Review/Interview – Poema Arcanvs – Stardust Solitude

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Poema Arcanvs is not the kind of band that clobbers you upside the head with their intentions. It’s not immediately clear which direction they’re going musically, particularly after vocalist Claudio Carrasco enters the picture. In the case of “Stardust Solitude”, the nine-minute opening title track of the band’s new album, it sounds a bit like the growlier parts of a “Blackwater Park” erra Mikael Akerfeldt singing over a doomed-out Queensryche. This is interesting enough, but at about the 2:50 mark, Carrasco gives off  a more seasoned and melodic Peter Stele sound, ala “Love You To Death”, or even the Goth-tinged stylings of Interpol’s Paul Banks. Now, considering the variety of musical directions I’ve mentioned, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I was not entirely sure what to think of Poema Arcanvs on that first listen.  In fact, I wasn’t completely sold on my second listen either. And wouldn’t you know it, the third time, I said to myself “What the fuck is it with this band?” Then it dawned on me.  First of all, despite my apprehension, I kept coming back to the album. It was sticking with me, like a persistent friend. Additionally, much like Opeth, and Type O Negative (and to a smaller, but no less fascinating degree, bands like The Cure, Jane’s Addiction, and Rush) it was clear that these Arcane Ones excel at being many things at once, which can be both a blessing and a curse for some artists.  

For folks who like their Metal fast and easy, uncomplicated in the sense that it is very clearly genre specific, a band like Poema Arcanvs may require more attention than they’re willing to give. And that’s just fine. No harm, no foul. But it may serve these folks well to practice a bit of patience, because “Stardust Solitude” has a whole lot more to offer than what’s on the surface.

If, while attempting to describe an album, bands like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Katatonia are the closest examples of overall similarity that come to mind, you know you’re in very special Doom territory. That’s not to say we’ve got a copycat on our hands. On the contrary, Poema Arcanvs wears their love for late 80’s guitar-heavy Metal on their sleeves far more visibly  than your typical Doom band. Nowhere is this more clear than in the second single from the album, “The Lighthouse Keeper”

A six-plus minute anthem for change with Hard Rock edges, dips up and down through equal parts Prog and Doom, as well as a river of experimental effect-laden guitar work, “The Lighthouse Keeper” is the kind of song that can shape a band’s entire identity, even if (or especially because) that identity is somewhat chameleonic. It is absolutely brilliant in both structure and tone, and it is the song that turned me kind of a Poema Arcanvs super-fan. Now, I’m not going to be getting their lyrics tattooed on my body any time soon, but that song sure as shit made an impression. 

I took a deep dive into their back catalogue, which began over twenty years ago, and came to the conclusion that their consistent evolution over the past two decades has been nothing short of astounding. For the exception of current bassist Juan Diaz, the Poema line up has been very consistent, with Carrasco on vocals, Igor Leiva on guitars, and Luis Moya behind the drums. “Stardust Solitude” is their first album without a prominent keyboard presence, which Leiva handles brilliantly with his aforementioned use of subtle pedal effects.  

All in all, I wouldn’t call “Stardust Solitude” a perfect album, but I would (and will) call it exceedingly catchy, gloriously well-composed, exceptional in its honesty, and as close to addictive as any non-smokable substance can get. I love it very much. A fact I was able to share with both Claudio and Igor (see interview below), which I’m grateful for. In a world where so many attempt to emulate others with hopes of similar success, Poema Arcanvs has achieved their very own checkmate by being authentic to themselves, and persistent in their multifaceted approach to Doom Metal.  

Rating – 4.5/5

INTERVIEW:

Hello, guys! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions. 

Igor Leiva (IL): Cheers! Thank you for paying attention to our music, man.

Claudio Carrasco (CC): Hello Joel! Thanks so much for your questions!

I realize this may not be the most personal way to do an interview (email), but I will do my best to keep things as conversational as possible. 

IL: It’s pandemic times, baby! … haha. Let’s chat! We’ll be happy to answer.

I’d like to start by saying I am a big fan of your work. The journey you’ve been on the past two decades with your music is so very inspiring. “Telluric Manifesto” is the earliest album I’m familiar with. “Timeline Symmetry” and “Transient Chronicles” are, to my ears, Doom Metal classics (“Raven Humankind” and “Inquilinos” are two personal favorites). With each release, your presence as a band gets more prodigious and confident. “Stardust Solitude” is without question your finest work. 

IL: Thanks a lot for your words, we really appreciate it, man. It’s been quite a journey to finally get this album out, so it really means a lot to us when you say that.

CC: I agree with you, this is our finest album!

Your last album was released in 2012. Now, you have had small gaps between album cycles in the past, but eight years is quite a long stretch. Is there a particular reason why “Stardust Solitude” took so long to come out?

IL: Well, it was a bit of everything I guess, first after our 2012 release (“Transient Chronicles”) we had to deal with the departure of Pablo (our then bass player) as he was moving out to Germany for his Phd studies. Then we got our previous bass player back (Hueso) and started a songwriting process that was different in the sense that we started recording all of our rehearsals and jams (we got equipped properly to do so), and started building from there what would become the new songs. The process itself was not that brief, and then, when we were almost ready to go back into the studio to record those songs; we had to part ways with Hueso in not-so-friendly terms (fortunately that’s all in the past already and we are friends again). At the time we thought that the right thing to do was to scrap all the riffs he had brought to avoid any future problems, and also because it would have felt weird not to do so. 

Then we tried to find a new bass player, but the search was not being successful; so we decided just to keep going without a bass player, having myself to take care of the bass duties until we could find the right person. Then, we basically re-wrote every song, some of them being almost made from the ground up all over again. Claudio was not present in this process either because of some personal stuff, so it was just Luis and me taking care of all of this. 

On top of that, we were kicked out of our rehearsal space (they were turning it into some sort of yoga center…hahaha), so then we had to find a proper one again, which proved to be a time consuming and depressing process… well, we had all the bad luck we could. When we finally had the songs re-finished we went into the studio, but then, having not found a bass player yet and Claudio still being kind of absent, I had to wear 5 different hats, not because I wanted to, but just because we had no other choice: Producer, guitar player, bass player, lyrics writer and also had to write the bulk of the vocal melodies; so of course everything went slower than usual. By the end of the process I was totally drained and burnt out.

Finally, when the album was finally finished, in December 2018, we had to find a label. Transcending Obscurity showed interest and we liked the offer they made, but we had to adjust to their scheduling of course, and that meant having to wait for another year and half. So, sadly that’s how you take 8 years between an album and the next. I wish I could say “we were taking a break” or something like that, but instead we were going through this really long, tiresome and at times frustrating process.

Has the album been complete for a while, or are you all still feeling fresh out of the studio? 

IL: Well, I guess I answered that one previously… the album’s been done for a while already. We are even working on new material as we speak, because we don’t want to spend 8 more years for the next one. We have taken advantage of the free time we are having because of the quarantine to make some advance at home. In the next few weeks we should start working on that music into the rehearsal room, as a proper band, given that the quarantine has been finally lifted here in downtown Santiago.

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Did you take a different approach as a producer for this record?

IL:  Yes, definitely. As I told you, we recorded our rehearsals this time, and they ended up becoming proper demos that sounded pretty good; and that’s how we realized that those recordings had some raw energy and, let’s say “human factor”, that didn’t translate properly into our studio albums. That’s why we decided to take a more stripped down approach for this one. 

The first concern was about the drum sound. Nowadays you tend to listen to the same sampled, time-adjusted drum sound over and over again, and it actually doesn’t even sound like a real drum kit played by a human in a room. Regarding that we decided to book a really nice studio with a big room, recorded to analog tape and tried to capture the performance in the room, the ambience and the warmth of a real drum kit. 

Then we also approached the vocal recording differently, focusing more on the emotion and mood of the vocal lines rather than technical perfection. Again the production was stripped down, with a lot less layering and overdubs, which we used to do on our previous vocal recordings.

And of course there’s the “no keyboards” approach, which forced us to cover more sonic ground somehow with just three instruments and a voice. The outcome is a far more present bass sound, and also some guitar effects to make up for the atmosphere that keyboards used to provide.

The record does have a very organic tone to it.  So, all of your hard work came to good use. I was actually going to mention that many of these songs sound almost live. Very clearly a four piece, for the exception of some of the vocals (possible overdubs on a part here and there). I saw a performance you guys did in the studio of a radio station (Live in ‘Senal Escudo’ from Chile, 2012). While there are some synthesisers on “Transient Chronicles”, there were none at this performance, which made it quite clear you guys were a fantastic live band. But this pandemic and quarantine has changed everything! How did that change any plans you may have had for touring with “Stardust Solitude”?

IL: Well, it certainly did… big time actually. At the end of 2019 and early 2020 we toured in Chile for the anniversary of our debut album “Arcane XII”, which got re-issued last year; and the idea was to start with the “Stardust Solitude” promotion right after that. 

Of course the pandemic hit us in mid march and basically life as we knew it was cancelled; which meant having to postpone, first of all, the release gig/party we had planned (where we usually play the album from start to finish plus some old stuff), then our national tour promoting the album, and then, and the worst part, the european tour we had already scheduled . 

We were starting at the Metal Gates Festival in Bucharest and closing after three weeks touring at the Dutch Doom Days in Rotterdam. We even had flights booked and all, so you can imagine what a big letdown it was for us, as after the 2012 experience we were so much looking forward to this. It’s been long overdue.

Hopefully we’ll be able to make it in 2021, as festivals are basically moving their 2020 bills to 2021. So far we are confirmed for the Dutch Doom Days 2021, still not sure about Metal Gates because so far they haven’t cancelled the festival. For the rest of the gigs, we’ll have to re-plan of course, but we are determined to go and tour, no matter what.

While certain themes reoccur within Poema Arcanvs’s body of work (nature, struggles with time or lack of time, feelings of insignificance, fleeting memories, and struggles with organized spirituality), “Stardust Solitude” strikes me as having a particularly specific construct lyrically. Would you call this a concept album? 

IL: Yes, it definitely is. Even if it’s not a totally linear storytelling thing, it has its development. Starting from concepts about the origin of the universe, space and time, quantum physics, etc. and how us humans look so futile and insignificant into this context; how our little histories, joys, tragedies, lives, feelings, etc. mean nothing in this random vastness; and then how we create our little shelter of white lies to protect ourselves from all that infinite and dark unknown void out there. Then this “story” evolves into the questioning of those white lies, and then recklessly venturing into the unknown, never denying that this vast chaotic nonsense we live in is brutal and menacing, but being strong enough to accept it without the need of any comforting lies.

Claudio, your voice is exceptionally powerful on this record. Having taken a step back from participating as a lyricist this time, did you find a certain freedom to explore your range vocally?

CC: Thanks a lot for your comments, buddy. This time we worked on the vocal recording sessions in a different way and on the other side, we composed carefully the vocal lines, taking care of managing what I can do better and what I can’t really do the best, you know what I mean. Some vocal lines were proposed by me and others by Igor, but we did a second checking of all lines, adjusting here and there to achieve the best performance possible and to avoid excesses in my vocal capability, which generally difficult the live performance and the final result of the song. Having the melodies between these kind of “best performing range”, I could focus on the mood and not on the performance, giving the best of myself. When you are recording or performing live there’re a lot of things to maintain under control and you must keep an equilibrium between them to “enjoy” or “suffer” (hahaha) in the best way possible. Then, as you probably noticed, we could focus better on the mood and achieve a better result. On the other hand, we try a different technique of singing and explore a more simple or natural voice, in other words, a less rigid one.

So, by repeatedly going over the music essentially live until you got it right, you were able to deliver a polished yet very natural sounding performance. There are not many moments during the album that I can detect any vocal overdubs. Possibly on a chorus or two, but that’s about it. Were your clean vocals and the more growled vocals recorded at the same time? Meaning, did you do one and then the other, or is what is all basically a single performance? 

CC: For a better result we focused as always in the clean vocals first and with all of that lines finished we go for the grunts. For obvious reasons the voice is getting wasted quicker with the grunts, so we try to concentrate first in the clean vocal lines and achieve an optimus result with them and then we focus on the other ones. We work by layers, usually 3, first in one day we attack the clean cluster of 2 or 3 tracks, after that in the same day we go for the semi clean ones parts for the same tracks. With this pattern we cover 2 or 3 other tracks in another day and so, until we cover all the songs with these 2 layers. Finally with all the clean vocals finished we go for the grunts and we cover 3 or 4 tracks per day until everything is finished. As you see, and to maximize better results, we always work with this method and I must say it works very well for my style of singing. And about the vocal overdubs, yes, this time there were less ones than the previous works, we privileged a “less is more” strategy trying to avoid the excesses of arrangements and armonies, just the necessary for each particular song.

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“The Lighthouse Keeper” blows my mind! It’s difficult to explain how that song makes me feel, other than to say deliriously nostalgic. It reminds me a great deal of the music I loved so much in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Bands like The Cult, Warrior Soul, and Queensryche. To a degree, even Type O Negative. Everything about it is glorious! I have to say, if someone asked me to pick a song that explains why Poema Arcanvs is awesome, it would be “The Lighthouse Keeper”.  

Can you please tell me more about this song? 

How was it conceived? 

What went into arranging it? 

IL: Haha, thanks again for your words… funny that you mention Queensryche, as some of us are big QR fans, and because the song started by ripping off the bass idea from a QR song… like this palm muted pattern you listen on a big part of it… but then it turned into something totally different. Then the atmospheric guitar chord sequence we put on top of the main bass riff made it take off. 

We also had this idea of a long middle section with a recurrent and minimalistic guitar chord sequence that goes intertwining with the bass line. Instead of the changes of melodies and harmonies we usually do, this time we decided to keep the sequence just repeating itself, and to build up the intensity with the vocal arrangements and sheer volume… I always admired how post rock bands such as Mono took this minimalistic, repetitive and “building up” approach centered in a simple but strong melody; and thought it might be a good idea to try something like that with our own musical language. The arranging process was quite simple, as we just kept on playing the middle part for many minutes trying to build up intensity … at first there was no structure or map to follow, we just played over and over again, adding different little details. At some point without noticing we had been playing it in sort of the same way for a few days, so that meant it was ready. The map drew itself.

That’s fascinating! I know exactly what you mean by building up around a rather simple chord progression. You mentioned Mono, which makes me think of bands like Massive Attack and another 90’s UK band called The Verve. Particularly in your use of effects and building tension within the song by adding seemingly unrelated sounds. I love that!

IL: I’ve always been an effects junkie, and even if in this album there’s far less of that as well, I cannot help but stomp on those pedals every once in a while. Blame it on Piggy of Voivod, Alex Lifeson and a bunch of other influences. I’ve always tried to balance between dry, heavy riffing with eerie effect drenched sounds and melodies to keep things interesting.

Does the Lighthouse Keeper, as a character in the song, represent God? Or some sort of godlike presence who, as you say “protects us from our fears”? 

IL: BINGO! … yes, the “Lighthouse Keeper” is a metaphor for god or religion, as this landmark that prevents you from, let’s say “getting lost”, which at the end it’s nothing but a meaningless man-created point of reference. Given that the song had this “night time by the sea” vibe I had this image of a little fishermen village sea at night, and how tiny it looks in front of the dark immensity of the sea. Then you have the lighthouse that helps you come back from the darkness, and guides you when venturing into this fearsome unknown in those little fragile boats. The inspiration comes from the town my mother is from, right in front of the vast Pacific ocean. There is a lighthouse there, and I usually go visit the place during winter. Actually the sea noise you hear in the middle part was recorded right there with a phone. The sea is always a big inspiration for us and I’m happy we could use its imagery as the main theme for this song, which is one I’m the most proud of on the album.

Oh, that’s wonderful! Using yet another organic element to express your passion for the subject matter. Such a fantastic personal touch! Thank you for sharing that! I don’t know how many people would have picked up on that. I certainly didn’t. 

IL: Yeah, we could have used some perfectly recorded sea sounds from these sound archives you can find online, but it somehow made sense to do it in a DIY way, even if the recording itself is pretty lo-fi and sometimes you can even hear the phone microphone getting saturated by the wind. It works and it’s more meaningful, at least to me.

By extension then, the song “Pilgrim” (another personal favorite) is incredibly personal, outlining a struggle in searching for answers to questions that cannot be answered?

IL: That song is mostly about disappointment, but in a calm, almost “zen” way. It’s when this character decides to become an outcast and resigns from, let’s say “civilized” life. He watches from afar how people live into these social conventions. Like watching a party from the outside and not being able to take part of it, because it’s just another part of the big white lie. You hear the music, the laughter, etc. as something you just cannot relate to. He just prefers to walk away.

Musically, the song has a definite Funeral Doom vibe, which I think is fantastic because to me Funeral Doom exemplifies both struggle and persistence. It is the perfect setting for your narrators’ “aimless quest”, from which he repeatedly says “I walk on” as if to suggest he will never stop. Do you find that to be true of yourself, or of yourselves collectively? 

IL: In a way it is, at least for me personally, because it comes to a point in life where I already accepted I will never understand the meaning of life, or the universe, or anything far too complex for our limited human brains, so you just keep on going. Sometimes not even that sure why, but you just keep on living life, day by day trying to make the best out of it, trying to learn and to enjoy without a huge plan or goal.

“Brave” is not only a wonderful song, but it is an extraordinary conclusion to the album’s narrative. “Stardust Solitude” is even a lyric within the song itself, along with what I think is the greatest line…

   “The brave lives with fear, but never lives afraid

    The honest cold of railroad rust and broken dreams

    And that should be enough”

So good! Can you tell me more about this song, and how you came about deciding on its placement as the finale to “Stardust Solitude”

IL: It just seemed appropriate. It’s like this big epic song with different moments and moods. Like the slightly hope-infused beginning that suddenly gets crushed by the slow doom part and the epic ending, which is a coda from the intro of the album. It’s somber in a way but also there’s a positive light to it when it comes to acknowledge the bravery required to deal with the universe with no sugar coatings, no white lies. Just the cold truth. The idea has always been to have this dry poetry within our lyrics. Without being melodramatic, or using clichés.

Musically it was born as an improvisation at the rehearsal room that luckily got captured, because being it a weed enhanced performance, there was no chance we would remember it afterwards otherwise…hahaha. 

Then we developed from there. A funny fact is that the intro with this droning note at first was reminiscent of a Marillion song called “Brave”, and we even used “Brave” as a half-joking working title because of that. Then when it came the time to decide the lyrical content of the song the title was already there. Everything fitted. I had no clear idea about what the ending of this “story” was going to be like, and then that non-serious working title ended up being enlightening. The lyrics wrote themselves basically. 

All of these little happy accidents sure have made an impact on this record. That’s an excellent story. 

IL: Well, there’s a bunch of stories from this process… most of them just stupid crap we came up with during reherasals, like our plans to form a mashup tribute band called Motley Floyd, or a Christian Slayer tribute band… or that day when we used a drum trigger to trigger stupid sounds from the bass drum. It’s all recorded. I cannot say we didn’t have fun and laughs while creating such miserable music… haha.

A Christian Slayer tribute band? Hahaha! Someone… some day… needs to make that happen!

CC: Haha! We do a lot of jokes and stupid things. The band (would be) called SAVER. 

You mentioned that you were already working on new material, taking advantage of the free time this pandemic has unexpectedly provided. Does this mean that your songwriting process has changed once again? 

IL: Yes and no. On one hand It’s changed in the sense that this time we are using different tunings to expand our palette of sounds. Juan is the first bass player we have ever had who plays on a 5 string bass, so we want to take advantage of that to try new stuff this time. I’m pretty sure that it will have a noticeable effect on the new material.

On the other hand, it hasn’t changed in the sense that we are making some progress at home recording riffs and ideas we interchange online, but we consciously progress only to a certain degree, as we don’t want to bring “finished” songs to the rehearsal room. Our music needs the rehearsal room time to put together the ideas, deconstruct them, try alternatives, maybe dumping them altogether, etc. etc. otherwise it ends up being sort of one-dimensional, especially if said music was all brought by the same person. We all have a different outlook on music and that diverse input makes things fresh and interesting, so we don’t want to lose that because we’ve been working from home.

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Thank you all so much, once again, for taking the time to chat about your album with me. I love it so very much, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to dive deeper into its creation. I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the year, and congratulations on such a magnificent achievement.

IL: Thanks a lot Joel for giving us this space and for having paid such close attention to our music and lyrics. It’s quite refreshing and fun to answer interviews like this one. Cheers pal!

CC: You rule Joel!, thanks for your time and patience, hope to meet you someday and drink some beers with the guys! Arcane Cheers for all the readers who like our music!

https://poemaarcanvsdoom.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/PoemaArcanvs

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https://transcendingobscurity.bandcamp.com/

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