Chilean Doom Metallers Procession Survived Pinochet and Found Their Voice
The now Sweden-based band streams 'Doom Decimation,' and the cult favorites explain the struggles behind the long-awaited album's creation.
Photo courtesy of Procession
It's difficult to provide a succinct summation on the modern history of Chile, a narrow country that hugs over 2,600 miles of South America's Western shoreline. The country of 17 million has long been plagued by political unrest, exacerbated by frequent natural disasters due to its dramatic geography. Chile's autonomy has been hard fought over a period lasting 400 years; in 1970, the country welcomed Latin America's first democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende.
Three years later, he was brutally ousted by a CIA-sponsored coup after the American government spent millions destabilizing Allende's Socialist party. General Augusto Pinochet took control, and the opposition was violently crushed as thousands were executed. Despite losing a presidential election in 1989, Pinochet remained on staff as the commander-in-chief of the army. It would take until 2002 for the despot to resign from his post as "lifelong senator."
The members of doom metal quartet Procession experienced the political, social, and cultural aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship firsthand. Despite only one member still residing in Chile—with the other three based in various other European countries—their home nation still informs the band's creative output. Nowhere is this more evident than on their third studio album, the indomitable Doom Decimation.
"Two years ago there was no album. Our lives have been changing," begins guitarist and vocalist Felipe Plaza Kutzbach. Kutzbach formed Procession in 2006 in Valparaíso, a picturesque port city. He eventually moved to the capital city of Santiago to be closer to bassist Claudio Botarro Neira. Following a massively successful European tour on the strength of their 2008 Burn demo and 2009 EP, The Cult of Disease, Kutzbach then relocated to the doom mecca of Sweden. Channeling the warbling grandiosity of Candlemass and the fist-pumping bravado of Manowar, Procession released multiple albums and tracks in rapid-fire succession. Their line-up solidified around 2012 with the addition of Danish guitarist Jonas Pedersen and Swedish drummer Uno Bruniusson; they signed to High Roller Records and unveiled the critically acclaimed second full-length, To Reap Heavens Apart.
When it came time to record their third album, though, the band hit a wall. The problem? Proximity and lack of material.
"We all live in different countries now," explains Kutzbach. "Back then, Uno was still in Sweden, then Berlin, then Amsterdam; Jonas in Denmark, so possibilities of rehearsing, none, zero. The whole idea was to bring up Claudio [from Chile] and record the album in Europe eventually, but there was no album."
Undeterred, Kutzbach set to work sending song ideas to Neira. With the instrumentation incomplete and the lyrics non-existent, their timeline to record was abruptly shortened—a problem further exacerbated by Kutzbach's realization that he had only a three-month gap in his other bands' touring schedules (he moonlights in Destroyer 666 and Nifelheim). "We have to do this now," he recalls saying to the band. "I didn't have a plan – it was just booking flights, book an apartment, book a studio."
While previous material featured a juxtaposition of more upbeat parts with slower tempos—at times evoking Reverend Bizarre, and at others, Solstice—this album is tighter, and much faster. It'sstill unequivocally doom metal, of course, but shares commonalities with more traditional heavy metal acts like Angel Witch and Manowar; some of the darker moments even veer into oddball Head of the Demon territory. Of the shift, Kutzbach says, "We have always tried to sound closer to [that kind of] metal, just as a way of not being included in the recycling of the doom metal scene."
Kicking things off with the instrumental burst of "The Warning," the album is bursting with driving leads and anthemic choruses, rich solos, and monolithic drumming.
"We want to speak about how the times we live in are chaotic," Kutzbach explains. "How morbid this whole jungle-esque environment is in Chile. It's chaotic—everything is too early or too late, nothing is certain, with high levels of criminality, where bars are open 24/7, everything is just so chaotic and it's down there, in the end of the world."
The conditions under which Doom Decimation was recorded were far from ideal, at least to hear Neira tell it.
"It was one of the hottest summers we had," he says. "We played one festival here [the January 2017 rendition of Enemies of the Cross Summer Metal Fest], it was the only gig we had. We were playing with 97 degrees, playing doom metal with that kind of heat. Meaning on stage it's 115 degrees, and there was also this [massive forest] fire around the city. The sky was totally grey and you can feel the ash everywhere in the city. We were in the studio, and going out the studio, and we smell the ash."
During the same period, the apartment the European portion of the band had rented was infested with bugs, promoting a mid-recording move. Their heightened stress levels instilled the album with even more urgency and aggression.
"I have this metaphor if we can handle all the concepts we are talking about it. If you see the world map, and the Northern side, which is icy, represents the head of the human being, Chile must be the genitalia," offers Neira, who begins laughing over the absurdity of the comment. "So when [Kutzbach] was saying that [the last album] was introspective, of course, it was in the North. It was regular in the head. But if you go down, you get to the boiling blood where everything is not mental, it's physical, which is basically what happened to us on this album."
Their many references to Chile and the nostalgia the country clearly still evokes in the band members prompt many questions. Neira is still based in the country, but Kutzbach left for Sweden in 2009, a move prompted in part by his realization that Chile's notoriously extreme metal scene was not interested in their slow brand of doom. He told me about a show in the southern part of the country where they managed to play one or two songs before people started yelling and throwing bottles on stage. That fateful occurrence also included pushing "56 or 60 cans of beer, one at a time" through a bathroom window on a bus to evade further punishment from the authorities, and a "night in jail."
In contrast, the band were greeted by enthusiastic fans and sold-out shows on their first European tour. "When I decided to move, I just sold everything," Kutzbach says, adding that the process was "quite easy" in comparison to the "total chaos" that is Swedish immigration today. "I sold all my record collection, a couple of guitars. It came together with the chance of touring with Procession the first time. Mind you, back then; there [were] probably 30 per cent of the doom bands there are now. For us, it was such a response. Selling out shows with one EP out? We played at [now-defunct German festival] Doom Shall Rise; that was our first gig in Europe. We had 600 people singing along songs to an EP. That was a bit shocking, but also, 'What the hell, this is the place to be!' Not in South America playing with thrash metal bands and getting cut."
Kutzbach says those experiences with a deadly serious metal scene in Chile were instrumental, as they instilled the band with commitment to their music. As Neira explains, the scene developed under extreme political circumstances, too—Pinochet's regime. "I need to make a little history lesson here," Neira tells me. "All the guys who are in their 40s, we were all living as teenagers when the dictatorship was in Chile. Having that in context, it's not that you can go next door and buy your black T-shirt and listen to any music you want. If you decided to have long hair and deciding to have band t-shirts with demons and skulls, you could get arrested."
In the light of this cultural repression, "we have this death, thrash scene that evolved into death black, and people who stayed loyal to the principles, they got this kind of respect, you know?" he continues. "And most of the people I know play in those kinds of bands. And I have used that stage to defend the position of doom metal."
Doom has long been a misunderstood. maligned genre that's often found its charms left under-appreciated, or even mistrusted. Only in the past decade has it enjoyed more widespread mainstream recognition, a fact that is not lost on Kutzbach. His band has enjoyed a boost from doom's increasing popularity that's further bolstered by the continental relocation. In addition, that newfound amount of international attention has left Kutzbach feeling introspective about the importance of the band's own bloody roots.
"My Chilean side, it pulls, much more now when I'm here," Kutzbach says. "When it comes to how much I integrate, and all that, I do have good friends, but where is my Chilean weekend? Like listening to records for 48 hours and just going berserk, everything here is too structured. Since I am coming up with the concepts and music for Procession, it would be impossible that they wouldn't affect my perspective and how much I value the power of the south."
"Since I'm away from Chile, I've got this perspective," he continues. "I've started appreciating more what made our music interesting from the beginning, was the fact that we were unpretentious and ambitious and just playing music because we had the need to do it. That's why I try to link the band to that… [To me]. Chile is not a place anymore; it's a spiritual state."
Sarah Kitteringham fondly recalls standing with the Procession guys to watch Candlemass play 'Ancient Dreams' Roadburn 2014. She's also on Instagram.