Nowadays, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Gorod was always destined to be one of the elite tech-death bands known around the world. Simultaneously massively influential as well as consistently delivering unique music that blows most tech-death bands out of the water. But I've been a fan of the group long enough to remember that wasn't always the case. I suppose that's because, for some time, they weren't well known enough to occupy their current place in the scene. All of which seemed to change after their fourth album, A Perfect Absolution was released in 2012 via Unique Leader Records and Listenable Records in Europe.
To back up a bit, I still have fond memories of buying the band's first album, Neurotripsicks back in 2005 at a local record shop the day it came out. Willowtip Records once again plays an important role here as they have for many, they were the ones to bring the band's debut album to American audiences as well as exclusively release the band's mind-boggling second album, Leading Vision in 2006, and equally important third album, Process of a New Decline in 2009.
While it seems opinions within the Gorod fanbase are somewhat split when it comes to Process of a New Decline, I'm still a huge fan of it. But more importantly, that album would help lay the groundwork for what was to come on A Perfect Absolution. On A Perfect Absolution, the band evolved yet again by mixing the newfound excessively shreddy and speedy approach found on Process of a New Decline with the progressive death metal and jazzy approach that dominated their sound on Leading Vision.
If you haven't listened to this album in a while, I've embedded it below as a refresher of sorts. It's a testament to the wonky and unique style Gorod has cultivated that a decade has passed and A Perfect Absolution still feels like it's cutting edge shit now in 2022.
About two weeks ago, A Perfect Absolution turned 10 years old. To help celebrate this fantastic release, I'm excited to share today's interview with vocalist Julien "Nutz" Deyres, guitarist Mathieu Pascal, guitarist Nicolas Alberny, and bassist Benoit Claus who all played on A Perfect Absolution.
As the tenth anniversary of A Perfect Absolution rolls around this year, how does the band feel about the release in the present?
Julien: "It actually feels like it was released even longer ago. Even if time flies crazy fast, it feels like it was another life to me. Maybe the ‘Covid episode’ doesn’t help and made me lose all sense of time… Anyway, I am not listening to the album that often, but I got pretty much surprised last time it happened and felt like most of the songs still sound decent.
The thing is that the whole album was composed and written in a very short span of time! But an emergency and forced creative process can also result in an interesting spontaneous feeling, and this album is quite the epitome of this. Even if it sounds still satisfying to me, I would have changed many things on it but… isn’t it always like this when you’re an artist? Personally, as a major change, I would perform higher-pitched growls to make it sound more aggressive."
Although Gorod – Transcendence from 2011 featured some of the newly added members to the band who would later appear on APA, it was a shorter EP effort so I'm not sure if they added much to that one. Was the writing process for A Perfect Absolution different compared to prior releases?
Mathieu: "The writing process of ‘Transcendence’ was literally the opposite of ‘A Perfect Absolution’. Our cover of Cynic – "Textures" was actually recorded in 2008, even before the previous album ‘Process of a New Decline’, the acoustic version of ‘Earth Pus’ and ‘Blackout’ was tracked in early 2010 then it took more than 1 year and a half to give the song ‘Transcendence’ its finishing touch. That song actually reveals the newer singer’s arrival as Julien appears as a guest vocalist and performs only clean singing and screaming voices which were made willingly.
This shows the beginning of an era of less growled vocals and a larger range than previously. When Nicolas joined the band, recording sessions of that EP were already over. His personal touch appeared from ‘A Perfect Absolution’. But definitely, the ‘Transcendence’ EP reveals the transition to something new."
Was there a conscious effort to do something “different” here than what was laid down for your prior album, Process of a New Decline? Did the band's 2011 EP, Transcendence have any impact on shaping the direction of A Perfect Absolution as well?
Benoît: "Since the beginning of the band, Mathieu has always been making the whole thing: composing, recording, mixing, mastering, and also artwork and layout. For once, we wanted Mathieu to only focus on creating music, so we decided to work with our good friend Mobo (Conkrete Studio) and my stepbrother Yohan Haash (Deviant Art). Thus the substance remained the same, but the form turned out into something fresher. The EP (Transcendence) is the perfect example of Mat doing absolutely everything. ‘Perfect…’ is a new experiment whose purpose is to work with people who can have more objectivity."
What does the album's title, A Perfect Absolution mean to the band?
Julien: "The first working title was actually ‘The Elemental Vengeance’ then ‘The Perfect Absolution’ because it just sounded better, and meaning were then leaving more part to self-interpretation and more connections with all the lyrics. This album is that of the revenge of Olga of Kyiv, which elaborated a perfect plan to avenge the death of her husband, King Igor as she utterly destroyed the Drevlians (the regicide tribe) by using all 4 elements to achieve success."
How did the guest spots on A Perfect Absolution come to be and why were those musicians picked?
Nicolas: "This was an idea of our manager and we just thought it was a nice one. Moreover, we were touring through Europe with both Michael Keene (The Faceless) and Christian Münzner (Obscura) in 2011 & 2012, so it is always nice to put out some stuff with people you share such an experience like touring life and working with guys who appreciate each other’s music."
If I remember correctly at the time it was released, it felt like A Perfect Absolution re-ignited the band in a sense?
Mathieu: "Sure, new band members brought us new energy, also we started to tour a lot more than before. I mean, with this album, we made our first real-world tour including Europe, North America, Japan, and even unexpected places like Indonesia and Georgia! This was a marker of a big change in our life and the audience response turned out to be better than expected. This was such a great time for us all!"
What was the feeling within the band regarding the album before it was released?
Nicolas: "I was not that confident personally, because I just joined the band and ‘Process…” was such a blast to me when I discovered it! I was more or less a fanboy when I started to play with them moreover I was pretty young and shy. But anyway, I just wanted to give my best and enjoy playing the newer songs. But we all know that a ‘big’ change can be tricky for die-hard fans, so I would say that it was challenging to release something after the amazing ‘Process…’, hehe!"
Did the (fairly new) members including Julien and Nicholas help shape the material on this album in a way it may not have become without them? The same I suppose goes for drummer Samuel Santiago though he is no longer in the band.
Mathieu: "As I own my recording studio, I am used to working like this: I often first create drum patterns with my DAW and then improvise guitar riffs until something nice comes out. Then I track the first guitar and try to find cool harmonies that fit with the other guitar. When I feel like something sounds globally great, I just send them drum tracks and 2 guitars to everyone. Benoît usually writes his own parts that fit then with guitars and drums patterns. In the end, drum patterns don’t change that much, I just let the drummers write their fills and find something that is not impossible to perform but still fits with the original patterns.
There is not that much room for improvisation in my music as when something comes out, it already sounds not that far from the final version. Nico then writes his own guitar leads and records them in my studio. About lyrical concept and writing, I just let Julien do everything on his own. I just make sure that the vocal rhythm fits perfectly with the music during first trials, but he is free to do whatever he wants."
Internally, what was the band seeking to gain from the release of this album? Were you all trying to, in a sense, “prove” the band’s mettle once more? Simply striving to deliver a different take on Gorod’s signature sound? Or, something else entirely?
Mathieu: "I think we never made music to prove anything to anyone. I just make music that I like and create what comes to my mind without any expectation or anticipation. But sure, as it was the first recording in which I only focused on composing music, letting someone else do the recording sessions, mixing, and mastering, it was a decision made to make this album sound different. Not to be a game-changer or anything like this, but just to take a step back, trust in others and see what happens. Also, this was the first album that was composed and recorded with such a rush, that’s why it could just sound different from other ones in every aspect."
How was the direction of the cover art decided? *For all prior releases, I know the band's guitarist handled the cover art.
Julien: "First of all, the thing was to leave Mathieu some more free time, so this is the first artwork that he didn’t realize to date. It means then that Mathieu did ALL art until ‘Perfect…” including Neurotripsicks, sure. This time, we decided to work with Yohan Haash (Deviant Art), because we know him, he knows the band very well as he belongs to the same crew of musicians in Bordeaux and was motivated to work with us too. That was just obvious for every one of us.
We started to work with him when the whole lyrical concept was already done, so I got in touch directly with him and mentioned all sources to read about that subject. As I am an art historian, I am attentive to details, also I was writing my master’s thesis about something close to this concept during that period. It had to fit with the history, but I also wanted to lend him as much artistic freedom as possible. So I gave him a global frame, some sources to read then he made it. The cover is a representation of the song "Birds of Sulphur", which is my personal highlight of this album along with "Elements and Spirit."
For anyone who doesn’t know the album well, can you share with us the lyrical themes and ideas that underpin what the release is about?
Julien: "I actually already wrote a text which explains the whole thing, so as I will never be clearer and more specific than this text, here you go:
‘This concept album is based on the history of the Russian people's birth. All the scenes take place during the 10th century. In the year 945, Igor, King of Kyiv was “legitimately” killed by the Derevlians when he returned to collect a second tribute soon after an unusually high annual payment. The Derevlians (meaning “forest dwellers”) are a pagan tribe living not far from Kyiv in a land called Dereva whose Iskorosten is the capital city. Igor is married to Olga, the main character of the whole lyrical concept.
What is never mentioned in the studies of this great fatal woman (considered both a dutiful wife and a cunning military leader) is the use of the four Elements (and even a fifth) to accomplish her revenge. The main idea of the album is focused on this detail in order to make a personal interpretation led by fantasy. Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit all take part in Olga's scheme to avenge her husband. In The Perfect Absolution, she is depicted as an ambivalent and tortured allegory of vengeance and redemption.
Everything happens in Olga's imagination as she plans the way to fulfill her “perfect” revenge. The episode chosen for the lyrics occurs right after the murder of Igor and a marriage proposal from Mal (the Prince of the Derevlians who actually never marries). Moreover, Igor and Olga are both Varangians, Viking people who started to conquer the Slavic countries in the second half of the 9th century. This implies that they are still under the influence of Nordic pagan culture and mythology that mix with those of the Slavic. Some stages of Olga's vengeance are even reenacting Scandinavian pagan mortuary rituals.
The main written source used to establish this concept is the Primary Chronicle compiled around the year 1113 by the monk Nestor who lived at the Kievan Caves Monastery. Quotes from Heidi Sherman (Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin) written in italics relate true facts, but much imagination has gone into the interpretation of the history."
Can you fill us in on the full scope of tours done in support of this album?
Julien: "So as it’s all about ‘Perfect…” here, I will only mention the tours concerned. First of all, and probably one of our best ever: European tour in March 2012 with Obscura, Spawn of Possession & Exivious. 30 shows in a row, no day off, a couple of sold-out shows with crazy support on the whole tour… I will never forget anything we experienced on this one. Then we played at Hellfest in France, replacing Origin so we had a great slot but this was the last time managed to be booked at Hellfest… already 10 years ago…
Then 2013 was a crazy year: Boncrusher Tour 2013 with Job For A Cowboy, Beneath the Massacre, War From A Harlots Mouth, As They Burn & Make them Suffer. Right after we played for the only single time in Indonesia: Hammersonic Fest, which was the biggest crowd we ever had. Then straight on, our real first headlining US tour: Bloodletting North America Tour with Vale of Pnath, Kamikabe, and Inanimate Existence. Couple of weeks later we then toured for the first time in Japan with The Crown, Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, Hypocras, As Silence Breaks, and Create/Destroy which was one of the craziest things we ever did, hehe! Those 2 years were absolutely insane, and I just want to live such things again!"
Do you all feel that this album helped Gorod become the well-known force they are in the present day?
Benoît: "This album is the last one that had a decent worldwide promotion along with ‘Process of a New Decline', so sure it helped the band to reach a bigger audience, but it didn’t change anything in our artistic vision of things. We just became more professional thanks to tour after tour and many big shows. But it is definitely hard to consider if especially this release more than others helped us to become more known or else. It was just well more promoted and distributed than any other album, hehe!"
Going into the writing process for A Perfect Absolution, were there any expectations as to what needed to be produced? Likewise, what is the band up to now when it comes to new music?
Mathieu: "We already wrote a couple of new songs, some of them are pretty much straightforward and brutal like in ‘Perfect…’ but I put back some proggy technical stuff like in ‘Process…’ , ‘A Maze of Recycled Creeds', and also ‘Transcendence’. It is still hard to define what the new material sounds like, but I can say that it is both brutal and progressive, and still follows the same red line basically.
Maybe we will try to incorporate newer stuff but it has to fit with the overall music and every band member has to be down with what comes out. We don’t want to put out music just because we have to. We still all just play music that gives us goosebumps and make us want to kill it on stage, haha!"
I suppose this is a question for the oldest members of the band, but how do they rank A Perfect Absolution within the confines of the group’s discography?
Benoît: "Ranking your own album is something almost impossible to do. Personally, I am particularly satisfied with my bass tone on ‘Process…’ even if it is not loud enough, haha! I am not really into emergency composition and I think that we suffered from that on the latest releases. Anyway, there are still good songs on all releases, but old songs are more satisfying in my opinion. I am more into old-school things than intense and dissonant weird stuff. ‘Leading Vision’ remains a highlight of the band but we don’t have to play the same things all the time. ‘Perfect…’ is a good album, but it is not our best when it comes to my personal taste."
When it came to the release of A Perfection Absolution, this was your alls first effort that was released through Unique Leader Records. What was the reason for that change?
Mathieu: "I have never been influenced by any label, contract, or anything else. Moreover, this album was entirely recorded before we signed to Unique Leader. So if you think that this album sounds more like a Unique Leader album than the others, then it is pure coincidence. Also, there was no real big change after all.
Our 2 first albums were released by Willowtip Records which is an American label as well. ‘Process…’ and ‘Perfect…’ (and also ‘A Maze…’) were all three released by Listenable Records. The only difference is that since ‘Perfect…’ got a licensing deal with Unique Leader for US distribution, that’s it. There was no real change on our end, just a more specific and targeted promotion and distribution from the labels."
If you all have any additional observations, memories, or things you recall from working on this release, feel free to share those things here?
Julien: "The recording process of that record was quite epic, to be honest. It first started at the end of summer 2011 in a country house of a good friend of ours, in the middle of nowhere. I was not there during the guitar and bass sessions, but they all did it on their own with the help of Mobo in both Bud and Conkrete Studios. Homemade stuff again, if I may say so, hehe!
Then we recorded vocals in a famous venue in Bordeaux: Rock School Barbey. Very good conditions, but it was the first time I had to track growled vocals for a long time as I was more used to Grind Core, HxC, and Black Metal vocals back in that time. So it was an absolute nightmare for me. I just realized that I was unable to perform things the way I wanted, so it turned out to be a big demand on me. I took vocal lessons right after that horrible experience, then everything was fixed later, hehe!"