Interview with Gualter of KARSERON
Describe the history of the band from the beginning, and how long the current lineup has been together.
Hell-o Dave and everyone at Autoeroticasphyxium Zine. Well, to keep a very, very long story as short as possible: we started back 1992 with me (Gualter) on Guitars and Rui Frade on Drums. We tried a lot of different people over the years and it was never easy to find the right persons (coming from a small town with not that much people into Metal). For a couple of years we worked as a three piece, with Custódio playing Bass and me also doing vocals, until 1995 when we found a second guitar player (Nelson). Unfortunately life tends to get in the way of the way we plan things and in the early 2000’s Nelson and Rui left the band. We did manage to find replacements for a short period of time, most noticeably with Pika on second guitar (being a six piece until 2004) and in 2004 we changed the lineup again: Lois became our lead singer. This was the first time we resorted to a drum machine to keep the band going and play live. We also tried a couple of drummers throughout the years but things didn’t work out. Our last noticeable lineup change (not counting the drummers) was back in 2010, when Custódio left the band due to the increased work load with his other band and Nuno came aboard. Nuno had already played with us before in a few gigs that Custódio couldn’t. Even with all these changes, we kept playing live regularly and working on music. So Pika has been with the band for 18 years, Lois for 14 and Nuno for 8.
Describe the meaning of the term Eborae Death Metal and how it’s associated with the band.
“Eborae” is a Latin word roughly meaning “From Ebora” (Latin name given to our home town by the Romans was Ebora Liberalitas Julia”. This is a small town with all the benefits and hardships that come with it. We do believe that there’s a significant impact on us as a band that we faced throughout the years, even if not directly in our music, on us as individuals. It’s a place filled with history, dating back to the Neolithic period. A lot of different cultures made this place their home, with a strong Lusitanian, Roman, Visigoth, Arab and Christian presence throughout the centuries, most visible today in some monuments. During the late XVI century it was one of the most important places in Portugal, a hub for Culture and Arts. Unfortunately this “old glory” faded in the last centuries, and there’s always a feeling of “what we were and what we become”. Lack of employment, a bit of geographical isolation and the feeling of a dismal future and things present even today. This becomes part of our character as individuals and as a result, of our music. So it made some sense to us that we would describe our music as our town: a mix of influences and feelings, the urge to endure against every circumstance even if will little hope for better days.
How much research did the band do the origins of Eborae? Why was this research important to you?
Actually, this is something we don’t have to research, it’s an almost constant presence in everyday life. Besides the visible legacy these cultures left, most businesses do adopt or incorporate part of this History into their names (from restaurants to shops, to cultural associations and even some industry) and we learn about it in school. Plus, since 1986 it’s a Unesco World Heritage. As you can imagine, that was a big deal, not only locally but nationwide. Over the years a lot of books and TV documentaries have been produced about the town’s history. Every time there’s some construction/renovation done, they find something with archeological interest. It remember as a kid hearing order people say “there are countless towns beneath this town”. So you are kinda “force fed” this knowledge of myths and historical accuracy of a glorious past which clash with the “now”.
There’s a certain melancholy when you are in your teen years, have this knowledge of the past and look into the future with no hope. Lack of jobs, isolation (both physical in terms of accesses and political regarding investment of public funds), even some prejudice towards stuff like long hair and Metal does cause a big impact you you. We are almost just a product of the environment we grew up in. That played a big part in starting Karseron back in 1992 and staying firm against every curved ball we had to deal throughout the years.
What documentaries about Eborae would you recommend people watch to know more?
I believe the most known ones will be from Prof. José Hermano Saraiva, a Portuguese historian who had over the years countless programs on national TV about Portugal’s history. Although he was known to “romanticize” History a lot, he was a big reference for anyone with an interest in History. Here’s a few:
How well known is José Hermano Saraiva as a historian? In what ways is he known to “romanticize” history? Despite those claims of romanticism, how accurate is his research?
He was most likely the best known historian of the last forty years, especially for the common Portuguese. He was also a lawyer and the Minister of Education during the Dictatorship and is said to order a “strong hand” against the 1968 student riots. If we forget that past, most academics have two strong arguments against him: One would be that he favored poetry over facts, speaking to the common man and not to the scholars; the other would be the lack of innovation: some look at him as a parrot, who recited what others had found out, without adding any real knowledge.
For me, he was an eloquent character who made me want to know more, and I’m pretty sure most of the new historians in this country developed a taste for that subject because of him. It’s always good to remember that even past events aren’t that “set in stone”, everyday new discoveries and technologies shed a new light on the past: what always remains is the myths and legends that awake our passions. “Truth” is a very funny and volatile thing…
While exchanging emails you said the band doesn’t have a drummer and relies instead on programming and multi-track recording.
Yes, that’s true. When we first lost our drummer in 2004 we resorted to a drum machine just to keep rehearsals going and to be able to do some live shows we had already planned. It was supposed to be a temporary solution but it worked great and just dragged itself… Since then we had two different drummers (about three years each), but on the long run things didn’t work out. Both Jef and Miro are excellent drummers but they had different views than the rest of the band, so we parted ways. After Miro left in 2013, the four of us sat down and came to the realization that “if it ain’t broken…” We have been friends for a long time (besides playing together), all share the same vision regarding the band, and even live work better this way. Doesn’t mean that having a drummer is out of the question but it’s not something we lose sleep over. I program around 80/90% of the drums and play the rest on an electronic kit, just to give it a more “humane feeling”. Live we are now using a multi-track recorder (it’s actually the third one) so we can adjust on the fly individual drum levels and Eq.
Some people do give us crap about not having a drummer (especially live), but it has worked in our favor: less stuff to carry, less time setting up, always a great drum sound and overall we sound tighter.
How did the band’s approach to with drum programming help the material on your latest full length Nail Your God Down? What equipment did you use recording the songs in the studio?
On one hand it did solve a budget issue studio wise: not having to record a real drum kit enabled us to “home record” and to take our time with the recording/mixing process. It also helped with composing, as we did a few “demos” of the songs, with different drum patterns and decided what fit best. Although we cannot discard the input our previous drummers had in some of the songs, especially in the small details. Throughout the years we’ve been investing in studio gear, nothing very high end but good enough to have a decent sound. We used Cubase 6 and 8 as DAW, Superior Drummer 2 and an Alesis kit for the drums. For guitars we used a Peavey Ultra 120 Tube Head and the classic SM57 and a Boss Gt-8 and a GT-6B for bass. Vocals were done using two AKG condensers (one large diagram and a small one). Some other rack gear (preamps and compressors) and some plugins, mainly freeware stuff. We tried to keep processing to a minimal, much of what you hear is just some Eq. and my shortcomings as a studio engineer. It was also a learning experience and I’m sure our next recording will be better.
You told me via email there was a twelve year gap between your 2005 release Krux Krucis and Nail Your God Down. Did you play in other bands from your native Portugal during that time?
Well, that gap in recordings was due in part to having two different drummers, having them learn some songs we already had in the works and trying to figure out our options regarding recording possibilities. We kept rehearsing, writing new music and playing live, so we never had a break with the band’s work. Custódio (our previous bass player) recorded and toured with PROCESS OF GUILT, Pika and Nuno are professional musicians (most of their work is live and outside the Metal genre) and Lois has had some Electronic music projects and DJing. As for me, I recorded bass and vocals for the last three ALASTOR records (“Demon Attack” (2011), “From the Hellish Abyss” (2013) and the recent released “The Dark Tower” (2018)).
Which albums by Process Of Guilt did Custódio appear on, and how often has he toured with them? Is he still working with them?
They have the same-lineup since the beginning, so Custodio has recorded every of their releases. I think they do about a Tour a year, besides individual concerts. It was this workload that made us part ways.
How many bands has Pika and Nuno been involved in besides Karseron?
Nuno plays in the Academic Band of the University of Evora and also has a very active band called “Bossa Morna”. I know that he also does some work as a guest musician now and then. Pika has one cover band at the moment and also does some session work.
Name some of the electronic projects Lois has worked on and where they can be streamed at social media.
His main project was called “Zylth Project” but he ended it early this year, after twelve years. You can check it at https://www.facebook.com/zylthprojekt30388/. He also has/had another one with Pika called “Panzer Vector”, on a more Industrial vibe. I and he have also started a collaboration together, more of a Martial/Industrial/Spoken Word but it’s still too soon to publish any work.
How were the Alastor releases you appeared on received by fans and the underground press? How much more material does this band have out?
Alastor is one of the side-projects of Decayed’s founder J.A. and the band has released six full-lengths as well as some EPs. I worked on the last three and also played live on the only show so far (alongside Necrodeath and Witchburner back in 2007). Reviews by media and reception by fans has been great, even if we are talking about a gender that’s not that popular anymore (Blackened Thrash). Some people love the 80’s vibe, others do say that “we aren’t re-inventing the wheel”, ah ah. It would be nice to have a little more exposure but that’s hard, not only because J.A. is always busy with Decayed and his million other projects, but also because the current drummer lives in Switzerland… BTW, we already a new album almost done and I expect it will see the light of day in early 2019.
Did working in those other bands give you additional experience that helped you work together in Karseron?
Of course, as the old saying: “Practice makes perfection”. Besides giving and requiring from us more technical proficiency (making us step outside our comfort zone) it also adds some “color” to our music as we do “borrow” some ideas that usually aren’t that common within Death Metal. On the other hand it also serves as a sort of “creative outlet” for things that do not actually fit within Karseron.
How advantageous to the band is recording at a home studio instead of a professional studio? Where is your home studio located? Do you always record independently or do you sometimes have producers, mixers or engineers visit?
Well, the most obvious advantage was budget: once the initial investment was done, recording at our home studio just costs us time. Second was time-wise: we manage to take our time in getting things done without having to worry that any re-tracking would cost us and the studio more money. That also ends up making for a more relaxed work environment, once you know that you don’t have to settle for an “almost perfect” take in order to save money/ studio time. But that benefit does work as a downside too: you tend to “overwork” things, being recording 10 different guitars or spending a week or a month just choosing your snare sound…
Our main studio is in Sintra, since I’ve relocated in 2005 due to professional/ personal reasons and was lucky enough to be able to have a dedicated room within my house just for that. It’s not really open to other bands, besides our personal projects.
This was the first time that we recorded on our own without any outside interference (not counting our rehearsal released back in 94 and the 2003 “best of”). In the past, we usually went into studios that we could afford and that granted us two things: a good sound and some liberty when it came to production. The idea of a producer always sounded a bit strange to us: we don’t care if “Riff A” would sound better with “Riff C” than with “Riff B” or if we should play said riffs x or y times: it may sound weird but we think of our songs as things that do tend to have a life of their own and kinda write themselves. Sometimes we work on a song for months and we are all happy with it and one day we just play it different. And we realize that an “ok” song we had just became “great” (to our ears at least). I know that maybe a producer could point that out to us in the beginning and maybe we are just stubborn, but this is the way that feels natural to us…
We have worked with professional studios and engineers/ mixers in the past that we thought were good and could afford. None of them had any experience recording Metal at all and that turned out to be a plus for us (we were the only Death Metal band for a long time in our town and nearby). We had total creative control and just relied on the engineers to transpose our vision into a great sounding recording. There have been some interest from people outside the band in working with us recording wise, so maybe in the future we’ll do it…
Describe the recording process for Nail Your God Down and how having creative freedom has helped give the band their own identity. In what ways is it an improvement from Krux Krucis?
Well, we always had creative freedom, but it’s very different recording a band with six members and then a four piece, being it terms of time and money or keeping everyone happy, ha ha ha.
The recording process was very similar to what we had done in professional studios: after the drums are ready, I recorded my guitars, then Pika and Nuno recorded their guitars and bass tracks and finally Lois and I did the Vocals. I then went back to the drums and recorded some parts myself, just to give a bit more of “human feeling”. Some of the Samples we used were done after the drums and some were added after everything was already recorded. Each session took about two days and although mostly was done with 2/3 takes, we did go back some times as changed a bit here and there and changed a few things from the initial plan. Sometimes ideas come as you are recording or just listening with more attention to how each of our parts sits amid the rest and decide to add or subtract small details. Having no pressure regarding time and money helps a lot, ha ha. Like I said before, we like to let the songs grow by themselves and as you are layering every part, bit by bit, the final image starts to reveal itself.
I would say that the biggest difference between “Nail Your God…” and “Krux Krucis” is the guitar sound. We were never too happy with the way guitars sounded and now we are a little step closer to what we want… There’s also the lack of keyboards now, and we worked more in the harmonies between the stringed instruments. Finally, there’s a difference in the vocals, since “Krux…” was recorded with our former lead singer (Mário LeKontra). Lois has a deeper growl, a bit more “American Death Metal” as some people say. Overall, we think we got a little definition between individual parts and less treble. Kinda like “Krux…” was recorded at Sunlight Studios and “Nail…” at Morrisound Florida, ha ha.
Which studio do you prefer between Sunlight and Morrisound? Which producers have you worked with who most understands the band?
Great albums have been recorded in both and I would take the opportunity without in a blink of an eye, to record in any, if the opportunity ever came up. We do however prefer the Florida guitar sound and overall production…
With no discredit to everyone who has worked with the band, I would point out João Cágado, with whom we recorded “Frozen Tears”: despite he never had worked with a Metal band, he did manage to capture who we were back then. Even if we had some hard time “sell him” ideas life quad-tracking guitars tuned to “B”, ha ha ha. We even made a lot of jokes about the fact that I had to write the key names on the keyboard to record the keyboards, ha ha.
What about the guitar sound in Florida death metal, and the Florida death metal sound in general, do you appreciate?
Well, it just sounds “ballsy”, more focused on the Low End. If you go back and listen to stuff like the early Deicide or Morbid Angel stuff it’s just a wall of sound, heavy but still intelligible. There’s also a very strong sense of individuality, regarding the music and the production. If I had to pick a favorite, “Once Upon The Cross” by Deicide has one of my favorite productions ever.
Regarding the above question, some people think death metal vocalists are untalented and just scream into a microphone. By firsthand experience, how much do you know about the discipline needed to be a death metal vocalist?
Well, if it was that simple, everyone would do it, ha ha. Overall, singing isn’t easy, regardless if it’s clean or screams of gutturals’. It takes training and dedication, much like any other instrument. Also, sometimes it can be a bit tricky to “find space” in the music for the voice, so things like metrics are also a very important part. Besides the technique involved (so you don’t damage your throat), for me it’s also important to find your own voice and not just sound like your idols.
How many differences in technique do you see among death metal vocalists these days?
Besides the “pig squeals” in “Happy Grind”? Not many I’m afraid… looks like gutturals are long since gone from Death Metal, with some honorable mentions and everyone took the Swedish Road… Also, How many Death Metal bands can you still identify just by listening to the vocals?
Who in the band wrote the lyrics for Nail Your God Down, and what are the songs about?
I wrote most of the lyrics as a first draft and then I sit with Lois and see what fits better with the vocal performance or even in terms of “poetic flow”. Sometimes I’m stuck in a part and we brainstorm a bit to get the full lyric done. And this can be done before or after we have the music. As for concept and without going into much detail of explaining each one individual, it comes down to our feelings and life experience. We deal mostly with the negative, the sense of loss, individual liberty, depression and madness. All wrapped with metaphors, most of them drawn from a religious sense of impending Doom. Although we did not print the lyrics on the CD, anyone can drop us an email and we’ve gladly share them, and someone does identify in some way with what we are saying, cool. If not, well it doesn’t really matter to us, hahaha.
In what ways does your latest work demonstrate how Karseron has progressed to this point?
Well, it’s been a year and a few months since the release and still some reviews pop out now and then. Sales were consistent with what we had planned, so it’s now available for free download. But guess we’ll keep on promoting it as long as there is interest in it, ha ha. We are planning also to make available at our Bandcamp (for free) a little “blast from the past”, never made public before.
Some people have told me that rather a progression, we did a “regression”, ha ha ha. Not something we dwell about. It’s us, crystalized in a moment or period of time, like every other recording before it.
Regarding a future work, I would say we are about 20% in. We are working on about four or five things that might morph into songs, but no plans regarding recording/release. All we know for sure is it won’t take twelve years!
How do you imagine your listeners will respond to your new material when they hear it?
Truth be told, it’s not something me or the rest of the gang loses sleep over. Some people like us know, some no longer do, because they say that we have changed a lot between all our recordings: that is in part true as we see no point in always doing the same thing: we’ve done three minute songs with three or four riffs in the past and we’ve done fourteen minute songs with riffs that most bands could release a double album, ha ha. As I’ve stated before, we NEED to make music and it come to us when and how the muses decide. There’s no plan and very little boundaries when it comes to our music? Will we start playing Jazz or EBDM? Not likely. This is what it is because it needs to be this way and I’m pretty sure we will always be comfortable in labeling it Death Metal.
As for what we already have as songs/song pieces, other (Metal) influences maybe more present but we are confident that anyone who has followed us the past two decades will find common ground. Identity, if you don’t mind my cockiness.
How do you intend to promote the release of the new album? Will you be working with labels or distros?
Unless a new tech revolution happens in the meantime, most likely as we’ve done in the past: mail out some promos, do a few interviews, a few gigs, and some promotion throughout social media. Not really an elaborate plan for World Domination, ha ha. As far as labels and distros, there are some of the later that have shown interest in working with us. In the past, present and future and whenever possible, we are always up to discuss distribution on a short scale. As for labels… well I think most bands our size can perfectly go on without them.
Can you indicate the distros you have most consistently worked with that will help promote the album?
Without prejudice to any other, I would like to point out “Bunker Store”. Besides being a distro, they are a physical shop (located in Porto) dedicated to rarities and other low key releases. Manuel and José are good friends and amazing people that care a real Underground spirit, more than just doing business. And although we aren’t working with them at the moment, “Vomit Your Shirt” (Distro/Label), “War Productions” and “The Dead Store” area few others that have been around helping built the Underground Scene in Portugal for decades!
Is there a title for the next full length yet, or are there song titles you want to reveal prior to its release?
We have exchanged some ideas among ourselves regarding possible names and concepts, but besides a few working ideas already with titles (usually we come up with a name/concept at the same time we start to work on the riffs) nothing is set in stone yet.
How much more development has to go into the lyrics and accompanying music before the album is complete?
There’s still a lot to do, ha ha ha. It might be a couple of months before we have a clear plan of how it’s gonna shape itself.
How much of an impact has death metal had on popular music since the early 1990s? What sort of an impact do you hope Karseron will have on the genre?
I think even with the ups and downs in terms of popularity, the impact that Death Metal has had in music is pretty much evident… It has spread across the globe, and has become to some extent part of a fringe of popular culture. Besides the ones that keep being “trve” to its origins, experimentalism and flirting with Death Metal has crossed even the frontiers of Metal in general. New bands are formed every day and we keep seeing newer generations’ embracing Death Metal in all of its forms. As for our impact… well, it impacts our daily lives and that’s something we are pretty happy with in.
Did it come as a surprise that death metal has been accepted in the mainstream?
Well not really. Artists and fans alike are always looking for more “extreme” ways to express themselves and as newer generations dive into music, what was once considered “too much” starts to become familiar and more or less accepted as “normal”. And as the novelty of the most recent approaches to Metal dies off, people tend to look back, to trace the origins. We’ve seen this happening with Heavy Metal Vs Rock, Heavy vs Thrash, Thrash Vs Death, Death vs Black? For me the “No Metal” of the early 2000’s was a clear reflection of that: kids do find that shit to be more brutal than bands like Bolt Thrower, ha ha ha. It’s also one of the lesser strict forms of Metal and that does help to its popularity. What are the boundaries of Death Metal? I can’t really think of none…
In how many different ways has death metal in all its subgenres changed your lives for the better?
I would say Metal in general help us to find a common ground of existence and a creative outlet. That feeling of hopelessness and disenchantment towards the World/ life is perfectly reflected in Metal and mostly on its more “extreme” end, that vision is clear. Also, the technical part of it played a significant role: a perfect balance between brutality, technicality and “catchiness”.
Any final acknowledgements you want to make on behalf of the band?
Thank you Dave for your support and interest in our work. It’s always nice when people take time of their lives to try and understand our drive and work, especially when they are good communicators like yourself. Hail and Kill!