Canadian outfit CHTHE’ILIST took the underground by storm with their impressive debut album "Le Dernier Crépuscule". An absolutely fantastic Death Metal album deeply rooted in the early 90s, but also featuring a majestic yet sombre atmosphere, twisted and technical structures and lot of elements that make this album a bizarre and enshrouding experience. "Le Dernier Crépuscule" also made it to number two in Voices From The Darkside’s "Best of 2016" list. A well-deserved place in my opinion. Founding member and mastermind Philippe "Pat" Tougas kindly answered our questions…
First off, let’s start from the inception of the band. I read that when your side project SPHERES split up back in 2010, CHTHE’ILIST came to be. Who was the one behind the idea of forming a new band, the musical concept and specially the horror / fantasy themed lyrics?
"The first CHTHE’ILIST song (‘Scriptures Of The Typhlodians’) was created during the writing sessions for SPHERES. It’s a song that clearly didn’t fit all that well with the rest of the material the guys in SPHERES wrote because of how divergent our influences were. SPHERES was doing this GORGUTS meets MARTYR type thing, and I wanted to create simple yet crushing riffs that had a twisted, unpredictable aspect in its note choice, off-kilter rhythmic variations and of course, a stronger emphasis on atmosphere. The idea of forming another project came into my mind at that precise moment. When SPHERES split-up, I started CHTHE’ILIST under the moniker PHANTASMAL, with ‘Scriptures Of The Typhlodians’ being the first song that would be used for a future recording. A couple of months later, I left my former band SALVATION to focus on this new project and wrote two other songs. After that, I offered Phil Boucher to join the band as the drummer. We auditioned a vocalist as we prepared ourselves to track the demo but he left shortly before the recording sessions for personal reasons, leaving me to handle vocal duties as well as all the other instruments despite the fact that I never previously did Death Metal vocals in my life. We changed our name to CHTHE’ILIST shortly afterward. When it came to the lyrics, I was never a poet so I focused on writing epic horrors tales directly inspired from my own dreams, instead of doing the high-brow thesaurus-worshipping shit the young kids are into these days. Many people ask us why we have chosen this unpronounceable word as our name while others ask us its significance. CHTHE’ILIST doesn’t specifically mean anything because it is a made up name from an unknown language. It can evoke many things though. It may as well be the embodiment of the same dread that you feel after waking up from a night terror or when you enter a pitch black room and you struggle to find a source of light. It could even be the name of an alien priest with the ability to summon inter-dimensional atrocities from the dream world. CHTHE’ILIST represents darkness and horror. All I can say is that a band whose music evokes ancient, unspeakable horrors from the depths of the cosmic netherworld should NOT have a human word for a name."
How and why did you decide to play your style of music? I think CHTHE’ILIST’s style moves away from your regular run of the mill Death Metal. In my humble opinion, it incorporates not only influences from other Metal subgenres, but also a lot of atmospheres and sonic landscaping, evoking anything from barren lands to almost claustrophobic obscure caves.
"CHTHE’ILIST is not necessarily the most original band to ever emerge from the Death Metal scene, but we will always have our way of doing things. We are a Death Metal band that draws influences from other subgenres such as Doom Metal, Black Metal and even Power / Heavy Metal. From CREMATORY (Swe) and TIMEGHOUL to EVOKEN, KATAXU and CACOPHONY. Most of our early influences come from the early Finnish and Swedish scenes (the aforementioned CREMATORY, and bands like DEMIGOD, GOREMENT, old AMORPHIS, old SENTENCED, DEMILICH, THERGOTHON, ABHORRENCE, CONVULSE, CRYPT OF KERBEROS, ADRAMELECH, DISGRACE, etc.). We were never shy to wear our influences on our sleeves, but a lot of people seem to think we want to "be" specific bands (or even pick off where they left off) even though the similarities with said bands are often vague, or just mere homages. Some people praised us for being better than DEMILICH for example, while others criticized us for "not being as good as DEMILICH", or "too much like DEMILICH" (which is inaccurate and you know it). They are all completely missing the point behind our music. We are CHTHE’ILIST. Not the continuation of (insert old school Death Metal band here). Anyway, I think our music can be appreciated in many different ways, whether you want to listen to it for its somber, nightmarish atmosphere, its sheer heaviness or its unpredictable, sometimes morbidly exuberant nature. Our approach when it comes to the craft itself is technical in surface and execution but simple at its core. Technique is just a means to an end to us and we certainly reject the "Technical Death Metal" categorization as vehemently as possible. To me, the music of CHTHE’ILIST evokes images of murky catacombs, ancient temples buried deep within the soil of cursed landscapes and dark medieval fortresses whose towers reach for the skies. Our songs can evoke disgust, dread and desolation but also a sense of morbid epicness that a lot of newer bands lack in my opinion and it is one of our biggest strengths and we will continue expanding on this aspect of our music as our new material is already taking a very bold new direction."
I have been going through your lyrics frantically and besides the obvious Lovecraft and Zelda influences, I haven’t been able to pinpoint anything else. I think I found some Sikh symbolism in there, but I could be wrong? Do you write the lyrics before the music or after? And why did you decide to cover such themes and topics and apply them to your massive style of music? And what is the main idea behind "Le Dernier Crépuscule"? Is it a concept album, a part of a developing story or a collection of songs put together to create certain feelings in your listeners? How much time did you take from the first ideas to getting all the songs recorded and released?
"The lyrics are always written after the music, but as I write the music, the vocal patterns immediately come to mind and I sometimes structure songs around how I imagine the vocal patterns will be laid down. There is no Sikh symbolism in the band’s lyrics, but that’s an interesting observation for sure. There are traces of Pagan ideology / symbolism in our lyrics though. The lyrics tell of a conceptual story that takes place in an alternate dimension where civilisation has collapsed into a perpetual dark age where mankind has returned to the ways of the sword, barbaric feudalism and the worship of pagan gods (Abrahamic religions were banned and forgotten) and live in the constant fear of the wrath of horrific deities and the lurking entities from the realms of Eil’udom – an horrific dream world that can be found beyond the far reaches of the astral planes. I have always theorized that our dreams were in fact a way to enter another dimension so obviously this is something that has influenced our lyrics too. Because experiments of inter-dimensional travelling was made possible with the use of pagan black magic, the current world is slowly decaying and being consumed by Eil’udomian energies as too many portals were opened to the Eil’udom dimension. The Lovecraftian influence on our lyrics is definitely noticeable from miles away, but we never based our lyrics on the Cthulhu mythos. You could say "Le Dernier Crepuscule" is a concept album. However, there are two songs inspired from TLOZ lore and the addition of these influences goes along very well with our music and the themes we are already exploring with our lyrics. Those are, after all, very dark games and I always thought video games were no less legitimate of a source of inspiration than books or movies. I have in a way, re-imagined them and adapted everything to fit with the rest of the songs. Just by looking at the album cover, we can directly link the Eil’udomian mythos to the Majora Mythos as the fortress depicted on the album cover is in fact the same one being described in the song ‘Vecoiitn’aphnat’smaala’. That fortress also bears a vague resemblance to the Stone Tower in the Ikana Canyon with its central tower ascending all the way up into the skies. The presence of the moon on the top left of the painting (which is obscured by the logo on the CD / vinyl version of the artwork) is also another hint. Same goes for the stone pillars on the forefront of the painting and the small castle near the main fortress."
Member wise, I am guessing that the band started with you and Phil and then came Claude, with whom you guys recorded "Le Dernier Crépuscule". Antoine is the latest addition to the fold. How did you guys get in contact first and do you think this is a stable line-up for upcoming shows and studio recordings?
"I already knew Phil prior to forming CHTHE’ILIST. He was already playing in my other band FIRST FRAGMENT. I knew Claude through a mutual friend / ex – bandmate and he was the first person outside of our personal circle to hear the demo and he was immediately interested in joining the band after I told him about my plans to record a full-length album and play a few shows. Antoine came into our lives much later, at a time where we were growing increasingly frustrated in our inability to find a bass player. I met him at a show and we kept in touch. He heard "Le Dernier Crépuscule" a few months after its release and he liked the album so much he tabbed one of our songs by ear. I offered him the spot knowing that he was a more-than-competent guitarist who also knew his way around the bass guitar just as much and his playing style matched exactly what I wrote and played on the album for the bass parts. We went from being a duo, to a trio, to a 4-piece band and it is a much needed change!"
Two live vocalists are also listed as part of the band: Laurent Bellemare and François Toutée. Do you use them so you can concentrate on your guitar playing?
"Yes, this is precisely why I use live vocalists. Remember that I originally was never a vocalist and never intended to become the band’s vocalist at first. I’m a guitarist at heart and would rather focus on my main instrument for live shows. Laurent was our first live vocalist but he left the country to go to Indonesia for a while so he was temporarily replaced by Francois Toutée. They are both tremendous vocalists."
You and Philippe Boucher are and have been members of other bands with different styles of music. Have these bands also influenced your current sound or is CHTHE’ILIST a creation on its own?
"Not at all. CHTHE’ILIST is a unique entity and stands on its own. CHTHE’ILIST cannot be compared to any of the bands we also play in. Some people have tried comparing my other band ZEALOTRY (and even SEROCS) to CHTHE’ILIST in the past for having similar influences, but the songwriting style in both bands is completely different. The only ZEALOTRY song that could even be compared to CHTHE’ILIST is ‘Mutagenesis’ off "The Last Witness" but it was intentional as I used the same "alien" vocal style in this track like I do in most of the CHTHE’ILIST songs. Otherwise, most of the vocals on "The Last Witness" are done by Roman with me popping here and there with regular lower-register vocals. Some of the riffs in ‘Voidspawn’ were actually originally composed for my former band VENGEFUL. The reason they never were used by the band is that they didn’t sound like VENGEFUL, obviously."
What is your current line-up for gigs? And I’ve seen you have had a lot of live appearances in recent months locally. Are there any touring plans outside Canada in the near future?
"The current live line-up features myself on guitars / vocals, Antoine Daigneault on bass, Phil Boucher on drums, Claude Leduc on guitars and François Touté on live vocals. We actually rarely play live. We usually play only one or two shows per year only, usually for festivals or special shows. There are no touring plans for now and I don’t think there will be for a while."
Your first demo tape "Amechth’ntaas’m’rriachth" was recorded in 2011 but released a year later. What was the reason behind the wait? How was it received in the global underground? You first released it independently and then Graceless Recordings released another version. How did you get in touch with the label and were you satisfied with their work?
"The main reason it was released a year later is because the demo was left in the dust and was not mixed for several consecutive months, further delaying the release of the tracks. I will not go into more details but this fiasco caused us nothing but frustration (by us, I mean both the band and the engineer who was going through a rough period in his life at this point). I’m glad this demo got us where we are now because of how well received it was but I really hate this demo now for personal reasons. Graceless Recordings were the first label to get in touch with us but at first I told them I was not interested in releasing the demo on physical format because we were very dissatisfied overall. I saw how much the demand was high regardless of our personal feelings towards the demo so I contacted them back and they released it a year later on physical format. I don’t think we will ever re-release this demo."
"Le Dernier Crépuscule" was released in 2016, four years after your demo tape. I can only guess that during that time, you were composing and arranging the new material and getting it ready for studio. Or were there any other reasons behind it?
"We were extremely busy with our other projects between 2012 and 2016 so progress was very slow on our side of things. I’m a slower writer too so it was to be expected. Recording the album also took a full year. We recorded at a very slow pace because of our schedule with school, work, tours and other recordings with other bands. However, a huge chunk of the album was recorded in one week and a half right before mixing the album. Very inconsistent of us, but it worked. We will never go through that experience again though."
Who did the cover artwork? Was the band behind the concept or was it chosen from available works? Why did you end up using that cover?
"I chose Paolo Girardi because he’s an amazing artist and because he’s a CIRITH UNGOL / MANOWAR fan and he loves 80s Metal like I do. It may not be relevant but I only trust true Heavy Metal fans as their personal taste reflects in their work afterwards. I came up with the artwork concept and tasked him to re-create my vision in his own way. He re-imagined it exactly how I wanted him to. He is a very imaginative but very spontaneous person and those are two qualities I look for the most when dealing with an artist."
I think Profound Lore Records is one of those really good independent labels that hand pick their signings. There are some impressive bands in their current roster. How did they get in contact with you and why did you agree on working with them? Have you been satisfied with their work?
"They are the best label I have ever worked with. The absolute best. Nothing but good things to say about what Chris Bruni does. Super laid-back, patient and open-minded fellow. Chris approached me 2 or 3 days after we posted our demo online. Matt from Dark Descent approached us almost immediately after Chris did so obviously I was delighted with the idea of working with these two fantastic labels while Profound Lore would do the main release. I have an equally good relationship with Matt so it worked in our favor. I wanted to continue working with Graceless Recordings for the tape version as well obviously, because of their attitude, their connections, distribution and their good taste in music. As for Profound Lore’s work, I’ll be the first to say I don’t listen to everything Bruni has put out as I’m extremely picky, but he knows his Metal very well. My favorite Doom Metal band of all time, EVOKEN, is also on that label. Speaking of which, Dario Derna (ex – EVOKEN, ex – INFESTER)’s newer band RITUAL CHAMBER is also on that label too and their latest album fucking kills. DISMA is another band on that label whom I greatly respect, same for bands like GRAVE MIASMA, A.M.S.G, GEVURAH, LOSS, ALDEBARAN and many more. They even used to have bands like SLOUGH FEG, ASUNDER and STARGAZER in their roster. Anyway, I’m glad some of the NWN! warriors who liked our demo dismissed the band as soon as we announced our association with Profound Lore for the release of the album because it’s a label that releases "flavor-of-the-week-hipster-garbage" or some shit. Shows the true hypocrisy of this type of crowd. I’m glad these poseurs didn’t buy our album."
Even though your album was released only a couple months ago, is there any new material in the works? Do you think there will be a new album before another 4 years go by?
"We’re recording our side of the split EP we’re doing with SPECTRAL VOICE later in 2017 and we’re working on material for several other upcoming split releases with various bands. I can predict that CHTHE’ILIST will release a lot of smaller, shorter releases in the meantime because there won’t be another CHTHE’ILIST full length album in the next 3-4 years at the very least. The material on our split releases will be just like our early material while the material on the next album will be very similar to what we did with the song ‘Tales Of The Majora Mythos’. In fact we’ll be picking up where we left off with that song on our next album."
Well, I can’t thank you enough for your time and your answers. I look forward for new CHTHE’ILIST material. The last words are yours. Thank you again.
"Thank you for the interview. Cheers!"
The following additional interview questions have been supplied by Voices staff writer Miguel Negrón…
I remember seeing you live the last year sharing stage with PAROXSIHZEM, ADVERSARIAL and ABYSS in Toronto. I was really impressed with your performance because playing the kind of music you play demands particular skills as precision, concentration, fastness, etc. and, to be honest, it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen in many years. How CHTHE’ILIST works in the rehearsal room to prepare a live show?
"Glad you enjoyed our performance. We usually jam 4-5 times before a show only because of our very busy schedules with other projects, school, work, etc. Our rehearsals are raw, chaotic and deafening, just like our shows. We do not use any stage devices, corpse paint / make-up, bullet belts, costumes / masks or any other theatrical elements during live performances. I don’t have anything against bands that use those. It’s just not our thing. We just riff, shred and bang our heads as hard as we can."
Something interesting about your live performances is that the band works with one vocalist on stage (François Toutée) and another different on the studio (Philippe Tougas). The official CHTHE’ILIST line-up includes two different guys on vocals? Can you tell us something more about this?
"I handle all vocal duties on all recordings, but vocal duties are shared with François Toutée in a live setting because I much prefer focusing on performing our twisted, contorted riffing correctly and not having to do all the vocals at the same time as it would render my overall performance too stiff and calculated. Not to mention the occasional off-kilter rhythms of our compositions make it harder to focus on nailing the vocal patterns as they have a completely different rhythmic motif from the guitars. When I have truly mastered my instrument and my voice, I will be able to play both at the same time. But I need to practice more. I am a total maniac and a perfectionist. I have to push myself and become better and better. I will and I must."
I know you will be sharing the stage with GORGUTS, PHOBOCOSM, PAROXSIHZEM, among others, in Montreal next April (Covenant Fest). Tell us more about this and your future live shows this year? Any offers for a European or US tour?
"Our appearance at the Covenant festival is the only show we have planned so far. I don’t think CHTHE’ILIST will ever be a touring act. I’m not saying this is something that will never change though. Everything is possible."
Which bands would you like to share the stage with?
"I’d get CHTHE’ILIST to open for a band like NOCTURNUS or PAVOR if they did shows. INCANTATION and THE CHASM would be some great bands to tour with, too. As far as newer bands go, STARGAZER and FUNEBRARUM would be the ideal bands to tour with. Same for my buddies in SPECTRAL VOICE / BLOOD INCANTATION too. If CHTHE’ILIST was a Heavy Metal band I’d tour with CIRITH UNGOL. If we were Black Metal, I’d get MORTUARY DRAPE and GRAND BELIAL’S KEY on the same show. If we were a Doom band, I’d tour with the mighty SOLSTICE or even ESOTERIC. Greg Chandler mixed our album and is pretty fucking cool to deal with (side note: all members of CHTHE’ILIST including myself play in ATRAMENTUS, a Funeral Doom project so it’s not something that would be impossible to pull off anyway)."
Alfonso Perez / Miguel Negrón