Canadian oriental melodeath band AETERNAM is releasing its new album, “Al Qassam” on 27 March 2020, and we had quite an extensive and profoundly interesting chat about the release with the lead vocalist and guitarist, as well as the mastermind behind the project, Achraf Loudiy.
Hello there! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. You are about to release your fourth full-length album, “Al Qassam”; what are your thoughts on the finished product?
Hi there! First of all, thank you for this interview invitation.
Well, recording this new album has been quite an intense process. We used to record albums at Badass Studio with Jef Fortin as the main producer, but sadly he lost his studio because of the flood that hit his city. So we had to track everything ourselves. Considering that we don’t have all the necessary gear and a place to do it properly, it was a pain in the ass to get everything ready. Nevertheless, Jef traveled to Quebec City to help us with the drum setup and that was great of him.
And then, Chris Donaldson offered to do the mix and mastering for us, which we happily accepted considering how experienced and talented he is.
As with any of our albums, every aspect of the recording process is hugely important. We wanted to bring the band a step ahead, so we invited a lot of guest musicians to collaborate so we can get the most real orchestrations possible.
I think that the final product is great! It sounds dynamic and well-balanced. That made the bass guitar pop a little more in the mix which is not always the case in death metal albums and the orchestrations bring the epic aspect of our sound to a new level.
For the first time as a singer, I can say that I am quite happy with my performance. I used to take time off from work and travel to Montreal to sing the whole album five days in a row, and that couldn’t let me be at 100%.
Since we recorded this one in Quebec City, I was able to sing parts of songs per day and that changed everything!
How would you describe your music and sound to anyone who may not be aware of the band, and how does the new album fit into that?
We are an oriental metal band. And by oriental, I mean every oriental musical background can be an inspiration for us to create a sound. Orchestrations and ethnic instruments are a big part of our sound signature.
We also like to introduce some tribal sonorities and experiment with different languages in the music. Using a certain language can give the song a rather unique atmosphere and I like that a lot!
The foundations of songs are based on melodic death metal, but we always like to experiment with different vibes and try to make the albums heterogeneous. Why? Because we like albums to bring us different sensations while we are listening. That said, our songs gain cohesion thanks to the orchestral and oriental aspect.
Could you shed some light on what has been going on with the band in regard to a label deal?
We always send our albums to major and selected mid-sized labels prior to announcing the release date, but sadly we never have a positive response from them. However, I think that nowadays, we can do just as well as an independent band. As a team, we can work out every aspect that a label can do by ourselves thanks to contacts, our devoted fan base, and of course, the internet.
Sure, a label makes it super easy to get tours and festival appearances, but we are always trying hard to get heard and hopefully get the band invited to shows/tours.
Would you consider “Al Qassam” a concept album, somewhat like what “Ruins of Empires” was? Can you explain some of the story behind it?
No, “Al Qassam” is definitely not a concept album. We already made one with “Ruins of Empires” and we didn’t want to write songs in a closed concept this time.
Every AETERNAM album is quite unique on its own. But if I had to compare this one with any of our previous releases, I would say it reminds me of “Moongod” in some way.
Each song on the album is about a different subject, but we wanted to highlight the story behind the song, “Al Qassam” (English – the oath), in our artwork. To my knowledge, witchcraft and demon possession like we see it in the Middle East and North Africa are things that have never been showcased in metal.
I went to Morocco back to my home city of Meknes and visited a place where they sell black magic items. I am not talking about a fancy hipster store. It’s in the deepest part of the traditional market. In Morocco, we have such a close connection with magic, even if it’s forbidden in religion. People believe it and keep casting spells to get what they need. And that had always marked me when I was younger, even if I don’t believe in such things.
I wanted to highlight the folklore of my hometown and make an allegory by showing how far someone can go to get what he wants, even if it costs him his life. That’s what we see in the music video when the actress makes a pact with Al Abyad (the white king) and gets killed.
What makes “Al Qassam” different from previous AETERNAM albums and how would you say the band has progressed with it?
In terms of production, I think it’s our best album on all levels. Chris Donaldson has done a tremendous job paying attention to the details and the use of real instruments enhanced the quality of the album a lot.
Musically, I think “Al Qassam” is a more diverse album than “Ruins of Empires.” Even if it may seem difficult at first listen to some, I think it is the most memorable album by its multiple choruses and anthemic melodies. Like every album, you have to give the brain time to tame the melodies and the concepts. It is also distinguished from other albums by the incorporation of more percussion and tribal elements.
Being of Morrocan origin, would you say that’s the biggest influence on your lyrics and musical style?
My influences are diverse. I have been eating metal for breakfast since I was a little child. I sincerely believe that my biggest influences come from the metal bands that rocked my childhood and my adolescence. I can’t deny that the background music that was playing at home was definitely Arabic and Moroccan music. I come from a family where you can have a meal around a table and my grandmother will start singing out of nowhere, then my mother will embark and the Moroccan party is on!
My mom used to put her Arabic music on while she was driving me to school day in and day out, so I guess that played a part in my singing abilities.
I always enjoyed reading my favorite artists’ lyrics and that has played a big role in my writing style. I am very interested in mythology, socio-political news, and especially science; that makes me read quite a lot.
There are a number of anti-Islamic themes in your lyrics, which is a rarity in metal as it’s largely focused on anti-Christianity when dealing with religion. How was your apostasy accepted by your family?
Well, I dealt with a lot of religious bullshit back in the time when I was living in Morocco. It took time for me to get the courage to speak out loud about it. Then when I moved to Canada, I felt a sort of relief and I had to shout out my apostasy so I could make peace with myself. That said, I don’t need to do it anymore and I always try to not disrespect people about their beliefs, but concepts are not people and they need to be discussed and criticized.
I don’t come from a rigorous Islamic background. My parents raised us in a sort of western Moroccan mixed culture. So they actually don’t care about my personal beliefs as long as I am not in trouble and doing well in my daily life.
The album features a guest appearance from Orphaned Land’s Kobi Farhi – can you explain how that collaboration came to be?
I have been an Orphaned Land fan for years, and I consider Kobi as one of my favorite singers and a great inspiration.
I was totally amazed when we had the opening spot on their latest North American tour with TYR. So we became friends on tour and kept in contact.
Later when we finished recording the demo version of “Palmyra Scriptures,” we thought it would be cool to feature Kobi at least for the chorus and then we sent him the song so he could consider [participating]. After listening, he accepted and did much more than the chorus.
It’s really one of the greatest collaborations we have ever done and I am so honored to be singing alongside one of my idols.
The album was, of course, already presented on the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise at the start of the year, essentially acting as a release show for Al Qassam; were you satisfied with the new songs in a live setting?
Yeah, it was such a great experience to share the album with the sailors on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. The fans, as well as the staff, have been so supportive to us since the first time we played there in 2018.
We had actually been invited to play only one week before the festival began, so we didn’t have much time to practice and we were not totally ready to play the new songs. So, we practiced every day and in the end, we managed to get the songs right. I am sure that after our next tour, the new songs will sound better live.
Why have you chosen Al Qassam as the first single, followed by Lunar Ceremony as the second released song of the album?
“Al Qassam” was natural to be chosen because it’s the album’s title track and we really wanted to make a creepy music video showcasing the concept of witchcraft and possession in the Middle East. Normally we would have chosen a “fan favorite” song to be the first single, not an aggressive song with Arabic lyrics. But the idea of having the talented actress and belly dancer Mahafsoun on the music video playing the role of the possessed was so tempting!
“Lunar Ceremony” is more like a progressive power metal song, exclusively with clean vocals. It’s probably going to please a larger audience and it’s one of my favorite AETERNAM songs. I really love the concept behind the lyrics where we try to highlight the process where a prophet supposedly gets a message from God and tries to replace an established religion with a new one, all for his own profit of control and power.
Mahafsoun is also starring in the video but as a belly dancer this time.
Soon after the album is officially released, you’re having a North American tour with WILDERUN who’ve been rather successful with their latest release. What are your expectations for the tour?
WILDERUN are absolutely fantastic! We discovered them in 2015 when they released “Sleep at the Edge of the Earth” and we totally fell in love with their music.
Maxime Legault [guitarist] owns a startup management company called Karhu Management and wanted to book the first tour with us and Wilderun co-headlining the US and Canada. So here we are ready to rock in April.
Even if we are unsigned bands, we think that we can gather a good audience for those selected shows since we all come from the east coast and because we built a decent fan base thanks to the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise.
Can you reveal if there are any talks of future tours yet, perhaps some shows in Europe in autumn?
Except for our east coast North American tour, we don’t have anything planned as of yet. As for Europe, we will talk with the Flaming Arts Agency and if they can give us an opening spot on a package that makes sense to us, we will do everything possible to get AETERNAM to Europe.
Our main goal now is to play festivals in Europe. It’s the ideal way to build a large audience, but it’s quite difficult when you are an unsigned band to get festival spots. Let’s hope for the best!
What other plans are there for Aeternam, long-term or short-term?
After releasing “Al Qassam,” we want to get tours and festival appearances, as I said. We also want to make a live music release and an unplugged show maybe. After that we will see where we are and move from there.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Many thanks to Tuonela Magazine for hosting this interview and to the fans reading it! If you want to support us you can preorder our new album and so much more on our IndieGogo campaign.
Hope to see you all somewhere in the world in 2020! Stay metal!
Interview by Didrik Mešiček