The cold northern reaches of Québec have always been an unlikely incubator for some of the more famously weird strains of metal music. Voivod is the best-known example, but countless underground acts have existed and performed within this fervent but insular scene for years. A handful of them have gained broader notoriety, but it has been many moons since a genuine death metal band has broken through the region's icy hold. In 2012, a band with the unlikely name of Chthe'ilist came out of nowhere with their debut demo, and suddenly metalheads across North America and beyond are looking northwards in anticipation of this promising new band. Vocalist/guitarist Phil Tougas took a break from his multiple projects to help us understand what makes the band tick.
Normally I'd never ask this question but since the band is a relatively new entry, could you give us a short history of the band and the line-up?
Chthe’ilist was originally formed under a different name right after the dissolution of Spheres, which was another project I was part of three years ago. It was in summer 2010 and I was 18 at the time. I wrote a song for that project during that period, and after a while, I thought it was too different from the material written for Spheres. I decided to create my own band and write material that was in the same vein of this particular song, which ended up being “Scriptures of The Typhlodians", the third track off our demo.
Later in winter/spring 2011, I finished writing enough material to record a demo and I decided I wanted to make this new project one of my biggest priorities. Philippe Boucher joined on drums a while later after hearing the material. I decided to take charge of the vocal duties for the demo at the last minute as well as the other instruments after that. Shortly after, we changed our name to Chthe’ilist and later recorded our demo in May-June of 2011, with the exception of the drums which were recorded in October. Fast-forward a year later, we then finally released our demo ourselves in August of 2012. Chthe’ilist is now my main band amongst the eight bands I currently play in.
You cite bands like Demilich and Timeghoul as influences. Both of these bands are now highly regarded, but it took years after they disbanded for them to find an audience. Do you think it's more likely for a band to have a "weird" sound now and catch on in the immediacy?
Many bands have influenced me when I wrote the material on the Chthe’ilist demo, but you could say that those two bands are some of my biggest influences indeed. I think that with the arrival of the internet and online file sharing, it’s obvious that bands such as Timeghoul and Demilich got more exposure and a new, bigger audience amongst the younger metalheads. It made it easier for younger musicians to discover older obscure bands and new inspirations. People are finally re-discovering these bands and coincidentally, more and more newer bands with an older sound are appearing everywhere. But I don’t think these bands are here because they know that old school death metal, or said older bands like Timeghoul, are becoming more “popular” again. For example, I don’t think a band like Cosmic Atrophy (who might not have influenced me, but share the same influences as us) decided to create something weird and unusual just because they knew that type of sound was getting much more attention than before, or to ride the current “new old-school death metal” bandwagon. It’s just that some of us were meant to discover these new inspirations and create something out of it.
Speaking of which, some people have compared Cosmic Atrophy to Chthe’ilist for having the same influences, but I think we both apply them in a very different way. Cory would probably agree. I love his work, and he loves ours, and I think that’s very cool. I always recommend his band to people looking for newer death metal bands, and I can’t wait to hear his next release.
Anyway, I think it’s a good thing that this type of sound is getting more attention because, honestly, it is certainly not getting old anytime soon for me. On a side note, Dark Descent Records are probably the best label for this style of death metal right now and thanks to them, death metal is reborn again.
Much like Demilich, you seem to be creating a new language based on phonetics and and word manipulation. Where does the fascination of linguistics come from? Does the music inspire the lyrics (or vice versa)?
It just felt natural to go for something a little more unorthodox for the lyrical content (and some of the song titles) because of the nature of our music itself. I wanted the lyrics to fit with the unusual, strange nature of our structures and melodies. I was obviously inspired by Antti [Boman, of Demilich] to create new words based on phonetic manipulations but I also thought of the idea of combining words together to create new names. I basically mixed those ideas together. I’d say it has definitely influenced the lyrical content too. I’ll take a word in one of our titles as an example: “Eil’udom” is a combination of the word “Illusion” and “Kingdom”. I just took the “Ill” and the “Udom”, and mixed them together. Since “Eil” and “Ill” almost have the same pronunciation (at least to me, since English is not my main language). I just changed it to “Eil” because I thought it looked better. I chose to mix those words together because Eil’udom is the name of a strange, illusive, nightmarish world or alternate dimension that I made up, so I thought it was completely fitting.
“Typhlodian” is “Typhlotic” and “Guardian” mixed together. The Typhlodians are blind (or eyeless), emaciated beings that haunt the nightmarish dimension of Eil’udom and usually dwell in underground sepulchers. Don’t try to decipher our band name though, because it doesn’t mean anything. It could be the name of a cryptic creature. It could also be the name of a wizard that can summon tentacle-monsters from the ground or something like that, I don’t know, just use your imagination. I just thought it looked and sounded cool. I then decided to make up a dialect similar to the band name itself.
All of our lyrics are short bone-chilling, bizarre horror stories that have a story of their own but are all connected together in the same “universe”. What I am trying to do is creating a parallel world within these lyrics, kind of like Lovecraft did, so I just create new names and characters for every songs. As much as Lovecraft is a huge influence for the lyrics, my lyrics are not connected to the Cthulhu Mythos in any way.
“Into to vaults…..” is about a man who finds a passage beneath an old tomb and eventually discovers a portal, or a gateway, that leads directly to Eil’udom. That man is later eaten by the entities, or the guardians that lives at the other side of the Gateway.
“Scriptures of the Typhlodians” is about an explorer who discovers a book containing ancient, forbidden scriptures with instructions (shamanic rituals, etc) to enter Eil’udom using astral projection, but later dies in sleep after demonic spirits from Eil’udom (The Typhlodians) enters his dream from another dimension.
The last song is about someone getting engulfed by a strange, living liquified substance and cloned into the same entity.
It seems like newer underground bands have found their way back to the tried and true death metal paradigm and dispensed with all of the “deathcore” elements that undermined the genre in recent years. As a young creator of traditional death metal, how did you discover the sound? What drew you to it over the current variants?
Back when I was a young teenager, I grew up on bands like Judas Priest, Saxon, Metallica, Accept, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and the likes while everyone else where into mainstream screamo/metalcore. My roots were always traditional metal. You can mostly thank my father for that, because he is one of the main reasons why I am a metal musician today. It all happened on that one night when we went to a Judas Priest/Anthrax concert when I was 13. Since that show, I’ve been hooked on metal and I have never looked back.
For a while, I was only into '80s stuff – Heavy/Power metal, neoclassical metal, you name it, I still listen to that stuff a lot today. I couldn’t tolerate any forms of extreme metal or newer bands, or anything that didn’t have actual singing at first (I was also dumb and close-minded). I eventually got into Slayer, mainly because of Show No Mercy, and then Sepultura about two years later, and it was somehow my gateway to heavier, extreme metal, leading me to get into Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Angelcorpse, Possessed and Deicide when I was 15. I also discovered Cryptopsy (I’m still a huge fan to this day), and more modern, extreme metal bands almost at the same time. I still remember the first time I heard "Chapel of Ghouls" by Morbid Angel, and just s---ing my pants at how intense and brutal it was. Honestly, I still think Altars of Madness is one of the most brutal and evil death metal albums ever made, and if you don’t like that album, you basically don’t like death metal, simple as that.
At a certain point musically, I ventured more into the newer styles of extreme metal than the traditional metal bands. It honestly felt like I was “betraying” my roots. I wanted to do something more traditional, more true to the original death metal sound and aesthetic and something that would relinquish my thirst to play something dark, twisted and full of negativity, which I think a lot of modern bands lack in their sound. At the same time, I was always attracted to the more unorthodox variations of the genre. I got into bands like Pavor, Demilich and Gorguts quite early and I eventually wanted to create something that combined elements of these sorts of bands with elements of traditional death metal.
I eventually found my niche within the old school Finnish death metal sound a bit later because I always found that the early bands really knew how to incorporate unusual, unorthodox elements and soundscapes into their music while always staying extremely heavy and dark-sounding at the same time – the perfect combination.
I literally became obsessed with the early Finnish death metal scene ; Demigod, Purtenance, Depravity, Rippikoulu, Adramelech, Convulse, Xysma, Demilich, Phlegethon, early Amorphis, Cartilage, Disgrace, Agonized, Paraxism, Lubricant, Abhorrence, you name it. It just felt right to start a new band in that style, because I wanted to create something unusual, bizarre but traditional-sounding at the same time and more importantly, something I would like to hear myself as a death metal fan and thus Chthe’ilist was created.
Once you started, did you consciously decide to make something that would have a distinct voice of its own or did it just work out that way? I ask because this can be a difficult balancing act when a band isn't shy about showcasing its influences.
Well, when I started Chthe’ilist, my goal was never to create something “new” or “unique”. I just wanted to combine different influences in a particular way while adding my own personal touch and create something that I would want to hear and it ended up like that. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. Some people have labeled us as a Demilich worship band (without being negative), but the thing is that Demilich is certainly not our only influence amongst the Finnish bands that I listen to. If anything, I’d say Privilege of Evil-era Amorphis, Demigod, Abhorrence, and Adramalech are just as influential as Demilich on our music. The Swedish Crematory are also a big inspiration to me.
I also get most of my influences from Finnish doom/death bands like Thergothon, Rippikoulu, and Unholy when it comes to the use of synths and creating creepy atmospheres. Vocally, Jeff Hayden of Timeghoul, Youri Raymond of Unhuman, Brian Petrowski of Iniquity, and Antti Boman of Demilich are some of my biggest influences. I didn’t hesitate to let the influences be obvious, but it’s more of a tribute to them than anything else. I never was an actual vocalist to begin with anyway. I started doing them not too long before going in the studio.
Death metal's original zenith was relatively short, circa 1989-1993 before it was weighed down with glut and repetition. Recently there has been yet another surge of bands, increased popularity, and an overpopulation of bands that could ultimately lead to a another collapse. Do you think anything can be done to prevent this from happening again?
Even though I certainly agree that death metal’s golden-age is gone (even though I was just a baby at that time), I personally don’t think death metal ever “collapsed” in the sense that it is certainly not a dead genre, no pun intended. There are always unique, amazing bands out there to discover every day; you just must know where to look. Metal was always an “overpopulated” genre anyway, just like in every other genres, and it will always be so. Even Richard Brunelle of Morbid Angel was complaining about this issue back in the golden age of death metal, ironically. If you want less bands, wish for less humans on earth (haha).
Fortunately, even today, there are still some amazing modern bands out there. Just look at bands like Stargazer, Crimson Massacre, Mitochondrion, and Adversarial for example. I don’t know any other newer bands that sound like them. I’m an optimist, and I think there will always be forward thinking metal bands out there that will either keep pushing the boundaries or create something interesting, collapse or not.
What is it about Québec that breeds such proficient and unusual metal bands? Would you say that a Québécois sensibility is present in your work?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the cold? Or the poutine? Or having to eat poutine in the cold? Haha, I don’t know. Soundwise, I wouldn’t say that. As much as all the insanely talented musicians and bands from my scene and my entourage are very influential and inspiring to me, I specifically wanted Chthe’ilist to musically stand apart from the current Québec scene as much as possible. Québec has currently a huge technical/prog death, thrash and black metal scene and I feel we do not belong in any of those scenes and it’s no wonder we have many more fans in the rest of the world than in our own country so far.
Most people who heard Chthe’ilist couldn’t believe we were from Québec too. There are literally no other bands from our country that has the whole Finnish DM worship sound/aesthetic going on. If there’s one though, feel free to prove me wrong. I did listen to a lot of Gorguts back when I wrote the first Chthe’ilist song "Scriptures..." though. I guess that one song has some sort of Québécois sensibility in its riffs in a certain way but I don’t think we sound like them at all.
Nonetheless, Phil Boucher and I are both proud Québécois and separatists. I can say that even though our sound is exclusively influenced by bands from other countries, we definitely identify ourselves with the Québec culture. We will also write a few songs in French on the upcoming album without straying from our usual lyrical content of course. We think that singing in our own language is extremely important.
What's the plan for Chthe’ilist from here? Will you play live soon? You're also already working on a full length, correct?
Correct. We are currently in writing mode. Hopefully we can record our first album sometime in fall 2013. The 3 songs on the demo, as well as the creepy intro, will be re-recorded, and there will be at least five or six new songs on the album.
Shows will come later, and I certainly can’t wait to play these songs live, but for now, I would rather just focus on recording the album. I may be involved in many other projects but Chthe'ilist is my main band and as long as the drive to create twisted and dark music is there, I will keep it alive and try to release as much music as possible in the future.