At its heart, the approach of Dutch occult rockers The Devil’s Blood comes down to two words: “Hail Satan.” It’s a rallying cry of contradiction, the basis for their musical and lyrical perspective, and what lies at the very heart of their influence. In everything they do, it remains the calm center around which they swirl their storm.
Founded by guitarist/songwriter Selim Lemouchi and his sister, the powerful vocalist Farida Lemouchi, the Eindhoven-based band were subject to fervent reactions almost immediately. Following a 2007 demo and the 2008 single, The Graveyard Shuffle, their Come, Reap EP was a blatantly devilish call to arms that stood in stark musical contrast with the thematic conventions of extreme metal with which it was toying. On their first full-length, 2009’s The Time of No Time Evermore (review here), The Devil’s Blood set about offsetting classic rock with ethereal psychedelic washes, and on their latest album, The Thousandfold Epicentre (review here), they’ve mastered their form.
With a massive, 74-minute sprawl, The Thousandfold Epicentre makes no attempt to hide its grandiosity or self-indulgence, instead celebrating its blatant atmospherics while also maintaining a strong core of songcraft that can be heard on the flagrant hooks in “Die the Death” or the centerpiece “She.” Through it all, Farida keeps supreme hold of her charisma, and Selim‘s instrumental melodicism behind her makes for one of the underground’s most intriguing pairings. The Devil’s Blood owe more to Coven‘s “Black Sabbath” than Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath,” but as Selim hints in the interview that follows, the band revels in doing what’s unexpected.
And since in order to hold onto an element of Satanic mysticism one must be vague in discussing processes, the word “hints” is all the more appropriate. Nonetheless, Selim, who often goes by the initials SL, was open in acknowledging his band’s theatricality and his own classic pop and heavy rock influences, from The Beatles and Thin Lizzy to Roky Erickson and Black Widow. If you make it that far, a particularly fascinating moment came near the end, in talking about touring and playing high-profile festivals (The Devil’s Blood will be on the Decibel magazine North American tour with Watain, In Solitude and Behemoth this spring; dates included below) as opposed to club shows. Just something to watch out for, if you’re interested.
Please find the enclosed Q&A with Selim Lemouchi after the jump, and enjoy.
The reaction? I think, as with most artists or bands or creative output, we seem to have a slightly polarizing effect on people. I haven’t really heard a lot of people tell me they think we’re okay. They either like us or they don’t, which I think is a good thing. Things are either cold or hot, and the lukewarm needs to be moved out of the way, I think. We’ve been given some really fantastic opportunities in the last couple years, working with very good people in Europe and now Metal Blade has come into play in America, giving us, again, more chances and more possibilities to take it to the proverbial next level. So there’s not a lot to complain about as far as reactions go.
What’s behind the meaning of the title “The Thousandfold Epicentre?”
The ideas The Devil’s Blood works with have always been the same. Everything we do, every song we create or every lyric that manifests itself through us is always some kind of connection to death, to chaos and to Satan. These three basic principles are really what ties The Devil’s Blood together as a unit. The worship of these three is also what the title-track stands for and what it is supposed to arouse within the listener. Of course, there are various levels of interpretation and content possible, and I think it’s always a good thing to allow people as much room for personal interpretation as you can, so I’m always a bit cautious when it comes to the actual lyrics themselves, or titles and stuff like that, but in a very broad way, those three principalities, if you will, are the main inspiration behind The Devil’s Blood, and that has not changed and that will not change.
Do you see setting up the contrast between occult ideas and the upbeat, melodic songs as the central musical idea of the band?
Well, as far as contrasts go, being somebody who’s listened to music like Coven, Black Widow, Roky Erickson, Alice Cooper, KISS, even, to a lesser degree, I don’t really see the contrast myself. I think it’s become commonplace – especially in the metal scene – for people to immediately tie Satanic imagery and Satanic lyrics to extreme music, to death metal and to black metal and stuff like that. Fair enough, I guess, because that’s where a lot of people come from, but let’s not forget there has been a lot of art and music created in the past which could be described as colorful or upbeat, as you just did, which in and of itself was extremely demonic and insidious. I think we more or less ascribe to a longstanding tradition in culture and music that these things are not necessarily kept apart from each other. The other thing is that of course we are very happy to be doing this (laughs). We are very glorious about the music we make, and I think the music itself reflects that, in a way. Even though people might consider it to be upbeat, the music itself is still fraught with dissonance and with darkness. So for me, it’s not so much a contrast, but a unity.
As you say, though, the expectation is that demonic ideas and things like that come with death and black metal. I think there’s something subversive in working against that expectation.
It could be considered as such, but it was never a conscious move. If that’s what draws people in, then that’s fine. But for me, we could have very well been a death metal or a black metal band, because those both are musical extremes that, for me, have been very important as a musician and as a fan. It’s stuff that I’ve listened to since I was very young. But also, I listened to The Doors and Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, The Byrds, The Beatles, whatever. I think when you boil it down to its core, The Devil’s Blood makes an amalgam of all these things, and not just one or the other.
With so much going on musically and in terms of influence, do you feel connected to any one genre more than another?
Not really, to be honest. For me, music goes in phases. I could be listening to old Bathory and Slayer and Venom for weeks on end and then make a shift and listen to nothing but The Beach Boys for a month. For me, music is just that. It’s music, and apart from the reasons people made it or whether or not it’s — spiritually inclined or stuff like that, which can be very important in the choices we make when it comes to listening to certain stuff and not listening to certain other stuff – I think I just pick out whatever fits my taste for the moment. To tie myself to one genre, I think I would have to say just rock and roll in all its forms. For me, death metal and black metal are still rock and roll. It’s still the rebellious music of the youth, of a certain sense of counter-culture, a certain sense of rebellion through art, which they share.
At the same time, The Devil’s Blood has a pretty established aesthetic across the two albums and the EPs. Do you ever feel limited by that aesthetic?
Not at all. Not at all. No. Because the aesthetic is a result of our creative output and not the other way around. It could very well be that we will change in the future, that the style will diverge or evolve into different territories, and these might be [predictable] or not. We don’t know. We are not in charge.
Tell me about the writing process and when Farida comes into it?
The most relevant part, I guess, is it’s a frightfully boring thing (laughs). Just imagine: Usually it starts concentration. With studying, with reading, with meditation, with certain magical rites involving certain occult principles I feel close to or connected to in a certain part of the year or in a certain part of my life, or, you know, just a certain part of the day. From this comes a certain inspirational flow, which I have to follow to its logical extent, and this is just usually me with an acoustic guitar and a piece of paper, humming away, and music and lyrics usually come in almost the same flow. When this has traveled a bit, I start to make sense of what I made – because usually it’s just maybe one lyric line or a few chords tied together with maybe a chorus or a bridge or whatever or a certain melody – and from that point onward, the song starts to manifest itself. It becomes sculpted, in a way. When all the granite is chipped away at the edges and all the excess baggage is cut off and the lyrics are done and the music is done, I contact my sister and we meet up, we discuss very intimately the details of the music, the details of the lyrics, what they mean to us – especially what they mean to her, because for me it’s very important to know that she knows what she is singing. Parts of it, parts of the understanding, she keeps for herself on her own responsibility. She puts them inside of her and locks them away and never talks about them again, to give something completely unique to it. We record the demos in this way, and then the demos are presented to the rest of the band, and we work from there.
Is working with Farida, your sister, ever affected by a family dynamic, or does it affect your relationship as siblings?
It strengthens our relationship, if anything. Family is one thing. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. I think we all have certain elements in our family that we’d rather not think about or talk to or be around and some others that we feel more comfortable with, just basically like our friends or whatever. Our social structures. But in our case, being forced to work together in this way has actually given us a much clearer understanding of each other as persons and individuals and creative entities. We can be completely brutally honest with each other, to the point of extreme insults (laughs) and violence and everything that comes. It’s very much a dynamic form of love/hate, that never sticks in one place for too long. For outsiders, it can be a little bit strange to behold (laughs), because it tends to be unforgiving and at the surface, it seems to have absolutely no consideration for each other’s feelings or emotions, but because we are so close to each other and know each other so well, we don’t need to express the consideration, because we already know it’s there. For us, it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it with anyone else, basically, in this way.
“Everlasting Saturnalia” seemed to really stand out on the record. It’s so atmospheric, and so much focus seems to be on mood, moving away from that – to use the word again – upbeat sound, that rock and roll influence. Can you talk a bit about where that came from?
(Laughs) I think the lyrics explain it the best, and I think should someone be really interested in that, that is the best place to start looking for any kind of explanation. The problem with The Devil’s Blood – well, for me, it’s not a problem, but from a journalistic standpoint it’s a problem – is that the answer about the creation of any lyric or music that we’ve ever made is always the same: That’s the way it came out. That’s the way it happened. That’s the way the thing wanted to be. You could very much say that at the moment of fertilization and gestation, you have some influence about how it will come out, but the moment it’s born, you are yourself surprised with its appearance and its structure. You have to learn to love it. The one thing that I can say is that was the song that I was most convinced of its power immediately, even though it’s a very simple and straightforward, to the point exercise. It really, for me, it captured the entire atmosphere and, you know, progress and process of the band.
Was it any coincidence putting that next to “Fire Burning” with the relation to Saturnalia Temple?
Oh! You know, that’s a good question (laughs). I really don’t know. The thing is that when you start compiling a record and when you start figuring out the structure of a record and not just the structure of a song, but very much the relationship of each song connected to every other song – where does it need to be, how long does it need to be, how will the cut of the record look like on vinyl, all stuff like that – it usually ends up that there is only one possible running order. There are no other options, and in the case of this record, especially as opposed to the previous one, where I did move around a lot of the songs for a long time before I really set on one certain running order, this time around I had the first song, I had the last song, I had the song in the middle, and everything else just really wanted this one certain place on the record and there was no discussion possible. In the case of “The Fire Burning” and “Everlasting Saturnalia,” they just seemed to be connected in a way. This was even before the lyrics to “The Fire Burning” were actually there, because they came a little bit later.
I know you’ve done a good deal of European touring in support of the album already. Will there be more leading up to the summer festivals?
Well, festivals, we’re going to be doing Hellfest, Bang Your Head and a few other things. Some high profile festival in Norway as well. Some other smaller stuff as well. Metal Magic in Denmark I think is confirmed. We’re coming to the United States for the Maryland Deathfest and we’ll also be doing an American tour in April, just before the Deathfest, so yeah, we’re looking at big plans. We’ll probably go home for like one week and then fly back in to do Deathfest. That’s just the way it goes (laughs). The thing is that I’m just excited that there’s no overlap. We don’t have to cancel anything. We can just keep going, which is a good thing.
Are you writing?
Not at the moment. I really deliberately – more or less the same thing as after the previous record – after being so engrossed in a work of this magnitude, in my case, I fall into almost a lethargic state where creativity seems to dissipate and seems to bleed away from you. The previous time, this really upset me, and it really frustrated me to an extreme point of self-loathing and everything that comes with that, but this time around, I kind of expected it would happen and I simply allowed myself to become null and void for a while. Just empty. Doing the promotional thing is a good way to keep my mind off it and doing a lot of concerts allows me to have my rituals and my connection to what it is we’re doing, and when the whole thing calms down a little bit, I’m pretty sure the voice will find me again and there will be more to say.
So there’s a difference for you between the sense of ritual in writing and in performing.
Yeah, definitely. I feel much more at home in my own little temple, at my own little altar, working in my own little way, and then taking that into the studio and perfecting and molding and shaping than I ever have on the stage. I truly appreciate being on the stage, and I think it’s a very important thing to do, but in a perfect world, I would just keep making records (laughs).
Is there an according difference between doing shows in smaller venues and these high-profile festivals?
There is, obviously, yeah. In a way, I think I still feel most comfortable in a 300-400 [capacity] venue with no support acts – just us, our music playing the entire night and then us coming to do the ritual and then leaving again and having this very close-knit, harmonious sense of togetherness with everyone who’s there and trying to capture as much of the energy as we can, as opposed to going on a very big festival and being one of many different bands and people wandering in and out. Then again, there are very strong benefits to that as well, because it’s a very good way to reach people that you otherwise wouldn’t reach. Doing that in 2010 in Europe garnered us a lot of support from what you might call unexpected people. Overall, it’s all a good thing.
Tags: Eindhoven, Metal Blade, The Devi's Blood, The Netherlands