot more aggressive. More shreddy. And he was never shreddy, he was always very, I don't know if the word is right, but I'll use it, was very gentle. And very patient, and I feel like that kind of imprinted on me. That and you know, listening to Dragon’s Kiss 9000 times. It really left this mark on me, of an appreciation of beauty, exactly because you don't expect it. Because it so-called doesn't fit. Because it's excessive, because it's flashy, because it's show offy because of all these things – I think punk I blame punk for a lot of this – that punk frowned upon
Because in the grand scheme of things, if you were a show off guitarist in a punk scene, then you were not in solidarity with the scene, you were trying to one-up everyone. Whereas in metal it's fine to one up everyone.
It's completely within the boundaries of what you're supposed to do
And really, I mean, I don't know if I'm going to even leave this in, but the stuff you did on the Worm album that just came out. Every time I listen to it, I find myself posting something on social media. It moves me in a kind of a primal, beautiful way. It's a gift, really, really. I mean, I don't mean to embarrass you or whatever, but it really is a special thing, because it really takes me back to a moment where metal could do that, could display a range of emotion, for instance, and not just, you know, being pissed the entire time. Sorry about that. OK, last question, because we're I don't want to take up too much of your time. OK. We didn't talk about the full length that much directly, we talked about it indirectly, but you look back at Le dernier crépuscule…. I mean, we already talked about some of the things you liked about it, the production being one. So other than the production, what is it about that record that you find yourself being very pleased with today? Is it a specific song, the album itself as a whole, or anything that makes you proud.
Well, I will say the way the songs were constructed. We really succeeded in creating songs that…. You know, I was talking earlier about focusing on a central theme and making that, despite the high number of risks per song, we succeeded in making long songs that had cohesion between all those risks, that they were all interconnected. So, I think we're proud of how we constructed the songs, how cohesive they are, of how the rifts flow and fit into one another like a puzzle. So that's one thing I will say, the way we carefully linked transitions between the riffs and the buildups. I really think the album really came out strong in that regard. One criticism that was thrown our way that I think is very fair is that some sound structures between songs tend to be same-y. And I agree, but at the same time, I don't think it's a bad thing, because we set our own formula. As much as we owe to a lot of bands from back then, I do think we have our own approach to it. Chthe'ilist is the kind of band that I never say its the most original thing in the world, because it isn't. But the way we constructed the songs and the way we mix these elements together makes us unique in that way.
Obviously when it comes to the execution of the songs, we all did a great job. But one thing I will say is that I really pushed myself to bring out really two strong performances at instruments that are not necessarily my own. It was my first album as a lead vocalist. Before the demo, I was writing the lyrics for the band, but it was with a vocalist in mind. We rehearsed with him twice and, when it came time to do the demo something happened and he left the band, and I was then tasked with doing the vocals for the demo. It was a daunting task to do all the lead vocals for an entire record, and I pushed myself really fucking hard on this album, and I think it came out good. I think I succeeded in enhancing the gross factor of the album, really invoking the sentiment of dread and disgust, when listening to the vocals. I really push myself to be able to do that. In between the takes on “Into the Vaults” I accidentally vomited, because I was really pushing myself, and we kept the sounds of me vomiting in the outro sample of the song – on the album version. The demo version was kind of similar, but the album version of that sample is much more disgusting-sounding because there's this element of me making these monstrous sounds to paint that image of the character and the lyrics being about being devoured. But then there's also me puking in the background [laughs].
So that’s one thing I think we're really proud of, really successfully creating something that when you listen to it you see colors of putrid brown and putrid green – much like the album cover. And when you hear the vocals on that, it really fits, it's like you're either going through a disgusting swamp or to an ancient castle as you listen to the album, and the lyrics really help enhance that feeling.
That was also my first full-length album doing the bass. The only song I don’t play bass on is “White Spawn,” but the rest of the songs contained my performance. I also really pushed myself for that. Claude [Leduc, the band’s other guitarist] and I thought that the bass should be more upfront than the demo. I was showing him Violent Urge and stuff, and we thought “Well, that’s good, but what if we did it in a Cryptopsy style?” Obviously, I grew up listening to Cryptopsy, them being one of the first after Morbid Angel and Possessed, Cryptopsy was maybe the third metal band that I got into. None So Vile and Blasphemy Made Flesh left quite an impression on me. And so it was like: “OK, we could combine the elements from both these bands for the bass” – and that's what I did. That's what I set out to do. Just to catch people off guard, to have these weird funked-up grooves and then the bass accents that, adding some percussiveness to the groove.
So that's one thing I'm proud of, these two instruments, vocals and bass, which aren’t my main instruments, but I really push myself to be able to do something I'm not used to and end up with something that elevated the album. in my opinion,
One of the last things, which we already talked about, is the production. I honestly think that just making this album in those circumstances, we had a lot of time to record this album. We took her sweet-ass time with the guitars. I could really take my time. But the last two weeks we were in crunch mode, and so much was happening at the same time – I was starting a new job while we had to deliver the album stems to Greg, who was going to mix the album, which, by the way, was done fully through analog gear and it takes a while to mix an album that way. For certain engineers it's actually easier, but it's a different process than the one we were used to, and so we had to get the stems to him in a respectable amount of time. I remember the last week, it was just super stressful. My schedule at my new job at the time was completely different from everyone else's, and so just finishing the album…. Because, we took our time with the guitars, but everything else was just done in a short period of time. The bass, the vocals, the synth work, the album ambiences. We had such a narrow window of time in that crunch-time period. So, I'm just proud of the fact that we pulled through without any problems. We successfully, I think, finalized the album properly, despite that stressful period. Which, obviously, was our own fault, because we kind of procrastinated for an entire year until we actually found somebody to mix it. I'm just glad we managed to do that, despite everything going against us.
There's a diagram that has to do with working with a deadline, I don't know if you’ve seen it, where it's like this strip where about 80% is marked as “procrastination,” fifteen or so percent of the time as “panic,” and then the remaining five percent is “all the work while crying.”
[Laughs] That is funny as hell.
That's how that usually works.
Yeah, I want to say I learned my lesson from that, but there are still instances where…. So, just on this last tour that I did with First Fragment in Canada, I actually ended up doing half of the lead vocals on the new VoidCeremony, but I received the lyrics at the very last minute, because I didn't write the lyrics from for the album – two days before I left for the tour. So I had to record that really quickly, and then the first night of the tour I actually had to go home and finish recording [laughs]. So, I’d like to say I learned my lessons from the Chthe'ilist record, but on certain albums that I've done later on I had to work in crunch mode as well. But you know what?
You make it work.
Yeah, I somehow make it work and it kind of adds to the experience [laughs]. But, yeah, coming back to the Chthe'ilist record, if I had to think of something that makes me stoked…. I talked about the production, the songwriting, the construction of the songs and the performances, and just getting it done. I think one more thing I can say I'm proud of, just to finish that off, is that it seems like it has left an impression on a lot of people. In Quebec, Chthe'ilist is not very talked about, but in certain circles I've heard a lot of people – not to toot my own horn – that consider it to be a modern classic. Seems like a lot of people have an attachment to it, and that's something I'm proud of, having left that impression with people. Some people told me that it was kind of their gateway to discover that style of death metal, which, like I said, was a big contrast to a lot of bands at the time, and it goes all the way back to what I was saying when I created the band and it was created out of spite. That rock'n'roll spirit I'm talking about, that's what I'm talking about, you know? It's born out of spite in the beginning because it’s about making something that's different from what was happening in your scene. And then, years later, hearing: “I heard that album and it made me want to discover other bands that play in a similar style,” but also all older bands that paved the way for us, because, you know, we do kind of wear our influences on our sleeves. And so it’s cool to hear people say: “You made me go into a rabbit hole with older bands.” So, I think that’s the last thing I will say that I am definitely proud of, having that impact on people, be it purely enjoying the record for what it is, musically, or for opening people’s minds.
That's awesome. I guess the mandatory follow up to that is: New album, when?
Well, I want to do two albums. One that goes back to the origins of the band, where we focused on pure darkness and crushing, heavy riffs, with a more disgusting-sounding production than what we've ever done before. And another album that follows that basically picks up where “Tales of the Majora Mythos Part I” left off and goes in that direction. That's one other thing I'm actually proud of, that the album is very consistent, but the last song really expands on the influences and that song I will describe as a mix of death metal, doom, and black metal. And for that album, that’s what I want to do: Fully create the most eclectic version of Chthe'ilist in the form of death, black, doom metal. And these two albums would have completely different production styles.
I can’t talk about a timeline yet, because the bass player and I are writing what I think is probably going to be one of my finest works yet: An epic doom record, in the vein of Solitude Eternus, Candlemass, and old Manowar. We're busy writing that right now, but after that we're going to go back to writing extreme metal, and we have these two albums in mind that are going to be conceptually linked but will have a different production style, and because of this different production style…. When I’m talking about production I’m also talking about atmosphere and everything that it evokes. So these influence the musical arrangements and the musical direction. The second album would be probably closer to the first few songs we ever wrote, focusing on heavy riffs and a doomy atmosphere, and the third one will be more eclectic, more complex, more counter-pointy, and more eclectic, with a different production style that maybe is less heavy than the second album, but focuses on leaving room for complex guitar arrangements, without necessarily going into tech-death territory. I think a good reference for that third album would be like if you mix the influences on “Tales of the Majora Mythos,” ranging from little nods to Ripping Corpse to certain black metal bands and bands like The Chasm, and all these other bands that I want to mention and name drop, but I won't. It's just creating a sound commonly referred to as “dark metal,” the unification of death, black and doom metal. We already have songs written for both releases, and there's just a distinct difference between them, and I feel like both releases are connected to the lore that I created with the Chthe'ilist lyrics, this lore is connected to the Atramentus lyrical lore, as well as the lore of the epic doom project that I was talking about. I think it will probably all take place in the world on a different timeline, which is why I want to place an emphasis on having different production styles, because these two albums will tell a different story taking place in different eras in that fantasy world I'm talking about.
I can’t say anything about a possible timeline for these two releases, because we're taking our time writing the record, so we're really focusing our creative effort on that. And, I said, it's probably going to be some of my favorite work. So, we're going to be busy with that. And once we record that album and put it out, we're gong to go back into writing extreme music. I have a lot of ideas for how I’d like to market these two albums, but I won't spoil it but I think it's going to be pretty interesting and unique in its presentation.