Only in active state for the past five years, one could easily be tempted to write off London’s FORMICARIUS as yet another in the seemingly evermore crowded UK black metal bandwagon. Let’s call such a dismissal a reason to avoid temptation, then, as vocalist/guitarist Lord Saunders & co. have recently released the aural plague of Rending The Veil Of Flesh and, while not everyone’s cup of blood, for sure, to say the band has set a high standard for its next output will be clear to those who sup willingly upon first listen. Lord Randall sat down with the band recently to discuss…
STALKING AMONGST THE SCARS
Interview with FORMICARIUS
By: Lord Randall
Rebel Extravaganza: While the playing time’s about the same, Rending The Veil Of Flesh has one song over 6 minutes, while Black Mass Ritual had 2 over 7 minutes. Was it a conscious decision to streamline things this time with the songs themselves, or just how things ended up?
Lord Saunders [Vocals, Guitar]: They’re still the big epics of the album! We listen to a lot of music and do a lot of analysis, so our experience on the other side of the looking glass contributes a lot to what we value in what we make. I guess somewhere along the way we just got fed up of really long songs!
RX: Going into the writing/recording phase of what would become the new album, were there any lessons you learned from the past that you knew you wanted to steer clear of having to be reminded of? Anything you wanted to try or experiment with that maybe you hadn’t previously?
Lord Saunders: It was more a case that having been a band for longer, we knew more precisely what we wanted. A lot of the songs from Black Mass Ritual are really old (2011) and were adapted for FORMICARIUS. It being 2018 when we wrote and recorded Rending…, what we’re feeling now is pretty different compared to 8 years before. This record is a lot less naieve and a lot more personal with something more meaningful to say. When we came to review the demos for this album we were actually taken aback because it all seemed so miserable! A sign of a darker global climate perhaps? Or just aging cynical gits – you choose.
Everything is about serving the record and making whatever sound and feeling you’re going for more effective, totally maximizing the ideas in the songs.
RX: With Cradle Of Filth, Hecate Enthroned and (depending on the song) Akercocke – as well as yourselves, now – putting out albums in the past couple years, do you feel British black metal has grasped its own crown from the seven-headed, ten-horned beast that is the art form?
Lord Saunders: Yet the music thrives! When we started as live players a decade ago there were only really a handful of bands which made up a ‘scene’. Now it’s innumerable, and within a larger pool will be more better bands with real passion behind them. You really need that to be doing a band in this country because it’s an expensive lifestyle. The competition is fierce, healthy and the standard is now so much higher as a result. You have to respect your peers and take inspiration from them. That’s how it is when you don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s a terrific thing. I’m glad to see the vast majority of UK bands leaving behind edgy notions of not giving a shit (we all know you do). It’s a really lame, weak, cowardly excuse to hide behind to avoid accountability. That attitude is about as far from black metal as can be. Being in a band in the UK is a tough grind, but that isn’t a reason to not to burn, use your brain and better your craft.
RX: How vital is it to you to remain quintessentially “of” the UK sound-wise? Though obviously music respects no border, there seems to be something in the way the above-mentioned acts (and Skyclad/The Clan Destined, Fen, Falloch, Winterfylleth, A Forest Of Stars) approach songwriting that just screams their geography…or maybe I just listen to too much British psyche/folk from the ’70s…that could be true…
Nazarkardeh [Guitars]: I think it’s something you see everywhere – location and time shaping the character of art. But the UK definitely has a certain… feel to it’s art. Something a bit more cynical and grounded than our neighbours across the pond. You can feel it as far and wide as our literature, our music, even in our comedy. We perhaps have a more ‘bombastic’ sound than some of the other BM acts in this country. Even then I think we still have that British sound in the same way that Maiden and Priest still had it at their most flamboyant moments.
Lord Saunders: It comes down to cultures and comparing / contrasting them with your own. It’s possible to analyse and theory craft what exactly makes up this sound, but your fundamental subjective understanding of what works will change how you interpret those sounds anyway. It might be more obvious in Winterfylleth and Old Corpse Road because their mission statement is pretty specific, but the regional identity is ever present and Formicarius is certainly no exception.
RX: In your bio for this release you mention the Biblical passage of Hebrews 10:19-25 as inspiration for the title, yet only verses 19-20 are mentioned, and verses 26-27 go on to read “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, (27) but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” Can’t pick and choose, the passages seem to be saying. Can’t have one and not have the other. Can’t separate the top of a coin from the bottom. Thoughts?
Morath [Keyboards]: Absolutely, though you’ll have to appreciate that we can’t lift Biblical passages in their entirety for our bio. In the leading track ‘Early Will I Seek Thee’ we explore exactly this kind of duality, inspired by verses such as this and Hebrews 9:12-14, which is referenced in full at the beginning of the track and suitably narrated by none other than Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ).
RX: As far as the recording set-up this time around, how did it differ from that of Black Mass Ritual? Even while taking advantage of current technology, the essence of metal, of any sort of rock-based musical form is that there has to be at least some sort of visceral element…something primal. How do you meld the two? There does seem to be more “breathing room” or “life” in the new album. Something more substantial to hold on to…
Lord Saunders: Experience has played a huge role. With BMR we were asking the question of ‘How do we make a really good hi-fi album?’. With Rending… it was more ‘How do we refine this?’. We were largely learning from scratch with BMR and it was really a trial by fire testing ground to see if we could do it. We’re wiser this time around and didn’t suffer so many pitfalls.
A key difference was being able to get the drums totally finished first (instead of last!). This allowed us to record to Kevin [Paradis, drums] and fit his groove, rather than any kind of grid or clinical click track. Despite so much being done at my home studio we were still able to let off a lot of steam and play with the human element in mind because of this. This is the process you’d typically go through in a big studio, we just hadn’t appreciated the significance of recording the rhythm section first. The technology hasn’t really changed the process – it’s just enabled us to spend more time working on the record in the studio.
There was a lot less time spent editing and a lot more spent rerecording to nail the performance, real frustration in quest of delivering the best human performance. It was so much clearer during recording to know if something was lacking and to make detailed decisions about how we were going to perform ahead of post-production. The record sounds tighter and more ‘live’, because it is, and really I think tightness is where that substantial breathing room comes from.
RX: Scoring Sakis for a guest spot had to be exciting. How did that come to be, and was ‘Early Will I Seek Thee’ written with his contribution in mind?
Lord Saunders: For the longest time we weren’t sure if we were going to keep the spoken word introduction to ‘Early…’. Then opportunity came knocking and it was such a perfect match – a Greek voice to represent a mostly Greek later empire. He is a friend of our managers, so we owe his involvement to them. Regardless, he certainly approved of what we were doing creatively. It was huge for us when we found out; Theogonia was one of the records which inspired many of us most when we began doing our own bands in our late teens, and to have his blessing and feature on our leading track is a huge honour.
RX: During the time Biblical scholars agree that Psalm 63 was written, the intended (and future) king of Israel, David, was on the run from the current king, Saul, who also happened to be the father of his best friend. His life under threat every second of every day from someone, yet still he says “Thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” You have to admire the man’s commitment to his Lord. We’re (speaking to myself as well, here) so liquid in our faith and in our passions these days, such ebbs and flows. Do you believe there are useful (positive) lessons to be learned from the Bible, or even more so, “grains of truth in every faith”, let’s say. I mean, you certainly seem to be using it an awful lot…
Lord Saunders: Certainly admiration is one interpretation, but whilst David’s life is under threat he is also popular, talented, a champion, chosen and stands to gain a lot. I don’t really believe David is a relatable representation of the common man, and to that end it’s not fair to compare the faith and passion of the future king of Israel to that of our own. I’m hardly going to expect the estimated three-hundred thousand homeless people in this country to praise God in the face of their circumstances. That would be irrational, moreover unhelpful, and I value rationality in mankind over blind devotion.
Nazarkardeh: Being raised Catholic, I had the misfortune of a Catholic education, and the Bible story that really confirmed my steadily growing teenage doubts was the book of Job. I think Job is a far better representation of the ‘everyman’ – just a regular average Joe getting his way through life with his family – and yet he has everything torn away from him for the sake of some bet between God and Satan. The difference between us and Job, is of course that we won’t get a ‘happy ending’ for staying true to our convictions. Could that faith not quite easily be reframed as that of an abusive relationship? It might not be quite as bizarre as Zeus’ shape-shifting rape tales, but it has the same theme of the Creator showing about as much regard to his subjects as a petulant child wrecking their toys mid-tantrum. When does that kind of unmoving commitment stop being a virtue and start being madness?
Lord Saunders: As you said earlier, can’t pick and choose! In our society in 2019 it’s basically a given that killing people is bad – we don’t need the fear of God, just the fear of real tangible consequence. Religion doesn’t get an update, just a million subjective interpretations, and faith has a long and storied history of gross, bloated corruption. It doesn’t encourage critical thinking or progress – quite literally the opposite.
RX: What did Kevin bring to the album, and do you feel it would’ve turned out the same with anyone else behind the drums?
Lord Saunders: Despite the geographic challenges involved he actually worked very closely on the drum arrangements with us. We’d scratch the basics together on a virtual drum machine, send them over and keep the conversation about the music going back and forth. A pro like Kevin brings a justification to the table for every change and decision. He definitely made the parts his own and deserves writing credit on the drums – we just provided the guidelines. He’d be able to play through and send a basically perfect acoustic drum track in one take back to us, so with the aid of the internet and his professionalism it was actually a very easy and painless process and one unique to present day. There’s no doubt it would be different with somebody else, but only in the sense that he really put his voice on the record. The process was as simple and clear as if we were working with someone in the same room.
RX: If you could, delve a bit into the lyrical inspiration behind ‘Inherit Our Sickness’ and ‘Stalker Among The Stars’.
Morath: ‘Inherit Our Sickness’ was born out of my observations and fears for humanity’s future. It’s hard not to look at the collective actions of our species and feel that they are but a feckless march towards environmental and societal destruction. ‘Inherit…’ speaks of the poor choices we continue to make, and the almost-defeated mental fugue we find ourselves in – humans continuing to blindly procreate, leaving little but existential catastrophe for the next generation to inherit. Technology serves only as a distraction as nature’s triumph draws closer, yet we stare into the pacifying void of our smart phones, sticking our heads in the sand. But the vision of the future depicted in ‘Inherit…’ is just one way the story could end; it’s ours to write. Let’s make sure it’s not too late to build something better, we’re running out of chances.
Hægtesse [Bass, Vocals]: ‘Stalker…’ is essentially a Lovecraftian retelling of the story of Daedaus and Icarius. The quest for knowledge spoken about in the song leads to the character’s downfall when he over-reaches himself and gets involved with forces he can’t control. Casting off his earthly body to journey through the stars in search for eldritch knowledge, his voyage takes him to a realm beyond matter and the spirit, and in the end he is cast adrift. Loosely, the moral of the story is similar to the Icarus myth – don’t over-reach yourself. But in our current political climate, the theme of cheating your way to the top (and the, hopefully, innevitable fall) was at the forefront of my mind.
RX: Plans for the remainder of the year? Live events? Also, what do you hope the listener who hasn’t heard Formicarius at all before takes away from their first listen to Rending The Veil Of Flesh?
Lord Saunders: I only hope listeners take away a feeling of inspiration to do whatever they want to the best of their ability. Rending… deals with a lot of really ugly subject matter, but never indulging in despair. Your time is ticking, so get on with it. Fight for who you want to be and be the best at what you do!
As for the rest of the year, we have a number of Winter shows around the UK booked. We’re heading to Leeds with Aklash in October. Warhorns Winterfest is in January too. We fully intend to take this record on tour in Europe, it’s just a matter of finding the right tour at the right time. All whilst beginning work on the next album! We do it to ourselves, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.