Belgian black metallers Saille first appeared on our radars when they released debut album ‘Irreversible Decay’ in 2011. The symphonic sextet are reappearing on our radars again in 2013, not as a mere metallic blip on the horizon, but as a cyclonic force, with the strength of unstoppable second record ‘Ritu’ backing them. I interviewed vocalist Dennie grondelaers, guitarist Reinier Schenk and founder/keyboardist Dries Gaerdelen about ancient paganism, death rites and the recording of a masterpiece.
Firstly; congratulations on completing an utterly stunning album. How was it recording ‘Ritu’? Was it more difficult than previous album ‘Irreversible Decay’?
Reinier: Thanks for your kind remarks. As a matter of fact, it went ridiculously smooth compared to the recordings of our debut album; we could hardly believe it. We recorded the drums at the very beginning of July and ten weeks later the final mix was completed and sent to Tom Kvålsvoll for mastering. I guess, since the vibe was right and every one of us aiming in the exact same direction, it paid off. Of course we had our share of some minor mishaps, but overall it was great working together and we’re extremely happy with the result.
‘Ritu’ is certainly a ferocious album, but it’s packed with melody and given an almost cinematic atmosphere. Was it always your intention to make something more than an average black metal album?
Reinier: I guess we just try to stand out and to keep things interesting; both for ourselves and for our audience. Besides all that, we have six band members, all with their own personality and vision. All those ideas and approaches add to our compositions. Since Dries started this band, he is responsible for the sound. The orchestral layers are very important for Saille, but it’s just as important not to overdo it; Saille still is a black metal band. It’s not easy to maintain the right balance.
In terms of aesthetics, you fascinatingly explore the ‘beauty of destruction’. It certainly comes across with Saille’s sound in ‘Ritu’. What instigated this passion in exploring the ‘beauty of destruction’?
Dries: For our debut I had been searching for a subject and fell for ‘The Beauty of Destruction’. No matter how terrible a disaster, there’s always something wonderful about it. How it looks, how strong it is or how it ends. Of course, that’s also something to be heard in the music; the intensities and the differences between the fast and the melancholic parts for instance.
With ‘Irreversible Decay’, the immediate connotation of the title is suggestive of an obsession or fascination with death perhaps. Thematically, how would you say ‘Ritu’ compares to the first album?
Dennie: As a matter of fact, ‘Ritu’ has nothing to do with its predecessor. The lyrics of ‘Ritu’ are by my hand, and deal about certain rituals, mostly rites that are connected to or lead to a certain death. We cover several cultures, from Mayan and Indian sacrificial rites to local folklore and a German exorcism ritual gone bad. And while I do tend to act rather autistic about the correctness of lyrics I also use fiction, we have two songs that are based upon the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.
‘Sati’ is a beautiful song. Is ‘Sati’ a reference to the custom whereby a widow of a recently deceased husband would throw herself onto her lover’s funeral pyre? Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the track…
Dennie: Spot on. In India it’s an old tradition that can be traced back to the Gods, where Sati (aka Dakshayani) immolated herself because her father disrespected her husband Shiva, hoping she would be reborn to a father that would have the respect she wished for. This evolved into the custom you mentioned. It has been subjected to bans for countless times, but hasn’t fully disappeared yet. Dries had a song with a musical theme that fitted perfectly with the topic, so it came very naturally.
Is Runaljod a reference to Norse culture and perhaps a little nod to the music of Wardruna?
Dennie: Spot on again. First of all, it would be a shame to write lyrics about rituals worldwide and ignore one of our own greatest stories; especially since Norse-Germanic mythology is one of my main interests. Runaljod is the retelling of a specific part of Hávamál; the poem where Odin suffers great self-inflicted torment to gain the wisdom of the runes. The topic has been used by hundreds of bands, but great stories are meant to be told. It also has some references to other verses, like Völuspá and I incorporated several so-called Kennings, a type of literary trope used in Old Norse poetry. The title is indeed inspired by Wardruna, and their album that I’ve often called one of the greatest records ever.
Saille definitely seems to have embedded some ancient pagan themes to its very core. What is most important to you thematically? What is at the very heart of Saille’s philosophy?
Dennie: The main theme on the first album was ‘the beauty of destruction’ and while it has evolved it’s still the main […] I guess ’emotion’, that and unrest. Thematically ‘Ritu’ is in perfect order with those emotions. Saille isn’t about happy dance tunes, it’s about hardship and pain, but meanwhile we try to wrap it up in songs that are as raw as they are beautiful.
The album cover of ‘Ritu’ – designed by Polish landscape artist Michal Karcz – is very atmospheric. What did you want to capture in the cover art? Did you give him a premise for it?
Dries: Indeed, Michal took care of the entire artwork, cover and booklet, like our debut. We were happy with the result of the first album and if possible, even happier with the creations for the new CD. He does his thing, we pick something we like and he adjusts it to fit with the concept. Once the artwork is finished I take over and complete the artwork, the lay-out and whatever is necessary. We are sincerely glad with the result. It looks great, especially since ‘Ritu’ comes as a digipack.
Are there any bands you are obsessed with at the moment? What’s getting playtime on your CD/vinyl player?
Reinier: Dennie and I are into Winterfylleth’s latest CD. I’m quite fond of the new Moonloop release (‘Deeply From The Earth’) too.
You’re playing some shows with Negura Bunget this month and it should give you an incredible chance to spread ‘Ritu’ across Europe. How are you feeling about it?
Reinier: Well, you can imagine we’re looking forward to it and since it’s our first tour with this band it should be quite the experience. Naturally, we really want to play the new setlist, containing more new tracks off the ‘Ritu’ album. We most certainly hope we can convince the audiences abroad. We’re still growing as a band and this is another step forward for us. And we want to sell lots of merchandise and CDs, of course.
What plans do you have for the year?
Dries: We recorded a videoclip for ‘Blood Libel’, which shall be released any time soon. The tour with Negura Bunget you just mentioned, some nice shows are coming up and also some festivals in the summer. We have a hell of a lot promotional activities in our schedule. This year we will do some intense gigging, that’s for sure.
Do you think you’ll cross the channel and play some shows in the UK?
Dennie: We are ready for it and we would love to cross the Channel for some shows. We haven’t got an invitation yet. It would be cool, ‘cause it’s always fun to play gigs in the UK and to drive on the other side of the road!
‘Ritu’ is out now on Code666.
Interview by Calum Robson.