Wednesday, March 27, 2013

... Talking about +Pulvis et Umbra+ : Interview with SURTR

Partly justified (or not...), 'World of Doom' the debut album of this trio met a mixed response from the scene, especially the french one which is often in 1st place to denigrate its own values for some more or less acceptable reasons...
But, after intense labour during the last couple of years, SURTR are now back with 'Pulvis et Umbra' - again relased via Altsphere. Filled with uncompromising Classic Doom, this sophomore release is much more consistent and brings the band to another level of composition which logically should open them new doors towards a well deserved recognition.
Andreas asked those visceral doomsters several questions which they nicely answered very quickly and eloquently ; beyond the obvious interest he has for this band, Andreas simply concluded by these words : "Just write that these guys are great people, down to earth and extraordinarily talkative" !!! Thanx to all band members who took part in this one with frankness and passion...

Tell me what made you guys play this type of music, and what makes the constellation you are playing in special?
Régis: We felt in love with doom metal for many years now. We like to play slow and to hear the bass roaring as the doom is coming out. Doom metal is a genre you have to love in order to play it. We’re really tired by people trying to play always faster than the other. That was okay in the 80's and the 90's when triggers weren't used and when people weren't scamming the fans.
For my part, playing Doom Metal is also going against the trend that makes me sick. And you know, when you are playing a show, you really get true doom and metal lovers. These people don’t fake anything.

How do you strive to put an original touch to Doom Metal?
Jul: I think that we distinguish ourselves in the fact that we don't restrain or put barriers between the different sub-genres of Doom metal or even Metal itself. We try to stay open-minded and put everything we like in our own music. Whatever the type of riffs and arrangement we create, it still ends to sound like SURTR, and that's what we're looking for. We are music freaks and all of us three have played in different bands over the years and developed our own style of playing, writing, and all of that helped creating our personality and our own touch. We are also fans of classic heavy metal, black metal, progressive music, and I'd like to think that it's something that you can hear when listening to the latest album.

How do you explain that the genre has recently gained more popularity?
Régis: I don't know if it really gained popularity. We were for a few days at a show of Saint Vitus, and the venue wasn't decently full for a band like Vitus. I think that people who love doom metal today are just more active than in the past. The networks and the visibility brought by the Internet are more helping than the confidential tapes in the 80s, that’s a fact. But it is also true that we see younger people in our shows now or in doom metal shows in general. I think that people are starting getting sick and tired of the mass market mainstream metal. They are looking for something more real, with true spirit and power. A lot of doomsters going out to the shows are also old school thrashers. They are just looking for true metal, played by real people who are not trying to scam them with triggered drums or voice effects. Like it is easy to say, it was better in the past, and doom metal is a genre coming from the past, how modern it can sound today.
 Is there a vivid Metal scene in your region? French Metal in general is still deemed as exotic over here despite the success of a group like Gojira …
Jul: We have a lot of good bands in our region and in France. But as you said, it’s just very difficult to go beyond frontiers. Medias give zero credit to metal here; it's definitely not the best to be for a metalhead. You're right when you speak about Gojira who's definitely a leader of the genre now, and it's totally deserved.
 Who played the keyboard on some of the tracks?
Jul: It's a friend of us called Clément Osmont. He's a great guy and a talented musician and composer. We really think that he did a great job on our songs. We guided him as we were working on the demos to compose arrangements that would give more depth and epic feeling to the existing material we already had. He came up with his own ideas and influences and we worked together until we arrived to something rich, but not over-exaggerated or cheesy. I think it was a great collaboration and it's definitely something we'll try to renew on the next album.
How did you get the idea to write a song about Frederick John Westcott?
Régis: This was Jeff's idea. In fact, Fred Karno's Army was one of the first names who were suggested to name the band Black Sabbath. The second one was very much more suitable by the way. Fred Karno's Army was also a World War One Music title, describing the English infantry during the conflict, joined by men who cannot fight nor shoot, in fact, a very chaotic army. For me it describes the vision we have of the nowadays society, full on men who are chaotically running against this wall, without hope and without trying to change anything to change their own destiny.

Jeff: When I wrote these lyrics it was also a way to tribute Laurel and Hardy movies that I watched a lot in my childhood and Charlie Chaplin ones. Both of them influenced what followed in the 70s like The Monty Python or Les Charlots in France and other classic burlesque movies. Moreover I really enjoy the way Chaplin had (as watermarks or not) social and political themes. It’s entertaining and at the same time it tells something about the life. It’s a process that I’m always trying to do through my lyrics.

 Your album title means "ashes and dust": what does this mean in connection with the artwork?
Régis: The songs are much more various on the album, in that way it was not possible to name it with a song's name. We discussed the question together and thought that a Latin title would match perfectly. Pulvis et Umbra comes from a Horace's quote, that means "We are but dust and shadows". And looking back, that's all what Doom Metal is about! Doom Metal has to breathe and smell the dust and has to show the shadows whose have contributed to his -and our- past. For the cover, it would have been too easy to represent a cross. And, trust me, the first idea was a lot similar to the last Down record! In a way, we hijacked the symbol of the cross, which is maybe the most popular symbol in the doom metal scene. Today, SURTR is our own cross, and we are the three nails that are supporting what we want to build together with this band. The booklet shows William Blake's arts (English painter and poetry written, 1757-1828). His style is totally atypical for his time. The paintings are fully representing the spirit of the songs on Pulvis et Umbra.
Is "Rebellion" about rioting in general, or does it refer to a concrete event?

Jeff: Like in our first album World of Doom, it doesn’t refer to an event. I hope anybody can find something in the lyrics that he can compare to a situation of his own dailylife. It’s a reccurent theme in my lyrics since I wrote. I don’t know. It’s inside me. It’s about not being a sheep of the modern society, about not accepting everything that your company tells you to do just because you need your salary to buy food or to pay your rent. For me rioting is not necessarily violent or against somebody or something in particular. It can be a daily opposition and protest. It’s a positive thing that helps people feeling freer and to live without suffering from stuff they see as a straitjacket. I still have the utopia that everybody can enjoy their own life without being fatalist. There’s still a flame burning in your heart. Our flame is Doom Metal and it helps us to learn about our life and to support it daily.
So where did you steal the vocal line from "The Call" from? I know it from somewhere else, for sure...

Jeff: We seriously have no idea. I guess it’s like some guitar riffs in metal in general. Sometimes you said “Hey it’s the three same power chords than in that song, isn’t it?!” But theses vocals lines came just like that during rehearsal because it sounded pretty good and because it was the feeling which came naturally to this song through the rehearsals. We really work in an instinctive way for vocals. It usually only depends on the guitars riffs and the number of words in the sentences. That’s it. But now we’re fuckin’ curious so let us know if you find something about that !

 With "The Cross", you are toying with Death Metal aesthetics; where do your influences lie in this genre?
Jul: As I said before, we are music freaks first, and Death Metal is a genre we've listened to a lot, especially a few years ago. Speaking for myself, I think that Morbid Angel is a huge influence for many Doom bands, and it's definitely the first name that comes to my mind when I heard your question. Of course there are many bands that we could refer to, but these guys are « the link ».
Which war are you referring to in "Three Winters Of War"?
Régis: Three Winters of War refers to the beginning of Ragnarock and the Doom of the Gods when SURTR will finally get the last word by setting the world on fire with his sword. It comes just after Rise Again which is the first track of the record. So we could extrapolate that the rising of the giant announces that the end of the world has begun, and anticipated the grand final of Fred Karno's Army. The three winters can also refer to the number of winters that we spent together as a band. But at first, it was just mythological lyrics written to match the epic riffs brought by Jeff.
Tell me a bit about Altsphere and your ambitions with the label. What can you offer bands that they would never be able to handle themselves.

Jeff: I own this records label ten years ago and actually I can only say I don’t offer anything that bands cannot handle themselves. You can do everything I do. In ten years you can build a network like I build in ten years and learn the same things that I’ve learnt during this period. No more, no less. Oh so, that’s what I’m offering to bands actually: time. I chose to have only a part-time job to pay my bills and I work for Altsphere the other part. If I chose a full-time job, we wouldn’t be, in terms of promotion, distribution… at the place where we are today. It’s a lot of time to do daily promotion, to set-up delays between every people involved in the record, to plan the promo deliveries, the final stock deliveries in the different countries and so on. It’s a personal choice of life: more time but less money from my daily job. But everybody can do and learn that. I was just patient, I took my time and I understood how everything works. If I can give pieces of advice: be patient, don’t think promotion is just sending three mp3s to a webzine, to publish two songs on bandcamp or myspace or to send a cd-r to Nuclear Blast. Releasing a CD is the easiest thing for a label or a band. Giving it the promotion it deserves is a daily hard and sometimes boring work, and your free time or hobbies time cannot be enough to do the thing is the best way. I don’t say the “right” way because I think there is several ways to run and it depends on people’s personal ambition. But I seriously have no lesson to give. Do your thing, know it will be tough, be patient and learn from your own experience and mistakes.
What are your plans for the close and distant future? Where do you see Surtr in the grander scheme of things?
Jul: At this point, we plan to tour as much as possible to promote this record. The next step is to play at Hellfest Open Air France in June sharing the stage with Sleep, Witchcraft, Procession and more. After that we'll take a short break and study all touring opportunities we get.
I guess that we'll start working and jamming on new songs by the beginning of next year. We already have song ideas that we're sharing together and we're pretty excited to see what will come out this time. However the third album is an important step for every band, so we won't hurry ourselves, we are going to take our time to record songs that we'd be proud of.
Thank you for the interview and feel free to visit and

Interview by Andreas Schiffmann

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