Recently, Ardraos, the man behind the French one-man black metal project Sühnopfer agreed to answer some questions regarding his latest (triumphant) release, which will be officially released May 10 via Debemur Morti Productions. The themes of this project have to do with Medieval France, which, along with some of the melodies, make this something of a medieval black metal project. We also dig into some of his past projects, including his work as a drummer in some RAC bands. As an anti-fascist, I found those ties to be questionable at best. He does not shy away from answering them and notes that there are none of these themes in Sühnopfer. For my part, while I believe in confronting actual fascism where it is found, I think the current culture in black metal has turned too divisive and has gone too far into the gray areas. I don’t feel we can police thought and belief, and thus should be careful about connecting too many dots. This album celebrates the history of Ardraos’ own region, and as an historian, this is a topic I enjoy. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after reading the interview, but will also recommend that you take the time to check out this exceptional release and judge it on its musical and artistic merits. Read on below.
Hayduke X: First of all, congratulations on the upcoming release of “Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes”. The album is quite an achievement. How is it being received so far?
Ardraos: Well thanks! The album will officially be released in May, we have just released a teaser track and the echoes are already excellent, as for the few privileged people who have listened to the entire album. And I do not doubt that the whole public will have an excellent impression after the release!
HX: Nearly five years have passed since Offertoire. What accounts for that length of time between releases? Were you writing that whole time or does it have more to do with other bands and responsibilities?
A: Both reasons are available. But first of all it takes that length because I’m on my own to write and play all of this. The composition of the songs usually takes me two years, then the work on the instruments, the composition of the arrangements and the whole recording also take me about two more years. Of course, I also worked on several musical, personal and professional projects, so it has been necessary to find every lapse of availability to be able to work on the tracks of this album, every day when it was possible, regarding my spare time, but also with an inspiration you can’t command. Music is just a matter of passion for me, not a cash-maker, so nothing has been made into urgency, because I wanted exactly to take all the time I needed, without being strained with a “deadline”. On each party of every instrument and vocals, in every step of the process of composition and recording, for every line of text, during many hours of listening and replay, I took the necessary backward to harmonize everything at my convenience, and make it sound as good as possible, keeping the same intensity, spontaneity, and authenticity.
HX: Tell me about the cover image for the album.
A: Valnoir from Metastazis worked on the artwork of this album, as on the previous one “Offertoire”. I do not request a work on the artwork until all the songs are finished and recorded, then it must really stick with the themes and atmospheres of the album. I spoke with Valnoir about what this album meant for me, what it was invoking, and then he found this idea of a castle coming out from the ground as regurgitated by huge jaws. This concept perfectly matches the atmosphere I wanted to create with this album.
HX: The album title, as best as I can tell, translates to something like the reign of the Bourbon ghosts. Tell me more about the meaning of this.
A: The title of the album refers to an epitaph from the vaults of the first lords of Bourbon, “Bourbonnais” being the name of the ancient medieval province in which I was born, and so were my ancestors, amidst its wooded countryside, forests and ruins, located in the heart of France. You can also translate it a “here lies the Bourbon’s spirit”.
HX: Is there a particular region or time period that this album is based on thematically?
A: Some of these songs are a kind of tribute and invocation to those who built this ancient province and made it alive through the ages. They’re always written in a medieval context, and some of them are a little more personal or doesn’t talk about specific places.
HX: Combining black metal with medieval music is a pretty small niche, with only a small number of bands combining these styles. What made you go this direction with this project?
A: The melodies, lyrics and visuals of Sühnopfer evoke a medieval past in a modern form of music, but also with elements directly taken from this era (text and melodies of the 14th century from Machaut on “Je Vivroie Liemen”, reworked for the occasion). I don’t use medieval instruments, which other bands can use in a more “folkloric” way, then Sühnopfer
obviously cannot be described as some pure “medieval music”. It’s more a matter of reminiscences of some deep past vibes through these black metal melodies. I think that the real watershed for Sühnopfer was the recording of my first EP L’Aube des Trépassés in 2005-2006. At this time of my life, I was getting more and more interested in the Middle Ages and the relics of this period in my region. On top of that, I was starving for solitude and contemplation. Since I have developed themes that I had started dealing with in this EP so as to fit into a medieval, knightly, obscurantist and religious dimension, by adding
aspects of my “terroir”, typical of my homeland. Even nowadays, this land still shows how powerful, glorious and dark it was.
HX: Some of the projects you are involved with are RAC in nature. Does this SÜHNOPFER contain those themes as well or is it more historical in nature?
A: I’ve effectively helped as a drummer for bands of some friends of mine, who were playing in this scene at one time, but it’s now over. The music and lyrics of Sühnopfer never had anything in common with the RAC scene, it seems rather obvious. Sühnopfer approaches ancient local legends and deal with death, superstition and religion in a medieval context through these songs, also inspired by monuments and landscapes provided by our local heritage, its charm and atmospheres. It just fits the themes and melodies I’m led to deal with.
HX: Are the values of Nationalism, etc. found in the RAC scene values you hold yourself? What is your response to claims of racism in that style of music?
A: I have always been interested in many things through Sühnopfer: religions, paganism, representations of death, superstitions, royalty, legends and history of my country and more particularly of my ancient province… People can call it chauvinism, nationalism or whatever, I don’t care. I am proud to make my “terroir” alive, the land which my ancestors built and left me, and to perpetuate their reminiscences. Listening to the melodies of Sühnopfer won’t tell you which ballot to put in an urn, nor even the one of the character behind this music: if you care about it, it means you put your ideology first instead of the artistic side and thematic developed by the music. I don’t fell concerned by the issues of racism specific to the RAC scene, it globally contributes to the matter of how everyone conceptualizes the notion of freedom of speech.
HX: What do you think about the current state of black metal?
A: Black metal can’t obviously be in 2019 what it was in its beginnings. The style has democratized and internationalized itself with the arrival of new technologies (I experienced this change directly with the arrival of the internet and dematerialization). I cannot predict what will happen to this style of music, whether it will become a mere consumer product like any other, nor deliver a gospel word about how it should evolve. I’m just trying on my humble level to perpetuate deep tones and a musical emulation that rises on the foundations of the 90’s with an own personality, unlike the thousands of clones of the first Nordic groups, or those trying random experiments, which just pull the scene down.
HX: What’s next for this project, once “Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes” is released. Will you take a break before starting on new music or dive right back in?
A: I finished the recording of this album at the end of 2018, and I didn’t immediately get back to work on new things. Actually, I just start working on new riffs, but without any pressure. I am very proud of the work done on this new album, and I can’t say for now what the future will be, for the moment I’m enjoying the release of “Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes”, which took me a lot of time and energy during these five years. I will surely continue to search the best riffs I can when I’ll have some time to do it, but I won’t release anything until I’m sure it is worth it, which may take years. As I previously said, you can’t command inspiration, and I’d rather not release something just average.
HX: What else would you like our readers to know?
A: I just hope they’ll listen carefully to this new album. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you’ve got to think about it, just listen and make your own idea. Thanks!
Thanks to Ardraos for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully. Click the link below to hear some tracks and pre-order the album. We leave it to the reader to judge this for themselves. For my part (the opinion of Hayduke, not necessarily this website), this album is both powerful and beautiful, making it very worthy of your attention. Possibly because of the lack of more folk style instrumentation, this has become my favorite of the so-called medieval black metal albums that I’ve heard.
Biography: Hayduke X has been writing for MoshPitNation since June of 2016. Prior to joining the MoshPitNation team, Hayduke published reviews on his own blog Rage and Frustration. In addition, he has DJ’ed an online metal radio show of the same name as his blog, written for TOmetal.com, done interviews for Metal Rules, and collaborated with The Art of B Productions to create video interviews with a wide variety of bands.