Atramentus’ “Stygian” Embraces the Depths (Full Album Stream + Interview)
Funeral doom metal is demanding. Think about it: the songs are long, the tempos lugubrious, the mood… not so happy. This is the kind of music which needs direct, absolute attention in order to be a fulfilling listen. I recall a time in which the big challenge was to make it all the way through Evoken's Antithesis of Light because it was such a superlatively uncomfortable, brutal listen, and that is simply one of the many "essential" funeral doom listens. Atramentus enter the ring fully realized, with eight years of meticulous planning and and waiting behind their "newcomer" status.
"I personally consider funeral doom to be in a class of its own. It is a style of music that is meant to overwhelm you, to hurt you, to throw you in a cold and desolate place and to make you feel emotions you would rather not face or acknowledge," says mastermind Phil Tougas, also of Chthe'ilist, First Fragment, and many other bands in a new interview. To Tougas, Atramentus's music was meant to be taken in at a deeper level, one in which the raw feeling within the music resonates within the listener. Take in and experience Atramentus's debut album Stygian, which is streaming below.
Monstrous and chilling, the mournful sounds found within Stygian embody the tenets of funeral doom, a lineage dating back to Thergothon, Unburied, and Skepticism. But beyond the actual sounds is a deeper concept, one which ties together all of Tougas's projects. Taking place on a separate Earth, Styigan tells the story of this alternate society dying in limbo. Much like the slow death of this place's inhabitants, Stygian, too, moves with a deep melancholy and forlorn character. However furious each tolling chord may sound, however deep Tougas's growl may be, Atramentus' center is one of tender feeling which is effectively channeled through the difficulty of funeral doom. Learn more about the concept behind this album and much, much more in a lengthy interview with Phil Tougas, which can be read below.
I understand it took a long time for this album to come together (I'd seen the Atramentus name attributed to you first at least a few years ago but this is the first public material attributed to it). What went into creating this album?
Around eight years ago, I walked through a snowstorm for three hours in temperatures exceeding -20 degrees celsius and came back home freezing, miserable, angry, and anxious. I grabbed my guitar and wrote the song "Perennial Voyage." Atramentus was born on that night. The other song, "From Tumultuous Heavens…", came to me a year later during an autumnal evening. Rain was pouring down outside and the sun was already going down at 4:30 PM. I was in a really bad place mentally and the atmosphere outside as well as the colours seen in the obscured sky brought me to write that song during that single evening. I wrote a lot of other material from 2012-2013, but adding any other tracks alongside these 2 would've ruined the natural flow between them and would've ruined the way they coexisted with each other despite being drastically different in sound and atmosphere. This is why the album is only 44 minutes. In later years, our keyboardist François Bilodeau wrote and created the dark ambient soundscape that would bridge these two tracks together and this was the only addition to the album that was deemed fitting as it actually enhanced the natural flow of the two songs and bridged them together naturally. I usually like to do longer albums but here it is exactly the length it needs to be as it perfectly captures the transition between miserable autumn to eternal winter and it is more than enough to capture the feelings I went through. The only reason it took years for Atramentus to release anything is because it took close to six years to find a drummer willing to play such an extreme genre of music in a scene dominated by death and black metal bands, and I was not interested in releasing anything with programmed drums.
Do you feel that funeral doom exists in another level of extremity when compared to other styles of extreme metal?
I do. It seems that the term "extreme metal" is often associated with bands playing an extremely fast, highly technical and/or aggressive form of music these days. It makes sense. However, I personally consider funeral doom to be in a class of its own. It is a style of music that is meant to overwhelm you, to hurt you, to throw you in a cold and desolate place and to make you feel emotions you would rather not face or acknowledge, as opposed to the other genres I mentioned. Last Tape Before Doomsday by Worship is, for example, one of the most extreme recordings I have ever heard for these reasons, much more than any black metal, grindcore, or death metal bands I can think of. There's a reason why their music is such a big inspiration on Atramentus, as well, without it being that obvious. As much as the genre gained a lot of traction and attention over the last ten years, it still remains the most misunderstood, less accessible, and less common subgenre out there, be it because of the reasons I mentioned above, or merely because of its unfathomably slow tempos and uncompromisingly bleak nature. These two factors are an immediate deal breaker for a lot of people who feel it makes for an exceedingly repetitive and depressing experience. The repetitions are there to hurt, not to entertain.
Though the listener will make their own decisions about the music, do you feel Atramentus hurts in that way?
Sonically, maybe so at first, as everything was composed very spontaneously by a much younger version of myself that was looking to create the most miserable music possible. However, each note played throughout this album ultimately resonates with an intent to convey a specific emotion or event connected to how the story behind the lyrics unfold. It depends on how you choose to interpret it, but there is a bigger picture than just "hurting" -- the right word would be "feeling" overall. Like you said though, the listeners will make their own decisions about it all and they are also absolutely free to listen to the album and enjoy or hate it for what it is at its core level and not pay attention to my endless rambling.
The concept behind Stygian is constructed in a specific manner since it is divided between side "Autumn" and side "Winter". The way the songs and the story flow serves as a way to induce a varying range of feelings throughout its course. The first song introduces the main event and the main protagonist: the end of the world seen through the eyes of a nameless man who is unable to die. Powerless and petrified in fear, he first witnesses the death of the sun and the towering waves of darkness that submerge the lands around him and the death of all life itself. The second song is about the character falling into a deep slumber to escape the troubles of the outside world and his solitude in a lifeless world, only to experience horrible nightmares and the horrors of sleep paralysis and sleep apnea induced by crippling anxiety still lingering in the corners of his mind. It is also during that time when Autumn would draw its last breath only to give in to perpetual winter in one final cataclysm. The third and last song takes place centuries later and tells of the nameless character's awakening, and his unending journey throughout the world he once knew that is now covered in miles of ice under a sunless sky. It is during that endless journey where he endures perpetual physical pain due to blistering winter winds and utter despair and unbearable sadness as he is left with nothing but haunting memories of everyone he ever knew from his past life for eternity in the endless cold.
Of course, this story is told through almost Romantic-like storytelling, or much like an old tale found in an old book with many references to an imaginary medieval-inspired lore with numerous influences from Christian Theology/Eschatology & Greek mythology. We may be a funeral doom band, but we draw inspiration from other genres such as dark ambient and black metal (mostly for the vocals and for recreating a cold atmosphere, not much else). I'd say we draw even more inspiration from epic doom bands and even heavy metal bands, though. It is on an aesthetical level mostly, but at times directly in our music. It is why I chose to write our lyrics the way I did, to remain true to my heavy metal/epic doom roots and to further feed the imagination of the listener, to paint vivid landscapes in one's mind. But each emotion the character goes through in the course of this tale are real feelings that were experienced firsthand, in real-life settings, meant to be experienced and felt by the listener as the album goes on. Much like when you experience the loss of a loved one, and experience fear, denial, regret and go through a seemingly unending period of mourning that is so painful it translates into physical pain. Or when you experience and witness something so terrifying, you cannot even grasp what has just happened, if it is real or just a figment of your imagination and you try to fight through the petrifying fear taking hold of your body to come to your senses. Or it can be felt in the same way when you feel so unbearingly sad, you expose yourself to the outside elements where the winds are so excruciatingly cold it actually hurts you to your core, just to actually "feel" something else.
The concept is definitely interesting, especially the parallel between the seasons and the slow march to total death. What led to this concept?
I built the concept around personal experiences and things I have experienced and felt myself (the aforementioned cases of prolonged exposition to extreme natural occurrences, but also dreams, paranormal experiences, religious beliefs, and emotional trauma, etc). Every riff, solo, drum hit or synth note tells a story for itself. The key, however, was to establish several themes around these personal anecdotes in an attempt to create an epic (subjective) yet emotionally overwhelming experience (subjective), to further create a palpable atmosphere and feeling of coldness in a desolate, medieval setting not too different from ours. An alternate plane of existence filled with dark sunsets and once triumphant castles slowly being engulfed by colossal waves of water raised by the elder gods themselves. A desolate wasteland of ice and tumultuous blizzards filled with mournful frozen shapes in endless fields of toundra. This is the vision of dread, anguish and desolation I have aimed to conjure within this album, but the inclusion of these other themes is justified by a deep desire to create something that is more "immersive" out of my own existential dread and pain and expand upon it, as I feel that merely sticking to creating self-lamenting, self-harming funeral doom music is not powerful and not evocative enough. Don't get me wrong, I do think funeral doom is at its most effective when it is unbearably miserable, negative, anti-life, nostalgic, etc., and when the music comes from a deep and personal place. We certainly aim to create the heaviest and most emotionally-wrecking funeral doom we possibly can within these parameters as far as the music goes. This doesn't mean we should limit ourselves when it comes to concepts and lyrical themes and that we should just stick to certain tropes. I also think traditional doom metal works better when it is more "epic" and vivid. It so happens that I wanted to combine both approaches to create soundscapes as powerful and majestic as they are tragic, suffocating, dark, and sorrowful. The "funeral steel" sound as I call it. Maybe funeral doom would benefit from drawing a bit more inspiration from albums such as Lamentations, The Will of The Gods is Great Power, Ancient Dreams, or Resound The Horn while retaining its dark and suffocating core intact? And yet, I say this but I couldn't predict if this would happen on the next Atramentus album. You can't really predict that with music that is written so spontaneously and impulsively.
As far as how the narrative storyline was constructed and how the music can both be "felt" within the frame of the storyline but also outside, comparisons to Queensrÿche and Fates Warning could be made. I realize that these are two non-doom bands (false doom alert!), but I listen to these two bands a lot (plus Solitude Aeternus's Beyond The Crimson Horizon, a huge inspiration for me in doom metal songwriting, is also definitely based on the sound of John Arch-era Fates Warning. I'll take back my "false doom alert" joke. Only the true ones worship Fates Warning). I'm referring to the manner in which 'Ryche and Fates Warning created entire stories inside their albums with each song representing a different chapter of an intricate tale. However, if we take the albums Operation : Mindcrime or Warning as examples, the songs can also be appreciated individually outside of the frame of the storyline as they mirror a specific emotion Geoff Tate (or my riff-god Degarmo) wanted to convey to the listener, regardless of the listener's awareness of the album's narrative structure. This was very inspirational to me when coming up with this concept, as my goal was to make it all come together as a whole while ensuring the songs could stand on their own by themselves and portray exactly what I felt at the time.
You feel very strongly for what could be called "the classics" (of which I would definitely declare the Scald album a classic at this point, in its own way), but, given the current market oversaturation of what could be called "extreme metal," you see a lot of people glossing over those in favor of more music influenced by them. Do you feel people are missing out in not hearing bands like Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, and Candlemass (among many others)?
For sure, I do feel strongly about the classics. Doesn't matter what style of music you're into, you definitely need albums like The Spectre Within, Transcendence, Run To The Light, or Graceful Inheritance in your life, or the good old “PLeEeEAaAaAse let me die in SoOoLiTuUuUuUude” treatment from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. However, I don’t necessarily agree with your observation that there’s more people "glossing over the classics" more than modern extreme metal due to oversaturation. I think that’s because our interactions and experiences differ and I’ve yet to see this trend occur universally within the entirety of the metal scene. In my experience, this changes depending on the cliques I hang out or interact with, or depending of the type of shows I go to. I've met people at certain shows who were much more knowledgeable, interested and invested in the current scene, more so than what I’ve seen 10-12 years ago at local shows, and I've also seen the total opposite at other shows where my face-to-face interactions with people were limited to discussing the classics exclusively.
In any case, I feel that being up to date with what's currently happening within the current scene and appreciating it, is equally crucial as knowing the classics whether it's extreme metal or not. These so-called hidden gems do not only exist in the past. There's tons of amazing new bands seemingly popping up out of nowhere almost every day whether its a trad doom band like Smoulder, or some super obscure funeral doom group like EOS, or weird space death metal like Cryptic Shift or some new NWOTHM band from Europe or the US Pacific Northwest that's hot right now, like Blazon Stone who basically made the best Running Wild albums since Running Wild themselves got lazy after 2002 or so. Or Magnabolt, who carries the torch of Liege Lord and New York’s Destiny's End. I'd also consider the newest Atlantean Kodex album to be a modern masterpiece that EASILY surpasses a lot of '80s and '90s "classics" that people gloss over. I also think Dark Matter Secret is the best modern tech death band and everything Denis Shvart does basically outshines even the older bands. That phenomenon is occurring in other styles too. A lot of other genres like hip-hop are entering a new golden age right now. Speaking of rap, because of Viper The Rapper (I am a huge fan of him and I am NOT saying this ironically), I accidentally fell into a huge Vaporwave/Cloud Rap rabbit-hole recently. Fucking hell, it's truly insane how the list of new things to discover just goes on and on. To become jaded is to basically kill your creative drive and passion.
With that said, If I was to offer advice to other metal musicians who strictly listen to metal made after 2006, I'd say that having a knowledge of older, "classic" bands and drawing inspiration from many of them will only prove to be beneficial in the long run. This doesn't apply to just metal too. Doing so makes you able to diversify your sound and add more depth into it, regardless of the style you play. Me saying this is the equivalent of saying "the grass is green", or "water is wet" for most, but you have to understand that because of my other musical projects, I interact with a lot of metalheads that are more into the extreme modern sound and frown upon this idea, so this advice comes from an observation I have made after being exposed to that specific circle for a long time and noticing patterns within their framework. Musicians have nothing to lose in doing so. I'm not saying "spend 10 hours a day hunting down rare USPM and french heavy metal demos on SoulSeek and listen to obscure 70s prog rock and Alf-Svensson-core for 1 month straight," nor do I care to start gatekeeping because that's literally the lamest shit ever and I'm not an edgy 19 year old browsing Anus.com/dmu.org archives anymore. But hell, I honestly cannot imagine how my musical LIFE would be like had I not stumbled on that Timeghoul demo back in 2009 when I was on the hunt for old recordings to sink my teeth into. Or Jacksonville’s Prodigy/Oracle. Just examples amongst countless others.
Anyway, I think all 5 of us within the band would agree with this overall sentiment because we all individually bring something different to the table and that is all thanks to our individual musical tastes and personal favorite albums we view as "classics". It's not always something that sticks out blatantly obviously, as the music we play is morbidly slow and miserable and is distinctly funeral doom music. But for example, upon first listening to our songs, you likely wouldn't be able to tell Manowar's Into Glory Ride/Sign Of The Hammer and Will J Tsamis 's compositions in Warlord, Lordian Winds, Lordian Guard, etc, all played an extremely significant role in inspiring our musical and lyrical style, just as much as Thergothon's Stream From The Heavens, Unholy's Second Ring of Power and the 1995 Mournful Congregation demo. You also wouldn't expect someone who plays such miserable music to have a pile of FM, Night Ranger, TNT and various other 80s AOR LPs full of happy songs about girls and sappy songs about heartbreak underneath a pile of Pantheist and Tyranny CDs. Why do you think we put synths all over the place, huh? See, that's the beauty of it all.
François, for example, is into a lot of ambient music and it shows within our music and especially in his contributions. Our music needed moments of quiet ominousness and shifting soundscapes that do not involve guitars, drums, bass or vocals. That's where he came in, and in my opinion he nailed that element so well. We do not want to neglect the dark ambient side of Atramentus, ever. Due to this added strength within our band, I would be absolutely open to do 100% dark ambient releases on the side or in between "main releases." I mean, it is part of our music just as much as anything else, but time will tell. François is also the biggest funeral doom fiend I know and also one of the only persons that I know in all of the Quebec scene (beside me and maybe Sam from Phobocosm) who's into extremely sad and slow doom bands like Funeral, Fallen, and Colosseum (big inspirations for us), and who shares my deep love for Evoken's magnificent debut album Embrace The Emptiness which I value as high as Skepticism's Stormcrowfleet. Because of his extensive knowledge of the genre and our shared tastes, our ideas worked together perfectly. When I first started Atramentus, my vision was to create songs that would combine several different synth/organ sound textures that would shift during each section, all that but combined with piano and cello arrangements so we'd remain true to the original and majestic, melancolic funeral doom sound of the 90s. When François came into the picture, he understood exactly why this had to be done, and he understood exactly how to do it. We sat together and experimented with sounds for hours and he noted down what worked best for each individual section as we both referred to specific albums to better understand each other. We went through all our notes again a 2nd and even a 3rd time during the actual recording because we often found new ways to make each individual section stand out even more than the way we originally planned to. Obviously none of the synths are programmed so he had to invest a lot of time performing several different takes because we often discussed different sound textures to experiment with for each section and this process didn't phase him at all despite how slow the songs are. He wanted to make sure we nailed the cold, epic and miserable atmosphere of this album perfectly just as much as the rest of us. After all, why even attempt to make music that doesn't require as much time and energy and passion as the very classic albums that shaped our taste?
Xavier comes from a black metal background (Gevurah amongst others). As you know, he not only plays drums in the band but he also recorded/mixed the album. I produced the album and oversaw the mixing process but he did the work and obviously put a lot of his own personal touch into the atmosphere of this record much like in his other productions. He has done several production jobs for bands of varying subgenres but his clientele and niche has always been mainly black metal, much like the music he usually writes. I guess that'd be why some people get a black metal vibe when listening to our album. Other than our mutual appreciation of Bathory, I think that's mostly because of his mixing style and it may also be because of that certain mentality behind how we worked out the arrangements. I did include some blood-freezing black metal style vocals and a black metal riff at the end of the album, but at the time it only felt natural to do this as it was done to complement the doomed, glacial darkness of Atramentus. It wasn't because I had the conscious intent of doing "blackened funeral doom" or something like that. I already said this but Finland's Unholy is also a huge inspiration on the sound of Atramentus and they have a bit of a similar approach so that may also be why. When Xavier joined the band, obviously he wasn't used to playing slower than basically most metal bands out there. However, he was no stranger to traditional doom metal due to his involvement with a great band from Montreal called Cauchemar, so I knew it would work out well in the end. He understood the mentality behind the drumming style I was looking for and he adapted very quickly. He shares our love for Colosseum and Evoken and the elements that made these bands so great. Therefore, he understood we had to make ourselves very picky with each section and on how the drum arrangements would be laid out for each one of them. Funeral doom drumming may sound deceptively simplistic at first, but it requires a lot of work and patience. Every single hit must be played as if it would be your last. Every silence/rests in between the hits are as important as the hits themselves. The choice of cymbals for each section and snare placement are also beyond crucial and can totally change the atmosphere of the entire song. Low floor tom hits are also an extremely important element that would shape our sound in the end so we also put a lot of effort on those to make the drums sound thunderous as a whole. Stormcrowfleet and Lead & Aether by Skepticism were our points of reference when it came to that and of course my love for Scott Columbus’s drumming in the second, third, and fourth Manowar albums made me want to put an emphasis on these further. Ironically, I think his experience playing black metal is also what made him receptive to the idea of putting a lot of attention over such details to create a unique atmosphere, rather than only focusing on the technical aspect of the performance itself. During the recording, he tried out a lot of different ideas for each section and we carefully selected the ones that fit the most. I suggested a few drum arrangements to him as well so it was a collaborative effort on all fronts. Despite our different tastes, we had a lot of common ideas in how we'd combine these influences together.
Antoine's taste comes eerily close to mine, whether its extreme metal, prog, European/US power metal, or epic doom. We'll kick it to Solstice and Solitude Aeturnus anytime. I’ve already commented on how much epic doom metal impacted our sound but also aesthetic and lyrical approach and he shares that same passion as me. He also agrees with me on another crucial point : Cirith Ungol's King of the Dead has the heaviest bass tone of all time and is one of the best albums ever. We therefore had to inspire ourselves from that classic record and make the bass sound unbearably dismal and distorted on our album. We both have the same approach in combining influences from older bands and applying these influences in ways that are not obvious. I have to say, Antoine's role was also extremely crucial especially in the pre-production stages of the album. The moment he joined, he knew exactly the vibe we were going for and he helped us set the tone for the things to come. Our similar tastes helped that process tremendously. Speaking of similar tastes, Claude also has a very similar background to mine as he also grew up with classic death metal as much as tech/prog/thrash metal and shred. He's obviously a doom fanatic too and he's especially into Warning and Ahab. He's also a huge Esoteric fan like the rest of us and so he brought some of that along with him (of course, it was also a no brainer that we’d have Greg [Chandler] of Esoteric master our album because of this). He was the first to join the band actually, as I was alone for its first 3 years of existence. It was the most logical choice to do. One thing we immediately bonded over was our shared love of guitar solos. We're both big fans of Jason Becker, though I'm myself more of a Joey Tafolla and Tony MacAlpine kind of guy and so it was natural that we'd have a good sense of chemistry when it came to guitar solos. The solos on this album have a bit of a nostalgic, melancolic 80s flair to them (minus the shredding), with a lot of whammy bar accents. On the 3rd song, there is a lot of breathing room for these solos to evolve and shift and enhance the cold and sorrowful atmospheres of the song. We both value the importance of guitar solos in metal in general, and we feel they should never be omitted or neglected like so many bands choose to do out of laziness as they can prove themselves to be useful songwriting devices. Our musical inspirations showed us that. Mournful Congregation mastered the art of funeral doom soloing many decades before us, so it was also inspirational for both of us to adopt such an approach and make them stand out as much as possible. With that said, I think Mournful and Atramentus draw soloing influences from diverging sources and we don't really sound all that similar. We even gave individual names to all our solos because each one of them have their own personality and quirks, much like songs within songs. Maybe this is the nerdy death metal side of me showing right now.
Speaking of death metal, Claude, Antoine and I all play in Chthe'ilist so it should not really be a surprise when I say that all three of us share a love for classic death metal. It's not for nothing that most of the vocals on this album are ultra-guttural vocals and not exclusively "sung vocals" either -- that comes from a common love for early finnish death/death-doom metal classics, and the classics of early US brutal death metal. I sing in Chthe'ilist as well and since both bands are connected lore-wise, it was logical that I'd end up making a continuation of what I'm used to doing in Chthe'ilist. The approach is slightly different though. I think the vocals in Atramentus have more emotion and mysticism in their delivery than the rhythmic-oriented, insectoid vocals of Chthe'ilist. The sung vocals in Atramentus are also much more inspired by Bathory (Hammerheart/Twilight Of The Gods) and bands like Fallen than the cryptic Timeghoul-esque chants of Chthe'ilist. I wish I could sing like Agyl of Scald but alas, for now I must stick to what I can do as I have no vocal training or proper technique. Recording the screamed vocals was also actually mentally and physically painful. I had to restart numerous times too, because sometimes it was just too much emotionally. The suffering put forth in our music is both mental and physical after all. I need to say this though: Despite our common love for classic death metal, the only place in our sound where you'll find traces of it, is within the guttural vocals specifically. I otherwise don't feel that any association with the death metal scene when it comes to the musical style of Atramentus makes sense or would be warranted (similarly to what I said about black metal above). To me, "death-doom", is stuff like Decomposed, Ceremonium, The Big d. [diSEMBOWELMENT], and Morgion when the death metal elements actually manifest themselves in between doom sections, in the form of non doom riffs with occasional blast beats, grooves and mid-paced sections to create huge contrasts of dynamics. We don't do that. We don’t want people to mosh to our music at shows. We want people to stand there and feel cold and dead and feel what we've felt. We'd rather stick to only playing riffs slower than death itself, all the time and forever. I mean yeah, all of these death metal classics are still HIGHLY inspirational to us in various way, much like every other subgenre and bands I named-dropped above, but we still remain bound to the essence of the true funeral doom foundations laid by Funeral and Thergothon, more than anything else. I must also add that a wide array of influences does not warrant uselessly long genre classifications like "epic blackened atmospheric funeral death doom" or whatever else other people like to write these days.
How did you reconcile with all these different tastes in music when composing this album? Did it affect writing the album in any way?
Since I wrote the album by myself close to 8 years ago, establishing the core of our sound and its direction was obviously quite uncomplicated in that regard. I was joined by Claude Leduc in 2015, then came François, Antoine, and finally Xavier, all in different intervals. Every time a new member would join, they would eventually add their touch to the material as time went by, like layers of snow piling up on a desolate field of ice. That ice underneath would be left untarnished in many ways, though. I say this because it's actually quite surprising how little certain of the arrangements remained unchanged since then when you compare the finished album now vs. how certain of these riffs were originally written in their most primitive form back then. It was done so in order to not disrupt the spontaneous nature of the compositions and the mindset from that era. People will obviously treat Atramentus as a new band, but this album has been in my blood for so long (before Chthe'ilist, Eternity's End, and First Fragment even released full length albums) and therefore it was important for me to keep the core of these songs mostly intact. The themes explored on the album are also surprisingly all aligned with our personal tastes in various different ways as I explained above, even though Xavier is probably not as big into epic doom as me or Antoine for example, since that aesthetic influenced us a lot and all. The more abstract and personal themes I have explored on this album come from a deep and personal place, so of course these may not immediately resonate within each member of Atramentus directly on the same level because we all share different life experiences, but everyone shares and fulfills an equal role in expressing these emotions, feelings and images through this music. Just take the name of the band, for example. There are many ways all 5 of us could explain what the name means to us, how it fits and represents the music for us. It can refer to the dark nature of our music or simply evoke something abstract just because of the way it sounds when spoken. But in fact, if we take a look in the band's shared lore with Chthe'ilist, Atramentus is actually the name of the deity of winds (hence the constant mention of “the black winds of Atramentus” throughout the album, which would howl and drone endlessly as well as bring the great deluge following the death of the sun) created out of an union between two other gods: Carcophanex -- devourer of time and stars and Sharos -- bringer of deluges, plagues, and all calamities. This is just a small glimpse of the lore found within the band's lyrics. At first, I was not sure how the band would receive these ideas, or my idea to even have a MAP drawn INSIDE the booklet to help listeners visualise "The Perpetual Planes" in their heads, which is where the story takes place. Still, they all found a way to relate to it in their own manner. All in all though, it was of utmost importance that Atramentus should become a full band with each and everyone having a voice within the group. I wanted to avoid becoming an amateur, bedroom, solo project with programmed drums/synths at all costs. Regardless of the content presented within, what kind of statement does that make? For a demo, it's acceptable. But in the context of an album, I think the record wouldn't have been as powerful, as terrifying or as heart-wrenchingly cold had it been this way. Also, how would that be any different from the sea of Bandcamp black metal demos out there? Forgive me for sounding so pretentious -- we metalheads must often remind ourselves to lay off the nerd-juice and take our heads out of our asses. But I still think I make a fair point. Assembling a full line-up composed of unique musicians to fulfill this musical/thematic vision, under a great label like 20 Buck Spin, all presented with jaw-dropping original artwork courtesy of Mariusz Lewandowski was a must, no matter how long that would take (and it took a loooong time!). True extreme doom DOES exist in Quebec. This movement does not solely exist within America, the UK or Japan.
Could you go deeper into the lore found within the album?
Everything there is to know about the band’s lore will be found within the album’s booklet. But perhaps the map that Chimère Noire drew based on my very specific instructions will help illustrate what I am about to say, because I do want to give a clearer picture of the whole story to anyone reading this interview.
The story and lore behind Stygian takes places on this alternate Earth composed of five main continents and twelve “main” cities/villages. There are many more of course, but I chose to have Chimère Noire include the most important ones. These lands are referred by the common folk as “The Perpetual Planes.” All five continents and islands are surrounded by this vast body of water called “The Juurn” which would eventually swallow the entirety of the land just before turning into an ocean of ice. As you can see, some of the places on the Western continent make direct references to the album Le Dernier Crépuscule by my other band Chthe’ilist. Vecoiitn’aphnaat’s’maala is in fact the fortress shown on the album cover for example, while the “Pass of Xexanotth” is what is depicted on the Passage Into The Xexanotth EP cover. Most of the events talked about inside these two Chthe’ilist releases happen on this one Western continent alone.
This world is in fact quite big. There are even links to the lore behind Eternity’s End’s lyrics found in the band’s 2018 album Unyielding, as evidenced on the central continent where you’ll find a place called “The Exxul” -- a large necropolis underneath an ancient cathedral. In fact, the bell heard at the beginning of Stygian originates from that area. It is important to note that the events depicted in each of the band’s releases do not happen on the same timeline or at the same time. None of the characters have a direct link to each other. Same lore, different eras. The central story behind the lyrics in Chthe’ilist is set during Medieval times, but as evidenced within the lyrics of the song “Scriptures of The Typhlodians,” the year in which takes place most of the events on Le Dernier Crépuscule is in the year 3241. In this timeline, humanity was 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. Because the past tends to repeats itself in horrific ways, humanity would eventually devolve back into this god-fearing feudal society, resembling a much more twisted and 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 story behind Stygian does not take place in the year 3241, though, but instead much later, where these conditions still apply as mankind is forever stuck in limbo, doomed to die behind their medieval walls of stone. “The Perpetual Planes” also makes reference to the fact that these lands have undergone drastic changes over the course of centuries, and suffered many cataclysms, yet somehow often retained traces of its past eras. Many legendary monuments, castles and temples like “The Exxul,” “Atros Kairn,” or “The Unwaning Tower” are all vestiges of an ancient civilization predating everything in those timelines, and have endured through millennia and several destructive cycles. These lands and monuments may be permanent, but not its inhabitants.
Here is another example of how the lore between these bands is consistent, found within the album’s prologue. The main character in Stygian, simply referred to as “The Guardian of Atros Kairn (see middle continent)” first ventures into the Western Continent. As explained in the album’s prologue, he climb the steps of The Aaegian, the highest mountain of the world, in a quest to attain immortality by acquiring the fabled and mythical sword of Atra Eas which belongs to Heeos, the sun-goddess. This is where he would climb the mountain for 2 years and face many of the same horrific entities that are depicted inside Chthe’ilist’s own songs. These encounters would scar him forever, as shown in the lyrics of “In Ageless Slumber”, the 2nd track off Stygian (as mentioned above, the song deals with various themes including nightmares, sleep paralysis, sleep apnea and hallucinations). It is also why no one before him ever succeeded in retrieving the sword - If they didn't die of starvation, exposure, or tiredness while climbing the mountain, they'd fall to their deaths after staring too long at the entities haunting the mountain. Suicide was after all the same fate of the character in the song “Scriptures of The Typhlodians” for a reason. The main character in Stygian, therefore, had extremely disturbing encounters and experiences with the same world depicted in Chthe’ilist’s stories. It also gives you an idea of how mentally strong this character was, to be able to face those odds. But even he could not help but break down completely at the end of this record. Eternity is truly terrifying.
I’ve already pointed out how the events on the album are science-defying occurrences that are romanticized, much like when you read chapter 6-9 of The Book of Genesis/The Bible or read about old Greek and Macedonian legends. For example, the events depicted in the Genesis flood narrative are inconsistent with science and findings of paleontology, geology, and the distribution of animal species. So of course, when you analyse the Atramentus album, the lore and the events, it raises many questions. The main one would be: why did the sun die only mere years after the main character became immortal? The prologue explains it, but it also can be explained this way in a nutshell, much like summarizing a legend of olde: Heeos, the goddess of the sun, is the source of all life and light, and reigns over both mortal and godly realms. Inside her sword is encased the soul of Atra Eas, an immortal god. The sword represents her essence and her immortal light is bound to its fate as it is the war-matriarch’s undying weapon. The lesser gods Carcophanex and Sharos (whom I introduced in the answer to your previous question) wanted to usurp her but could not physically turn her weapon against her as its essence was incorruptible by their powers. The lesser gods therefore used and seduced mortal men and women to do their bidding. By inducing dreams into their minds, they would venture into her temple atop The Aaegian to attempt to steal her essence encased into the sword with false promises of grandeur and the deceitful gift of immortality. All failed but one. After his long and perilous ascent across the Aaegian to obtain immortality, The Guardian of Atros Kairn would be greeted by the lesser gods in a banquet. After 7 days of feasting, he is granted immortality through the gift of the sun-goddess’s sword, unknowingly rendering her “defenseless”. By taking the sword away from its pedestal, Heeos would fade away and the sun would die. In fact, the Bathory-meets-epic-doom influenced chants heard in the first song of the album are the mournful chants of countless crying souls pleading for the sun to shine once more upon the darkened lands, as I wanted to make the music consistent with the lore. Following the death of the sun, a series of horrific cataclysms as described in the album would occur: earthquakes, tsunamis, deafening winds carrying death and pestilence, absolute darkness and endless winter as the sun’s immortality passes to The Guardian Of Atros Kairn. This would doom The Perpetual Planes to utter desolation and complete extinction save for one soul that would never die, condemned to witness the continuous destruction put forth by the less gods in the total absence of Heeos’s righteous light.
How long did it take to create this lore? Was it something you had in mind before these bands were created or have you been appending to it over time?
Shit, it’s been nearly 10 years I guess? It was in 2010-2011 that I first laid the foundations. To be more precise, it was when I started writing the music but more importantly the lyrics for Chthe'ilist once I accidentally discovered my ability to do vocals (check out my interview with Into The Combine, the story behind that is unremarkable yet absurdly hilarious at the same time). It all started there. From that point on, I started establishing the band’s complex universe, layer by layer, year after year, which would also of course, serve as the foundations of what Atramentus would later do lyrically. It was all spontaneous of course, and at first it was rooted in Lovecraftian-style horror, but as time went on, everything just sort of came together and naturally evolved into what it is today. Sure, there were lore deviations, like the crossover with the Majora Mythos on the last song off Le Dernier Crépuscule, but as much as this specific lyrical direction felt entirely appropriate for the vibe of that specific song, this was just a one time thing. The lyrics in Passage Into The Xexanotth reinforced this choice of direction as the EP referenced songs off Le dernier Crépuscule directly.
So, while creating the lyrics for Atramentus (and also Eternity’s End), it also felt natural to weave these groups together in a complex webs of timelines with Chthe’ilist. Why, you may ask? I would say it’s because all of them share -- through a drastically different sound, genre and approach -- a few common obsessions with recurrent underlying themes like dark fantasy, oneirology, spirituality, the paranormal, horror, time travel, alternate dimensions and so on. After all, these are like an extension of myself. When you put one of these CDs in your sound system, you step into an ever-expanding world. There’s also no way I’d ever want to expand upon Chthe’ilist’s lore solely through the medium of death metal exclusively, or strictly limit myself TO Chthe’ilist. That’s the point, it isn’t exclusively the lore of Chthe’ilist only anymore. Plus it would make everything very monochromatic. Different emotions and colors call for different genres. Many of the underlying themes that I mentioned that are explored in Chthe’ilist would definitely take a very interesting turn through other genres and ESPECIALLY in the context of funeral doom music and ambient. Through the music of Atramentus I was able to spontaneously further expand on the lore in a way I did not think was possible at first, and make it stand out while also paving the way for future releases of the band and my other projects as well. It gave the music and the record an entirely new depth to it too and I'm glad it came out the way it did as nothing was forced.
There’s also one other thing: I do not want to pigeonhole myself in one genre, ever. Sometimes, I honestly wish I’d have more time and energy to create bands in every style/niche possible be it doom, power, death, prog, trad, speed, or pop-80s AOR, and ambient! The other members of Atramentus would likely tell you something similar. Everyone has other bands in different genres. Claude has Sutrah, Xavier has Gevurah, Antoine has Serocs, etc. With all of that said, Atramentus definitely has its own thing and its own personality going. More than enough so it won't be considered as just a mere extension of Chthe'ilist due to its common lore. This is proven by the extremely specific mix of metal and ambient influences, the emotions the band conveys and the combination of personal experiences retold and recollected through epic storytelling and imagery (be it Mariusz Lewandowski’s painting or the artwork I designed myself for the cassette version of the album). This is why you are hearing this album under the name of Atramentus and not under the moniker of Chthe’ilist, too! It’s definitely not a new thing for bands to completely branch off and release an album in a completely different sub genre altogether and under the same name (For example: Hexx’s Under The Spell vs. Morbid Reality, Darkthrone’s perfect debut Soulside Journey vs. the black metal stuff, Satan’s Host’s albums, Afflicted’s Prodigal Sun vs. Dawn Of Glory, etc). Totally respect that approach. It’s their band, their world! Personally, I just prefer expressing my ideas through different bands!
Do you have any final thoughts which you would like to share?
I hope fans of this genre as well as doom newcomers can find a way to appreciate this record for what it is despite the timing of its release. On another hand, the world is currently sinking further into misery, ignorance, denial and decay so maybe this will be for many people, an appropriate soundtrack to an hopeless civilization in free fall. There may be light at the end of this endless tunnel though, that is if you sometimes dwell in optimism and dreams of a empathic and progressive society like me. If not for the acceptance of our doom, perhaps this record can also be enjoyed and used as a way to do some soul-searching, or a way to face one's inner pain and fears of mortality. Or even a way to make peace with one's own god(s). There are many ways in which you can interpret this record, and many ways to experience it. I look forward to hear about people's reaction to it and what they've felt/seen when listening to it. Even if they hated it. It has its flaws after all but all 5 of us feel extremely strongly about it. Other than that, what else is there to say aside from the painfully obvious: wear a fucking mask, don't trust any figures of authority ever (and don't lick the boots they'll use to step on you), piss on fascism and all oppressive ideological poisons, don't scoop your mids, practice your vibrato, and support True Northern Funeral Steel.
Stygian releases August 21st via 20 Buck Spin.