Interview with Francois Bilodeau
Interview by Kat Knite
Buy Stygian: BANDCAMP
Hey and thank you for your time. Congratulations on the release of ‘Stygian’! It must be exciting to finally show it to the world after 7-8 years of it being written. What made you decide that now is finally the time to release it?
We’re indeed really happy now that it’s out there, ready to be listened to. Phil had written most of the album a while ago. He didn’t want to pressure the release into existence, and he wanted a full band to record it. The true reason it took so long is that available drummers are quite rare around here, especially guys that are into this kind of slow and atmospheric music. Xavier joined us in 2018, and so the recording process could begin, as well as all the work that goes into releasing an album, such as mixing/mastering, artwork, etc.
When did you first know you wanted to be a musician?
I guess I was around 6-7 years old when my babysitter’s husband, who was a church organist, taught me how to play very simple children’s songs on his electronic organ (if I recall correctly). My grandparents also had one and so I would play as much as I could, the little number of songs I knew. I started writing music at about 13 years old and that’s when I truly fell in love with music. Of course it started with really shitty stuff but the passion was there already.
And when did you all first meet and decide to be in a band together?
Actually, we all slowly joined the band one by one. Claude, the other guitarist in Chthe’ilist, joined in 2015, and I joined a year later. Phil had mentioned a couple times this funeral doom project he had in the works. As a big fan of the genre, and knowing the quality of his earlier releases, I knew I had to at least approach him. We discussed my own music, and our vision for the band. I hadn’t met many doom fans from Quebec so it was a breath of fresh air. Meanwhile, Antoine had joined Chthe’ilist as a bassist and so with his fondness of the genre, he naturally joined a year later. As I mentioned earlier, we finally managed to recruit Xavier to play drums and mix the album. He also owns a professional studio, so we actually self recorded and self produced the album.
How did you come up with the name ATRAMENTUS and what is the meaning behind it?
Phil came up with the band name. Atramentus is basically the name of the deity of the winds, in the album’s lore that is also shared with Chthe’ilist and Eternity’s End. The roots of the word also implies a very dark aspect of this deity.
How would you describe your music to someone who has no idea about metal or any of its sub-genres?
Interesting question. To me, it’s a dark and cold soundtrack of life and death, of hope and despair. The tragic fate of a lost soul in music form. At least that’s what we aimed for…
I’m really impressed by the LP artwork done by Mariusz Lewandowsi. How did you work with him on creating the image you wanted?
We sent him the music, the lyrics and the overall concept. Basically just food for inspiration. We gave him our full trust. I think something connected with him personally because the painting is absolutely incredible. The front cover is actually only half of it, as both halves represent the duality that is present in the album. The rear of the LP is the other half: the deluge arriving, giant waves about to engulf the world. I’m still in awe of what he has achieved. There are a lot of details to analyze for those who want to take the time and dissect it. I recommend buying a print from Lewandowski’s website, it’s not too expensive and in the original painting size.
How does the songwriting process work in the band? Do you all collaborate equally or is there someone who leads?
Phil has created the concept and wrote the music for “Stygian I” and “Stygian III”. He’s definitely the brain and main creative power behind the album. “Stygian II” (the dark ambient piece) was written by me years later, as well as the ambient interlude in “Stygian III”. We had discussed the concept a lot and found that the best way to bridge the two main tracks was to put a truly dark, nightmarish ambient piece there. In the story, the unnamed protagonist falls into a deep slumber before waking up to a frozen and dead world. We needed that sleep to feel very troubling, almost schizophrenic, and to be an unsettling transition between the two themes of the album.
Where do you find the most inspiration for your music and concepts?
Phil was very much inspired by real life personal experiences, mostly related to anxiety. The concept is also inspired by Greek mythology and the Bible. Phil’s concept and our conversations really inspired my contributions. I also dug deep in past nightmares I had to produce something as spine-chilling as possible. Old horror movies and classic horror literature such as Poe and Lovecraft have also been big inspirations for me, as well as sci-fi and especially the terrifying prospects of some of the solutions for the Fermi paradox. As for the musical aspect, here’s my time to name-drop a few bands/artists that have personally influenced me: Funeral, Evoken, Colosseum, Ulver, Devil Doll, Atrium Carceri, Lustmord.
Have you been playing together or writing any new material recently?
We’ve all been busy with different things these last months. The next album (if there is one) has not yet been started, but some conceptual ideas have started to emerge. We’ll see where this goes.
Have you played many gigs together? If so, what has been your favourite so far? If not, what is your dream gig and why?
Atramentus have not played live yet. It would be a complicated business, considering the number of layers of instruments and voices in our music. We would not want to deliver a subpar experience so a lot of work would be put towards a concert. The guys in Chthe’ilist opened for Evoken in Montreal, which is pretty much a dream gig. But if we’re talking unrealistic dream gigs I would like to play with Colosseum and Virgin Black with a whole symphonic orchestra. Realistically I think just playing in front of an attentive and open-minded crowd in a nice venue would be great.
Which part of Canada are you from? What is the metal/alternative music scene like there?
We are from the french speaking part of the country, the province of Quebec. The scene here is pretty well known for its technical death and black metal bands. The funeral doom scene is pretty much nonexistent, which is a shame, because I think there are a lot of atmospheric-minded musicians here that could create great doom.
Are there any new or local bands/artists that you listen to, or that have caught your attention?
Towards Darkness is pretty much the only funeral doom band I know and love from Quebec. Check out their latest album Tetrad. If anyone is into evocative dark ambient, I’d recommend Atrium Carceri & Cities Last Broadcast – Black Stage of Night. It’s a collaboration between two masters of the genre with piano and disturbing field recordings.
Your music is very atmospheric and dark – it tells a grand story and transports the listener to those icy plains of perpetual winter. How did you arrive at your genre? Have you always been interested by the darker side of life?
I feel like doom metal and dark ambient are some of the best vehicles for introspection and self-reflection. I think the story needed that personal aspect to be relatable in addition to the grandiose epicness of the events that are happening in the story. As to why we happened to make dark and atmospheric music… Speaking personally I guess I always was a pretty pessimistic person by nature. I’m naturally attracted to the dark aspects of art because I feel like it speaks to me on a deeper level. I think many of us metalheads can relate to that.
Do you have any other interests or hobbies outside of music?
Literature (mainly sci-fi and horror as mentioned), travel (in another life), nature (Quebec has lots of beautiful lakes and forests). Pretty straightforward stuff.
Thank you so much for your time, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Thank you for the interview. I hope everyone stays safe.