Interview with guitarist and vocalist Gui Haunting
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 28, 2020
French Death Metal unit Skelethal started out in 2012 as a duo, working hard to get their music to the masses. After some demos, EPs and split releases, the dynamic duo, with Gui Haunting on vocals and guitar and Jon Whiplash on bass and drums, entered the studio in December 2016 to record their debut full-length, Of the Depths..., which was released on Hells Headbangers Records in June 2017. The album's success opened doors for gigging and showed them to be one of the more promising new death metal acts on the map of extreme music.
The band's follow-up album, Unveiling the Thresholds, was recorded with a full lineup and included Lorenzo Vissol behind the drums (replacing Jon) who gained a positive reputation with his other groups, Bütcher and Schizophrenia. The new album is said to be an improvement from the band's debut on every possible level, in part due to Greg Wilkinson twisting the knobs to mix and master the album, ensuring the best possible sound for the record.
The mastermind and captain of the Skelethal boat, Gui Haunting took some time to talk about the birth of the band, how things have progressed and how he personally feels about the new record - among other things as well...
Is life pretty decent and good down there in France despite this annoying coronavirus?
Gui: Hello! Yeah strange times but everybody is doing his best to make it decent.
UNVEILING THE THRESHOLD
You have your sophomore album, Unveiling the Threshold, coming out November 20 through Hells Headbangers Records. How thrilled are you with the songs on it? Do you feel that you exceeded your expectations?
Gui: We are all very thrilled with this new album. New material is definitely tighter, much more violent and more personal. Most of the songs are in-your-face and Greg Wilkinson from Earhammer Studios also gave us the best sound we have ever had. Having new members brought new ideas and the musicianship and influences of every member were taken into account for the song writing. It's Skelethal's best release by far.
You offered a taste of this new record in the form of a promotional video for the song "Repulsive Recollections," which is an absolutely wicked and uncompromising piece of murky, old school death metal. Does the rest of the material follow the same musical formula as this song? There's quite a Swedish old-school vibe in this particular song, but I guess when you play old school death metal, it's hard to avoid sounding like this or that, right?
Gui: Glad you liked the video clip. We tried to make each song different, with different tempos and atmospheres, but with the same approach. Swedish old school death metal has always been our main influence but with this album we tried to inject more influences in the songwriting. You'll always have someone saying it sounds like this or like that and for me that's not a problem if it's a band that I like. However, we never copied anything, and I think that our new album is the most personal since our debut.
What are, in your opinion, some of the improvements on this new album compared to your debut, Of the Depths...? Do you believe the songs might be a tad more coherent and sharper sounding on this new opus or did you try to follow the same musical recipe?
Gui: A lot of things changed for this album. First, being a quartet changed a lot of things. All the members brought ideas to improve the result. I personally adapted my way of writing the songs in order to fit with Lorenzo's drumming style and skills, which are awesome. For Of the Depths... we did everything by ourselves, which was a big mistake when you hear the sound of the album.
For Unveiling the Threshold, we had the pleasure to work with Greg Wilkinson who mixed and mastered the album, and the result is killer. I really think that the new songs are stronger than on the previous album, much more in-your-face and aggressive, and also better written and played.
FROM DUO TO FOURSOME POWER UNIT
What were the biggest challenges that you faced recording the debut as a duo?
Gui: Being the only two working on the whole project was a big challenge. Recording each other was a tiring experience but the biggest issue (and where we failed, in my opinion) was doing the mixing/mastering which were never satisfying. It's disappointing to know that I spent a lot of time writing songs that I can't enjoy properly on this album due to the time spent working on the sound which is in the end far from what I had in mind.
In 2019, you got a full lineup when Julien and Lorenzo joined the band. What would you say these two guys brought into Skelethal, besides a lot of more firepower live-wise?
Gui: They raised the motivation level in Skelethal. The band was rotting, and I needed a new direction. My first decision, which was the hardest, was to split with Jon without knowing if I could find a new lineup to continue Skelethal. Lucas, who was our live guitarist for years stayed with me and integrated into the band as we searched for a drummer and bassist. We fortunately found Julien and Lorenzo rapidly and felt unified quickly. Lorenzo brought the band to a new level with his drum skills. He also has many experiences in different bands and always has good ideas for Skelethal. Julien is very skilled too and has a really good ear and is responsible for all the track recording for this new album. With this lineup Skelethal is stronger than ever, we are all on the same wavelength and very enthusiastic with the band's evolution.
EVERYTHING IS NATURAL SOUNDING
What about the production on this new album? Did you try to repeat the same heavy and crispy production that you had on your debut or did some fine-tuning take place when blessing the album with the best and most pleasing production possible?
Gui: I absolutely didn't want to get the same sound as Of the Depths..., which you understand I really dislike. We worked hard on the recording of each instrument to have the sound we wanted straight away and to send good tracks to Greg to avoid him having any struggles. We spent a lot of time on all the settings, on the microphones placement and tried to be as tight as possible in our playing. Everything on this album is natural: There is no trigger, and everything was recorded the old way with microphones. Our aim was to have a powerful yet filthy sound and a something we can recreate on stage with our gear. We are happy with the result.
Do you believe fans that liked your debut will also like your new album and even become die-hard fans of the band due to your consistency and dedication to your original sound?
Gui: I really hope so. I hope that they'll prefer this second album.
To me, being a Finn, the sound you had on your debut reminded me quite a bit of the murkiness and dark sensibilities of some old-school Finnish death metal bands in some ways (Swedish bands, too) so I just had to take this card out of my pocket and ask how much has the ancient Finnish death metal scene from the early nineties been an influence on you when you first started composing material for Skelethal?
Gui: To be honest the Finnish death metal scene has never been a huge influence for Skelethal. I really dig Finnish bands like Convulse, Demigod, Funebre, and Demilich but I absolutely never tried to play like them.
You have always had a soft spot for H.P. Lovecraft's literature. What makes his works so intriguing and captivating for you personally?
Gui: Beside the fact that Lovecraft's writings are very captivating, there are two points that fascinate me a lot. First, he is the inventor of this kind of horror and has never been outdone. Second, a lot of stories have nearly the same scenario and ending, but I'm never bored and can read them again and again.
The album cover of Unveiling... is stunning and very eye-catching. It was done by Eliran Kantor, who undoubtedly knows a thing or two about how to make splendid artwork. Do you believe he delivered artwork that you 100% hoped for?
Gui: We had all the songs nearly finished and were ready to record when we asked him if he would be interested in working with us. We know the process to get the art can be long and we had to ask in advance. We presented to him what we had in mind for the art. He agreed, we finalized the deal and few months after that he sent us a sketch. We were really relieved when we saw it and were sure that the result would be killer. I think he delivered the artwork we 100% hoped for, yes!
Speaking of Hells Headbangers, this is your second album released by them, so as I see it you are very pleased with everything, they have done for you so far, correct?
Gui: Yes, they were really helpful from the beginning and the communication is really good.
Is there anything that you'd like to see your label do more for the band, like keeping you guys busy with the press inquiries and such things?
Gui: Labels don't work like they did in the past; they don't promote a lot their bands and never try to help them find gigs. It is the way it is, but we can't be upset, it's the same for all the bands. It's already a big chance to have such a label nowadays.
Besides Skelethal, your drummer Lorenzo Vissol also keeps himself busy with both Bütcher and Schizophrenia, both great underground Metal bands. I am wondering how on earth he can find time for all of these bands. I guess time management means everything to him, plus obviously, he wants to keep himself busy during these tough times...
Gui: Lorenzo is incredible, I don't know how he can manage everything, I think he has a hidden twin.
Now gigging can be done, unfortunately, only for limited audiences (at least here in Finland). How much has this inactivity in the gigging department affected the band, and you personally? Has it been rough?
Gui: It's now one year and we haven't play live, we also haven't rehearsed a lot since Lorenzo lives in Belgium and we are in France, which makes things even more difficult. In a way I'm glad to have this album released because it keeps the band living during the shitty times. We clearly miss being on stage and coming back will be furious!
Obviously bands love playing as much as they can, and I have to believe that's the case with Skelethal. In these dangerous times, it's naturally tough to make any short-term plans gigging-wise, to say nothing about long-term plans as far as playing live is concerned. However, bands are still booking gigs for next year and I bet you don't want to miss this train either. What can you tell us about your plans for future shows that you may have in the pipeline already?
Gui: We have nothing planned really, we were supposed to play Asakusa Deathfest in Japan this year, but I still don't know if it will be doable next year. For now, we don't have a lot of demand and I think everybody is confused for now.
OF THE FRENCH DEATH METAL SCENE – PAST AND PRESENT
France has always been a good country for death metal ever since the genre was first invented. You have bands like Loudblast, No Return, Mercyless, Agressor, etc. who all incorporated some death metal elements into their sound, creating a strong French underground scene back in the day. Do you look up to some of these pioneers for being there back in the day when death metal was THE THING in heavy metal and labels were trying to get some of the most promising death metal bands signed?
Gui: There are only a few French bands that had good opportunities back in the day. It seems that bands like Mercyless or Massacra never got strong support from labels and never had the coverage and success they deserved. France is definitely not a good country for metal and rock music in general is not a big part of the culture. Being a metalhead is like being an alien sometimes. I'm sure old French bands faced a lot of struggles being taken seriously back in the days.
I'm glad that some of them are still active, unfortunately, the evolution of the majority of them is bad in my opinion.
Have you noticed an increasing number of bands sounding similar to your band popping up from the fertile French extreme underground metal scene and can you actually see any reasons for that welcomed phenomenon?
Gui: Nope, I haven't noticed it. There are only a few bands playing old school death metal in France and most of them don't have the same approach. A large number of them play a more evil or blackened death metal while we keep a thrash/punk spirit in Skelethal.
What are some of your hopes and/or expectations regarding the band? Is there anything in particular that you'd like to achieve with your band in the future?
Gui: We would love to be part of a big death metal event like Netherland Deathfest, and touring with bands that we like. We would like Skelethal to be well known and tour in many countries.
Thank you, Gui, for getting this done and in the very same breath, I would like to wish you all the best with all the comings and goings of the band. If there's anything that you would like to add to wrap up this conversation properly, then by all means use this space... ;o)
Gui: Thank you Luxi for the great interview!! Hope to come to Finland someday. Hail to all the readers! Cheers from France!
|Other information about Skelethal on this site|
|Review: Unveiling the Threshold|
|Review: Heirs of Hideous Secrecies|
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