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Interview with ATRAMENTUS

by Vpower

The Band: Atramentus

Country: Canada

Answers: Phil Tougas

https://www.facebook.com/AtramentusDoom
https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/stygian

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While adorned in the language of Extreme Funeral Doom and Dark Ambient soundscape, ATRAMENTUS owe further debt to Epic Doom Metal in sound and aesthetic and Black Metal’s anguished ferocity. But always the arc of Atramentus remains bound to the tumultuous melancholy and guttural immensity of Extreme Doom.

Hello Phil, first of all we would like to know more about Atramentus, how did you start and what’s your story?

Atramentus was born in 2012. I walked through a snowstorm for 3 hours and came back home half frozen and miserable. I grabbed my guitar and wrote “Perennial Voyage”. That’s how Atramentus came to life, and it was on that one night. A year later, I wrote “From Tumultuous Heavens” in the autumn of 2013. I was without a line-up for many years but I decided that it was better to wait and assemble a full line-up before recording anything. I wanted to avoid becoming yet another bedroom one-man band and I wanted Atramentus to be taken seriously within the extreme doom scene. Claude Leduc, who happens to be my bandmate in Chthe’ilist, eventually joined Atramentus in 2015. François Bilodeau joined Atramentus on keyboard duties a year later, and he would incorporate dark ambient elements into our funeral doom sound as well. Antoine Daigneault (also in Chthe’ilist) joined on bass duties around 2017 and Xavier Berthiaume of Gevurah joined in 2018. Following his addition, we started recording the two songs I had written many years ago, alongside François Bilodeau’s dark ambient track. The result is our debut album “Stygian”.

Canada is a country with a Metal scene full of life, although doom metal may not be the most popular genre over there, a good chance for you?

While I’m not certain I understand the question, I do hope that our album will make people realize that there’s indeed true extreme doom being done here in Quebec just like in Russia, Finland, Japan, the US & the UK. You are right, Doom metal is definitely the least popular metal genre in Canada but especially where I live. Black Metal is quite popular, so is Death Metal of course.

That was the point, exactly. How was the composition and recording of Stygian?

I wrote the music 7 to 8 years ago and the arrangements remained mostly untouched since then, although Claude, François, Antoine & Xavier all brought in their own inspirations and their own personal touch to the music on Stygian. The recording began in the Winter of 2018, but the process was interrupted many times. I must have toured in 23 different countries in 2019, with 3 different bands so I was very busy. Our drummer Xavier, who also happens to be the one who handled the mix and recording of the album, also had a very busy schedule. The recording and mixing sessions were therefore spread over a period of almost 2 years. Greg Chandler of Esoteric mastered the album a couple of months later.

The album will be released by 20 Buck Spin on August 21st, any promotion for that date, videos or something?

Invisible Oranges will be premiering the full album stream of our album on August 19th alongside an extremely lengthy interview conducted by Jon Rosenthal. That’s all I can say for now.

Not bad at all. How long have you been preparing these songs and how they bind your previous musical experience together?

I think the music of Atramentus sounds completely different from all our other bands combined. We are after all in a lot of other bands. However, there are doom elements that did seep into the sound of Chthe’ilist in many instances. Xavier has more of a black metal background and he does bring a touch of that to our sound/production style but his experience with Montreal epic doom band Cauchemar made him no stranger to doom metal as a whole. François Bilodeau is the only person in the band that hasn’t been in any other bands before. This is his first album and he gave his 100% on every level. With that said. he’s been listening to this style of music forever and has done some session work for Suffer Yourself. So yeah, as you can see, it’s not entirely a new thing for us to play music this slow and miserable, plus this album has been in my blood for so long so I could say Atramentus has been one of my main bands foreve. It was just merely buried in the ice for so long. The songs have remained largely authentic and faithful to their first iterations many years ago like I said above, as the songs were written very spontaneously and it was important to retain that spontaneous nature on the album. It doesn’t matter what I created & experienced in later years and how much my musical skills and taste may have evolved after 2012-2013, it did not have an impact on the recording and the original vision that I had with this band back when I started it. It was all kept intact. The only exception would likely apply to the vocals. I’m not entirely sure I would’ve been able to pull off what I did on Stygian back when I was younger but the spirit is pretty much the same as I imagined it back then.

Everything in Stygian seems very much worked, let’s start by the lyrics, what is the story about?

The story and lore behind Stygian takes place during the year 3XXX on an alternate earth geographically different from ours, known as “The Perpetual Planes”. Since the lore behind the album is thematically connected to our other band Chthe’ilist, the events that happen on this album occur in a medieval setting where humanity was originally forced back into the stone-age after going almost extinct, forgetting most of their own history and eventually going through a second age of Antiquity again within the span of a few centuries. Humanity would later devolve back into this god-fearing feudal society, resembling a deformed version of our own medieval times, where men and women alike live by the law of the sword and live in the constant fear of terrifying gods as well as horrible nightmarish creatures roaming the accursed lands. The characters in the “Stygian” timeline have no direct connection to those depicted in “Le Dernier Crépuscule” or “Passage Into The Xexanotth” by Chthe’ilist, but they exist within the same world, within a separate era.

The story is explained in greater detail inside the album booklet, and it is also accompanied with a map. I can however make a quick summary. The story revolves around a nameless knight referred throughout the album as “The Guardian of Atros Kairn”. After making a pact with the lesser gods known as Carcophanex – devourer of time and Sharos – bringer of deluges, plagues & all calamities, the nameless knight acquires his long sought-after immortality through the deceitful gift of the sword belonging to Heeos, the goddess of the sun. In turn, the nameless knight outlives the world through the essence of the sun’s immortal light in his hands and veins. He can only watch as the sun eventually dies and infinite darkness sets in, giving way to eternal winter. The album is about what he experiences, feels and sees as everyone and everything around him dies, the horrifying wrath of the gods he witnesses through his immortal eyes and his final journey across a barren planet that has turned into a frozen and desolate wasteland devoid of light where he must remain to linger for all eternity, forever afflicted by scorching-cold blizzard winds and the pain of loss.

I built the concept around personal experiences and things I have experienced and felt myself, such as prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures, dreams, sleep disorders, paranormal experiences, spiritual beliefs, emotional trauma, etc. Every riff, solo, drum hit or synth note tells a story for itself in an abstract way. My goal was ultimately to establish several themes around these personal experiences in an attempt to create an epic yet emotionally overwhelming experience, and to further create a palpable atmosphere and feeling of coldness in a desolate, medieval setting not too different from ours. The epic doom influences shine especially in the way that I opted to create a romanticized, epic journey within this record, as opposed to sticking to creating strictly self-lamenting lyrics. This way, the listener is able to relate to this nameless character through the story, as opposed to simply just reading a personal diary of some sort. The story is told like a legend of olde, much like in Greek mythology or something you’d read about in The Bible, to romanticize these events that defy science itself.

A massive work indeed. Three songs for an album is not the usual standard, it was the original intention or things turned out that way?

I’ve written a lot of material over the years, but it was eventually decided that our first album would only contain these songs. Any other additions felt forced and it ruined the flow these songs had and disrupted the chemistry that existed between them.

Three songs but all of them different to each other!

They absolutely are. Each song represents a different part of the story and expresses a varying range of emotions that I have myself experienced firsthand as explained above. I have chosen to express them in such a way to create a truly immersive experience. The first song on side “Autumn” is miserable, angry, dark and expresses a deep feeling of anxiety, crippling dread and utter pain. The song is about the death of the sun and the death of all life as we know, and the terror felt by the nameless knight as he sees from his immortal eyes the boundless darkness surrounding him, the towering waves of water destroying everything around him, entire cities being swept away by the terrifying winds of the wind-deity Atramentus. These same winds would also howl so loudly, whoever heard them died as the voices of millions of crying souls begging the gods for mercy would be drowned out in the tumult. Unable to die, the nameless knight witnesses everything around him wither and fade over time, and retreats inside his stronghold as autumn slowly transitions to endless winter due to the sun’s death.

The second song on side “Autumn”, the dark ambient song, is when the nameless knight falls into a deep ageless slumber to escape the troubles of the outside world in an attempt to find eternal peace within the dreamless void. He falls prey to horrible hallucinations of ghastly beings seen through astral projection, vivid nightmares, sleep apnea and sleep paralysis as he hears the waves of water slowly coming towards him from outside, unable to move or react. Having experienced these phenomenons myself first hand, François Bilodeau and I worked on crafting and conceptualizing a dark ambient song that would represent how such phenomenons would be like if experienced through the form of music.

The final song on the album and the sole track on the side “Winter”, was the first song I wrote for the band as I mentioned above, ironically. Of course, this song feels unbearably cold, and emanates an aura of pure despair, sorrow and loneliness, instead of dread, pain, anxiety or anger. The overt sense of melody in this song is meant to represent the brief moments of numbness and strange warmth felt when your body is frozen and you enter an almost euphorical yet lethargic state. See, in this song, I tried to portray what it felt like to be alone and lost inside a winter storm at night, for so long. The epic doom sections that appear later in the song are meant to further emphasize the depth of The Perpetual Planes and help the listeners visualize them in all their desolated glory. In the story, the nameless knight awakens from his lethargic sleep to an unrecognizable world of darkness and frost. Countless years have passed, and the world he once knew is now “but ruin and ice!”. The song progresses along the nameless knight’s journey across the frozen Perpetual Planes in his quest to find signs of human life, until eventually realizing he is utterly alone and that he has been going in circles for thousands of years. Despite his immortality, his soul is weary, and he cannot bear anymore the pain he has endured from loss, and the perpetual exposition to blizzard winds seering his flesh. It is in this song that he reaches his breaking point and falls into endless despair.

A great travel I would say. It seems that apart of the usual instruments you also use other kind of sounds or instrumentations?

Not exactly. We’ve obviously used synths, pianos & a cello, but that’s pretty much it. François created the dark ambient soundscapes on our album using his own field recordings and synths.

You would say you are nearer to the Epic Doom Metal or Black Metal?

There’s definitely black metal elements to be found within the cold essence of our music, as well as a few of our musical textures and a few vocal parts that I did, but I’d say we are much closer to Epic Doom Metal. Not just musically, but also in spirit, whereas the spirit of black metal doesn’t burn as bright within our funeral doom sound. This Epic Doom sensibility will be especially found in the lyrics as well as our overall aesthetic and how we present our music and our concepts. Bands like Solstice, Solitude Aeturnus, Doomsword, Scald & Cirith Ungol are much more influential to me. I’m obviously a big heavy metal fan too. Bands like Manowar, Warlord & Queensryche have all played an extremely huge role in inspiring Atramentus, though it is certainly not made obvious at all (unless you read the lyrics and can detect the references I have inserted). Of course, we also have a lot of dark ambient elements in our music, just as much as traditional doom elements. We did dub our genre “Northern Funeral Steel” to illustrate this extremely specific blend of influences but DOOM is what we are at the end of the day.

The portrait on the cover is really suggestive and I think it summarizes very well your album’s mood, what do you think?

Oh, I absolutely agree with you. When looking at it, you feel utter dread, you feel cold and you feel total despair. This is why Mariusz Lewandowski sets himself apart. His paintings speak a language only few can understand. Mariusz actually insisted on hearing the album and seeing the lyrics before working on the painting when I presented him the overall concept. When he sent us the finished artwork, he told me the album left a big mark on him. This painting is extremely honest and faithful to the emotions we are trying to portray. He understood what we were trying to do because he put himself in the place of the album’s protagonist to express and portray this vision we imagined.

Black Metal is one of the styles that are living a best era nowadays, that opens a wide range of experimentation for you?

Black Metal is definitely very popular amongst metalheads right now. Perhaps the subtle black metal elements present on our upcoming album may turn a few heads within that scene, who knows? Personally I don’t like most of the black metal scene though. As I said above, I don’t particularly care to be associated with that scene in some way. We owe more to traditional doom metal as I said but it is also because of my personal views that are divergent from the mindset that permeates the black metal movement. I can’t speak for everyone in the band of course, because these are just my personal view. Today especially, Black Metal is tainted by fascist ideology and a resurgence of American conservative values masquerading as some sort of pseudo-counter-culture. Black Metal fans and even musicians have the same world-views as their evangelical grand-parents nowadays. It’s pathetic, not to mention that it is the antithesis to the true rebellious and unifying spirit of metal. It doesn’t make a band any better and it doesn’t make it more kvlt. Those playing metal music under the banners of fascism are misguided, empty husks devoid of empathy, creativity and common sense, because that’s all they can even offer. Underneath their posturing, they are weak and their riffs are weak. They are not part of the master race. They’re not rising against the masses and conformity. They are just afraid. Afraid of themselves & afraid of those different than them. Most important, they are afraid of death like the rest of us, for they bleed red like us. Ask yourself, will you choose to give in to fear like a coward, or shall you use it to create something out of it that will speak honest emotions instead of spitting in the face of basic human rights out of misguided anger and fear?

What bands or musicians have influenced your sound?

The sound of Atramentus is based upon the works of many bands, yet at the same time, I don’t think we sound directly like any of them. Some of the bands would be Unholy, Solitude Aeturnus, Worship, The True ManOwaR (With Ross The Boss on guitars and up till Sign Of The Hammer though I like some tracks on Kings of Metal), The Lordian Guard, Thergothon, Morgion, Atlantean Kodex, Skepticism, Gorement, Blind Assassin, Warning, Ceremonium, Funeral (nor), Tony MacAlpine, Joey Tafolla, Jason Becker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Trouble, Agyl & Scald, Bathory (mostly Hammerheart/Twilight Of The Gods), Mournful Congregation (especially the 95 demo), Summoning, Infester, Doomsword, Pantheist, The Chasm, Emerald, Memento Mori, Heir Apparent, diSEMBOWELMENT, Argentum, Chris Huelsbeck’s video game soundtracks for Turrican, Lustmord, The Ruins of Beverast’s first two albums, Cauldron Born, Asunder, Crematory (sweden), Solstice, Aghast, Evoken, Celtic Frost, Elegy (NTL), Colosseum, Esoteric, Swallowed, Abhorrence, Abyssum (GT), Crimson Glory, Sentenced, Fates Warning, Rippikoulu, Fallen, Warlord, etc etc. There’s also a reason why there are no sludge/stoner bands in that list. Not a fan!

Non musical inspirations include personal experiences and traumas, physically excruciating anxiety, the fear of death, loss, longing, sleep disorders (sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, somnambulism, vivid nightmares), experiences with paranormal occurrences, astral projection, the slow transition between autumn and winter, extreme meteorological occurrences and catastrophes, the universe itself, Greek mythology, various passages of The Bible as well as Christian Eschatology, etc.

A big array of bands, great names. How are you dealing with covid19 situation and how has it affected your activity?

Some of us are dealing with various illnesses unrelated to Covid19, be it physical or mental. I’ll leave it at that. Otherwise, many tours were cancelled or postponed, so obviously that is a huge disappointment. But I guess this is to be expected in such a situation. Chances cannot be taken out of respect for everyone. In a truly fucked up way, I guess the timing of the release of this album is quite appropriate given how the world is currently slowly sinking beneath the rising tides of fear, misery, denial and ignorance. Between countless people needlessly dying, a total disregard for empathy, common sense and sanitary precautions, the scepter of authoritarianism being held high and rampant social injustice going unpunished, is there any hope?

I don’t dare to answer that question, but I totally agree with your perception and by the way we wish you all the best with those health problems. Any plans for the future?

First, we must get back to writing the upcoming Chthe’ilist record. New releases from First Fragment, Eternity’s End, Funebrarum and various other bands of mine can also be expected in 2021. As for Atramentus, time will tell…

Thanks for your attention, Phil, if you wish to add something…

Thank you for your time and this interview.

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