Norilsk debut album “The Idea Of North” left me greatly satisfied. This band is taking an interesting route with their acrid Doom Metal, welcoming both sludgy tempos and lovely Post Metal sections that aren´t lengthy as they tend to be normally. I caught up with bandmember Nicolas Miquelon and threw some questions at him. If you want to educate yourself some more about this band, feel free to read on as Nicolas tells about the band´s beginnings, the various perceptions of the nature of North as an idea, while also namedropping some of the players in the Quebec scene. By the way, I applaud this guy´s selection of favorite Doom Metal albums!
Good today to you Nicolas! Congrats on a great album, I´ve been listening to it quite a bit for some time now!
Nicolas: Hi Extreme Metal Voyager, thank you for listening!
For a debut, “The Idea Of North” sound incredibly mature. Has it been long in the making or did some of your past musical experiences go into this record?
Nicolas: I’m glad to hear this. In fact, this album was composed very naturally, as an impulse to dig deep into the darker side of my musical journey, or as an urge to revisit influences I put aside for too long. The core of the album was composed relatively quickly, in a matter of a few intense winter weeks; then it took us a couple months to play with the structure and both vocals and drums. Some of the past musical experiences definitely went into this, especially the way I write my bass patterns and arrangements, but I also threw in a few unused riffs I had in stock and slowed them down.
The band is relatively new from what I´ve researched online. Somewhere back in 2012, the band was formed. Could you talk a bit about how it all started and maybe shed some light about the band name and the whole mythology around it?
Nicolas: I started writing music for what would become Norilsk on the first snow storm of November 2011, but the official beginnings of the band was early 2012, as I realized it could become a studio project and I asked Nick Richer to join. The band’s name came after the album and lyrics were composed. The themes revolved around the grim nature of the North, its identity, its crushing vastness, remoteness, solitude, and death’s omnipresence. For these reasons alone, and because we didn’t want to have a French nor an English name, we chose to name ourselves after an iconic Northern area—and that happened to be Norilsk, Siberia’s northernmost city and home to a heavy metal smelting complex. There are a couple mythological and geological references, as you noted, such as in the song “Japetus”, which makes reference to both Japetus the Greek titan of mortality, and the name given to the ancient ocean that existed before the Atlantic.
Interesting stuff, and you´re based out in Quebec right? It seem like there´s a lot going on with bands trying to forge a sound of their own in this area. Is there a high pulse in the scene at the moment?
Nicolas: We are located in Gatineau, a frontier city located on the edge of Quebec and Ontario. I’m not sure which bands’ sound you have in mind, but having a distinct sound is one of the many ways to get noticed. With today’s technology, and the experience each studio has, possibilities are infinite. In terms of Quebec’s metal sound evolution in recent years, I see it revolving either around certain scenes (for example, the metal noir scene, the cyber-metal scene, the deathcore scene), or certain studios: take for example everything that came out of Badass Studio (Obtenebris, Kälter, Nordheim, Blinded by Faith), The Grid Studio (Mörtor, Dark Century, Erimha, The Agonist), or Silver Wings Studios (Shape the Above, A Scar for the Wicked, Endvade)… Here in Gatineau/Ottawa, metal and hardcore bands have a good choice of studios, from the versatile Pebble Studios (Dissentient, Loviatar, Signs of Chaos), to the very raw and organic sound of Yogi’s Meatlocker (The Unavowed, Swarm of Spheres), and the extreme metal specialty of Apartment 2 Recording (Fuck the Facts, Alaskan, Insurrection).
Talking about your new album, the way you´ve mixed certain styles together… it sounds very fresh to my ears. Can you tell a bit about how all the processes went in recording and releasing the album?
Nicolas: Like the spirit of an underground doom album, we wanted this album to be “as is”, with a lot of raw edges and an organic vibe. There are a lot of “first takes” in there, as well as a few arrangements that were decided on the spot. For example, I still remember playing “air drums” in front of Nick (drummer) in the studio room while he was recording, guiding him with the general flow and feeling of the songs. On some of the songs, we voluntarily kept the guitar mistakes and imperfections that would normally be “patched”. As we feel this is an album that sits between sludge and doom-death, it’s also interesting to note that we recorded all instruments with an excellent, crystal-clear, professional production (as we would have done for a straight metal album), but we got the album mixed and mastered by Mike Bond, who has a strong hardcore background and a different approach to heavy music.
I love the album as a whole, the atmosphere is pretty intoxicating. The last track is different though, it doesn´t have the same vibe. I´m guessing that´s a bonus track of some sort?
Nicolas: The last track of the CD is indeed a bonus song, a tongue-in-cheek cover of “Coeur de loup”, a radio hit by Belgian pop artist Philippe Lafontaine. We chose it because of the reference to the clichéd “wolf heart” in metal and the fact that it’s in French, but mostly because it gave us a perfect opportunity to show how any joyful thing can be disfigured and become totally twisted once processed through our doom machine. After listening to this song and seeing how we covered it, I think you understand better what is Norilsk.
I mentioned in my review that the album title has an epic ring to it. The artwork looks great as well but it depicts a rather bleak scenario. Do I detect an outcry on how badly we´re using up our resources on planet Earth?
Nicolas: The original intent behind “The Idea of North” is not to make it an environmental discourse, however there are references to the present condition of our planet. The theme of this album and the artwork has their source regionally and then flow into something universal… northward. “The Idea of North” is named after a radio documentary by Glenn Gould for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a few decades ago. It was an experimental collage of various testimonies and interviews about people commenting on their experience of the Canadian North, which I thought were particularly grim and served as a starting point for our doom theme. As for the artwork, it is based on a 19th Century photo of an ice shove in the port of Montreal (something that doesn’t happen anymore), which we used on the EP last year. In 2015, our idea of the North has drifted a little bit, like the polar ice cap, due to many factors, and our understanding of the North has become global in many ways. Now, whether we speak about how we use our planet’s resources, or why we still fight over territorial issues and identities, these are only a few topics that define how we look regionally and collectively at the North.
Your lyrics are in French, even tough the album title is in english. Was this all planned from the start of the album writing process?
Nicolas: As mentioned earlier, we coined the title after a radio documentary, but we didn’t want to translate it as “The Idea of North” has become over time an expression for scholars and artists alike when referring to the North, in Canada and abroad. It was a deliberate choice to write lyrics in French, as it is my mother tongue, as I can write better lyrics in this language, and as these lyrics speak to a certain degree about identity (through history, geography, or geology). Because I want the French language to be an added value to our lyrics, rather than a barrier, we also added full English translations in the CD booklet.
Alright, let´s sidetrack a bit with these next couple of questions. Firstly, what´s your view on the music industry today, things like downloading, social media insanity, the ideal setup of having a management, booking agents etc versus the digital, independent route… any thoughts?
Nicolas: I think we have to live with our time, and the best way to do so is by understanding it. Technology and the global economy rule our societies, but there are still a few pockets of underground movements doing their own things against the grain. I have a lot of respect for all traditional approaches to music such as tape-trading or demo recording, and the fact is that there are more people listening to music online than people going to shows nowadays. Reality is that the music offer is greater than the demand, and you have to reach out to your public rather than waiting for them to find you… Having said that, whether bands prefer the DIY philosophy (either by distributing their music digitally or physically) or use the industry’s services and tools (social media, publicists, booking agents, labels, etc), I think these are all music approaches that make sense as long as you’re able to define who your audience is and where it is.
Top five Doom Metal album from the nineties?
Thergothon – Stream from the Heavens
Scald – Will of the Gods Is a Great Power
Morgion – Solinari
Anathema – The Silent Enigma
Saturnus – Paradise Belongs to You
If you could have one of your influences work on one of your songs, which band would that be and which Norilsk song would you like to hear them redo in their own fashion?
Nicolas: I would pick Asunder, who are (were) the rightful heirs of Thergothon, and one of the bands that pushed the boundaries of extreme doom in a most interesting direction during the mid-2000’s, while offering some of my favourite doom-death arrangements. I think “Planète Heurt” would be a good song for them to redo.
That video you put out a while back… it sure was something different. Can you talk a bit about how it came together and what kind of message (if any) you´re trying to get across?
Nicolas: It is an artistic collaboration between Norilsk and talented film producer Petr Maur from Ottawa. Nick Richer is playing the main character in Petr’s forthcoming movie “Horsehead”, and as they discussed using Norilsk’s music in the soundtrack, they realized that they could also cut it into a music video for “Japetus”. In other words, everything you see in this music video came out of Petr’s imagination, and I think it is intentional that this dark music video storyline is left open to interpretation.
How did you attract the attention of Hypnotic Dirge Records?
Nicolas: I wrote them, and gave them nine reasons why they should sign us! I knew of this label and their releases for a long time, and I am very happy that they were interested and able to add “The Idea of North” to their release plan.
The lineup is listed as a duo. Do you perform live as a duo as well, or are there other musicians standing by when that happens?
Nicolas: Live, we have two guitar players joining the fold. It’s easier for us to keep it as a duo business-wise and creatively speaking, but live we need this extra dimension that only extra live musicians can bring.
A natural follow up question on this topic – will you perform live anytime soon? Are there concerts booked to support your new album?
Nicolas: We are working on the live set at the present time. Our objective is to play a few local shows to test it, and then we want to book a small tour for the Fall or next Winter.
Just out of curiosity, are there many venues to play in Quebec or Canada in general?
Nicolas: There are many venues, but the challenge lies in the distances between major cities and provinces (there are six time zones in Canada). For us, the St. Lawrence River corridor (Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, etc) is where most of the shows happen.
Alright Nicholas. Thanks for taking the time. The last words are yours!
Nicolas: Thank you for this interview, Extreme Metal Voyager, and thanks for the excellent album review. Doom on!
For more info on the band, check out their Facebook page here
“The Idea Of North” is out now through Hypnotic Dirge Records
Extreme Metal Voyager review here