(In this extensive new interview Comrade Aleks talked with Simon Carignan, a member of the Montreal-based band Towards Darkness, whose new album Tetrad will be released on March 27th by Solitude Productions.)
Towards Darkness’ original name was The Mass. Founded in 2001 this band held out ’til 2005 when it was renamed. A change of style came with the change of the title, and these guys from Montreal switched from sludgy doom to its funeral-oriented brother.
Funeral is well-known for its low vibrations and slow ceremonial pace, so Towards Darkness moved further without any haste. Their debut Solemn appeared in 2007, the Barren album followed it only five years later, and after a new EP Empire (also in 2012) the band was laid in deep slumber… I watched them from afar, awaiting news to appear, and my patience was rewarded with the announcement of their third full-length album Tetrad, which is scheduled on March 27 by Solitude Productions.
Here is Simon Carignan (keyboards, effects, guitars) — we had quite a productive conversation.
Hi Simon! How are you there? Towards Darkness was out of radar for so long, let’s remind people about the band’s history if you don’t mind.
Hi guys! The band was founded in Montreal (Ca) in 2000 and we’re now releasing our fourth record Tetrad on the Russian label Solitude Productions. To say it shortly, we’re obviously not the most prolific band and we have progressed through many phases over the years. I don’t like specific etiquette, but our music can be described somewhere in the spectrum of doom, sludge, and post metal. The band is now composed of founding member Kevin Jones (Seized, Negativa, Longing For Dawn, Escarre) on bass, vocals and guitars, François C. Fortin (Superior Enlightenment, Escarre, Longing For Dawn, Veneficium, Deviant Process, Utlagr) on drums, and myself (Escarre, Longing For Dawn, Veneficium) on guitars and keys.
You started 20 years ago in Montreal under The Mass moniker and back then the band performed sludge doom metal. What influenced you in that early period? What kind of sound did you aim for?
I wasn’t there at the time, but the first and foremost inspiration is Neurosis. Their combination of musical atmospheres and the strong meaning behind their work inspired us a lot. They still do. Among others, I can say Godflesh, Isis, Cult of Luna, and Ministry had great impact on the original direction taken by the band.
What was your first encounter with doom music? For me, putting post metal among doom-related genres is strange thing, it’s kind of a local phenomena for America. Historically, here in Russia, people consider doom death as real “doom”, I know that a lot of Italians would name Paul Chain as another real “doom” band, and people from Europe usually mean traditional doom bands like Reverend Bizarre or Trouble when speaking about “doom metal”. And in the States sludge and post seem to be “doomier” than other genres.
You may be right, it’s hard to say from our side. Obviously the ‘doom metal’ sub-genre has a wide horizon and everybody has a slightly different definition. I mean, the limits of what is ‘doom’ and what is not may change depending on who you ask. It’s just normal and fair. From our standpoint, we just play music that we feel is natural. When younger, we had all been attracted by fast and aggressive music, and by listening to more and more underground bands, we discovered other takes on heavy stuff, so then ‘doom metal’ came as something different but yet intense and spiritually charged.
The ‘post’ refers to the parts were we turn down the distortion. We like balancing heavy parts with more eerie atmospheres. Overall, we like the idea of being free to let the band go to new places guided within a certain artistic direction.
What kind of emotions fit better for sludge and post subgenres from your point of view?
We like to be moved by music, to travel somewhere else. ‘Sludge’ and ‘post’ inspire different landscapes, but these two genres have powerful imagery. We aim to initiate a journey leading to the infinite desert of space. A cold, lifeless, enormous yet grandiose void where everything is far, everything is out of reach. ‘Post’ and ‘doom’ instill that impression of immensity, and the ‘sludge’ element fires the drive to get there.
Towards Darkness – Solemn
You changed The Mass title to Towards Darkness in 2005. Did you get some recognition as The Mass at that moment?
We changed for Towards Darkness because there was another band call The Mass somewhere in California, if I do remember well. We didn’t know, and when they contacted us about this situation, we checked and we decided to move forward with a new band name. As our first album was called Towards Darkness, we thought it would be natural to continue under that name and we liked this idea of going towards darkness — it describes well what we are trying to do musically and spiritually.
A change of sound came along the new name, and Towards Darkness demonstrates bleak, lifeless, and yet atmospheric in its coldness, funeral doom metal (with last shades of sludge in the vocals) on the debut full-length Solemn. How did these changes crawl into the band’s sound?
After the first record, the band added ideas with slower tempos, but when we added keyboards, it opened up a whole new atmospheric dimension and we dug in. We understand why some can think we’re a funeral doom act, but we never felt like it, or let’s say we never aim to, the songs came out like this. The keys became more and more important in the composition process and it shows, specially on Barren. So the songs took an ethereal vibe. To me, keyboard-wise, it’s more like a Pink Floyd-riented project.
Can you name some bands which serve for you as guides in these new dimensions?
There’s many, but bands like Portishead, Sophia (industrial), Joy Division, Melvins, Esoteric, Ulver, Soundgarden, old Emperor, Chelsea Wolfe, Skepticism, Nick Cave, Celtic Frost, Bohren & der Club of Gore, Kyuss, Oranssi Pazuzu, Sonic Youth, Jesu, Sunn O))), Swans, Bowery Electric, Ufomammut, Slint, Russian Circles, Electric Wizard, The Cure, Shape of Despair, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, PJ Harvey, and of course Black Sabbath, Cult of Luna, and Neurosis come to mind first. We are very open-minded about music, and our tastes combine to cover a lot of different genres and sub-genres, I mean good or bad music is not a matter of genre. The only rules are: no cheese, no fake.
The band continued to keep this vibe on the next album Barren. Did you feel Towards Darkness was noticed after these two releases?
I don’t know about recognition, we are still a band doing a very niche kind of music and we’re not into over-dramatic visual stuff (which is totally fine, it’s just not us). What we know is that we’re putting a lot of work into making music that is worth listening to. On Barren, we wished to inspire wide and desolate landscapes through a massive musical mass. It turned out somehow pretty cinematographic. It’s both monolithic and full of details and textures. It’s without a doubt our most atmospheric work to date.
Simon, you also played in Longing For Dawn and I remember well their gig in Moscow during the tour with Mournful Congregation. How did this whole tour happen? And do you think that Towards Darkness will have an opportunity to play in Old World one day? You were on Avantgarde Music for a while, I suppose they could figure out something, at least help with contacts.
We are very proud to have been signed by the legendary label Avantgarde, but the discussion has never gone further than the release of Barren. So we haven’t had the opportunity to tour in Europe yet, but it’s something we would be very enthusiastic to do. We hope the new record will give us broader exposure and new opportunities.
Kevin and François were also part of Longing For Dawn at some point and François was drumming on this specific tour. I don’t remember how all pieces fell into place to make it happen, but the whole tour was epic and I keep really great memories from it.
Towards Darkness – Barren
I remember that Metal-Archives identified Longing For Dawn’s status as “on hold” for years and now it says the band is split-up. Why did you stop? Is there a chance that one day the band may return?
I know that all the guys are nostalgic about the band, but Fred, who was the musical mastermind in Longing For Dawn, is now living in Berlin and works on his excellent dark ambient project Vision and the label Cyclic Law. There was no way we could continue without him. We never know, but there’s no discussion about a reunion at this point.
How did you record Towards Darkness; material in those years? Did you use home studio or did you have an opportunity to record at a real studio? How was everything organized?
Both. François is a professional sound engineer and he owns his own studio La Boîte Noire, so it helps a lot. The drum takes and the mixing were done on different sessions in his studio, François being the mastermind behind the console. Everything else was recorded on our respective computers, and Kevin and I shared tracks to build the songs. There’s not so much editing in the final output. It can be tempting to correct too much but we contained ourselves in order to keep the overall feel raw and authentic.
The band seemed to have turned into a duet since 2014. Did it cause such a break between Barren and the new album Tetrad?
We haven’t been vocal about it, but we are now a three-piece band since François joined us on the drums somewhere in 2018. The biggest change at the time is that we decided to continue as a studio act and take the time we needed to produce the new record. We had some ideas and hopes for this new work and we felt that it was the best decision for the band. Surely this situation caused some delays and the whole process took a longer path, but this was the only way we saw possible. That being said, the whole process has been made with respect for everybody involved in the band at the time and we still are good friends.
How long did you work on this material? And how did things change considering songwriting after Nick and Joël Cyr left the band?
It’s hard to tell. Obviously it took much more time than what we hoped. We are very meticulous when it comes to composing and recording. In addition, we all have other projects to care for, so things take time. Also, I put a lot of research into my keyboard work and it’s almost an alchemist kind of process. The idea was to produce something with a lot of depth. Every member who played in the band had something compelling to bring, but the major force behind the creative aspect has been Kevin and myself.
Towards Darkness – Evolution
Do you have any side projects or bands where you can practice more with keyboards?
I have some ideas, but for now the main focus is on the release of Tetrad. Aside from Towards Darkness, in the past I’ve put a lot of effort into Veneficium – De Occulta Philosophia (2008) and Escarre – Une voûte sans clef (2015).
Do you feel you’ve managed to keep the band’s individuality in the new songs? What’s Towards Darkness’ central message after all?
I never heard something exactly like we do. Of course you can hear different influences — again, Neurosis, Cult of Luna, and Ufomammut come to mind — but I think that our take on keys mixed with sludge and doom elements is unique. The main difference on Tetrad is that some songs are – doom-wise — faster and shorter. We also bring some country, electronic, and trip hop elements as musical tools. We wanted to build this album literally like a progression towards darkness. As the album goes, the musical landscape goes towards bleaker avenues. As a corollary, Kevin’s lyrics address nature and human destructive behavior.
It seems like you return to your roots with the Tetrad album. Was it a conscious turn towards this post/sludgy sound?
Yes, at the beginning of the composition work for Tetrad, we decided to be more upfront on guitars and drums. There was no point in doing a second Barren and we wanted to aim for something muddier, more oppressive. To me, Tetrad is our most dynamic album, it gathers everything we’ve done in the three first records in a coherent progression. The loud parts are louder and the atmospheric parts are creepier. We also put a lot of energy in bringing new textures, sounds, and moods. We feel it’s an engaging album and we hope fans of different musical horizons will dig in.
Do you aim to turn Towards Darkness into a live band now? What’s your next step?
It would be great, we truly hope so. We think the new songs, especially the ‘faster’ ones, are built for live settings, but for now there’s around 800 km of land between Kevin, François, and I. Canada is a large country. Yet, nothing is impossible and we surely can bring up a solid setlist, we just hope for a good bill to run with. We are now focusing on this new release and we’ll see if the puzzle pieces fall into place.