(On March 10th Me Saco Un Ojo and Pulverised Records released the excellent debut album of the Costa Rican death metal band Astriferous, and soon afterward Comrade Aleks conducted the following interview with Astriferous members José Pablo Phillips and Felipe Tencio.)
Savage and fearless, Astriferous have spread truly cosmic horror in a form of death metal since 2018. They turned into a trio after minor line-up changes, two demo recordings, and an EP, The Lower Levels of Sentience (2020). Nowadays it consists of two original members, José María Arrea (drums) and Felipe Tencio (guitars, vocals), as well as José Pablo Phillips (bass, vocals), who joined the band later in 2020. One of the founders, Federico Gutiérrez (guitars, vocals), left it around the release of Astriferous’ full-length album Pulsations from the Black Orb.
That album was released little more than a week ago, but I bet that you remember both the album’s artwork and the songs’ insane pressure from an NCS Premiere. These men from Costa Rica know how to play with madness.
Hi Astriferous! How are you? What’s going on in your lair?
Hello, doing good around here. Thank you for the space and interest in the band.
I see that all of Astriferous’ members are involved in a few other extreme metal bands. What inspired you to start another band?
José Pablo Phillips: Besides extreme metal, we are interested in different styles of music and we have different configurations with the people that we have around us, depending on the project we are working on, but we also really appreciate the different forms that death metal has been expressed through the years, so with Astriferous, we needed to have the space to do something within this style, and we aimed to focus on integrating the shared influences we have and that inspired us to start playing this type of music.
Three of the band’s members not only play guitars or bass but also perform vocals, how do you share vocal lines between each other?
J.P.P.: Felipe is the one in charge of the lyrics on Astriferous, so once the lyrics are ready, he presents to us the way that he visualized them being performed with the music. We try to do it in a balanced way so the three voices are evened between them, instead of having a main vocalist and two backing vocals.
Are you meaning that music comes first in Astriferous?
Felipe Tencio: Correct, we usually finish the instrumental part first and then I write lyrics that fit into the vocal patterns that we consider work best for the song, so musicality is always the priority. The lyrics are a textual complement to the song but just as important for the final result, it all comes together in the end.
Can you tell a story about how you composed one of the Pulsations from the Black Orb according to this algorithm?
F.T.: Our songwriting dynamic has been the same for every song on every release basically. Federico and I came up with riffs and worked on them individually until we felt they were ready to be shared with everyone, then we would all get together to start assembling a song, trying to figure out how to do the best transition into the next section and keep a good sense of continuity and the momentum flowing. Once we felt 100% confident with the instrumental part, we moved on to the lyrics. For this record in particular, we didn’t rehearse with vocals at all before recording. Yhe first time we played the songs with vocals was after we listened to the final result of the recording sessions.
Metal-Archives give us a hint that your lyrics are focused on “cosmic horror and death”. How precise is this note?
F.T.: It’s accurate. I believe our lyrics in general can be categorized in those terms since our demo days, maybe adding mysticism into the mix as well. We’re not a conceptual band lyric-wise but our themes have a very similar nature.
Felipe, do you write lyrics using some literature or movie sources as your inspiration or is it only your imagination which does the whole job?
F.T.: Definitely! Literature, movies, visual arts and even video games are always my sources of inspiration. Not only to reference things that I find interesting but to internalize a lot of different concepts and ideas being transmitted through these forms of art that can later be reinterpreted through music. Some of these may not be inherently “death metal” but can be applied to it.
How did you get in touch with Me Saco un Ojo Records, who released your EP The Lower Levels of Sentience (2020) and the new album Pulsations from the Black Orb? Did you already have a good connection with other countries before you found the label?
F.T.: Back when we released our Raise High the Scepter of Indulgence demo with Desert Wastelands Productions from the US, we were also looking for a label to handle the European release. We emailed Jesus with the idea and he agreed to release it on tape, which paved the way for the release of The Lower Levels… about a year later and eventually Pulsations… MSUO has believed in us and supported us right from the start practically.
The Lower Levels of Sentience is quite an intriguing title. What kind of meaning did you put into it? Death metal bands usually prefer simple lyrics with straight to your face messages, so how is it important for you?
F.T.: The title is taken from a spoken-word album called The Courtald Talks by Killing Joke, one of my favorite bands. It’s a recording of a lecture Jaz Coleman delivered in London. At one point, he mentions “the forgotten ones” as the connection between conscious man and the Elder Gods and then said something that really resonated with me:
“The forgotten ones have been left to work and function in the lower levels of sentience, gathering power and accumulating explosive potential under pressure. Now, it is in the controlled release of these gods that the consciousness will be propelled beyond its present state and achieve the next and necessary condition of gestalt-consciousness.”
I really liked that idea of channeling the lower levels of sentience to summon the forgotten ones to consciousness and thought it would be a great title for the EP. We like our lyrics to be a complement to the music and the overall aesthetic and to be something actually interesting to us and not just filler.
How did you make this leap from Killing Joke and straight into death metal smouldering pits?
F.T.: We draw inspiration from a lot of places and we all listen to a lot of different music. Similar to the inspiration for the lyrics, we are influenced by a variety of sounds, textures, atmospheres and styles that are not necessarily what you would associate to the concept of death metal, or at least it’s not as direct or obvious. The process of translating or adapting these type of influences to an extreme metal setting is something we try to incorporate and combine with our straight-forward death metal influences.
There is the song “Dweller on the Threshold” in your discography. Is it based on H. P. Lovecraft’s story? Or was it inspired by Van Morrison’s song?
F.P.: It’s about the concept of the shadow self, the sum of all darkness and negative energy in a person which needs to be confronted and vanquished in order to achieve enlightenment, the last step in the spiritual journey. It was actually inspired by Twin Peaks and the evil doppelgangers that inhabited the Black Lodge.
Twin Peaks’ third season was too good indeed… Do you actually believe in the “mystic” side of human existence? Are you afraid in this case that “evil” music draws “evil” beings?
F.T.: I could watch “Episode 8” any day!
To your question: yes, I believe there’s a lot more beyond reason and what our limited perception allows us to comprehend and that transcends the duality of good and evil which is based on morality, essentially a human trait.
Your new album Pulsations from the Black Orb is decorated with striking crazy artwork by Jason Wayne Barnett. One of our readers described the album’s artwork as Massacre’s From Beyond on steroids. The comparison is quite rough as the difference is obvious, but it’s a bit funny… However, did you buy a completed work from Jason or did he create it individually for you?
F.P.: We commissioned Jason to create the artwork from scratch based on the title of the album and a concept we gave him. We also told him we were looking for something with a similar feel to the cover of Slumber of Sullen Eyes by Demigod, one of our biggest influences, and asked him not to hold back with the use of colors. Jason‘s style is very fitting to the music so we decided to work with him at a very early stage of the project.
We can see the connection to From Beyond but it was not intended. We didn’t try to reimagine the cover or have ours become a direct nod to it, as it might seem to some. Obviously it’s a classic album from the golden era of the genre and we have nothing but massive respect for it but we didn’t use it as a direct reference.
What was your vision of this new material when you started to record it? What kind of sound did you want to get in your studio?
J.P.P.: As mentioned above, we are really into death metal and the bands that forged this genre since it’s inception. We appreciate what bands in the late ’80s and early ’90s did for this type of music and wanted to share our vision from it in this point of time we are on. Our main goal with the sound from Pulsations…, was to achieve something sincere, organic and not over-produced, inspired by the sound that the bands in the early years of death metal forged.
There’s a lot of new bands appearing each month despite the quarantines, economic crises, etc. And it seems that the chance to achieve any recognition turns out to be very low. What’s your ambition with Astriferous? What would you like to achieve with the band?
J.P.P.: Our main objective as a band is to provide a sample of what death metal is at this point in the chronology of the genre, to express what this style of music means to us, and to be able to open spaces to share our contribution with people who are interested in extreme music. We believe that having a sincere intention has a great influence when it comes to creating music, and having recognition for hard work is always good, but more than that, the intention with Astriferous is to present something that can be appreciated by those who have enjoyed death metal throughout the years.
What are your plans now for the rest of 2023?
J.P.P.: We just released our first full-length so our plans at the moment are to share this work within the extreme music environment and also to bring it to a live setting. We love playing live so that’s a big objective for us.
How often do you play live? Is it easy to organize gigs in your area?
F.T.: Organizing gigs is definitely not a problem but we try not to play too often so we can give every live appearance more value and do it in the best possible conditions. This is a small country, therefore a small scene, so we think that playing sporadically keeps it interesting and fresh.
Okay, thanks for the interview gents! Good luck with thr promotion of Astriferous! Did we forget something?
F.T.: Looks like we covered everything! Thanks for the space and your interest in our music.