Stygian by Philippe Tougas, François Bilodeau
Philippe Tougas: Atramentus is the god of winds in the shared Atramentus, Chthe’ilist, Eternity’s End lore. In the Atramentus album’s conceptual story, the sun dies, and this deity would be driven to madness by two other lesser gods of the names of Carcophanex & Sharos. To bring forth doom, death, decay and eternal winter onto The Perpetual Planes, the fictional world in which these events take place. Atramentus is based on the word “ Atramentous, “ but I altered the word’s spelling, so it sounds like an ancient god’s name in this manner.
The title of the album was initially ‘Stygian Dawning’ way back in the early 2010s. We decided to shorten it to ‘Stygian’ later because we decided that all song titles would contain the album title, much like three chapters of an ongoing tale. Having one word for this purpose made more sense if we were going to do this. The title refers to the death of the sun itself and the inescapable cold darkness that permeates this record.
Atramentus plays funeral doom metal in the same vein as the European bands that founded the genre in the 90s. The core of the band’s sound is inspired by bands such as Worship, Thergothon, Unholy, Funeral, Skepticism, Esoteric and the likes. However, the band has an eclectic side. It possesses many dark ambient and field recording elements and inspirations from the traditional heavy/doom/epic metal scene like Solitude Aeturnus, Warlord, Lordian Guard, Candlemass, early Solstice, Scald, Manowar, and even Hammerheart/TOTG era Bathory. All of which inspired the ideology, aesthetic, spirit and note choice of Atramentus. Vocally-speaking, my use of extremely guttural vocals is also inspired by what many Swedish and Finnish death metal bands did in the early 90s. The use of lengthy, epic guitar solos was inspired by the 80s Shrapnel Records school of guitar playing (Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker, Malmsteen, Joey Tafolla, etc.), only slowed down to a painful crawl. In addition, the aura of constant coldness present throughout the record can be attributed to our drummer/engineer’s involvement in black metal production with many bands of the genre and our mutual love for bands like The Ruins Of Beverast, Ulver, Emperor, Abyssum, etc. More than anything else, Atramentus draws inspiration from personal experiences, nature, past traumas, paranormal encounters and sleep disorders. To project a cold, nightmarish, miserable fictional world romanticised through storytelling inspired by Greek mythology and Christian mysticism, theology and eschatology. This is done to give a visual representation to accompany a dark, cold but eclectic sound firmly based in 90s funeral doom.
François Bilodeau: For ‘Stygian’, since I wrote the dark ambient parts, I was mostly influenced by musical artists such as Lustmord, Atrium Carceri, God Body Disconnect Council of Nine just to name a few. When I produce this kind of music, I need to be in a specific mood. I look at paintings from dark artists such as Beksinski and others. So I would put that as well in my influences. I am very much into dark atmospheric music in general, so it goes from funeral doom like Colosseum, to dark jazz, like Bohren & der Club of Gore, to classical like Shostakovich theatrical prog-rock like Devil Doll.
Philippe Tougas: Playing this genre grants us the ability to express a wide array of emotions, memories and thoughts in such a powerful and emotionally devastating manner that I cannot achieve through other genres.
François Bilodeau: I’ve been attracted to doom metal for a long time, especially the most extreme and atmospheric side of it. There is something about slow music that reaches my soul, unlike any other kind of music. I think it has the most potential for emotions and self-reflection. When you push sombre atmosphere to its extreme limits, you end up with something like dark ambient, and I feel like we genuinely needed this aspect in our album to transcribe the emotions we wanted and make the songs irradiate with them.
Philippe Tougas: The album concept/story is told much like a tale of old, or a legend conceived and said in ancient times. It takes place in an alternate timeline in the aforementioned fictional world called The Perpetual Planes, which ties two of my other bands together through the same lore. Set in the year 3XXX on alternate earth with a different geological composition. Society has regressed into oppressive medieval times ruled under the law of the land and the sword. The saga begins with a brief introduction of The Guardian of Atros Kairn. According to the lore established on the record, this nameless character is the last son of an ancient warrior clan and last resident of an ancient impregnable fortress that used to house entire generations of his forgotten lineage. On a quest to attain immortality and immortalise his bloodline in the throes of time, he undertakes a journey to retrieve a fabled sword that is said to have been bound to the sun-goddess Heeos. A sword that is said to encase the soul of an immortal god inside its hilt. Thus, this character travels land and sea and ascends into The Aaegian, the highest and most fearsome mountain in the world, to seek out his prize and become a god himself. After a two year long ascent into the mountain, he makes a blood pact with the lesser gods Sharos & Carcophanex that inhabited the mountain topside, making him forever bound to a weapon that would grant him his long-sought-after immortality. As such pacts often come with deception, the essence of the immortal soul encased within the sword would grant him immortality at the expense of others and at the great satisfaction of the lesser gods who in their contempt of the sun-goddess Heeos and inability to wield the sword themselves, specifically planned on this turn of events. In doing so, the essence of the sun goddess Heeos would vanish as it began flowing within the veins of a mortal being instead. Following this, the lesser gods would exact their wrath upon the other gods and humans alike, devouring the defenceless sun-goddess and ultimately bringing down the sun’s death and the arrival of eternal darkness unto the land. The three songs on the record are mostly told from the perspective of The Guardian Of Atros Kairn. A fearsome immortal warrior, now powerless as he watches the entire world crumble and die around him following a pact he would deeply regret, and his immortal, endless journey through utter desolation.
The first song ‘From Tumultuous Heavens’ tells of the death of the sun, the oppressive darkness swallowing land and sea and the waves of water and winds that would wash away men and beast alike with The Guardian Of Atros Kairn being the sole exception. Like a traumatised and powerless witness to a terrifying mass extinction event at the hands of merciless gods. Written during a dark autumnal evening during an episode of anxiety, dejection and disassociation, the lyrics and this song are somewhat of a metaphorical projection of what I felt at the time. I tend to associate colours and outdoor atmospheres with sounds, it is why the song and the lyrics have autumnal colours and an autumnal theme. It also explains why the track and the texts have such an oppressive and morbid tone.
The second track ‘In Ageless Slumber’ our dark ambient song, represents Autumn’s slow passing into perpetual Winter. It tells of The Guardian of Atros Kairn retreating into his ancestral impregnable fortress to seek refuge from the terrors of the outside world, death, doom and the wrath of the gods. In an attempt to self-isolate and sleep through the ages, the traumas he has endured in the first song come back to haunt him but in the form of nightmares and sleep paralysis episodes. His anxiety-fueled nightmares are so vivid and intense; he can perceive the outside world through astral projection, witnessing both the horrors present in his bedroom as well as the ongoing destruction and the incoming waves of icy water sweeping away the land towards the fortress. All of which happens while being unable to move as if cold hands were gripping his body to prevent him from escaping this delirious state. These are some of the things I have experienced, felt and seen myself, and so we needed a song that perfectly captured the overall feeling. It is an instrumental song, but texts that are meant to be read alongside the audio will still be found in the booklet.
The third and last song “Perennial Voyage’ is about The Guardian Of Atros Kairn waking up after seemingly a thousand eternities, to a world devoid of life and light. The waters that had swept the land froze over centuries, leaving nothing but a lifeless, dark desert of ice, snowy mountains and empty castles and citadels of stone frozen in time. The song follows the Guardian Of Atros Kairn to find signs of life through the barren cold depths. Unable to die and join his kin, he suffers a thousand lifetimes of solitude, regret, sorrow and physical pain due to the scorching blizzard winds scorching his flesh as the gods feast upon his anguish. The lyrics are once again, a projection of the story I described in the band bio above. It was inspired from my state of mind that I braved an intensely cold winter storm right before I wrote the song and how I imagined it would feel like if one walked aimlessly in total darkness through a constant snowstorm for eternity. The bursts of melody in this song represent the numbness, and a false sense of euphoria felt when exposed to extreme cold temperatures for this long. At the end of the album, the black metal riff symbolises the pain and anguish felt when the numbness disappears, canonically represent a complete mental breakdown of a character who cannot find peace.
Philippe Tougas: I stopped taking drugs back in 2007. I never went further than weed. My anxiety, traumas and nightmares are the things that have fueled the music of Atramentus.
François Bilodeau: Nope, I have no interest in drugs, although I have no problem with people who do. I think weed and hallucinogens are mostly associated with certain types of doom metal such as stoner, less so with funeral doom. I think we are fucked enough in the head to write such music without taking any brain-altering substances.
Philippe Tougas: The title of the artwork is ‘Act of Humility’ by Polish surreal oil painter Mariusz Lewandowski. This artwork was made for us based on the album concept and the emotions conveyed on the record. We sent our album to Mariusz and he based the painting on what he heard and the idea I gave him. It is partly based on an anxiety/illness fueled dream I had long ago in which I saw giant, obscured shapes merge together with dark landscapes, all of which grew taller and taller without end. The horrible sound it made in my dream was the scariest part of it all. Perhaps this served me as inspiration when doing the vocals on this album. The character present on the artwork is The Guardian of Atros Kairn, the main protagonist in the album story. The left side of the canvas represents one of the main events that occurs within the story: The death of the sun, the last autumn, and the waves of icy water and darkness that would wash away all life on The Perpetual Planes. The right side of the canvas represents the aftermath: An empty, lifeless, desolated land of ice, perpetual winter and a dark sun seen through the impenetrable darkness of endless night. The sole survivor of these events can be seen there standing there alone, unable to die to join his kin, paralysed in grief and sorrow as terrifying colossal gods feed on his pain. The album is divided into two sides : Autumn & Winter. The canvas was painted to represent this shift of temperature and colours much like how the album progresses musically.
François Bilodeau: I think Mariusz has done a fantastic job on the art, and he exceeded my already very high expectations. He nailed the tone and the duality within the album.
Philippe Tougas: Mariusz nailed the duality on this album and he was able to achieve what we couldn’t do ourselves. I say this because we did intend to self-release this album with self-made artwork before we got signed and thought of working with Mariusz. I handled the artwork and layout for the cassette version of the album because Dave of 20 Buck Spin liked the idea of keeping a more traditional artwork style for the cassette version of the album and wanted to use the artwork I originally did for the album. The style I went for this format is meant to pay tribute to the late 80s and 90s doom metal aesthetic, with the fusion of modern photography with a blend of a few religious paintings and paintings from the 1800s by Ferdinand Knab which are all public domain. Added to these were some cold colour textures that reflected the utterly miserable aspect of the band’s music and allegiance to 90s doom metal. Many bands like Candlemass used old paintings for their album covers like this and I wanted to keep a traditional approach and re-appropriate these legendary paintings to recreate an authentic doom aesthetic just for the cassette version.
Another person we should credit is Chimère Noire aka Jocelyn Avoine. Charles Benoit did our other logo but Jocelyn did the golden vertical logo based on a font I recommended. He also drew the map of the Perpetual Planes, created additional artwork found inside the CD & vinyl booklets of the album, designed our merch, handled the typography, and enhanced the presentation of the album. You should go check out his work. He also worked with my other band Chthe’ilist.