‘A Grand Tyranny’ – An interview with Akitsa
Black Ivory Tower has only been dedicating itself to interviews sparingly thus far. As far as metal whorenalism is concerned, interviews too often devolve into mundane chit-chat about studio equipment, forgettable band updates and the occasional SCANDAL. We do luckily not have to worry about ad revenue for the simple fact that there is none, so we will gladly pick musicians’ brains about more profound, timeless ideas and visions pertaining to their art. Problem is, there is only a limited amount of worthwhile music out there, with the quantity of artists able and willing to talk about their creations being all the scarcer. Our pool of interviewees is thus rather limited.
However, while we may sound like a bunch of arrogant arseholes who only care about talking to a handful of individuals active in the black metal scene, interviewing Akitsa has been nothing short of a dream for us. These Montréal natives have been putting Québécois black metal on the map since 1999, and to this day they are still carrying the torch of hate with their ruthless, lo-fi audial violence. As such, we were honoured and humbled that OT of Akitsa agreed to a rare interview for Black Ivory Tower. We are sure that our conversation, in which we explore such topics as the band’s history, the relevance of its cultural origins, and the upcoming album Grands tyrants (to be released in June), will be a joy to read to the fans of Québec’s finest export product.
Please note that a more extensive version of this interview will be incorporated into a special feature on Akitsa to be published in issue #2 of Black Ivory Tower magazine. Print or perish!
Degtyarov: Akitsa have been around long enough to be rightfully called veterans. It is difficult, however, to properly define your band’s reputation. Only rarely will major outlets namedrop the band, let alone write extensively about its oeuvre. Still, anyone who is seriously into black metal in any way will at least be familiar with your work. Most of us who belong into that category love Akitsa or at least appreciate what you are doing from an aesthetic point of view. How would you define your band’s position right now? Do you think Akitsa has already hit the ceiling in terms of who is going to like this kind of music?
OT: It is a difficult task to precisely analyze what Akitsa’s position is, being a member the entity myself. Akitsa’s objective has always been to be loyal to its foundation and its original intention. We are treading a narrow path between evolution and tradition. We must keep our minds closed to treacherous ideas but our eyes open to innovation and creation. Akitsa is a pillar of purity in the oblivious mass, which is sailing aimlessly across polluted seas. Akitsa was created as a scream of rebellion from the underground, displeased with how things were changing back in the days of its birth. We never created anything for the mere sake of acquiring of popularity. I believe we always reach new souls with our music as time passes, as the attitude that constitutes our musical output will always be something that people can relate to. That being said, it is very hard to predict precisely who is going to like Akitsa’s music, as it seems people either love or hate it.
D: The further I dig into Akitsa‘s history, the more musical and lyrical references I find to the punk and oi genres. To me, an early song such as “Désengrenage” sounds more like punk than black metal. Not to mention the splendid Soleil noir EP, which reminds me of extremely scruffy RAC such as that played by the Spanish cult band Klan. While Akitsa is obviously a black metal band, its characteristic sound seems to be rooted in distinct stylistic origins. To put it more bluntly: I doubt you grew up on just Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses like the rest of us. True or false?
OT: True. This is totally right. Allow me to give you a brief summary of my musical lineage, it might explain Akitsa‘s characteristic sound. At a very young age, I developed a passion for music, and by my early teens I started to have a particular taste for harsher and more provocative sounding recordings. Like most people who are into metal at all, I did grow up on some Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, etc. but quickly I moved towards muddier territories. I was attracted to the sinister side of metal because of its violent sound and creepy imagery. In 1993 I discovered death metal and it was only a matter of time before I dug deeper and stumbled upon the black metal underground. Once I started to get into black metal it was a very intense and brutal descent into the abyss. For a brief time, I was exclusively listening to black metal and absolutely nothing else. I started discovering a lot of different bands from all around the world and got involved in the tape trading scene. After some time I opened my mind to surrounding genres that bore similarities to the black metal agenda. Some ambient and industrial projects (connected to the mighty Swedish label Cold Meat Industry for the most part) started to catch my attention and familiarised me with some of the most extreme forms of music, namely power electronics and noise. Masonna, Con-Dom, Macronympha, Taint, Pain Jerk, Incapacitants and other such projects were occupying most of my listening time. Black metal was less present in my record player for some months, as I was too occupied getting absorbed by the bleak world of industrial noise. Some time after, I became intrigued by underground punk bands for their raw sound and surprisingly simple efficiency. When I was not listening to harsh noise, my headphones were blasting some Blitz, Disclose or Combat 84 instead. During that particular period in the late nineties, I was becoming ever more disgruntled with the black metal scene, as I realized just how bland and uninteresting the local scene was. My anger fueled my decision to to give birth to a project that would never be corrupted by the masses or by money. And so, Akitsa came into existence.
D: Another characteristic of Akitsa is that, while the project’s style has remained consistent throughout the years, there is a good amount of variation between and even within albums. Take La grande infamie for example, on which “Le rite des cavernes” and “Magie et vérités” set the stage for straightforward, ritualistic material, whereas the second half of the album (“Chthonos” and onwards) seems more dedicated to creating engaging, drawn-out atmospheres, almost contemplative in nature. How does a ‘typical’ Akitsa album (if there even is such a thing) come to be? Do you formulate a central theme before you start composing and recording, or do you take a more liberal approach whereby you record music until see enough reference points to take a few compositions and mould them into an album?
OT: Our process of creation is very spontaneous and impulsive. An album usually consists of multiple recording sessions combined. Recording sessions are always done using an analogue 4-track cassette recorder. Akitsa has been using the same equipment since the Goétie album. Needless to say, for us recording is a very traditional and archaic process, but we have been loyal to it for almost 15 years now. Regarding general themes, these are not determined before the respective album’s creation. Akitsa’s vision of the world is pretty similar now to how it was years ago. The lyrics and themes are approached wth a similar mindset, although this has naturally evolved as time went by. From one album to another, the same idea can resurface but be described differently, as the world around us may have evolved, but not our vision of it. Our stance on a matter is rarely modified by the time passing. The central themes of Akitsa are therefore represented consistently across our records; the interpretation of said themes is simply conceived with multiple variations in accordance to the reality surrounding us at that particular time.
D: Akitsa is a band that explicitly identifies with Québec rather than Canada. I personally subscribe to the idea that an artist’s home culture has a large impact on his art. In that spirit, do you feel Akitsa is a distinctive product of québécois home soil aesthetically and artistically? What would the band have sounded like had you and your bandmate Néant grown up in, say, Nova Scotia?
OT: Akitsa’s primary definition is foremost being a black metal entity. We identify ourselves with the true black metal underground, or what’s left of it anyway. Akitsa started without any type of historical foundations established by prior bands as there simply was no black metal history at all where we come from. In the days of Akitsa’s birth, Québec was a veritable desert in terms of black metal. Besides early Tenebrae with Myrkhall on vocals and his later band Frozen Shadows, nothing interesting was happening over here. In my eyes, too, black metal as a form of music has always maintained a close relation with its geographical location, especially in the early nineties. There was a clear definition in the sound and one was easily able to discern if a band was from Greece, Sweden, Norway or France simply by listening to it for a few seconds.
Therefore, when we started Akitsa it was of the utmost importance to us to clearly identify ourselves as a French-Canadian / Québécois project. We tried to sound as original as possible without diverging from our vision of what black metal should constitute. While Akitsa’s sound in no way defines the black metal of Québec, our cultural origins have clearly had an impact on how Akitsa sounds, lasting up until the present day. The French lyrics were natural for us and it was obvious we would write our poetry in our mother tongue. In addition to this lingual affinity, we were passionate about the history of our nation, so we felt it was important to sing about this topic, seeing as so many people are unaware of the French-Canadian battles and struggles. To resume, if Néant and I would have grew up in Nova Scotia, Akitsa would surely have been very different. How it would have sounded will remain a mystery forever.
D: You already mentioned the importance of having your lyrics in French. What effect do you think this has on the music? French of course has a sound and cadence that is wildly different from English, so hypothetically speaking, if someone would force you to record an Akitsa album in English, what would we be missing?
OT: French lyrics clearly have a more romantic touch to them, as well as possessing the ability to add mystery to our compositions for those who do not speak the language. As said, French is our mother tongue, so it is evident that we are more fluent and clever about writing our lyrics in French. We can add multiple layers, play with words and write richer texts this way. That being said, I do not believe many things would change if we would write English apart from having to work harder to achieve a satisfying result.
D: This should not be a surprise to loyal readers of my work, but I must admit that I am in general not a great fan of black metal produced in North America. Yet there is something about black metal crafted in Québec that allows me to connect to it rather well. Sadly, I’ve never been to the place thus far, so I have to rely on what I read and hear, but would it be a stretch to say that, due to the distinct character from its anglophone surroundings, Québec perhaps has a stronger cultural connection to the European mainland that reflects in the music? I can imagine that francophone people living in Québec might be more influenced by French metal, for example.
OT: Over the past 10 years, the black metal scene of Québec has been getting better with each passing day. What was an almost complete desert in the mid/late nineties had become fertile ground some ten years later. I believe most of the bands that arose at that time (Monarque, Forteresse, Csejthe, etc.) were mostly influenced by European/Scandinavian black metal. However, this fact does not suffice to support the notion of the Québécois black metal scene following a sort of Sonderweg in terms of its musical evolution, as most of the North American bands have had similar musical influences. I do not see a strong connection with French metal in general; in total honesty, I think there barely is one.
The addition of French lyrics and the geographical position might be the reason why some Europeans feel a stronger connection to Québec’s black metal. For many French-Canadian black metal bands, singing in French is an important part of the revolt against the modern world and the assimilation by Anglo-Canadian culture. Not only is Québec surrounded by Anglophones, but we are also being submerged into American culture. Québec black metal is a genuine clash against this current trend in society; it digs down to the root of our nation’s very existence and translates it through music. Just like many of their European peers did it, some of Québec’s black metal bands find their inspiration in their history, their roots, their victories and their defeats. All that being said, I do think that Québec black metal is usually closer to the European spirit and sound than the rest of the North American scene.
D: In addition to the questions pertaining to the surroundings of the artist influencing his work, how relevant is the actual person behind the music, in black metal? I am asking this because there is a (terrific) recording of Akitsa‘s 2008 show in Montréal in which the band members remain in the darkness during the entire gig, instead directing all attention to the music. So I thought maybe you have something to say about the difference between the ‘poetic I’ and the actual person…
OT: It was an obvious decision for us to play in total darkness and keep the mystery over our faces when we played our first concerts. Akitsa live tends to be quite sober: there are no flashing lights and no artifices. In doing this, we aim to create an intense feeling of sinister coldness that transmits the energy of the recordings into reality. The secrets of who is the actual being behind the music can often contribute far more to the effectiveness of the music than knowing the full biography of the person behind the art.
D: Let us not forget that Akitsa is about to release its brand-new album, titled Grands tyrans. Can you tell us a bit about the ideas (musical and lyrical) you will be exploring on this album, and what it will add to the Akitsa legacy at large?
OT: Grands tyrans is a return to the state of mind we were in back when we started, but with a more mature and profound approach. This album revisits topics from the Aube de la misanthropie and Totale servitude days. This time around, however, we are delving deeper and relating the themes explored on the afore-mentioned releases to our present day. The album’s main focus is death, deprivation and an agnostic vision of a crumbling society, and how we soar over the ocean of disgust that is contemporary life. Musically, I would say that this is our most challenging album since Goétie. I believe this album marks a change in our history, as we decided to use more clean vocals than on any of our previous releases. We are moving forward, achieving more absorbing and enthralling recordings.
Evidently, this album still has the distinctive Akitsa sound, but I believe that our punk, industrial and doom influences are more apparent than ever before. The album should see the light in June 2015.
Eternal gratitude to OT for his time and dedication.
A pre-production track from Akitsa’s upcoming new album
Tour de Garde – OT’s label/mailorder
Molti nemici, molto onore – Our review of Akitsa‘s 2010 album Au crépuscule de l’espérance.
Métal noir québécois – Our review of Forteresse‘s 2006 album, from a historical québécois perspective.
Abandoning All Hope – Our review of Frozen Shadows‘ 1999 album Dans les bras des immortels.
“Don’t Enter!” – Québec Week – Small reviews of Gris and Grimoire.
Interesting to see Akitsa finally name their specific influences, as I’ve been something of a loss when it comes to pinpointing their punk inspirations. I actually thought they were more inspired by Brainbombs, a Swedish group who take late-1960s/early-1970s protopunk garage rock but then update it with the collected wisdom of the 1980s/1990s noise rock scene. (Akitsa’s frequent collaborators Ash Pool do have a background that’s culturally adjacent to that stuff)