THE LEFT-HAND PATH: An interview with Glorior Belli frontman Billy Bayou
Photo by Neurotica Photography neurotica-photo.com
From viciously energised stints of frostbitten shredding and sleekly accented riffs to fatly expansive, gelatinous grooves that palpably ooze bayou filth, Glorior Belli have raised more than their share of purist hackles since unleashing the genre-straddling ‘Meet Us At The Southern Sign’ back in 2009. And with a lawlessly inventive new album just on the horizon, founder Billy Bayou reveals why straying from the righteous path of orthodox black metal may have been the wisest move he ever made.
“I have to warn you, I’m wearing a green jumper at the moment. And we’re not even talking dark green here,” jests Glorior Belli mastermind Billy Bayou on his distinct lack of black metal-friendly attire as Dark Matter answers a Skype call from the frontman late one fittingly frostbitten Sunday night. But beyond the unpretentious ease and banter with which the conversation flows, it’s not long before topics infinitely more controversial than Bayou’s tastes in knitwear begin to surface. Founded in 2002 out of an unadulterated passion for the desolately frostbitten vibrations of classic black metal, it wasn’t until 2009 that influences of an altogether more varied flavour began to permeate and infiltrate Glorior Belli’s once staunchly orthodox sound. From monstrous whorls of filth-caked, sinewy groove to snaking lines of distortion that palpably smoulder with unearthly fire, it was here that Bayou’s lifelong love of southern groove found a fluidly instinctive fit alongside these inky and wickedly abrasive energies.
“I guess the game-changer was the album ‘Meet Us At The Southern Sign’,” he recalls. “That was the third record back in 2009 and that’s when we really started to let these influences transpire into the music. Before that it was classified as just orthodox black metal, really typical tunes that you would expect of that style. The whole thing came together quite naturally because I was always a big fan of the New Orleans scene - stuff like Pantera, Metallica, Eyehategod and Corrosion of Conformity. It’s something I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager and I just decided like, ‘Fuck it, it comes naturally like this so let’s just go with the flow and see what happens’.”
But despite being hailed by its creator as an unequivocal game-changer of an album, the better part of the past decade that’s since elapsed has seen a dramatic streamlining and refinement of Bayou’s genre-defying early formula. And with its fluidly instinctive melding of scalding ultra-violence, darkly intoxicating textures and killer riffage, it’s no surprise that 2018 long-player ‘The Apostates’ marked the songwriter’s most spontaneous and richly immersive creative process to date. From its earliest sketches to meticulously engineered end result, the songwriter painstakingly penned and oversaw every conceivable aspect of this enormously varied yet seamlessly consistent record.
Of this tautly controlled and deeply personal vision, Bayou notes, “Usually I’m the only the only one composing the songs, but when I go into the studio I hire a drummer because I’m not really that good at it myself. Other than that, it’s something I do on my own so I have complete control over the direction and that results in a more consistent, homogeneous end result. Also, because I’m the only person, it’s not like five people bringing ideas into the mix which could be interesting, but it just doesn’t work like that with Glorior Belli. It’s just me and I know what I’m going to do with it from the very the beginning normally, but this time I just picked up the guitar and started writing the songs. I didn’t want to like feel I was limited to a particular style or genre of music, so I just let it happen but I didn’t select every single song that I wrote. Initially, I started with something like 20, 25 songs but I only chose the ones I felt were making more sense to me. I have a few B-sides that are experimenting with black metal, but they are perhaps experimenting a little too much. It was an exciting process as always. In fact, it’s probably my favourite thing to do. It’s not about playing live, not about rehearsing the songs or anything like that. It’s just about me sitting at my computer writing songs. It’s like some strange kind of fix or outlet for my creativity demons, if you want to put it that way.”
But despite Bayou’s meticulous attitude to the intricate arrangement of these many and varied musical dynamics, the very first offering to be extracted from ‘The Apostates’ displays a curious, altogether less seamless splicing of its respective parts. With its opening three minutes being thoroughly drenched in visceral lashings of tremolo and brimstone-scorched grooves, a sudden, almost jarring shift of pace sees a deluge of smouldering rock riffs violently bisect these two starkly differing traditions. Illustrating precious little concern for appeasing narrow-minded purists, ‘Deserters of Eden’ forms a daring, perhaps even rather triggering testament to the lawlessly free and instinctive principles of creative self-expression.
Bayou remarks, “I thought it was pretty funny in a way because the song is like pure black metal for the initial first three minutes and then suddenly it breaks out into a complete different little solo thing that is the complete polar opposite, like something you would expect to hear from Kvelertak. It’s like the song that connects the past and the present of the band, so to say. It really doesn’t mix very well. Neither the blues or the rock is incorporated within the first few minutes, but it’s breaking through, building up tension from the first part, so I like it because it reveals in the end a very intense and interesting last part. It surprises you. You go for the cake and you don’t expect it, but there is a special flavour in the middle somewhere that you’d never have expected.”
Likewise, the lyrical dimension of ‘The Apostates’ is similarly rich with complex and original thinking that, again, intelligently eschews any trace of hackneyed predictability or cliché. “It’s something I do because I know people will go further than the music and read the lyrics and try to make sense out of it,” Bayou expands. “I’ll provide them with the tools so that they can forge the weapons of their own liberation, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. I think there’s more enjoyment and appreciation in finding these things out for yourself rather than having it basically handed to you on a plate. It’s not like a Katy Perry song that you just hear and it’s about partying and shit happening in America. This is something that actually requires a little thought, maybe because I use old English or slightly complicated vocabulary and that all takes time, even for me as a French person.”
Weaving an intriguing lyrical yarn spun from the thought-provoking theme of rejecting and renouncing religious beliefs, it’s clear that the timeless relevance of such a concept extends far beyond the bygone medieval age in which Bayou’s story is set. For while there’s admittedly a considerable thematic leap from religious martyrs sacrificing their own lives to experimental metal bands ruffling a few elitist feathers, the underlying theme of deviating from established norms and conventions is one that seems to possess no foreseeable expiration date. And, as history continues to illustrate, it’s these free-spirited and intelligent departures that, as Billy is quick to attest, frequently bode for the better.
“It’s all about the word apostate,” he agrees. “In the eyes of religion, an apostate is somebody who gave up his old faith because he, for whatever reason, understood that there is something wrong with it or that there is something more interesting that might benefit or awake his consciousness. So the apostate is the worst thing you can be, but at the same time the very best thing that can happen to you.”
'The Apostates' is out 6th April on Season of Mist
For more on Glorior Belli, visit https://gloriorbelli.bandcamp.com/album/the-apostates