From Hour of Penance to Devangelic and beyond, Italy is one of those countries that’s just ridiculously good at brutal death metal. Perhaps it has something to do with having the Vatican skulking around in their collective backyard, but whatever the case, the country shaped like a boot continues to kill it year in and year out.
Raw, primal, hypnotic. These terms describe the hellish, killing floor blues of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf just as aptly as they do the grim, violent black metal stylings of Darkthrone and Mayhem. And yet the two genres are complete polar opposites. Or are they? French black metal quartet Glorior Belli doesn’t think so. Beginning on 2009’s Meet Us at the Southern Sign, the band began experimenting with combining black metal and the blues, to devastating effect. On The Great Southern Darkness, the devastation is complete, resulting a in sound that brings to mind a whiskey ‘n’ weed-fueled musical brawl between Eyehategod, Pepper Keenan-era COC, and the aforementioned Darkthrone and Mayhem. I met Glorior Belli guitarist vocalist J. at the crossroads of black metal and the blues to discuss the making of the new album, the French BM scene and other esoteric subjects.
THKD: First of all, tell us a little about the making of the new album, The Great Southern Darkness. What were you looking to accomplish with this release? How would you describe the album’s conception?
J: Same motivation as usual, we always aim to top our past efforts, this time by going even further into incorporating those Americana/Southern/Blues sounds that we cherish. Our last record “Meet Us At The Southern Sign” left me with a feeling of non-achievement, sort of, it’s still a good album but feels like a transition record while “The Great Southern Darkness” emphasizes all the best of Glorior Belli elements into a monolith of Deep NOLA grooves and blazing darkness. The entire process of creation went smooth, took us about half a year from the very first riff ’til we could hold the Master CD in our hands.
THKD: Unfortunately, my digital copy of The Great Southern Darkness did not include lyrics. What can you tell us about the lyrical themes being explored on the album?
J: Well, it took me longer to write the lyrics than the damn music as I’ve spent a lot of time studying and arranging the texts in a poetic way, like I always did in the past. A French guy rhyming in English and singing about the forces of the nightside, it can’t get any better. It’s really important for me that people understand the lyrics, as my ultimate goal is to give them the opportunity to forge the weapons of their own liberation, yet my words will confuse the weaker minds just like the fire of Lucifer can both illuminate and destroy. This is one of my favorite parts (taken from ‘Negative Incarnate’): “From behind the nervous curtains of my trembling cosmic prison, the dark Gods are firmly waiting filled with hatred for the cosmos; outside the frame of creation lies the darkest of all secrets, the magic of the queen dragon waits for us to crush the gates!”.
THKD: You started incorporating blues elements into your sound on Meet Us At the Southern Sign and have continued to refine your fusion of black metal and blues on The Great Southern Darkness. What for you personally is the connection between the two genres? How are they alike and how do they differ from one another in your eyes?
J: It’s kinda like playing with what may seem like 2 opposite elements but in the end they interact with each other. The very first thought that comes to mind when you think about a desert for instance would be the heat… Yet if you go further more into the reflexion, you’ll realize that it can also be deadly cold at night time. Just like the Blues can be devilishly attractive and hypnotizing too. It’s nothing complicated to mix up the genres if you keep in mind what you’re going for in the end. I wanted this record to be almost inviting but still dark and this duality, that could apply to any other life situation, is what keeps the balance in the right position.
THKD: Is blues music popular in France? How did you discover the blues and what prompted you to attempt combining it with black metal? What classic blues artists have influenced you over the years and more specifically your work on the new album?
J: I wouldn’t say it’s really popular as in “trendy” but lots of musicians of course enjoy it. I personally have a thing for Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson obviously, John Lee Hooker, also some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best hits, more or less all the classics. I’m really in love with a record called ‘Negro Prison Blues’, the convicts were singing over a beat that they actually made while breaking rocks at the penitentiary. Primal, deep and going straight to your gut and soul. That’s how I like my Blues.
THKD: Which genre do you feel a closer kinship with, black metal or the blues? Has your work in Glorior Belli influenced you more in one direction than the other or have you found a balance between the two styles?
J: Like I said earlier, I think I found the right balance now. Made peace with my past, I’m not fighting against Black Metal anymore now and I don’t want to be influenced in one direction more than the other but rather maintain that balance.
THKD: Black Sabbath started out as a blues band. Do you think heavy metal has always been some sort of mutant form of the blues at its core? Do you think Robert Johnson and Leadbelly would’ve invented heavy metal if electric instruments had been around back then?
J: Now come on! Basically all the genres are some sort of mutant family tree. People experimenting, mixing, giving birth to a new sub-category and so on. But those things take time and Robert Johnson would still have been Robert Johson even if the devil had given him an electrical 8-string Meshuggah guitar.
THKD: Many black metal bands I’ve interviewed believe that the genre is an inherently Satanic form of music. Do you agree with this and why or why not? Is blues music also Satanic? Certainly the legend of Robert Johnson would seem to support this. Is Glorior Belli a Satanic band?
J: I think we’ve been talking about Johnson a bit too much already. Anyway, Glorior Belli is a satanic band if you base your definition on the fact that we are fighting against the lies of the Demiurge, for our essence is to defy and challenge the bastard gods and to pierce through the walls of our cosmic jails. On a more personal note I have been gathering knowledge over the past 10 years or so and experiencing my own path through practices that you wouldn’t even dare to dream about. I don’t think it’s mandatory to sing about Satan when you’re in a Black Metal band as evil can be found in many forms and most certainly in our very own essence.
THKD: Are you at all influenced by any of the bluesier metal bands that have come before, such as Danzig, Corrosion of Conformity or Eyehategod? Why do you think the incorporation of the blues into metal has been mostly an American trait in recent years?
J: CoC and Eyehategod are amongst my top favorite bands. I don’t think Metal bands in France/Europe understand exactly how to incorporate Blues elements into their sound, it’s more like they’re trying to get as close as possible to the American Stoner Rock scene but fail at defining their own identity, at least for the most parts.
THKD: Glorior Belli recently released a music video for the song “They Call Me Black Devil”. What made you choose this particular song for the video? How would you describe the experience?
J: Well basically, there’s a lot of humor in that video, starting with a fake budget-denied letter that I made myself underlining the cheapness of what’s to come. It’s kind of a fuck off to the music industry that echoes to the Red Fang video clip “Wires” where they waste $5,000.00 on trashing random stuff with a car. I understand it can be confusing but that was the whole point of the video clip anyway. The rest is just really random, as I did it on my own with just a small camera. The most important thing here is the music, and they actually call me Black Devil for a good reason.
THKD: The Great Southern Darkness is your first album for Metal Blade. How did you hook up with the label and how has the partnership been so far? At first glance it seems like kind of a strange pairing.
J: I got to know Andreas from Metal Blade ‘Europe’ by some contacts/friends. But it’s not like we had a special pass or whatever. Sent the new record, they loved it and super agent Ula from Clandestine Music helped us seal the contract. being signed on Metal Blade is definitely the greatest achievement for what started 10 years ago as a small yet ambitious band. I only expect the best out of this collaboration as we are absolutely determined to do what we have to in order to promote our new record the way it should be. I can feel that not a single drop of energy is being wasted and there’s a cool symbiosis in the collaboration. I’ve never been confronted by such professional and yet really supportive people, they know how to take care of business with high levels of passion and perseverance. So that’s one less thing I need to worry about as a musician, and it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders to be honest.
THKD: Will you be doing any touring in support of The Great Southern Darkness? How would you describe the Glorior Belli live experience to someone who hasn’t seen you? Any chance you’ll make it over to the US?
J: Nothing confirmed yet, besides an Australian tour next year with friends from The House of Capricorn that should happen in early 2012. Got a couple of shows in November booked in Belgium/Holland/Germany and an exclusive Canadian date in Montreal on November 25th. Basically you will experience the sense of trekking through dark deserts and evil fields with Lucifer as personal guide.
THKD: The French black metal scene has always been strong and extremely diverse. Why do you think this is? How do your surroundings influence your music, if at all?
J: I’ve never been one to believe that actual geographical frontiers could be determinant in the creative process. I don’t even feel like I belong to any kind of scene, if you close your eyes for a minute and listen to the CD, well except maybe for my ugly accent, I dare you to say this is French BM. What? You did?! Alright then. I guess it must be well-deserved somehow. It’s true we have a bunch great bands around here, but mostly great individuals who don’t care about limitations, just like me. Guys who don’t have to pretend.
THKD: What are you currently listening to? Do you have any recommendations for THKD readers?
J: Lately I’ve been listening to The Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch, Rome, 16HP/Woven Hand, Down, Alice In Chains, Neurosis, Mastodon, Acid Bath, Kyuss…
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
J: We will defeat and bring down the cosmic scheme! See you all Frogerz somewhere down the road.