Cauchemar’s Heavy Majesty Blossoms on “Rosa Mystica” (Early Album Stream + Interview)
Metal with a reduced tempo is the single oldest sonic niche in this great genre, going all the way back to Black Sabbath's mighty 1970 debut. Regardless of the specifics behind the way that bands play doom metal, age and experience seem to be a unifying theme in how well modern bands understand these ancient sounds. It's no mistake that some 15 years after starting, Cauchemar find themselves with their third and greatest album on the way.
Bands that survive through the years without a drop in quality sometimes find themselves with a stately quality that stems from maturity, and Cauchemar have used that maturity to great advantage on new album Rosa Mystica. The record displays a level of skill unmatched by any inexperienced doom upstarts, translated into something transfixing that enthralls with gorgeous and understating layering, classy soundscapes, and beautiful lead guitar that marry well with the traditionalist underpinnings that the band has always held up as a central focus in their music.
Like the great Pagan Altar that so clearly influence their music, Cauchemar's mid-paced assault focuses not on smashing listeners into the ground but on bewitching them; the music is sensitive and magickal in a way that more aggressive bands never manage, but unlike Pagan Altar–or indeed most doom metal–Cauchemar are not afraid to speed up, and a large amount of classic heavy metal underpinnings make for a dynamic recording with far more impact than it might have had at a single gloomy tempo.
At the end of the day there's enough going on in Rosa Mystica that different listeners will surely draw different interpretations of the music, latching onto aspects that resonate the strongest. This is the sign of a great and interesting recording; as much as I'm drawn to the subtle and delicate sections, there's no denying the harder-hitting riffs on songs like "Volcan" or the faster and more straightforward ones on "Rouge sang." Listen to today's exclusive full premiere of the album to find out what aspect clicks with you and read below for an interview with Annick Giroux, who both sings in Cauchemar and runs Temple of Mystery Records, which is releasing Rosa Mystica on the 16th.
This is now your second record where you have opted to directly draw a cover rather than opt for photography or a commission. What keeps you coming back to that level of personal mastery of the final product of a new Cauchemar album?
Actually, the cover is a commission; I did the graphic design only. For “Rosa Mystica”, we wanted to hire a female artist because most of the songs are written from a feminine point of view. We had been wanting to work with Valeria Sakseeva ever since we first saw her work and we thought she had the perfect style for our album. She did such an outstanding job. I immediately fell in love with the results when I saw it. I’m usually extremely difficult and she surpassed my expectations by far. We have always been really concerned with all three artistic elements in Cauchemar: the musical aspect, the aesthetics and the lyrics. We truly believe that in order to achieve something that is “more than a record”, all three must be as well executed as possible. When you have done everything you can on a project, the satisfaction is so intense!!! “Rosa Mystica” is a pure representation of our vision as a band and as artists.
My mistake! Is a feminine point of view an important aspect of Cauchemar in general, or is it something that’s only now being introduced? And to go further, is it important for the music to somehow directly match your vision for the aesthetic and lyrics?
Since I’m a woman, I always like to sing from a feminine point of view… I like to picture my lyrics when I sing actually, I create sort of scenarios and stories when I’m singing the songs. It helps me remember the lyrics! [Laughs] Of course, we like everything to go hand in hand with our vision.
Have you ever sung in a band when someone else was writing the lyrics and they didn’t fit that mental picture of how the lyrics should look? Is having that control important?
I haven’t had this experience, but we did play a few covers in the past- a French version of “Under the Oak” by Candlemass, “The Green Manalishi” by Fleetwood Mac, “Rocka Rolla” by Judas Priest and “Longon Dungeon” by The Misfits. From all of these songs, I associated the most with Rocka Rolla and found it way easier to remember the lyrics!
Are cover songs something Cauchemar is going to continue doing going forward? Is it harder to fit in non-originals into a setlist as the band writes more and more?
We have prepared no covers for the next shows. We have more than an hour of originals and we found it hard to take some off… but who knows! We never really were a band of covers, it takes as much effort to do a cover as an original, so we like to choose the creative route instead.
You mentioned that Pagan Altar guitarist Alan Jones came in to do some guest leads on the album, and of course you’ve played with them and released or re-released all of their recordings on your label. Does any of that relationship pre-date Cauchemar? What does it mean to you personally to be able to collaborate like that with Alan?
I’ve known Alan since the Morbid Tales fanzine days. In fact, I went to see him and Pagan Altar on their second show after they got back together. I was only 21 years old back then, and it was my first time in London. We hung out and we’ve been friends since then… Shit, that was 15 years ago already! I always considered Alan to be one of the best guitarists ever, and probably the most underrated one in metal… so you can imagine just how much his collaboration on the album means to me. It’s like having Iommi do a solo for one of your songs, you know? …Actually, even better because Alan is my friend and I respect him so goddamn much!
Would Cauchemar be significantly different without your early underground efforts like Morbid Tales? Would it even exist?
It’s a good question! Morbid Tales expanded my underground metal maniac contact network, which helped me organize my own DIY tours later on. I think the band would still exist, but we would probably have had to resort to doing things on a smaller scale… (although compared to most bands, we are still relatively underground/unknown!)
What would you say is the coolest thing you’ve been able to arrange for Cauchemar using those connections?
Having a great underground network helped us do gigs I’d never thought would happen; for example, playing a metal fest in India with local musicians as the backband (we got paid in killer Indian food, it was great!). It also got us in touch with like-minded people that are still friends to this day, and I think that is the coolest/most precious thing to me.
Given the importance that friendship and collaboration have for you, will Cauchemar ever do a split release more personal than the Trapped Under Ice compilation?
We have often been approached to do split releases, but it’s never been our thing. We’d rather put all our songs into full releases. I’m a huge fan of compilations to discover bands, but splits are different. It doesn’t have the same vibe.
Rosa Mystica flows through eight songs with a somewhat more mystical, magickal and sensitive atmosphere than was present at the earliest days of the band (though that’s not to say those elements weren’t there from day one!). Was the development of Cauchemar’s style from “La vierge noire” ever something planned? Will the band’s direction ever vary significantly from the current path?
I’m so happy to hear that you feel all those moods while listening to the album. I think that we have grown as songwriters and we have enlarged our musical spectrum. When “La vierge noire” came out, I basically only listened to metal, a bit of classic rock, some punk and post-punk. But now, my favoured styles are much more varied… I think it opened doors for us to understanding music better, and in turn, to aspire to improve and create more interesting songs. So no, it was not planned at all. Every song we write is like a surprise for us. We never try to achieve a certain style, it just comes out naturally, so we can’t really plan what will follow next.
Given how static metal has been over the years, is that outside influence and perspective important to standing out?
I feel that creativity is a bit like dreaming; you synthesize life experiences and mix influences in order to make something that is hopefully completely you. Metal is the same as any other art form. It’s the mix of inspirations (musical or other) that makes it fresh. A band that only tries to sound like Motörhead can only be a Motörhead rip off. But if you put a Dead Can Dance melody on a Motörhead riff, you’ll end up with something original! Maybe it will sound like crap, but at least you tried! [Laughs]
Is that mindset of mixing in extra things important when you’re writing music or picking up releases for the label? Can rip-offs still be killer?
It’s a good question! I don’t really think about that when I listen to music for my label. I look for something that I will enjoy myself foremost and that makes me want to listen to it again and again. If the rip-off is subtle (For example, having drums akin to Motörhead), or is a contemporary rip-off of something that is very rare (for example, a band that sounds similar to Judas Priest’s “Turbo”), I might think about it twice. [Laughs]
When writing Cauchemar’s music, does the band ever find inspiration in those sort of subtle borrowings? A section of drums like Motörhead, borrowing an idea of a riff from Pagan Altar or Candlemass perhaps…
If we do, it’s not on purpose! We accidently ripped off “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC on our previous album, Chapelle Ardente. One of the most recognizable songs in history!!! The intro AND the end!! Luckily, we never received a letter from their lawyers!
As usual your lyrics on the new record are all in French, and you release other bands from your local Montreal scene. What draws you to writing in the language? Is it something strictly personal? Do you ever find yourself wishing more Québécois bands would sing in the tongue of the region?
We started Cauchemar with the idea of doing a good metal band with French lyrics because we were fans of the old 80s heavy metal scene: Sortilège, H-Bomb, Blasphème, ADX, Vulcain, etc. To me, French has a mystical and mysterious quality. And it’s of course even more mysterious for people who don’t understand the language, haha! Sometimes it’s interesting when you listen to a band and you have no clue what the lyrics say, like in Paul Chain or Dead Can Dance. You tend to focus more on the music, on the feeling, and you can really let go. The vocals suddenly become like another instrument, and the words add color instead of meaning. I find that really fascinating! But of course, when you can understand the language, it opens a door that leads to an entirely new level of enjoyment to the music.
Do any of those old French bands tie directly into your music past a fascination with their lyrics and aesthetic?
More than a musical influence, French metal was important in showing us that with quality lyrics metal could sound just as good in French. I think that the lyrics in early Sortilège were as good as anything by Judas Priest in the 70s. They weren’t jokes or songs about playing metal. Black Sabbath’s lyrics were political, philosophical and always personal... Even when they were about drugs, they were serious drug songs! Those French bands showed us that it could be done in French.
Is seriousness a necessary feature for a band to be worth it?
It depends what kind of music you are playing… perhaps not if you are TANKARD, but for a band like Cauchemar, it is definitely something important to us.
What’s next for Cauchemar now that you have this wonderful album coming out?
We are starting to rehearse again, as a full band! We’ll be doing a string of Canadian gigs later on this year, and with an added bonus… a second session guitarist doing all the lead parts that we could never do live before! Aside from that, we will try to play a few gigs in Europe next year, hopefully in the spring – but not a full tour like the last one we did in 2016. OH YEAH! We are planning on filming a music video in a few weeks, for our song La Sorcière. That will be a first for us, really stoked on that! Our music has so much imagery, it will be great to bring another dimension to it.
Rosa Mystica releases May 16th via Temple of Mystery.