It is imposing, immutable and beyond human comprehension…
Originally released independently through Bandcamp in March 2015, the debut EP from French progressive death metal band Barús found its physical release through Emanations, a sub-label of Les Acteurs De L’Ombre Productions. Very heavy, very dense and very intense, the EP draws on black, death, prog, doom and post metal and is laced with plenty of hooks, heaps of deep grooves and an abundance of dynamic and textural shifts. Here, guitarist J. talks to MR’s Jason Guest about the band and its origins, the EP and its creation, writing in French and English, and the universality of music…
Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on the EP (reviewed here). It’s an impressive piece of work.
James (guitar): Hi Jason, thanks for reviewing our EP and thanks for giving us the opportunity to do this interview with Midlands Rocks.
Barús was formed out of Project JIM. What prompted the demise of that band and the birth of Barús?
J: There have been a couple of line-up changes since then but yes, the core members of Barús played together in Project JIM beforehand, a band that we started quite young. The band went on standby for a couple of years, and we got back to working together on new material in late 2013. Our focus had progressively shifted over time towards a new direction, something darker, more atmospheric and quite a departure from what we had done in the past. So we decided to wipe the slate clean and start completely fresh. We don’t see Barús as a continuation of Project JIM, they are separate entities, and we don’t play any of our old material.
For you, how do the two bands differ?
Project JIM was more of a modern experimental death metal band, sometimes verging on the edge of technical death metal, heavily influenced by bands like Meshuggah, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Blotted Science and such, whereas in Barús the aim is to create a murky and oppressive music, something authentic with a strong personal meaning for us. Barús is a lot stricter in the sense that we try to convey a deeper message and are wary not to fall into the superficiality that we personally feel in a lot of the progressive/technical metal or djent scenes. Barús’ music may still be technical, but only if it serves a meaningful musical purpose.
Where’s the band name Barús originate from? Does it have a specific meaning or significance for the band and its music?
The word ‘Barús’ comes from ancient Greek. It translates weight in both a literal sense, something that is heavy, monolithic and imposing, and in a metaphorical sense, such as a mental burden, or grief, which is a central theme in our music both lyrically and musically.
Though your sound takes in a lot more than this one genre, you describe your music as death metal. Why so?
I would say that Death Metal remains the core component of our sound, especially in terms of creating a menacing and morbid atmosphere. But we definitely draw on many other styles, from black metal to sludge to progressive/experimental metal. We prefer to say simply “this is our take on death metal” and let people figure out for themselves what our music evokes rather than over-classifying our music into a niche that we don’t necessary feel that we fit into.
So, on to your debut EP. What did you want to achieve with it?
Our aim was simply to create something authentic and personal. No one was expecting us or even knew that we were creating Barús, so it was really just a question of setting our own standards in terms of musicality, atmosphere and sound, and making sure that a personal identity emerged through the process.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the EP to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
We had fairly clear ideas in terms of the general aesthetics that we wanted for the band: something heavy, oppressive, suffocating at times, dark and hypnotic. The songs themselves evolved quite naturally during the writing and recording process. We knew what we were aiming for but allowed ourselves to experiment and see what came out from it.
How long were you working on the material?
We spent about 6 months writing and rehearsing the songs, then probably another 6 to record and produce the EP. Then a small extra time to prepare everything for the digital release (artwork, etc.), so I’d say the EP took us a little over a year, from start to finish.
Can you tell us about the lyrical themes on the EP? And where did you take inspiration from?
The lyrics are mostly introspective and relate to existential questions. Our vocalist Keithan deals in an abstract manner about emotional struggles, the sensation of death, self-doubt, and the way these things define us as individuals. But most of all, the lyrics are composed with a narrative structure that ties the songs together. We find inspiration through our experiences as individuals and also in various forms of art, such as film and literature.
3 of the 4 tracks are in English. Why choose to write in English? And why French for ‘Cherub’?
That is mainly Keithan’s choice and is usually dependant on what he feels works best in tying the lyrics and music together. Both languages have specific qualities – I find that English is a more dynamic, allowing to describe things precisely and efficiently, whereas we use French to emphasise certain specific phrases or lines.
The artwork is very impressive. Can you tell us about the artwork and how it relates to the music?
Thanks. Yes, the cover bears a strong meaning in regards to what we express in our music. During the writing process Keithan progressively formed a mental image of this towering pillar, set against an arid and tumultuous background. Its origin is mysterious: it is imposing, immutable and beyond human comprehension, something that we are drawn to, but at the same there is a menacing aura to it, as if it could come crashing down, leading us to an inevitable demise. This notion of an irrepressible malignant force within each of us, which we seldom control and which conditions our very existence, is very present in our music.
Alexander Brown is the artist. Why choose to work with him? And how much direction was given its design?
We’re big fans of Alexander Brown’s work, with bands like Bölzer, Mournful Congregation or StarGazer to name a few. When we got to thinking about artworks for the EP his name popped up quickly, so we decided to contact him and ask if he was interested. We had a conceptual design in mind for the Pillar artwork; we gave him directions in terms of our intent rather than actual graphical cues. On the other hand, the ‘Disillusions’ artwork of the meditating figure is something Alexander created on his own, after listening to our music and getting to know the themes that were developed.
How did you come to work with Emanations for the release of the EP? And do you plan to stay with them for future releases?
We actually got to know the guys behind Emanations and Les Acteurs de l’Ombre when Maïeutiste – a black metal band that Keithan and I play in – got signed in early 2015. They are great people, very committed to the music and the physical releases they put out, so we contacted them soon after we released our EP in digital format. They’ve done a great job on the Digipack version, which was released on January 29th 2016. We can’t say for sure at this moment if we will work with them on next releases, as the label does primarily focus on various forms of black metal, so we are a bit of an exception in that respect.
How does the band approach composition? Is it lyrics first, or the music or a melody perhaps?
Generally we create the music first, then once it stabilises Keithan starts to work on the lyrics and vocals. The creative process is very natural really, it usually starts by demo recording a few riffs at home, starting from a simple idea, and just pulling the thread from there and letting things go wherever they take you.
One thing we are extremely severe about is the atmosphere and emotion that we feel when making our own music: I’ve never been a fan of the “just string a bunch of riffs together and see” way of composing, I only keep material that actually evokes something strong for me personally, something that I can actually immerse and lose myself in. I’m convinced that making music that bears a strong emotional meaning for the composer has a better chance of triggering a strong reaction (although probably not the same one) in a listener. Once we have a complete backbone of the songs we play them together and tweak things here and there.
What does the act of making music mean to Barús?
It’s something that we do compulsively, and that we would do whether the band existed or not. Generally speaking, we’re big music enthusiasts and find inspiration in all kinds of music. Most of us have several other bands beside Barús and completely outside of metal (rock, darkwave, ambient electronic music – hell, even Hip Hop haha).
People often emphasise on the quantity of bad music that we’re exposed to now in the media and on the web, but I find that there has never been a time where so much good music and art is accessible to us if only we look for it. There is so much to discover, to be inspired by… it’s almost mind-boggling.
Music gives a certain universality to creations that stem from a very personal expression, and that’s what I love about it. Writing for Barús is something very personal and emotionally involved for me, and it’s fantastic to see that people from all over respond to it and find their own personal meaning to it.
Any plans for shows in support of the EP? And will we be seeing you in the UK?
We have a couple of shows coming up in the next week or so with Déluge and Maïeutiste (also bands from Les Acteurs de l’Ombre), we’re all looking forward to that. It would be great to play in the UK, we’ve been looking into it for a while, but it’s not always easy to get all our schedules aligned up, since we have lots of different projects. If not this year, then in 2017!
What would be the ideal setting for a Barús performance?
We’re not too picky but the most important thing is that it allows us to convey a certain atmosphere to make the show an actual experience. I don’t mean to say that we need theatrics or big equipment to make it work, but we want our live shows to reflect our music: to plunge the audience into a dark, oppressive atmosphere, something hypnotising and a little disturbing. We want to get inside people’s heads for 45 minutes.
What does the future hold for Barús? An album perhaps?
Yes, we’ve been working on our debut album for a while now. The songs are written and recorded in demo versions, so the next step is recording the actual thing. We’ll be producing most of it ourselves, as we did for the EP. The recording should take place this spring and summer, so hopefully the album should be finished mid-to-late autumn.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Thanks for interviewing us and keep up the great work with the webzine. For anyone interested, our EP is available in CD format through LADLO and our bandcamp, and it is also still available digitally for free on our bandcamp page.