In speaking with three members of Montréal-based black metal group Entheos, I was treated to a lively, dynamic discussion that veered into philosophical, esoteric realms: the aesthetics of self-promotion, the fragility of concepts. If there’s one thing to take away, it’s that they’re hyper-aware of the framework they work within; certainly, this awareness is reflected in their music, as revealed in illuminating answers about their diverse influences and songwriting processes. The band speak frankly, with wry understanding of the link between artist and audience.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Brief sections have been translated from French.
Claire: The first thing I noticed about your music was that it has a very noticeable jazz influence, which I think immediately distinguishes you from other black metal groups out there. What role has jazz played in your compositions and techniques?
David (guitarist/vocalist): I always had a big interest in rich sound – maybe it’s associated with rich chords, strange chord progressions traditionally associated with jazz. I’m studying jazz right now, but my background as a guitarist is self-taught. So a lot of trying to play the densest thing I can with my instrument – I think that naturally goes with the jazz sound, a lot of rich chords and melodies.
Jessy (drummer): I studied jazz music at CEGEP [Québec pre-university education]. It was more of a pop and jazz program on drums, so it certainly influenced my playing. [Jazz has] influenced my technique, but maybe not that much in my compositions and writing process.
Daniel-André (bassist): When I first started to play in Entheos, I had never touched a bass before and it was a great occasion to discover a new instrument that could groove as hell. And I have a big hip-hop interest, jazz and soul as well, and it’s been like that since way back.
When I spoke to Basalte [Québec black metal band], L. [drummer] mentioned that you have a similar conception of metal to them. How would you characterize the scene that you think you belong to?
Daniel-André: I think I’ve noticed it more because of the talks I’ve had with members of the scene than [through] understanding the music when listening to it. When I talk to those people, I feel they are all influenced by a lot of genres, and they like black metal’s energy and they want to push it further with other [additions].
David: In every genre, [it’s easy for me] to recognize the tropes – I don’t like being part of a trope, and that’s a part of trying to make a sophisticated art-form, just being conscious of the tropes. I think that’s something that’s common among all of our bands (Existe, Basalte).
Daniel-André: We can play with them, or even avoid them –
David: Just being conscious of the tropes, and making sure that everything doesn’t sound the same from one song to another.
What are some literary or non-musical influences in your music? For example, I know that the title Le Zahir is influenced by a short story [by Borges], and there are quotations in your songs from literature – how have these influenced your music?
David: [Authors] like H.P. Lovecraft and Borges have the same kind of interest in what is not comprehensible and not tangible. The concept of things that are bigger than you, that really creates a feeling of awe when you read their works – concepts that are transcendent. That’s a feeling that can be transmitted through music, the feeling of awe and being in front of something bigger than you. That’s something that I’m after in literature and in art in general.
I feel like there’s almost an abstract sense to your music – it captures emotions strongly, but at the same time it’s not something I can easily pinpoint to a concrete experience, say, in regular life.
David: It’s not as concrete as a sentence, a written sentence or an image – the concepts are not tangible when they’re played in music. That’s something that interests me deeply, the link between music and other senses, the way that it’s seen through literature, through description in film and poetry.
How would you describe your approach to lyrics?
David: There are two different ways. My way is an approach of psychological problems: I’m hinting in that direction – the problem that I have in the moment – in [writing and poetry that comes out automatically]. Concepts and images emerge from that, and after, I edit and rework the images until I’m satisfied with the final result. The other approach is when we work together, with Jean-Lou [vocalist/lyricist on both albums]. [With] that approach, like we did with “L’Orpheline”, we had a clear story in mind –
Daniel-André: The story, it emerged from the song itself –
David: – by listening to the song, we came up with the story –
Daniel-André: – we sent him the story, and he wrote the lyrics: poetic, storytelling –
David: It hints more at the colour of the song than [personal or philosophical problems do].
Could you briefly summarize the themes that you cover in your works? I think you mentioned psychological problems – are there any other things?
David: Well, there’s a vast array of psychological problems –
Daniel-André: It’s already a huge palette.
David: On the first album, [there’s] a kind of refusal to trust knowledge in general. It was a realization that I had at the time, [that] imprisoning concepts or experiences in definitions was ruining them, diminishing them in a lot of ways. In the song “Les Titans”, the titans are a metaphor for experiences and things that are enormous and can’t really be imprisoned. You can only seize them for a moment – they die the moment you imprison and conceptualize them. So, seeing reason as a kind of thing that destroys the purity of the world – that’s something that was in mind for a long time. In Le Zahir, the themes are more various and less nihilistic – “Chemin de Fer” is about being rushed by choices in a direction that I can’t really see. It’s like a train that forges its own rails so that it can advance, so that it can’t slow down – I’ll have to look at the lyrics –
David: The analysis to make, it’s that with most of the lyrics, I haven’t even summarized what they really mean, but I know they hint at deep problems.
Daniel-André: I think there’s hidden images that are [underlying]; for example, I could read the lyrics and see deep themes – it could touch me in some ways that are not even touching [David] –
David: There are open images that can interpreted in a lot of ways –
Daniel-André: But of course there is [symbolism] that is quite precise.
David: The song “La Chute” talks about romantic attachment, just classical problems, but the song “Écho” doesn’t hint at a problem at all – it’s just a tribute to inspiring people. Those who can gather people and make everyone listen to them without even being aware of doing so – as if everything they said were prophecies.
It sounds like you’re very familiar with a lot of philosophical work. Have you read a lot of things on that?
David: More recently, mostly last year, I read a lot of psychology, history of religion, and I have a big interest in mythology, philosophy. Just last year, I read a big part of Nietzsche’s work, which in a lot of ways touches on the themes I had in mind before –
Daniel-André: It was inherent to the project at first, because Jean-Lou was reading a lot of that, and we’d always been interested in –
David: More intuitively before, but I think my interest in psychology and philosophy was crystallized last year. I read a lot of Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, Friedrich Nietzsche.
You used to perform anonymously, or at least not showing faces, but that no longer seems to be the case. Could you explain this change?
Daniel-André: The first show, we didn’t add masks but we thought of making some, and then we made some out of wood, but then we got bored of those and it was hard to see on stage so we got plastic – no, paper ones –
David: Our names have always been linked to the project, so it never was anonymous. At the beginning we wanted our names to be associated with it. The idea of the masks was a classic one to separate the faces from the music, and to have abstract beings pushing energy and not personalities, necessarily. But the practical side of it just –
Daniel-André: What I was about to say was that the idea of wearing masks and having an original performance side, it’s interesting but we want to play with it: sometimes we don’t have masks, sometimes we could have, sometimes we could have projections – we already had projections once over us at Le Zahir‘s release, but I realized that a mask and screen on you is just distracting you from playing, and it’s quite hard to…
David: Keeping [masks] in mind and having it as a potential surprise element to the show is better than just crystallizing our public image.
What would you say is the role of visuals, then, in your music? I have in mind things like album covers, or any other form of visual promotion.
David: When I approach or discover new music, the visual aesthetic is always very important to me. It plays a big role in my appreciation of the project, so that’s the same idea I apply to the band. But the way it manifests itself, it’s always a bit last-minute – when everything is done, and we have ideas, it’s the last thing that emerges: the name of the album, the final idea of the cover –
Daniel-André: We did that for both albums, and I think we are doing something different for the new one –
David: It’s not set –
Daniel-André: It’s not set, but we are reflecting on it – the name of the album, the cover art…
Are you able to give any details on the work, or is it under wraps for now?
David: We’re working on it, tons of new songs, but can’t say when it will be recorded or when it will come out. But it’s on the way.
I know you’re also a group that doesn’t depend on major or established labels for distribution and promotion. What, then, is your own approach to these sort of things? Because it’s not a savoury thing to have to think about advertising, but it does matter at some point.
Jessy: I think we mostly rely on word of mouth, because there was a little promotion when we released the first album, but the distribution is done by itself. The album is name-your-price on Bandcamp, so just by word of mouth, it spread and promoted itself. Before releasing Le Zahir, we were approached by Pest Productions to initially re-release a new edition of the first album, but we told them we had the second album in the works so they wanted to release that one instead. Having the album on Pest Productions’ roster, I think it helped a little bit, but as far as promotion goes, it’s mostly word of mouth. Even in terms of band pictures, we don’t have much – we wanted to get some pictures done at some point, but then we realized it wasn’t that necessary so we dropped it.
David: The idea of paying for or investing in promotion came at some point – we discussed it, but in the end the kind of music we’re playing is part of a small scene, so I think everybody who wants to listen to that kind of music will find it somehow. But at the same time, I always hope for the most visibility possible for this project. I want to reach as many people as I can, but just letting it grow organically and by itself is the best way for now, because all the people that helped with the promotion of the band are people that came to us.
Daniel-André: On that point, we’ve followed that line since the beginning – just concentrate on the music –
David: – before everything else, before thinking of promotion –
Daniel-André: – and the contacts came from that.
Are you satisfied, then, with the reception you’ve had so far?
David: Being satisfied would be considering that it’s enough –
I suppose that’s difficult to actually achieve.
David: It’s not like it’s torturing me or anything. It’s certainly not enough, and it could be for the best if the project would grow, but it’s such a small scene and I feel like there’s not that many things to be done –
I guess music isn’t necessarily about a meritocracy – it’s often about knowing the right people, pushing yourself out there – but I realize you’re not comfortable with extreme Facebook promotion or anything like that: a lot of ads, posting links…
David: It’s part of the aesthetic of a project. All the promotion, if it’s a Facebook ad or anything – it adds to the aesthetic, to the perception you have of that project. A good example I have of that is Basalte – I think they’re really conscious of that, and all their social media posts are really minimalist and [selective], and everything is carefully edited. I think some bands on the opposite end of the spectrum completely neglect that side of their project, and it just ends up being annoying in a way that doesn’t give me any interest in listening to their music.
That’s an interesting point, how advertising and aesthetic inevitably mix – people will see the band promoting, and if it’s annoying, it won’t matter how good the music is; the perception will shift. And this is something only recent technological developments have allowed for.
David: Some people just don’t think about it, I guess. It’s all part of what the project is, and it can’t be separated, in my opinion.
Yeah, social media is so ingrained in our lives that we seem to forget these more…esoteric aspects.
Lastly, I’m contractually obligated to ask this for Heavy Blog: if anyone eats eggs, how do they prefer to eat them?
David (to Daniel-André): You’re the cook.
Daniel-André: I’m always eating scrambled eggs, but I’m happy with all kinds of eggs –
– but if I had to choose, I’d say scrambled eggs.
David: If I cook myself, it’s usually a basic meal, part of an efficient routine; I go for scrambled eggs. But if I go to a restaurant, I choose eggs Benedict, things that need more attention –
Jessy: I’m more of an omelet guy –
– the more things in it, the better. It’s so easy to just put everything you have in it, and make a nice, thick omelet with five or six eggs, it’s just so filling.