Visitant By James Malone
I feel as though Arsis certainly fits into the ‘extreme metal’ or ‘death metal’ sub-genres. I do, however, feel as though we have always had influences outside of death metal and have brought these influences with us to the band. To me that is something that has always made Arsis special…it is death metal created by musicians who are NOT ‘death metal’ musicians. It has always allowed us to have a fresh take on the genre.
The new album is entitled ‘Visitant’ and the word visitant, in the sense that we are using it, is a rather old and uncommon term in English for apparition or ghost. Since the lyrical content of the record is almost entirely inspired by horror fiction it seemed like a good fit. The word is also vague enough that it leaves room for the listener to create their own meaning. Over the years I have grown fond of vague, one-word album titles that allow room for interpretation. Ultimately I want the listener to be able to internalize the art in some way and be able to figure out on their own what it means to them.
The writing process for this record was very similar to how the writing process has gone for almost all of our records. Typically when one of us writes a song we present a completed demo to the band. For instance, when I compose something, I typically show it to the band with all the guitars, some elementary drums and bass, and perhaps even some vocals. From there everyone has a chance to put their stamp on the song. Shawn will rework the drums as he sees fit. He may keep some of my ideas, he may not and the same goes with the bass etc. When someone else in the band composes it is also done in a similar manner to this. Up until We Are the Nightmare I was the sole composer in the band, but since then everyone has written for the band at some point and we always encourage everyone to write.
When it came time to write the lyrics for Visitant I found myself in a very different spot in terms of mental health and decided it was time to retire the self-loathing goth rock lyrics and take a different direction. I also found myself facing the imminent passing of my father and found myself looking at horror films for inspiration. I have always been a fan or horror films. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the theatre with my father and even as a small child he would take me to horror movies for father and son outings, hahaha. I can remember going to see The Keep and Children of the Corn with him in theatres when I was 3 and 5 years old (respectively). There was also the time that he took the entire family to see Elvira Mistress of the Dark in theatres when it was first released (I would have been 8 years old). He did make me cover my eyes through most of the movies, but these experiences definitely helped to foster my love of horror. The surreal imagery that is found in horror is something that I strive to recreate in my music. I want the music to be as dynamic and unsettling as a good horror flick. While the songs are ‘inspired’ by different horror films I am not exactly trying to tell a story with the lyrics. The inspiration comes more from the imagery of the films and how I feel it relates to the music.
In addition to this, I think part of the reason horror movies exist and are as popular as they are is that they help us deal with parts of the ‘human experience’ that are too ‘heavy’ or ‘troubling’ for us to deal with in real life…our own mortality or death is one of these. I lost my father to cancer this year and I think in a roundabout way choosing to focus on horror themes for this record was my subconscious way of dealing with his illness and ultimately his passing.
I have always tried to ‘write what I know’ for Arsis and I feel this is sound advice for anyone that aspires to share their art with an audience. Art that is insincere of contrived typically comes across as such. Writing from personal experience will certainly help your art find its mark.
When I first recorded the demos that would become Arsis it was literally just me and a drum machine. I knew that I needed to try to get my songs to a point that would be presentable to an audience wider than my immediate friends and family, so I channelled the creative writing exercises from high school for the sake of ‘getting it done.’ At nineteen I booked some time at a local demo studio, had a few drinks, and, half loaded, recorded my first attempt at extreme vocals. Before I knew it the project I started for fun was signing our first record deal and the vocals/lyrics that I had been doing for the sake of ‘getting things done’ were cemented as the voice of Arsis. It’s not a role that I was comfortable with at the time and I am honestly still not entirely in my element as a vocalist/lyricist, but it’s kind of a bit late to change things now.
For the initial round of Arsis songs, the lyrics consisted mostly of anti-religious and horror themes. To make money in college I would take gigs playing the guitar for a church near my university that was in need of musicians for their mass. I was not raised in a religious household so the experience was rather jarring. I was working on Arsis material during this time and I picked up on bits and pieces of the mass/liturgy that I used in a mocking manner in the lyrics I was writing. ‘Worship Depraved’ comes to mind as a prime example, the title itself is a play on ‘worship and praise’. The first line of the song is “Stained by the wine, a celebration of guilt in ordinary time.” In this line, we can find an allusion to the Catholic communion as well as comparing the mass itself to a sick celebration of ‘Catholic guilt.’ Growing up I was an avid fan of King Diamond/Mercyful Fate and was very inspired by some of his lyrics on Don’t Break the Oath. “We will make a fool of the priest and the dead boy’s choir will sing” is a line from Night of Unborn that always stuck with me. Lyrics like these also helped to inspire ‘Worship Depraved.’
When we were in the studio tracking the first album I had a few songs to finish up lyrics for and I chose to go with some rather depressing and personal ideas. These goth-rock inspired lyrics ended up being the dominating themes all of the Arsis albums up until the latest one. Other than some lyrics on Unwelcome, I have been the sole lyricist for the band. Noah contributed some ideas for Unwelcome and these lyrics fell right in line with the themes that we had been utilizing up to that point.
For the new album, I chose to go with a ‘horror fiction’ lyrical theme, but we already talked about this.
Interview by Alex Milazzo – Copyright 2019 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.