Some albums lay down a benchmark sky-high, that the idea of a sophomore release becomes a thrilling subject to the awestruck fans. For the artist(s), a significant debut does set up a challenge, even if not pressured by outside partners, scenes or dedicated fans. Bandmembers have to ask themselves, where do they go from here? This is the case of Montreal´s Hands Of Despair. “Hereafter” is an old album, but it´s a killer album filled with brilliant Progressive Death/Black Metal music. The band is almost ready with album number two, and it looks like they´re headed for a more defined Black Metal direction, leaving the Death Metal part behind. The album should be out later this year, according to current plans. Needless for me to say, I´m anxious to hear the end result! Primus motor Maxime Côté sheds some info the band´s past, present and future.
Hello Maxime! How are things up in Montreal?
Maxime: Things are great ! September is gonna be an intense month since I’m finishing the production of the new album, and I’m also starting a new job. It’s nice to see things progressing!
I recently reviewed “Hereafter”, which really sounded like a fresh take on the more progressive side of Extreme Metal without being overtly complicated or quirky. Can you tell me what your thoughts are regarding this album?
Maxime: Songs for “Hereafter” have been written during a timelapse of about 3 years, so some stuff on this album is pretty old. I’m still proud of this album, I think it’s a great album, but our new album coming out in November will be a lot more mature. It was really beneficial to have guest musicians like Egan from Daylight Dies on the clean vocals, and Lyle previously from The Faceless on drums. They brought a lot to the music, and they have been pretty generous, bringing new ideas that I didn’t think of.
From what I´ve gathered, “Hereafter” is a concept album right? Can you shed some light on it? I didn´t have any lyrics to go by, but I´m kinda guessing from the artwork and the album title that it has post-apocalyptic themes?
Maxime: In fact Hereafter is not a concept album haha, but it’s nice you were thinking it was, because it means the album flows nicely. It’s true that some songs have post-apocalyptic themes; mainly “The road”, “Shattered memories” and “Underworld”. “The road” was inspired by the movie of the same title, “Shattered memories” tells the story of a group of people surviving alone in the world, and “Underworld” tells the story of a city that tries to live after war.
Hands Of Despair is more or less your creation from what I´ve researched, but you´ve worked in different setups for some years on different releases, which has developed into a full band today. Can you briefly take us through the progress of getting the band together?
Maxime: I knew Etienne (our drummer) because I previously worked with him for my previous band Catuvolcus. He is an amazing drummer. He really enjoyed Hands Of Despair but never had the time to give for the band. It finally all came in place about a year ago, and I was really glad he joined the band. I’ve been talking with FX (bassist) about the band for a while and since the music style was really his thing, he was interested in the beginning to join the band. After that, we had 2 friends of FX playing guitar; first there was Jonathan, who left after 2 months since he was going to live in France, and now we have Alexandre who will fulfill guitars duty as long as possible. Really the hard part was to find a singer. The singer on “Hereafter” was really good and a great guy, I would have loved to continue with him, but unfortunately the new songs needed a black metal vocal instead of a death metal vocal. I asked a couple of singers before asking Jeff (because I didn’t know him), but they all couldn’t. I started to watch Montreal metal bands videos on youtube, trying to find a singer who would be really interested in singing in a second band. I fell on a video of the other band of Jeff (Hollow), and I really liked his voice. So I sent him an email with Hands Of Despair with a couple of new songs, and he really enjoyed them. He came to a jam and we really got along.
You´re kinda in between albums right now with Deathbound Records, releasing your debut album earlier this year, and you already have a new album on the horizon. You don´t feel the two releases are a bit too close to each other?
Maxime: No since “Hereafter” was more like a re-issue than a new album. I think it just helped to make Hands Of Despair a bit more known before we release the new album.
Regarding the upcoming album, is there any info you can share about it? Will it differ in style? “Hereafter” left me wanting more for sure, so naturally I´m intrigued hehe.
Maxime: It will definitely differ in style. “Hereafter” was a progressive death metal album, while the new album will be a progressive black metal album. It will be a bit longer; even though “Hereafter” was quite long, the new album will be about one hour and ten minutes. It’s 7 songs and they are quite long; the last one is 15 minutes, which is our longest song yet. Naturally the sound will be quite different since we have a completely new lineup. Each member really brought their influences in. There is a lot more clean vocals on this album. I’d say it’s softer, more atmospheric, although we still have blastbeat riffs and all. Since “Hereafter” was released (digitally) 4 years ago, my influences really changed during these years, so it’s normal that the music I’ve created changed too.
You´re based in Montreal right? Can you describe the town and how/if it affects your writing for Hands Of Despair?
Maxime: I really love living in Montreal. There is a LOT of shows here. Recently, the post-rock and post-metal scenes have been pretty active, and since I really love these styles, I’ve seen a lot of these shows, which is maybe why new H.O.D. is less aggressive haha. Apart from the shows, I don’t think Montreal really influences me, I draw my influences more from the music I listen to and the movies I watch (I’m a real cinephile) more than from the outside world.
I´ve been covering some Canadian bands on my blog the last months, stuff like Norilsk, Goetia, Hands Of Despair as well of course. I´m discovering loads of great Canadian bands, as if the scene is really on the rise. Seems to me there´s a vibrant underground also with labels like Hypnotic Dirge and Deathbound, do you have any thoughts on this?
Maxime: I think it depends on the style really. We have great bands starting to get recognition, like Beyond Creation who are pretty known worldwide now. Not sure about black metal though, it has been pretty stagnant since the last couple of years. As I said in the previous question, the most growing scene is definitely the post-rock and post-metal scene; it’s really popular here. Apart from Beyond Creation, I don’t think there is a lot of bands having international success.
The cooperation with Deathbound Records, how did it come about and how do you feel it´s been working out? Are they also releasing the next album?
Maxime: I got acquainted with Fred and Oli from Deathbound Records via my previous band Catuvolcus, since we signed our first EP with them (it was also the first album they released). I think Deathbound and H.O.D. are a perfect match, they like the music and we like what they provide us. I love working with them because I know they really care about the bands that they sign. So yes, we are gonna release our next album with them.
I´d like to get your thoughts on some of the aspects of today´s music industry. What´s your take on things like social media, spotify, the decline of record labels wanting to put effort into new bands, the extreme amount of bands recording and releasing music in various formats etc?
Maxime: I think people should stop bitching. CD sales will never grow back. Technologies are advancing and are becoming more and more easily accessible; it’s now really easy to bring music everywhere, and people don’t want to to carry CDs anymore. People who still buy CDs are mostly collectioners. Surely I also miss the time when I bought CDs and opened them and listened to them for the first time, but this time is gone and we should try to benefit from the new technologies instead of complaining about them. About recording, I think that every band that takes themselves seriously should have at least 1 member that´s able to do some home-recording to record the band’s preprod or even DI tracks or similar for the album. Anyone wanting to learn how to do it can do it really easily, there is a lot of free softwares and tutorials on youtube to learn how to use them.
As the climate tends to be pretty hectic in the industry, are you still able to find new bands that you find interesting? Can you name a band or two that have really gotten under your skin lately?
Maxime: Yes of course, especially since it’s now so easy to find new bands! Lately I’ve been really enjoying Chelsea Wolfe’s latest album, Hope Drone’s latest album and I’ve been giving proper attention to Emperor, something I should have done wayyy earlier (yeah, shame on me). I’m not a huge fan of old black metal, but Emperor and Dissection are really amazing. I’m really looking forward for the new Regarde Les Hommes Tomber album, the singles they released are really really great.
Have you ever played live as Hands Of Despair or is this maybe something you´ll pursue with the upcoming album now that you have a new steady line-up?
Maxime: Yes we’ve done 2 shows as of now. Our first one about a year ago on September 5th, and our last one was in April, when we opened for Sólstafir. Our next show is pretty soon, it will be on September 23th, where we’ll be opening for Alcest. We’re really happy to do this show since Alcest has been one of the main influences of many members in the band, especially me.
Alright Maxime. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Maybe we´ll have another round once the new album is out!
Maxime: Thanks to you for the interview ! Yes of course, that would be nice ! Take care !
For more info about the band, check out their Facebook page here
“Herafter” is out now through Deathbound Records
Extreme Metal Voyager review here