If you are interested in black metal in its most radical manifestations, you probably have picked up an Akitsa record at one time or another. For over fifteen years, the Montreal faction, composed of Neant and Outre-Tombe, has spread terror and desolation to a landscape that has become a little too accommodating for anyone but the purist.
Nostalgic but never outdated, the Quebecois duet have returned once again with the strong Grands Tyrans, an LP that we have available for streaming in full. Simply put, the recipe is remains the same: a cocktail of pure hatred and doped-up black oi that is so vile , it perfectly reflects the scummy sewers of Montreal. And also, the apocalypse.
We took advantage of his visit to Paris last November to look into Akitsa’s past and their future within the underground.
Please note, the following interview was translated from French.
Noisey: Outside Akitsa, you have a lot of other projects, such as Contrepoison and Âmes Sanglantes, not to mention the label that you manage, Tour De Garde. With all of these projects of varying types, what do you think is your first love?
OT: My first love has always been the metal, which I started to listen to at around 11-12 years old. If I remember correctly, the first thing I bought was a cassette of Killers by Iron Maiden. I had two or three childhood friends, and we were always challenging each other by trying to find the most brutal group as possible at a time when that was quite complicated. After Maiden was Pantera and Metallica. Finally we got to Megadeth and all came to an agreement that Pantera was the most extreme thing. In school, we still relied heavily on album artwork to buy records, which is how I ended up with Suffocation’s Breeding The Spawn in the summer of my twelfth birthday. I was very happy. I bragged to my friends in the neighborhood by saying, "Hey man, I found a much more brutal stuff than Pantera! ". After that, we all began to see that there was a much more extreme layer of metal that we did not know, and was waiting to be discovered. We were on a quest, and began to dig very passionately.
And this quest began when you were 12 years in Montreal, which was without the internet at the time?
I lived on the outskirts of Montreal, and there was still an HMV in the corner. They distributed a free magazine published in Canada called MEAT Magazine, where there were advertisements for stuff you couldn’t find in stores. Out of curiosity, I started to write them; send them a letter with a stamp and they would send you a mail order catalog. At first it seemed a little fishy because on the advice of our parents, we were on guard against scams. I didn’t have much money, so we agreed to settle for buying our stuff at the store, at least initially. As soon as we were old enough to travel a little on our own, we would take the bus to Montreal and go to HMV to find more obscure stuff. We mostly found Roadrunner or Metal Blade records but even some titles from home were super hard to find, like Cannibal Corpse. One day when we were at HMV, a guy older than us saw that we were curious and on the hunt. He asked if we knew Rock en Stock and sent us there. That's when we came across this amazing thing, but I’m not sure if you’re familiar.
In short, the Rock en Stock is a cult Montreal store that has a somewhat complicated history. The owner administered it in somewhat cavalier manner. He made tons of money on the backs of groups doing a lot of bootlegs that he sold 35-40 Canadian dollars apiece. He sometimes had some decent stuff, but had no respect for artists. But it was still the best place to find a bootleg in Montreal, Canada, and possibly even North America. For example, the Nirvana section was really impressive, as there were at least 150 discs in stock. Seriously, where could you find 150 discs of Nirvana, all unofficial, in one place at the same time? Anyway, when we went in this store, it was a revelation. Their basement was the mecca of the underground. From Varathron to Rotting Christ to Burzum, you could find everything, though it was totally overpriced. I started to pick up flyers there, and finally see the tape-trading world for myself. That's how I discovered the black metal, and underground in itself.
How did you become interested in other styles of music and then eventually industrial noise?
It starts with a little con actually. There was a deal that when you bought three discs from Relapse, you had the right to a free compilation. On this compilation was a CD with metal, hardcore and another with more experimental stuff, Merzbow, Masonna … stuff we did not know at all, but mostly just had trouble understanding. At the time, I really wondered who would listen to these records; it fascinated me. One day instead of listening to the same 30 CDs that I always had, I ended up listening to the compilation, just to change it up a bit. One day alone while tinkering with my guitar, I realized that I could get the same kind of sound with a distortion pedal and a few effects. It was then that I immersed myself in industrial music; my curiosity had been piqued. That's how I developed an interest in this music.
Afterwards, I started to know people from Montreal's metal scene, and I tried to embed go to as many concerts as could even though I was still a minor. I started to swim in this universe, and as I had a big mouth and I was curious, the guys in the scene accepted me despite my young age. But I thought this scene was a Montreal thing, a very local phenomenon and without much vision. Simply put, local groups had no identity, the bulk of them consisting of guys trying to copy American or Swedish death without a personal touch. The only ones that came out a bit different are those in the "technical metal" genre Cryptopsy, Kataklysm …
In retrospect, I would say the only metal Quebecois has had ownership of is of the technical death variety… At the time, there was so little room for black metal, we were not vocal enough for my liking. I started writing reviews and articles for publication. I remember writing about Wolf's Lair Abyss by Mayhem when it was released. I also reviewed the debut album of Frozen Shadows which is in my opinion one of the first real interesting black metal bands from Montreal. Even today. In short, I was trying to incorporate that into a metal culture that did not interest me and to which I was not attached. To be honest, I really thought that our scene was pitiful. I just started to have the internet, I began to troll the local forums, to say shit about all these groups anonymously. Sometimes it was really stupid, I admit today that I was young. They were provocations not unlike Seth Putnam’s, as extreme as they were ridiculous. Anyway, the guys eventually found me with my IP address and my name started to show up on mailing lists within small, local metal circles. I started receiving threatening letters, and at the time I was still living with my parents. It was getting a little tense for me. So, I finally got away from the scene and eventually put all my efforts into industrial music, to isolate myself in the noise.
And what about the scene of Montreal today? Has it evolved positively?
I've never been very enthusiastic about the Montreal local scene and that's always the case. There are some groups that I like and support but overall, my opinion is still very negative. The climate is clearly more conducive to black metal in recent years, primarily through the Sepulchral Productions initiatives that enables bands to play live. In addition, it organizes many events, Messe des Morts hosted several international groups such as Samael, Cult of Fire, Mgła, Sargeist, Throne of Katharsis, etc.
Going back to noise, which led you to collaborate with Dominick Fernow on numerous occasions. You have something of a similar profile in your respective fields and Akitsa discs have a home on Fernow’s Hospital Productions … How was it that you came to work together?
Dominick and I go way back; we have known since 1997 or so. According to him, our first exchange would have been on MSBR.org, a forum of harsh noise very popular at the time. We started to trade each other via mail and more or less had regular contact for some time. At that time, I began to lose interest in harsh noise, yet I had put a lot of effort with my Âmes Sanglantes project, mainly because I was disgusted with the local metal scene and the way it had treated me. Eventually, the noise scene also disappointed me by it’s lack of attendance. People were not serious, and there was a real lack of devotion.
Meanwhile, things were starting to work well for Akitsa, people liked what we were doing, and we had more opportunities. As a young adult, I was proud to release my first real serious effort on CD and vinyl. Eventually, I started to have disdain for the noise scene, and Dominick and I lost contact. Then in 2003, Mikko Aspa did a mini tour in the USA, and I went to see him in Boston and Providence, where Dom lived. It is there that we restablished contact. I think at the time, he was into Cradle Of Filth and Gorgoroth, but when he heard Akitsa he said, "Hey, but it's possible to do it that way? " Shortly after, he sent me a huge package with his new LP Pleasure Ground. Then I began to see that Prurient was serious, and we started to expand collaborations, making splits together. He told me that he loved Akitsa and has remained a very good friend since.
History shows that you finally returned to metal with Akitsa. What were the conditions that lead you there?
Strangely, we started with Akitsa shortly after the online forums episode. We recorded a demo in a more or less serious manner and started sending it everywhere with a flyer saying that was the ultra-elitist black metal. We had orders, and it worked pretty well much to our surprise really. That thing restored my love of black metal, which is still my first love today.
You were very unconventional for the black metal of the time, a scene that is considered to be not very open-minded. I was wondering what kind of reception you received when you started?
We were rather well received by the scene, and that interested me at the time and still interests me. But I still have no idea why. Our first recording was released by Artfuck Productions, a great and sleazy Finnish label that came out of experimental folk and noise -I think they knew me through my noise project- which is quite strange . We did a lot compared to the Black Legions, though at the time, I was not aware of them. Sure, it was a name that came up, but one that I never really pursued. For my part, I was just happy to have new contacts in the community. The first guy to buy the demo was the singer of Godless North, a well-known group in Canada and in the extreme underground. The man behind Satanic Warmaster was also one of the first to contact us.
There is always a super chaotic side in your music. What drives Akitsa’s creative process?
I do the majority of the music and collaborate with Neant, who contributes enormously in word. He is a literature enthusiast. As the songs are rarely complicated -it's pretty monotonous, a three riffs for maximum song - I try to keep my impulsive side. In general, it works in the moment. If the other song was recorded two weeks or two months later, so be it. That explains the chaotic effect. For the new album, it's a bit more linear since it is the first time that there was a real recording session. The sound will perhaps seem more linear therefore, because I used a real drummer, our live drummer Eric Thesyre.
Yes, the sound is still very disgusting for a "more produced" album.
We stayed on the four track, yes. We always hold that thought. It's funny because the drummer from Akitsa has had further training in what recording should be normally. With the guitars on the new album, I thought it sounded better than usual and he laughed and just told me "Do not worry, it still sounds shit." So all is well.
The song "Les flots de l'enfer" represents a big departure from the current style of production. Can you tell me a little about this title?
The original idea was to compose a song in tribute to the "dungeon music" of the mid-1990s (Mortiis style). After saving the outline of what would become "Les flots de l'enfer", I sent this frame to Neant. He was immediately inspired to compose a narrative text for this melody, a heavy text, imbued with despair and desolation, a sort of sequel to the text of "Vers la Mort," a piece published on our previous album. Following receipt of the text, I went to Eric M. Syre and we came up with the title. We added a narrative that puts a modern face on the lament that some of us feel our age. It’s a long walk, often painful, which always has to end in death.
There was always some space for the esoteric, or at least a break from Satanism towards a sense of pageantry in Akitsa. Is This a way to escape from certain scene clichés? Or is it just something that does not interest you?
It was always important for us to be honest in our approach and touch subjects that are close to us. Akitsa is not a theatrical entity; trolls, gargoyles, magicians, centaurs and horny goats living in a dungeon deep in the fiery depths of hell does not interest us. We focus on the real, the black will, the true. The venom of the soul is not esoteric in my opinion.
Akitsa has been spotted wandering around the grim and sometimes shadowy (sketchy) corners of the black metal underground, as your split with the controversial band Satanic Warmaster (who is said to be allegedly NS) attests. How did you come to make that split? Is Akitsa affiliated with those political ideals?
I've always been attracted to dark, extreme and grim music. It was quite natural for me to dig deeper into the underworld of industrial music and black metal. Those paths were quite inspiring for me, despite their macabre and sickening smell. At this time, I was discovering the underground with a romantic and free spirit in the same state of mind I could have been reading a novel about a soldier in the trenches or an horror book. I was exploring those mysterious territories, without morals and laws and with a juvenile and dreamy spirit. With that attitude, I was inevitably driven into the darkest corners of the underground.
Concerning the split we made with Satanic Warmaster, the idea and offer came from Satanic Tyrant Werewolf when he liked our first record we put out around 2000. It was the first split opportunity we got, and a Portuguese label called Nightmare Production was interested in releasing it. We recorded our side and it went out on this label and a Polish one, Agonia Records. At the time, this split was rather trivial, it only got more noteworthy with the growing popularity of Satanic Warmaster (and the ensuing controversy). But in fact, this split was never intended or meant to be political, it was just thought and recorded as a tribute to the most archaic and primitive form of black metal. Nothing more.
Akitsa has never been and will never be a racist band. It has always been important to be completely honest in my approach, and I've never believed in a so-called superiority of a « race » upon another. That being said, I'm happy to have the opportunity to set the records straight with anyone that would believe the opposite.
You have managed the Tour de Garde label for fifteen years now. You think the notion of underground is still valid when any demo is available in two clicks of the mouse?
It's a complicated question. It still exists, but it is sure that we are far past anything we have seen prior. At the moment, I consider that the underground remains between the members and their relationships.
Who embodies the most corruption of the original spirit of black metal to you?
I will give a list of groups to which I feel a membership or aversion. Such an exercise would not be constructive. People who are passionate about black metal usually can recognize the groups that pure in spirit simply by instinct. Those who fail to separate opportunistic formations that embody the corruption of the original essence probably deserve not to know. Simply.
How would you define that spirit?
Acta, non verba.
The fact that black metal is found in the media like Pitchfork or that is gaining popularity in with groups like Deafheaven. Do you see it as heresy?
Whether we talk about black metal in Pitchfork or the darkest zine, world does not change much, at a time when - as was said earlier - everything has become accessible. We must be consistent, most black metal bands talk of propaganda when they refer to what they do. If you want to make propaganda, reaches as far as you can like via a webzine which can offer 100,000 views rather than 100.
Bands like Liturgy or Deafheaven, I do not really know if they themselves associate with black metal, I guess not. I do not have problems with them, let them do what they want, they are not part our scene. However, what is more harmful is when these magazines like Pitchfork put them in one basket with what we do; those improper connections in people's heads. Otherwise I have no problem reading an interview in Pitchfork on Graveland. Haha.
I wondered if this revival of "hype" had brought new customers to your label?
My sales remain relatively stable. However, Tour de Garde is an online store that works as a mail order, you write me to order, it takes a form of investment, some effort. I'm not a businessman, I'm here to keep a certain aesthetics of the underground. The name of the label joined this idea, make the watch round on the underground, the watchtower. But the mailorder is also to supposed to be the last bastion of the underground in order to preserve the spirit of the time. There is something nostalgic behind these ideas.
Speaking of nostalgia, what are the things of the old era that you miss the most? And what do you consider positive changes?
What is missing today is the effort and devotion required to be a part of the scene in the 90s. Practically everything is easily accessible after a simple Internet search. After a few clicks, you can dig up the most obscure and mysterious demos whereas before we had to devote hours of effort and toil to hear these kind of records. These changes, whether positive or negative, are inevitable.
The underground must follow the technological revolution that affects the world of music for years and there is no way to go back. The magic of years past is a memory reserved for those who have experienced that time. A positive change is that we can now match quickly (almost instantly) with contacts that are located at the other end of the planet without paying a penny. It facilitates collaboration between artists and the exchange of relevant information with people in the same niche.
Finally, now with over 15 years in existence, do you see yourself still playing for another five more years with Akitsa?
This is a question I never ask myself. If inspiration and energy are there, we'll be there.
Thank you! Hospital Productions
François Vesin is hell-bent to original black metal. Find him on Twitter.