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“We have never been so fearful of expressing a politically incorrect opinion.”

AETERNAM made a name for themselves with their unique brand of metal that incorporates death metal with symphonic and folk elements. They released their new album “Al Qassam” recently and we had the chance to talk with the frontman Achraf Loudiy about AETERNAM, his adventure from Morocco to Canada, the impact of ethnic origins and religion in metal and more.

Interview: Ahmet Saraçoğlu

Hi Achraf, how’s the quarantine going? Are you bored yet or do you go out as usual? Here in Turkey we don’t leave the house if it’s not necessary and the figures are getting better. How’s it like in Quebec?

Containment is going well for me. I live in a beautiful little house in the suburbs of Quebec and I have access to the wooden trails and a beautiful little river, so I have nothing to complain about. Here it is not as restrictive as in Turkey I would say. We have the right to go out for now as long as we keep our distance from each other. I’m not bored at all. I work on remote, I practice my guitar every day, I go out for a jog and I enjoy some quality time with my girlfriend.

You guys released your latest album “Al Qassam” at the end of March and both the media and fans seem to like it a lot. How do you compare it with your previous works?

“Al Qassam” is a natural evolution of what we have already produced before. We invested body and soul in its creation. It is clearly the most successful album of our career. At the production level, the use of real orchestral and ethnic instruments provides an additional layer of quality. In terms of lyrics, I think we have matured and it shows in the writing style. Musically, I think all albums can be equivalent. We can prefer one to the other, but it remains very subjective. My favourite is obviously the most recent and I am very happy with its reception with the fans and the media.

You released your debut via Metal Blade and then “Moongod” was released from Galy Records. Your last two were released independent. I guess it is a conscious choice that you are doing it on your own. Are planning to go like this or would you like to release future albums under a label? What was the problem with Metal Blade that you had to part ways?

We have an unusual journey at this level indeed. We signed for 5 albums with Metal Blade in 2010, but given the circumstances of the time, we could not tour internationally. Given the fact that we were all students and too young, in addition to the fact that I was not a naturalized Canadian, I was not allowed to leave Canadian territory as I see fit. Metal Blade have decided not to continue with us for these reasons. It is sad because in 2012 when Moongod was released, we were ready to go on tour, but we missed the train unfortunately. We always send our albums to labels prior to announcing a release date, but for obscure reasons we never managed to get a deal. We always try album after album, so we’ll see if luck smiles on us next time.

When I saw the album title, I wonder why a Canadian band led by a Moroccan would release an album based on Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades haha. When I read the lyrics, I realized that the album deals with many different concepts such as Japanese mythology, Capua and the Gladiator school (I guess), Incas, Palmira Empire and maybe Sephirot and Kabbalah. So why the title “Al-Qassam”?

Haha! Yes, it can be confusing. In Arabic, it is not the same words, even if it’s transcribed exactly the same in English. The S in our album title Al Qassam is not supported, unlike the name of the brigade whose S is supported and which means “the divider”. Al Qassam literally means “the pact” and it refers to the bond that a person can establish with an occult entity. This album is a collection of songs, there is no predominant concept like in ‘Ruins of Empires’. Each song has its own universe.

You worked with the always amazing Eliran Kantor for the album artwork. Correct me if I’m wrong but the upside-down figure on the artwork seems like the Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin. Is that right? Either way, what did you want to portray with the artwork? Here is the resemblance.

Haha! No, not at all. The concept behind Al Qassam has nothing to do with Hamas or Ahmed Yassin. The cover character is a demon. The woman draws a circle on the floor to symbolize the pact she made with him. The demon grips the woman and takes her into his world. Eliran Kantor is such an amazing and unique artist. I am a big fan of his work and been hoping to collaborate with him for a long time. I was absolutely stunt when he accepted to work on Al Qassam’s artwork.

There are few metal bands that are formed in western countries by musicians coming from Muslim or Eastern heritages. You and AETERNAM, Muhamed Suiçmez and NECROPHAGIST, Ashmedi and MELECHESH, Selim Lemouchi (RIP) and THE DEVIL’S BLOOD, etc. Some use their origins in their music (you, Ashmedi) and some don’t (Suiçmez). Lyrically and image-wise AETERNAM is not an as extreme as most of them but Ashmedi and Lemouchi sure are/were dealing with these occultist concepts. Do you see this pattern as a revolt against the oppressive religious childhood/background that these musicians may had to experience when they were young?

Hmm … I cannot speak for these people to clearly describe their works. On the other hand, we can actually feel a great intensity and depth in their music and in the themes addressed. I always thought that Metal is an art intimately linked to people’s life experience. We can therefore perceive a certain honesty behind the aggressive or rebellious attitude. I like to take as an example the first albums of the band Sepultura to describe this honesty. Regarding Aeternam, there was clearly a grudge against religion in the first 2 albums. I had a lot to evacuate after 20 years of life under the cultural and religious oppression of Islam, but I always preferred to express it in a poetic and colorful way by making historical references, but not devoid of sarcasm.

Sorry if I am mistaken, but I assume you were born in Meknès and then travelled to Quebec, is that right? Is your family religious? Have you ever had issues with your parents about the style of music you listened to and play?

Yes, I am Moroccan. I left Morocco at the age of 20 to move to Canada with the dream of being able to mainly play music and study engineering. My family is quite believer. However, I had a rather western education. I lost faith as a teenager like most apostates. My parents always supported me in my spiritual process, as well as in the music that I loved. I am very indebted to life for having loving, respectful parents who gave me everything. However, I was in a lot of oppression on the street. I got into a lot of fights, and I received a lot of death threats from religious people at the time.

Anti-Christian bands are very direct and extremist when they express their views; they can name their bands like ROTTING CHRIST, GOD DETHRONED, IMPALED NAZARENE; they can have artworks where the Jesus Christ is beheaded, etc. Whereas Muslim bands cannot be that vocal about their hatred against Islam, due to extreme stand Muslims when it comes to religious topics. It is a dangerous thing to curse Mohammed or put an artwork showing Kaaba in flames. We know what happened with Salman Rushdie for instance. What’s your take on that? How this “possible risk of receiving death threats” impacts a musician’s artistic vision?

Honestly, I deeply believe that all forms of censorship should not exist, regardless of the opinion defended. If a Metal band decides to show a Kaaba on fire, they should do so. It is not by self-censoring that things will move forward. I think we are falling back a lot on freedom of expression since the advent of social media. We have never been so fearful of expressing a politically incorrect opinion. Now even platforms like Facebook and YouTube censor a lot of content for fear of offending people. I find it unbearable. I am for exchange and intellectual civilized debate. This situation makes us more and more stupid and more and more disengaged towards certain issues. I have nothing against anybody, but whatever your religion is, to me it’s an abstract concept among others… Concepts are not human beings with rights… they should always be discussed and criticized freely. Aeternam has never been religion friendly. We have a cover that shows a representation of the three daughters of Allah on the album Moongod (which is a big blaspheme in Islam) where we talk about the historical aspect of the pre-Islamic religions which gave birth to Islam later. So yeah, we have already taken this step and maybe we will do it again in some way.

When you play metal with Middle Eastern/North African influences it’s like an obligation to use a belly-dancer at some point haha. ORPHANED LAND does it, MYRATH does it. Even MOONSPELL did it on stage while playing songs from their “Extinct”. And you also did it on “Lunar Ceremony” video recently. Although it sure is a selling point, I kind of have some troubles associating it with metal. Did you have second thoughts on having a belly-dancer on the video or was it like “oh yeah we’re definitely doing this!”?

I think belly dancing is an interesting artistic expression. It can be used with certain songs in our catalogue, and it’s a great thing that other bands have already used it before. We will not hide it, there is a sales aspect behind that, because it reaches a female audience that we had trouble going for. However, I don’t think we have the will to use this more in the future. Oriental belly dancing was a concept related to Lunar Ceremony quite simply and we had the privilege to work with the outstanding dancer Mahafsoun. But It’s not part of our overall gimmick.

Symphonic elements are utilized rarely in death metal compared to black metal or some other genres of metal. Bands like AETERNAM, HOLLENTHON, SEPTICFLESH, FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE and MAYAN are some of the few ones that come to mind. How do you see these bands? Can you name some of your favourites? I felt some SEPTICFLESH vibes on “Ascension”, do you agree?

Yes definitely. The symphonic aspect is not widely overused in Death Metal, which makes it refreshing. We love to garnish our atmospheres with orchestrations because it adds a lot of dimensions. We want the end result to sound bombastic and epic. Hopefully in the future we can record an album with a complete real orchestra. If you hear SEPTICFLESH in our music, that’s clearly true. I have been a big fan of the band since “Communion”. I remember seeing them first as openers for Cradle of Filth and Satyricon. I think that they are really avant-garde in the Metal genre and I carry them very high in my esteem. I hope one day that we will have the chance to tour with them.

This was all Achraf. Thanks for your time and music. I hope we’d see you guys play in İstanbul one day.
Take care.

We would love to play in Turkey! Hopefully soon. Thank you very much for this opportunity and for your support! Stay safe and take care!

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