(Comrade Aleks has brought us the following great interview with two members of the Lithuanian band Sullen Guest, whose latest album was released in February 2021 and who have a new EP on the near horizon.)
There aren’t many doom metal bands in the Baltic region, and Sullen Guest are one of very few representatives of the genre in Lithuania. I guess you’ll find everything you could imagine about death-doom in any of their releases. It’s all about misery, death, despair, and doom as well.
The band had enough time to grow, and nowadays they are far from the point where they started seven years ago with their first EP Will You Greet the Sullen Guest as an Old Friend? With the new album Chapter III (Metallurg Music, 2021) they turn to be even more bitter and desperate as their musical palette has become more saturated and expressive.
Sullen Guest’s founder Tenebra (guitars) and Inanitas (vocals, guitars), who joined the band in 2019, reveal details of the band’s new EP in this fantastic interview.
Hi Sullen Guest! How are you? What’s going on in your camp?
[Tenebra] Lately, we have been distracted. The Pandemic has disrupted our routine of rehearsals. All our homework with our new EP has been finished for a while, so we are having some nice chill time for the time being. We plan to attend a few gigs this year with set dates.
The band was started in 2013 and your first official release is the EP Will You Greet the Sullen Guest as an Old Friend? (2015). It presents death-doom metal with both growling and female vocals. How did you see the band back then? What kind of direction did you aim to follow?
[Tenebra] The direction from the very beginning was to play old-school death-doom with some progressive influences and with strong and emotional growls. Despite our wishes, we didn’t develop the style at that moment because of our unprofessionalism.
In those days we had a lot of enthusiasm but no sense of how it should be achieved. None of the members had any scene experience or musical education. We had struggled to find male vocals, and after 6 months of searching, we got an opportunity for our songs to be accompanied by female vocals. When Marija joined the band, every one of us was hyped because of Marija’s skill to perform clean and growled vocal lines separately. It is a rare ability to this day, and we have received a lot of attention because of it. I never thought this band could become female-fronted in any way. Sometimes I listen to the first EP, and I see how much we have improved during these eight years. It gives me strong sentiments, but I think what we do now is a full head above.
You decided not to keep following the same formula on Sullen Guest’s debut full-length IIIIXXI (2018): the material is harder, heavier, and female vocals are just episodic. What led you to these changes?
[Tenebra] Once Marija decided to leave Lithuania, the choice was not actually in our hands, but hers. Our musical visions grew closer to reality when Maledictus stepped up with his deep growl. During this time, we had a few more line-up changes that changed the band’s vibes in a positive way.
IIIIXXI sounds professional, it’s good piece of true death-doom – it follows old school standards and yet it’s well-produced. Why was it released DIY? Didn’t you have a chance to find a proper label for this album?
[Tenebra] As it was our first full album, we didn’t know the proper way to promote it or whom to approach in a respectful timeframe; Also, lack of self-esteem played a role too. We placed a fixed date for the release, and we shared the news only one month prior to release to a dozen labels. As a result, we did not get any attention from them, but one of them advised that no one would give a shit if an album is planned to release later than three months before the set date.
Lithuania never had a big doom scene; there were very few bands in the ’90s – Ars Moriendi and Dissonance, for example. Probably that’s all… Nowadays do you feel support from local enthusiasts or do you receive feedback mostly from abroad?
[Tenebra] We have excellent support from the local audience despite the fact that the main part of Lithuanian metalheads are more likely to listen to black and thrash metal. On the other hand, more CDs are sold abroad than locally. It’s a great pleasure to know that our music is interesting to audiences in distant countries as well.
How much of Lithuania is in Sullen Guest? Do you see any local features in your songs or do you rather see it as an “international”, universal death-doom piece?
[Inanitas] We do not try to specifically infuse Lithuanian roots into Sullen Guest. We portray the emotions and life experiences we have here within our music naturally, but it could be treated as international at the same time, as many people do have similar experiences in other locations. We tend to leave the judgment in the eye or the ear of the beholder. Things might change in the upcoming years, as we try to discover new ways of expressing ourselves, but for now, the lyrics and subjects we touch in our songs could be treated as widely experienced by all of us.
As I understand, only one original member remained in the band when the time came to record the second full-length Chapter III (2021) – Tenebra (guitars), as Doloribus (drums) joined in around 2017. How did it come to this and where did you find Inanitas?
[Tenebra] In total Sullen Guest has had 14 members including the existing line-up. Change of members sucked, but to find a perfect match is rather difficult. We are all different, and we all have our personal interests. So some of the members were asked to leave the band and others have chosen to leave.
Sadly, our former guitarist Formido decided to leave Lithuania for good, and I had many fears that we would be stuck searching for a proper guitarist. But luckily when we played the last performance with Formido we met Inanitas – he was a listener in the audience at the time and visited us after the show and said how he appreciated our music a lot. We asked him if he would be interested in playing with us as a guitarist. It was nearly a joke offer, but he said yes. We were super lucky to fill this void so easily and quickly. We noticed in the adaptation period of Inanitas that he had emotional growl capabilities too. This style of vocals suited our musical vision even more than the deep growl of Maledictus, so we decided to stick with it.
How fast did you find a common ground with Inanitas? Did he write lyrics for Chapter III songs?
[Tenebra] Inanitas has great taste in talking about vocals in songs. He is strongly affected by old-school death-doom music. We like when vocals are not following the same rhythm as guitar riffs all the time. And the main thing is the emotional intensity in his voice. Every time Inanitas relives the emotions he sings about during the performance or rehearsal, there is no space for fake gestures or expressions. Inanitas is the main guy regarding the lyrics.
Was the album well-received? This time Sullen Guest worked with Metallurg Music — how did it change the band’s position? Was it easier with promotion, etc.?
[Tenebra] We received a lot of attention with Chapter III and Metallurg Music have done a great job! The attention level was incomparable with our previous album – IIIIXXI. As much as we were proud of our last album, it was enjoyable to see all these new comments, reviews, and articles that have reached us.
Chapter III sounds almost progressive in comparison with the more traditional death-doom of IIIIXXI. What kind of ideas did you aim to fulfill in recording this material? Or what were your influences in this period?
[Tenebra] From the very first song I composed 10 years ago, I dreamed and wanted to play the music that was born in this album. As we received enough experience, we were able to compose and play the music we always wanted to play: progressive melodic death-doom metal or, as we use an acronym for a joke of it – promededome. On the other hand, without an appropriate band’s line-up, it would be impossible to fulfill these ideas.
You presented a new song ‘Come with Me’ in August 2021 as a teaser for the upcoming concept EP Phase which hasn’t been released yet. What’s the story behind this EP?
[Inanitas] This is not a made-up story to appeal to many or any groups of people out there or trying to fit the frame in any way, I wrote the lyrics a week or two before a person close to me passed away. After his death, I read the lyrics of the three conceptual songs on the EP, and a cold realization visited me that it’s all partially about this event, and what I was about to experience, without me knowing when I did so. It was really hard to practice the lyrics for some time after it happened; I left rehearsals emotionally broken for some time.
Before this event I had to re-write the lyrics several times to fit the order of the songs that are going to be manifested in the EP. We gave special care to the order, as this is the first conceptual album I participated in, so there was a lot of writing and throwing away before we managed to synchronize everything. This came hard to me as I am not a very disciplined person.
Telling a tale – when I wrote all the lyrics and went to sleep that night I was satisfied with the progress, and then I had a dream of our songs accompanied by female vocals, so I got up in the middle of the night and re-wrote the lyrics again, I was afraid I would lose the memory of the dream, but I managed to adjust everything to my dream before I forgot about it. This event was the final edition.
‘Come with me’, ‘Voice Of The Subconscious’, and ‘Assent’ are the three songs in the album which represent the 5 stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Despair, Depression, Acceptance.
‘Come With Me’ – Denial and Anger, it’s an invitation for the listener to go through all the stages together. It’s a song that tries to depict a person completely lost in anger, unable to control himself and haunted by inner thoughts he cannot silence in any way
‘Voice Of The Subconscious’ – Despair, and Depression, the suffering person is talking to himself and the female vocals represent the inner voice of the subject with some hard thoughts.
‘Assent’ – Acceptance and realization, the final piece of the EP, female vocals act as a subconscious voice again and provide insight but with more light this time and a way out of this process.
How soon do you plan to release Phase? Will you release it DIY or through a label?
We set some kind of symbolic date – 2022.02.22. The tracks were ready for records in the early spring of 2021, but everything was happening so slowly at that time. The Phase EP is our independent release, but we have been chosen for licensing and rights of music publishers and performers by a Lithuanian company – Agata — and received partial funding from them after participating in the competition for local bands for this particular album. So everything goes better than usual.
Okay, thank you for the interview. Let’s hope Phase will be released without any delays and bring some relief for you. How would you like to finish our interview?
Thanks, it was a gripping interview. I’m sure our fans will find something common in our new EP.
…There is no light in your window anymore – you’ve been visited by Sullen Guest