Aeternam – Traversing Celestial PlainsThursday, 23rd July 2020
Concocting a style that incorporates symphonic, folk, and melodic death metal elements as well as ethnic Middle Eastern/Oriental textures, Aeternam have been establishing their style since 2007. Releasing four albums to date, they’ve gained the chance to tour with a mixture of death/extreme and progressive/folk metal acts (including Týr and Orphaned Land – which is where this scribe discovered these Canadians). Their latest album Al Qassam continues to broaden the multi-dimensional sonic approach of the band – emotionally gripping the listener and keeping you on edge for what may come next.
We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Achraf Loudiy, who was happy to give us context on how the band started from his move to Canada from Morocco, thoughts on the four albums to date, his impressions of the Quebec metal scene, and also very poignant observations on humanity’s lack of empathy and overconsumption/environmental issues that plague the world.
Dead Rhetoric: What was your childhood like, do you have any specific memories surrounding music growing up – and how did you make your journey into heavy metal and eventually picking up an instrument to start playing in bands?
Achraf Loudiy: I was born in a very loving family that have been so supportive in whatever I tried to do. At the age of 12, my older brother introduced me to metal music and gave me some of his CD’s. This changed my life dramatically. I then bought a classic guitar and started playing chords, then bought a very cheap electric guitar and amp and started playing metal. I played in several metal bands but the most important was Imperium (thrash metal). I remember back in the time we won a prize at a battle of the bands festival. As a metalhead living in Morocco back in the time, it was difficult to feel accepted. I had some trouble with some religious people so after spending twenty years in Morocco, I moved to Canada where I studied physics and computer science. But my main passion has always been music, so I tried to form a new band in Canada and hopefully get some success.
Dead Rhetoric: Aeternam started in 2007 – what can you tell us about the early beginnings of the band, and did you know straight away the type of elements you wanted to bring together in terms of the songwriting and style, or was it more of a give and take, feeling out process to arrive at what you developed?
Loudiy: When I came to Canada, I met Antoine Guertin in college where he was studying music. We felt a sort of bond and tried to write some music together. We had different tastes in metal and that wasn’t looking good for a long-term collaboration. But with time, we influenced each other, and we managed to come up with a recipe that suits everyone. You can clearly hear our different influences in our first album, but then for Moongod, we knew precisely what we wanted to sound like. Maxime Boucher joined us in 2012 and brought a lot of quality and stability to the band. In 2017, after Ruins of Empires was recorded, Maxime Legault formerly from Valfreya asked us to join the band and here we are.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you attract the interest of Metal Blade for your debut album Disciples of the Unseen, released in 2010 – and how do you view that record now in terms of establishing Aeternam as a unit and the subsequent response from critics and fans?
Loudiy: At the time, we had a very acclaimed metal website in Quebec who promoted local and international metal music. We scored very high for Disciples of the Unseen, and the reviewer sent the CD to a contact in Metal Blade. So we got a deal with them but this story is very strange. We were not able to go on tour at that time, because of studies and visa issues so they didn’t want to continue working with the band. But I can’t deny that Metal Blade did a good job for getting us some attention. For me, Disciples of the Unseen is a fine debut album that announces what’s coming next.
Dead Rhetoric: You moved on to Galy Records for the follow-up Moongod – and eventually became more an independent band with the third release Ruins of Empires. Tell us your thoughts on both records and why you felt the time was right to move everything within your own ranks rather than work with labels – do you enjoy the freedom and ability to push things as you wish, without worrying about outside influence?
Loudiy: Moongod is a very special album to all of us, it has all the ingredients we wanted in it. Epic, symphonic, catchy, aggressive and blasphemous. As for Ruins of Empires, we crafted the idea of a concept album about ancient rulers ten years before its release. We also had a clear idea about the artwork. We really enjoyed giving birth to all the worlds related to each persona.
We are enjoying the fact that we are independent because we can make the music we want and get enough money to keep making music without being broke, thanks to our loyal and wonderful fans. That said, we are open to signing on a label if the offer is right and we are aware that signing to a label will help the band get bigger. Let’s see what the future holds.
Dead Rhetoric: Your latest album Al Qassam is a great mixture of symphonic, melodic death metal with folk and Oriental/exotic textures. How did the songwriting and recording flow for this outing, were there any specific challenges, obstacles, or surprises that came up?
Loudiy: Al Qassam was written in one year. For Ruins of Empires, Antoine and I wrote the music pretty much together, but for this album I was kind of let alone on the songwriting since Antoine was involved in other projects. However, he contributed by writing “Hanan Pacha” and adding some adjustments here and there. I would say that the main challenge was the recording process, since our producer lost his studio in a flood that hit his city in 2019, we wanted to record the album by ourselves, so that meant we had to climb a learning curve in each step of the recording.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across with the lyrical content for Al Qassam that may differ a bit from previous Aeternam albums?
Loudiy: Well, since we previously released a concept album, we wanted Al Qassam to be a simple collection of songs like Moongod. Each song has its own subject but we highlighted the idea of possession and witchcraft in the Middle East in the song “Al Qassam” by making an artwork out of it. Eliran Kantor did such an amazing job giving life to this idea.
Dead Rhetoric: I’d imagine you were able to get Kobi Farhi of Orphaned Land to do a guest vocal on “Palmyra Scriptures” as a result of the relationship you established on tour with the band a few years back. Did you have him in mind specifically for this song, and what do you believe he brings to this cut to make it that much stronger and more memorable?
Loudiy: Yes we have a great relationship with the guys from Orphaned Land after the US tour, but I wasn’t thinking about guest vocals before writing the song. When I wrote the lyrics and put the word ‘orphans’ in the chorus, I was like… DAMN! What if Kobi sings on this song? I asked him and he loved the song. Then when he sent the vocal tracks, we were mind blown by all the subtleties he added to the song. So yeah…such a beautiful collaboration.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance out the needs of the song with the layers of orchestration and additional parts? Are you aware of times where you need to let things be a bit more sparse to contrast against the bombast?
Loudiy: You know… after releasing four albums, you manage to get a specific approach that makes you sound the way you sound. So yes we are definitely aware of everything we write. If I can describe this recipe in a few words, I would say… no fillers, no looping riffs, things have to flow naturally, lots of growls can be annoying… lots of cleans can be annoying too, emotion is the key and to feel it, you have to put different vibes in the same song and mostly, surprise the listener.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe Aeternam differs from the studio work to the live performances? What do you want the audiences to get across from you in a live situation, and what have been some of the more memorable performances either locally in the Quebec scene or internationally on tour?
Loudiy: In the studio, we are able to record acoustic tribal songs but we never play them live. It’s simply because of the logistics. We are usually an opener band, so we don’t have time to play these kinds of songs. Maybe in the future we will bring guest musicians on the stage to play ethnic instruments and get to play acoustic songs.
Aeternam shows are usually very dynamic, lots of headbanging and walls of death. If I can name a show or two that stood out in my career, I would say live in Dallas 2018, and 70000 Tons of Metal 2018 on the pool deck.
Dead Rhetoric: Having the chance to tour with bands like Suffocation, Venom Inc., Orphaned Land, and Týr over the years, what types of tips, tricks, and takeaways do you learn and apply to make Aeternam that much stronger down the line – in terms of band chemistry, tour life, or business/professional practices?
Loudiy: Well, I think the most important thing to understand when you are opening for such great bands is to be humble and grateful for the opportunity you get. There are countless deserving bands who would like to be in the same position you are so… When you are touring, you see how experienced musicians prepare, interact, rest, take care of themselves etc. There are some who party all day long too (laughs) but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, especially for singers.
We also get to meet managers and staff. We get a lot of advice from them about how to get the best out of our band and be more successful.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the Quebec metal scene over the years – do you think there has always been a great infrastructure for all types of metal, and support from the fans, venues, promoters for not just the international touring packages, but the local bands as well?
Loudiy: I was blown away about the Quebec metal scene back in 2007 when I arrived in Canada. There were a lot of venues, bands, promoters working hard, and a lot more active fans than today. At the time, there was a company called Capitale du Metal which did such a great job bringing the best international bands to Quebec and giving emerging bands a chance to open for them and get recognition. But sadly they had to stop their activities.
Most people from this generation have grown up, bought houses, raising kids, and are working full time in regular jobs. Many promoters disappeared, venues closed, and people are not showing up to concerts like before. I think nowadays most people are too comfortable and entertained by watching TV and consuming social media. Some of them are too busy getting ripped and trying to get laid by putting countless superficial over edited selfies on Instagram (but this is another subject). We approach music consumption differently today and there is a huge quantity of metal out there. Anybody can make music by buying an audio interface, using drum machines and samples, cracking a DAW on a low range PC and releasing albums on Spotify. I believe it is a good thing in some ways, but the problem is that it drowns quality produced music in a big ocean of noise, so you can’t get people to listen to your music easily.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the world that we live in today, and what do you think the leaders of the world need to instill for the general public to take seriously and improve the world for future generations to accept and treasure?
Loudiy: I think the main problem of the modern world is overconsumption. People always want more futile stuff fast, and abundance of food everywhere…but at what cost? We focus our attention on stupid irrelevant things while this misconduct is taking us dramatically into an unprecedented environmental crisis. Humanity has never been as egocentric as today. It’s all about me myself and I. We are also losing empathy over important issues. We live in an era of inequity unworthy of all the sacrifices that women and men before us have made to allow us to live such a peaceful life. We literally live in a big cloud of pollution, we mistreat animals, we deforest our largest oxygen reserves, we eat poisoned food, then we ask the pharmaceutical industries to help us, so they keep us alive to keep consuming while they get richer and richer.
The planet doesn’t care about us, we’re just a virus that won’t last longer than a week or two (considering its lifetime of 4.5 billion years). I find it cheeky to dare say that we are going to save the planet. We can only save ourselves from our own abuse. We need to start by changing our own behavior by limiting our consumption, restoring empathy over each other and becoming aware of the huge challenges we face. We need to stop voting for idiots who fuel hatred to win votes and get more power.
If nothing changes drastically then the future holds nothing good for us… mark my word.
Dead Rhetoric: What sort of hobbies, interests, and passions do you pursue away from music when you have the free time and energy to do so?
Loudiy: I do a lot of hiking with my girlfriend, play video games (I’m playing Last of Us 2 nowadays), play soccer with my friends, kickboxing, cooking, watching movies, but one of my great passions is astrophysics/particle physics , so I read a lot about the subject and watch virtual classes and popular documentaries. I am getting myself a Dobson telescope soon.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year in terms of promotion and development of Aeternam – especially considering how the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down touring on a global scale until further notice?
Loudiy: Well I sincerely don’t know… Hopefully we get a tour in 2021 in Europe or the USA. But since nothing is clear about this, I will start writing new music very soon.