Interview mit J-F Bertrand von STARLIGHT RITUAL

Das Untergrundperlen-Taucher-Label Underground Power hat im Herbst mit Starlight Ritual eine spannende EP in die Veröffentlichungsflut gehoben und ich sprang gleich ins kalte Wasser. Nach den ersten Durchläufen guckte ich mich mal ein bisschen nach deren Bandkontext um und stieß auf die Aktivität des Gitarristen bei Forteresse. Eine Band, deren Konzept man durchaus mal etwas kritischer hinterfragen darf (siehe auch Deaf Forever 6/16).

Für mich kam die Frage auf, ob ich eine Band mit solchen Verbindungen überhaupt hören und unterstützen möchte. Den Versuch etwas mehr Licht ins Dunkel zu bringen, könnt ihr im Folgenden nachlesen. Ich denke, ihr seid selber in der Lage, euch daraus eine Meinung zu bilden und bleibe meinerseits mit sehr gemischten Gefühlen zurück.

Ob man bei der Hintergrund-Geschichte Gefahr läuft zur Werbeplattform für etwas zu werden, dass man absolut nicht unterstützen möchte? Ich denke nicht. Themen auf den Tisch zu bringen und Informationen zu sammeln, sehe ich an dieser Stelle als wesentlich wertvoller an, ganz unabhängig inwieweit man die Überschneidung von einem Bandmitglied einordnet. Eine grundsätzliche Problematik bleibt zudem - neben meines Schul-Französisch, mit welchem ich mir Texte und Interviews erschließen musste – eine ziemlich große Unkenntnis der kanadischen Historie und Gegenwart und wie sich diese gesellschaftlich ausdrückt. Wer dazu vernünftige Artikel zur Hand hat, möge sich doch gerne berufen fühlen, diese in den Kommentaren zu verlinken. Also viel Freude und hoffentlich etwas Erhellendes beim Lesen! Ob Mittelstufen-Englisch oder Globetrotter, ihr kriegt das mit der Originalfassung hin ;)

Starlight Ritual
Logo by Annick Giroux, Photo by Wayne William Archibald

 

Hello J-F and thanks for your time to answer some questions for the German webzine dremufuestias! As you neither have played any European shows, nor I recognized any media appearances here so far, please be so kind to introduce yourself and the band with a couple of words to the readers.

Hello Germany! J.F. Bertrand from Starlight Ritual here, thanks for reaching out to us and shining that spotlight on our brand of noise! Starlight Ritual is a five piece traditional heavy metal band from Montreal, Canada, consisting of myself, Dan Toupin, Mat Forge, Louis Lecomte and Damian Ritual. We've been around for a few years now, starting out as a more progressive/stoner band, which eventually shifted into traditional heavy metal as we explored our roots (and finally found a singer)! Its a genre that we all love and would like to see come back in force! Unfortunately we haven’t played any European shows yet, however our first self-titled EP was released on the German label Underground Power late last year, we're hoping it can make a small splash in the legendary German metal scene!

As far as I know, the instrumental section initially started the band while Damian Ritual joined in later. Was it hard to find a good fit (and he is!) for that slot and how did you come together with Damian?

As I stated before, we did start out as an instrumental band, and managed to come up with eight full tracks of music, but of course not having a singer or lyricist helping us in writing the material, it wasn’t really structured as “traditional music”, but more like a musical odyssey, meaning the standard verses and choruses didn’t really exist, and it was riffs and leads all over the place! We auditioned a few singers before we stumbled upon Damian Ritual, some great and some not so great of course, but in the end we're happy we found him. I had contacted our good friend and vocalist of Cauchemar Annick Giroux if she knew of any heavy metal singers with a powerful voice, and since its Montreal and that scene isn’t as happening as the others, she couldn't think of anyone off hand, but she did remember this guy that would sing along to Judas Priest and Dio tracks at her heavy metal nights, so she gave us the guys email and we contacted him. That was our now vocalist Damian Ritual, who's actually a guitar player, and never sang professionally or even in a band before joining us. We asked to hear some samples and he didn’t really have anything aside from some a capella tracks he recorded in his truck with his cellphone. So he sent us his version of Dio's Rainbow in the Dark and Manowar's Crown and the Ring, and despite the fact that it was a cell phone recording mixing with the loud noises of his old truck in the background, the voice shone through and sounded incredible! So we invited him over to the SLR headquarters and the rest is history.

How does the songwriting work in Starlight Ritual? Are you jamming together and work on your ideas together or does one of you bring in complete songs to the rehearsal room?

As far as the music goes, Dan (rhythm and lead guitars) and I write all of the music, Mat (Bass) and Louis (drums) give their input, and Damian usually gives the finishing touches and rearranges the parts of the song to make it sound like an actual flowing song. Dan and I just wanna rip solos the whole time, which most people don't wanna hear! We usually jam once a week and that’s when the magic happens, aside from that, Dan and I work on songs separately at home.

You wrote “If you can’t play it live, don’t put it on the fuckin’ record”, so you seem to be about playing live regularly? How went your gigs so far, are you having a local following yet and what are your shows like? A “Ritual” or just a gig? Do you act on stage as drunk ‘n’ smelly headbangers or serious and focused pro-musicians?

Yes, we absolutely stand by the statement “If you can't play it live, don't put it on the fuckin' record!” Some of the guys in the band have diplomas in sound engineering and live sound as well, so we know how easy it is to “record” an album these days with drum triggers, digital editing and all kinds of post-processing effects, so we approach our recordings as we do a live show: everyone plays at the same time, and all the music gets done at once. If someone fucks up, we all start over from the beginning. Music first, then solos, then vocals. That’s how we do it, and it works for us, having been able to fully record and mix our debut EP in two days. So yes, when we say “if you cant play it live, don’t put it on the fuckin' record”, we mean it! We definitely aim for the top, half the guys in the band don’t even drink or do drugs, so we try to distance ourselves from the typical bar or tavern band playing for the local drunks! We are dead serious and take our music very seriously. When we start headlining shows full time is when you'll get the full Ritualistic experience, but even as of now as a support band, we always bring our crazy lights, smoke machines and “decorations” that Dan makes, like our flames and smoking skull altar! If we don't put on a visual show for our guests, why would they pay to see us live? They can just stay at home and listen to our record! Fuck that, we aim high!

How can Quebec’s old school Metal scene be described in general? Are there many bands around and are you connected in some way? How about labels, record stores, festivals, etc.? I know Annick Giroux (Cauchemar) plays an important role in Montreal and Metalian proofed to be damn cool at last years Keep it True edition.

Montreal has always been known as the home of extreme metal, mostly death metal and grindcore. Recently there’s been an uprising of doom and/or traditional heavy metal bands, which we love because its about time the original sound comes back! In the past we've had some excellent bands come from here, from folk rock and hard rock bands like Harmonium and April Wine, to straight up killer heavy metal and speed metal like Thunder Rider, Sword, Deaf Dealer and Messiah Force. Heavy Metal is dead and alive at the same time here in Montreal, its a paradox it seems but it works! Yes Metalian is one of the best bands we have here, and Annick is definitely the driving force of quality metal around here! If it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have been able to see so many fantastic bands play here, like Pagan Altar, Grim Reaper, Vulcain, Thor and Satan!


Starlight Ritual


Are you satisfied with the sound you have on the EP and how huge was Roy Nichol’s impact on the result? Did your band mates have any studio experience (as I don’t no anything about them recording with any bands prior to it)?

Roy did an amazing job, in such short time too. Much of the sound quality is all him, and his experience as a pro engineer. We used our amps and drums, but it was his mics and gear and know-how that made it all work. Plus we got to use one of April Wine's personal microphones too for the vocals, all in all it was a great experience. We've all been in studios at one point in time, since we've all played in other metal or punk bands, so it wasn’t a totally new experience for us, but by far the most memorable one!

To me, it sounds like the epic of Rainbow and the dark and heavy side of Black Sabbath are huge inspirations for Starlight Ritual. Is that correct? Are there other bands influencing your sound in a more or less direct way?

You are 100% correct my friend. All Dio stuff, Sabbath and Rainbow, and especially the Tony Martin era of Black Sabbath, this is what speaks to us, and where we draw our influences from. Louis and Mat come from more the groove and technical death metal side of the spectrum, which explains the different drum patterns and bass lines we use, whereas myself, Dan and Damian are old school hard rock and heavy metal fans, and when it's all put together it works wonders! You can hear other influences too if you listen carefully, some Savatage, Riot, Grim Reaper, Metal Church, even some Misfits and Danzig too!

My interest in Starlight Ritual arose through the EP release via German label Underground Power. How was your cooperation with Helle so far and how did you get in touch? Did you send out demos or had any other offers? Will you proceed to work with Underground Power?

Helle and his wife are absolute professionals. He is such a great guy and was so generous, we were floored! I don’t know how he found us, but he found us, and contacted us and everything went smooth from then. I highly recommend the guy! We had other offers from other labels, but looking at the U.P. roster, and seeing the way Helle personally reached out to us and was so generous, we knew he was our man.

Emilie Léger is responsible for the great artwork of the vinyl version. Is she responsible for the CD cover, too? And why did you choose to have a new one for the vinyl? Especially as they share pretty much the same color arrangement and mystic atmosphere dealing with the relation between Earth and the Universe. Did you give any conceptual input to her work?

Yes Emilie Leger (who is actually Dan's fiancee) did both cover arts, and she did a fantastic job indeed! The art we used for the U.P. release was actually supposed to be the artwork for the original independent cd release, but we opted for the tree since it fit more the message of the album, which I'll get to soon. We described to her what we wanted, and her first draft is basically what we went with, she understood the concept right away. However the skull cover couldn’t be forgotten, so we chose to use that for the U.P. release, and seeing as the LP had a bonus track, we found it fitting to have different artwork.

In my interpretation, the lyrics are mostly about relatedness to the nature and about death, having a mystic touch and using lots of metaphors. Is there something special the band wants to convey to the listeners, a main concept behind the man or something alike?

The EP is actually like a mini concept album. Dan had come up the idea of basing our imagery and music around a Tree of Life, such as Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, and that this tree had the power to control everything that went on around it, such as how far humanity progressed, or natural disasters that could wipe everything out. When we explained this concept to Damian, he just ran with it and went so deep into it, we couldn’t believe it. The story goes as such: Before we had continents as we know it today (North America, Africa, Europe, etc) the world was all linked together as one big continent known as Pangaea. The Tree (referred to as the One in the EP), was at the center of it all, keeping the harmony and balance of nature in perfection, but humanity, as naive and sometimes greedy as we are, eventually found the tree and naturally tried to exploit it. The problem is, every time you take advantage of the tree (and most likely all nature around it), it will reciprocate and destroy all that you've created around it, via earthquake, volcanic eruption, or some other natural disaster, to return the land and itself into balance. However, every time it does this, the tree weakens, and its roots underground start to break. The roots of the tree stretch out to all corners of Pangaea, so every time the roots break, the ground breaks a bit and starts to separate, and continents begin to form, ruining the balance of Pangaea and the harmonious single continent. After a few thousand years of humanity exploiting the tree and its resources, eventually the roots break completely, and we now have the six continents have today. The tree is still out there, yet since the lands have moved so much, no one knows where it is or what it looks like anymore, and everything we hear or read about a huge natural disaster (the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Aleppo earthquake, the earthquake in Haiti, etc), it could be that someone has found the tree and it trying to exploit its resources it to some degree, and it continues on to this very day. So that’s the general concept for the lyrics on our first EP!

You are also playing in Forteresse and have a couple of other Black Metal projects. Almost all of them are dealing with Quebec separatism. Why do you think, it is desirable to separate Quebec from Canada. Do you prefer a different form of society and state?

I'd rather stick with questions on Starlight Ritual, but perhaps there are some misconceptions about Forteresse and our lyrical content and imagery. Forteresse is not about modern politics or any kind of “supremacy” in the slightest. We pay hommage to Quebec history, and the brave men and women who fought and died for our existence here in Quebec. As a Quebecois, I feel it necessary to not forget our great story, and the rugged and turbulent times of our pioneers. Unlike any other people that settled here, we don't really have any place to visit to find our roots, our roots are here, and we feel it important to preserve that. Some people have claimed that Forteresse is a racist or NS band, but this is just absurd. If you look at history, if anything our “enemies” of the past were white British settlers, which kind of defeats the racist theme seeing as we were white French settlers! As I mentioned before, we're talking pioneer times, fighting and struggle was every day life, we were alone here fending for ourselves, trying to create a new home and new way of life for ourselves with limited resources and assistance, and we romanticize these themes greatly, just as Amon Amarth does with their mythology based lyrics, or Sabaton does with war history lyrics, or just as Hollywood would do for any epic blockbuster movie!

In last November you were supposed to play Messe des Morts festival which got canceled due to antifascist protests. Head of NSBM scene Graveland was booked as a headliner and you told in an interview to appreciate their work and liked Rob Darkens Facebook page. Besides that you recorded a demo with Blutskrieg who used the swastika and openly supported NS ideology. One could draw the conclusion that you have no need to distinguish seriously in any way of radical right-winged beliefs as you lyrically have a point of contact and support clearly right-winged bands. Is that a correct assumption and if not, why?

I did some mistakes in the past, the NS ideology is not something I support and it is why I did not stay long in Blutskrieg. 14 years ago they were a local black metal band looking for a guitar player, I still don't know why I took the gig. Maybe it was extreme and outrageous or nobody else at that time played black metal music? In the end it was just bad ideology and bad music and made me want to start other projects with greater concepts. That said, I don't see what political opinions has to do with music, and I don't understand why everyone is putting so much emphasis on politics in music these days. We're all rockers here, supposedly. Again to set the record straight, even though politics is not my cup of tea, I can identify myself as a Quebec nationalist, because I was brought up with traditional Quebecois values I suppose, but here in Montreal we have such a diverse metropolis that everyone really does get along, and we've never had much problems until the Messe des Morts festival. There were people of all colors and religions there that night, and they all went home disappointed. The festival and the organizer of the show does not support any kind of radicalism or racist ideologies, and I think it was all a big misunderstanding. I suppose we all make mistakes growing up here and reading about our history and struggle as French speaking Canadians growing up in an English world trying to preserve our culture and language. Its easy to draw some parallels to right wing ideology, and to an average teenage Quebecois growing up in a small town, it's easy to run with those ideas, but once you get to college, university, and enter the job market and the real world, you learn quickly that its all nonsense, and that everyone basically wants the same thing in life, we just have different ways of getting there. We're all immigrants here at the end of the day!

Thank you for taking the time and if you have anything to add, here is the chance for some last words!

Some deep personal conversation there, don’t see what that has to do with Starlight Ritual, but if it clears up any negativity about Forteresse, then so be it! Obviously Starlight has nothing to do with politics, aside from rock n' roll taking over the world that is, and clawing our way to the top! Thank you very much for your time, and you can always reach myself and the other guys at Diese E-Mail-Adresse ist vor Spambots geschützt! Zur Anzeige muss JavaScript eingeschaltet sein!, or visit and like our facebook page too, that’s the best place for up to date info about the band, new songs and releases, and all things SLR related. Anti-modern rock n' roll straight at you, cheers!

-J.F. Bertrand
Eingereicht von Philipp

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