(In this new interview our friend Comrade Aleks talks with guitarist Igor Leiva Benavides, one of the members of the Chilean band Poema Arcanvs, whose roots go back to the ’90s and who released their sixth album in August through Transcending Obscurity Records.)
Santiago-based doom-death band Poema Arcanvs was born back in early 90s. They played some raw ideas under the monikers Garbage and Garbage Breed beginning in 1992 and until 1997 when they changed the band’s name to the one we know nowadays. South America was always a dark corner for doom fans, and I can name you two-dozen bands or even more which were born in the same period and remained in the deepest underground for years. Poema Arcanvs is another thing. They aren’t hyper-productive, but they were always somewhere near recording and releasing new material.
Their sixth full-length album Stardust Solitude saw the light of day on the 28th of August, 2020, according to Transcending Obscurity Records’ schedule. They kept their mark of delivering excellent sorrowful and epic doom death with a few raw edges as always, and this time Enzo Toledo granted Poema Arcanvs really killer artwork!
As a Poema Arcanvs member since its first days, Igor Leiva Benavides (guitars) is the right person to ask about Stardust Solitude and things which happen around the band nowadays.
Hi Igor! How are you? Poema Arcanvs’ new album Stardust Solitude was released not long ago, how does the promotion go?
Cheers Aleksey! … so far promotion has been pretty good, and I’d even say it’s the biggest promotional effort we have ever had abroad. Actually that was one of the reasons why we chose Transcending Obscurity to release this album, as we knew they are pretty active in promoting their releases. On top of that, we’ve received many, many great reviews for this album… we are pretty overwhelmed by the press response as it’s been really positive so far.
Well, first of all, Transient Chronicles was released an eternity ago. How have you spent this period between albums?
We basically spent all this time active, but facing many problems. First we had to deal with the departure of Pablo, our bass player in Transient Chronicles, who moved to Germany. So, after that, our previous bass player Hueso came back to the band (he recorded Timeline Symmetry) and thus we started the new songwriting process, on which we equipped ourselves in order to be able to record all of our rehearsals, so the approach was far more of a “jamming” one this time, trying to capture ideas that would come up at rehearsals and working from there. This process itself was quite long because of its own nature.
When we were almost ready to go into the studio, Hueso left the band, and so we decided to scratch all the music he had brought to the rehearsal room, because it felt weird having so much input from someone who’s not in the band anymore; hence a big re-writing process of the songs followed, with some of those songs having been completely written again.
In the meantime we tried to find a new bass player but couldn’t find anyone, so I took care of the bass duties as well. This meant that the songwriting and rewriting sessions were quite cumbersome because we worked over recorded bass lines at the rehearsal room, and every time we wanted to make a change it implied having to record again, and even to make changes in the click track… not an ideal creative situation, but somehow we managed to pull it off. Claudio was going through some personal stuff during this period as well, so he was totally absent and all the workload was being pulled by Luis and I. We also had to find a new rehearsal space during this time because the previous one was turned into a yoga thing or something like that, so we were kicked out on a really short notice.
The recording of the album was also a long and tiresome process, because due to the lack of personnel in the band I had to take care of much more than I should have to. Starting with producer, guitar player, and bass player, I also wrote all of the lyrics and basically all of the vocal arrangements. At the same time I was producing another band, which proved to be a big mistake. At the end of it all I was quite burnt out.
Finally, when the album was done we chose to release it through Transcending Obscurity, which meant having to adapt to their release schedule, so that added more than a year and half of waiting. So that’s it. As you can see, we never had any kind of break, but so much shit got in our way. I am proud we finally made it, because I’m sure other bands would have given up much earlier with so much fucked up things happening to them.
Poema Arcanvs – The Lighthouse Keeper
More than a year and a half? It should be frustrating! Did you search for an opportunity for a DIY release? I’ve just finished an interview with one doom-death band, who aren’t newbies, but their last two full-length albums were self-released.
Of course it wasn’t something we were happy about, but a DIY release gives you far less chances of a good promotional work, unless you are an already well-known band all around the world, which we are not. Also the fact that we are located in the last corner of the world wouldn’t help us in trying to reach more people abroad if we tried to make it all on our own. Everything gets more difficult because of distance, even in this globalized world, so we really needed the help from a label, even more from a label that works hard on promotion.
Juan Diaz joined the band in 2018, how long did you know him? Did he take part in the Stardust Solitude recording session?
We knew Juan from the local scene, as we shared the stage with a couple of his previous bands before. We saw him play and we were quite impressed by his performance; then we met and we found out we have very similar music taste, so when we were looking for a bass player he was the first person we thought of, but he was busy with his other bands, hence we didn’t even ask.
After having auditioned some people and not finding the right person we just decided to ask him, having in mind that “no” was a totally possible answer. But at the end it all worked out and he joined us. Unfortunately by this time the album was being mastered already, so he didn’t get to record it. In hindsight, had we known then that we would have to wait for another year and half for the release, of course we would have re-recorded the bass lines with him, but I guess that’s water under the bridge already. Gotta move on.
How does the local scene live through this quarantine period?
Mostly through streaming gigs just like everywhere else, I think, because we haven’t had any “real” gigs so far, and I’m not quite sure on how a “socially distanced” metal event would work here in Chile, as we are not so good at following rules… at all… hahaha.
As for ourselves… well, lately we are staying active by releasing some reissues of our old recordings on several formats, selling some merch, and rehearsing a few times a week just to keep ourselves sane. For the scene in general; labels are still releasing new stuff (on a slower pace of course) and also the media (zines, webzines, radio shows, etc.) is pretty active by streaming video interviews and different kinds of metal talk shows … you know… that sort of thing. I guess the media is the part of the scene which has adapted faster and better to these new circumstances.
Igor, what’s the status of Capilla Ardiente? The band just released another album a year ago, so how are you active there now?
Right now we are also rehearsing and preparing some new songs for a forthcoming EP. We were supposed to tour Europe around this time of the year and of course it all got shut down. Given that the album will be already old news by next year, we decided to release something else to promote on that 2021 tour, hence this idea for an EP. Of course, like with everything else in this world, 2021 touring plans are just wishful thinking so far. Let’s cross fingers.
How long did you work on Stardust Solitude? What was your vision of this album?
The first songs were written around 2015 I guess, and we started recording in April 2017. The definitive master of the album was finished in December of 2018. We first tracked drums and guitars, and that was a normal process, but then the recording process slowed down a lot, because I had to create the bass arrangements as we recorded them, so that took more time than usual. The same with vocals. We had all the instruments recorded but we had no lyrics and no vocal lines, so I had to work on that … then Claudio had to learn them and record them, and those recording sessions were not easy to schedule, so everything was dragging more and more.
The vision of the album was a consequence of these rehearsal recordings we made. They ended up sounding quite well and we realized they had this raw energy that was often lost in our previous albums. So this time we were aiming more for energy, rawness and some dirt as well, instead of crystal clear perfection. For this same reason we decided to ditch all the synths this time, so the guitars and specially the bass guitar had to cover a lot more ground sonically and arrangement-wise. We also decided to record drums in a big room, to analog tape and without the use of any time correcting, sample replacing or anything like that. Vocals were also approached in a stripped down manner, with a lot less overdubs, and without any pitch correcting aid. The general idea was to make the album sound like us 4 playing in a room, as real as possible.
Do you have an experience of recording a whole album live in the studio?
Not yet. That’s something we would love to do, and I think we are on a level of musicianship that would allow us to do it, but on the other hand it implies having access to a pretty big and resourceful studio, with many expensive hardware, microphones, iso rooms, etc. etc, and also we would need to have plenty of time to do it well; which also implies having a much bigger budget than we usually have for recording. But who knows, maybe next time? As I told you, with our rehearsal recordings which were captured live at the rehearsal room, even if they had their obvious technical limitations, they also had this raw energy we would love to recreate in a studio album.
The band was born in mid ’90s, and your sound still keeps echoes of those times. The new songs continue the line of Transient Chronicles — are you satisfied with the current direction?
Yes, totally. I think this current stripped-down approach suits us well. Of course we’ll always sound like ourselves, but I guess this new approach and the inclusion of influences different from the previous albums are a refreshing element for us. Actually I think we tried to shy away a bit from some of the previous elements we had in our music as we felt we needed to change our direction to some extent in order to keep things fresh instead of repeating ourselves. I feel like Timeline Symmetry and then Transient Chronicles were kinda similar and they mark a stage in our journey, but now we really wanted to do something different, and I think we did, even if in essence we’re still still the same band of course.
How would you sum up Poema Arcanvs’ message on Stardust Solitude?
Basically it turned out to be some kind of story, starting from a somewhat vague concept as space, time, the universe and the insignificance of humankind into this vast and incomprehensible context. Then the limitations of our minds to grasp this context we live in, which lead us to create easy answers in the shape of gods and religions, and then how you liberate yourself from those easy answers and face this reality just as an individual, accepting this fear of the unknown, but being brave enough to deal with it without the need of sugar coatings and white lies.
From this point of view the Covid problem isn’t big problem at all! What’s your point of view on this phenomenon?
I see it as just one more symptom of humanity approaching its final demise. Hopefully we learn something from it, like the idea that greed and wealth mean nothing when humanity proves to be so stupidly fragile; but of course my faith in humanity is as low as it can be, so I’m pretty sure we will not learn shit, and we will repeat the same mistakes. Probably this pandemic is just the first of many, together with environmental collapse, climate change, etc. To me it all goes hand in hand. If we keep going the same way, extinction is in order and I think that would be the best thing humanity could do. Just disappear. The universe doesn’t give a shit about us anyway… haha.
How did you fight your stress during a period of quarantine and riots?
To be totally honest… well… we are lucky to live in a country that produces great wine, so that was my stress and anxiety treatment. Delicious red wine every night. Also listening to music and protesting. Banging pans loudly every night to protest against the government proved to be a really good stress relief. We couldn’t even rehearse because the rehearsal room area was under quarantine for 6 months, so playing loud metal was not an option for a long time, and then banging pans was our “loud metal” during that period.
Poema Arcanvs – Straits of Devotion
Your promo video for the ‘Straits of Devotion’ song was shot live. Do you see Poema Arcanvs as a strong live band? When did you play live the last time?
Actually the video has footage from 2 live gigs we had here in Santiago. And yes, we see ourselves as a really strong live band. Actually one of the deciding factors to ditch the synths on Stardust Solitude was that we really wanted to show the band as it is nowadays when we play live.
Given that we used to have a keyboard player in the past, when we play our old songs live nowadays we have to use backing synth tracks live, in order to stay close to the album versions, and everything is ok with that as long as we don’t put anything else on those backing tracks but synths because obviously we don’t want to sound like a karaoke band, as it happens many times with bands who rely heavily on backing tracks. But then again, playing along to those backing tracks has its limitations in the sense that we are following a click track the whole time, so now we really wanted to break free from the click track thing and just play in a more “human” way… so what you hear on Stardust Solitude is just the four of us with no add-ons, and it’s quite close to what we sound like live nowadays. We’re really looking forward to playing those songs live, as this sense of freedom and human imperfection is something we have been missing a lot in these last years.
The last time we played live was in Valdivia, in the south of Chile last February for the 20th anniversary tour of our debut album Arcane XIII. After that, covid hit us and everything’s been shut down as it’s been everywhere else.
There was not only the Covid quarantine but also riots in Santiago during the spring. How tough was the situation back then?
It was pretty rough, but really, really necessary… Politics in this country have been quite fucked up after Pinochet’s dictatorship because this piece of shit dictator left us as his “legacy” a constitution which basically validates the abuse of the wealthy and the religious conservatives over the vast majority of the population. The good news is that this week, after one year of demonstrations, riots, brutal police repression and general turmoil – with covid as a side dish- we had a referendum to vote against Pinochet’s constitution, whose result was a crushing almost 80% in favour of a new constitution, so I guess everything was worth the sacrifice.
Regarding the band, we had to cancel a few gigs of the Arcane XIII anniversary tour, and in fact the main date we had in Santiago was in the midst of big riots, but people still showed up. Many of them coming from those riots still smelling of tear gas… no kidding.
And is the situation easier now?
I would say it’s a bit easier after the triumph in the referendum, but it’s far from over as the typical opportunist politicians are trying to make their way into the convention that’s gonna write the new constitution, as if they didn’t know that all the demonstrations and anger were just a massive reaction against them and their complete failure at doing anything against inequality and abuse. So yes, it’s more peaceful now, but we are all pretty aware that if these politicians try to take over the new constitution, then more mayhem will be in order pretty soon again.
At least there’s some hope for people. It’s better than nothing… What are your plans concerning Poema Arcanvs for the rest of 2020?
Well, we also had scheduled a European tour for October/November 2020, which of course is not gonna happen. That was a huge letdown for us as you can imagine. Nowadays we are just rehearsing to hopefully play a couple of streaming gigs we’ve been offered, and besides that there’s not much we can do as real gigs are shut down, most likely for all that’s left of 2020.
The idea is to reschedule our European tour for 2021, and we have already been confirmed for the festivals we were supposed to play in 2020 to play them in 2021. Now we’re just crossing fingers for all of it to actually happen, because so far everything is quite uncertain of course.
Thanks for the interview Igor! I hope things will turn for the better to Chile and that Poema Arcanvs as well. Did we miss something? How would you like to finish our interview?
Thank you for your long-time support and the cool interview, Aleksey. That was pretty thorough and I cannot think of anything else actually.
I’d like to finish by thanking all the bangers around the world who have supported us and sent words of encouragement about our music. Everybody take care, wash your hands, stay strong, and hopefully we’ll see each other again at some point. If live metal gigs become a thing again someday, those will be A TOTAL BLAST!