Travelling with the atmospheric doom death poets Poema Arcanus

interview with poema arcanus the metal band

When the Poema Arcanus album ‘Transient Chronicles’ landed at my door I wasn’t really sure what to expect. A lot of this doom death thing has been done to…well… death over the years, but Poema Arcanus were something above the usual. They invite you into their world and introduced some prog, some various influences and some thoughtful and deep lyrics. Brutalism got the opportunity to speak to guitarist Igor Leiva who has been with the group since the beginning. 

‘Transient Chronicles’ is quite a journey, I really enjoyed it, what are your thoughts on the results? Did the recording turn out exactly as planned?
Well, I guess everything went more or less as planned and we are quite satisfied with the result now… from a production point of view we were going for a more natural vibe this time, and I think we accomplished a clear and powerful, yet not artificial sound. I’m proud to say there’s no sample replacing or triggers on any of the drum tracks; which is sort of uncommon these days. There’s also no digital modelling or anything like that on guitars or bass … just amps with hot tubes glowing, microphones and lots of real noise.

We did just like on our previous album, recording the drum tracks on a nice pro studio, and the rest in my home studio and our rehearsal room, something that gives you lots of time to experiment and to come up with a good performance. This is the second time we do it that way and so far has been the perfect way for us to work so far.

The response to the release in Europe must have been positive, do you feel rewarded or do you have your own self-satisfaction anyway as its your music you have recorded the way you wanted?
I think it goes both ways: of course it’s nice to feel that people from all around the world appreciate what we do, but on the other hand I think that for an underground metal band like us, it is needed some other, more personal drive to keep going for as long as we have. You need something else to help you make it through the dark times (and there have been a good couple of those) when you even question yourself what’s the point of all of this. That thing I think is bold and simple love for creating and playing metal music. So that’s basically the self-satisfaction you speak of in our case.

This is the second issue of the album, was anything changed between this and the first issue of the album apart from the addition of the track ‘Errant Souls’, e.g. remixing, re-recording of parts etc.?
Yeah, that’s what I meant with “more or less as planned” haha… it happened that the recording of the album went on parallel with the planning of our European tour in Oct/Nov. 2012, and we always had the idea of releasing the album in physical form before the tour, in order to bring it with us for promotion and merchandising. Turns out that some problems we had in between ended up putting us into a really tight schedule for the production, so the end result was not 100% satisfactory production-wise (at least for me as the producer of the album), that’s why we always wanted to have a new release so we could finish that last 5% that was yet to be improved. We did not re-record any parts or anything like that, but only the mix and master on the Solitude Productions release has some little tweaks; besides the added bonus track. I’m sure the difference is much bigger for us than for the regular listener, but that was a little stone we needed to take off our shoe.

I feel you have numerous influences, one of the reasons I liked this album so much ahead of other albums tagged death/doom is because there were sections of epic and progressive music within ‘Transient Chronicles’, most bands I have heard tend to reproduce the UK trinity’s style (My Dying Bride, Anathema, Paradise Lost). I assume these three were an influence, but who else inspires your music?
Of course the UK trinity was a big influence, especially in our beginnings, but then after a while we felt the need to start incorporating some other elements from bands we had always loved too, trying not to lose the melancholic and sombre vibe of our music, but yet making it a bit more dynamic.

That’s how we started adding some proggy things from bands like Voivod, Rush, old Queensryche and the like, and maybe more subtly, heavier elements from bands like Carcass, Napalm Death and Autopsy. The biggest challenge that this implies is not to end up creating musical collages, but instead trying to somehow synthesize all those elements and hopefully create something with a strong identity and unity that at least to some extent represents all the sorts of music we love.

To be honest, playing straight death-doom metal would bore us as musicians, because as powerful and touching that it might be from a listener point of view, still the musical language used is usually very “pre-defined” and at some point we would need to go somewhere else … well, that’s basically what happened to us after our first album… haha. I’m glad you appreciate that.

Do you listen to any classical music for inspiration at all?
Maybe not classical per se, but I’m a huge fan of a Polish Composer called Zbigniew Preisner, who has done many soundtracks for movies, some solo albums and also not too long ago wrote all the orchestra arrangements for David Gilmour’s “On an Island” album. His music is quite inspiring, because it’s very minimal, subtle and touching. His melodies are just sublime and their simplicity has always made me feel miserable as a songwriter myself. Sometimes we try to bring some of that minimal melodic power to our music, but it’s hard not to be just a Preisner rip-off or not to end up with some plain boring stuff for the sake of minimalism. It’s really complex to be simple.

With “real” classical music I have mixed feelings… most of the time I find it too “happy” or too overloaded with thousands of notes per minute… I don’t know, there are some pieces I certainly love, but they are not that many.

Do you have a favourite track from ‘Transient Chronicles’ and why?
Let’s say that for today it must be “Inquilinos” for the way it evolves as a big, epic journey. I think it also goes very well with the lyrics that speak about timeless and desolate landscapes without humans, as an image that represents how brief and insignificant our passing through this world is within the big picture. Here in Chile we have the driest desert in the world in the north, and also huge ice fields in the south, so for me “Inquilinos” brings to my mind images of those beautiful desolate places not meant to be inhabited by humans. That’s why it also made sense that the lyrics were in Spanish, because the song is closely related to the land we come from. I’m also really proud of “Stream of Debris” and “Fading”… you know, my favourite rotates every week.

‘Fading’ is quite a dramatic track, it builds quite a lot to grab the listeners emotion, then abruptly ends, how do you build the arrangements, is that something key to the process of writing the music and lyrics?
It always depends. Sometimes the relation between lyrics and music is more about “aesthetic affinity” like on “Lambs” where the lyrical subject and approach needed some aggressive music to go with it, so it was easy to know that our most death metal song had to be “Lambs”. On “Fading” we went a bit further.

This song comes from very heavy personal experiences regarding death, focused mostly from an affective point of view. How death is a cold, measurable scientific fact against the emotional implications it has when it’s someone you care about who’s dealing with it. The feeling of being helpless and the questions it arises about the purpose or meaning of life. And of course those questions have no answers and there are no explanations or comfort in death (unless you are a religious person, but that’s another story).

Given this lyrical content, the music had to have this dramatic yet intimate tone to it, as opposed to an overly dramatic epic approach that would feel out of place. The final part is instrumental or “wordless” on purpose, then just ends up abruptly like an epilogue with no explanations and no morals to the story... it just ends. In this particular case the arrangements are totally related to the lyrics. I remember when we were arranging the final part or “epilogue” and putting lyrics on it just felt wrong because simply there was nothing else to say. In this case we relied on our good friend Don Zaros from Evoken to create the arrangement that made this part to “speak” without words.

The arranging part for us is maybe the most interesting part of the whole process, because we take some good time to bring the music to the rehearsal room, construct and deconstruct, try different ideas, argue, etc. We could never be one of those bands that just learn their parts before entering the studio. Everyone collaborates, and that dynamic between us is what gives our music its definitive shape.

Has the band changed any of your musical approach since your last album ‘Timeline Symmetry’?
I think the biggest difference is that on “Timeline Symmetry”, I was the only songwriter. Even though we have always arranged the songs as a band, with everyone’s input; the riffs and melodies that are the building blocks of the songs were all brought by me to the rehearsal room for “Timeline”.

This time those building blocks were brought not only by me, but every band member brought his own pieces of music that ended up being songs, and I feel that the music benefits from that in the sense that it feels more diverse and less monotone.

What is the doom/death/epic metal scene like in Chile? Are there a number of bands playing this style?
There are some bands for sure. The most notorious was Mar de Grises which unfortunately split up some months ago after 3 albums and some successful European tours. There’s also Lapsus Dei, and some more into the death doom genre. Into the more epic doom metal style we have Procession (although only half of the band is from Chile and they are now based in Sweden) and Capilla Ardiente (I’m playing there now too with people from Procession and even an ex bass player from Poema Arcanvs). There’s also a bunch of sludge/stoner bands, but I’m not that familiar with that style, so I can’t comment much more on that. There’s many more, but I guess those are the first that come to my mind right now.

You have toured Europe, how was that compared to your home country shows?
As I previously mentioned, we did a small DIY tour over there in October/November 2012. We played 11 gigs in 6 countries. The highlights for us were the Dutch Doom Days in Rotterdam where we had the honour to share the stage with Celestial Season, an old favourite for us; and the Doom Over Vienna Festival as well.

In comparison to Chile, audiences are far more reserved and less loud, just as we expected. I think that it’s in part a cultural thing and also the fact that we are by no means a famous band, so we cannot expect some crazy reactions or anything like that. The good thing is that you notice how people are far more concentrated on the music you are performing. In our case that is a great thing (maybe not that good if we played in a moshing thrash band). We were approached by many people at our merchandise stand who were pleasantly surprised by our music; and of course many of them purchased everything we had available there and had some really nice words for us. That was really, really rewarding.

Do you have further plans to come back to Europe?
Yeah, but I’m afraid that before that we need to have some new album out to justify the trip. That’s what we should start working on soon. Then it takes a lot of planning and all of that, but we want to come back there and play again for sure. It was so much fun and an amazing experience.

Do you have a place, venue, or country that you really want Poema Arcanus to play live? Who would be your dream support or headlining band?
Mmmm… hadn’t thought about that. Let’s say that we have accomplished some of our childhood dreams regarding that… we opened for Candlemass and Napalm Death here in Chile. Opening for Voivod would be an amazing thing for us, although I’m not so sure that both styles would be so suitable together for the audience. Not that I would care about that, of course… haha.

About venues… I don’t know. Maybe playing some sort of open air festival in Europe would be amazing given the atmosphere there is in festivals, even though you have to play a short set with no soundcheck and all of that… it would still be cool.

Do you have other interests outside of music? The band name suggests that there is an interest in poetry. Do you have a particular writer or style of reading that you enjoy away from the band?
Lately I’ve been a very lazy reader. I usually read novels instead of poetry… I’m a big fan of an Argentinean writer called Julio Cortazar and also love Ray Bradbury and his sort of poetically dark vision of the future back then. There was also a Polish Filmmaker called Krzysztof Kieslowski whose movies are amazing and in some way sort of “doomy” and poetic… I love those movies. We used fragments of a poem from Pablo Neruda (famous Chilean poet) in the past (the song “Desde el Umbral” included on our first album).

Besides the band I’ve also recorded and produced some other bands, you know… I’ve been into the production/ recording thing for several years already, so that takes a lot of my almost non-existent spare time… yeah, but that’s also music related, so I guess it doesn’t count... haha.

Thanks for your time, ‘Transient Chronicles’ is quite a remarkable release, I am sure it will be well-received, do you have a message for our readers?
Thanks a lot Paul for your interest and your nice words on our music; and of course also for the very interesting questions. It’s been a pleasure to answer.

To the readers: listen to our stuff if you like your doom a bit more dynamic... or maybe if you like your prog a bit more melancholic and heavy. Anyway, just check our facebook page:

There you’ll find links to lots of music, pictures, videos of us … and of course you’ll know about our future plans, news, etc.

“Transient Chronicles” is available through Solitude Productions, so it shouldn’t be a problem to get a copy. Thanks for reading my blabbering!

Cheers from the end of the World!

Interviewer: twansibon
Feb 28, 2014

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