Closing the Book

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The last chapter has been written and the book of Catholicon has been closed. The Baton Rouge band, which formed in 1994, has disbanded with some members going on to form Heir to the Throne. Throughout Catholicon’s career, which includes four full-length albums and multiple demos, the unique, creative, blasphemous, and downright diabolical style of black/death metal has not only gotten better with each release, it has stood the test of time. The culmination of that improvement comes in the form of Of Ages Past, the final Catholicon album and one that features the act’s best songwriting to date within the quasi-parameters of its unconventional, yet more refined/conventional (relatively speaking, of course) this time around, brand of sonic sacrilege that chills to the bone and melts the face. The release comes with a DVD-ROM containing a veritable treasure trove of material from across the band’s career (more on that below). With that I present to you a Q&A session with Chad Kelly (a.k.a. Blasphyre) the former Catholicon member who was an integral part of the creative/professional process and who has chosen to simply let sleeping dogs lie, rather than continue on in a new incarnation (ala Heir to the Throne) of it.

 Rather than dwell on things like the origins of Catholicon or too much of the past in general, instead tell us about the period between Treatise on the Abyss and of Ages Past, which is the final Catholicon album, including the decision to disband and begin anew as Heir to the Throne.

We disbanded at the end of last year.  It was a mutual decision, for the most part anyway.  This is basically what happened. When we were recording Of Ages Past in 2008, Mike Rogers (drummer, aka Statutorist, who was probably my closest friend in the later lineup of the band) told me that he planned on quitting music after the album and selling off all of his music equipment and never looking back.  He did do that, as true as he said he would.  He focuses on finishing school these days and then trying to get the hell out of this state (or country).  I told him that at this late date in the game and at my age, I didn’t feel like trying to start over with a new drummer just to have to wait around while he learned the same songs and so forth and that I’d rather just call it quits and move on with my life as well.  I felt like we really had a unique record in the making, that we were very lucky to have pulled off four albums that each sound unique and have their own set of fans that prefer each one; and that we should probably get out while we were ahead.  I felt like if we tried to go for album number five with the same lineup and the same formula (plus a new drummer) that it could be a disaster and my heart just wasn’t in doing that.  Mike and I called Kris (The Shape) a couple of times to tell him what was going on so he was aware, and Mike and I tried to get him to come eat with us a couple of times so we could go over everything and make sure it was amicably done.  Since I kind of knew during most of the recording that Of Ages Past would be the last record, I took my very sweet time mixing it and trying to present it in the best light.  I like its production the best out of the four.  I knew the box set would need to be ‘ultra completist’ since it would be our last release.  I also planted a lot of double meanings into everything, which I’m fond of doing.  This goes back to the first album, Lost Chronicles, where I hid lots of Star Trek references all over it.  Two more obvious examples are the song titles “Ashes of Eden” (the title of William Shatner’s first novel) and “The Altar of Science” (a Deep Space Nine episode).  With Of Ages Past, I laid it on thick so there would be no mistaking the band’s end as being un-planned.  The whole album is almost a funeral process, with the bookends “Anno Domini” (after death) and “Remember the Fallen,” the bonus track “Thanatopsis” (the sleep of death) featuring a complete reading of the poem of the same name, and a reprinting of that death poem on the inside tray card.  The album, which was originally going to be called Faith of the Fallen, was changed to Of Ages Past; and is meant to say that the time of our age is past.  Songs like “Lament Configuration” and “Land Beyond the Stars” are all about death and change, and contain lines like “there must come a time, to cut one’s losses and walk away” and lots of other lines that seem to speak of the band as much as of life itself.  All of our albums have nuggets and double meanings and hidden messages in the texts if one wants to dig for them, even in the thanks and credits sometimes.  Some of them are meaningful, some are silly; but I don’t want to give any more away.

So to be perfectly clear here, you chose not to continue on as Catholicon with a revamped membership because? It is really as simple as you stated?

I didn’t want to do it without Mike (Statutorist, drummer), honestly; and he’s not playing music anymore.  I felt like it wouldn’t be the same.  As time goes on, though, I kind of have come around to the idea that I need to make one more record.  I had a concept album written called Skeleton Key that was supposed to be a sequel to the Death Throes album.  We never got around to doing it.  I have a friend who’s an excellent drummer and another friend who’s an excellent guitarist; so there’s a strong chance that another record is going to be soon in the works if I can merge the concept record with the idea my friend and I have been talking about of wanting to just do a great old school death metal record in the studio.  Maybe the two could be one and the same.  What I’m not sure about yet is the name to put it under.  I was thinking of naming a new band Excommunicated if I started something up again; and you can see that I left myself a sort of opening for that by naming the DVD we put out “Catholicon: Excommunicated.”  If I find that name is taken or isn’t a popular choice, who knows.  What I won’t do though, under any name, is work with much of the old lineup again.  I think that formula would not work again.  In fact, if you listen to the final 2009 rehearsal demo of three new songs on the DVD; I think you can tell, though the songs are ok, that the old formula had totally run out of steam and creativity, and another album like that would have been a flop.  It was time to re-shuffle the deck.  Another reason is that there were two members of the old lineup (I won’t name names) who wouldn’t stop trying to destroy each other, for reasons of jealousy or whatever other reasons I cannot fathom.  Since they both were to blame to some degree, ending the lineup that connected them together seemed the prudent thing to do. 

Heir to the Throne is connected though in that it is also a Catholicon song, right?

Well, I kind of consider that website more of a statement of intent on the part of Steve (I.N.R.I., vocalist) to try to continue on making music in the vein of the three later Catholicon albums.  So far, not much has become of it; though of course I wish anyone the best of luck with their lives and pursuits.  They have a selection of Catholicon songs up on their website; which is fine because Kris (The Shape, guitars), who’s involved in that, wrote a lot of them; and it’s the sound they’re probably still going for.   I gave them permission to use the song “Heir to the Throne” (which was the first song ever written for the band by original member, Ashton, in 1995), in regards to my small contribution to the song (keys, bass, vocals, and about half of the lyrics).  I honestly never liked that song too much; it’s 15 years old, lyrically immature, and kind of embarrassing to center a band around. But to each their own, I suppose.  There’s so much better stuff that we did than that.  I was asked to be involved; but declined for the same reasons I didn’t want to continue the original band.  I’ve moved on and moved forward. 

Of Ages Past is the final Catholicon album and you’ve spared no expense in making it your best work. Though it still represents the Catholicon style, there seems to be more breathing room in the compositions and a little more of a controlled approach, compared to the chaotic, yet not unstructured, approach of earlier albums.

Totally agree, and thanks.  My only fear is that it would become known as our “St. Anger” because a number of those songs should have been shortened and probably would have been if we’d stayed around a little longer and worked on them more.  As a matter of fact, one of them was shortened (“Blood Ink for the Book of Life;” see the remix version on the CD) for live use before the band came to an end. 

There is also more density in the bottom end, which the keyboards/synths enhance even more so this time around.

Absolutely, and thanks for noticing that too.  One thing I didn’t want to have was an album where the bass was de-emphasized; and that’s kind of a throwback to our first record, Lost Chronicles, where the bass is pretty audible and sits well with the guitar because we used the same Mesa amp and cab for both.  Another thing I didn’t want to have was a modern, squeezed, earbud-friendly slick production.  I wanted a “record.”  One aspect I’m kind of proud of is that the album is pretty well compressed, and the bass guitar subgroup is very compressed; but it was done in a way that (to me) doesn’t sound very obvious.  The bass seems pretty well rounded and fat and mixed rather high in the mix on purpose.  Tim (Gilles de Rais, bassist) is a very talented guy and knows how to get a good bass tone.  He played a fretless on the whole thing, to give it a more syrupy and fluid feel, and I believe used a pretty high dollar tube bass amp and cab.  We captured a DI of the bass as well as three mics on the cab (one pencil condenser, one dynamic, one large condenser) and ran through three distinctly different high dollar preamps (ADL, API, and Drawmer, if I recall), some that were clean and some that were intentionally overdriven.  So there was an abundance of bass to get to work with and very fun to mix.  I never agreed that absence of bass makes an album heavier (Death: Human and Cancer: Death Shall Rise are often cited examples); I think it makes them “crunchier” and tighter maybe due to less competing instruments, but not heavier.  The keyboards are a little brighter on the new album to open up more room for the bass guitar and guitar.  On Death Throes and Treatise, I played mostly lower octaves.  With Of Ages Past, I did higher ones.  Another thing I went back to doing was capturing the synth like an analog instrument.  This means I had to actually play it and punch in the mistakes, just like a guitar or bass player.  I used a DI and tube preamps and sometimes a keyboard amp and mics; just like old school.  I’d gotten away from that in recent years; Treatise was captured as MIDI and then edited and processed using VST orchestral instruments (lots of them) and the result, to me, wasn’t as pleasing or organic as a real analog performance.  So I went back to that simple, stripped down, less clean and perfect approach.  It worked.  I think in the future, if I ever do another record, I’ll do a mixture of both.  There are definitely some cool advantages as well as cool handicaps to treating the synth as an analog instrument and as a real performance versus something that gets programmed and whittled on later.

There is no question that On Ages Pasts continues a style that is not easily categorized, though black metal and, to some extent, death metal forms the basis of the sound.

Well, we’re definitely fans of both.  One thing that’s true of all of us is that we were always fans of all sorts of metal.  Atavistic or primordial metal is a way to describe the sound. 

Though most of the album consists of new music, you did re-record some songs, such as “Anno Domini” and Sodom’s “Remember the Fallen” (one of the bonus tracks), while some of the lyrical content, at least to a certain extent, was written in years past.

Well, every song (musically) is new on the CD except “Anno Domini.”   That song originally appears on the very first 1994 demo (see the DVD-R folder “Children of the Lost Generation”) and the Sodom cover “Remember the Fallen” originally appears on the 1999 demo (see DVD-R).  They basically form book-ends, but everything in the middle is new material written between 2007 and 2008.  Lyrically, some of this stuff goes way back.  Just like with the last album, a lot of lyrics are “from the vaults;” mixing newer lyrics with stuff that was written as long ago as when I was a teenager or in my early 20s.  One very cool coincidence is that after doing two albums that used up a lot of old lyrics, there were only three sets of lyrics left unused.  Those were lyrics that we’d had around in the notebooks for years and never could fit them to a song.  When we recorded the final 2009 demo (see the DVD-R), those three finally got forced in (“Fang & Claw,” “Drink the Poison,” and “Serpent Speaks”), and that officially wiped the slate clean. 

But yes, the last three tracks indeed are CD bonus material.  Actually, if you have the promo version of the audio CD there is a fourth bonus track (“Thanatopsis”).  If you have the regular store version, that track is on the DVD under “Of Ages Past: Bonus Material.” 

The real treat for Catholicon fans is the inclusion of a DVD-ROM (“Excommunicated: Catholicon Compendium 1994-2009”)  that contains upwards of 24 hours of “MP3 folders of every Catholicon demo, live recording, rehearsal tape, and unreleased studio recording available, all restored, compiled, remixed, and remastered by Catholicon’s Blasphyre.” Tell us about the content and what must have been the painstaking process of assembling it.

It was majorly painstaking…  This was a project that I began kind of seeing the need for after Treatise was finished, and I began working on it in earnest in early 2007 before Treatise came out.  It was actually the hold-up in getting the new album out the door, as the new record was mixed and mastered before the middle of 2009 but the DVD wasn’t finished until early December.   It was the most intense project I’ve ever embarked on, musically; there’s literally 15 years of our lives on that thing.  It’s very thorough.  It was everything that I could find, and it came from a variety of sources and people; required a lot of digging and investigating, trying to find out who had what and what was the best available version of what.  Once I had it all collected, the real work began.  All of this stuff had to be re-mastered and made to sit well with each other, level and EQ wise, at least as best as it could.  I’m proud that I was able to bring out the drums and clean up a bit the original 1994 demo, as well as to bring back so many of the lost bonus tracks from it, like the 1993 ambient piece “Satanic Ritual Abuse” that was sometimes copied on side B of the original 1994 cassette demos.  I was able to get the bottom end under control on the 1999 demo (which was actually the fault of the guy who mastered it, and we’d erased over the original mix DAT and so were always forced to work with the mastered version that I never was as happy with).  Those were little things I’d always wanted to revisit and finally got the chance to.  What was even harder was some of the stuff that was never finished.  The test-run recordings of Death Throes and Treatise had never even been completed or mixed before, likewise with the final recording session in 2001 with Ashton (Heir to the Throne, 2002 demo bonus track); so that was a bit more work.  Some of the more interesting nuggets on there are those test run recordings.  Treatise, because it’s just so raw and brutal that I love it, and Death Throes, because it’s just a very haunting and incomplete work.  Listen to that and imagine that this was how the DT album was originally going to sound, which is much more flawed, eerie, and ethereal.  The demos for Treatise were very good demos too, and had never been even heard by anyone.  And of course, the 2009 demo, if you want to hear three songs written after Of Ages Past, which you’ll probably never hear again in any other form. 

You even released the album on December 25, 2009, Christmas Day! I don’t know if that’s ever been done before by a metal band.

[Laughs]  Well, I thought it was pretty funny to do that.  The funny thing is that nothing is open (including the post office) on Xmas day, so it was really more symbolic than anything.  You couldn’t have gotten it that day unless you’d driven to my house.  Remember, also, that Xmas was originally on Jan. 7th.  The Catholic Church moved it to counteract Hanukkah. 

Treatise on the Abyss was released by Negativity Records. Of Ages Past was self-released, though forms the beginning of your own label, Underworld Records. What happened to Negativity and what is the story behind Underworld Records?

Negativity was a label started by our bassist, Tim (Gilles de Rais), based out of Texas.  Negativity is still in business (I think, anyway); I’m just no longer a partner in it.  It was easier, in light of things and due to location, to start my own thing.  It didn’t feel much different because the Death Throes and Treatise albums were projects that I pretty much oversaw through the whole process and released through Negativity when I was a partner in Negativity.  So it wasn’t very different for me on my end, really.  I learned a lot in the years I worked with Tim and look forward to now doing my own thing my own way, in a more relaxed and less ambitious manner. 

I suppose I shouldn’t get into any of the soap opera nonsense; but I might as well give a little more background on this.  The personal conflicts between two of our members (which I think they both share some blame in, and I do still consider both friends) began to spill over and inhibit my ability to finish the album project and release it through Negativity.  I really wanted to try to stay out of this and just get the record out; but when that became impossible and I realized I would have to put the record out myself, I extracted myself from the label and started my own.  I tried to do it as peaceable as possible, if you saw my little “press release” statement on the matter. 

I was intrigued by some of the information in the liner notes. For example, Shawn Whitaker (Insidious Decrepancy/Viral Load) provided guest guitar leads on several tracks.

He sure did, he did a great job too.  He’s a perfectionist, one of the most precise guitarists I’ve ever met.  I don’t listen to a whole lot of “brutal” bands out there, but his is one of the ones I really do like.  I have most of his albums, and they keep getting better.  But anyway, that was a cool coincidence.  When we scheduled about three or four days to go down to Tim’s studio (Noisefarm Studios, Texas) to get the bass tracked for Of Ages Past in late 2008, Shawn happened to still be there wrapping up one of his latest records.  He was game to put down some leads for us while we were there; he did them all in one evening.  

The Mother Teresa quotes are as interesting, as it is probably surprising to most people that she uttered those statements.

Cool, that was kind of a nod to our first album, which had a Teresa quote across the back of it “Pain, Sorrow, and Suffering is but the kiss of Jesus,” which came from a personal letter she sent to a donor who was in the hospital, dying of cancer.  The statements we put in the new record both come from her personal diaries, which have been published now in book form.  It’s depressing, as was she; and a good book on the subject is “The Missionary Position” by Christopher Hitchens.  One of the things people don’t realize about her is that she didn’t run a hospital so much as a hospice, with dirt floors and unsanitary conditions.  She didn’t love the sick and dying, she loved sickness and death.  Her New York office’s bank account had $5 million in it at the time of her death, yet her facility in Calcutta had dirt floors and not enough beds.  She accepted money from a known Wall Street swindler, and had deep lifelong bouts of depression and deep skepticism toward the possibility of a God.  She underwent at least two exorcisms in her life to cure her lack of faith and depression, the second one just two weeks before her death.  If you read her journals, you get a more balanced perspective.  She was jaded, but she did have some instances of doing some really heroic things.  I think she was a career nun but personally an atheist.  Kind of like someone working for the government who hates government (I know a few). 

You also give special thanks to Vincent Crowley (Acheron/Wolfen Society), which makes sense, in that your philosophies would seem to be in sync.

He and I are old friends from the early 90’s “snail mail” era when bands wrote to one another.  We both have something in common in that we used to both harass the evangelist Bob Larson. Fun stuff.  I used to write for his short-lived his Order of the Evil Eye newsletter, and he was interviewed in my own short lived Underworld newsletter, all back in the early ’90s.  I called him up one time and he said he was just listening to my awful ambient album Absynth that I made years ago…  that freaked me out [Laughs]. His music keeps getting better.  I love the new Acheron!

I must say, the list of bands that provided you inspiration over the years is both surprising (Y&T and AC/DC) and unsurprising (Immolation, King Diamond, Samhain, Rotting Christ, etc). For the record, I too am a big fan of Y&T’s work from Earthshaker through Mean Streak. Dave Meniketti is a beast!

Y&T are awesome, yes.  At least they definitely used to be.  I know they’re still around, sort of.  All those bands are definitely a big influence for me; but also remember I said that sometimes there are hidden messages or double meanings in things. 

Finally, as for Heir to the Throne, tell us what you know about the musical style, what you think the future may hold for them, and when they plan to release an album.

The musical style is whatever the sound that a guitar amp and broken drum set make when they’re sitting in a room, untouched, and with dust all over them, and the debut album will probably come out sometime after Hell has frozen over and the universe ends in what physicists call the Big Crunch or Big Chill scenario.  Just kidding. But I really have no idea.  I’m not in the loop on that; but as far as I know nothing has come of it.  Heir to the Throne is not a continuation of Catholicon and is not Catholicon.  It’s a desire on the part of Steve (I.N.R.I.) and Kris (The Shape) to form a new band that continues on with the sound they imparted on Catholicon during their respective time working together in the band.  They haven’t done that yet, as far as I know, and I really didn’t see the point; but I wished them the best of luck and hope they find happiness.  Myself, I’m more interested in moving on and moving forward and trying something new.  Catholicon ran its course, I’m proud of what was done; but don’t need to stay mired in the past.  Now that my duties to the band are pretty much concluded and I’m free to look ahead to doing some new music with some new folks, I’ll probably start working on that.  I’d rather keep it a little less public until there’s a real product out there, you know; because there’s no point in rushing together a website that features another band’s songs, just to get something up and make a statement, you know.  Having a real band and a product out is all that matters; not so much in making a statement or whatever.  That’s just how I see it; but it’s no big deal.  I always had a different approach to doing business, which is why it’s a good thing that the various factions are doing their own things.  For instance, I always desired a more mature and respectable image for the band; as opposed to starting intentional trouble with other people or using immature statements like “Christ Rape” and so on.  Just a different approach, that’s all. 

www.myspace.com/catholicon

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