Phrenelith’s Mutated Death Metal Spawns a “Chimaera” (Interview)
Phrenelith floored the world with 2017’s Desolate Endscape, which was at once atmospheric and hideously ferocious. It was an instant favorite in the larger death metal community and the band’s status as perhaps the finest newcomer in the scene was solidified across a series of demos, EPs, and notable live shows. Anticipation for a follow up was higher than ever by the time that their long-promised but long-delayed sophomore Chimaera came out last year in December.
Much like the creature that Chimaera is named after—a hybrid beast of many combined forms—Phrenelith has become a new monster than the original component parts that enthralled us all so strongly. The massive guitar tone that was a trademark on Desolate Endscape has been dialed down to something that, while still rotten, relies less on a wall of noise and more on the actual riffs; this change makes sense given that the music itself is somewhat more mobile, riffs coming together with a slightly more intricate edge that would perhaps be buried if the music was more of a soundscape. The important part however is as present as ever: sickening, rotten death, presented the Phrenelith way. This is not a new band but an evolution of a team of experienced death metal warriors, and though listeners expecting a repeat of the first album may be initially disappointed the music itself is enough to settle any arguments about their quality.
Check it out and read below for an interview with guitarist Simon Daniel.
Chimaera seems more focused on myth and legend than Desolate Endscape, and the music itself focuses more than before on finding atmosphere via dreadful riffs than from the suffocating production you had before. What led to these changes? Will growth and change, thematically and compositionally, always be a part of new Phrenelith releases?
Yes, I think you’re certainly right in your assumption, that there’s a greater focus on mythology on Chimaera than any of our other releases and that we put far more focus on atmosphere than on previous output. This was very much intentional, since we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, and simply rehash the ideas we had explored on Desolate Endscape and furthermore wanted to transform the songs we had chosen to re-record from the “Chimaerian Offspring” tape to something different in tone. Put up against its predecessor, I would definitely say that “experimental” and “atmospheric” are the themes that come to mind when I think about the new record in overall terms.
Ultimately, what led to this, to answer the question concisely, was a deep disdain for artistic stagnation. I believe everyone in the band feels that ‘change’ is something that’s very integral to both Phrenelith as a musical entity, and the band name, and something that manifests itself in a majority of the lyrical contents. I personally have no desire to make the exact same album again and generally have a deep admiration for bands that strive to constantly take their music in a new direction, even after a very successful album that had a good response.
I would personally feel the band was very redundant, regressive and without musical merit if we just kept our sound a certain way, because it was expected from us. And that's not to knock anyone down, since at the same time, there is also something intriguing about bands having a kind of “core sound”, that they’re able to stick to through decades, being seemingly unaffected by the outside world.
I will say though, that both albums are connected thematically (and obviously musically as well), since both hold concepts of despair, hopelessness and world desolation caused by forces greater than yourself. Considering that some of the lyrics and thematic ideas on Desolate Endscape are nearly a decade old, I can maybe retrospectively sense an element of “youthful nihilism”, that I think have matured over the years to something, that I hope, is a little more philosophically deeper.
Looking forward, I would say that the new material we’re working on for our third album will once again be a departure from its predecessor, since we feel we have achieved the things we wanted with the ideas presented on Chimaera. Furthermore, the band and the people
that comprise it are already very different entities than the ones that recorded Chimaera nearly two and a half years ago.
How far along is the third album at this point? Is it strange to talk about it with Chimaera being so new for fans still but so much older for you?
I would say we’re very far with the third album. I hesitate to talk too much about it since a lot can happen, but I’m confident that we’ll enter the studio to record it this year. We have about eight out of the nine pieces of music ready, that we plan should make up the album, which includes an instrumental intro and an interlude. But as stated earlier, a lot can happen, as songs are never truly finished, and things sometimes change as we work them out.
In regards to the other part of your question, I would say that it puts us in a strange situation, where people are interested in something that we ourselves, in some ways, have moved past. Especially because I personally already move on as soon as a recording is finished and my mind starts working on new ideas. I don’t really think that’s bad though, since it clearly takes a while for new material to manifest itself. But at the same time we’re so proud of the album, that it should certainly get the attention it needs and I never get tired of talking about it.
Following the recording of Chimaera, we had a hiatus lasting over 6 months, resulting from us wanting to have a break from the band, so that we could return with renewed ambition. That inevitably also gave us the mentality, as mentioned earlier, that the band is in a different era than it was when we recorded the album.
There were several delays between the release of the Chimaerian Offspring tape from the North American tour with Necrot and the eventual release of Chimaera, resulting in several songs ruminating in fan minds for years before ending up on the full length. Can you elaborate on those delays, and on what it means as a band to have more time than expected between songs being demoed and being released on album?
Well, delays, as in, the ones that aren’t intentional are always incredibly frustrating, but unfortunately they’re a part of releasing your music in a physical form and it’s something that is bound to happen. Since things often occur that’s beyond your control, you might as well accept it. The other kind of delays, as in, the ones where you release a promo/demo in advance of an “actual” release, is usually a good way to test out new material since you often have a different perception of the songs when you’re banging them out in the rehearsal room. Another reason for releasing a demo is to commemorate a show or a tour and thus make the occasion a little more memorable.
The downside to this, though, is that people have the time to form a relationship of sorts with the songs and might not at all like the re-recorded versions. This however is also a part of being in a band that releases music, and there’s a fine balance between taking in feedback and constructive criticism to help improve the music, and letting yourself be impaired by other’s opinion and compromising your artistic vision.
In regards to the Chimaerian Offspring tape from 2017, it got a far more widespread release than initially intended. Due to the demand being higher than expected, we just kept making represses of it, as we try not to deal in limited releases. This, I think, led to the release being perceived more as an EP than a promo, and thus people already had an idea of what the songs were meant to sound like. Internally in the band it was always considered a promo of some songs that was meant to be rerecorded at a later point, and I think we all prefer the album versions of the songs. But I also have the general philosophy that a band ultimately loses “ownership” of the music as soon as it’s released and they can no longer control how it’s perceived or understood; so in that sense it’s futile trying to do so.
Did the experience with Chimaerian Offspring put you off at all from the idea of doing future tour promos?
No, not at all. We will still continue to do tour promos and smaller releases in general, but I think the experience has taught us to be more careful in the future as to how we present it, and maybe be a little more selective in regards to how widely spread we want the release to be.
You left former labels Dark Descent Records and Me Saco un Ojo Records to have AV’s (Dead Congregation) label, Nuclear Winter Records, release the new album. Why did Phrenelith make the shift, and what did Nuclear Winter provide that Dark Descent and Me Saco un Ojo did not?
This question is a little difficult to answer, since there’s not really a particular reason for the change, in that, It wasn’t a situation where we were unhappy with our dealings with Dark Descent and Me Saco un Ojo, and thus wanted to change labels out of disagreements. We have always worked with many different people throughout the band’s existence, and as such, are not on any label’s roster per se. We simply wanted to work with Nuclear Winter Records because we respect the label and see eye-to-eye on the aspects of underground death metal with Anastasis. We feel best represented working with people who we have a certain level of personal relationship with and I don’t think, and certainly don’t hope, that will ever change.
The album art was one of the final released pieces from legendary underground artist Timo Ketola, who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. How early had he completed the painting? Where was the design concept from?
We had contacted him pretty early in the process, before we even had all the material written for the record, and we had talked about working with him for a while before that. I believe we started talking about what we wanted for the cover sometime in 2018, where the first sketch soon followed, and the artwork was then completed in spring 2020. So I would say the whole process took nearly two years. That time was spent writing together on a weekly to daily basis, discussing what sort of mood that we wanted to convey with the artwork, with him sharing sketches and photos of his painting process. We are all immensely satisfied with the cover and I actually think it’s one of his best in recent times. But then again, I’m incredibly biassed, so I should probably not be trusted to make any sort of statement about it. Haha. I’m not sure if i'm looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses in light of what happened but there’s definitely some fond memories connected to the whole process of working out the artwork with him, while sharing thoughts about anything and everything, and talking about what records we were into at the moment. I can’t claim to know him well, since I only met him in person once (I think), where he was doing an exhibition in Copenhagen, and then from our frequent email correspondence. But I would say that myself and many others, got the impression of a humble man with an Incredible talent, and it’s sombre, to say the least, that he didn’t get to see the final product in the end.
Chimaera released December 10th, 2021 via Nuclear Winter Records.