The Ancient Returns! Apart from being the title of one of their songs, it's a good sentence to introduce Occult Burial. This young Canadian band based in Ottawa have just released their debut LP “Hideous Obscure”, and the following interview was answered by Joël [vocals/bass]. The grave has been dug, witness the burial…
Joël: McLoud and me have been playing music together since about 2009. We were playing with more of a second wave Black Metal flavour, influenced by Dissection, Mayhem, Peste Noire and Bathory. I played drums and McLoud played guitar. We had a third member, but the band crumbled and we never played any shows or anything. A couple of years later I met our drummer Dan Lee when I was checking out a new record store in town and he was working behind the counter. I didn't talk to him the first few times I went, but eventually it became clear that he was the one responsible for all the cool Punk and Metal records in the bins, so we struck up a conversation. Soon after that the three of us were often going to shows in Montreal together, and we became good friends. I don't remember exactly how it happened but eventually the idea of forming a band came about. Dan Lee had been a drummer when he was younger but hadn't played in years until he picked up the instrument again to play in Iron Dogs. I was also a drummer, so I picked up the bass instead, and I ended up taking over vocal duties. I guess we aimed for more of a primitive, first-wave Black Metal sound because Dan Lee and I were still getting adjusted to playing our instruments in a semi-decent manner. I have some early rehearsal recordings of our first songs and it was so awful, especially the vocals because I was still figuring out how to do them. So we rehearsed weekly in my parents' garage for the first year, put out our demo and started playing a few small shows here and there. Not much has changed, really, except that we've gotten slightly more proficient at our instruments, and we pay for a rehearsal space like a real band.
How did you come up with the band´s cool name? Would you describe your own vision of an Occult burial?
Each of us has a his own take on what the name means, but I remember distinctly how we stumbled upon it. McLoud and I were watching Suspiria one night and were making fun of how one of the characters in the movie was pronouncing the word "occult". But after repeating it so much we became interested in the word, because at the time we were wracking our brains for a band name (every one knows choosing a name is the most grueling part of being in a band). So we tried to couple "occult" with a few other words, and eventually we chose "burial", a word that had fascinated me for a while, because of the imagery it invokes, a death rite so commonplace yet also immemorial. We ran it by Dan Lee, he said it invoked a sufficiently ancient and eerie aura, and that was that.
Some people might think we take ourselves for occultists because of the name, but frankly, for me the name has nothing to do with hokey occultism, rather it has everything to do with "occult" in the sense of hidden, clandestine, secret. Like the strange antarctic burials of the elder beings in At the Mountains of Madness, for example.
Musically, there is no difference other than the inclusion of that Bathory cover. Visually, the Invictus version is red while the band version was mostly white. Some early copies of the band version had our first, atrocious logo on it. As soon as we received our current logo [drawn by Rob Vomitor], we replaced the old one on all subsequent copies.
The influence of Bathory can be perceived in your sound, totally into 80s’ tradition with elements of other cult bands like Venom, early Slayer, German thrash like Sodom and Destruction, and maybe some of Canadian speed metal. Am I right? Does the entire band share the same influences?
We do all share essentially the same influences - mainly, I'd say lots of first and second wave Black Metal, Death Metal, Hardcore, 80's Heavy Metal, 70's Rock. Like I mentioned earlier, our primitive style was not entirely by choice because, but all the bands you mentioned are indeed key influences. For the Canadian influences, I suppose the most important one is Razor, others being Slaughter, Sacrifice, Inepsy.
How were the demos received locally? As you look back, are you satisfied with how they came out?
Locally, people really liked the demo, even though there is a limited amount of people who are interested in our kind of music in Ottawa. We were surprised to receive requests for a demo from international headbangers as well, mostly Europe and South America. Overall I think it was very well received, which gave us a lot of encouragement. That being said, we hated the sound of the first demo for a long time. I think now, with the passing of time, we've come to appreciate it a bit more, but we didn't like it at first because the studio we recorded in was geared more towards more modern Heavy/Stoner bands, so we ended up with a big, fat, "heavy" production, and had to do so much tweaking of the sound to get it to sound right to our ears [which of course sounds NOT right to the ears of any studio engineer]. So, the point is we like the demo, but our album is a much better representation of what Occult Burial should sound like.
Before releasing your last demo, “Promo MMXV”, you were featured on the Evil Spells Vol I compilation [released by Electric Assault Records] with other great bands. How did you receive the proposal to take part with a song? Is there any band or song that you like particularly in this compilation?
We were approached by the labels Electric Assault and Stygian Black Hand, both friends of ours who have booked Occult Burial in New York City a few times now. Again, we are very unhappy with the production of the song that appears on the compilation, but people seem to enjoy it regardless. My favourite song on that compilation (and I think my bandmates would agree) is the Spite song, Countless Blasphemy.
There is a lack of cool compilations nowadays on vinyl like the classics Metal Massacre, Speed Kills, Warfare Noise or Death is Just the Beginning released nowadays? What do you think about it? Do you own any of these compilations?
Yes, we all have a few compilations that we really enjoy. My all-time favourite compilation is actually not Metal - it's Punk and Disorderly Vol 3. I agree that compilations are very cool, but I can see why they have fallen out of fashion - after all, they are just a promotional tool, and I suppose the internet has rendered them obsolete from that point of view. That being said, I've seen a few newer compilations emerge, for example Well 'Eavy Vol. 1 or Evil Spells. So I think people are getting interested in compilations again, but I doubt there will ever be more compilations of the same caliber as the Metal Massacres or the Punk and Disorderlies.
The sound of the promo shows a big improvement from your previous demos, How did you achieve the sound, did you focused on the guitar sound mainly? Did you achieve this raw and primitive sound at first or did you work long time rehearsing before being totally satisfied with it.
The version of Hades Son that appears on the promo is the first thing we recorded with the 8-track recorder that we eventually used to make our album. It had that organic, analog sound that we knew was better suited to our sound. We didn't spend that much time figuring out a more specific sound - we just threw up some microphones and hit record, because that is the way.
Hideous obscure is your debut full length, the photo of the cover of the album is like a time machine that takes me instantly to 80´s, and I´m sure that nowadays there are not many band that use a photo instead of a “nice” and devilish drawing on the cover, can´t think of any album released recently with a band photo on the cover, how did you came with the idea?
I agree that there is an over-saturation of demonic, skull-laden drawings on covers nowadays. We went with a photo because it did indeed remind us of some of our favourite albums, such as Destruction's Sentence of Death or Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. We also had a limited budget, so it was more affordable to simply take a band picture in a basement than to commission an artist. Also, we are all handsome devils - but unfortunately our bewitching countenances got cloaked in mists and fog on the cover.
The album includes new tracks and old demo tracks re-recorded. I guess the new tracks follow the same style of the old ones. Are there any new arrangements on the old tracks?
Jackal Head, Ancient Returns, Occult Burial and Black Adoration are all demo songs that were re-recorded for the album. The only one that we tampered with structurally was Ancient Returns - we actually did a complete overhaul of that song and both versions sound significantly different from one another. But the other songs are all essentially the same - just performed better.
I´ve listened to two songs from the album, regarding production, it sounds cleaner than on the demos but it still raw primitive and “dirty”. What are the points you focus while recording and producing?
We just wanted to capture the sound of our drums and amps - no direct input, no triggers. We didn't couldn't really focus on much else because we were not very experienced with the functions of the 8-track we purchased - we learned as we went along. It was stressful enough just getting our songs to tape, we didn't really have time to worry about getting a specific sound. We researched basic microphone placement for recording, and then we knew that as long as it transferred successfully to tape, we'd be happy.
You posted the song “The bleeding spectre” on your soundcloud page a couple of months ago but it´s not included on the album, will you keep it to use it later, maybe to be released on a future EP or 7”?
We recorded that song for a split with Whipstriker, Blackrat and one other band. I'm not sure when the split will see the light of day, but The Bleeding Spectre will definitely be re-rcorded and included on our next album.
How did you get linked with Invictus Productions?
Our good friend Annick from the band Cauchemar recommended us to Darragh, who runs Invictus. He then re-released our demo tape, telling us he'd like to work with us when we had an album ready. A year later when we had our songs recorded and album art ready, we sent everything his way and he has handled the rest.
How may shows have the band performed so far? You played at Wings of metal festival 2013 with great bands such as Voor, Piledriver, Megiddo, Satan, Manilla Road…How was the experience? I guess with those bands the crowd must have gone crazy…
We've probably played somewhere around 30-40 shows since we started in 2012 - some bigger, like Wings of Metal, others just small basement shows. The first Wings of Metal in 2013 was a great experience. We were still very new as a band and had only played 3-4 shows, so to get up on stage in front of 150-200 people was a bit daunting, but we played well enough. Honestly by the end of that second night (when we played), I was so exhausted that I was semi-passed out during Satan's set. But the first night was the highlight for me - sharing a joint with Mark from Manilla Road before their set, and then when they played, hearing the whole crowd chanting along to Necropolis. Wings of Metal is always a blast.
I saw a video of a show where you [Joël] were playing drums and singing, tell me about that particular show, did you play drums in other band before Occult Burial or you do it nowadays?
That video is from a show in New York City. The show was booked but Dan Lee had to cancel for some reason, so instead of cancelling the show outright we just decided that I might as well hop on the drums and we could just forget the bass for this one show. Like I mentioned earlier, drums is my main instrument so it wasn't too difficult for me to adapt. Before Occult Burial, and to this day, I was playing drums in a D-beat/Hardcore band called Asile [French for Asylum].
Your drummer Dan played drums on Iron dogs [know now as Ice war] is he still playing with them?
No, Dan Lee parted ways with Iron Dogs after the second album. While he holds fond memories of making those first two albums, he is no longer involved in any way with Iron Dogs or Ice War.
I´m not sure if you mean this question for me personally, or for the band, so I'll answer from both perspectives.
For Occult Burial, I suppose the "strangest" show we played was a Halloween show in Philadelphia last year. It was held in the basement of this old manor. It was a cover show, and the crowd was more punk-oriented. Bikini Kill and Dead Kennedys played before us, and then it was time for Occult Burial to take the stage. We played a few originals that no one seemed to really care about, so then we played our Misfits covers and everybody was into it, including us of course. The last band to play was Iron Maiden and they played excellently! That show definitely stands out as one of the more unique ones we have played.
As for the most shocking place, any show we've played where the promoter has done an awful job promoting the show, or refuses to pay us decently, or anything of the sort - the lack of regard that some promoters have for the bands they are booking is often enough to shock us.
What are your current future plans? Is there a chance to se Occult Burial touring Europe soon?
A short European tour [France, Belgium, Germany, maybe more] is planned for autumn 2016 with our good friends Cauchemar. Other than that we are busy writing new songs - we have been feeling very creative lately, and almost have enough material for a second album already.
Thanks for your time, Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for your questions.