(Today we present Comrade Aleks‘ extensive interview with Philippe Courtois, founder of the foundational French extreme metal band Misanthrope, who are still alive and well 35 years after the band’s inception.)
The ancient city of Angers, Maine-et-Loire, is famous with its rich history, and you may have heard about Angers Cathedral, Château d’Angers, and the Apocalypse Tapestry. At least you may have heard of the liqueur Cointreau and it’s not a bad choice after all. But the city is known to metalheads for another historical event – almighty Misanthrope raised its head when Philippe Courtois (also known as S.A.S. de l’Argilière) gathered the band’s first line-up in 1988 proclaiming his manifest of hate to mankind.
The band gained well-deserved recognition fast, as their avant-garde and technical death metal demonstrated a unique blend of influences stretching far from metal music. French lyrics, a highly artistic approach to the songwriting, and energetic live performances soon became the band’s trademarks, a features which differentiated Misanthrope from other death metal maniacs.
Besides that, Philippe played an important role in the world-wide metal underground as he’s a co-owner of the French metal label Holy Records alongside Séverine Foujanet. A lot of bands from the ’90s started their career with Holy – Nightfall, On Thorns I Lay, Orphaned Land, Septic Flesh, and more.
As you see, we don’t need a special reason for an interview with Philippe, as he obviously can tell a lot of exciting things about the metal underground and the ways it works. Well, Misanthrope’s high rank is undisputed, and they can cover Mylène Farmer when they want to without any losses for their reputation. But Misanthrope celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and the band just released their new album Les déclinistes, so there was no choice but to do my best and ask Philippe to answer this interview.
Bonjour Philippe! First of all thank you for your time, you’re a busy man and time is precious so let’s not waste it. Misanthrope celebrated its 35th anniversary this year, and that’s the big date, so accept my congratulations. Do you remember your ambitions back then? What did you aim to achieve with the first lineup?
Dear Aleks, hello and thanks for your nice words… Misanthrope will celebrate it’s 35th year on the 27th of October 2023. Oh my God I would never imagine that. Back on 27 October 1988 there was no ambition at all, we were just bored kids in the dirty east suburb of Paris. Wasting our time and life. Looking for something, looking for experience, any kind of artistic experience. Extreme Metal Music seeme to be the only option in our shitty life to exist as a “person” so I jumped on the wagon from then until now.
I was amazed by Thrash and Death Metal bands like Kreator, Death, Possessed, Sodom, Agressor, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Celtic Frost, Voïvod, Bathory, Destruction, King Diamond, Candlemass, Massacra, Exodus, Wehrmacht, Sadus etc…. Metal, and horror movies, was my food. We were looking for something screaming because life was so poor, cold, and silent in our suburb of empty streets. Music was our only hope to exist and not become a “normal” insipid citizen. Our first step was to write our own songs because we had difficulties to cover other bands’ tracks. We were so brutal and inexperienced, it was a crazy time of youth! Nothing to do with the Misanthrope of today and yesterday.
Philippe, you were 18 when you started Misanthrope back in 1988, and you chose a fitting and good-sounding name. And yet how do you feel now regarding this title? Are you still the same misanthrope as before? Or did you become used to humanity’s flaws?
I still love the word “Misanthrope”, full of hate and violence. Hate against all mankind because it makes our life so difficult. Hate against idiots, criminals, the envious, and the jealous. First, I chose the name Misanthrope because it was nice-sounding, the same word in French and in English, and I felt that it would be possible to create a complete concept around it. It’s also a title of a theater play written by Molière in 1666 that I studied in school back in September 1987. The hero Alceste could not stand the stupidity, ignorance, and hypocrisy of our mankind. He chooses to leave love and friends instead of not being true to himself.
In 2023 I’m more than a Misanthrope, I am an extremist with integrity, a declinist, and I want to die to escape this mankind. When I read the world’ news on newspaper there is not a single point that is in harmony with my thoughts and my spirit. Religion, money, war, politics, hypocrites, it all drives me mad and sick. We need to re-start our lost humanity from ground zero. Even God is nothing here in France in 2023, no more Art, no more respect for the old man, no wisdom… an empty fuckin’ life.
I really wonder why those people are living? What are they waiting for? Why do they fight against illness? It’s weird, they just want to be survivors to nothingness. It’s not for me, really. I’m serious, I will not accept that long all this pain and suffering. I cannot live watching TV, drinking, walking with my pet, and playing video games. Life is not like this. Humanity is lost, it has even destroyed passion, seduction, erotism, and sex.
You have released Misanthrope’s albums through your own label Holy Records since the first full-length release, Variation on Inductive Theories (Architecture Screenplans) (1993), and until today. The band’s name and the name of the label have gone hand in hand all these years. And it’s obvious that you reduced the activity of the label almost to zero, releasing only your own albums. Did all the fun and excitement of finding and releasing new bands leave you long ago?
It’s a very interesting question. You know when you produce, when you are a very young adult of 22 to 27 years old, such masterpieces as the debut albums of SepticFlesh, Misanthrope, Orphaned Land, Stille Volk, Godsend, Elend, Nightfall, Trepalium, Serenity, Tristitia, Yearning, Chaostar, Natron, On Thorns I Lay, etc… I did what I had to do for the Metal scene as a producer. Now it’s History.
I was the man behind all those fantastic releases with of course my partner Séverine Foujanet. All those albums were our children. We cherish and loved them each one with a very special treatment. I spend my entire life to produce and promote the bands and music that I loved. The wheel of time turned. Three decades later I’m now concentrating on the Legacy of Holy Records in the ’90s Golden years and on the origin of this label and the music of Misanthrope and Argile. Because it all started from there and for this ambition. I’m back to the basics, back to the roots of all the Metal which is in my mind.
There was a six-year break between your previous album ΑXΩ (Alpha X Omega: Le magistère de l’abnégation)(2017) and the new full-length Les déclinistes. You released the EP Bâtisseur de cathédrales: Les fissures de l’édifice (2020), but it looks like a little compilation of rare materials and cover songs. So was it the quarantine that slowed you down or something else?
It was not a break at all, nobody knows what we did, composed, nor knows what we recorded between the two album releases. And I will not talk about it, it’s our little secret. I’m doing only music, daily. I don’t have a “normal” job, so we did things my friend. But it’s hidden, or will come one day.
Maybe you did not notice but on Bâtisseur de cathédrales: Les fissures de l’édifice there are four newly recorded songs: “Bâtisseur de cathédrales 2019”, “Sacrifice” (Tribute to Motörhead), “Et ainsi le lotus”, and “Désenchantée” (Tribute to Mylène Farmer).
And there are three newly re-recorded songs plus five versions of the songs never heard before with French vocals (eight unreleased tracks in total) on the 2021 album Misanthrope Immortel – 20th Anniversary Edition. And now we have 76 minutes of a new studio album of re-recorded classics and the songs which were never ever recorded before.
Also I created something for the HOLY RECORDS 30TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY – the new band called HOLY MANIACS, an Official Tribute Band to Holy Records nineties’ performing exclusively songs from: Argile, Godsend, Legenda, Nightfall, On Thorns I Lay, Orphaned Land, Serenity, Septic Flesh, Tristitia and Yearning! I was the singer and conductor of this great formation of nine musicians.
And we also did three different tours with in the last six years with different set-lists, Alpha X Omega Tour, and then the Misanthrope 30th Year Anniversary Tour, and then last year there was the Misanthrope Immortel in full Tour. The next month we’ll start a new one the Gargantuan 2023-2024 Tour to support Les Déclinistes.
We also released an exclusive YouTube movie in June 2022 – 366 jours: L’année des 30 ans de Misanthrope (Official Movie). So sorry, for us there was no break. We will not do an 11th studio album of new songs until we will be able to surpass the qualities of ΑXΩ(Alpha X Omega: Le magistère de l’abnégation), so it seems it’s not for tomorrow.
Les déclinistes features 12 re-recorded songs from your back catalogue, and as I understand, you don’t see it as a “best of” album, as you also used new arrangements. How much did you change the sound of these songs?
The sound changed because there is a gap of at least 26 years between the composition and first-version recordings of those songs and today’s Les Déclinistes versions. Also, the line-up with Anthony Scemama (guitars, keyboards), Jean-Jacques Moréac (bass, keyboards), Gaël Féret (drums), and me have been playing together for 21 years. We created musical magic together. We built music in scale and quality never reached before by the band. It’s the same songs and the same band at the same time but nothing else is the same.
There is sometime a misunderstanding of this CD. It’s a new studio album composed of twelve classics or unreleased songs that Misanthrope composed between 1990-1996. It’s Misanthrope’s thirty-fourth anniversary gift for all these years of unwavering fan support through three decades. Misanthrope’s fans have been asking so much for an album like this. This is not a “best of” album but a completely new studio album of new versions. All the classics are re-recorded and re-arranged. The band worked with the same team which did the production of the Misanthrope Immortel 2021 re-recordings. For me more personally it’s a nostalgic trip back in time to the nineties at the dawn of the avant-garde doom death movement.
We are in the middle of the promotion of our new studio album Les Déclinistes. The last one, ΑXΩ (Alpha X Omega: Le magistère de l’abnégation), which was our tenth full-length, came out six years ago in 2017. We are super-satisfied with the production (Henosis Studio), we took around seven years to complete it. We have superb products, we have normal CD jewel cases with twenty-page booklets, CD digipacks, two new t-shirt designs, and four-color double LP vinyl gatefolds with lyrics inserts. It’s out on Holy Records like in the good old nineties’ days, and you can purchase it on www.holyrecords.com. It’s also out on all streaming platforms for free.
We won’t get a lot of money this year but we are in an artistic poetic apotheosis. The meaning of Les Déclinistes‘ design is a current of ideas and analyzes of thinkers who believe that our human civilization is in decline, culturally or geopolitically. We have been announcing the downfall humanity since the debut split CD Hater of Mankind composed in 1990. Here we are.
I remember the review of Misanthrope Immortel (2008) where the reviewer noticed that the remastering of these songs taken from the original album Immortal Misanthrope (2000) was barely noticed. So, did you think that the band’s fans might choose the original songs rather than its re-recorded versions? Those albums and their vibes are important for many as the monument of a passed epoch.
I noticed that too. On Spotify it’s written Misanthrope Immortel (2008), but this version is the 2000 version; they made a mistake. Misanthrope Immortel exists in only two versions, the original one from 2000 and the new one from last year, Misanthrope Immortel – 20th Anniversary Edition, where there are three newly re-recorded songs plus five never heard before French vocals versions of songs (a total of eight unreleased tracks).
We re-recorded only three songs on that super-cult album — “L’Envol”, “Les Empereurs du Néant”, and “Les Lamentations du Diable”. Fans will choose to listen to them because they are really better versions. Just listen to Gaël‘s drumming and Anthony‘s guitar work and the Henosis Studio mix and you will automatically notice a huge difference in terms of high quality. Yes, the vibes are different, that’s for sure, and I’m not regretting my past. But very honestly, it’s far better for my ears today. You are free and can always choose what you want to listen too. It was done on purpose and we are happy to have our brothers Gaël and Anthony finally on those tracks.
There are two songs, “Haïsseur de l’humanité” and “L’héritage de la peste”, taken from Misanthrope’s early demo-sessions. Why didn’t you include both tracks in the albums back in ’90s?
They’re pure technical death metal songs that I wrote under the name “Hater of Mankind” in 1990 and for “Unwedge: L’héritage de la peste” in 1991. They’re really super great songs but we were not enough virtuoso musicians to record them as they were in my mind back in those days. Now with Les Déclinistes it’s done and very well done. Believe me, I’m super happy to have those early songs recorded 32 years afterward in such studio quality.
Almost two years later we recorded our debut album Variation On Inductive Theories (Architecture Screenplans). Pure death metal was over for me, and with the new line-up I just built, I jumped already into more progressive music. We were at the dawn of what we will call the avant-garde doom death movement of the ’90s.
Honestly, I didn’t check all the lyrics you wrote for Misanthrope, but I was surprised when I found that some of the songs’ lyrics were revealed in Les Déclinistes for the first time. Can you tell the secret behind those hidden lines?
I worked very hard for Les Déclinistes. I dug into all my lyrics archives. And I discovered that some verses were missing on the “original recordings”. I completely forget about those studio last-minute changes and what was left over. And it sometimes changed in a very interesting way the meaning of a song. It’s obvious in the case of “La Demiurge”, “Gargantuan Decline”, and “Futile Future” for example.
At first, I was sure that you recorded these songs in one take, but I read that the recording was split in a few sessions between 2015 and 2021. Did you plan the release of Les Déclinistes as it is since 2015?
Again, it’s a very good question. To be really honest it was not planned to release the album as it is. With the Misanthrope members we started to think about a huge project to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Misanthrope (the re-recording’s, the official movie, some bunch of cover tracks, etc…). But it turned out so great that we kept on going, recording and recording.
The pandemic killed the idea of a special release for that anniversary. After spending so many long weeks and months alone, isolated at home, we decided to go on tour and to party as much as possible with the fans. We needed to return to normal life and playing live and loud our music to our crowd. This brought another one – two years of hold in the process of CD production. And one day we said “STOP”, we shall at least release the first 12 songs (in composition order from 1990 to 1996), and it will be already super great for the fans to have such a present. This is what happened roughly for Les Déclinistes.
Misanthrope developed through the years, and yet whatever album we choose to play, your songs have a lot of features which clearly show the origins. How did you manage to keep the band’s identity through the years?
The way of playing bass for Mr Moréac, my way of singing, the super quality musicianship of Gaël Féret and Anthony Scemama. Because it’s the four of us. Misanthrope’s music is the authentic presence of each band-member, there is no bullshit. We are following a precise concept with an inalienable passion. We do not follow rules nor producers nor trends. Misanthrope is an artistic expression of the four of us. We are fanatics to our origins and identity. Whenever we play fast, heavy, or doom it’s Misanthrope at the end and everybody can recognize this.
The band’s individuality is also based on your national identity. There are cultural references in your songs, you use your mother tongue writing the lyrics, and there’s the entire album based on the life and works of Charles Baudelaire – Irrémédiable (2008). Did you have a plan to record another concept album since then?
Yes, around 2018 I started to think about a “second” concept album after IrremeDIABLE. I wanted to put a book of the XIXth century of 300 pages into a music album, but after a couple of months I stopped. I have too much things to say to continue and close the story of Alceste of Hate (incarnated by S.A.S de l’Argilière on stage), our heroic misanthrope, the descendant of Molière. Misanthrope‘s lyrics are already an entire concept; it’s following from album to album, from 1666 to 2666.
You are right I’m happy if I can bring a little of the French culture, Art, fine poems, and literature to the world. It’s in my blood, it’s my genomic pride. I’m here to transmit what I learned from my parents after all. France is full of fantastic history, it’s one of my passions beyond knowledge.
What do you like in modern France and what inspires you in a “misanthropic” way, taking into account all the things hat have happened through the last years?
I was thinking that we would face a new world after the pandemic, a better world with peaceful human sharing. But I was wrong. It’s even worse, people closing themselves, they close inwards, they push you to take your spot. Now people are walking in the street with headphones on the ears watching their cell phones. They do not enjoy nature, beautiful women, nor the architecture of the city or the countryside… they are walking like shadows.
I’m very sad for the new generation. They lost freedom, liberty, security, and curiosity. All this and the constant social attacks of politics and insecurity bring me hate. I’m a peaceful man, it’s my nature and belief. But now they cut too many things out of my life which will never come back. Luckily, I have my music to unleash my violence.
Misanthrope was one of most important (or the most important) French bands in the ’90s. How do you see the band’s highlights?
Thank you very much, it’s an honor to have this treatment. Yes, we were the ’90s France highlights. It was a fantastic time, with youthful energy, great albums and studio times, a super team and label. I’m super happy with all that we did. It’s unbelievable all what has been archived as Misanthrope… and then the French metal story turned a new page and Gojira came to clear the scene.
Did you become used to the rules of the modern music market? I see that you have released the albums digitally, and you even released the virtual live show as a part of Misanthrope immortel – 20th Anniversary Edition album.
We try to be really in our world and in our mood. Of course, I do not understand anything of TikTok or Snapchat… but we are working with social media, a website, YouTube videos, streaming, and digital versions with audio bonuses. Yes, we did this live show broadcast over the internet with no people outside the stage, just in front of cameras during the pandemic. It was a great experience and a challenge. I like technology and futuristic stuff. I will never forget that I’m a kid who grow up with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Dune, Superman and Star Trek.
Les Déclinistes is released, so how soon may we expect Misanthrope’s return with more new songs?
I do not know, really. First of all, we will start a new tour in two weeks to support Les Déclinistes and then we will start the final chapter of the ARGILE trilogy. Right in this order.
And what about Argile, whose third album you planned to release on your 50th anniversary?
It will be done my friend; for my 50th anniversary I was alone in lockdown with my cat and Séverine. It’s our next studio topic. And believe me it’s 15 years I’ve been waiting this time to finally archives the final chapter of this melancholic doom project. I’m more than ready. The ambition is very intense and strong… I already feel Lucifer’s tension.