When it comes to death metal, there’s a fine line between technical and incomprehensible. Plenty of tech death bands out there have players that can arpeggio so fast you’d swear their fingers were on fire and drummers who can double kick until their feet fall off but that doesn’t necessarily translate to music that us mere mortals might want to listen to. To make something that’s highly skilled enough to qualify as tech death but that is still clear enough to not fly right over a regular audience’s head takes a more refined skillset. Making tech death that stands the test of time is more than a race to be the fastest, the most complicated band around. To make something that both impresses the highest skilled players but that also lands with the common man, that’s a somewhat Herculean task that very few bands manage to pull off and even fewer master. That Gorod manages to accomplish this on their latest record shouldn’t be a surprise but, when you consider just how consistently they’ve done it and for how long, it’s got to put them at the top of the heap for the tech death world.
Released on March 10, The Orb is one of Gorod’s most impressive accomplishments to date. If you’ve heard anything else from the band, you’ll understand what a statement that is. Coming off 2018’s excellent Æthra, The Orb is a record that manages to expand upon the themes and compositions of the previous record while also adding in enough experimentation and new elements to keep listeners engaged and on their toes. Oh, and if the techy compositions and otherworldly playing skills weren’t enough, the band drops a ridiculously fun cover of The Doors’ “Strange Days.” Should we all survive to the end of the year, it’ll have to have been an uncommonly great time for music if I’m not still talking about The Orb.
Other than being the French tech death dealers’ seventh outing, The Orb also marks the fourth record with Julien “Nutz” Deyres on the mic for the group. No disrespect whatsoever to Guillaume Martinot and his stellar run with the band, but Deyres makes it hard to imagine anyone else handling vocal duties for Gorod. On The Orb, Deyres puts in an all-timer of a performance by marrying his regular growls with clean sung sections, hardcore barking, and blackened shrieks in a way that feels completely organic to the compositions and that never loses any of the weight of the messages behind the lyrics. To say it’s an impressive showing would be the biggest understatement I’d make today. I recently caught up with Deyres on the phone between stops on the band’s U.S. tour.
First off, you’re out on tour now promoting the new record. How’s the tour been going?
Julien: We are finishing the first half of it. We are heading to Seattle right now and to be honest, we didn’t expect such a great turn out from the beginning. Most of the shows were crowded and we only have had a good time with the people. It’s been a really good tour. It’s actually the best since the beginning of our career, in the U.S.
What has the reaction to the new material been like?
Julien: It’s always kind of tricky because the problem when you play new material is you are not used to performing it on stage. It’s really different than the older stuff that you are super well acquainted with. When you play old things, you don’t have to think about what you play, it’s only about interpretation. But when it comes to new things, there’s the double challenge of trying to play it and also how will people react because it was always better before [laughs] and when you start to get older, you think like that…that older times were better. For us, this is challenging. Now that we’ve been on the road for two weeks, we [are starting to] get really into it and see the group reactions to the new stuff. That’s a really good thing.
So talking about the new record, when did you guys start the writing process for The Orb?
Julien: This time it was actually a longer process than usual because there was the lockdown and we were not actually over promotion for the previous album when the lockdown happened. I know that most of our colleagues, other bands, started to take advantage of this break, this time of nothingness, to create new music. For us, there was no motivation. We are more of a live act than a studio band so when there are no shows on the schedule…boy, it’s hard to do that.
The first new song, during the lockdown, is “Waltz of Shades.” This is probably one of the saddest and the darkest songs that we ever wrote. To be honest, the first version, no one was really satisfied with it and we put it on the side and thought about doing it later. We had to wait for booking of new shows and festivals and dates when we were going to be back on the road and then we had motivation again. Then we started to write new music. It was written over a longer period of time, almost a few years, but most of the things we worked on in less than six months.
Going into the writing process, did you want to continue what you had done on Æthra or kind of push into new directions?
Julien: Æthra was one of the less funny [abums]. Usually we try and put in some funny stuff, references, quotes from other artists who are kinda funny. We are artists who are pretty sunny. We are smiling people. We are happy to be alive, this is not proper death metal in the identity [laughs]! Æthra was dark and we wanted to make something of newer, fresh things.
We are always doing some experimental stuff but, when it comes to experimentation, it’s always kind of tricky. You want to do new things but if it’s so new, probably you have to change it so that it’s coherent with what you’ve done before. This is the challenge, bring in new elements and try to make it fit with the older stuff and connect [them]. What I think is that our latest effort really is a synthesis of the whole discography and also bringing in brand new stuff that we’ve never dared to do. There are two songs that, at least if I’m not wrong, have some clean vocals and I know that is terrible for a death metal band to say that. When we do clean vocals it’s all “Oh they’ve lost their way” or “Oh they want to make money” and no, we just want to use them. We want to make the music we like and that’s what we want to do. I think the process of this album was a combination of the will and inspiration of doing something new with bringing something more open, easier to listen to but also getting back to our roots. That was the predisposition that we were in when we started the process of writing it.
It’s pretty easy to pick out a ton of different styles and inspirations within Gorod’s music in general. What were you guys listening to while writing this latest one and what helped inspire the music here?
Julien: The process is always the same regardless, it always starts with Mathieu [Pascal]. He’s the founding member, the mastermind, the guitar player, he comes up with the music. He doesn’t listen to metal [laughs]. I mean, not 100% [laughs]! He listens to jazz, rock from the 70s, and progressive…stuff like that but nothing really extreme so he’s not getting inspired that much from other bands, but he is getting inspired when he goes out to a show. When you see a set and go, oh, this is cool then the next day he makes some riffs that sound like the band he saw before.
On this album, we were not touring so there were no shows, there was nothing, so you can listen and it’s 100% him, his own world. There’s no real problem with specific inspiration. It’s just imagining a world and this is how it sounds. The problem is that, as we are associated with the tech death scene, I know that as one of the true older bands, we are not as fast, as technical as this new generation because we are not into that competition. I know it, I’ve heard it so many times . . . oh your mix is not progressive enough, your double bass is not fast enough, your sweeping is not . . . this is not our game. We just want to play music that we like and we’re not into that challenge. Sure, we are inspired by all the new wave of tech death, which is crazy, 1,000 times better than us but this is what we are doing. We play music, not the old school way, but the way we enjoy it. This is a combination of love [for] progressive, classical music, jazz as well, all the things we like to listen to and this is the result.
What was the actual recording process like? You guys got a great sound on this one and the whole thing sounds killer.
Julien: The lockdown shit also inspired us to connect ourselves with ourselves. What you have to know about the entirety of the process of creating this album was that it was made local, 100% local. Mathieu, our guitar player, is also our personal studio. Everything was recorded at his own studio. For a couple albums, we decided to call out other people for the mixing and mastering. This time, for the mixing, we are actually working with our own voice. Our own front-of-house when we are playing shows in Europe is David [Thiers]. David is always our guy when we are playing live and he also owns a studio so he knows how to make us sound. He was in charge of the mixing process so we made it with our own usual technician and the mastering was also made in the studio in Bordeaux since the band is originally from that area. That was very local but the mastering is a different job than the recording and mixing. It’s very important to call for someone who is a bit more of a step backwards. The decision that was made was to work with someone who is more acquainted with pop music. He was working with a lot of famous French pop artists and rappers and he’s also remastering the albums of Mylène Farmer. He’s not used to working with extreme metal so this is also probably why the mastering doesn’t sound super aggressive with an aggressive tune and is not at a high volume. This is a bit more subtle and softer. The whole thing was made super locally and, in the end, we are pretty satisfied with it so let’s keep it local [laughs]!
How happy were you guys when you heard that final mix for the first time?
Julien: For us, it was surprisingly good [laughs]. It’s more or less the DIY stuff. Usually, when it’s DIY . . . I like to say DDIY or don’t do it yourself [laughs]! Call for other people! This time, ok, this was a new challenge going for people we knew and that are in our surroundings. It was challenging at first because will it sound good? Will it be OK? Will it sound professional? When we got the final product, we were like, fuck yeah, we only made it with people around us! Everyone is pretty satisfied with the final result of everything.
For your vocal performance, how difficult was it to adapt to the experimentation that the band was working on with this specific album?
Julien: To be honest, all the time we are making new stuff, we are pushing the limits further. What you hear is from the restricted area of composition. It’s like, ok, we’ve banned this idea, we’ve banned this idea, we cut most of the things to make it sound like Gorod. When it comes to experimentation and when you have boundaries and listen back to it, you go no, it doesn’t fit the band so we cut it so it’s a fully restrained version of the original experimentations, I would say.
I do like to do clean singing but bringing it to this band, it doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. We tried to push the limits further and further, step by step, and slowly. The result is just making a whole decision of the global experimentation and we made the decision in the end that oh, this was a good choice, this was a bad choice, let’s keep this idea, let’s get rid of this, and this is how it goes. It’s just like sorting it out, in the end. Experimentation is super easy for us, we have a lot of ideas that pop up like, will it work? That’s all in the final listening to it. The thing that I heard listening is that it is the end of a long process of thinking and experimenting and decision making and [then] thinking, this is done. This is the sum up of all the original compositions.
From a lyrical standpoint, what kind of themes did you want to explore here?
Julien: On this one, we wanted to do something a little less complicated, a little less intellectual. I am an art historian and I am also a tour guide, so I am quite used to lectures in the university way. I always need the sources, I always need to be specific. When it comes to lyrics, it has to be super highly regimented. On this one, as we were sort of getting back to normal, getting back to life, I wanted to do something way more spontaneous. The process . . . when I started to write the lyrics this time, I didn’t do any research. I would just try any idea that would pop up in my head. The only concept I imposed on myself is that this one is going to be all about the sun because the previous one was all about the moon, but in a really spiritual way. It was about different spiritualities from all over the world. This time I just wanted to be more direct where any kind of person can read it.
My main inspiration, as a philosopher, was Aldous Huxley. Aldous Huxley was super famous for having written Brave New World, that novel, but he also was an amazing philosopher. When you come to his latest work, he comes from an extremely smart and clever way of thinking about the world as a philosopher. The first song on this album, “Chrematheism,” is about idolizing daily life objects, like a little statue or a wooden carving. Then you make it a god, which is your decision. This all comes from him and the actual world we are living in. At this time, I was mostly inspired by him and the world. What was funny is that when you read his work and you see what we are actually experiencing now, you just change a couple of words and a couple of contexts and we are already in it. I am more into the actual world than the spiritual world. This one is way more spontaneous and immediate, you see the reality of things.
I wanted to ask about how you came up with the lyrics for a few of the tracks. “Chrematheism” was the first one I wanted to ask about and you already covered that one. What about the story behind “Breeding Silence?”
Julien: “Breeding Silence” is one I did a little differently. I started to write it when the war between Russia and Ukraine started. I know people who are actually living in Ukraine and I wanted to get some news from them. We were chatting with one friend of mine and we had a discussion, there was an exchange, and he told me something that I was like, man, this is crazy what he told me and gonna be probably on one of our next songs. I’m going to be inspired by what he said. There’s actually a sentence that he told me in the chat, which is exactly written the same way in the lyrics. So this is inspired by this. It came out, like, where is the sun? The sun is probably in the heart and something that can help us pull together but we don’t say it, we don’t speak it. Once you find a common enemy, you can manage to develop some crazy strengths altogether to go forward. I [also] added the quote, “Listen to the forest that grows, rather than the tree that falls,” [which] is actually a quote from [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel, a German philosopher. All these songs are about philosophy. The context of this one is definitely the beginning of the war and, in the context of the war, these are the worst times we can experience, ever. But, in these hard times, this is also the moment where people can find connections they would never have found in another context so I only wanted to develop the positive one and this is why it doesn’t talk about the war. There’s no mention of it. I was inspired by it but I didn’t want to mention it. So “Breeding Silence,” you know what I mean now. Shush and it’s time to act [laughs]!
I like that about it though. I think by not mentioning the war directly, it gives the song a bit of timelessness.
Julien: That was actually our purpose, more or less, not to sound like something that could be released in that year. There’s a lot of old school stuff in the compositions. If you listen to “Chrematheism,” it sounds like the first song from Leading Vision, and that was released in 2006 so, in the end, there was a will of timelessness and also a will to do something new. I don’t know if we managed to do it but we just stopped asking questions of ourselves and just did what we are good at and what we enjoy doing, that was the point and this is the result.
What about the inspiration behind “Waltz of Shades?”
Julien: That was the one that I composed during lockdown. Usually, Mathieu makes the whole music but I am actually also a guitar player and compose music in other bands but in a fairly different way than Gorod. I’m not a tech death guitarist at all; I’m more into noisy, weird, creepy stuff. This time I was mapping it out and Mathieu was asking for riffs and then I wrote just the vocal chords, only with chords that Mathieu hates [laughs]! It was way too noisy and this song had to be sad because we were having bad times, in the end. Then I started to write the lyrics at the same time and it was all about [lockdown].
The first sentence that popped in my mind was that we are like birds in a golden cage because I know that a lot of people were not experiencing this thing the same way as I did. I’m not from the high class, everyone gets that wrong. I’m from the low-middle class, low but not at the misery index. People who were into it, the lockdown was terrible for them. I was in a cage, I couldn’t do shit but I know people who needed something just to help, to heal, a shoulder. This song was written in this context of thinking about others, of thinking about what we were experiencing, of comparing myself to a bird. I’m in a jail, it’s a cage, but it’s a golden one. This is not life, though, cause I’m supposed to fly, because I’m a bird [laughs]!
You know the topic of danse macabre? That was the exact inspiration when I talk about the shades. This is a vision of shadows that are dancing around you, this is like death is coming, death is coming to you. This is an old topic that’s from the late Middle Ages. In the 15th century, this topic was super famous because of the repeated pandemic of plagues. As it was in the context of the pandemic, I wanted to make a reference to it but not that high. More in a dreamlike way because this is not the Black Plague that we are experiencing, this was something different. In Europe back in that time, it was like the population was cut into half because of this crazy pandemic. I should mention that I don’t mean that ours was nothing but just that this was something else.
This is why this song was a bit left over. When everything was done, we came back to this one about two years after the composition of it and said, ok, this song is adaptable to the album but this is why it sounds very different than the others. It was composed at a completely different time.
How about the story behind “Scale of Sorrows?”
Julien: This one is actually the most straightforward. This is probably the most brutal song that we’ve ever wrote. There are all these triplet blast beats from beginning to end, it’s crazy high tech and relentless. The main topic was mourning, definitely, and the fact that being in mourning does not make you right. A lot of people take advantage of a bad situation to impose their loss. Sure, anyone suffers but you don’t know what they are processing it like. You’ve probably experienced something bad but the person you are talking to probably is experiencing something worse than you do, but because of your pain, you just feel your own pain. The [theme] is about establishing a scale of sorrow, like, my sorrow is worse than yours and no, my sorrow is worse. Who knows shit about it? The title says everything, there is no scale to sorrow. No one is able to judge about it. This is brutal, in a way. If you suffer, I know that’s hard to see but this is the reality and I wanted it to be harsh, like the song is.
How did you decide to cover “Strange Days” by The Doors? I’m a huge Doors fan so I was pretty damn stoked for that one and you guys pulled it off really well.
Julien: The first idea popped up from our drummer [Karol Diers], definitely. We party a lot because we are real friends in real life and at every party he always plays songs from The Doors and we are super happy with it. Karol wanted to play a cover of them and Mathieu agreed and they did it together. Mathieu made the version that you can hear, in an instrumental way, like the Doors version but adapted to the Gorod section of rhythm and techy guitar riffs. They also thought that I would be, let’s say, in a comfort zone for me to sing that way. When it comes to clean singing, we are so used to hearing really high pitched vocals but I’m a bass baritone so I have pretty low vocals in a natural way. When it comes to karaoke parties, I always cover the Crash Test Dummies song “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” [laughs]. They were like, ok, this song will fit perfectly to his voice and I was like, why not, but I wasn’t super motivated by it because The Doors are not my favorite band ever. I enjoy it, sure, and I respect it, but I am more of a Led Zeppelin fan but Led Zeppelin is too high pitched for me [laughs]. So I thought, ok, let’s try it. When I started to learn the lyrics and start to sing it, it was super natural to me. They told me [they] were right and that I had to do it!
I really dig the cover to the album too. At first, it looks like there’s less going on there than the Æthra cover but when you spend some time looking at it, there’s a lot going on in it. It’s one of my favorite covers of the last few years. Who did it and how much direction did you give them?
Julien: As I mentioned before, it was a local direction [laughs], the most local album we’ve ever put out! You’ve probably seen the pictures of us while the album was made. The photos were actually made by a photographer who was sharing the same workshop as the graphic designer and they are all located in the region of Bordeaux, where the band is located. This was also the choice of our drummer, he knew of his work and he wanted something different than the previous things. He was more into basic, simple things like simple shapes. On the first time you see it, you think it’s very primal, very basic, but as you look more and more you find other things. It was a chance to work with someone else who was not used to making death metal or metal covers. He’s not a metal graphic designer. He likes punk also but what he’s doing in his life is more for companies and stuff so it was really interesting to work with him.
What do you want listeners to get out of the album when they sit down with it for the first time?
Julien: There is no proper expectation, to be honest with you. When something is done, it’s done, so now you just have to enjoy what you like or don’t like. We are not actually looking for any positive feedback. Sure, we need it, obviously, but that’s not our purpose. When the album is done, all that matters is the live show and how it will sound during the live performance. What you have to expect is that we are doing the same shit. Gorod will never change. This is composed by the same people who like the same kind of music and we don’t want to pervert ourselves or compromise ourselves, we just want to bring new things because we don’t want to get bored playing our own stuff.
Photo at top by Pierre Wetzel. Photo provided to Metal Plague by Earsplit.
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