Sometimes when you surfing the net you find interesting things, in my case I usually discover a band which is new to me and so it was this time. I contacted the Norwegian label Aftermath Music and a little later I had the CD in my mail. I really liked the mixture of the Chilean band and so I dropped the label an email and got the okay for an interview with the band by email. And here is what they got to say!
The bio says that you started back in 1992 in Santiago, but released your debut album in 1999. Please tell us about the early years of Poema Arcanus!
How do you come up with the name Poema Arcanus? What does the name mean to you?
Igor: Actually the band was formed in 1991, but it was just kind of a funny thing to do on weekends, as we were still very young high school guys. In 1994 we started taking the band more seriously and we released our first demo. That demo is some kind of experiment with many styles involved on it, I mean, it has doom, grind, death, etc. The lyrics were more into social and political subjects, and the band name was Garbage first, then Garbage Breed and finally Poema Arcanus.
Poema Arcanus means 'Arcane Poem'. The idea speaks of dark, forgotten and timeless poetry. We chose it as we thought it fitted very well with the mood of our music and lyrics, unlike our old name, which was closer to what we had been doing before.
For the metal fans who don't know you from the early day, please tell us about the demos and if you used some of the tracks for your debut album Arcane XIII!
Claudio: Well, for the Arcane XIII album we didn't use any track from our demos. Our first demo was recorded at January of 1995 and it has 5 songs of a mixture between Grind, Thrash, Death and Doom (uuuuffff, we were 19-20 years old) and it's called Underdeveloped. The second one was an EP called Innocent Shades, it was recorded at January of 1996 and it has more doomy oriented tracks. Anyway we still play live some songs of those old recordings.
Before you released your debut album, you released Southern Winds, a live tape, kind of an EP... How came? And why Southern Winds?
C: That live tape was released to support the financial costs for recording our album... What happened was that we recorded a live show at a city in the South of our country, with no pre-production. Being it not planned; the result happened to be ok, so we decided to release it somehow like a bootleg with almost no resources, that way we could make some money for the Arcane XIII pre-production.
How were the reactions on this tape release?
C: It was ok, you know, only a limited edition for fans and friends, so the copies sold out quickly with zero promotion.
In 1999 you released your debut Arcane XIII through Picoroco. Was it just released in Chile? Or was there a chance for fans outside of Chile to find that album?
C: Yes, it was released only in Chile, but you can find it in several distributors on the web and major labels like Relapse, Century Media, etc. Picoroco traded a lot of copies with other foreign labels, so the CD isn't so difficult to find.
What happened after the release? How were the reactions?
I: I can say that Arcane XIII made us an important band into our local scene, it brought some good touring in our country and good comments from both the media and the fans. It also kind of formed a local fan base. The typical reaction from European webzines was surprise, because they found we were very far from the average South American metal band, however the album almost didn't have any promotion, so I'm afraid it didn't go further from that.
This year you released your 2nd album Iconoclast through Aftermath Records. How did you get in touch with the Norwegian label? And why do you decide to sign with them?
I: Aftermath had been in contact with Claudio (vox), who has a zine called Nubila. Claudio had been reviewing some of Aftermath's productions; and as we thought it was a good underground label, we had them in mind when we started sending the promos of Iconoclast in order to get a deal. Aftermath immediately showed great interest in our music, so the deal was just the next logical step.
What does Iconoclast means for you? Who had the idea for the title?
I: The starting idea was born after a trip I did to Macchu Picchu, in Peru (the ruins of a lost city that belonged to the Inca Empire). It was a very amazing thing to comprehend the mysticism they had about nature, besides the strong knowledge they had at the same time about it. It was some kind of perfect balance between science, religion and arts; being those three aspects indivisible for them.
Then I thought about contemporary Western culture, and the contrast was evident: our world seems to be all-artificial, starting from religion which has nothing to do with nature. We seem to be always 'artificially creating' the world that surrounds us. For example, we create an image for 'love', we invent heart-shaped things, we create an institution (marriage), we consecrate a day for love, we buy love-related items and finally we are full of things which are just artificial substitutes and not the real thing, not the essential. The same happens with friendship, for example. We seem to need those false images to avoid the fear of loneliness and void.
Claudio B. finally brought the Iconoclast concept, which is about denying and destroying the images, as they are just false substitutes for something essential.
I don't know, if I was clear enough. As you can see the subject is quite vast, so trying to explain it in a few words is difficult. Anyway the listeners should get their own interpretations by reading the lyrics; that's more interesting than just having a complete explanation.
I don't know your debut and it will be the same for many others, so please tell us what you think are the differences between the CDs!
I: I can say that Arcane XIII could be considered a more 'doom metal' album, I mean, it's less 'progressive' than Iconoclast and I guess it's easier to label into a certain style. Definitively it's a very good doom metal album, with a good production and some really nice tunes. The differences are in a big part due to the different members from each album: Luis (drums) and Michel (keyboards) have contributed a lot for our style to go a step further on Iconoclast.
Please tell us about the recordings. You recorded in your hometown. Why do you decided to record there? Why do you decided to produce the album yourself?
I: It was our only choice at that time. Even having some offerings from local labels we chose to make things for ourselves to manage things better. We intended to give our music a better exposure outside Chile, as into Chilean scene we don't have any further place to go, so signing with a local label would have been a mistake. In Santiago there are some good studios and also a couple of good engineers, we have already some studio experience and a clear vision of how we want to sound; so we were confident about the results.
The booklet says that you used an artwork of Jean Pierre Cabañas. Why do you choose that picture? Can you tell us more about the artist? Does he have a homepage?
C: Jean Pierre is a friend of us, we met him while touring in a Northern city of Chile. He was a close fan of us on those years. Now he is a publicist / graphical designer, and he helped us a lot with the inner pages of the booklet. Anyway, Igor made the front cover art, and then Jean Pierre took it and gave it the final touches. We are very pleasant with the work of Jean Pierre, he helped us with some other stuff, like promo videos, posters and shirt designs. As far as I know he doesn't have a homepage.
I: The front cover of the album represents the contrast and contradiction between a small, simple but strong and ancient trace of nature (a fossil), as opposed to a background that shows things created by the human intellect. The essential vs. The artificial. That simple.
But the concept is done by your bassist Claudio Botarro. Can you tell us something about the concept? For me it looks like the pages of the booklet are in a relation to the cover...
I: I guess I already kind of explained the concept of the album. Every song is related to this main subject, sometimes in very subtle ways, so I can say it is a conceptual album since it has this common background subject. However, unlike other conceptual albums, Iconoclast doesn't have a structured story or something like that. About the cover: we explained the global idea to Jean-Pierre and we gave him the lyrics, so his work is in direct relation with the concept, though sometimes it is far from a literal description, so it could become a bit hard to understand. Again, we like people to get their own interpretations of what we do.
Your music is an unusual mixture. What music influences you?
C: Several styles and kinds of music... We are very open-minded guys and all of us have different musical tastes. My personal ones are: metal, classical music, folk, ambient and some old rock and pop music. For the band (I think) the main influences are: Candlemass, Fields Of The Nephilim, Voivod, Carcass, Napalm Death... and other bands.
I: I also enjoy a lot the work of a Polish composer of film music called Zbigniew Preisner.
On Elixir you included a violin. Not a typical instrument for this kind of metal! Why did you work with a violin on that track?
C: We have a friend who plays the violin very good, we decided to invite him to the studio so we could try and see, if something happened. What we did was to support some melodies of the keyboard with the violin and the result was very pleasant. That song has a special mood and we thought that a violin playing on it would fit ok.
Can we expect more surprises like that in future?
C: Maybe. We never plan the instruments we will use in the songs. The composing process is very experimental and we change several times the definitive song structure and arrangements, it's a 'democratic' dynamic process where all the band members have their input of opinions and ideas. It seems like sometimes we will never get the definitive result, but somehow it finally comes.
I: We are always searching new sonic possibilities: lately, for example, I have been using some weird effects on my guitar to create new dark landscapes. Anyway we are used to work as a five-piece band, and we like to reproduce what we recorded on the studio as accurately as possible when we play live. Being that said, I don't see ourselves recording an instrument that could be 'missed' live, and we don't like the over - use of sequencers or background recorded tracks. We like to keep it as organic and real as possible.
During our winter we did an unplugged concert. It was a little show in a small, intimate venue. We changed almost all of the arrangements and I played it all on a classical guitar. It had some kind of Chilean folk vibe going on which sounded very unique. Maybe that could be considered a surprise.
What inspires you lyrically?
C: Everything... Life itself, personal experiences, deep emotions, some histories, movies, books, landscapes, etc.
Why do you use partly English and partly Spanish lyrics?
C: The English ones are because the metal language world-wide is English, obviously. This way you get sure that your message will be understood in many different places where metalheads are listening to your music. In the other hand the Spanish ones are simply created in our mother language, because the author used some metaphors difficult to translate to English language, and the idea is to maintain the primal feeling and mood. For me is a way to keep the original poetic sense of Spanish language, a beautiful and rich one, and a way to show that metal can be sung in other languages and sound ok. It's time to take your dictionaries, men!
Have you thought about doing liner notes for the Spanish ones?
I: We didn't use to have a significant non-Spanish speaking audience in the past, so that's something we hadn't thought about. Maybe now we will do something like that. However, as Claudio told you, it is very hard sometimes to translate Spanish language and not to lose some part of the message in the process. Maybe in our home page we could put translations for those songs... I don't know.
Please tell as about the meaning of the Spanish titles! So that I and others who don't speak Spanish get a clue what it's about.
C: Elegía means simply 'Elegy' (hehe) and Desintegración means 'Desintegration', Chaman means 'Shaman' (a person who communicates with the Gods in some old cultures).
I: I've just realized that English and Spanish are almost the same language!
In most bands the lyrics are written by one person, but it seems that beside your drummer Luis Moya everybody is contributing lyrics. Do you think that it's an advantage?
I: Yes, I think so, because when all the lyrics are written by only one person, it's a natural thing that they start sounding too similar form each other, while when more people gets involved in the writing process, a lot of different points of view and sensibilities come out. That enriches the whole lyrical content of your music, and helps to avoid monotony.
What about playing live? Do you can play live a lot in Chile? Headlining shows?
I: We play live a lot in Chile, considering the size of the scene, I mean, we use to play an average of two or three shows per month. As I told you, we have toured all along our country; and yes, many times we are the headlining band.
The bio says that you played with Napalm Death as well as with Moonspell. Please tell us about your experiences!
I: Uhhhh...Cool experiences! Big crowds, big venues, etc. Also the chance to meet the guys of the bands is something very nice; cool and down to earth people, nice wine-drinking partners. Those shows were a big step forward for us, as we learned a lot about playing in a metal band. We also played with Tristania in February. It was a cool show.
Have you had the chance to play abroad?
I: Not yet... Hopefully this will change in the future.
In your booklet is the website and your email account. Do you get a lot of emails these days? From all over the world? Or mainly from your country?
C: Mainly from our country, but the foreign ones increase day by day.
Is the website in the hands of the band? Or do you supply someone with information?
C: We supply information to a couple of friends who take care of the web hosting, page design, etc.
Are there any plans for something special the fans can find at your page?
C: We hope to renew our home page as soon as possible, and to put some freak pics, videos and a video clip from Iconoclast.
Actually you are the first band from Chile I 'discovered' and have the chance to talk to, so I would like to ask a few more general questions... Here in Europe we don't hear much about metal from South America beside a few bands like Sepultura, Angra, etc. The most known Chilean musician is probably Tom Araya for metal fans. Tell us, is there a metal scene? Only dark and death metal? Or the whole spectrum on metal?
I: Yes, there is a metal scene. Maybe it's not a huge metal scene, but it is very active and has almost everything a metal scene has: gigs, zines and that kind of stuff. About styles, well, here you can find different kinds of bands such as heavy metal ones, death metal, thrash, doom, black, etc. The only thing I think is hard to find here is bands which include elements from electronic music into metal. There are a few, but it's not a significant thing. I guess we're a bit conservative about that.
Besides, it seems like Chile is becoming an important place in South America for foreign bands to come. Many important bands have come since 1992 (the last show I saw was Kreator and Destruction on September, 3rd), I guess they could tell you that actually there's a scene down here, and that the audience always gets crazy.
Is it hard for metal bands in Chile to survive? To get gigs?
I: Yeah, as there's barely any support to the bands from labels or promoters; at the end you have to make things work on your own, I mean, the bands have to organize their own gigs, produce their own albums, etc. It seems like self-production is the only way to go here. We're a lucky band in that aspect, you know, we are asked by organizers very often to play live (we have organized a gig just one time), and that's because we have a very loyal fan base here.
Do you get support from national zines? Labels?
C: Yes, likely from almost all Chilean metal zines and webpages. We are a very respected band in our country. And about independent labels we receive support, in fact, the 1st album was released by a local label, and Iconoclast was licensed by the same one, Picoroco Records.
Why do you think it's hard for a band from Chile and / or South America in general to become known outside their homecountry?
C: It's just because we are in the ass of the world, so far from all the big scenes, so far from the big labels, with few resources and zero support from the popular media and government (hopefully seems like it is changing).
I: It's a weird thing because, as I told you, THERE IS a metal scene here, but geographical isolation is our biggest drawback. There are also a lot of prejudices about South American bands, and that's not strange, because I have to admit that poor production and lack of originality are many times present on South American productions, making them not very attractive for the audience. We are trying to be one of the exceptions to that rule.
Do you think that there is a chance to see Poema Arcanus live outside Chile soon?
C: I hope so, but there aren't real possibilities yet.
I: I think, if people's reaction to our music is positive, we could likely go there and make some touring, otherwise it doesn't make much sense to make such a trip.
What can the fans expect live from you?
I: Some guy told us once that watching us playing live was proof for him that dark and doomy music can be played with the strength of death metal. I thought it was a great compliment.
I think we mix the energy and violence of a thrash-death metal band with the atmosphere and emotion of doom metal, I mean, lots of headbanging and noise besides smoother passages on which we let feelings flow while playing. We don't like to put too much visual paraphernalia on stage, as for example Cradle Of Filth does. The most important thing for us is music and how we get mad when we play it. We just try to be as passionate as possible on stage.
Famous last words.... Anything you want to say to the fans?
C: To all the bangers who don't know us, listen to the band without prejudices (there are mp3s in the site), and to the arcane ones, a big 'thank you' for all the support through the years. Please visit our new, relaunched arcane homepage: www.poemaarcanus.cl
I: Just Cheers!!! I hope to see you all soon!!!
At least I didn't just learnt about the band, coz the guys were so friendly to give us a glimpse on the Chilean scene... That there is a scene, so it's now your turn to check out this great band and I'll try to find more bands from Chile to present you! If you find some interesting band - not just from Chile - drop me a note!