Orthodox black metal is a handy label, but also misleading. Seth are a classic orthodox French BM band, with all that entails – a claustrophobically rich atmosphere woven from occultism, vampirism, and collaborations with Fenriz – but they have also covered Depeche Mode and, returning after a break of eight years, have produced an album that proves that wraithlike need not mean insubstantial. Will Pinfold catches up with founder Heimoth to discover why his spirit is howling.
France has a special place in the blackened hearts of a certain type of black metal fan. The tradition of obscure, ultra-occult BM goes back to the heady days of Les Legions Noire, who were among the first to establish an identity distinct from the Norwegian scene. Seth came along just as LLN were waning, but they shared their predecessors’ vampiric spirit. Nearly 20 years on, how does Heimoth feel about French black metal? “I’ve always had mixed feelings about the French BM scene,” he begins. “It’s grown rapidly these days with interesting bands such as Deathspell Omega, among others, yet I still wonder how much music is left when paying so much attention to the imagery. In black metal, mystery makes authenticity and credibility – but what’s left to a supposedly musical band when all is just about launching lame competitions to appear the most evil, most mysterious band around?” A fair point, and yet part of Seth’s own appeal has always come from their aura of mystery. But is this just a by-product of their music, or is it something the band themselves have cultivated? “Well, I’d say it’s both! A mysterious band only works if the music fits the overall image conveyed. It’s the combination of both that creates an eerie feeling that surrounds some apparently ‘mere album’ you innocently play at home.” Speaking of the music, with their latest The Howling Spirit, it seems like, more than ever, Seth play black metal with an emphasis on metal. I put it to Heimoth that, over the years, BM’s admirable assimilation of atmospheric elements from non-metal music has left some of the genre’s modern proponents a little toothless. “You got it right! I think it’s just been overlooked throughout the years. Atmosphere is essential to a good record; still, black metal should be equally metal. To tell you the truth, I’m having difficulties these days coping with today’s wave of so-called new ‘post-metal’ or whatever bands. Some of them are good, but the major trend now is to use ambience to the detriment of something that unites us all – metal.”
Anyone unsure about the essential atmosphere that Heimoth mentions would do well to check out Seth’s 1998 debut, Les Blessures de l’Âme, as good a place as any to learn what French BM was all about in the ’90s. Though it shares many of its qualities, The Howling Spirit is quite a different proposition: more concrete, less ethereal, and not just musically, but also in spirit. “We welcomed some guests on this album, and also lyric writers such as Kvohst [Hexvessel, ex-DHG, ex-<Code>]. Then our singer Black Messiah and I also wrote lyrics, and we wrote on common ideas based upon nature’s self-destruction, through themes such as morality, sin, and guilt.” The most surprising thing about The Howling Spirit, though, is that it exists at all. The hiatus following 2004’s Era-Decay seemed, until relatively recently, to be terminal. Heimoth explains: “The band had taken a significant part of my life for years to such an extent that I felt I had to let off steam and do something else, which led to the eight-year break. I think it’s always good to be committed in what you want to achieve, but at some point, it also needs to fit in the right timing. In 2004, the band was heading in no real direction and therefore was not consistent with my beliefs. Things have now changed, and I’m more than proud to set out for a thriving path with this new album, born from much obvious benefit of a long break.”
Indeed. Back in 2004, the band seemed unsure of their identity, tentatively reaching in directions not of their making. Now, they are 100% Seth, but by no means an anachronism. So, what brought the band back together? “Back home from England after two years, I had no real intention of bringing the band back to life, but I was well aware the other members were more than willing. Then, we had this German gig opportunity in Speyer together with Bethlehem. We played a few live dates to promote the first album’s reissue and decided to enter the studio, as we had some new material. A lot of the material was written during the last ten years. All the tracks have been thought over, worked, and reworked like a hundred times together with Cyriex, with whom I played in Decrepit Spectre, without the basic idea of releasing them under the Seth label. We were aware of the fact that some of this material sounded potentially really good, and we just reworked these tracks again to a more Seth style to eventually record them. The Howling Spirit is actually the result of a particularly huge songwriting process that we’re all very proud of.” So, what are Heimoth’s thoughts on the BM scene that the band have re-emerged into? “I must say I rarely come across bands I really like, but considering the endless amount of BM bands around, I guess it makes sense. I just sometimes wonder why some bands use the ‘post-black metal’ label when their music has actually nothing to do with BM. Still, I have a growing tendency to get bored watching today’s rawest BM bands onstage, to whom looking mean seems the most important concern, so I guess post-BM bands cannot but bring novelty to a genre in desperate need of rejuvenation.”
vital statistics origin bordeaux france formed 1995 current lineup heimoth [keyboards/guitars] alsvid [drums] black messiah [vocals] cyriex [guitars] eguil voisin [bass] current label season of mist current release the howling spirit band url label url www.innomineseth.fr label url www.season-of-mist.com discography the howling spirit [season of mist 2013] era-decay [avantgarde music 2004] divine-x [osmose productions 2002] l’excellence [osmose productions 2000] les blessures de’lâme [season of mist 1998]
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