In terms of forward thinking black metal, there have been a lot of newer groups pushing the boundaries out for the genre, but one of the most exciting and interesting groups currently doing this is Smohalla. Their debut full-length, "Resilience," was released last month and has really impressed a lot of people, not just me. I was lucky enough to get into contact with them and they granted me an interview.
Ian: I know you've said in the past that there really isn't any story behind the formation behind Smohalla, but how did the three of you come together, cause I think you started the band?
Slo: I don't even know if we are 3, 2 or just one haha. Who is in and out, who is a guest and who is a former member, and why and where... I'm not sure it's really relevant. Let's be focused on music and aura. I don't want to play a mysterious role, just that, I don't know what to say except for, 'we like to create music'. The band started in 2006 with our first release "Smolensk Combustion" then we released a concept mini CD about a Loveraft novel called "Nova Persei", a split with Immemorial, and some tributes and compilations appearances. We just released our first full-length called "Resilience", which is our first CD with solid adapted production.
Ian: The lyrics on your EP, "Nova Persei," were based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, what is it about Lovecraft that inspired you to use his story on that album? Would you say his writings have influenced how you compose and arrange the music in Smohalla at all?
Slo: Yes, Lovecraft is probably one of the main influence we've got. Most of the people, even some of his readers, can't understand what a genius he was. Beyond all the words he assembled, and as others 'genius-artist', he succeeded to create alternative dimensions to ride on. It's like 'Ok guys, I will never be adapted to live normally here, I can't understand your rules, I can't follow your way of living. There's no way I can trust humanity. But it's ok cause my head is full of exaltation. And if I'm too fragile and too weak to travel this world, I will in my dreams, and it will be through time and space. On earth and elsewhere.” And I don't speak about fiction dreams but real astral traveling. He gave the keys to the great escape to a lot of people. Everyone has to follow his own path, under the light, in darkness, or both, and no one knows the Truth, but Lovecraft can be the guide for new states of conscience.
Ian: How does a song come to fruition, or how do you write songs, in Smohalla?
Slo: It depends. Most of our songs, since "Smolensk..", are based on drums improvisations I record. I like this feeling of vast freedom, just living the music, doing your best, not in terms of technicality, but of creativity, and predictions cause of course when you know you're recording improvisations for a real song, you have to keep this in mind, about structures, breaks etc.. You're just building your own monster, and you have to define its shapes. Of course, these shapes can completely be reconsidered, every layer you add will necessitate changes. Sometimes I add so many layers that it's like giving blood, muscles, hairs, scales and armor to the same deformed creature, passing from a skeletal snake to a 1000 armed giant worm. But sometimes, I get a precise idea in my mind, that I have to re transcribe, for giving it a concrete life.
Ian: A lot of people have told me that they've only first discovered you through this album, do you believe that this album has really brought you into the light more so than ever before?
Slo: Too short to say, "Resilience" is a 1 month old album so.. Fact is it's our first full-length, and the first time that production sounds really adapted to our style. Our music is still so complex, even more complex maybe, but now with attention you can hear all that you have to hear, discover new layers after several listenings, violent parts sounds now really violent and powerful.. Ok there's still this hazy feeling, which is part of our personality, but now it sounds as an army of disincarnate sinners whining in the face of the worlds, I spend so many times mixing it, a real nightmare and an endless introspection. So wait and see, but until now most of the reviews have been very enthusiastic with us.
Ian: How did you come to name the album "Resilience?" It's a very provocative and interesting choice for a title.
Slo: It's all about this word, Resilience, and how it can help you to find the right path. Keep your breath for a while, try to disappear in some imaginary fog. Try to escape time and flesh. Search for another world then develop it. Rebound on this interior landscape of whatever you'll find in your sick brain, and face reality. Overcome everything. This is not the state where I use to live but something I try to approach. Music, creativity, these are the main structures I have found to become wiser and stronger. In a way, there's a part of catharsis too in the concept of resilience, pouring out some inner demons and fears. Every song is a prayer trying to deform and mix reality and abstraction, to make them ours. We both are what we do, and what we think, flesh and mind. We have to try to find a compromise between concrete life and dreams. And every song is like a different step to escape earth until the final introspection. But we can also say, it's just music.
Ian: The album features quite a few guests on it, would you mind speaking a little bit about how you came to the decision to include guests and what you think they brought to the album?
Slo: From the beginning of Smohalla, we always been supported or helped by several people and friends. It can be about mastering, guest appearance or whatever, just spreading the word about us, I truly thank again all our mates. Nico & Pryapisme, Oscar and As Light Dies, Max Brigliadori, Iconoclast & Sael, Joseph and Vendlus, Arco, Way to End, Yann, and all everyone.. So precious help.
About the guest appearances and contributors on "Resilience", they all have been chosen because of their musical experiences, and they all created their own parts so that they could be recorded, except for lyrics. I'm so proud about all these contributions. Guitars sound [the way they do] due to Iconoclast and Echoes Studios fit so well, muddy and powerful. You should check what he record for other French bands such as Asmodée and his own project, Sael, both amazing black metal bands. Damien Luce, from Immemorial and Hky, he's so talented too. Seriously, I've heard this split CD he planned to release on Frozen Wing Productions soon. One of the best dark ambient songs I've ever heard, you will all die. Oscar and Nicolas are two great singers, as you can hear, creative and implicated... I'm so grateful to all of them.
Ian: "Resilience" is by far a more conceptual sounding record, with one track flowing into the next for a very cohesive and unified album. What sort of approach did you take when you were writing the album?
Slo: You have to know it took 3 years to record, complete and mix the whole thing. So, as you can hear with the various elements, different ambiances and lot of breaks gives a pluri-colored album. But all that lunatic mess, every part on it, every layer is a star from the same constellation. When I start to use my guitar or my drums for improve or to compose, I reach another state, another part of me is leading my brain and body. I'm not schizo and I'm not floating 3 inches up the ground but you know, some doors are closing themselves and some others are opening.
As we said, "Resilience" is a concept album built upon a will to overcome the great black shit of this world. Recording these songs has been the process to clean my head and my heart. I was lost, I surrounded myself with black curtains to regenerate through creation and now I'm ready to face, not the whole shit, but a part of it. I will always remember this composing, recording and arrangements sessions as a vast trip, far away from time and reality each times the Smohalla aura was launched in my head. That's one of the reason why I love to live.
Ian: Smohalla is a band that has always made use of symphonic elements, but with the album it really feels like you've pushed the boundaries for that genre, which is something that hasn't happened in at least a decade. When you're adding those elements into a song, are there certain atmospheres or emotions you try to capture or showcase?
Slo: I don't know, I hear my riffs and I just hear other layers on them, in my head. Sometimes it can be sympho elements, sometimes psyche or bizarre stuff.. I just want no boundaries from my head, hazard and his eternity, and the final result of one of our songs. So I don't really know what I am searching for here. I just know when I'm feeling something special listening to a part, I'm thinking, ok, this is mine, I created something, something particular and weird that does not include blood and semen affairs, let's be proud of it. The sympho parts result, like our metal or planey side, from so many different influences. From Philip Glass to Stravinsky or Bernstein, and I think most of the other sympho metal bands are always more influenced by older composers, you know, Wagner, Beethoven, Mussorgsky. Of course they're great too.
Ian: I'm curious who you would cite as influences of your more symphonic side? Does it come from more classic composers or more cinematic scores?
Slo: It can comes from first releases of Emperor, Enslaved, Limbonic Arts, Tartaros, Golden Dawn and a lot of very talented black metal bands from the 90s. It can comes from classic composers too as I said before, Stravinsky, Phillip Glass, Ohanna, Gorecki, Mahler or more experimental and prog bands like Geinoh Yamashirogumi collective, Univers Zero, Pink Floyd that used modern sympho parts in the 70s and after... Some movie ost? Probably, and not only about our sympho parts. Think to Phantasm, Midnight Express or Candyman ost, John Carpenter and so many others.
Ian: A lot of the songs on the record are quite layered and have a lot of sounds coming at the listener at once, how did you go about recording and mixing the complicated soundscapes and different riffing patterns that all occur at once?
Slo: I haven't created Smohalla for following someone else's way. I want to let flow out and share all these waves that makes me stronger inside. Everyone needs it, except for disincarnated pigs. Not necessarily through music, but for me, it's all about sound exploration, when I compose or when I just listen music. I get a ticket, and I ride the comet like a gay multicolored cowboy exploring the anus of a giant Cyclops. Every part of a song deserves his own life and senses so I stop working on it when it seems to be done in my ears. And I stop to work on a composition when every connection and correlation between parts are giving life and sense to the whole song.
Ian: When you look back at the "Smolensk Combustion" demo, how do you think you've grown since then?
Slo: Speaking about the production, the evolution is great. Compared to all that we released so far, "Resilience" sounds huge. Next one will sound better again. I learn from my mistakes. As I learn guitars and drums, no teachers, just you, the life, and the music. Some friends to play with, some bands to follow, some shit to let go out.. But evolution of our music is just natural, I never stop to record. You can't imagine all the stuff I've written that has never been finished and released. So all I can see is steps, coming one after one, slowly. I can't really say if it's a progression, a regression, or just nonsense and a futile fall.
Ian: You've participated on quite a few compilations and tributes, what kind of aesthetic do you take when you record a song for one of these projects as oppose to when you were writing for the EP or full-length?
Slo: Every recording session [has] got its own atmosphere and its own explorations. And it's something particular, I couldn't really speak about it, this is kind of abstract, you just wait to be touched by the appropriate mood, and you live it with passion. I try to get the main composition process the more instinctive I can. Tributes were just another ways to create, launching gates between bands we listened a million times and our world, not just playing the same parts with a poorest sound. About the two compilation tracks, and the split one, they're all long, very progressive, I see them like 3 different trips to 3 different places. And I don't know why but when I listen each of the 3 songs, I always imagine a crowd of faceless people. Landscapes and background are never the same but I can see them every time.
Ian: Do you have any updates on the "Toteninsel" compilation? There hasn't been any updates on it in quite a while. What can you tell us about the song you did for the release, you've put it on your bandcamp and it features Eleni on vocals?
Slo: Well I really like that song, that's just a shame production sounds so poor. Eleni's vocals on it are great, it's like hearing a beautiful siren calling you to a morbid cunnilingus. By the way, compilation [has] got some amazing tracks, apparently Vendlus will not release it but I hope this damn CD will be materialized one day...
Ian: It seems as though you guys in the band are very interested in the presentation and aesthetic of Romanticism through both the Lovecraft influence as well as the various covers that have been the face of your albums. What is it about that period and style that appeals to you, if at all?
Slo: In terms of visuals, I'm not sure about romanticism, cause curiously, romanticism appears to me like something too hermetic. You know 'I'm the hero, life sucks so I stand up on the roof of the world, all alone.' Something frozen, like in this so famous Gaspar David Friedrich painting. Maybe speaking about symbolism would be more appropriated, cause in terms of artworks and even music, I'm feeling more influenced by painters like Khnopff, Moreau, Redon, Toorop, Rops, and by surrealist explorations from Max Ernst, and so many others.
Ian: What place does dreaming, nightmares, and sleeping hold in the way you create music?
Slo: Hard to say, sometimes I get these souvenirs, and I can't remember if it was true or dreamed. Sometimes I dream about music and try to record what's in my head. Sometimes I'm just feeling between two states, conscience and inconscience, especially when I play music, a part of me is playing and creating, and another side is just listening and floating. Sometimes, I was somewhere in the outer space, my flesh was so heavy and something in me were just rising in strange and abstract places haha. Sometimes you're clear as crystal, and you discover a band or create a song that makes you fly away. Music can be magic, literally. My nightmares are rare, thanks to my dreamcatcher. Bizarre dreams, yes, nightmares, not often, thanks.
Ian: You guys all have various side-projects, what can you say about those bands and the status of them at the moment?
Slo: You definitely should check Camille's other projects, Stagnant Waters and Dreams of The Drowned. Brilliant, modern, and innovative projects, he planned to release full-length from Stagnant Waters soon, with members of Pryapisme and Fleurety/Umoral, and what I've heard of it is just crazy as fuck. And I used to play the drums in a slowcore/noise band called Divine Irae.
Ian: In another interview, you had stated that you feel the French black metal scene is flourishing. What are some cool bands in your opinion that we should check out? Are you proud of being from a country that is getting as much praise as it does in terms of the "scene"?
Slo: In fact, French black metal scene always been singular and flourishing. Gorgon, Blessed In Sin, bands from the légions noires in the 90's.. France always been familiar with this style. And we always had unique bands, Supuration, early Misanthrope albums, Elend. In nowadays French black metal you can search for Sael, Asmodée, Pensées Nocturnes, and Galvauder, this band I just discovered on youtube... Very promising. Not relevant to black metal but keep an eye on Immemorial, and Pryapisme, the surprise is always real with those guys. And not French but, check As Light Dies from Spain, their last album is just one of the best extreme progressive metal release of the last year.
Ian: Well, I guess those are all the questions I have. Thanks for the interview, the last words are yours!
Slo: Thanks a lot to you and everyone spreading the word about us. We are them. Stay all pregnant.
If you haven't already checked out Smohalla, do yourself a big favor and look into them now to hear some of the best black metal released recently. Do not wait!