There are remarkably few bands who epitomize the icy grandeur of black metal quite like Cantique Lépreux. In fact, judging by their music, the Québec-based trio of Matrak (bass), Cadavre (drums), and Blanc Feu (guitars/vocals) must have winter encoded somewhere deep within their collective musical DNA. The band’s 2016 debut Cendres célestes was as raw and powerful as a polar jet stream, but with all the doleful atmosphere and majestic, tremolo-picked melodies that devotees of the second-wave Scandinavian style could possibly desire.
On November 30, Cantique Lépreux released their sophomore effort Paysages polaires on highly esteemed German label Eisenwald (pick up a copy here). Inspired by both the wintry landscapes of their native Québec (the title translates as ‘Polar landscapes’) and the writings of early 20th century Québécois poet René Chopin, the album takes everything that made their debut so breathtaking and distills it into a blackened elixir fine enough to be served to Boreas himself. Leaner and perhaps slightly more aggressive overall than its predecessor, the album also sees the band experimenting with more lush, Romantic sounding melodies. It makes for gorgeous, emotional listening, and solidifies Cantique Lépreux’s status as one of the elite practitioners of Métal noir Québécois.
I had the chance to talk recently with Blanc Feu about Paysages polaires and what it means to call yourself a Métal noir Québécois band. Check it out below – and if you haven’t yet, give the album a listen while doing so.
Indy Metal Vault: For starters, thanks for the interview. For as much as I enjoy Métal noir Québécois, I’ve talked to remarkably few bands from the scene. I think Délétère is the only one, and we didn’t really talk about Québec at all. So I want to start there – especially since the metal blogosphere has a tendency to exaggerate things sometimes. How closely knit is the black metal scene in Québec? Do the bands there actually claim the title Métal noir Québécois, or is that mostly an invention of metal bloggers due to Forteresse releasing an album by that name back in 2006?
Blanc Feu: I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the scene is closely knit. The thing is, there are not that many people among the Métal noir Québécois community, and we collaborate and create different projects. We also help each other on multiple levels, for example by lending equipment.
Another thing to consider is that you should not be called Métal noir Québécois if you don’t sing in French or don’t believe in Québec’s Sovereignty. Not all black metal bands from Québec could fit that description. Also, it’s not always clear which band is and which is not in terms of sound and atmosphere.
IMV: Regardless of how closely knit the scene is in general, it seems like bands from Québec have a connection to the landscape and history of the province that reminds me of the connection the bands from the Norwegian second wave and the current US Pacific Northwest black metal scenes have to their places of origin. What is it about Québec that inspires such creativity and fierce loyalty from its bands?
BF: I can’t say much for other bands, but in my case I’d have to mention that the vast landscapes, the ancient yet small mountains, and the many lakes and rivers play a huge role. It is easy for us to get away from the city and get lost in dense woods. The wilderness is all around us.
About the history, there are so many frustrating moments that it’s ridiculous. Canada tells us to let go of it, to forget about “old quarrels” between the French and English, but in fact they are so often reproducing the same things, like limiting access to education in French in different provinces. At the same time, our (provincial) school system is pretty pushy about Québécois learning English early in school, and most people can at least understand it and speak it, but that’s not really the case in the rest of Canada where you won’t find many people who can even introduce themselves in French. And to conclude, up until the 1960s you’d be told to “speak white” if you were a French speaker – referring to the fact that the slaves should speak the language of their masters. Fortunately, this has changed, but you can still easily find Québec-bashing and disinformation in the rest of Canada.
IMV: The members of Cantique Lépreux have a pretty lengthy history together: this is the fourth band the three of you have played in together, starting back in 2007 with Culte d’Ebola. Additionally, you and drummer Cadavre also play together as Au-delà des Ruines, and Cadavre and bassist Matrak also play in Forteresse (live drums and guitar respectively). How did the three of you first start making music together? Do your relationships go back further than Culte d’Ebola?
BF: Yes, we all met in Culte d’Ébola. Cadavre was our rehearsal space neighbor and one day we heard him playing Mayhem covers, so we knocked on the door and introduced ourselves. That was the start of it all.
IMV: I primarily associate Cantique Lépreux with wintry themes, so I was surprised when Google told me your name translates as ‘Leper Song.’ A number of the lyrics from your first album Cendres célestes mention lepers as well. It’s likely a coincidence, but Délétère has a recurring character in their ongoing narrative that’s a leper. What’s the connection there between leprosy and your otherwise frosty themes?
BF: In fact, that would translate to “Leprous hymn,” which is surreal but intended. Surrealists from the 1920s and modern Québécois poets have a lot of influence on my writing. So the connection with winter is in the way I present it – with twisted metaphors about sickness, for example. About the name of the band itself, you could say it represents black metal: a sick spiritual song, a curse that you cast upon the world.
IMV: I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Paysages polaires in the last couple of weeks, and it’s an absolutely stunning record. One of the things I think I appreciate about it the most is the way the band’s sound has evolved since Cendres célestes. It’s still very much in the same ‘fast and melodic’ mold of your first album, but there’s something in the melodies this time that strikes me as being a bit more…I don’t want to say ‘sentimental,’ but perhaps Romantic? It definitely feels more overtly emotional from a musical standpoint. Did you approach the songwriting any differently for this album than you did the first?
BF: Yeah, I like the term Romantic when it is used correctly. I mentioned the Surrealists earlier, but it is clear that black metal has a lot in common with the Romantic era. You know, very intense emotions and dramatic themes displayed in an extreme way. Also, I think the songs on Paysages polaires sound more lyrical, as there is more variety in the tempi. The songwriting in itself was not very different, as we had about four songs that were written at the same time as our first album. We reworked those and threw in some improvisation during rehearsal, then kept only what felt essential. This spontaneousness is probably what gives an overtly emotional vibe, as you mentioned.
IMV: The centerpiece of the new album is the three-part “Paysages polaires,” which takes its lyrics from the work of Québécois poet René Chopin. There’s not much information to be found about Chopin online – can you talk a bit about his work and why you were drawn to it strongly enough to use it in your music?
BF: I could not gather much information on him, but that doesn’t really matter. The reason is simple: the words themselves! The poem is pretty dark, the last part being about explorers dying in the cold. Also, it is important for us to share our culture through black metal. I have a couple of other ideas for texts to put to music, so this is only the beginning.
IMV: The production on Paysages polaires sounds a bit clearer than it was on Cendres célestes, which fits quite well with the music. Since you recorded and mixed both, what accounts for that difference in the overall sound? Were you aiming for something cleaner this time around?
BF: I did not aim for something cleaner, but definitely boomier. I think the main difference is that we entered a studio to record the drum tracks, since I wanted the amazing drum work of Cadavre to be noticeable. He’s so dedicated to the songs, and adds a lot of details…he’s a virtuoso, to be short. So we went to our friend’s studio, La Boîte Noire. He has lots of cool gear and sharp ideas. I also asked him to do the drum editing so I could have more time for the guitars, bass and vocals.
Then, I worked a lot with G (from Eos, Délétère and Crépuscule) to finalize the mix and do the CD mastering. It worked very well for Cendres célestes,and I can say that I don’t regret working with him again!
IMV: There’s something I’ve long been curious about regarding Métal noir Québécois, and even though you don’t seem to address the topic in your lyrics, you are a part of that ‘scene’ and may be able to enlighten me anyway. Quite a few bands from the region (most notably Forteresse) write lyrics that focus on nationalism and Québec Separatism. As you’re probably aware, the word ‘nationalism’ doesn’t have the best connotations here in the US. I know some black metal fans here in the States consider the Québec Separatist bands ‘sketch’ – kind of like a Canadian version of NSBM. Can you clear up what Québec Separatism actually is, and the influence it has on the black metal in the province?
BF: Ok, this is going to be lengthy. Fuck no, we are not related in any way to NSBM. Members of the bands in the Métal noir Québécois scene are NOT racists and NOT white supremacists. I’ll try to clear things up as best as I can.
First, you must know about our history to understand why Québécers would like to separate from Canada. I mentioned a bit about this earlier. For example, education: on many occasions since the end of the 18th century, laws were made to limit the access to education in French. This was done to alienate the Francophones from their culture and ultimately see them fade away into the English majority. This goal is clearly stated in the Durham Report of 1839 [Ed. note: Report on the Affairs of British North America by John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham – a Whig politician and Governor General of British North America], claiming that the two parts of Canada from that time (Lower and Upper) should be fused, which the Government did.
Then, let me ask you: what do you call mass immigration so that the local population becomes a minority and loses its political weight? Well, it happened a lot from the end of the 18th century on. I’m not talking about Indians, Arabs or Chinese. I’m talking about Americans (after the USA gained its independence), Irish, and Scots. Now, I’m not blaming people who came here to escape slavery (see the Underground Railroad) or famine, but I clearly am discontent about people who fled the United States because they wanted to be loyal to the British Crown (the Loyalists). Those people were resentful and moved their hatred of George Washington towards the French and Natives, their new scapegoats, who they blamed for everything and nothing and who were seen as a threat to the prosperity of the WASPs – except when they could be used as cheap labor. Attempts at emancipation by the Natives were violently contained, and the leaders executed. Not to mention that some Prime Ministers of Canada clearly wanted the eradication of the Natives.
The French endured similar treatment when trying to change the system. For example, they had rocks thrown at them during riots (1837), which lead to the Patriots Rebellion of 1837-1838. The leaders of the movement were exiled or executed. Some time later, Anglo-Canadians (Orangists) burnt the Parliament building in Montréal, as they felt that the French were spoiled for getting money to rebuild their houses that the British army had destroyed during said Rebellion.
The context is different in 2018, but to this day some people in Canada feel like they are our lords and that we should bow to them and their culture. In their mindset, Francophones and Natives still exist only because their ancestors did not do the job properly. To be short: we are seen as a hindrance. So, why not leave this country and have our own? The Natives endured much more than the French did, but that does not make our will for autodétermination less valid.
May I add that I don’t fear immigrants, and that I want them to be integrated into Québec society. What I fear most are people who can be bought, double-faced politicians, and the ignorant. The enemy is inside. Always has been.
Language is also a strong element of our identity. Since Québec’s modern nationalismdeveloped in the 1960s, we’ve heard lots of accusation of discrimination over laws to protect French and make it the sole official language of the province. The English-speakers (around 600,000 today) of Québec claimed it was racist, so the laws were revised and then became kind of ineffective. I mentioned earlier that French-speakers learn English and are functional within the language, but that’s not the case with most English-speakers. You still find people who can’t even do their groceries in French although they’ve lived here all their life. So who’s making an effort?
Let’s say I move to Japan…well, I will learn Japanese. If I go to Mexico, I will speak Spanish. To me, this is pretty basic: you respect the inhabitants, their customs, and their language. Why do people who were born in the province of Québec not even bother to learn French, but people who chose to move here do? Isn’t it being an asshole to think everyone else should adapt to you? That’s pretty funny coming from a minority who have access to many services (i.e. hospitals, schools, and universities) in English, which are services that Francophones in other provinces hardly have.
I don’t see myself as a conservative, and I’ve always been interested in the variety of cultures all over the world. It’s amazing that you have so many lifestyles, philosophies, traditions, folklores, and languages. If this isn’t the treasure of Humanity, then I wonder what is. That said, I oppose the efforts to make the world uniform. I do not want to see a “global” culture where we all eat the same, think the same, and act the same. Of course, being different means disagreeing over many subjects, or even being shocked by/judgmental about someone else’s culture, but that’s where we have to step out of our comfort zone. It’s fucking essential. In 2018, English is everywhere, especially on the Internet and in movies and TV shows. American culture is everywhere and takes such a large place, to the point that we don’t hear from the rest of the world. You can guess where I am going. We have been resisting that for a while!
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
BF: I think I took enough time! Thanks!