Hi there – thanks for taking the time to do this interview – it’s much appreciated. If you could indicate which band member has answered which questions that would be great – cheers!
First of all, many congratulations on "Phlogiston Catharsis", which is a truly remarkable album. More importantly though, how do you feel about what you’ve managed to create? What aspects of the album are you particularly pleased with? Have you ended up with the album you intended to make?
Thank you for your appreciation, on behalf of the entity named P.H.O.B.O.S. As for the long creation process, I cannot exactly remember what was the purpose to reach, if there was any. As usual, the starting point was to liberate my urges by playing, composing, experimenting and recording, but more than before, by improving my knowledge in production techniques. Trying to get rid of musical theories and genre canons as much as I could, I have prioritized my inner artistic call and found the final result quite relevant; while keeping P.H.O.B.O.S.’s musical trademark true to its core. On a personal level, even if numerous sonic areas are waiting to be explored, having achieved this new step without real calculation might be the sign that as a creator, I begin to touch an “Absolute” in return.
When I listen to "Phlogiston Catharsis" I hear a collision of the mechanistic and the natural. I hear the echoes within cave systems, the movement of tectonic plates blending with the sounds of vast metal machinery. Was this binding together of the natural world and the metal heartbeat of factories and machinery something you purposefully pursued when creating the music on Phlogiston Catharsis?
Of course, I understand and share your first perception. But honestly, I'd rather avoid those questions of wheres and whys, nature, technology, etc., especially when stereotypes like factories, machinery, etc. are mentioned when industrial/noise/electronic music is the subject. There was a time I wanted to find out the roots of such inner anger and blackness. Now I prefer to let those hostile sounds emanate from my DNA and my psyche, without filter. And I do not want to analyse and disclose any further. Play it loud in the dark, free your mind from image pollution, and step on your own voyage. You could be horrified by what is vibrating. Your terror will be intrinsic and unique; and you won’t be able to deny it’s yours.
The sound you have captured on this new album is absolutely vast. You’ve managed to instill that sense of colossal size into the riffs and beats. Where did you record the album? Who did you work with? What was the atmosphere within the studio like while carving out these imposing pieces of music?
I wanted this record to sound heavy and spectral, spending the necessary amount of time with production; which I put at the same level as, if not more than, playing. The entire process took place at Sapel Lomor, my own sound laboratory and recording studio, which was just renewed and improved to reach professional standards. Mani Ann-Sitar and Magnus Larssen, two old mates, helped me to refresh P.H.O.B.O.S. in diverse fields like sampling, effects editing, guitar tone, ao. Those sessions were brainstorming and intense between ourselves, but I stood in command, having decided that all other incoming sounds should conform to the complex rhythmic skeletons I’ve initially built up. We sporadically worked as a trio, but as usual, I directed the whole artistic process, from first ideas to final mixes. Mastering is my limit, and I prefer to trust skilled ears from the outside.
Can you tell me a little about the lyrics on the new album? The music suggests themes of dystopian futures, alien worlds, internal and external darkness, fear – but what thoughts and ideas were you trying to convey in your words?
For my previous albums, concepts were developed from the works of writers I feel a spiritual connection with. I was about to do the same for « Phlogiston Catharsis », but lyric-wise, I wanted to challenge myself. I felt more confident with my throat, and was ready to develop ideas and words for each piece, just before voice capture. The lyrical result is more spontaneous, free from too literal references, and often purposely entitled with neologisms; it reflects my very self through such topics like those you have quoted. We can also add the torment of a chronical anxious maniacal schizophrenic control freak and pessimist, whose only relief would be staring at the punishment of mankind through the flames of Pachamama. P.H.O.B.O.S.’ music and words assume this mandatory disappearance of life, to open a non-human dimension beyond us, be it horrible.
I noticed the quote from Quorthon on your website... “whatever you call it, black metal or death metal or whatever, it's not important. why bother about stuff aside from the music? why create a thing that has no importance besides the music? why even care about styles, images and nationalities? etc” ...does this sum up your attitude to your music? Do you count Quorthon as a major influence? Both musically and spiritually?
Indeed. I will always remember my fright when discovering “The Return ...” at the time of its release. Vibes of darkness were issuing from mysterious and chaotic sounds I had never heard before. An entire black refuge then opened itself to the isolated teenager I was. As a musician, I want to keep this precious primal feeling blazing inside of me. Mistakenly considered as a standard metal trio (helped by Quorthon’s insidious promotion), Bathory quickly became with “Under The Sign...” the work of a secluded and underrated musician, with his clumsiness and rudimentary tools, but open- minded enough to push metal music towards new sonic extremities. The radical vision of Quorthon’s early works has lit the beacons that guide P.H.O.B.O.S., definitely.
How would you chart the growth of P.H.O.B.O.S.’ music since you began? What would you say have been the main pathways of progression?
Throughout the existence of the project, I did not want to repeat myself. The inevitable way for a permanent evolution is to renew my arsenal regularly (instruments, guitar tunings, machines, effects, etc.). Thus a lot of self-learning is continuously necessary to master miscellaneous steps in the production chain. I don’t really enjoy this unescapable job, but so far, I’ve been rewarded by the multiplicity of possible new feelings I can express. I am not into analysing too much my progression, but I would say the seclusion in my new studio these past years helped me to accept P.H.O.B.O.S. ‘sound with self-confidence, thanks to my greater technical knowledge.
Do you have any sense of where P.H.O.B.O.S. music will travel to next? Do you write all the time, or just when the time comes for a new album? Do you have a particular way of working when it comes to assembling new P.H.O.B.O.S. material?
Depending on my mood, I can spend days and nights on a creation, and then let it mature during a certain amount of time. Or finally decide to throw it away. Working on each P.H.O.B.O.S. album is very demanding and needs long exclusive periods of concentration; ideas do not come from a weekly rehearsals basis. Even if “Phlogiston Catharsis” is a guitar-oriented album, I feel a bit tired of building on riffs. Metal music has been my frame for so long, now I have to finally admit that since the mid-nineties, it is not inventive and exciting anymore; except maybe from a very few pioneering artists. One can make live shows out of music, one can hide behind nebulous concepts and hundreds of packaging versions; but I think everything has been invented in metal music played by humans. The genre is artistically dead and buried. I believe in the power of sound synthesis for P.H.O.B.O.S.’s future. I cannot predict exactly what will be delivered next, but as I am just getting my hand on new generation analogue drum machines and samplers, one can expect a dive into electronic dark domains, deeper than ever.
Can you tell me a little bit about the cover art that you have chosen for the album? What was behind your choice? How does the image link to the themes of the album?
Practising oil on canvas, two of my paintings were ready to be used for the album cover. But when I recently discovered Synckop evocative art and brush techniques, it was obvious that something special among his pictures was waiting to illustrate my music, far from metal covers clichés like skulls, vortexes, etc. I was under the spell of some of his works, reminiscent of the artwork I did for “Tectonics”, with enigmatic materials and similar colours. The mineral and volcanic themes may be less tangible, but the blood and fire references are more vivid, and are strongly connected to the new album topics of inner flame and catharsis. Not to forget the various ghostly faces you can unconsciously discover here and there, amongst other disturbances.
Do you have plans to tour in support of this new album? Will there be live presentations of Phlogiston Catharsis?
As a composer, the perspective of ephemeral and magickal moments brought to air and exclusively heard alone is the "real blast", before their transmission to an audience. P.H.O.B.O.S. has nothing to do with visual entertainment, live shows, actor gymnastics, etc. It would almost be indecency and imposture to try to reproduce these so intense and personally meaningful sensations. "Promoting" these delicate sonic layers on stage is nonsense - be it with pre-recorded trickery... I want to stay away from the superficiality and sonic mediocrity often witnessed in the world of spectacle. P.H.O.B.O.S. tracks are composed for one elite that is ready to rise above the materialistic, visual- oriented and uncultured mass behaviour, by only trusting the power of sound through his ears and his mind. Having exceeded some extremities on record, not every kind of feelings are to be shown off. No debasement towards human performance.
The album is being released through Transcending Obscurity Records – how did that deal come about? Are you enjoying working with the label?
Like for my previous albums, very few labels were positive when solicited; but Transcending Obscurity has shown an immediate and serious interest: Some hours after sending them a pre- listening link, P.H.O.B.O.S. was offered a two-album deal, detailed in one long professional e-mail. Kunal Choksi revealed to be a dedicated metal aficionado, not afraid to invest in his passion, and working hard to continuously increase the quality of his label’s products; which is a totally respectable endeavour when your home base is India. In our times of soon-to-be-dead record industry and sales collapse, this was a material support that could not be refused.
...thanks again for doing this and many congratulations again on the album! Cheers