Interview: Phrenelith (2022) | From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Phrenelith

One will hardly find any indifferent or lukewarm review, opinion, or publicly expressed sentiment about Chimaera, as most people tend to see it either as a major leap forward or somewhat of a letdown compared to Desolate Endscape. What is the most flattering thing you’ve heard or read about the album so far, and what is the most disparaging?

Simon Daniel: A lot of people seem to enjoy it, which is great. Some even more than our debut, while others prefer Desolate Endscape vastly more than the new one. Both are fine, since both are ultimately a compliment in a way. Likewise, criticism is much welcomed, as long as it’s constructive criticism, and I would say that there’s much to be gained from reading criticism of your work. So to sum it up, I would just say that I’m glad someone has listened to it and taken the time to form an opinion, since the worst scenario would be that people were completely indifferent to it.

Is your motivation to make music something that depends on external feedback to a certain extent, or does the eagerness to create come exclusively from the inside? If no one was interested in what you do and your music was considered bland and uninspiring, would that bother you?

Simon Daniel: Well, both hold true, I suppose. I don’t see the band being solely dependent on the outside feedback, but at the same time it would be wrong to say that we’re completely indifferent to outside opinions. You should always create art for yourself, but I simply don’t believe any band could say that they’re not affected by the outside world. Without going completely Machiavellian, I would argue that the world is your stage and audience, so everything you do is to some degree intentional and calculated. This is something I believe holds true, not only when it comes to music, but life in general. I have heard people, and even friends, say that they don’t care how their music is received, because they only play and release music for themselves. I would say that I understand that sentiment to a certain degree, since even if no one paid attention to our music, I’m sure that we would still play together since we enjoy rehearsing and hanging out together. However, I can’t help but see the aforementioned statement as a load of nonsense. If your music was truly only for yourself, then why release it to the public? Then just record it at home, burn five CDs, draw the cover in crayons or whatever and call it a day. Better yet, why record it at all? It would be more in line with that philosophy if the music was only experienced in the moment by those playing it.

Do you feel that, at some point down the line, Phrenelith could become something bigger than yourselves, a beast with its own life and its own will, that transcends its members as individuals, who are merely there to feed the furnace, in a manner of speaking?

Simon Daniel: I would say that Phrenelith is already something much bigger than ourselves. In the sense that we’re not terribly interesting as just the four individuals that make up the band. If there’s anything that’s compelling about the band then it’s purely the art that we strive to create through the band as a vessel. Hard to say if we’re just feeding a beast that has grown too fat and so phrenetic that we can no longer control it. But If we’re truly just feeding the furnace, then I will say that I have stuck my hand into the fire more than once, and I have certainly considered throwing myself in and letting myself be incinerated by it.

Phrenelith Interview 2022 (Chimaera)

Would Chimaera even be possible without Desolate Endscape preceding it? Do you see those albums as two subsequent stages of the same journey, or are you inclined to see them as completely independent journeys in and of themselves? Should those two albums be measured against each other?

Simon Daniel: I’m unable to imagine a reality where Desolate Endscape did not precede Chimaera, so in that sense I don’t find it possible, no. I’m not sure what the benefit would be for me to give a normative answer about how people should feel about the two albums, nor do I find any reason to say that the two albums shouldn’t be measured and compared. The albums are unleashed upon the world and the moment that happens you ultimately lose ownership over the music as a band. We don’t have any desire to force people to perceive the albums in a certain way, since we place the trust in people that they’re able to think for themselves and form their own opinions.

Apparently, Chimaera was more than two years in the making. Given that at least three songs featured on the album had been written for the Chimaerian Offspring EP back in 2017, why was it so draining and time-consuming to write the remaining four, of which Χίμαιρα is not even a regular song but a shot acoustic intermezzo?

Simon Daniel: If you’re talking about the time period between the release of Chimaerian Offspring in early 2017 to the recording of the Chimaera album in late 2019, then the fact is that we recorded a three-song tour promo, a two-song EP, and a track for a compilation in between those two releases. If you’re talking about the case of finishing up that specific album, then I’m not sure if I agree with the assumption, that writing the remaining songs was particularly draining and time-consuming, since I don’t know what the standard is for how fast you’re supposed to write songs. The material takes the time it does until we’re satisfied with it, that combined with us having other obligations means that it sometimes takes some time for new material to manifest itself. Another reason could be that maybe we spent more time touring and playing shows and thus had less time to focus on writing new material. I also just want to state again that we always thought of the Chimaerian Offspring recording as a demo of some songs that were meant to be re-recorded at a later point and never intended for it to be perceived as an EP.

So you knew already back then that those three songs were too good to be wasted on an obscure tape demo and that you would eventually use them as the foundation of some future full-length?

Simon Daniel: Well yes, as I’ve said, I always saw it as a demo recording for something that would be re-recorded at a later point. Which is something, I think, we have always agreed upon in the band. I don’t think I would feel the songs were ever wasted had they not been re-recorded, but I personally always felt the songs could benefit from an actual studio recording session, which is the logic behind why we recorded them again.

Phrenelith Interview 2022 (Hound)

When you put the Chimaerian Offspring EP songs and the new material side by side, how do you explain the fact that those seven songs work so well together, considering the vast time frame during which they were written? Was that organic flow merely a matter of giving them identical production treatment, or was it an effort that required getting on the same wavelength with the mindset and sensibility of your younger selves, from some five or so years ago?

Simon Daniel: I think the only logical explanation is that we’re just such great musicians that nothing poses a challenge to us. But in all seriousness, I think that it was a very natural process, also considering the material was written continuously throughout those years. I suppose there’s a conscious effort to write material and concepts that fit within the same frame on a release, but I’m not of the conviction that you can step into the same river twice, since the stream continues to flow perpetually. In that aspect I don’t think we could get into the exact same mindset as our previous selves, nor do I think it would be beneficial in any way.

What would be more accurate, to deem your music primitive or methodical? Or do you see it as a compromise between the two?

Simon Daniel: Well, I would say both, since I think it’s possible to combine the two. Even a butcher is methodical, in that a butcher makes a selection of special cuts with the intention of ending up with certain carvings, instead of just thoughtlessly massacring the animal. However, most people would agree that the butcher is nothing compared to the precision of the surgeon. What are the butcher’s hardened and callused hands compared to the steady and meticulous hand of the surgeon, and what is a butcher knife compared to surgical steel? I think Phrenelith falls somewhere in between though, similar to a surgeon that’s been giving unsupervised access to the ether and chloroform and is just barely holding it together by muscle memory through a blurred haze. Or maybe a battlefield surgeon would be a better analogy, in that, sometimes the patient is saved by the shift and sloppy discarding of a member, other times they bleed out, while a man-made horrors play out in front of them, or they succumb slowly as a result of the unsanitary conditions that the procedure was performed under.

What advice would you give to your younger self from the time of the band’s first demo back in 2015, given all the knowledge and experience you amassed over the last seven years, culminating with Chimaera?

Simon Daniel: I can only hope that every mistake we’ve made has taught us something valuable. So in that regard, I don’t see a reason to stop myself from going through the process of learning. There have been tons of things that I would certainly do differently had I had the chance today with all that I know now. There are certainly still riffs, leads, and solos that bother me to some extent, but I would honestly look at it as a total defeat if my own and the band’s progress has been stagnant all these years.

Phrenelith Interview 2022 (Band)

The cover of Chimaera features another stunning artwork by Timo Ketola, presumably one of his last ones. How much does his contribution add to the sentimental value of this album?

Simon Daniel: Well, speaking strictly about the sentimental value, I would say that it had an immense contribution to the album. The whole process of working with him was great and filled with some great memories and interactions. We’re immensely satisfied with the artwork and it was an honour being given the privilege to work with him. I know that he put a part of himself into that artwork and every other piece that he did, the same as a band should when they create an album.

Is it merely a coincidence that Chimaera is a monster from Greek mythology, that most of the lyrical themes on this album revolve around Ancient Greece, and that your label Nuclear Winter is also based in Athens, Greece? How come that four Danish guys are more enthusiastic to explore Greek culture, history, and mythology than their own?

Simon Daniel: The boring answer here is that it’s actually a total coincidence. The interest and inspiration from Greek mythos long predates us working with Nuclear Winter Records. I think within your question is an assumption that we are somehow more interested in any particular culture than our own, which I don’t think is the case. We’re as interested in our own culture as any other culture, and take inspiration from a great abundance of things, both physical and metaphysical. Another thing is that there’s no denying that the Greek culture, history, and mythology of antiquity had a grand impact on the world to a point where one could argue that it founded the culture of Europe in the millennia to come. So to that end, it is actually as much my own culture as anything else, I suppose.

Given that death metal is often concerned with the problem of dying, the afterlife, and other mystical or metaphysical matters, have you ever seen your music as a vent to help you get rid of the sense of existential anxiety and unease?

Simon Daniel: I’m not sure what is meant by the problem of dying, but if you approach death as a problem that can be solved, then surely it will be a losing battle, since the only thing that’s certain in life is your own demise. But I sense that what you’re asking is whether or not death metal, and music in general, is something that’s cathartic or therapeutic to us. To that I would say that it seemingly is to a lot of musicians, to a point where it has become very cliché. Saying that you deal with an extreme subject matter to get a sort of cathartic release from it always felt a little hollow to me, and at this point it would be refreshing if more bands came out and just said that their sole intention is to glorify violence (laughs). I really don’t have a profound answer to such things, but speaking on a more personal level, I would say, maybe it’s escapist in nature. A brief moment where you don’t have to think about tangible life. But whether or not it purges any existential anxiety is hard for me to tell.

Phrenelith Interview 2022 (Temple)

If you were to be in control of your own destiny, would you prefer to live long and slowly deteriorate into death, or to die with a bang right before that process of inevitable physical and mental deterioration is about to slowly begin? Would you sacrifice longevity for a shorter, but presumably happier and more dignified life?

Simon Daniel: Surely within the word destiny lies the concept of something you can’t change, but the question is if anything is destined. Unless you are of an entirely pre-deterministic conviction, then you are in fact master of yourself and do in fact have power over when and how you die, as long as you take matters into your own hands, so to speak. Would I prefer to live a long life or would I rather die prematurely at my peak? Good question, but aren’t we all slowly deteriorating into death, don’t you start to decay as soon as you’re born? My first reaction would be to say that I wanted to die with dignity instead of living a long meaningless life, but surely most people would say that, and yet they still cling to life at any cost.

Let’s imagine that there is salvation after all. Would you care to be saved? Would the prospect of eternal life comfort you or maybe freak you out?

Simon Daniel: The idea of eternal life is very fascinating, and something that I’m sure is appealing to many. The first thing I always think about when someone poses such a question is that eternity is a very long time and that it must be something that sooner or later turns into more of a curse than a gift. Which is the most classic take on eternal life, I suppose. I would personally like for my life to have an end, preferably after I have achieved some of the things I set out to do, but ultimately, I think, we’re doomed to realise that life is very unfulfilling if you have even the slightest ambition. On the other hand, if we’re talking about eternal life as any sort of immortality, I would say there are many ways to achieve that, whether it’s by lineage, heroic legacy, or through ideas and art that transcend your mortal being.

 

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