The following is an somewhat in-depth interview with south-eastern France-based progressive blackened death/doom metal band EPITAPHE conducted in April/May of 2022 with guitarist/vocalist L.B. speaking for the band. It was originally intended for a print-only zine project which has since been cancelled. These guys became a quick favorites of mine between their first demo and debut LP ‘I’ (2019) and I wanted to make sure I got in touch with them after reviewing ‘II’, having been completely blown away by their evolution thus far and wanting to see what their gig was all about. Thanks goes out to the band for the interview opportunity. As always do your best to support the elite death metal underground coming out of Europe these days and grab a physical copy from Gurgling Gore‘s Bandcamp [U.S., Cassette], Aesthetic Death’s shop [U.K., Compact Disc] or direct from the band’s Bandcamp [EU, Various formats].

G.B. Before we get into the details of ‘II’ I’d wanted to touch upon the history of the band a bit. From what I gather you’ve explained this to some degree before but, the first six or seven years of activity within the band (as Epitaph) didn’t yield many public demos. Can we consider those formative years, or perhaps a different band/idea entirely?

L.B. — It’s a bit of both. We were college students when we started « Epitaph », and each of us roughly learned to play our instrument thanks to the band. We covered metal songs for quite some time, then we started to write our own stuff. Our songwriting evolved over the years, and it took us some time to mature and find our own musical language. This process was also slowed down by the fact that some of us used to live abroad for several years, making rehearsals impossible. We changed the name of the band to « Epitaphe » when we felt we found our own path. « Epitaphe » being an evolution of « Epitaph », so to speak. And to be more pragmatic, it was also a good opportunity to distinguish ourselves from the other bands named « Epitaph ». 

What’d been the initial spark to finally push the band towards your first demo and album? Whom was involved in the main vision of the project by the time ‘Demo MMXVII’ pieces were ready to record?

We decided to record a demo when we felt satisfied enough with the songs. The recording was very raw and do-it-yourself. Thinking back at it, it was a very rushed and broken recording ! We wanted to do things in a more professional way with the album, and decided to work with Plastic Lobsters Studios. This way, we have benefited from largely better recording conditions, had access to better material, and of course, the great talent of PLS. This experience really helped us expand and affirm our sound.

The range of interests covered in that first demo alone were hard to pin down and you’ve expanded that focus considerably since, was there some difficulty finding a direction early on before your ideas were fit to put to official release?

There was no particular difficulty in finding a direction, but we needed a bit of time to materialize what we had in mind. We were beginners, we never had any other « band » or songwriting experience before that. So we had to learn it all. We aslo tried different tones, different tunings etc… We had 4 years with almost no rehearsals, which slowed down everything. So all in all, it was a very gradual path, but we finally managed to arrive safe and sound.   

With ‘II’ you’ve certainly expanded your palette even more than on ‘I’, not just in reaching out to some more naturalistic black metal motifs (“Celestial” especially) and much more, but also incorporating various other instrumental talents (saxophone, flute, marimba, etc.) Is this in some way the result of the line-up being reduced to three this time around? Have you honed into a more direct vision, or had this always been the natural evolution you’d envisioned beyond ‘I’?

« II » begins from the point at which we left things with « I », in all that might be implied and assumed in terms of familiarity, but equally within the paradigms of evolution and development. The album is the natural evolution of the first one. We delved further into the different facets of our music, and this culminated with our fastest and most intricate death metal riffs to date, standing next to, and contrasting with lighter atmospheric moments. It’s something we had in mind very early in the writing process of the album : to lean upon the foundations of the first album, both to polish our style, and to explore new horizons. 

Switching from a four piece band to a trio was also curiously liberating for us. The music we wrote at the time of the demo and the first album was predominantly determined by what we were able to reproduce in a rehearsal room. For this album, our composition process evolved a bit, and we unconsciously got rid of the “limitations” we had in a rehearsal setting, as we knew we wouldn’t be able to play every instrument during rehearsals anyway. Each section has been played live together, as we wanted to make sure we felt the right dynamic behind each riff. But at the same time, we started to record small demos and add more and more arrangements to the songs, more instruments, more layers of guitars, more effects, textures and so on…

From what I’ve gathered you have a new drummer A.G. on this recording, are you now a trio or was this for the sake of recording in pandemic times? Have you written these new songs as a trio? Had P.B. and L.B. been the main songwriters already?

This time we credited ourselves with the initials of our real names, instead of the pseudos we used on previous records. The only line up change we had since the creation of the band was the departure of our bassist, just after the first album was released. Then, we decided to pursue as a trio. Each member of the band is involved in the creative process, at various degrees and with different roles, but it’s a collective work.

How do you feel about the ‘progressive’ tag applied to Epitaphe? I think back in 2019 the thought on my part was that maybe “edit more” was the solution but I can of course eat those words listening to ‘II’ and songs like “Melancholia”. What breaks down those sub-genre strictures and barriers within your songwriting process? Was the intent to find a more progressive approach or, simply not to be bound to any expected medium?

The « progressive » tag seems appropriate for this record. It’s something that was present in the first album already, but it assumes a greater significance here. That being said, we are not paying attention to the way our music is tagged. The proliferation of those « sub-genre branding » we see a lot today can sometimes seems a bit childish.  When the first album was released we labeled it as « funeral doom metal », which was slightly ironic, but also fit with the music pretty well !

Are there any progressive rock or metal artists you’ve worked with, or, appreciate that’ve influenced Epitaphe in a profound way?

We didn’t work with progressive rock or metal artists. But yes, we’re fond of progressive music, among many other genres. Bands like Pink Floyd or King Crimson had a major impact on us, and always are a great source of inspiration.

Your choices of album art from Finnish artist Petri Ala-Maunus seems to come with some appreciation for his implied themes (in titles), usually something tied to the beauty of nature and its destruction. “The Sky is Falling” for ‘I’ was very evocative in this sense. Sometimes his titles seem to suggest a complex relationship between nature/nurture, a loss of connection. The wilderness, or the “chaos” of the natural world versus the struggle of human sentience to make sense and order of all things — seems to tie into the suggested lyrical themes of Epitaphe, and the cover art for ‘II’ being fiery, beauteous and divine yet almost cataclysmic fits well. Does any of this ring true at all or am I just musing over the connection too hard?

You are absolutely true. When we discovered the art of Petri Ala-Maunus and came across « The Sky is Falling », we thought it would be the perfect illustration for Epitaphe’s music. We felt a strong connection between the painting and the atmospheres developed in our songs. Petri was kind enough to let us use it, as well as two other of his paintings, to illustrate the first album. We had the privilege to pursue and deepen our collaboration with him for the new record. The main painting for « II », entitled « Celestial Explosion », was created from the perspective of being the cover of the new album. We told Petri the names of the new songs, as well as the main themes and ideas behind the record. To illustrate it, we thought of a pastoral and slightly hallucinogenic scene, with a melancholic mood, contrasting with more elusive, fuming and chaotic patterns. Other than these vague ideas, Petri had no other indication and no constraint. The painting was complete before we finished to write the album, and it was a source of inspiration for us, for some sections of the music and the lyrics.

The psychology of chaos, making sense of excess input, does this resonate with your goals in Epitaphe? Are there any particular authors, philosophers or profound influences upon your lyrics?

The notion of chaos, and dealing with chaotic, complex and sometimes contrary emotions is one of the main themes of our music. Even if several authors had an impact on us, we did not base our lyrics on particular or precise writings, paradigms or philosophical principles.

Do the lyrics and themes of ‘II’ tie into those of ‘I’? Are these concept albums in any sense?

They are not literally related by a concept, but there’s a strong dialogue between the two albums at every level : music, lyrics, atmospheres, themes, visuals, production… We attach importance to the idea of having an identifiable trajectory between the different releases, each one having its own identity, and shaping a more global « body of work ».

What is the best way that fans can support Epitaphe ?

We are not a live band, so the only way to support us directly is to buy our records. If you are into physical formats, we’re taking a lot of attention to create beautiful objects, that hopefully feels more than just a standard cd, tape or vinyl. If you’re more into digital, our two albums are available as « name your price » releases on our Bandcamp page.

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