Last February, the British Doom metal masters ESOTERIC were in Lisbon to headline the second day of Under the Doom Fest. We had the chance to have a pleasant chat with them, led mostly by Greg and Mark. With more than twenty years of extreme metal to cover…
Hi guys. Thank you for receiving The Black Planet. You’re back to the Portuguese sunny shore to play your third show here. Despite having always played in important line-ups (SWR Barroselas, or tour w/ Swallow the Sun and Forgotten Tomb), this is actually the first time you play as main headliner. Having in memory your previous experiences in Portugal does this fact change anything about how you approach and prepare for this gig?
Yes we’ve played two shows in Portugal, in Lisbon and Porto before, but we don’t think that playing as headliner will change anything on our approach. We just enjoy playing live regardless of headlining of wherever we play. For us it’s just good to play live. For instance, in tonight’s line-up we know Mourning Dawn and Shattered Hope. They’re both good bands and we’re looking forward to see them.
The event that brought you here is called Under the Doom fest. But recently you’ve been confirmed for a different type of festival. Still under something: Under the Black Sun. I imagine you’re aware of the history that event has amongst the Black Metal community. Considering its 100% Black Metal were you surprised by this invitation? How did it happen?
Well we’ve played shows before for the same promoter of the festival. We’ve played in Berlin maybe two or three times over the years, with Ahab, and with Joerg organizing one other show there, in 2014 if I’m not wrong. But yes, we got a little bit surprised because it is a black metal festival. But we have played quite often with death metal and black metal bands. We don’t always play with doom metal bands, so for us I think it’s because the music is quite extreme, maybe we fit in OK.
We’ve been there several times and what I can tell you is it has a unique scenario, perfect for an isolationist weekend in the woods. But, despite that fact, you’ll still be playing among a great majority of Black Metal bands. Do you feel comfortable this way? I mean, do you follow the BM movement? And which contact point do you find between Esoteric’s noxiousness and BM? Are there any bands that you would recommend both in terms of sonority and concept?
Yes, we follow some bands. Mgła’s new album is very good for example. But yes we do listen to black metal all over these years. Maybe just not quite as much underground stuff as in the past. I mean we’re not completely aware of everything going on in the underground these years. But we still follow some of the French bands for instance, like Deathspell Omega, or Nightbringer from the US.
We have been speaking about live performances and I must say that every show of yours is an internal hallucinating journey. Especially if we find you with night shows. But if I’m not mistaken it was not always like this. When you started, back in early nineties, I guess some reactions may have been less positive, considering those were the times of speed and fast riffs rather than dragged funeral doom. How was it back then? Did those experiences had some influence on the live hiatus from 1997 to 2003?
Well, yes. The reaction to us in the nineties was quite mixed. Some people were able to appreciate it, and some other people really didn’t like it because they were used to listen to bands playing fast nonstop. And at that time there were very few extreme doom bands around, and we were always playing with death metal and black metal bands. That’s probably why the audience’s response to us was quite mixed then.
But in the period that you mentioned we stopped because of line-up difficulties really. We didn’t have a full line-up between 1997 and 2003, and it was only in 2003 that the line-up became complete again.
Now that no one can point out any big issues about your live shows, one thing is clearly distinguishable from the great majority of other metal acts: Greg’s portable head micro instead of the dominant typical vertical microphone in a stand. Was it always like this? What’s the main reason behind this option? I’m guessing it allows you to act more freely?
No, it wasn’t always like that. It just started after using the normal microphone, but because my pedal board is so big and I still have another control for the vocals, I have to move around a lot. So when I’m trying to change sounds and effects, and control the effects I can’t stand still on the microphone.
While maintaining a consistent live activity, playing in some important festivals as well, ESOTERIC’s discography has been marked by some temporal distance between recordings, or at least without any preliminary studio samples between full lengths (demos, splits, etc.). Is it something you have in mind after each album is released? I mean, do you establish a time frame for compositions or you’re more of being always composing until a satisfactory result is achieved?
I don’t think it’s anything on purpose, on the way that “hey we could only release albums”. I think it’s just the way it happens. Of course if you look at the discography of the band there are no demos, no EPs and things like that but it’s just the way it is. It’s not something planned or anything. It’s just the way it turned out.
(Greg) When we record we like to put it in a variety of sounds, not just one sound or two sounds. For us it’s important to have some diversity in the releases.
Going through your long career I can’t stop noticing that besides the common unifying string of sound and misanthropic psychedelic dreams, it may be possible to make a triple division: the first two albums as the foundations of what Esoteric is – the real essence of your unique approach to Doom metal; “Metamorphogenesis” and “Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum” as a middle stage, more direct and vertical, and the last two albums as a return to the initial format, but with a more accurate sense of melody. Is it OK if we put it like this? I mean, I’m sure someone who have looked back at you career maybe thought about it. So, again, does it make sense to speak about a double trilogy at all?
Well if you wanna do it, do it man!
But for us it’s just been a logical progression. I mean, if you take over that long period of time there’s only me and Gordon that are still here from the very beginning, so when you have new members they bring something new to the band and the band just develops and progresses in a way that you’re not going to write the same music at 40 years old like you did at the age of 20. I think things just change naturally.
(Gordon). I think that with most bands it’s just the way it is. I mean, there are probably some bands that may have a plan. But with most bands you’re not constantly thinking “let’s do this, and then this or this”. You just do what you do. And if it lasts long then you’ll face natural progression. And if your work is natural, authentic and what you wanted it to be than probably people will hopefully sense that in your music.
With your last album “Paragon of Dissonance” already completing five years, how are things about its successor? Is it on the way? We’ve heard some rumors that you’ve been working since 2013. So, how are things going so far?
Yes that’s true we’re working on that. We’ve had some setbacks along the way, but we have a fair amount of new material and hopefully we’ll finish writing for it in a not too distant future. But it’s impossible to say when it will come out because until we’re happy with what we’ve got and with what we’re doing than we’re not going to advance when we’re going to record.
Can you unveil some details about its shape? Can we expect something new in comparison with the last two efforts?
We have quite a lot of material now. The question is that we just need to develop it further and get ready to record really. But whatever it is it will be Esoteric. It’s gonna be the continuation of where we’ve been. It’s hard for us to say because we are very close to the material so for us it’s just something normal that we carry on and keep writing. But we can say that it will be a double album as well.
So you’re working on your seventh full-length, when completing almost 25 years as a band. It’s obvious that as founders of a more funeral side of metal in general you’ve inspired many listeners throughout these years. Both fans and other bands. Looking back how do you see ESOTERIC’s history? Is there something you’re really proud of or something you regret?
Next year 25 already? Wow! You know, it’s hard to say because we don’t really think about it in those terms. Obviously we’re glad that we’ve managed to carry on playing and making music for so long because it’s something that with a lot of bands you will see them doing something for a pair of years and then they will stop and do something different. We managed to hold it together and do things like this interview, as well as coming out and play in so many different countries, meeting people. Also, recording is something we really, really enjoy and so we hope to continue doing it.
As said, 24 years have passed, but with a new album on the forge, Esoteric seem as alive as always. You seem to have never decayed to more mainstream trends; never approaching your sound to what others were doing, or to what temporary hypes were selling best. Today, in 2016 what moves Esoteric? What’s your thrill both as a band and individuals? Is the flame as dark as before?
Well definitely, yes. I mean, the fact that we still enjoy playing; we still enjoy writing music and making it together. I (Greg) still enjoy rehearsing regularly. It’s just something that I want to do, that I really don’t have to question why. It’s like a passion for the music. A Catharsis in some way.
Interview by André Figueiredo
Special thank you to Esoteric, Under The Doom Fest and Notredame Productions.