Congratulations on this record and on your record deal with Memento Mori. A label that usually does not sign bands that make more progressive and experimental music, like you do. What made them decide they wanted to have you on board?
J: Thanks a lot! We’re very happy to have inked a deal with Memento Mori for this release. The label is definitely more renowned for quite old school death metal, so we are a bit of a departure from most of their bands, but to us it makes a lot of sense. Our music definitely has a more “modern” or experimental touch to it, but in my eyes it is still fundamentally rooted in death metal, driven by the same forces: it’s visceral, grim, murky, and focused on dense atmospheres rather than technicality. When Raul from Memento Mori heard the record he understood this straight away. His feedback and impressions matched perfectly with how we felt about the album, so it was pretty clear from there on that we would work together.
I said experimental, but I think that is not the right word. It is more a succesful combination of the good pieces of several genres. I hear some death, I hear some black, I even hear some metalcore. How would you describe your music?
J: It’s always a bit tricky for us to describe our music, as a lot of different things have grown into it over time. For instance, Meshuggah and Gojira were huge influences for some of us growing up, and it showed in the music we made before Barús. Over time our interest and focus shifted from the intricate technical music towards more dense, atmospheric and dissonant genres; a death metal base, that also pointed towards some black and doom metal influences. I don’t know if we consciously incorporate any metalcore elements, as we’re not very affiliated to that scene, but it’s totally possible that the outcome presents some similarities. In essence, Barús is about making very dense, oppressing, almost asphyxiating music, something sinister that puts the listener in a position of discomfort, yet that is powerful and “catchy” enough to hold them in, so that they want to keep coming back to it.
Speaking of genres, I am interested in your opinion: I hear some people say we have to discard the genres, others say they are very useful to identify bands by and to offer a framework for bands to work within. Do you view genre as something unnecessary or as a handy frame of reference?
J: I don’t think that precise genre identification is that important in the end. In many aspects, a lot of metal bands and scenes are united by form (instruments, sound, visuals) over content (the music and the underlying message it carries). I find this quite disturbing, as it draws attention away from the music itself. I personally find a lot more inspiration and similarities for Barús is dark ambient, post-rock or electroacoustic music than I do in most death metal bands. It’s generally not a direct “oh I should incorporate a riff like this” inspiration, more of a “wow, this atmosphere / contrast is striking, how could I transpose this feeling into what we do?”. Regardless of the genre tag, I do think that internal coherence is very important, within the context of a band or an album. Contrasting elements have to be brought together to serve the musical discourse, and if they don’t add any extra value, they probably don’t belong there. So yeah, I suppose defining oneself in relation to a given genre is not that critical (at least to us), but confronting the elements that you bring in with the emotions, message and atmosphere you want to put forward in the music is essential. We try never to add something “just because we can”.
And should combining genres be something that happens naturally, by accident or should it be an active attempt to create something new?
J: Both can be valid options. Lots of great (and some not so great) records have stemmed from imposing a strong constraint on bringing two or more musical worlds together from the start, but I think in many cases (at least ours) it’s something that has slowly happened over time, without much forethought.
I had to look up the word Barús, because I had never heard of it before. At first I thought it must be some obscure French word (since you are from France), then it sounded a bit Polish to me, and finally I found out it is an ancient Greek word. Can you tell us what it means, and why did you choose to use that language?
J: “Barús” translates to a weight, a burden, both in the literal sense of something heavy and metaphorically as a mental burden or affliction. It serves both as a pretty accurate descriptor of how our music sounds (very monolithic, with the sense of a crushing weight) and also as the essence of the themes and messages we develop (musically and lyrically). As for why we chose this language, it was a mixture of searching formulations and words that resonated with our music while not being overly explicit, finding something concise and phonetically interesting – and also a bit of luck.
Another language related question: why did you decide to use English for singing, and not French?
K : The main reason resides in the correlation between rock music in general and English being by far the most used in the genre. Even if I like some different proposals, English semantic and its syllabic musicality can be something embodied in our way to express something. Words must give meaning but more than that, they are specific sounds. It has happened before that I wrote some songs in French, including our first EP or the quote on the fourth song, but it’s to deliver something different, with a profound distinction. Also, J. who is the main composer, is Scottish, and I tried to put some words on his riffs scored with some spontaneous intention. First it’s music without words. And I truly think that in majority, the profound sense of his intentions remains in these linguistic and semantic singularities.
I think all the songs are particularly well put together. It is heavy and oppressive, like a warm destructive blanket, and listening to the music actually makes one feel like drowing in a marsh of sounds. 'Drowned', to me, sounds like a concept story. Is this the case, and if so, what is the story?
J: Thanks! In many ways, 'Drowned' is a concept album of sorts. To me at least, it’s a metaphor for depression. Something in the face of which you feel insignificant and powerless, that is infinitely larger than yourself, that you must fight against knowing full well that if you stop out of exhaustion, you will sink, alone. The term “warm destructive blanket” hits the nail right on the head, because that’s what it feels like: one develops a perverse attachment to this state of melancholy, finding a form of comfort in it as the one truth, when all else is subject to questioning and doubt. That’s pretty much the driving force for my creative process (in Barús and in other projects) – probably not the most sane approach, haha.
K: Yes, it’s a metaphor about it for sure, like a decay of oneself. But it’s also a sequel of the first EP, which narrated the journey of a man who reaches the end of the world, symbolized by a monolith, like a passage leading to the regions of the dead. 'Drowned' is a journey to hell, inspired among other things by 'Dante’s Inferno'. Contrary to first sight, hell is described in more subtle way than we supposedly think, especially regarding the meaning of sins, it are different circles and structures. It’s a masterpiece about a historical man but also a book about Humanity and its many torments.
And, if 'Drowned' is NOT a concept album, please tell us something about the meaning of these songs? I really enjoyed reading and listening to the lyrics. Especially the song 'Graze', which is executed perfectly, in my opinion.
K: Thank you kindly for your encouragements! We wanted to set up an album which could be understood with different meanings and levels, especially if you listen separately to each song or if you take in the whole picture. More than the 'Dante’s Inferno' inspiration, our music is driven by a certain diversity and you can hear that vocals provide some variety, which led us to use multiple registers, musically or on the lyrics. We discover different voices like different characters and the lyrics can be simultaneously concrete and abstract. Also, certain voices are directly addressed to the listener, which adds yet another means of interpretation.
What I also wonder about is where you get your inspiration to make this music and these lyrics. I am not talking about bands or music, but experiences and thoughts. For instance, to write a really good song about a lover that left, you have to have experienced it yourself. So, in your case, to write these gloomy, oppressive songs, what was the inspiration?
J: On a musical level, most of the inspiration stems from 15+ years of battles with depression, finding ways to counter it, or at least work with it in order to create something of a more positive outcome. In that respect Barús is quite a cathartic process. The songs are rarely linked directly to a specific personal life event; we try to work them into various facets of this rather universal theme. The result is mostly overbearing and oppressive, but there’s also a small amount of hope here and there!
K: Agree with J, but I’m not truly convinced that experience is the only way to reach a deeper understanding of things. Intellectual process and philosophy should not be denied as an ability to comprehend our world.
The songs 'Amass' and 'Benumb' are significantly different from the other songs, yet they have a function on this album. What is their function and how were they written?
J: They are indeed quite different in form, very atmospheric and ambient. This is mainly for two reasons: 1) some of us are huge computer music nerds and into abstract sound textures, minimalistic ambient music and so forth, and 2) as the album was taking shape, it started looking VERY dense, even for us. We figured that for the record to be enjoyable to listen to as a whole, the listener needed to have some little moments to breathe. 'Benumb' (which was created by the artist Labna, who I collaborate with in the experimental electronic band Orcae) was always thought of as a two-part song with 'Perpetrate', developing a cold, arid and uninviting landscape. 'Amass' was reworked into what it is fairly late in the recording process – the initial version was a crazy drone-driven song that we’ll probably keep for a B-side someday.
A personal question: many bands, I think all of them, are inspired and influenced by other bands. Sometimes they come up with a list and sometimes it is just one or two bands. Well, that is not the question, my question is, what band was your epiphany into the heavier music? What band hit you so hard, that it made a huge impact on your life and way of thinking? And when was this? And how did it happen?
J: In terms of heavier music, I think Deathspell Omega was a huge eye opener. It showed me that metal could be something else, a means for exploration, building music through (often atonal) tension and relief, with philosophy-infused lyrical content. At the age of twenty or so, and coming out of an experimental/technical metal obsession, it was a game changer. In terms of a band that completely changed my outlook on life as a teenager/young adult and that still feels as poignant today as it did then, I would have to say Radiohead’s 'Kid A'.
K: Yes! Deathspell Omega was our landmark in the metal scene, and Radiohead’s 'Kid A' is a masterpiece. I would say that Ulver’s music and career was very important for me during my first explorations. I was amazed by the idea that a band could change everything inside their intention over the years, and yet still remain perfectly coherent. There are a lot great bands that strongly marked us, like Ataraxie or even Burden (US) with their underestimated 'Without' release, but I will specially mention Tool, which in my eyes is one of the greatest bands of all time, both on the levels of sounds and meaning.
Suppose you could organize a small festival at which five bands (besides your own band) would play. What bands would you choose, and why?
J: That’s a tricky question. In no particular order:
1- Dead Congregation: in my experience they’re pretty much the best live death metal act out there today.
2- Burden (US): even though they disbanded, their music is just jaw dropping. A progressive mixture of doom, death, with beautifully crafted atmospheric elements.
3- Sumac, playing some ridiculously heavy stuff with that trademark Kurt Ballou sound (in my eyes he’s one of the most interesting and important producers in heavy music today).
4- Sunn 0))), because I’m super frustrated to have never seen them live... ideally performing with Oren Ambarchi (an incredible electronic musician who has worked with them in the past).
5- Ulver, doing any or their electronic or ambient work.
I realise this line up makes near to no sense, but as a spectator I would be pretty happy.
And what are your aspirations? What city, venue and/or festival would be a climax for you to play?
J: We’re not the most active live band, so I think that the first priority on our list would be to actually find a scene that we belong to. In our experience, playing alongside modern technical death metal (or worse, djent! Haha) acts doesn’t really click, the atmosphere is completely different. In the same way, we’ve had some mixed reactions in the black metal scene, as we’re maybe too much of a crossover act for some. So I guess first we need to find similar minded bands that we could work with for French and European tours. There are starting to be a few around Grenoble and Lyon, such as Dysylumn, Aeon Patronist, Epitaphe. Festival-wise, playing at Party San would be pretty amazing. Given their black/death line up I think our music could work quite well there.
Thanks a lot for answering the questions, and thanks also for your amazing debut album! If there is anything else you want to share with our readers, please do so!
J: Thanks again for the interview! The album is available through Memento Mori and our Bandcamp page. The digital version is free (go download it!), and if people would like to contribute and support us, we encourage you to go for the physical version, as it helps both the label and us. Cheers!