If you Vault Hunters are anything like me, you probably roll your eyes whenever you see a metal band described as some variation of ‘frightening.’ My initial reaction always lands somewhere between “well no shit it’s frightening – it’s fucking metal” and “sure it’s frightening – to fucking normies maybe.” Like any well-seasoned, kvlt as fvck traveller in the metal underground, there’s not much about this music that I find frightening anymore.
That being said, let me state this as unequivocally as possible: Autokrator scares the shit out of me.
I suppose that statement still needs a bit of qualifying. Seven or eight years ago or so, I was dating a very non-metal chick who would react with horror any time I played Anaal Nathrakh in the car, which I totally understood – for someone not used to this style of music, Anaal Nathrah likely sound like they were formed in one of the blast furnaces in Hell. Eventually, she built up a tolerance to Anaal Nathrakh and no longer found them the least bit shocking, but didn’t seem very happy about that, either. But I digress…
On their first two albums, I felt much the same way about Autokrator. Their mix of industrial, black, death, drone, and other influences were musically harrowing enough. Add in lyrics addressing totalitarian governments, state-sponsored violence, and straight-the-fuck-up torture? That shit will harsh the mellow of even the most seasoned of metal fans.
On their forthcoming third album Hammer of the Heretics, Autokrator sound more focused than ever. And frankly, that makes them sound even more terrifying than before. To hear him tell it, that’s exactly the way that band mastermind Loïc.F wanted it. Hammer of the Heretics represents Autokrator in its purest form – straightforwardly aggressive and armed to the teeth, aiming to do the maximum amount of damage possible.
Hammer of the Heretics will be available on April 10 from Krucyator Productions. In the meantime, check out what Loïc.F had to say about the new album and the history of the band.
Indy Metal Vault: So for starters, thank you for the interview. I have to be honest, though – I’ve had a good four or five false starts on these questions, because Autokrator is the sort of band that I’m not quite certain how to approach. You aren’t an easy band on any level – musically, lyrically, conceptually, aesthetically, etc. In fact, I’m probably having about as difficult a time finding an entry point for this interview as a lot of listeners have finding a way into your music. So I guess that makes as good a starting point as any – when you first envisioned Autokrator, was your goal to make difficult and/or alienating music?
Loïc.F: At the end of 2014, I was working on a new N.K.V.D record. I wanted something dark, heavy and loud, a kind of death metal version of N.K.V.D.
The music I was creating was finally too far from N.K.V.D on the musical and lyrical sides, so I decided to start a new project which became AUTOKRATOR.
It’s true that AUTOKRATOR is not an “easy” project. I never liked soft and clean production and always liked to push beyond all the limits.
To me, an AUTOKRATOR album is like a torture session, once you push play, you are attached to the rack.
At the end of the album, if you haven’t confessed you push play again, but if you have, you call it quits.
IMV: Throughout the history of Autokrator, the lineup has essentially been Loïc.F on guitars/bass, DB on vocals, and a studio drummer (which on Hammer of the Heretics is Kévin Paradis of Benighted). Is there a particular reason you’ve not added a ‘permanent’ drummer (at least as far as such things go) to Autokrator’s lineup?
Loïc.F: Oleg, our first drummer, moved several times after the first album was released, so he was unable to train and play the drums.
The drummer on The Obedience to Authority wasn’t dedicated at all. He plays in a lot of projects, and AUTOKRATOR wasn’t his priority at all.
On Hammer of the Heretics we collaborated with Kévin Paradis, one of the best drummers in the world.
Kevin is a hard worker and a professional. I hope we’ll collaborate with him again in the future.
IMV: Autokrator was signed to Iron Bonehead for your self-titled debut, but it didn’t take long for you to move past having that kind of label support into starting your own Krucyator Productions. What (presumably) do you find preferable about releasing your own music instead of working with a label?
Loïc.F: Iron Bonehead is honestly the best label I worked with throughout my career. Unfortunately, the first LP sold badly so the collaboration ended.
As I love to control everything I do, I created KRUCYATOR PRODUCTIONS to release my own stuff.
I finally took the game and released other stuff from bands I love.
IMV: Okay, so let’s talk about Hammer of the Heretics. To my ears at least, it feels like a slightly more ‘focused’ effort (for lack of a better term) compared to your first two albums. There are still some black and doom metal influences at play, but overall it seems like the closest thing to a straightforward death metal album that Autokrator has done (though I definitely wouldn’t call it ‘accessible’ by any means). Did you approach the songwriting for this album any differently than you did your first two full-lengths?
Loïc.F: It’s true, we wanted Hammer of the Heretics to be straightforward.
We left the industrial and drone elements aside to record a pure blackened death metal album.
We had different goals on this album: to record the best AUTOKRATOR album, to have the best production possible, and to make our music more versatile.
It’s the first time we played such long songs, with tempo variations, breaks, and more complex structures.
And each song had its specificity.
So the songwriting was influenced this way, although the writing process is the same from the start.
IMV: I’d like to delve a bit into the themes you address in your lyrics, which seem to focus largely on governmental oppression, much like your lyrics did with N.K.V.D. The word ‘autokrator’ (αυτοκράτωρ) translates from the Greek as ‘Caesar.’ That ties in with the themes of Autokrator, which lyrically references the abuses and excesses of the Roman Empire. Your second album The Obedience to Authority seems to deal more broadly with authoritarian/totalitarian state-sponsored violence, including a track that could be referencing the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA has been known to use at their various black sites. What initially drew you to this subject, and why have you stayed with it for all of your recorded output thus far?
Loïc.F: With N.K.V.D and now with AUTOKRATOR, I like to deal with the darkest sides of humanity through history. We show what can’t be hidden: all themes are based true facts.
The authority and will to power play an immense role in the history of humanity. To me, those values are the deep reasons of wars and conflicts: religion, conquests, ethnical differences are only hidden justifications.
I’ve always been fascinated with history, so it became natural to me to speak about history in songs.
And it’s also a way for me to keep in mind that freedom and peace are priceless.
IMV: Following up on that last question, the first track you’ve made available from Hammer of the Heretics does seem like a bit of a thematic departure from your previous albums. “Against Flesh and Blood” references the Knights Templar, and specifically mentions sixteen of them by name in the lyrics. Are the Templars the focus for the entire album? Given their complicated history, I’m curious as to how they fit in with Autokrator’s running authoritarianism/oppression theme. I can see how they might be considered both oppressors and, in light of how the order met its end, seriously oppressed.
Loïc.F: “Against Flesh and Blood” is about Christians Duties in The Holy War, with lyrics based on the Bible – Ephesians 6:12.
“Le Sang Impur” is based on Rouget de l’Isle’s “La Marseillaise,” a patriotic, rebellious war song which later became France’s hymn.
“Hammer of the Heretics” is about Tomas de Torquemada, a Spanish inquisitor.
“Inquistio-Denunciatio-Exception” is an inquisitorial procedure based on real questioning transcriptions.
AUTOKRATOR’s themes are not inevitably linked to oppression, and we like to have different themes from one album to the next.
I lived in Paris for 8 years, and I’ve been back in my native region, Occitania, for two years.
Occitiania’s past is heavily linked to the Knight Templars and the Inquisition, so it’s a personal tribute to Occitania. And “Le Sang Impur” is a personal tribute to my country.
IMV: The members of Autokrator are spread out geographically, which has become something of a norm for bands these days. Still, I can’t help but be fascinated by the way that distance impacts the recording process. I notice that in the notes for Hammer of the Heretics, all three of the primary musicians who play on the album are given recording credits. Were the three of you ever in the same room together at any point while working on Hammer of the Heretics? Assuming not, what are the challenges of working that way? Or do you actually find it easier?
Loïc.F: We’ve never been in the same room recording. I could have done it with Kévin, who lives not far away from me, but I need solitude to get the best out of myself, so I prefer everyone to record on his side.
It’s not really difficult, as I give direction to the other musicians, and everyone interprets them with his “touch” and style.
David plays and creates a lot of music, and had the desire, from the start, to be only an interpreter in AUTOKRATOR, so it’s really easy to work with him. I only gave a general direction to Kevin, and gave him “carte blanche”. And he did better than I expected…
IMV: The artwork for Hammer of the Heretics is horrifying – which, of course, I mean as a compliment. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time you’ve handled the artwork for one of Autokrator’s releases. What made you decide to do it yourself this time? And can you talk a bit about the concept behind the art?
Loïc.F: I already did the layout of The Obedience to Authority, which was technically arranged by Tryfar.
The artwork on Hammer of the Heretics is composed of photographs from Elena Samko, a Russian artist, who gave us the permission to use it.
I wanted from the start a bloody and cruel design. The concept was to show how would Inquisition look like in 2018.
The artwork is divided in 4 parts: The tortured (cover and CD), the Faith (left panel), the Heretic (tray) and the Religious (back cover).
IMV: As far as I can tell, Autokrator has been primarily a studio project up to this point. Is there any chance of the band playing live behind Hammer of the Heretics at some future date?
Loïc.F: There is no chance to see us live. AUTOKRATOR is a studio project, I have neither the time nor the desire to play live.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artists – is there anything else you’d like to add?
Loïc.F: Thanks for your interest in AUTOKRATOR.
You can have a listen to Hammer of the Heretics (once it is released on April 10), our previous works, and other KRUCYATOR PRODUCTIONS releases (N.K.V.D, MITOCHONDRION, AUROCH, PAROXSIHZEM, DRAWN AND QUARTERED, MISERIST, PROFANE ORDER) here.