This is an interview I conducted with Ludovic Van Lierde, lead singer, bassist, rhythm guitarist and leader of the French "Heraldic Metal" band Guttural. This guy is passionate about true metal.
Darken: Well, I have listened to Set Swords to Music and I must say it is an interesting record. I think it is a combination of Hammerfall, Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian, Iced Earth and Manowar. Do any of these bands, or any others, influence your music?
Ludovic: Well, since the release of Set Swords To Music I hear talk about Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. I didn't listen to those bands before I made the album, therefore I couldn't have be influenced by them. Eric Martins-Guerra (drummer) already liked them very much before he met me. That may be why he wanted to play with me. So, it's true that Iron Maiden and Manowar influenced my first works before the songs from Set Swords To Music were done, especially in melodies and swings, but my fashion to strike strings is coming from bands like Metallica or Judas Priest. I'm full of admiration for Dream Theater too, but their style is not on my songs. I enjoy listening to Helloween and Savatage, and the oldies like Van Halen, Def Leppard... My favorite singers are Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Paul Stanley, Eric Adams and others. I like strong, virile and very, very touching voices and attitudes. Besides Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Kirk Hammett and others, I adore Marty Friedman and Brian May. For me, Kiss is the symbol of what playing "live" should be. I'm particularly attracted by the great bands, even if at times I am interested in unknown bands, but it's rare and ephemeral. In spite of everything, I think the best thing is that Guttural has found its style.
What made you decide to make your debut a concept album?
Before Set Swords To Music I made a demo (solo album) representative of things I've done just after the 80's. I didn't get enough money to make a complete album so I felt deprived and I wanted to do another one, to turn a page with other songs and a new band. I came up with enough material to make 2 albums. The hardest thing was to choose songs that would make a new repertoire and raise a band. I already did have the idea for a concept album before my demo, but I wanted to do it in good financial conditions. I was afraid to pass up on the opportunity, however, and my will to record the concept album grew on me, because the idea was supported by my manager at the moment, who is also the executive producer. I knew it was dangerous to make that kind of record because I'm French and unknown, but the music in SSTM was done in the middle of 90's, except for "My Rash Ancestor," and I wanted to get them out there. The words came to me when the concept idea was clearer in my head. Finally, it took a while to record Set Swords To Music because I had to gather the first songs I made for Guttural into a same musical and words concept.
What is the message in Guttural's lyrics?
Generally speaking, in SSTM, the atmosphere is medieval and the message is kind of crusade against the wrong. The cover is significant--A merciless battle of Lords against Demons. We all have demons in our lives, in our work, in the streets... It's a caricatured description but so true. I'm a believer and God is often there, in my words and my music. My message is in two points. Sometimes I talk about respect of things, human and nature, by denouncing immoral attitudes or mean acts. Even if the concept revolves around a crusade atmosphere, my message is not an appeal for a war, but a way to say to the people they are distrustful. I not only fix my attention on evil things, but I denounce them and also try to give advices of peaceful defense against them. I know it's hard and I'm first to fight when I'm attacked, but I think it's not always the best manner to settle a problem. Crusaders were more than war expeditions because the good manners and faith of the lords were necessary faces to sensitivity... The second point comes from my imagination to break the harshness and the severity of reality because, luckily, life is also laugh, festivity, family, love and, sometimes, a good job. I like writing poetry and romance too with the heraldry which lives in me. SSTM message is all this with a great spirituality.
In your website and on your promo Cd cover you promote your band's style as "Heraldic Metal", why "Heraldic"?
"Heraldic" is a more complete term to describe our music and the meaning of our words. My previous manager thought of using "Epic Metal" but for me "epic" is reductive. "Heraldic" describes Guttural much better: respect, courtesy, honor, verity, friendship, nobility, forgiveness, faith and also perceptiveness, war (to get peace), morals... It's more magical and true than "epic" or "medieval". "Epic" is only synonymous of the bloody wars. "Medieval" is reflecting an epoch. Of course, I like Medieval for its romance and its poetry, but heraldry is timeless and more mystical.
Some people, whom do not like this type of metal (that being Anglo-Saxon), say that the music is monotonous and the songs are too long, what do you say to that?
I think that kind of people hate elaborate music (almost for fun). They are usually people who listen to another kind of music where songs don't take more than 4 minutes. I know how to create songs that last 3 or 4 minutes, but I wanted to develop an extensive concept album. You can't go on an expedition as knightly as SSTM in one day! Who is able to understand an album as varied as SSTM by listening to it only one time? I don't criticize the negative columns against Guttural because everybody is not obliged to love our first album, but I don't believe that is monotonous cause all my songs are very different when put together, even if they have been made for a same concept. There are so many bands that make 10 or 15 songs identical to each other, all done in a same album or, worse, there are those who are clones of other bands. Well, they can do what they want but I prefer listening to a real good band with varied music myself... With my songs, I try to make Guttural unique and good because I love very much the things that Guttural plays.
I know that you take care of the vocals, bass and rhythm guitar altogether, and you do it admirably I might add; what made you decide to have so many responsibilities?
Thank you for praises. It was a hard decision for a guy who needed to start a band project. I had my first guitar at nine and I sung before I knew how to talk. In the 80's, I started to play bass in my first band, to be able to stand in for the bassist. Before that, I was just the singer and founder of that band... To rehearse songs for an album as difficult to assimilate as SSTM I couldnt find anybody else who was able to do it. It was not really a decision, it was just bad luck, as it seems to be a fate if no guitarist can find a spot in Guttural today. The problem in France is that the guitarists only play for themselves. Those who wanted to play with us, after having heard SSTM, didn't show up to play the songs. Guttural is looking for "entire" musicians (soloist, singer, eclectic). Anyways, time went by and I had to make a decision to get things moving along. I couldn't wait anymore, then I called my manager to propose to him to record guitars, bass and vocals by myself; he accepted knowing that I was able to do it because I had done it before in my solo album. I hope it's the last time because it's a high responsibility. For me, it wasn't really hard to do it, but I had to follow all the steps from the recordings to the signing with a label. The hardest thing was that I felt very alone, particularly when something went wrong in the studio. But my sacrifice was not vain because the result is not so bad considering I had to record everything in just a week.
What is your favorite track in the album and why?
I don't have a favorite track but there is one I love less than the others, its "My Rash Ancestor," because it's the one that is less representative of the concept. To agree with some of my critics I'd say myself it's monotonous but, paradoxically, it's the favorite track of other people. Having said that, it was very hard to find a melodic voice for this title because I wanted to create a "Doom Metal" atmosphere, very different to others in the genre. But be that as it may, I really enjoy playing my songs. I just regret that the radio stations don't give more importance to "Forgive You Again" (ballad), it would be worth it; it's a nice song.
How do you get along with the other guys in the band?
You know, we are only two guys today. It's hard to manage but we hope to find the two musicians that Guttural needs. We are ready to play with foreign guys. We're looking for 2 guitarists who know how to sing and to do lead, who can create and fit in with the structure of the band. We have received good proposition but we can't honor them yet by playing concerts, it's a fact.
Guttural is an interesting name, how did you come up with it?
I wanted to find a name which would break the stereotypes from the Heavy Metal names. The Appellation "Guttural" incites the people to ask themselves questions about the name and the band. All that is guttural is impalpable, that's why it's more difficult for the people to understand what we mean with that name... A sound that came from nowhere can be guttural. The voice of God is often typified as guttural. It's an unexpected voice that talks to all hearts. Some people think that guttural is a Thrash Metal name cause of its representation that seems cold. I think that name generates fear because it gives a feeling of frankness and truth with a limitless power, but I'm not afraid of the truth.
What is your opinion of the world of metal today and where it is headed?
I don't quite know. We're emerging from a long dark period where Metal was equal to noise, especially in 90's, but today there are too many clones from great bands of the 80's. I also think it's too easy for some bands without talent to do anything and keep the good bands in the shadows. Bad bands highly contribute to the saturation of the market. Sometimes one of these artists creates a good song, but it's rare and it's only one in an album. For me, bands are not eclectic enough. I have myself a difficult time explaining eclecticism to the musicians who want to play in Guttural. In my opinion, too many bands that play a same style risk to kill that style. I'm in favor of diversity and I don't think that Heavy Metal can keep its little place without originality... Also, who wants to buy a CD when there are just one or two good songs into it? It's evident that the Heavy Metal public and fans of good Metal are not dwelling on this question, but they want things that gets them going, and that's why the young people listen to bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Helloween or Gamma Ray, Saxon etc; because they brought us new things with great emotions in their time. Let's show them that a band from the 21st century can be as good as the bands of the past! It would be normal; it's evolution!
Where would you like to take Guttural in the near future?
If I was younger than I am today I would like to go on big tours. Today things are very different and my family is the most important thing in the world to me. I've got two children and its very hard to go away from my home without thinking about them and that makes me ill. That's the main reason why I don't want to play concerts excessively. The Guttural members and a tour manager will get more out of me if we can often come back home to take a break, than if they oblige me to be far away from my family for too long. It is the only thing that quite worries me. I think I'll have another point of view when my children are adults, but today it's like that. Eric has no child but he understands. That's why now we prefer targeting good concerts or festivals. By the way, we have received a proposition to play in England on a great festival you surely know. I can't say more about it because nothing is sure since we don't have guitarists. I think its better to play in a festival with other bands because we get to know the different publics that not necessarily come for us, and we can talk with other bands; I think thats cool. Having said that, Cross Words With Us (our new, upcoming album) won't be long now to be distribute. Can I also say that I've already written most of the songs for the third album?