Well goddamn, it has taken long enough, but Montreal occult death/black [my term, as you’ll see below] metallers NECRONOMICON have returned with their first full length album since 2004’s The Sacred Medicines. Entitled, appropriately enough, The Return of the Witch, vocalist/guitarist Rob “The Witch” Tremblay has spearheaded the creation of the band’s most accomplished album to date. Firmly rooted in traditional death metal that is rich in groove and memorable songwriting, as well as offering a range of keyboard and vocal accents, The Return of the Witch is a refreshing display of death metal crush that emphasizes the mighty riff and always puts the song first. Rob breaks it down for us.
MAA: It’s been a long time, Rob. What have you been up to since the release of The Sacred Medicines way back in the first half of the decade?
Rob: Well, first we had to find a new bass player since Dominic had tendonitis problems; it started on the road not long after The Sacred Medicines release and he had to leave the band. At first we couldn’t get a permanent replacement because time was too short so a session guy came on the road with us for a while, then we took a break and started auditions to find a suitable guy that could be really in the band. Once we found “D” the problem was that he was not from Canada but from South America, so you can guess how much time it took to do everything right for him to be living here. After that we spent more time on the road here and there and finally went in the studio. So yeah we have been doing a lot even if some things had took more time that what we were expecting.
MAA: I sensed some frustration the last time we spoke around that same time that maybe you thought that NECRONOMICON just wasn’t getting the level of recognition it deserved, and rightly so.
Rob: It was more that we were just going with Skyscraper and I was still bitter of the no agreement we had with our label just before that. The thing was that we were finishing mixing The Sacred Medicines when the label told us they would not release it. So trust me, that’s enough to get someone not happy for a while. We had to work double time to find a label to release it no matter what. So of course I wasn’t too “happy joy joy.”
MAA: But you made quite a jump from Skyscraper (are they even around anymore?) to Napalm Records. How did your signing to the Austrian label come about?
Rob: I didn’t heard very much about them after we left, but yeah they are still around; not sure they are doing really good though. What happened with Napalm is a bit of a long story but to make it short, I can say that one day I was with someone at work here that I didn’t know was working with them and suddenly he started to ask me a lot of questions about bands from here and about NECRONOMICON without knowing I was in the band, He was saying that he heard the band was recording a new album, etc. So I just said well you are talking with right guy to get info. It started like that and slowly went all the way to Austria. It took a little while to get things done because of the economic situation these last years, but everything is getting on the right place now and it’s matter of time for everything to be rolling perfectly.
MAA: What do you really want out of a record label?
Rob: I want them to do their job and push the band, but first to believe in the band. That’s something really important for me. I mean a lot of bands put their heart and soul in their music and it’s really important to be working with some people in the industry that are looking in the same direction as you to get the maximum out there. After all these years it’s pretty much what I’m expecting and nothing less.
MAA: How old are some of these songs? Had you been working on these recordings for some time?
Rob: I’m not sure I remember, but I usually have some songs in my head years before recording it. Like right now I have songs for the next album and I know already the title and the concept. What can I say? It comes to me like that and I don’t have to look really far; it’s just a natural pattern. For example, sometime I’m sleeping and I get a song in my head and it’s so strong that it wakes me up. Sometime it’s a different way, but it’s never when I sit playing guitar.
MAA: Occult themes have always been central to NECRONOMICON recordings. Can you discuss some of these themes as they pertain to the lyrics of The Return of the Witch?
Rob: The concept of that album is around the feminine power that needs to be reunited with the masculine part and that is in every human being. Everyone has an alpha and omega part that’s the basis of all living things. But most people are driven by the alpha energy and that no matter what sex they are in the physical form the human race will succeed and become what they are supposed to be only when these two polarities will be reunited. The omega energy is the spiritual part of the human being and when someone is really in touch with it that person is in connection with the entire universe; one with all and all in one.
MAA: I rather like the directness of the album title too, given the return after a long period of inactivity is a welcome one. Was that the idea for the title right from the beginning?
Rob: Yes it was. It’s always been the title and it’s not related to that long period at all, so nothing happens for no reason. I think it’s really funny especially for other reasons also that prevented the album from being finished earlier; my car accident among other things. But yeah things happen for a reason and at the end when you look at the big picture everything makes sense and follows a precise pattern. The only thing that we changed on the last minute was the album cover.
MAA: What is notably appealing about this album is that it truly represents a traditional death metal approach with nods to acts like MORBID ANGEL and an approach that puts the song first and makes the riffs as impacting as possible (some great ones on here). Know what I mean?
Rob: I don’t think that we are more death than black metal, but we don’t have a choice to put ourselves in a category, so whatever fit for you is ok. But for me it’s funny to see that in metal you need to be labeled and that in every other kind of music people take you for what you are and don’t try to compare with other bands. I don’t know what to say; we just do what we have to do and the way we have to. It’s been a while and I’m not much into metal besides old school 80s stuff, so I don’t even know what the bands are doing these days.
MAA: The production is modern and offers a good deal of clarity, yet doesn’t sound so polished as to sap the death metal energy.
Rob: Actually, it was rushed a bit at the end and it does the job for what it is, yes, but it doesn’t sound like we wanted. Actually, I don’t listen to it like all my other records. The mastering was done really professionally and for that I’m happy. Beside that the thing that’s really good is that we did what we wanted on that album music wise and not like most of our other albums where we were restraining ourselves a lot to not be compared. Now I don’t care about that anymore. We have been around for so long people who know us understand that we play our stuff and don’t try to be what we are not.
MAA: It’s nice to hear a guitar solos played with some sense of tunefulness and a lot of passion, especially when it is done with only drum/bass support (as opposed to needless layering) on a song like “The Awakening.”
Rob: Yeah, I like to sound closer than possible like we do live. We have two or three parts in that album with overdub on solos, but it’s the first time we do that and it’s because it was better for these specific songs. But I always try to keep it natural as much as I can. I don’t know, I think it’s weird when you listen to an album with layering on the solo parts and after when you see the band live it kills something, I think you lose the authenticity.
MAA: That is also one of the songs where choral/symphonic effects are used, but sparingly for the purpose of accent only, although on “Necropolis” you do incorporate more keyboard elements and goth-y vocals as well. Talk about your approach to incorporating the symphonic pieces, including that creepy and cool instrumental piece “Lilith.”
Rob: The choir parts are simply the evolution of the female voices we had in the past. It would have been a choir too at that time, but the budget wasn’t there. The piano and keyboard it’s pretty much the same story, except that it replaced what I was doing with midi guitar, so here again it’s nothing really new from my point of view. “Necropolis” had been in my head for a long time, so I wanted to have something that represented the calm yet the grandeur of what I feel about the band power and what is about to happen in a really close future. Doing different voices has always been something I like a lot to do. For me the grim voice represents the voice of the inner witch inviting you to join us in our quest to awaken the masses to our world. The “Lilith” ambiance speaks for itself; the mother of the race, the first one to dare being something else than the slave of a controlling god and doing so by transmitting the will of the rebellion in the genes of mankind. So of course the ambiance needed to be deep and coming from the bowels of time; it’s one reason I came back with the Middle East percussion on this one, since the Babylonians were vowing a cult to her. So if I may resume, we did pretty much follow the same path we have been on for many years now; ambiance, texture and other things have been applied the way it should to fit the concept of what we are doing now.
MAA: At the risk of overdoing the musical dissection of this album, I would also note that your grasp of tempo shifts that really grab the listener’s attention is impeccable, a case in point being that thrashy up-tempo break on “Into the Fire.” Great stuff.
Rob: I think it’s the 80s groove that is back [laughs]! Like I said earlier, we are less restraining ourselves than before and on top of that we are back to our roots; it’s darker, faster and more ambient than ever. NECRONOMICON has never been so true. We are feeling way more comfortable where we are standing now than ever and things have come to a full circle and we are back to what we are.
MAA: Those that just can’t deal with unintelligible growls in death metal will appreciate the enunciation to go with that commanding style of yours.
Rob: Yeah, I like [for people] to be able to hear what I’m saying. I like better a commanding voice than the growling one. I mean when you have something intelligent to say you better make yourself audible so people can know what your texts are. And I think it gives more power to the words you say than just growling some caverns sound, but still I have much respect for bands that have deep growls. I’m just not there anymore.
MAA: You’ve got some guest players on this one too.
Rob: No big story there. Arianne asked me some years ago to work with us. At the beginning she wanted to be singing live, but we were going for the playback option so it wasn’t possible. So when the time came I asked her if she would be interested in singing in a choir and she was up for the experience. Roxana was around and I simply asked her since we needed as much people as we could. I learned that she was playing piano as well, so I asked her if she was interested in doing it. I showed her the melody and she added her personal touch and it was done. I happy to have been working with these two persons; they are both really nice and easy to work with.
MAA: The term “black/death” is often used to describe the music of NECRONOMICON. While I can kind of hear the blackened edges, to me it is much more of a traditional, albeit more fully developed and accented, death metal style.
Rob: That’s your point of view and I understand. From my point of view death metal is not what it was in the 90s. These days when people speak about death metal it is bands like DYING FETUS, ORIGIN and older bands that are still really into it like CANNIBAL CORPSE and SUFFOCATION. So starting from there I think we are really far from all these bands. How I’m seeing things is that it is really simple, but people don’t know where to put us. Like I said, they like to categorize everything and it’s ok, but for us it doesn’t matter. We are NECRONOMICON and we play metal; spiritual, occult metal.
MAA: Quebec – and Montreal in particular – has had a thriving, often technically-oriented, death metal scene for years now. What are your thoughts on that “scene” and the bands that have come out of it?
Rob: If they are happy with what they do, then perfect. I have no opinion about any bands from here. My personal view about people doing technical music is not really important since the thing that really counts here is to be true with what you want to do in your music. I have much respect for most of the bands in the scene and what they do is well done.
MAA: Where does NECRONOMICON go from here and will we have to wait as long for the next album to be released?
Rob: Hopefully no. I hope to be able to record the next album in a realistic time frame and wish that everything is going normally for once [laughs]! But no matter what will happen we will keep on going forward and I think that’s what counts at the end. Working hard has always been something that is part of our band and things are looking better than ever. We looking for some touring projects now and of course we are aiming to go in Europe for the first time too. So that’s pretty much it for now.
Written by Scott Alisoglu on May 31, 2010
Tags: Canadian Metal, Cannibal Corpse, dying fetus, Lilith, Montreal Death Metal, Morbid Angela, Napalm Records, Occult Metal, Origin, Rob the Witch, Rob Tremblay, Skyscraper Music, Suffocation, The Return of the Witch, The Sacred Medicines