2020 kicked off not in the best way… the world is, once again, facing a plague: the coronavirus and, coincidence or not, Medico Peste have just unleashed their most recent output 'ב :The Black Bile'. The Polish Schizophrenic Black Metal band have returned in full force and are ready to impress the fans worldwide with their distinct approach to the genre. While it is not possible to experience their insanity live, listen to the new album and read the conversation we had with Lazarus.
Medico Peste was formed 10 years ago… what have you learnt in this decade regarding the music industry?
If we are to focus on the band itself, I would say that we have come a long way since our humble beginnings. Our demo was recorded on an old 8-track in our rehearsal room, to which I later recorded the vocals in an abandoned pre-war bunker using a simple dictaphone. Back then we did not have the resources, the experience, nor the skills – all we had was the spirit, which lead us forward. Over those 10 years we evolved significantly as musicians, worked with 4 different labels, played with and learned from the best in the business, and have gotten to know our way around it.
Supposedly, the name of the band came up when you were reading about the XIV century Europe and the Black Death and you really liked the character of the Plague Doctor. Why use its name in Portuguese though? At least it translates exactly like that in Portuguese… What fascinated you about this character?
I really liked the symbolism and irony behind this character. He was hardly a healer - rather a bad omen, an avatar of death. I imagined the horror on the faces of people who saw the grotesque figure of the beaked ‘doctor’ walking the streets and prayed that the Angel of Death walks past their home. Furthermore, the Plague Doctors were often the carriers of disease, spreading them across the land like death emissaries. Why Medico Peste? I didn’t want to go with the English version, and from the perspective of a Polish speaker, the most popular, Italian version (Medico della Peste) sounded very bad. That’s why I decided to cut it short and was quite satisfied when I found that this version is correct in Portuguese.
The press release mentions that the band plays Schizophrenic black metal. Would you say this is the best definition for the band?
Yes. SoM asked us to define our style in a few words. For all those years our music was categorized as religious black metal, which is understandable considering our style during the ‘Tremendum…’ era, however it was not accurate. Taking the atmosphere and lyrics into account, which focus on the subject of madness (where religion appears mainly as its manifestation), we wanted to emphasize that and distinguish our music from that sub-genre.
The band is about to release the 2nd full-length 'ב :The Black Bile'… what are the main differences between this album and the debut 'א: Tremendum et Fascinatio'?
I think it’s easier to say what has not changed and that’s the black metal core, atmosphere and lyrical themes. First of all, we completely changed the work process. With the debut album there were 4 guitarists involved in the creative process – everyone, but the drummer. We would present our ideas and work on them together all in the rehearsal room. This time The Fall and I would meet in his home studio regularly for more than a year and composed everything, all the instruments together (apart from one song to which Nefar wrote the riffs). In contrast to ‘Tremendum…’ we knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish and had the time, experience and skills for it. Our musical influences have also changed as we incorporated a lot of non-metal influences, often reaching regions mostly alien to black metal, like cabaret music legends The Tiger Lillies. I also moved away from my old vocal inspirations, which at that time were Attila, Meyhnach and Kvarforth, and focused on developing my own style.
Both your albums include symbols ב and א before the actual title… what do they mean after all?
In Hebrew א (alef) has the numerical value of 1 (as per 1st album), but also is the representation of the Abrahamic God. As per John 1:1 ‘In the beginning was (Aleph) the Word, and (Aleph) the Word was with God, and (Aleph) the Word was God.’ Thus making God the object of mystery that repels and mystery that attracts. ב (bet) has multiple meanings. Firstly, it is the numerical number 2, and can be understood as house and blessing. It also represents duality and otherness.
With the first full-length, Medico Peste impressed fans worldwide with a distinct approach to black metal. What can fans expect of the new album?
The music itself is more experimental and varied than on the debut album. Back then our main inspirations were Mayhem and French black metal. Although those remain an influence, on this album you will find post-punk, avantgarde and even cabaret music influences. One Polish journalist said this album needs to be listened to as a whole for it to make sense. I am inclined to agree with him, as even though all the songs have a common denominator that glues them together, every song on this album is different from the others and if you listened to a selected song only, you would probably get a wrong impression of the album as a whole. The album is a loose concept and should be treated as a story, where every next song progresses the story until the grand finale.
More than seven years have passed since the release of 'א: Tremendum et Fascinatio'. What took you so long?
There were several factors that contributed to this. We had some lineup changes, all of us got involved in other projects, plus the band activity was pretty much on hold for a few years while I was living abroad. On top of that we wanted to take our time with the new album and have spent a very long time composing and recording it, so that after all is finished we would have full satisfaction in what we created. Many months have passed since we left the studio and we are still quite happy with what we have achieved.
Initially the new album was to be released in late 2019/ early 2020 but it will only see the light of the day in March… what happened in between?
As I’ve mentioned above – we decided we would not leave the studio until we were satisfied with what we recorded. I think recording the vocals alone took us more days than the whole session for ‘Tremendum’… Unfortunately, our artist had the same attitude towards the music video for ‘God Knows Why’ and the album layout, which caused some additional delay as well.
The album was recorded, mixed and mastered at No Solace studio and consists of seven tracks of schizophrenic black metal. How proud and happy are you with the final result?
Actually, only the drums and vocals were recorded at No Solace. We recorded the rest ourselves in The Fall’s home studio. The whole process took a huge amount of time and hard work, significantly more than all our previous releases combined. Also, considering how many years had passed since our debut album, we understood the importance of this release. Time will tell if “The Black Bile” meets the expectations of others. For now, I can say, for the band, that we are very satisfied and looking forward to promoting the album during live shows.
What is the Black Bile after all? The song titles seem to suggest this is very much an anti-religion album… is that really so? What’s the “message” of the album?
Well, from where I stand anti-religious message in black metal is a given – it is a defining aspect of the genre. The question is how this message is expressed. In our case religion is presented as symptom of decline of one’s sanity - sort of faith-induced pathology – be it ecclesiogenic neuroses or psychosis. It is very often that people suffering from schizophrenia suddenly become very religious, reaching an obsessive, sometimes dangerous level of religious zeal. I find the alternative perception of such people very inspiring. “The Black Bile” is about transformation, one’s passage beyond these doors, viewed through a religious lens. Each song is a door and the final track brings us to the ceremonial baptism through immersion in the black bile.
The first album lasted 41:14 and this one 50:04… almost palindromes… and both include 7 tracks… I guess this is more than a mere coincidence… what’s its meaning to you?
Sorry to disappoint, especially that I’m impressed with how you connected all of that, but all this was actually just a coincidence… The only planned continuity is the use of letters from the Hebrew alphabet in the titles of our albums.
How have the reactions to the songs you’ve unleashed “God knows why” and “All too human” been so far?
Mostly positive, though of course it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. We made a conscious decision to record a varied and odd album and I was expecting very mixed opinions. One interesting thing I noticed is that some people are saying this music is too vile, dark and unpleasant, and ‘lacking catchy melodies’… I find this curious considering that is what black metal is supposed to be and I was actually flattered reading those opinions. I think it’s quite telling and confirms my opinion that black metal nowadays tends to be more about nice scenography and catchy tunes, than expressing and sharing with likeminded people the darkest parts of oneself.
The video for “God Knows why” seems to be the continuation of “Herzogian Darkness” in what looks and aesthetics are concerned… is there supposed to be any connection between them?
The connection is that the same artists created it. Same as with “Herzogian Darkness” they received our music and lyrics and created their own interpretation of it. They did a fantastic job with the EP, so we decided to continue our cooperation.
The video for the track “God knows why” is quite intense and provocative… how did you come up with the concept for it?
Inside Flesh – the authors of the video and artwork for the album are performers with their own, unique style, which revolves around industrial, BDSM, with some distinct influences from artists like Olivier de Sagazan. As I already mentioned, what you see is their interpretation. We had our own ideas how it should look like, but so did they, and they do not back down from their vision.
The cover is in black and white and, at first glance, actually reminds me of the image of Jesus with a crown of thorns in his head. What’s the message you want to convey with it?
Again, this is Inside Flesh’s interpretation of our work, and what I can give you is my interpretation of theirs. For me the cover symbolizes what I said about the message of this album. The Jesus/saint motif with the lyrical subject obscured by a black shroud and a nimbus surrounding his head – for me this is a symbol of ecclesiogenic neurosis.
Medico Peste signed to Season of Mist’s sub label the Underground Activists. What does the band hope to achieve with this deal?
They are very well organized and have been doing a great job promoting the new album. Definitely being signed to a label like Season of Mist allows us to reach a lot of people with our music. Some people think that this comes with a price – loss of artistic freedom. This is not the case with SoM and they did not try to interfere with the content of our music in any way.
The visual nightmare illustrating the music was created by Inside Flesh, so it means the collaboration with Inside Flesh continues and they are responsible for the videos, artwork and photography in Medico Peste. What is the best thing about this collaboration… do they understand where you want to go and have awesome ideas or do they simply recreate what you ask of them?
They understand ugliness and grotesque and I really like their interpretation of our music. They do not listen to suggestions, which can be frustrating but, ultimately, they are able to deliver quality stuff, which makes up for their reluctance to follow our instructions.
Will the band tour in order to promote the new album?
Yes, but considering the current situation with the plague it’s very hard to say to what extent. We already had a few dozen shows booked for this year, some had to be cancelled or postponed. As soon as this is over we will start promoting the album live.
The band doesn’t use any props live and I’ve read you think the listener should be focused on the music and not on the musicians… what goes through your mind when playing live? Do you try to abstract yourself or do you pay attention to the audience and their reactions?
Medico Peste for me is a very personal thing. From the beginning in 2010 I wanted our shows to be more of a performance. I wanted to have no interaction or even visibility of the audience. That’s when I came up with the black cloth to cover my face. I wanted to fully immerse in the music and lyrics and reach the state of mind in which it was conceived. It’s a pity that nowadays every other band uses the black cloth-robe/hoodie image, simply because they saw Mgla live and thought it looked cool. Actually, very few people realize, that this has been Medico Peste’s image for more than 2 years before Mgla started playing live, and I heard multiple people calling us the copycats, which, as you can probably imagine, is really annoying.
Every now and then, Medico Peste share music links in their Facebook page that are not of Medico Peste, namely Ashes Band, Owls Woods Graves… are those links of other musical projects you’re involved in?
Yes. Ashes is a 90’s style melodic black metal project started by Nefar and featuring The Fall on the drums. If you like Burzum’s ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ you should check it out. Owls Woods Graves also like it old school, however the project created by The Fall and EVT offers a more relaxed, punkish take on black metal.
Medico Peste share live musicians with Mgla… how complicated is it working out the touring schedules or dates between both bands?
When Mgla began live activity in 2012 and for the next few years it wasn’t a big problem – both bands were playing only occasionally and we sometimes shared the stage, where The Fall and I did 2 gigs in one night. Things got complicated when Mgla started playing several dozen shows per year. This has effectively crippled our ability to play live and, in effect, we had to get our own live musicians with whom we will be promoting the new album this year.
The Polish underground scene seems to be stronger than ever… any bands we should pay attention to?
It certainly has gotten very popular, though to be honest I haven’t been following what’s going on the scene for several years now. I always look forward for new albums by Cultes des Ghoules and Mord’A’Stigmata – those bands were always able to provide quality and authentic music, which never disappoints. With regards to the newer bands, I recommend keeping an eye out for the new albums of Ashes and Over The Voids – both bands are projects of Medico Peste members.
How easy / complicated is it for a Black Metal band to succeed in Poland? Are the government and society more open minded these days?
The government is far from open-minded and this has a visible impact on society. We can see a surge in ultra-catholic, conservative and nationalist movements. That being said, who knows what will happen in the future. But for now, I would say it’s quite easy. Definitely easier than 10-15 years ago and easier when compared to countries like Germany or the UK, where you can get your show cancelled because some clueless fool calls you a ‘nazi’. And to be clear - I wouldn’t have a problem with that if it didn’t usually happen to people who don’t give a shit about politics, and sometimes even to guys whose private views would make Marx blush.
What does the future hold for Medico Peste? How will 2020 be like for you in what the band is concerned?
Other than the mentioned live activity we are going to start working on the next album and aiming at recording it sometime next year. Furthermore, all of us have side projects, many of which will be recording albums this year.
Care to share a final message with our readers?
No wise words come to my mind, so I’ll just finish by thanking you-the reader for reading this and you Sónia for the interview. Cheers!
Interview by Sónia Fonseca