photo by Claire Dao
(In this extensive new interview Comrade Aleks connected with guitarist Saint Stéphane from the French doom cult Barabbas, who have a new album headed our way in December.)
I joined the pious congregation of the French band Barabbas after I heard them for the first time on the Doom Metal Front compilation. Their self-titled track from the EP Libérez Barabbas! (2011) was catchy, heavy, and loud. Powerful riffs and expressive vocals by Saint Rodolphe (who sang in French) made me wait for more, and the full-length Messe pour un chien (2014) didn’t disappoint the doom fanatic in me.
But then… eight years with no news from a studio! Et mince! Barabbas took part in both big festivals and smaller shows but, damn, there was nothing new besides one track recorded for a Cathedral tribute! But we, people of strong faith, shouldn’t lose it in any situation! Our patience is to be rewarded with the band’s second full-length La mort appelle tous les vivants which will see the light of day on December 9th through Sleeping Church Records.
I’ve heard a few things from this album and it kills! Join our messe and learn more from this interview with Barabbas’ guitar master Saint Stéphane.
Salute Saint Stéphane! How are you? Does the Doom Cult crusade go according to the master plan?
Salute deacon Aleksey! It’s nice to talk to you again. Well, the doom crusade is still going on: From the outside, it might have seemed that the band was no more, but the Church of the Holly Redeemer Riff of Barabbas is still alive.
Barabbas’ pious congregation was close to losing their faith because of this enormously huge break between your last sermon Messe pour un chien (2014) and the new one – La mort appelle tous les vivants which will be released in December 2022 by Sleeping Church. Where has your pilgrimage taken you?
Messe pour un chien was well-received. We get real cool reviews in France, Europe and also the US and it comforted us in the idea that singing in French was not a problem for a foreign audience. Same when we did some dates in Germany, Denmark, Holland…
Also, we’ve been lucky enough to tour with some of our idols, like Goatess with Chritus Linderson or Lord Vicar and share the stage with cool bands like Apostle of Solitude (Hi guys! Hope to see you soon again in France!), Mishanthrope, Windhand, Pilgrim, Abysmal Grief, Mars Red Sky… During these years, we also did some festivals, in France (Fall of Summer, Samain fest, Motocultor Fest, Mennecy Metal Fest) and Europe (Malta Doom Fest, Northern Discomfort).
We also found a cool French label to take care of us, Sleeping Church Records. In fact, we’re good friends with them because the founders, Moot and Arick, play in two great doom bands you probably know, Presumption and Father Merrin and we did some nice gigs together. So it’s kind of a family affair )
And here we are, eight years after Messe pour un chien, with a new album recorded by Andrex Guillotin at Hybreed Studio (Monolithe, Mauvaise Foi, Arkhon Infaustus, Grist, Clégane…) and we hope the few people in the doom community who knew us still remember the old guys from Barabbas : )
Well, speaking about festivals and tours – a lot of bands of the same level as Barabbas… Let me tell you – really cool but underrated… A lot of bands of the same level do tours in pretty hard conditions. So what were the most comfortable and the most extreme gigs for you outside France?
We were lucky to have rather good experiences, whether in France or abroad. Both in terms of technical comfort allowing us to perform correctly on stage and in terms of comfort in terms of catering or sleeping. Of course, the festivals generally having a consequential budget, the musicians benefit from preferential treatment. But we also have excellent memories of concerts in small venues where the technical limitations in terms of sound were largely compensated by the enthusiasm of the audience. Come to think of it, the most extreme experience if you go on tour with Barabbas is to survive one night of snoring by Rodolphe, Stéphane and Thomas!
I did interview both Moot and Arick (or was it Stephane?) but I don’t remember if they told that they’re involved in Sleeping Church. The things you said about the French scene mentioning a few bands and the label sound good, but the scene doesn’t look very active. How do you think why?
Yes, Moot and Arick are among the creators of Sleeping Church Records. They are also involved in the doom scene through their bands, Presumption for Moot and Father Merrin for Arick. The French doom scene is rich, diversified and active but it remains relatively confidential. The covid did not help matters since the groups could not tour for two years. Maybe doom is also a little less “popular” than it was a few years ago, when big bands like Electric Wizard were expanding the audience for the genre.
You didn’t mention Hangman’s Chair, one of most respected French doom bands. Do you hang with them as well?
We really appreciate their music but we don’t know them personally. Their latest album, even if it distances itself from their doom roots, is frankly excellent. They play in the big leagues now and they deserve it. Moreover, we will undoubtedly be among the spectators when they pass by shortly with Paradise Lost in Paris.
La mort appelle tous les vivants is loud, heavy and impressive but I can’t believe that it took eight years to finish it. How long did you polish the new material?
To be honest, we can’t believe it too, ha ha! Truth is, after the release of Messe pour un chien, our priority was to gig and tour. So we only got back to the songwriting around 2016 / 2017. In 2018, we demoed a first version of the album and we scheduled a recording session.
But a few weeks before entering the studio, we all agreed we weren’t 100% happy with the songs. So back to rehearsal to work on new songs. Then, our bass player left the band. So it took us another year to find Alex (who also plays in Camping Terror) and learned to play the songs together. And just when we thought our ordeal was over, boom, the covid pandemic strikes, so the recording was postponed again and we finally began the studio work around 2021.
During this period Barabbas took part in four compilations, including a French tribute to Cathedral. Does a thing like this work nowadays? Does it help to attract new fans?
In fact, we only took part in two compilations, the French tribute to Cathedral (on Sleeping Church Records) and a record called We Are French, F*** You, for a label called Volume Brutal, which is a selection of tracks from French underground bands. We dig this kind of collaboration because it’s fun and also challenging, creativly speaking. And we are big fans of Cathedral!
For the tribute to Cathedral, we did a cover of “Ride” from The Ethereal Mirror and it was really great to rearrange the song. Also, instead of translating the original lyrics in French, we recreated them using only Cathedral’s song titles. Regarding We Are French, F*** You, we wrote a new track called “De la viande”. It was meant to be an exclusive track, only available on this record, but we liked it so much that we recorded it again for the new album.
We got a positive feedback with these projects but it’s difficult to say if it has attracted new faithful followers of the Holly Redeemer Riff. And even if it’s hard for our egos, we must admit that neither Lee Dorrian nor Gaz Jennings have sent us a request to be friends with Barabbas on Facebook, ha ha!
I believe that they’re busy gents, ha-ha! I don’t remember if they answered my message regarding the Doom Metal Lexicanum release. Probably they have their reasons… However I was also referring to the Doomed & Stoned in France compilation, did you forget it?
Mea culpa, we actually participated in this compilation whose curator is our great Magister and friend Stéphane Le Saux. We appeared on this compilation with “Le couteau ou l’abîme” (“The knife or the abyss”), a title from our previous album Messe pour un chien (“Mass for a dog”). The project brought together 33 groups, which undoubtedly allowed many people to discover the richness of the French scene that we mentioned earlier. Doomed and Stoned in France is still available on Bandcamp. The opportunity for a catch-up session for those who haven’t listened to it yet.
You recorded Messe pour un chien as a quartet and then Saint Thomas joined you in 2015, and then Saint Alexandre took bass duties when Saint Jérôme left the band. First of all, how easy was it to fit your songs for twin guitars?
Quite easy because Thomas (who played in Northwinds, one of our favourite doom bands) is a real good guitar player. And we’re not Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden: Most of the time, the idea is to beef up the sound by having the two guitars play the same riff (hey, if it’s good for Judas Priest, then it’s good for Barabbas), even if Thomas is really good at finding harmonies that bring more “colors”, more atmosphere, to the songs. Regarding Jay, our bass player, he wasn’t happy anymore with us and wanted to play his own music.
It never was an easy ride to get a rank of the Saint, how did you recruit Saint Alexandre? Did you have a special test for him? Did you gather a conclave?
Alexandre plays in another group, Camping Terror, in which also officiates Bernie, a good friend who played in Son of Zardoz and Brother Sludge, two groups that unfortunately disappeared. It was while attending a Camping Terror concert that we realized that Alexandre had all the qualities to become a member of the Church of Saint Riff the Redeemer of Barabbas. He accepted and a few weeks later, after an express learning of our set-list, he was inducted Saint Alexandre on stage, during his first concert in Paris with Barabbas in front of a crowd of Saint Riff devotees.
And the second, did these changes bring more differences in the process of composing songs?
New players bring new ideas to the table. Also, the alchemy in the band is different and that’s good because it’s challenging. We’re all getting along fine so the songwriting is easier. In fact, it’s our whole sound that has changed, not only because of the two guitars but also because Alex plays with a different sound. And we like it that way because it allows more space for the guitars.
Subjectively La mort appelle tous les vivants sounds more grim and doomy (pessimistic as you say) than the first album. Did you have another mindset this time?
There was no conscious plan to create a doomier album. In fact, the last couple of years have been pretty heavy for some of us on a personnal level and it probably influenced the mood of the album. Sad guys doing sad music: Yeah, it’s awfully cliché but unfortunatly it’s true.
“Death Calls All the Living”… such a title! So just as always, Saint Rodolphe sings in French, and I didn’t find even original texts yet to translate it with Google. May you give a hint about what you sing about this time?
It’s weird because the title of the album dates back to 2018. Actually, it’s taken from the lyrics of “La valse funèbre”, one of our new songs. But with the recent events in Europe and the rising tensions between East and West, “Death calls all the Living” takes a more menacing meaning.
Regarding the meaning of the songs: “Je suis mort depuis bien longtemps” (“I’ve been dead for a long time”) is about the way you feel dead inside sometimes. On the outside, you’re a regular joe, going to work, having a social life… But inside, you feel nothing, your heart is cold and your soul is dead.
“Le Saint Riff Rédempteur” (“The Holly Redeemer Riff”): Being the Church of the Holly Redeemer Riff, we needed a hymn, a prayer for our cult, our “Let there be rock”. Hence, this song which is about the power of music, the way it can comfort you during the hard times. It’s the only spark of hope in a rather bleak album.
“De la viande” (“Meat”): A rather pessimistic view of humanity seen as nothing more than flesh and bones. Don’t expect a god to take care of your soul when you’re dead: you’re just a piece of meat in the mouth of the cosmos.
“Le cimetière des rêves brisés” (“The cemetary of broken dreams”): An imaginary place where people mourn over a grave where lies their broken hopes and lost dreams. The more melodic song on the album, very melancholic.
“Sous le signe du Néant” (“Under the sign of the Void”) is about feeling totally useless in this universe, feeling like the ultimate nobody devoided of any interest. The lyrics are really pessimistic, dealing with a kind of cosmic despair but with hints of dark humor.
“Mon crâne est un crypte (et j’y suis emmuré)” which could be roughly translated as “My head is a crypt (and I’m trapped inside)”: The title says it all, the song deals with the feeling of being a prisoner of your own mind, unable to communicate with others, endlessly brooding the same old thoughts, the same old memories. Probably the doomiest song on the album.
“La valse funèbre” (“The funeral waltz”) is our take on the “Danse macabre” where the dead and the living are dancing together to express the fragility of life. Inspiration also came from a great movie from the ’60s called “Carnival of souls”. There’s a sequence in the movie where the main character watches dead people waltzing in a dreamy, even surreal, atmosphere. It’s both fascinating and disturbing and we tried to capture this feeling in the lyrics.
Thanks for such a detailed overview! And what’s the story behind the album’s artwork? Where was this photo taken?
The quest for the album cover took months. We couldn’t agree on an idea. Each time someone found a cool image, someone else was not really convinced. Until Rodolphe found this image from an old newspaper and we all immediately agreed it was “the” cover. It depicts a crowd going to the cemetery after a mining disaster (or maybe a rail crash). The image is really powerful, it’s really down to earth, but at the same time it’s strange because it almost looks as if these people were going to their own funeral. It’s perfect for the title of the album, “Death calls all the Living”.
Confirmed! How actively did you gig this year and what’s your plan regarding gigs for the rest of 2022?
With the covid, everything stopped for nearly two years so we didn’t even think about touring. We did like two gigs in 2021, one being during the Mennecy Metal Fest with Misanthrope, Moonspell, Dagoba… As for the end of 2022, right now we have only one gig scheduled in Paris in December with cool French bands Conviction and Gonezilla (check them out!). 2023 sounds already more promising with a few dates in France. We hope this new album will help us to get some gigs and fests. We cross our fingers… and pray the Holly Redeemer Riff!
Let’s pray together for it seems that the last times are upon us! Thanks for the interview and I hope that we’ll have more reasons to talk later. Any final words of Doom Riffs Wisdom for our readers?
Thank you Reverend Aleksey for taking the time to interview Barabbas! Indeed, it seems that the Four Horsemen have straddled their mounts… As the Rolling Stones sang: “But what can a poor boy do? Except to sing in a rock’n’roll band?” So, let’s enjoy life, our loved ones and music before the Apocalypse!