After being hailed as one of the most promising black metal bands of the new millennium with the release of 2007’s Il Était une Forêt..., Québec duo Gris have seemed content to simply bide their time with their second effort. Since participating in the Miserere Luminis project with Sombres Forêts back in 2009, no new material has surfaced from the band... until now. This month sees the release of À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée..., a massive, 80-minute double album that finds the group exploring unchartered territories and moving one step closer to the realisation of their ultimate vision. Grayson Hale spoke with the band about the new album, their relationship with Annatar, and why they don’t perform live.
(((o))): Your new album À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée... is absolutely fantastic guys, congratulations! It sounds like many years of hard work went into it...?
Gris: Thank you a lot. Yes, we have put much of our souls, time and energy into this album for the last two years. It was a physically and morally very demanding process. We dedicated ourselves entirely to it and just explored profoundly what we wanted it to be.
(((o))): There is a clear change in sound from the one on Il Était une Forêt... i with more classical and acoustic elements being introduced. Was this at all influenced by the positive reception to 'La Dryade' from the previous album?
Gris: No, 'La Dryade' didn't really influence our musical decisions for À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée.... At the time of IIl Était une Forêt..., we already knew that we wanted to incorporate more acoustic and sonically varied elements to the third album. It is part of the evolution inherent to the soul of Gris. We always tend towards new grounds and skies. And these acoustic and more world-music like parts are very important in what we create, we want them to speak for themselves as much as we want them to enrich the more "black metal" parts of our art. The idea is to add depth and dynamics to our music as a coherent whole. Our sound has certainly matured since Il Était une Forêt... (and Miserere Luminis) and has probably gained some wisdom.
(((o))): À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée... is split into two symmetric parts, with the track lengths and orderings very similar on both discs. What was the reason behind this?
Gris: The reason is quite simple! The album wasn't originally (and still is not) conceived in split parts. For most of the creating and recording process, we built and thought the album in one piece, until we realized we had too much music to technically fit on a single compact disc. So, we can say that the reason why it is split is purely medium-related and is not conceptual, but after realizing this, we tried to "assemble" things so they would present more elegantly while preserving the original length, order and purpose of the songs.
(((0))): The information sheet that comes with the new album reads: “Gris has but one quest: finding the balance between joy and despair.” This album certainly doesn’t sound as consistently cold and desolate as the last one, do you feel like you came closer to achieving your goal on À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée...?
Gris: Yes, it is logically one step closer in our view, though balance is not a static and achievable concept. "The balance between joy and despair" must somehow be to feel nothing at all, which is not what we propose. We want to live and create through joy and through despair, the movement and links between emotions are what is the most important for us.
(((o))): You collaborated with Annatar on the Miserere Luminis project and you obviously share very similar musical goals and ideas. How did you come to know him and what made you decide to work together?
Gris: Annatar has been a very close friend for many years. We met before Gris and Sombres Forêts existed. Our musical projects grew and evolved together, and though they clearly have some distinctive differences in their artistic and aesthetic approach, they share the same roots and core. For a long time, we had the idea of making a split album together, but as we got more involved into this process, the split album concept revealed itself as totally irrelevant for us. We just wanted to create something unique that would come from both of our bands, but that would also stand for itself. The result is Miserere Luminis.
(((o))): Speaking of Annatar, have you listened to the new Sombres Forêts album? It’s quite brilliant, his best work yet in my opinion.
Gris: Yes, we assisted much of its genesis, it is great. It is much more chaotic, oceanic and urgently heartfelt than our album. In fact, we are going to play this album live with Sombres Forêts this summer.
(((o))): There seems to be a lot of this melodic, atmosphere-driven depressive black metal coming out of Canada lately that sounds quite similar to both Gris and Sombres Forêts. Do you consider yourselves a part of a scene or movement at all?
Gris: No, we don't really feel as a part of some movement or scene. We work and develop our ideas mostly on our own, it is a very inward-oriented experience. There are some formal similarities between what we do and what other depressive black metal bands do, but we don't think most of them share our artistic stand-points. And it's not good or bad, it's just different.
It is not that we refuse to be a part of some movement or whatsoever, but it just doesn't happen this way for us.
(((o))): It’s especially obvious from the new record that you have a lot of influences outside of black metal. What inspires you? I would imagine the landscape plays quite a big part in the atmosphere you create?
Gris: Our inspiration came from various spiritual cultures and ways to picture the soul and the purpose of the soul (Samsara / Moksha). Alchemy is also an omnipresent symbolism through the album, even if it is not depicted in a classic way. The transubstantiation of the soul into light through the act of burning, the choice of the stars. Existence, and it all can imply, is at the center of this album. Musically, most of our inspiration came from various film music composers and world-oriented sounds. Parts of our sound come as much from artists like Christian Scott as from bands like Deathspell Omega, but in the end we think, we achieved a whole that is more like us than like anything else.
More generally, we are inspired by art, beauty, sadness, the world, smiles, sorrow, human devotion. The ability of the human heart to be transcended, its resilience through fear and failure, to incessantly become itself, truly.
(((o))): Does Gris ever perform live? If not, why not? I remember reading somewhere that you will only do so once your seventh and final album is released. Is this part of a vision you have for the band?
Gris: Gris does not play live for many reasons. The multiple layers of our music (mostly concerning À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée...) make it very difficult to adapt it for concerts, many musicians would be required. And even if we had enough musicians, we don't know if the end result would quite resemble the original music we created as a duo. For now, we don't have the necessary logistical and technical tools to achieve what we would want Gris to be as a live experience. But, future will tell...
(((o))): Is there anything you would like to add?
Gris: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.