This will be the last feature for the Extreme Metal Voyager as far as 2015 goes. Back in november, I reviewed a strong album titled “Mysterium“, a conceptual body of work by France´s long running Black Metal stalwarts Temple Of Baal. The completeness of that album called for an interview with primus motor Amduscias, an individual full of insights and passion and keen on sharing his thoughts on many curious subjects. Here´s the outcome of our chat.
First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this session Amduscias! I hope you´re well in Paris after the shocking incidents that occurred recently. I feel compelled to ask, do you care to comment further on the terror attacks that happened in the Bataclan concert hall? Did this incident ignite some thoughts about life in general?
Amduscias: I’m filled with anger, of course. The fact that they have now targeted concerts shows, that what they want is the downfall of our civilisation, the death of freedom, and everything that our culture embodies. But I am also mad at our politics. They knew it would happen. A few weeks before these acts, Daesh had sent a message warning they would target France, and a terrorist who was arrested confessed that he targeted a concert hall. And nothing was done to prevent them from doing so. People should know now that what those guys threaten to do, they do. They don’t threaten just for fun. This doesn’t mean that they will stop us. We have just performed a concert in Paris. We must show them that we will never surrender. And it has only confirmed what I thought about our politicians, whatever their side. Left or right, all of them belong to the same mafia of traitors.
Thanks for your thoughts on this, appreciated. I know it´s a sensitive subject. Moving on to “Mysterium”. For my part, I think it´s a fantastic album. What can you tell about this new creation bearing the banner of Temple Of Baal?
Amduscias: The composition process of “Mysterium” started just at the time when our last album, “Verses Of Fire”, was released. We had in mind to keep on the track of “Verses Of Fire, emphasizing its atmospheric, and dare I say progressive side. From the beginning, I had this title, “Mysterium”, in mind. This title had been haunting me since years and years, after the discovery of a piece written by Francis Poulenc called “O Magnum Mysterium”, during my musicology studies. This piece is a motet for the times of Christmas, so it’s obviously a sacred, christian work, but its twisted harmonies created a haunting atmosphere that really hooked me. I had hence in mind to write something that would embrace this “mysterium” concept, only… in my point of view, in a left hand path perspective. Guided by these concepts, the album could only be composed of long tracks, that would take time to develop and build atmospheres.
I made some comparisons to Enthroned, Morbid Angel and Emperor. Would you agree that your sound on this album lies between the ambiences from these bands?
Amduscias: I’m fond of Emperor and yes, I really can imagine having been influenced by them. All of their career is fantastic even if it took me time to appreciate their late albums. Morbid Angel I listen since even longer, the good old Death Metal wave hit me straight in the face in my high school times and Black Metal came just a little bit after… I really like Enthroned as well, especially their early albums (Prophecies… and Skullthrone…). Are they an influence? I don’t know, I know that we share influences. I don’t listen to them that often anymore but we have shared the stage quite a few times and actually we’re friends you know. But yeah, if I have to name bands that have had an impact on my songwriting, Morbid Angel and Emperor are names I can’t avoid, as well as Darkthrone, Dodheimsgard, I’d also go for Entombed and Carcass in the Death Metal area, and Thrash acts like Sodom or Slayer. And a hell lot of other things, actually. My taste for atmospheres may come from the fact that I also like 70’s Prog Rock, like Yes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd, even if it isn’t something that you might think at first when listening to Temple Of Baal… Classical music too even really dissonant contemporary stuff… from Mozart to Ligeti, from Beethoven to Penderecki…
That´s a wide range of influences. It´s interesting to hear, because I have to admit, I´m not a longtime follower of the band, but I got into the band around “Verses Of Fire”, but never immersed myself in the music. How would you compare “Mysterium” to the rest of your discography?
Amduscias: “Mysterium” is a kind of sequel to “Verses Of Fire”. It takes the atmospheric and progressive side of “Verses Of Fire”, and goes further into this direction. In fact for the moment, if I think about our discography, I’d say that we started as a pretty much raw and pure Black Metal band on our first album. Our Thrash influences got more prominent on “Traitors To Mankind” and then our Death Metal side exploded on “Lightslaying Rituals”. A bit too much, maybe. I like this album, but it lacks atmospheres. Those atmospheres came back on “Verses Of Fire”, which is a mix between songs that still sounds quite Death Metal, and others that show a total Black Metal riffing. And “Mysterium” is the logical following to this process: It leans much more towards Black Metal, yet you have some parts where Death Metal rears its ugly head. I’m quite proud of this album. It synthesizes all of our influences, and it really fits the vision I had in mind at the beginning of the composition process. I’m not the kind of guy who’ll go through the stereotypical “it definitely is our best album” you know. I really love all of our albums, each one for its specific reasons, but when I listen to “Mysterium”, when I go through the lyrics, when I stare at the layout, it’s clear to me that it looks as a whole work, from one end to the other, coherent and going into one direction from the beginning to the end, despite being made of a lot of different influences.
The album gives off the notion that there´s dedicated and layered work behind the songs. Which leads me to ask about your songwriting process. What goals are considered when you´re aiming for such grand and mystique styled concepts and musical atmosphere?
Amduscias: Black Metal has to take me to another dimension. Composing is, to me, part of a meditative process, quite a religious one actually. Composing in the Temple context is just like praying, like a relationship, a dialogue with the Gods of the Dark. Sometimes I might take my guitar, plug it in, let my mind flow and if I do it the right way, riffs come. If my mind is disturbed by something else, if I can’t focus on the spiritual and make it manifest through music, it’s ponitless to go on as the riffs will only be useless and bland. I really have to feel this peculiar moment, this peculiar atmosphere, this state of mind that one can only reach after a process that, in my opinion, resembles a lot to meditation. In other times, riffs just strike me from out of nowhere, and that’s one of the reasons why I always try to have a pen and paper with me in order to note them down cause it can happen any time of the day. Then depending on what I’m doing, I can choose to focus on this offering from the other side, and set my mind in order to receive more. One thing I’ve noticed, it often happens when I’m in a transport means, a train or something like that. Moving from a point A to a point B. It’s crazy how many riffs I’ve written on trains. I guess the fact of not having anything to do, the possibility of totally letting go, helps, along with the “traveling” process… One thing is sure: Composition is not a “down to earth” process. It goes far beyond “sticking cool riffs together”. If it was only this, there would be no Temple Of Baal, purely and simply.
Another thing I´m pretty certain of, is that the band´s lyrics are not something that is just thrown together in no time. They seem pretty profound and thought out. How important is the lyrical side to the members in the band?
Amduscias: It is the same process. I read a lot, and those readings influence me of course, as well as my own experience with the Occult. I’m not trying to play the Grand Wizard here you know, when it comes to the occult I tend to see myself as a perpetual student. I read, I learn, I practice when I can and when the time is right, but it’s really a kind of perpetual quest… And the lyrics of the band can be seen as a magic journal, kind of recollections from meditative processes, flashbacks from experiences out of this world. We are a Temple, this part of the name is of high importance. Therefore, our lyrics cannot be casual, everyday stuff. Everything is part of the same process, meditations, prayers, readings, thoughts, and this link to the Dark Gods that is the same since the beginning of the Temple.
If I´m not mistaking, you and Arkdaemon have been in the band since its formation. Can you tell a bit about the inception of the band and how you see the progression when you look back at the history of the band?
Amduscias: It started as a solo project actually. In 1998, the trend was on very symphonic albums, very clinical and atmospheric… harmless, in my opinion. Bands turned their backs on Satanism, writing about the stars, gothic love romance… I wanted to bring back Black Metal the way I felt it was, and recorded the two first songs of Temple Of Baal alone on a 4 track lent by a friend. Then, I figured out that those songs would definitely need to be played live, hence the creation of an actual band… At the beginning, we had MKM from Antaeus singing in the band for a few weeks but he chose to focus on Antaeus at that time and we ended up as a power trio. Those days were strong, we were part of a new scene rising, that brought back Black Metal as the uncompromising Art it was, got in touch with lots of people over the world from Sweden to Brazil… The French scene was strong, Paris Black Metal concerts were crowded and very violent. The basics of the band are here, in those days of tape trading, xeroxed fanzines, days when playing a gig was more than just “going on stage and playing”, but a ceremony, a moment of dedication in which you through all your energy, that was brought back to you by the crowd, in a massive celebration of the Dark Gods. It sculptured us, and despite the fact that we have evolved, as musicians and as human beings, this conception of what Black Metal is, what it means to us, is still pretty vivid. The same flame keeps burning. We might have progressed, we might give concerts in big festivals, we couldn’t do it if this feeling wasn’t here. The only thing I regret when I look at Temple Of Baal’s development, is not being able to give more concerts than we do. There are still too many places that we still must reach… The hunger burns…
Are there any milestones you´d like to shed light on, that you´re particularly proud of? Also, any points of decline, where you considered throwing in the towel?
Amduscias: If I could, I would record “Lightslaying Rituals” differently. I’m not satisfied with this album. Too much Death Metal, to much overdriven mix, a victim of the loudness war. But it’s the past, and if we did it this way it was because it did fit things we wanted to express back then. There really is no time to rehash old things, best is to go forward. Milestones I’d shed the light on… Well in fact there are personal experiences that we went through, more than “milestones of a career”, I should talk about intense moments that struck us as something rare in our lives. Going to Norway to play the Inferno Fest was really something, for example. But there are also very underground gigs that have a special place in my heart, like the one we did back around 2000 with Barbatos, Fornication and Nuit Noire in a little bar in Toulouse. This night was special, the atmosphere was there, and on the way back home, in the train, I wrote the song that we’ve always played live ever since, “Slaves To The Beast”… having Erik from Watain coming to our rehearsal place and playing together the Bathory hymn “Woman Of Dark Desires”, that you can hear as a bonus track on the CD version of our demo, was another fantastic moment… And today, when we play at big fests like Hellfest or Fall Of Summer, meeting musicians that we’ve been listening to since our teenage days that congratulate us for our shows is like… surrealistic. So if I look back, there are moments I would maybe have done differently, but the good and strong moments erase the bad ones, actually, and the journey is far from over, you never know what hides behind the corner…
I like to get opinions from musicians about the music climate of today. May I ask what your thoughts are regarding the music industry? Do you have any opinions on how it is shaped today with bands all over the place, digital consumption, shorter attention spans, easy access to recordings on your laptop etc?
Amduscias: Everything has changed, that’s a fact… But from my window, playing music strictly for the love of Art and without any mundane considerations such as money and sales, I tend not to make a drama out of it. Our music reaches people. That’s the most important thing. Of course, if people buy the physical product it’s even better… But I don’t feel I should rant about that you know. To be honest there is nothing we can do to stop the phenomenon. Better live with it, and try to play live as much as possible. That’s where real things happen. On stage. Then usually you see people coming to the merch stands and buy the stuff from the bands they appreciate, some even buy CD´s, which means that everything is not lost (haha…). All is a matter of passion and dedication. If you’re after fame, those times are hard of course, but if it’s fame you’re after, you should consider playing something else than Black Metal I think!
Since there are so many new bands emerging, it becomes more and more difficult to keep track. Are you keeping up with the developments within the various metal sounds/scenes? Any newer bands that have amazed your senses?
Amduscias: I try to, but as you say, there are so many bands… Last things I liked that made a difference were Thy Darkened Shade from Greece, Decline Of The I from France… Amestigon, which is not a newcomer but hadn’t released anything for quite a long time, made a stunning comeback with their new album “Thier”. This one is really fantastic and I can’t stop listening to it since it’s been released, actually.
How is it in Paris, and France in general? Is there a lively scene with bands, labels, PR agencies and the likes? I know Black Metal has always been a strong presence in the country, but I always felt it was neglected when it came to media coverage.
Amduscias: There is a strong scene, but things have evolved here too. It’s not the same as before, back in the nineties there were quite a few concert halls where underground gigs took place, and those concert halls unfortunately closed. There are still concerts happening, but it’s harder today. Old bands have gone, new bands have replaced them, and honestly I don’t find the new parisian bands exciting at all. There never was any PR agency for Black Metal in Paris I think. It has always been a do-it-yourself thing here. As for media coverage, the French scene has always been overlooked. Actually it has never got as much coverage as today. When we started, French bands were quite non-existent outside of France, except in totally underground fanzines run by real maniacs. Having an interview in a regular Metal magazine was quite unimaginable. Things are different today, French Black Metal bands are discussed all over the world. So when I think the French scene is overlooked (and it still is), I tend to put things in perspective, and believe me it was much worse fifteen years ago!
Were you ever a part of the Les Legions Noire environment? Or was this before your time?
Amduscias: We were never a part of it. Arkdaemon plays in Hell Militia, in which Meynac’h from Mütiilation used to sing, that’s as close as we got to the Black Legions. But the sound of those unholy bands definitely had an impact on Temple Of Baal. The split album between Vlad Tepes and Belketre is still part of the playlist here, along with Mütiilation albums, Satanicum Tenebrae… It brings back old memories…
This is your third album with Agonia Records. How are things working out with them?
Amduscias: Things are quite OK with Agonia Records. They are professional, they are fans of Temple Of Baal and really help the band developing outside of France. We have a good contract, and honestly, in the context of the scene today, we feel lucky and priviledged.
You´ve dealt with a bunch of labels during the band´s career. Does it differ working with labels when for instance releasing a demo, a split, live albums. Would be great to get some insight if possible.
Amduscias: The basic stuff is quite the same. In the end, it’s people liking your music who want to contribute to your band history by releasing it. Some of the labels we’ve worked with during all these years were even ran by friends of us, actually most where even musicians themselves. So in most of these cases there’s not even a contract signed, it’s a mutual agreement based on the confidence you have on one another. Then, of course signing on a bigger label can help financing the studio, even if today most labels don’t even contribute anymore to the studio fees… Some still do, and that’s a good point cause it enables you as a musician to record, according to what you have in mind, but it’s not always the case. The goals are different if you sign for a demo on a totally UG tape label like what we did back in the days of Chanteloup, an album on a label like Agonia, or an underground split release like what we did with End All Life or Grievantee… But what is important for all of them is their distribution and promotion network. If they just edit your stuff and have no contact to distribute it or promote it… It’s useless! Bigger labels have access to bigger magazines, smaller labels send their stuff to fanzines and webzines, media categories that aren’t read by the same people… The good thing with Agonia is that they target both. To be honest, I would hate it if underground medias weren’t targeted by our record label, it would be nonsense! We’re a Black Metal band, underground by definition, so focusing on mainstream medias would be a big mistake in my eyes. But the first and foremost aspect is the mutual confidence and respect between artists and label owners. If it isn’t there, nothing is possible. So far we’ve been lucky on that point so that’s fine, no bad blood against the “evil music industry”!
Right, thanks for your perspectives on that subject. So in closing, are you going to promote “Mysterium” on stages? Any shows scheduled?
Amduscias: We’re playing the “Buried Above Ground” fest on January 23 in Oberhausen, Germany with Archgoat, Acherontas… Then we’re discussing about other plans… Nothing is officially confirmed yet, but we’re going to play live for this album of course, as we’ve always done!
Very well. Thanks again, for doing this interview. Any last words?
Amduscias: It’s me thanking you man! Check out our facebook page for regular informations on concerts and other news: https://www.facebook.com/Temple-Of-Baal-20135072962/ and we also have a Twitter account for those who dwell there: https://twitter.com/Templeofbaal
Collectors might also be interested in the tape reissues of our first albums done by Neverdead Records, here’s their address: http://neverdead.bigcartel.com/ And they also release lots of killer gems so check them out! Hail!
For more info about Temple Of Baal, check out their Facebook page here
“Mysterium” is out now through Agonia Records
Extreme Metal Voyager review can be read here