Interview: Archaios – Death Metal from the Dominican Republic
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Metal grows best in dark, dangerous places. Outside of the burning light of public approval and mainstream media coverage, metal music has the ability to become powerful, ugly, and genuinely uncompromising. It's always been this way—from Bergen to Birmingham, Savannah to Singapore, heavy music has always thrived outside of "normal" society. It's made only more resilient and determined by its lack of the benefits many bands often take for granted: easily accessible recording studios, open-minded local venues, tolerant national governments.
Such a band is Archaios of the Dominican Republic. These guys have never toured outside of the DR. With their new album The Distant, they will be the first band from their country to release a metal record internationally. Yet their sternum-splitting variety of groove-heavy melodic death metal merges its immediate influences into something sharp and infectious that's hard to blow off as the work of another gang of Sweden-worshippers. When Invisible Oranges contacted the band, founder and guitarist Eric Cruz answered the call.
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Tell me about the formation of Archaios.
Back in '94 I was trying to put a band together, and at the same time two other guys that I didn't know were trying to do the same. We had a common friend who introduced us. At that time we were a cover band- playing music from Slayer, Death, Kreator, and other established bands we grew up listening to. That worked out for a while, but there came the time when I realized I needed to get a whole bunch of musical ideas out of my head, so I started writing original material for us.
The Distant has a lot of immediate influences—Swedish melodic death metal, for one—but has a lot of other atmospheres, lots of soul and groove, and straight-up brutality. What elements of metal do you seek to include in your music?
We try not to have an exclusive set of rules when it comes to writing material. But we have been very focused on trying to write stuff you would dig from the first time you listen to it. We also seek to have those passages where you let your mind flow along with the music, that work you up into a climax where you get some sort of spiritual experience that digs deep into your soul. I think we are basically influenced by everything around us, even traditional Dominican music. If you are familiar with styles like Merengue and Bachata and listen carefully to Archaios' material, you will find some patterns and harmonies here and there that will show that influence. But mainly our goal is to try to create music that could be able to stand the test of time, music that won't be around for a month or two and then disappear.
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How has the band evolved between Out Of The Shadows and The Distant?
For this album, the main purpose was to try something less raw, more sophisticated. We have tried to achieve less dark-sounding songs and bring more diversity to the arrangements. The first album was a selection of songs we wrote during the initial years of the band when we were discovering who we were musically, so it was more . . . let's say . . . disjointed. We wrote The Distant knowing from the beginning that we were creating a full-length album and that brought more cohesiveness both musically and lyrically. And of course, we have more experience as musicians and the dynamics within the band (even after some line-up changes) are more mature and focused than ever.
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Tell me about the title. What is "the distant"?
The Distant represents a lot of things . . . mainly the fact that we have struggled for so long and we feel like a voice from way below the surface, yet we're still there, and that we, as fans of extreme music living in a Third World country, tend to be put aside and denigrated inside our country by people that don't understand the "Metal Culture". You still get tested every day, and I have seen hundreds of friends change and step away from their personal choices and lose themselves because society forces them to change and be "normal" to be able to get a job or fit in.
The Distant is the first Dominican metal record to be released internationally by a North American label. How does it feel to be your country's forerunners?
It feels great, even though there is much hard work ahead. It's an honor to be able to represent our metal scene, to be able to open the way for other bands and let people out there know that we are here, that we are not so distant. We want to show the whole fucking world that perseverance gets you somewhere.
What about being from the Dominican Republic informs Archaios? How does where you're from come out in your music?
Maybe at the forefront it's not very noticeable that we are a band from the Caribbean. I guess it's more of a subconscious thing. As far as I can remember, I have always liked extreme music, but here in the DR you go out and you hear other types of music that you don't exactly like, but because you're surrounded by that environment you tend to be always alert and listen to this stuff from another point of view (from a musician's standpoint) and you hear cool arrangements, embellishments, patterns, etc. and somehow this sticks to your subconscious.
What's the metal scene like in the DR? What bands are there?
Our scene is very small, but it's been there for almost three decades! There are many dedicated metalheads that have been here from the very beginning, and now in their 40s they are still very involved with the scene. Fans support bands 100% and bands support each other in everything they can: from sharing gear to raising money together to record or put a concert together.
There have been many great bands in the last 20 years; most of them aren't active, at least not regularly. Bands like JLS, Necro, Quo Vadis, Cryosis, and Altus Mortem had enough quality to make it big internationally, but it never happened. There are some bands there right now with a lot of potential to make an international impact like Merodac, Ad Bestia, and others that, with the right support, could go far internationally.
Do many metal bands come through the DR on tour?
Our country is not big enough to organize tours. Sometime bands play in a couple of cities in the same weekend but that's about it. Never has a big metal band come to the DR to play. The closest they go is Puerto Rico, and it's impossible to go there for most of us because traveling is very costly and as you can imagine in a country when the minimum monthly wage is $250 USD, not everyone can afford traveling abroad to see their favorite metal band.
Being from the Third World, do you guys ever receive political backlash when you try to play? Have your shows ever been shut down or picketed?
Yes, that used to happen a lot back in the '90s and early 2000s but things have gotten a little, just a little bit better when it comes to this. But by now, the damage is done and the venues to play metal are fewer than before. Nowadays, we always have the permits and contracts needed for the show to take place and law enforcement agents now respect the law a little bit more. A decade ago they could come and stop a gig just by saying that a neighbor called to complain that the music was too loud, even if you had your papers in order. These things translated into losing money, losing merchandise, and if the event involved some kind of sponsors, this would make them to think twice before working with the bands again. The funny thing is that if there is a Latin music event happening under the same circumstances, authorities don't bother to check if everything is in order and usually it's at those events that violence happens: fights, gunshots, robberies and more. I'm not trying to exaggerate here, this is true. That doesn't mean that in a metal concert there aren't problems here and there but in comparison with other types of events it's not even close.
There has always been an association between metal and esoteric and fantastic stories and that usually doesn't translate well in a Third World country. In that aspect, our society's mentality is really closed-minded and conservative. That enables politicians to manipulate things and use the bands and the fans as a medium to divert ignorant people from seeing other things that really need to be paid attention to, like political corruption, the high cost of living, inflation, etc. This might be our karma for daring to choose metal above all other types of music in a country where you have no place to grow as an artist or as a fan of this music.
Obviously, your country borders Haiti, which has its own insane history of strife. Is there any metal there? Do bands ever play Haiti?
We don't know if there are any metal bands in Haiti. We do have contact with Haitian musicians because we own a recording home studio, and we get many bands from our neighbor country. We have asked them about this and there is no indication that there are any metal bands over there. However, some of their musicians tend to mix their typical music, which is Kompa, with other elements of rock and blues. That's the closest we have found to any form of metal whatsoever, since metal usually integrates these styles.
About playing in Haiti, this has never been in our plans for many reasons. We believe there isn't a scene, since Haitians from different parts of the country corroborate this. If there were a scene, it would be difficult for us to travel there and play. The situation in Haiti is very precarious and dangerous. Some parts of the country are not even under any authority's control and there are many abductions and robberies in broad daylight. A close friend of us went there to a Kompa concert in a "police controlled zone". There was this army soldier at the exit of the zone that told him not to go out because he might not make it back to the venue as many people had been kidnapped to be exchanged for money.
Even if there aren't plans to go there to play, we will be donating 15% of the album sales to help ease the situation in Haiti. As individuals, we've been involved in relief efforts since the earthquakes occurred. Now as a band, we want to keep doing something about it. I don't know how much money it will be, but we and Dark Canvas are on the same page about this and we want to help as much as possible.
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Tell me about Archaios on tour. Where do you guys play? Where have you encountered the best crowds?
We've never been able to go abroad and play for a different audience in almost 20 years in this game. Usually booking agents or promoters don't take seriously bands coming from this part of the world. They say nobody is interested in listening an unknown band from Dominican Republic. Hopefully, now that we are finally putting together our first US tour, that perception is going to change.
What are the plans for the immediate future? Touring, writing, drinking?
The drinking is always there whether we play shows or not! As for the writing, I already had a couple of songs in the process before we finished recording The Distant. I really like to have some ideas left from the previous album as it is like a starting point to write new material. I find that it links both products coherently in some way, even if the new stuff becomes something really different. Right now, we are putting a tour together, first in the States and hopefully later in Europe. 2012 will become our first "Touring Year". We will take the band to places where people have never heard about a Dominican band playing metal . . . I can't wait for this to happen!
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youtube width="200" height="165"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHlPfXNICZY[/youtube]
Archaios - "In Times"
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Album Preview of "The Distant"
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Archaios - "The Distant"
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BUY THE DISTANT
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