Chile was known back in the 80s and early 90s for some really good quality Death and Thrash Metal bands. But right after that time, the Chilean scene went into some kind of slumber. It was not until the mid 2000s when Chile's scene had its revival, so to speak, with a bunch of amazing bands. With NAR MATTARU among them. Their 2009 demo tape, "In The Black Spheres Of Time", just gave a hint of what was to come. 2 years after that came their debut album "Enuma Elish" and 2015's "Ancient Atomic Warfare" sees the band growing and evolving into their own sound and style: obscure, heavy and dense Death Metal. Francisco Bravo (founder and guitar / bass player) kindly answered our questions. He talked to us about the creation of the band, their current status and their plans for the recent future...
Your bio states that the band was formed in 1997 but the first proper demo tape came out in 2009, more than 10 years after the formation of the band. Could you please talk about that and also how the band came to be after all that time?
"Sure. NAR MATTARU started right after I was laid off from DOMINUS. I can't remember if it was 1997 or 1998. We started with me on bass, Artarys on vocals, Andres on drums and two friends of us on guitars: Alejandro from DOMINUS and Jorge from SILENTIUM. It started as a project. Now, besides Artarys and me, the other guys had their bands and they were producing and recording. So, they had too little time to dedicate to the band. Andres used to travel a lot due to business. So we had to take some extra time to coordinate rehearsals and everything got really complicated. Nevertheless, we managed to record a couple good quality rehearsals. We almost made it to the studio, but all the issues mentioned above killed the band. Each of us went our own way. It was a great time we spent together, though. Right after that, I really can't recall what happened. I retired from DENYING NAZARENE in 2007 and the year right after that, I decided to bring back NAR MATTARU. Good old memories and some beers made us promise that this time we would make it happen, no matter what. I had two songs ready, so we started to work on them with the solely purpose of recording a demo tape, so we would close that chapter. That eventually led to a full on working band again."
Regarding your first demo tape "In The Black Spheres Of Time" from 2009: how was it received in the underground, locally and internationally? Was the material ready before hand or did you got together again to write all new songs?
"We think it was well received. We got some good and bad criticism and then some. But we didn't care about that. "In The Black Spheres Of Time" was exactly what we wanted. The production, the artwork, the style of Death Metal we always wanted to play. It was really satisfying. Now, those songs are totally different from the songs we used to play back in 1998. I wrote those songs for my ex - band so they were a year old by that time. Maybe for our third album, we will re - record a song from that era. We worked as hard as we could to put the demo out there and give the band some exposure but I think the only issue we had with it was distribution. Time would eventually make that recording available to a wider audience."
"In The Black Spheres Of Time" has 4 songs plus an INCANTATION cover, with an usual length of 32 minutes. That is almost 2 times the duration of the usual demo tape. Is length one of the least important aspects for the band when writing new songs?
"The length of our songs may look interesting to some, but for us, it doesn't matter. We just play and write without limits, restrictions or given rules, including length. We also believe that adding time to some parts help create atmosphere and darker settings. This may sound crazy, but we actually thought about writing a 30 or 40 minutes song; a Death Metal symphony, so to speak, with 100 or so guitar riffs combined. But the idea was discarded, since it would have been too much work. I still think we could have pulled it off though. The new songs are still lengthy. We have one song clocking at 12 minutes and we realized that right after we had recorded it."
Your debut album "Enuma Elish" came 2 years after your demo tape. How was the process of writing new songs? Did you have music and lyrics laying around or did you come up with all new songs at rehearsal? Also included are 3 cover versions from KRATHERION, AUTOPSY and INCANTATION. Why include not one or two but three songs from other bands instead of using that time for NAR MATTARU songs?
"The writing process was nothing special. As I told you, it just comes up really easy. I write all the music, set on structures and some details. Then we take those ideas to Andres for him to decide what to play and last, the vocals come in. We have always worked that way and so far, so good. Andres and Rodrigo have their respective bands and personally, I can't spend a lot of time either, so we just rehearse before the recording process starts. We have learned to maximize the little time and resources we get. We do some recordings separately, then we get together with some beers and go over all these ideas and set everything straight for the studio. I really don't know why, but we also covered a bunch of songs that I threw at the other guys at rehearsals and since everyone agreed on them, we decided to include them in the album. I think it has to with having fun. Covering these amazing songs from incredible bands was fun for us and they came out pretty good. We don't want to stand out or be famous. We just want to play Death Metal. I mean, I really don't know how we made it this far into our 3rd album."
Pacto Records released your debut album. How did the band and the label came in contact. Promotional wise, were you satisfied to work with them?
"To be honest, I don't remember how we got in contact with Pacto Records, but the owner was a really cool guy. Eventually, he failed to comply with some parts of our agreement due to a serious personal problem. By the time, we had signed to I, Voidhanger Records, so we just moved on. We don't care if our material is put out by a small indie or a big well-known label. The only thing that matters to us is that they fulfill the contract and finally, have our music released as we expect it."
Your latest album, "Ancient Atomic Warfare" came out late in December of 2015. Since there was a line-up change (Bliol replaced original vocalist Carlos Artarys), did you maintain the same workflow when coming up with new songs or was Bliol's input an integral part of the developing of the new material.
"We kept the same process more or less. Lyrics, poetry and prose are not my thing. I prefer to speak through music. So, I respect a lot the work of vocalists and specially, Bliol's input to NAR MATTARU. We shared some ideas, but he ended up writing all the lyrics to "Ancient Atomic Warfare". He did an extraordinary job, by the way. Sadly, Bliol is no longer in the band. Lack of time and commitment issues have stricken again. It is a real pity to see him go. He is a good old friend. We knew him from long time ago and we shared the stage numerous times (DOMINUS and GORGOTH). Anyway, both, C. Artarys and Bliol did an impeccable job in their time with the band. They are real Death Metal warriors! Our new vocalist is Rodrigo Contador, from the band GRAVERED and we are really satisfied with his work and input."
Having played in bands such as DOMINUS / DOMINUS XUL, THORNAFIRE, DENYING NAZARENE and others, do you think the actual members of NAR MATTARU are still influenced by your previous bands or have you managed to come up with a totally different concept?
"When we used to play with our previous bands, we were influenced by Death Metal bands from the early and mid 90s, such as IMMOLATION, GRAVE, INCANTATION etc. And we still are. But now, I think we are paving a new road. We are adding a new twist to the band to create our own style. Or at least that is what I want to believe. We also believe changes come naturally. We may want to add new and different aspects to our sound. Maybe a melodic touch, maybe something more epic, who knows? The band has evolved a lot since we started and we could not be happier about it."
"Ancient Atomic Warfare" is also a solid proof of the band's evolution. The sound is darker, more dense and overall, the music has a haunting edge that, in my humble opinion, wasn't achieved in your previous efforts. Is it natural for the band to evolve in this way or was it a planned change?
"It was not planned at all. The ideas just pop up. If we like what we hear, then we build the songs around them and they are put on tape. Nothing is predetermined. What we have realized is that we feel really comfortable with the way "Ancient Atomic Warfare" came to be. It is really dynamic. Our next album, soon to be released, will definitely follow the same path sound wise."
This newest album also brought in a new label, I Voidhanger Records, from Italy. How did you get in contact? Do you think that having a bigger label will help the band to be exposed to other parts of the underground? Are you satisfied with their work so far?
"Again, and sorry for this, but I can't recall how we came in contact with I, Voidhanger. But so far, the label has been great. They even waited a whole year for "Ancient Atomic Warfare" to be completed, since we ran into numerous problems while recording it. We keep working with Luciano (label owner) because he has complied his part of the deal and we are grateful for that. Now, as a personal opinion, I think that bands should be concerned about their music the most. If you are serious about your music, offers and recognition for your work will show up eventually. Something that really bothers me is that there are bands around more concerned about their cover artwork, pictures and esthetics than about the quality of their songs. We don't look for these things. We just want to play the style of music we like and live for."
How do you approach songwriting? Is the music crafted first and then the lyrics? Or do you work different parts and link them up? Who is the main composer and who writes the lyrics?
"It is pretty simple. I write all the music (guitars and bass). Afterwards, we take the songs to our drummer and he decides how and what to play. Once the song is completed music wise, the vocalist comes in with lyrics and phrasing. We have worked like this since we started."
Now, after the technical and usual information on the band and its releases, I would like to get into the lyrics. They suit the music perfectly. The Sumerian (and pre - Sumerian) background had me thinking since I came in contact with NAR MATTARU. This is a question divided in 3 parts, all related between them in my humble opinion. NAR MATTARU is yet another name for the great underworld ocean (or the underworld) in ancient Sumer. You had the main content set right from the start. Could you let us know on how the band approaches these ancient beliefs lyric wise? Do you also take influences from the Maqlu text? "Enuma Elish" is also the Babylonian creation mythos; Marduk's victory over Tiamat and how he became king of the gods. Is the album a follow up to Enlil's background or is it related to the actual events of that story? It is undeniable that Lovecraft took a lot of influence from the Sumerian mythos and used it in his "Necronomicon". Do you also take Lovecraft's influence as part of your inspiration?
"I am going to be honest here. I have kept myself away from the lyrical compositions that C. Artarys and Bliol have came up with. I have never taken part in that department, not because I don't want to, but because my main concern has always been the music and I believe it deserves my total attention. Now that Rodrigo is on board, I talk to him and we share ideas and concepts so I can link those to the music I write. The band concept is based in the Maqlu text, in the Enuma Elish, Egyptian funeral rites, the timeless battles before time and the associations between them all. Luckily, our vocalists have maintained a solid lyrical concept and the band has been constant in this aspect. On the other hand, I never could find or infer any Lovecraftian influence in their lyrical works."
Music wise, it seems that NAR MATTARU's music is firmly rooted in the Death Metal camp, but the atmosphere and some of the lyrical content is easily connected to Black Metal. Do you agree to this? And which bands were most important to you, inspiration wise? So far, how many of those influences have stayed or changed over the years?
"You may be right. Various people have told me that they can hear some Black Metal traits in the music of NAR MATTARU. And if there are any, those have been completely unintentional and unconscious. I guess the main reason behind is that my fanatism for BATHORY flourishes from time to time when I am writing. My devotion to INCANTATION shows clearly in 'Enuma Elish'. And this is a fact that happens to most of the bands out there. Influences. But I think that is something natural and I have no problem with it if, it works for you. Our music has always been rooted in the ancient Death Metal style and that obviously shows in our current material."
Finally, what about live appearances? I mean, Francisco shares both, guitar and bass duties. But have you considered adding a session member so you can play live in a recent future?
"This is something we have been messing around with a lot. Lots of bands have invited us to play live. But as I mentioned before, the time we have available is limited. So, bringing new people into the band would be a lot of work and would take up the time we can actually use to write and rehearse. Also, we would not be able to maintain a regular live band schedule, with gigs and / or tours happening constantly, in and out of the country and all the stuff that comes with it. I have played with excellent musicians, from which I have learned a lot and the more you can play, the more you want to impose your personal style. And that is when the problems would start for us, since we play an already set and defined style that we don't want to change. So finding somebody with that same mindset would be really difficult. Besides that, due to us not rehearsing constantly, it would take time to make it happen and, again, as I mentioned before, time is always against this band. We may play live eventually, but for now, we are focused on creating new music and completing our next album."
Well, this has been it. I thank you very much for taking your time to answer these questions. If you would like to add something else, please go ahead. All the best and thank you again!
"It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for your patience and your interest in NAR MATTARU."
The following, second interview was originally published in Germany's NECROMANIAC zine # 10, but since there's hardly any NAR MATTARU interviews out there, we figured it might be a good idea to re-use it here as well, to make this feature even a bit more in-depth (thanks to Thomas Westphal, who kindly gave us the permission)...
Francisco, when I got your demo “In The Black Spheres Of Time” I was once again surprised about the true brutality and diabolicalness of Chilean Death Metal! Knowing this I was really excited finding out that you have now recorded a full length album. Like always it took a little longer to find its way to Europe, but I can say that “Enma Elish” has turned out to be a masterpiece of darkness! Are you satisfied with your work?
"Enuma Elish" is a concept album where we reveal the true identity of what classic Death Metal is like, the way we've always played it, with atmospheres that go beyond any lyrical or musical limits. The heaviness of what we do ain't related to the speed but to the structural density, while the album from beginning to the and is a story of what Death Metal has been lacking of these last years, where people tends to appreciate technical skills more than good compositions."
You have been active as a musician in different bands for an extremely long time, for example DOMINUS who did one demo and one EP and later became DOMINUS XUL. That DOMINUS XUL album was a revelation for me back then! Why did you guys split up?
"DOMINUS XUL, along with TOTTEN KORPS, was maybe the strongest entity of Chilean Death Metal and the dissolution was caused by several reasons, still in good terms. Thus NAR MATTARU was born and even nowadays you can see how vision, approach and sound between both bands differ. You can see that all the material from the DOMINUS demos and EP were included on the first LP."
Are you still in touch with DOMINUS XUL? In the meantime they have released another album. Have you heard it, do you like it?
"Our contact these days is basically zero… Andres (drummer) keeps in touch because they're friends. We don't really have anything in common so it ain't necessary. Their latest album ain't something I enjoy, because their musical concept has changed (technically) and I still think it's important to impregnate Death music with "real" sounds, even though there might be mistakes or performance issues, because that still brings a certain identity that can't compare to an over-processed perfectionist approach which you know you can't reach in a live situation. We all know our virtues and defects and we have both kept them and reflected them 100% in NAR MATTARU."
You also played in DENYING NAZARENE and recorded “Obliterating The Christian Devotion” with them. By now you have left the band. What can you tell us about your time in this band?
"DENYING NAZARENE was a good project, which demanded much of my time and resources. You end up a little exhausted and well, not so compromised anymore, which ain't fair to the rest of the band. It's essential to know "when" to step aside. Even if I was the main composer, the rest of the band had an important role in it as well and even if I had left, that was no reason for them to stop it. The main thing is that we are good friends and support each other when needed."
Was NAR MATTARU founded right after you left DENYING NAZARENE? Which year was it exactly? You formed the band together with Andreés Gonzáles, who you also played with in DOMINUS XUL, right?
"Andres has always been a great partner, NAR MATTARU existed as a "project" before DENYING NAZARENE in 1999, but was on stand-by for a while because we were both involved in other things (Andres with SILENTIUM / THORNAFIRE and I with DENYING NAZARENE). Andres was the founder member of DOMINUS XUL until just before the recording of the first LP (with me) and once I left DENYING NAZARENE we reactivated the "project" and started composing and working for it. The most interesting thing was that the recording of "Enuma Elish" happened without even rehearsing the material, we had completed a bunch of preliminary demos and just went straight to the studio afterwards. The man in charge of the production was Claudio Torres, who also recorded DOMINUS XUL in '98, so it was essential to have someone who, first, we trusted and secondly, that we knew had the right perception of the atmospheres and sounds we really needed."
In 2009 you recorded your demo “In The Black Spheres Of Time”. I was really surprised when I found it in my mailbox. A killer demo! Hacker and Sönke of Obscure Domain Productions wanted to sign you immediately. Unfortunately, this did not work out. The opener track 'Nar Mattaru' is an eight minute Doom song with ultra heavy riffs! Where did you record this demo? Is it self-produced?
"In The Black Spheres Of Time" was the first process, a little risky, but pretty effective in terms of us realizing if it was the sound we wanted and, at the same time, if it could actually pay for the other tracks already composed for the album. It was quite a surprise that, even with almost no promo at all, people (both old school and newcomers) would appreciate it. Everything was auto-produced and gave us the chance to pay for the production of "Enuma Elish"… even more, it has become cult material, where the lyrics, music and art have an absolute fusion giving an instant vision of the concept. We're not a band that plays live very often, the opposite, we wanna do it when we can actually project 100% the band's mystique and deliver a proper musical / aesthetic vision, defining properly the sound of the album."
A cover version of INCANTATION’s 'Abolishment Of Immaculate Serenity' from their “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene” album is the last song on the demo. For you personally, which album is the more important one, “Onward To Golgotha” or “Mortal Throne Of Nazarene”? Can you remember when and how INCANTATION changed your musical life? When did you hear them the first time?
"These two albums are, to me, pretty much different to each other. They're sound and genre's milestones, in a way that in the mid 90s Death Metal noone had ever done before. For a while I used to think that noone could ever do something like that and when I finally heard INCANTATION, it certainly defined my parameters of how to listen to Metal music. We know our music might sound similar, but it's unavoidable, it's the way we wanna play and now I actually realize how much this band meant to us and our lives. There's a bunch of others, of course, but INCANTATION is undoubtedly a pillar, when I first heard "Abolishment…" I lost a couple teeth, my hair started falling and I was in coma for a couple seconds, till I woke up shaking and could almost not speak… I could only say "oooooooohhhh….shiiiiiiitttt!!!" hahahaha, that's how I remember those days..."
In Chile your album “Enma Elish” was released via Pacto Records und later in Europe by Italian label I, Voidhanger Records. How did things get started with these two labels?
"Pacto Records was a really good label for us and during the time we were with them, everything worked according to what we expected. Unfortunately we lost contact, so we started talking with I, Voidhanger Records for the release of the album, which ended up being 100% our own decision. With both labels the experience has been positive. Voidhanger contacted us, impressed by our material, but we kept it stand-by until with could find a general consensus between Pacto, NAR MATTARU and Voidhanger. In the end, everything worked for the better, as there where places where, due to lack of distribution, you couldn't get our material so it was necessary to reach them as well, something that maybe with Pacto we could've never done."
On the album you covered AUTOPSY’s 'Twisted Mass Of Burnt Decay'. How important is this band for you? How did they influence you?
"AUTOPSY is an essential influence for all of us, from the music, dynamics, the artworks, lyrics and even more, the history. We gotta remember that AUTOPSY is one of the big pillars of Death Metal and, more than just making our own version of 'Twisted Mass Of Burnt Decay', we're tributing such a giant act."
What can you tell us about KRATHERION? Unfortunately I don’t know this band. The cover song does not fit as well as the other two songs mentioned. I always thought I’m pretty familiar with the Chilean underground, but somehow I missed out on this band.
"About KRATHERION I can only say it's a friend's band and I deeply admire this sort of musical effort… when I first heard 'Tirano Constrictor' I realized what a great obscure tune it was, so visceral and with such and extreme kind of lyrics, for me one of the best songs ever made in Chile… the decision came pretty sudden, I proposed it and in 2 weeks time we were already rehearsing with Vilu (KRATHERION) and that's it, we made an alliance. Its result makes me really pleased, many people wondered why we recorded this song so different to what we usually do… well, easy, because it's one of the best things I've ever heard."
You have been playing with Andreés Gonzáles for more than 20 years. When did you guys meet? Did you go to school together? Which ones were the first bands you listened to together and who inspired you?
"I joined DOMINUS when Andres was already there. There's a bunch of stories that could tell we knew each other since we were kids, like saying the traditional Lord's Prayer backwards, scaring the shit out of other kids in the neighborhood (I think we were 15 years old) as well as sharing with so many persons that came to form many Chilean Metal bands afterwards and used to live nearby back then. We were still in school when we met first time so hanging out together was kinda mandatory, considering our musical preferences."
Do both of you do the songwriting? Tell us about the creating process of your songs please?
"The songs are "musically" mine, I take my time and make demos during several months which later on becomes what's gonna be recorded. During that period of time noone else from the band has any participation, because it feels like an extremely personal thing to give a logical sense to the composition. Once this is done, I show them the songs and they give their best to increase or improve them, adding their own in order to keep a strong atmosphere. This helps in terms of every note, every hit and every phrase becomes a "need", without overdoing it, because our main goal is the obscure and brutal atmosphere, which make some songs that are maybe "too long", are just a pure reflection of the lyrical side of things which would be impossible to reproduce in 4 minute compositions."
Thanks for the interview!
Interviews: Alfonso Perez (part 1) / Thomas Westphal (part 2)
Translation from Spanish to English: Alfonso Perez (part 1) / Felipe Plaza Kutzbach (part 2)
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