Thursday, 29 June 2017

Interview with Lord Saunders of Formicarius

While we can't predict the weather, we can certainly forecast that this summer is going to be great for UK black metal with several up and coming bands putting out some promising albums. Formicarius are one such band, having drawn people's attention with their Lake of the Dead single not too long ago. They're now set to release their debut album, and I'm pleased to have been able to talk with Lord Saunders and get his thoughts on everything that's happened with Formicarius recently. Here's what he had to say...

For the benefit of people who may not be familiar with Formicarius, can you briefly introduce yourselves and describe your music? 

Good evening and thank you for having me! We are an alliance of musicians creating our unique yet distinctly English brand of black metal. We vividly tell the stories of both history and fantasy, using the miserable image of medieval Europe as a metaphor for battling our very human, very personal demons. We intend Formicarius to be something you can relate to and be empowered by. 

I know your members have had a fair bit of experience being in other bands, including De Profundis, Phyrexia and Premature Birth among others. What made you decide Formicarius would be the next step for you all, and how did you come together to form this band? 

This is true! Many of us have been colleagues for years before Formicarius. We cut our teeth in a number of these extreme metal bands and made many mistakes during those times. Personally, having taken a break between 2013 – 14, it quickly became very apparent that writing and performing this extreme style of music is my calling, and I think that's the case for all of us. Having been on the scene for a decade, I found inspiration in how much it had grown in that time and how so much positivity can be expressed through such dark, aggressive music. I've been listening to black metal for most of my life now and truly love this music. This is where we belong, and in this moment of clarity we gathered to decide what we were going to do about it. Formicarius was born and plans were immediately made, taking on board our collective experience and with an attitude to never settle.

Who are your main influences musically?

There's a lot of variety in our influences. We clearly have a foundation in Emperor, Dimmu, Cradle, Satyricon and so on, but we also take a lot of influence from the compositional styles of baroque and romantic music, acknowledge the power of the riff as demonstrated by classic metal bands, and admire the experimental and uncompromising attitudes of the more obscure bands like Sigh, Bal-Sagoth, etc. There's no one answer; we have always strived to keep an open mind and to use our brains to think about what we like about the music, and how we can make that work moving forward. 

You released a single, Lake of the Dead via Bandcamp back in 2015, which gave us a taste of Formicarius. Was the single well received, and how did people's reaction compare to your expectations at the time? 

The first printing of the single sold out after touring the UK in 2016 and is currently its second pressing. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, especially after the video was released and it was picked up for Speed Kills VII. Only a handful of naysaying 'trve' edge-lords have dismissed it, which is exactly what we wanted and expected; we aimed to do our very best and progress forward, not stick around in the sound of the early 90s. We don't care about those people, we care about those who are willing to come out and be somebody in this world, and we see them at our exhibitions going crazy in the front row, cheering us on and sharing our message and music far and wide! 

The song Lake of the Dead last year then came to be featured on the Music For Nations Speed Kills VII compilation, undoubtedly a turning point for you as a band. How did this come about, and what are your thoughts and feelings around being featured on this compilation?

As with everything in life, a stroke of good luck born out of unrelenting hard work found our song in the Sony / Music for Nations office. We put ourselves out there and it is with thanks to the efforts of our incredible management team at Imperative PR that we found ourselves in this fortunate situation. Everything is a domino effect and you can never rest – every day that you're not representing yourself and doing your best to be at your best is wasted. It takes real honesty about what you want and what you're doing about it for these things to happen. 

The rush when we were given the news that we were recognised and to be included in such a legacy alongside such quality acts is second to none. It completely reaffirmed the seriousness with which we took the band – we are now a part of history, and we can't get complacent if we are to have any chance of making history! The cycle continues from there, acknowledging the victories and using them to achieve bigger and better dreams. 

You've also recently signed a deal with German label Schwarzdorn Productions, which I hope brings good thing for you. How did you come to sign with Schwarzdorn Productions, and what are the main things you hope to gain from signing with Schwarzdorn specifically? 

Simply put, we were searching for a label to release Black Mass Ritual with us... and Schwarzdorn listened. After much back and forth negotiation it became obvious that we were completely on the same page and there is a real belief in pushing us beyond where we are now, which is what we want and need. It's a perfect match – not so much about gaining from them as it is about achieving great things with them. Schwarzdorn are an incredible label with an extraordinary legacy. We will do them proud as we embark upon this venture together! 

Your debut full length album, Black Mass Ritual, is I believe set for release on July 21st through this label. What can listeners expect from the album, and how has Formicarius’ sound developed on this album in comparison to the Lake of the Dead single? 

Quite right; It's available to preorder now from all major retailers and set for release on July 21st. Lake of the Dead is actually featured as the opening track as it is a single taken from the album. Needless to say our high production and perfectionist values remain consistent! If you enjoyed 'Lake...', it follows that you will love Black Mass Ritual. 

The reviews are already pouring in and I encourage everyone to check those out for impartial responses to the album. We poured our souls into this record, and I think this is very obvious from the enormous, epic and emotive sound we achieved. We delve into themes of madness, witch burning, war and genocide, with complex and inspired compositions to match these themes. So far the classical inspired harmonies, keyboard driven textures, viscous melodies and intelligible vocals have gotten a lot of attention and praise. Again, don't take my word from it, there are plenty of reviews out there telling you what to expect. 

What are the main themes and inspirations for your lyrics on the album? 

We were reading a lot at the time when we were finishing lyrics for the album, and each piece tells a story of horror, power, tragedy, transformation and so on. As black metal musicians I think we are all obsessed with the darker side of the human condition, and characters whom you may at first think are heroes or villains can surprise you. You have the choice to take the stories literally or read into and interpret them - whatever the case, we aim to present something vivid and thought provoking. The world isn't black and white, and we try to get that across.

What are your plans for touring once the album is out? 

Nothing is set in stone so I can't say too much about this at this time. We love the UK and of course desire to play a city near you as soon as we can. Keep an eye on our website and social media! 

How do you find the metal scene in London, and are Formicarius well received there?  Have you had many opportunities to play live outside London, and if so how were your experiences with that compared to London? 

London is completely different to everywhere else in the UK, and this remains true for live music. On the right days of the week the London scene is of course thriving and the place to be, and the seedy, grimy Victorian architecture coupled with some typical British weather certainly lends itself as a suitable backdrop for black metal. As it is such an important place to play we do try to make our shows there big ones – the responses when we played with Negura Bunget, Hate and Noctem were fantastically powerful! London is spoilt for choice and you're in competition with every enormous international act every day, but the crowd remain grateful and happy to go to a good show – you just have to present them with one. 

Other parts of the country have a much more 'grass-roots' feel to their events, with a genuine gratitude and happiness that you are there to perform for them, but no less professional. There's a real overwhelming joy and wave of support from such a community, and it's an honour and a pleasure to bring our music and message to every corner of the UK. In particular Blackwood and Northern Extremity come to mind as embodying this spirit. 

How do you find the UK black metal scene as a whole, and how would you describe the bands relationship with it? 

I think it's pretty clear by now how in love with the scene we are. There's so much superb, high quality music being made in this scene, there has never been a better time to be involved. We feel a real brotherhood with many of the bands we shared the stage with – we're fans of each-others bands and often times prefer what we're hearing in our back yard to what is current on an international scale. There's an element of friendly competition in there, because this isn't a meritocracy - we want to see everyone do their best, building upon what they first created and seeing success for their hard work. For me, this is the best way for a scene to operate – everyone raises the bar, everyone grows and the listeners get better and better products, watching the artists on their long journey of self discovery. It's fascinating and wonderful. 

What other bands are impressing you right now, and who would you mark as bands to watch for in the future?

It's a long list! Sathamel are releasing their album this Summer, and Shadowflag have just released theirs (which I'm listening to right now!). Old Corpse Road are among my favourite bands of all time, and Aklash are certainly one of the most intriguing. Petrichor are writing and performing at an alarming rate and very quickly establishing themselves as a class act. I'll stick to those five! 

Looking back, what have been the best moments with Formicarius so far, and what have been the biggest obstacles you've had to overcome? With hindsight, what would you do differently, if anything?

One of the most memorable experiences was playing the Black Tor Gathering at the Tan Hill Inn – the highest pub in Britain! Watching the sunset on a cold mountain at a festival celebrating black metal... that was a real honour to be a part of and I don't think I'll ever forget that. A lot of the moments behind the scenes have been pretty great too; hearing the final master of our album, hearing ourselves on Sony printed vinyl for the first time – these are all moments you cherish because you really love what you do. 

Although we are always learning it has to be said that most of our hindsight came from the previous ten years of bands before Formicarius. I'm very happy with how we've come to decisions and the success that has brought. Recording the album was the real trial by fire for me, as I handled my role as a recording engineer in a perfectionist manor whilst learning on the job. Really the biggest hurdle is all the way back at the beginning, getting established and getting people to listen to you - if you can survive the first year you can do anything. 

What do you see for the future of Formicarius from here on, and what are your main hopes from here? 

We're here to take this band, our music and our message as far as we can. We shan't ever get complacent and we don't rely on hope. We will carve ourselves a place in this world and history by always doing more and doing better. Formicarius has a place globally in black metal and we will always hunt for the next opportunity to do Formicarius on a grander scale. 

Once again thanks for taking part, and finally is there anything you'd like to add or say to the people reading this interview? 

I hope you found my words thought provoking and that you find our music inspiring. If you do, I can only encourage you to pick up the album and join us on this journey – we've only just begun and things are only going to get more interesting! 

Thank you very much for having me and I hope you'll have me back when I next have something to say! 

- Lord Saunders