(Comrade Aleks returns to our site with an engaging interview of the frontman for Barabbas.)
French Barabbas appeared on the European doom-scene in 2011 with a self-titled album, and its killer song “Barabbas” was also included in a Doom Metal Front compilation, so you may already know them. Three years have passed, and Barabbas return with great new tunes! Messe pour un chien shows the band’s evident progress as they go further from traditional doom and stoner tunes to something more massive and mobile.
The new songs are really catchy, they demonstrate all the best of Barrabas’ musical experience, and they have mordant and ironical lyrics — that’s something new for the somber doom scene, but it’s ok for the congregation of Four Saints of Barabbas. The band’s frontman Saint Rodolphe is here to spread a Word, yet not to preach.
Salute reverend Rodolphe! About two years have passed since we had our last interview, what new has happened during this period? Besides the release of the new full-length Messe pour un chien, of course.
StR: Salute, deacon Aleksey! It’s nice to hear from you, I hope you are fine. It seems those two years passed at the speed of light. In fact, most of our times have been devoted to the making and the release of the new album (yes, we are that slow :). We did a few gigs during these years (we had the chance to share the stage with Windhand and Pilgrim, for example) but Messe pour un chien required a lot of work.
The bulk of the writing was done in 2013. We finished it in early 2014. A lot of songs were rejected because they didn’t fit well with the album, maybe we will record them one day? (I hope so, some were very good to my ears). Then, we did a pre-production of the album, made some corrections, and began to record “for real” around June / July. And at last, the album came out in November.
So far, we have received very positive reviews, and the majority of our listeners seem to think it’s a step forward from the first EP. After the release of the album, we did our first French tour, the Sombre Novembre Tour (Dark November Tour): four dates headlined by the great Swedish band Goatess. A wonderful experience and a real cool time with a killer band. I urge your reader to listen to them, they really got a sound of their own.
2015 starts well for us because we played in February in Paris with the mighty Doomraiser and Shores of Null. And we hope to play some festivals during the year; we keep our fingers crossed!
Windhand and Pilgrim… Does such a line-up really affect the number of people at gigs? I’m asking because, for example, it seems there’s a very restricted number of doom-heads in Moscow – the number of people at most doom-gigs is the same. I won’t even talk about Saint-Petersburg — we have no gigs with big doom bands here at all.
StR: Yes, “big names” tend to attract more people. Doomsters are passionate people, so they generally don’t miss the “Great Old Ones” of the genre or the new doom revelations. But the doom crowd is a rather small one, compared to other genres like stoner or black metal, for example. Most of the time, doom gigs take place in clubs or bars, except for bands like Saint-Vitus or Electric Wizard, which appeal to a wider audience than the doom crowd, so they can pack bigger venues. Doom is kind of a community, so it’s natural to meet more or less the same people at different gigs.
The name of the new album, Messe pour un chien, translates as “mass for a dog”, and you have a strong and tough high-speed hit “Le mâle Omega” with iconoclastic lyrics – what is it all about?
StR: Messe pour un chien is a bit of a concept album. It is based on the life and death of an imaginary character. It all began with the death of the dog of our drummer. Once, it was a strong and fierce animal, a ferocious big dog, a lord among his kind, and he ended up miserably, in painful agony. Don’t ask me why, but we all agreed that the fate of this dog reflected the human condition, the rise and fall of any human being: No matter your accomplishments in life, no matter how high you climb, how big you were, chances are you will end up miserably like a poor animal waiting for the death stroke.
So each song of the album tells about the life of this imaginary man, just as if he were remembering moments of his life on his dying bed: His moments of despair in “Le couteau ou l’abîme”, his happy times in “Le sabbat dans la cathédrale”… Agreed, it’s not as strong a concept as in a Rush album, but, hey, we’re only Barabbas 🙂
You can also notice that the first riff of the album is identical to its very last riff, so it runs like a circle: life, death… and resurrection or reincarnation? It’s up to the listener to decide 🙂
The song “Le mâle Oméga” tells about the way this imaginary man behaved: He was a bit like Lucifer, a really clever and intelligent being using his abilities to compete with the greatest powers of the universe, blinded by his monumental ego. He is science without conscience, a man craving for power, seized by the urge to conquer and control everything, devoid of any spirituality and obsessed by greed.
Damn, it’s sad that such a cool dog couldn’t live eternally! Do you plan to record the song “Le male Alpha” as a single for some split-album? I believe that you can find the proper subject for it easily!
StR: We have no plan right now to record a split, but if we found a label interested, why not ? There’s a lot of bands we’d be happy to share a record with, but the crux of the matter is money and also distribution. But who knows, if the new album sells well, maybe we’ll have enough money to do it on our own in the near future? Time will tell!
Barabbas sounds really louder, stronger than before. How did you elaborate the band’s new sound?
StR: All praise to Saint-Jérôme, our bass player! He is our wizard of sound. He had already produced our first EP and we were very happy with the result, so the next step was asking him to record and produce the new one 🙂 At first, we considered booking a studio and recording with someone else, but in the end, we all agreed it would be better if Jay did it. He really had a “sonic vision” of how the album should sound and, so far, the real positive reactions to the album prove he was right! JC, our drummer, was also of great help in the making of the album; he had lots of ideas for the musical arrangements. He and Jay really made the album what it is.
Was it a difficult decision to release the album in DIY way? I think that you deserve a good label, but I wonder if you searched for one…
StR: Well, we did search… a bit. But it seems there are not lots of opportunities for a band singing in French, and the few contacts we had with some labels didn’t succeed. So we didn’t have any choice, it was the DIY way or no record at all. But we were pretty confident it would be ok: With Jay at the helm, we knew we could not go wrong. And judging from the positive reviews the album has received so far, it was a good choice.
Besides, doing your thing on your own allows you to control everything without any interference, from the recording process to the choice of the artwork for the cover. And the money you make by selling records or merchandising is yours. But of course, a label can be of great help in promoting your band, booking you for festivals, helping you get more feedback from the press, so we don’t turn our back on labels.
In fact, now that we’ve gotten some positive reviews with the album, we just began to really search for a label that could help us to release a vinyl version of Messe pour un chien, for example (or release a split album, as seen above). By the way, if a Russian label is interested, don’t hesitate to contact us.
You mentioned the bombardment of Hiroshima in the song “Le mâle Omega”. It’s interesting because I got a CD from the King Heavy band two months ago, and they also reminded about this tragic event, too. Do you feel that this problem is actual now?
StR: We are living in times of troubles, aren’t we? Nuclear annihilation, mass extinction by chemical weapons, the menaces of war… We’ve got so many ways to destroy ourselves, that’ really frightening. And there are so many dangers threatening mankind: the end of natural resources, pollution, risks of accidents at nuclear power plants… I’m a grown man, I’ve already lived at least half of my lifetime, but I’ve got kids and I’m afraid for their future. Well, I better think of something else or I will get depressed. 🙂
Barabbas “Le mâle Omega”
I’m already depressed as I think about it too. 😀 And let us clarify it – some bands criticize God, speaking about Him (or it? Well, okay, we’re speaking about the Christian God) as if people have no will of their own and do “evil deeds” blindly. What’s your position on this question?
StR: I may be wrong, but I think that, according to Christian theology, God gave free will to man. So it’s up to man to chose between good and evil. And it’s the choice given to every person, religious or not, it’s the old “Jekyll and Hyde” thing, the inner fight between the good and the bad. So I don’t think there’s a “God” to blame for the sins of mankind (or even a Satan) — the solution to evil lies in the heart and the conscience of every man. We all can be angels or devils; sometimes, I’m both of them in a single day, just ask my wife 🙂
What drove you to write the song “La Beaute du Diable”? This one and “Judas est une femme” is an interesting combination. You know – I was interviewing one Italian band, and they have a song with a similar conception — their frontman explained that this song is not about the malice of women but about the weakness of men.
StR: That’s a clever question! It could indeed apply to “La beauté du diable” and to“Judas est une femme”. “La beauté du diable” is about male lust. It depicts a man so blinded by sexual desire that he loses his humanity and becomes like an animal, just like a man transforming into a wolf. So you can say that it’s indeed his weakness, his incapacity to control his sexual urge, that is responsible for his actions (luckily for the girl, the song has a happy end, because she destroys him (mentally? Physically? The choice is yours 🙂 with her “silver eyes”, just like a werewolf dies by a silver bullet).
“Judas” is different, it’s about the bitterness of a man after he lost the woman he loved, feeling betrayed and all. Jay, our bass player, has an interesting theory about the song: He thinks the lyrics could apply to the relation between a child and his mother telling him “everything’s gonna be ok” in his life, and then understanding that life isn’t always going well, and so blaming his mother for the “lies” she told him.
You mention Red Hood in “La Beaute du Diable”. Is it still a popular fairy tale in France? I think that everyone in Russia knew it when I was a kid, but it’s true to say later that most of us learned about porno with such name. Okay, which role does French literature play in Barabbas songs?
StR: Yes, it’s still a popular tale, maybe because it has its roots in the most primal instincts of man? I didn’t know there was a porn movie based around this tale, but that’s proof this tale indeed conjures some sexual imagery :).
Books can be a source of inspiration, just like movies, comics, events of the everyday life… For instance, “La beauté du diable” draws inspiration from Red Hood, but also from The Wolfman, the old Universal movie with Lon Chaney, Jr. The werewolf is indeed a real doomed character: He’s cursed to kill those he loves, he is the victim of his own animal, just like everyone of us can be victim of his own “demons”. Also, you got a bit of the first Dracula movie, with Bela Lugosi, in the lyrics: The “children of the night” bit comes from a line of the count, when he ears the wolfs howling outside of his castle.
But we always use these elements to express our own feelings. We wouldn’t sing about Dracula for the sake of Dracula, but we could use the Count as a metaphor for a person draining energy from other people because of his negativity, for example.
“La Sabbat Dans La Cathedrale” and “Priez” / “Prey” have sarcastic and acute lyrics, as most of your songs do. Do you deny the three sacred Idols of Doom – Sorrow, Depression, and Obscurantism?
StR: No, we also have our share of sorrow and depression with songs like “Le couteau ou l’abîme” or “Messe pour un chien”. But we’re just like everybody, we’re subject to mood swings, and our songs reflect our many states of mind. “Le sabbat dans la cathédrale” is quite a party song, it’s all about going crazy and partying hard because your head is so full of stuff you just need to shut your brain off and have a good time. “Priez !” is indeed a sarcastic and ironic song about hope. These have humorous elements in the lyrics, but in a dark, cynical way. It’s simply what comes naturally out of our minds. We try to be honest with our lyrics, they reflect our everyday lives. We don’t want to appear like people we are not. What you hear is what we are 🙂
When did you last visit a church?
StR: It was a few month ago under very sad circumstances because JC, our drummer, had lost his mother. Sad, sad day. But we are not, strictly speaking, religious people. We don’t go to church on Sunday, etc. Nevertheless, I think every member of the band has a “spiritual side”. After all, we play music, and music has strong links with spirituality: It can change your state of mind, elevate your spirit, make you feel good, help you forget about your problems… Music is our religion 🙂
May I ask you how strong is the church’s influence in France?
StR: It seems to me that the church still influences some public debates (on topics like abortion, euthanasia, or other topics related to “family values”) but that its global influence on society has decreased. Of course, the church in the little town where I live (40 km from Paris) is still packed on Sunday, but church doesn’t appear anymore like the “moral authority” it used to be. When I was a kid, back in the seventies, my parents used to buy a TV guide that had a double rating system for the movies: one “regular” rating from the reviewers of the guide, and a second rating from what was called the Catholic Centre (of course, a movie approved for adults and teenagers according to the first rating was always strictly rated for adults by the Catholic Centre 🙂 You don’t see that anymore in TV guides today.
What do you think about globalization? Do you think that you could be more popular if you sang English lyrics?
StR: Globalization is like the Internet, some positive aspects, some negative sides (yeah, sorry, I know it sounds like a poor cliché but anyway… :). It’s great to multiply cultural exchanges between people, for example. On the other hand, it can be damaging when it tends to erase some cultural particularities or when people forget about their cultural heritage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against evolution or novelty, but I think it’s important to remember where you come from.
Regarding Barabbas, I’m not sure we would gain more popularity with English lyrics. In fact, we never even thought about it, because we play music to please ourselves and it pleases us to sing in French. It feels natural for us and it’s part of Barabbas‘ identity. Furthermore, I think it’s part of our appeal to foreign listeners, it’s a bit exotic for them.
It seems the only country where French singing is an issue is… France. Since the release of the album, we read some comments from French people on the Internet, saying, “Well, the album is great, but what a strange idea to sing in French, that’s really uncommon in doom metal!”. Isn’t it strange? French listeners thinking it’s odd that you sing in your own language?
I think it’s due to the “generational gap”. We are old farts now, and we grew up with French metal bands singing in French, like Trust, Vulcain, Sortilège, Satan Jokers, and others. Today, lots of French bands are using English lyrics and listeners tend to think it’s “the norm”. But we don’t have anything against a French band singing in English, or whatever language they might find suitable for them. Because in the end, what matters is the emotion created by a song, not the language used.
I hope that Barabbas will continue to hold to its ideals and that your next album will have not only catchy and groovy riffs but also French lyrics, as always. N’abandonne pas, camarades! And thank you for this great interview!
StR: Thanks to you for the interview and the support, deacon Aleksey! We have no intention of giving up and are actually working on new songs for the next album. And yes, it will still be groovy… and sung in French! Doom on!