French black metal masters Seth discuss making of epic sixth album ‘La Morsure du Christ’
Whether shielding child sex offenders, seizing control of women’s reproductive rights or being used to legitimise a host of bloodthirsty atrocities committed in the name of the great almighty, organised religion has more than played its part in staving off the progression of the human race for at least the last couple of millennia or so. And as a visionary collective whose pulverising, blackly grandiose art revels in both the literal and symbolic desecration of these crumbling false idols and poisonous institutions, French black metal masters Seth have sourced no small amount of inspiration from these endlessly corrupting influences. With their diabolical flame burning bright at the dawn of this exceptionally dark new decade, guitarist Heimoth and frontman Saint Vincent discuss the making of blasphemous new masterwork ‘La Morsure du Christ’.
“Somehow we just feel that this moment actually belongs to us French people and also kind of symbolised black metal in France, since we were one of the first black metal bands to come out of this country,” comments Seth lead guitarist Heimoth on the plethora of profoundly affecting feeling and sentiment stirred up following the fiery demise of Paris’s iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral back in 2018. With the aforementioned catastrophic inferno having been vividly immortalised on the cover of sixth diabolical epic ‘La Morsure du Christ’, you’d be forgiven for thinking this exquisitely rendered piece could be viewed as anything more than a brutally mocking and provocative jab at the Christian faith and its devout flock of devastated followers. A controversial but symbolically hollow and hackneyed gesture that today is the stuff of laughable internet memes and comedy t-shirt slogans.
But while the French collective are unashamedly proud to acknowledge their second wave origins and all the heavily clichéd, shock-rock iconography that inevitably comes with them, their own vicious, painstakingly detailed craft has long resided in altogether more complex and fiercely individualistic territories. Like the lofty spires and elegantly rendered medieval arches of the capital’s iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral, theirs is a tradition steeped in character, awash with grandeur and, perhaps most significantly of all, distinctively French in flavour. And unlike much of the painfully amateurish early material that characterises a band’s typically blundering first steps towards an eventual studio breakthrough, 1998 debut ‘Les Blessures de l'Âme’ saw this talented circle of musicians cement a fiercely distinctive signature sound from the get-go. A sound so influential and monumental in scope that – more than two decades later – would compel its creators to set about writing a follow-up record meticulously crafted in the image of this epic debut album.
“As you might know, we recently celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the first album, so this time it was a very special album,” frontman Saint Vincent elaborates of the landmark follow-up. “I mean, I was not in the band at that time, but it was a very special album because we were really the first French black metal band to be signed on a huge label with an album that was proposing black metal with French lyrics. It was very exciting in France at that time; lots of lovers and haters of the band, and today, the public are very fond of the first album. So when I joined the band, I thought it was very important that we were going to celebrate the 20 year anniversary, and when we were on the dates playing, we got suddenly back into these very ’90s black metal feelings and it was so exciting. After that we were like, okay, let’s go back in time so we went full circle. At that point it simply felt logical to make a sequel to that album.”
“I think this is about to be somewhat of a cornerstone in the band's history,” Heimoth considers. “Album six, after three, four, and five all turning out pretty different from each another. But as we said at the beginning of the interview, this sixth album actually marks a kind of a circle, but it’s not going backwards. This is, paradoxically, going forward.”
Indeed, “paradoxical” is undoubtedly the term that best sums up this uniquely orchestrated blend of searing second wave aggression and exquisitely delicate atmospherics. With its insanely paced episodes of wintry, synapse-scorching aggression, ‘La Morsure du Christ’ is, in one respect, a black metal album in the most joyously classic and authentic sense of the term. A fine, blindingly incandescent homage to the sub-genre’s most uncompromisingly brutal, brimstone-scorched dynamics. But from gossamer-fine lashings of acoustics to blackly opulent flights of operatic grandeur, this is a record that equally revels in its own complex and fiercely individualistic character. An album whose every elegant, labyrinthine twist and genre-obliterating turn is rich with fine, painstakingly crafted detail. Lyrically, too, there’s no mistaking the meticulous care with which every conceivable inch of the album has been lovingly crafted.
Saint Vincent elaborates, “I really hope this album will be a pleasure for our listeners. It's all very strongly rooted in the first album and it was a real pleasure for me to write the sequel for the lyrical part. It was also the first time I released an album in my French language which was great, but at the same time, you know, lots of pressure. Because in English, there are so many bands with very poorly-written lyrics so I think it's easier to be less demanding on the quality in that sense. In French, usually you have more pressure, because it's your mother tongue so you immediately see weaknesses and errors in the writing. And because you study at school French poetry, you see immediately what is weak and what is not, so it's difficult. Very challenging, but I loved it. As soon as I began writing, I immediately felt I had to really do my best. That's why I pushed myself to write typical French poetry using Alexandrine lines from classical French poetry with 12 syllables. Every sixth syllable, there is a new rhyme at the end so it’s very strict. I really tried to do some solid work with this, and I'm really happy with the results. I hope this will be well-received by the public.”
For those of us whose grasp of the French language is limited to a little more than handful of decidedly hazy, half-remembered GCSE school lessons, a little elaboration on the underpinning lyrical themes and concepts of the album would undoubtedly prove helpful at this juncture in our conversation. Translating loosely in English as ‘the bite of Christ’, the many devilishly intricate lyrical yarns of ‘La Morsure du Christ’ can be traced back to the ghoulishly apocalyptic central concept of a godless new era ushered in by the fiery demise of Notre-Dame de Paris. With this towering national landmark having long stood as little more than a prettily decorative but symbolically hollow relic of a bygone, god-fearing age now utterly bereft of spiritual significance, the lethal blaze that reduced its most iconic features to ashes back in 2018 signalled, for Saint Vincent and co., the final death throes of a faith long in decline.
“We see the demise of the cathedral as a really shocking event, to a level like what happened in America with the Twin Towers. A huge symbol for the geopolitical world was destroyed, bringing about a dramatic change of paradigm in terms of spirituality. Not just for the people of France because it was a worldwide event; people were shocked all over the world. And what does it symbolise? It symbolised the demise of spirituality and religion in the Western world. Of course, it's a demise that has been started since a long time, and we have witnessed and experienced this almost from the moment we were born. But it really marked a turning point in the sense of like, wow, it's really over now and there's no turning back.”
“It's kind of ironic, though,” Heimoth offers thoughtfully. “The fact that people are all in a rush in France to show that we are ready to rebuild, very quickly, such a monument, despite the fact that spirituality’s been on the wane for ages. So it doesn't really make sense. All that remains is a symbol that no longer has any real meaning.”
With the better part of the Western world now taking its first tentative steps out of national lockdown, those more optimistic metal-heads among us can’t help eagerly looking ahead to our first opportunity to observe this monumental, blackened masterpiece performed live in all its wondrously brutal and ritualistic glory. Though the outlook for the dearly yearned-for return of live music remains frustratingly uncertain at the present time, it’s clear that, when Seth finally make their long-awaited return to UK shores, we can be assured of something quite spectacular.
“Of course, no, it's never too soon to start talking live shows,” Saint Vincent enthuses. “Hopefully we will be able to play live as soon as possible. Concerning the live show, when we got ready for the 20 year anniversary celebrations, we really wanted to work on the visual aspects to make something really strong and rooted in the ’90s. There's lots of visuals where that’s concerned, and I have the same view for the next album. I want to make it something very special on stage so we are working on it already. We have lots of ideas that need to speak about now. We'll see how it goes with all the conditions at the moment. But yes, we want the live shows to make something very special – not just coming on stage and playing the songs. No, because we are proposing not just music, but as we said, ambience and depth. I think we all agree that this will be something really impressive.”
‘La Morsure du Christ’ is out now via Season of Mist