Interview with Ars Moriendi

Interview with Ars Moriendi

- in Written interviews

Hi Bastien! Can you share with us the origin story of Ars Moriendi and how your journey as a one-man black metal project began over 20 years ago?
In 1999 I started a project called Solipsis with a friend on guitars and we recorded 2 demos in 2000 and 2001. That same year, I wanted to work on a personal project in a more Dark/Ambient vein (now we speak about Dungeon Synth but not at the beginning of the 2000’s) with some guitar riffs, Ars Moriendi was born and the project would evolve over time into something more black metal while remaining adventurous and not really imposing of limit.

Your music is known for incorporating a wide range of influences beyond metal.
Yes, I am very open musically and I never wanted to impose stylistic limits on myself with Ars Moriendi, the only two conditions being that the whole thing remains dark and epic. Metal is the dominant style because it’s my favorite genre but, if you listen closely, you’ll notice that almost all types of metal appear throughout the compositions, black, death, heavy, thrash… But I don’t limit myself to metal and other genres that I appreciate have their place, jazz, classical music, electro, trip-hop, new-wave etc. It’s not specific to recent albums since my 2005 demo (Sepulcrum) is probably the most experimental and bizarre thing I’ve done. On the new albums you will be able to hear all these influences in tracks like «Voyage Céleste» which contains a passage that I would call Dark/Wave in the middle, or even the transition track “Nous sommes passés” which is a Dark/Electro trip. On the albums “Sepelitur Alleluia” and “La solitude du pieux scélérat” (2016 and 2019) I invited my father and my uncle, respectively trumpeter and saxophonist, to play on a few passages

Could you tell us about some of the non-metal influences that have shaped your unique sound?
Like I said, Metal is the genre I started listening in 1996 and it changed my life. But this genre allowed me, by extension, to discover many others, from Dungeon Synth to electro, passing through Dark Symphonic and neo/Folk. Bands like Ulver (whole career) or Elend are part of my major influences and have always been present in my compositions. In addition, from my family environment I have always remained open to many styles. My father has always listened to jazz and jazz-rock, which means that I have always had an interest in this genre. Through my research in history, I worked on baroque music, which also made me very aware of this genre.

With eight albums, your musical evolution has been extensive. How would you describe the progression of your artistic vision and sound over these years?
Nothing is calculated in advance but it is clear that my way of composing evolves over time. You have to listen to the entire discography (including the demos, which makes 14 albums) to realize this. In my opinion, my progression is continuous in terms of composition, execution, work on the sound but also on the texts and the placement of the voice (which does not prevent some from preferring my old albums…). I must admit that it is becoming more and more difficult to renew oneself, to offer new things with each album while preserving the identity of the project. So far I’m getting there…

Your latest album, “Lorsque les coeur s’assèchent,” continues your exploration of atmospheric black metal. What themes or inspirations influenced the creation of this album, both musically and lyrically?
Musically this album is in the continuity of the previous one with some novelties (the song “Voyage Céleste” ventures in Dark/Wave way for example). I tried to work on the effectiveness of the riffs which are perhaps more immediate and memorable, and to work also on the clean vocals moments. I have had very positive feedback on this. Concerning the lyrics, without really being a concept, the recurring theme of the album is a questioning of our relationship to evil and more précisely of the moment when the passage takes place, for some, from innocence to the most absolute perversity (This explains the title of the album “When hearts dry up”). Each song then addresses its own theme. For example The 2nd song is about the soldier (from all eras and all countries) and many ambiguities of this character. On the one hand, he defends his country, his people, and can be considered a hero, but for the opposite camp he is a monster who destroys your house, kills your friends and your fellow citizens… A complex status therefore. The last track of the album “La Blasphémateur” tells the story of the Chevalier de la Barre, a French nobleman accused of blasphemy in 1766 and who, after a controversial trial, will be tortured and burned alive. He is the last man sentenced to death for blasphemy in France.

Musically, “Lorsque les coeur s’assèchent” showcases noticeable progression in sound and composition effectiveness. Could you elaborate on the changes you’ve implemented and your creative process in achieving this evolution?
As I said there was no big difference with the previous albums concerning the recording. No doubt my instrument playing progresses over time which makes me record things more precisely. As you remember and as I said before, I actually tried to focus more than usual on the intensity and efficiency of the riffs. Vladislav Redkin (mix/mastering), who I’ve been working with since the «Sepelitur Alleluia» album, also did a superb job giving this album the best sound I’ve ever had (despite what some reviewers of the sound of the album may think…).

Your project has maintained its one-man nature. How do you balance the various roles of writing, performing, recording, and producing to consistently deliver your distinctive musical output?
Apart from Solipsis when there were two of us, I have always played alone. It’s a habit for me and this way of working suits me because it involves no constraint; I compose and record at the rhythm I like. Generally I compose on the guitar, I start with an arpeggio or a riff and then I gradually build the piece around these main ideas. The drums, the bass then the keyboards then come to sublimate and arrange the whole. Once the instrumental version is finished I look at the lyrics that complete the piece. Everything is ready to be sent properly to the sound engineer for mixing and mastering

As a French artist, how does your cultural background influence your music, especially considering the diverse influences you incorporate into your sound?
It is true that my texts are often linked to French culture and the history of my country, which are obviously more familiar to me, especially since I am a historian. This is the case, for example, on the last album with “Le Blasphémateur” but also on the previous one with the title « Enivrons-nous », derived from a poem by Charles Baudelaire, or even on the title «Un néant à l’égard de l’infini» in which we can hear a long tirade by the philosopher Blaise Pascal about infinity. I was all the more proud to quote this great philosopher and scientist as he is from my town of Clermont-Ferrand. I still specify that I sometimes traveled to Italy as shown by the titles “Savonarole” and “Brescia 1512” on “Le Silence déraisonnable du Ciel”.

Collaborations can offer fresh perspectives. Could you tell us about the splits with your side-project Notre Amertume and how working on that project influenced your approach to Ars Moriendi?
In 2006, Ars Moriendi was not yet signed to a label and I had the opportunity to release my album “La Danse des hypnotiques” as a split with the excellent Bulgarian Doom/Death band Darkflight. Unfortunately the label was a rip-off and dropped everything without giving a reason. We had said with Ivo Illiev, the leader of Darkflight, that we would find a way to collaborate together in the future. In 2011 he contacted me because he had some compositions in a different way than Darkflight. He asked me if I was interested in putting my voice on it and writing the lyrics. I found the challenge very motivating and that’s how Notre Amertume was born. We released 2 split CDs, the first with Ars Moriendi, the second with three other bands. It was a very nice experience for me, and another way of working by concentrating only on the concept and the lyrics. Maybe more things will come out in the future.

Atmospheric black metal often conjures vivid imagery. How do you approach translating emotions and concepts into your music without traditional vocal narratives?
It’s not an easy question. Through riffs and arrangements I try to take the listener into the world of the song. To facilitate immersion, I like to use samples which are sometimes excerpts from films or theatrical performances. In “Le Blasphémateur”, last song of the new album, we can hear the character in the last part of the song read a letter he has just written to his relatives and in which he explains to them how he is waiting to be tortured. It’s not me speaking, it’s a sample that I recut and reworked. My texts being in French, this leaves listeners who do not understand my language somewhat aside. They must let themselves be carried away by the music and imagine what it says, as I do when I listen to foreign groups.

Could you discuss your approach to crafting lyrics and the role they play in conveying the messages behind your music?
When I started Ars Moriendi I wanted an instrumental project and that’s the case for the first two demos. Moving towards black metal, I started inserting vocal parts but it was usually improvised lyrics, sometimes just screams. It wasn’t until the album “Du tréfonds d’un être” that I started to really work on the lyrics, to give them importance in the project. Since then I still try to progress with each album in the construction, the rhymes, the story, it’s a real challenge for me because it was not natural at the start. Now the texts have great importance in Ars Moriendi and allow me to be much clearer in what I want to express.

In the digital age, music consumption and distribution have transformed. How have these changes impacted your approach to creating and sharing your music with a global audience?
These developments have had no impact on my approach to music and my way of composing. I have the chance to work with a label which is attached to traditional vectors (cd, vinyl, tapes) but which knew how to evolve and modernize using means like Bandcamp and digital purchase. For my part, I remain attached to physical objects and we are lucky to be part of a scene where many still are.

The visual aspect is important in the world of music. How do you work on translating the essence of your music into album artwork and visual aesthetics?
Since the album “La singulière noirceur d’un astre” I work with artists whose style and works touch me and who will be able to create a visual close to what I have in mind. This is an absolutely essential aspect for me, it is the identity of the album, it is the image that listeners will have in mind when listening to it, it is the world in which the music must take them away. Three covers were made by Leoncio Harmr (who notably did the artwork for the last album of Seth), but I also worked with the Romanian artist Luciana Nedelea on the album “Sepelitur Alleluia” and Sözo Tozö, a French artist very talented, on the new album. About the last album, the cover is based on the last title, “The Blasphemer”, we can see the victim, the priest and the judge, the three characters who express themselves in the song. It is also related to the title of the album, I leave it to you to make the connection.

From your point of view, how does the concept of darkness, whether as a physical absence of light or a metaphorical representation, shape our understanding of the human condition and our pursuit of knowledge?
In a metaphysical sense there is always this duality in the human being between light and darkness and this is exactly what I wanted to show in this new album but in an extreme sense. How some go from light (the innocence of childhood) to absolute perversity (darkness) that can push them to the worst abominations. One can think here of the great tyrants of history, of terrorists, of serial killers. What is contradictory is that the concepts which claim light, peace, happiness, therefore religions, have often been at the origin of this perversion. And so to answer your question more directly, being interested in darkness clearly allows us to better understand human beings and the world around them.

In what ways does the existence of diverse and often contradictory religious beliefs across cultures and history challenge our notions of truth, morality, and the nature of the divine?
It is the role of religions to prevent us from questioning ourselves too much about these metaphysical notions. We offer you a preconceived where everything is explained. This did not prevent, in history, very pious men from wondering about these subjects. I was referring to Blaise Pascal earlier, and he’s a very good example. Through his scientific and astrophysical questions he somehow highlighted the limits of the Christian religion to explain the universe even if he generally concluded, when he had no answer, that we had to trust God (This is “Pascal’s bet”, we cannot prove the existence of God but we must bet on it since we have nothing to lose. If he exists, we have won the bet and we can claim paradise, and if it does not exist one will have led a righteous and decent life anyway). It would have been interesting for such a thinker to have access to current scientific knowledge. Would his beliefs have been shaken for all that?
For my part, I am an atheist, which does not prevent me from being interested in religion and the major role it has played in the history and construction of our societies (my history thesis was about church musicians and choirboys in the 17th and 18th centuries).

How do various philosophical perspectives offer insights into the nature of suffering, its role in human existence, and the paths toward transcendence or acceptance?
This question would have made a perfect title for a Bal-Sagoth album haha. More seriously, I do think that these different perspectives offer human beings a number of choices that can lead them to a different voice. But personally I think there is a path for everyone and it is not necessarily linked to any religion. What you call suffering is a common feeling which can be of different natures but which none of us will be able to avoid during our existence.

Over your lengthy career, you’ve undoubtedly faced various challenges and celebrated successes. Could you share a particularly memorable moment or turning point that has significantly influenced your journey?
The big turning point that I see is my signing with Griffin Music in 2008. I had released 6 demos so far and I didn’t think I would be signed one day. This was followed by Archaic Sound, which since 2011 has allowed me to release my albums with professional quality. For the rest I can’t say that my project has really exploded until now (and it won’t be anymore) so I can’t highlight an album rather than another which would have allowed Ars Moriendi a huge gain in popularity. My music is very varied which means that there is often something that is not suitable (too black, too death, too prog, too badly produced, vocals that are not pleasing…). Despite everything, I have often benefited from very good feedback on my albums (with a few exceptions) and those who appreciate what I do really appreciate it and understand my approach, which fully satisfies me. Obviously I would like to sell more albums in order to better reward the work of Yuriy from Archaic Sound, but that’s life.

Looking ahead, what direction do you envision for Ars Moriendi? Are there any specific goals or aspirations that you’re aiming to achieve in the next chapter of your musical exploration? Thank you for your time!
I started thinking about the next album for which I have already recorded some elements but I can’t reveal yet what musical direction it will take and what it will be about. There will certainly be things typical of the project but also new things and surprises. Wait and see… Thank you for this exciting interview!

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