by Niklas Göransson
Three years have passed since Chilean doom metal outfit Procession released ”To Reap Heavens Apart”; recorded in isolation within the abode of the recently departed, an experience that left them all irrevocably changed. The band’s founder reveals how he discovered the obscure art that would become a life-long passion, as well as the tribulations of pioneering it within a narrow-minded scene in a country with little tolerance for metal. We hear how this devotion drove him to leave everything behind to embark on a pilgrimage to Europe and where it might take him next.
– Three years, says guitar player and vocalist Felipe Plaza (NIFELHEIM, DESTRÖYER 666), damn – I hadn’t even considered that. At the moment we’re loading our guns for the final gigs of the “To Reap Heavens Apart” album, two dates in Romania the first week of February. We’ve never played there before and both shows are sold out, very exciting. We’re hoping for some spare time to stop by the Carpathian Mountains since we hear they’re very inspiring in wintertime.
In October 2012, Felipe was joined by Swedish drummer Uno Bruniusson (GRAVE PLEASURES, ex-IN SOLITUDE), Danish guitarist Jonas Pedersen (ex-STRYCHNOS, VEIN) and fellow Chilean bass player Claudio Botarro Neira (CAPILLA ARDIENTE) as they gathered in a remote house to record the album.
– Those were some dark months, from pre-production to having the whole thing recorded and ready for pressing –if I had to sum them up with one word, it would be ‘departure’. Man, the sound and feeling of the album catches the mood of its creative process perfectly. My ex-girlfriend’s family was kind enough to let us use their house for a whole month so we turned it into an improvised studio, having brought a bunch of accessories; guitars, amps, beers, books and classic doom metal records. Then we leapt head-first into recording, without even having a complete album written.
Felipe mentions that the father in the family passed away before his eyes on the same day the recordings began. Declining to elaborate further, he says it bears mentioning as it greatly influenced the recording; having experienced death so close, it left him with a lingering ‘cold grey void’ and he adds that something like that can be complicated to return from. Procession were now using the home of the deceased as a haven for creation and with mourning routed into will – “To Reap Heavens Apart” took form.
– We would wake up around 7 or 8 every morning and work obsessively until it was physically impossible to continue. We agreed, disagreed, fought and found each other again after long walks in the nearby woods, or by just staring into the lake around the corner.
One significant realisation was how the music and ideas that inspired the album had in turn been channelled from the same source they were now themselves able to breathe and work in.
– It’s a strange form of confidence you get, either by yourself or in this instance as four people as one – all part of a greater consciousness, knowing that everything depends on that self. We knew our hands were shaping something profound, not meant for the material world but rather the one inside.
Journey’s end meant immense changes in the lives of those who had wandered – the people returning were, in essence, not the same that first set foot in that house.
– I moved in with Uno in Uppsala the week after, it felt like rebuilding a city after an earthquake. As I said; departures.
The hard work seems to have paid off in the end, as Felipe notes that the reception for “To Reap Heavens Apart” far exceeded his expectations.
– If I’m not mistaken it’s sold over 3000 copies now and there’s a new press coming in a few months, we also did a few intense tours and got to play a whole bunch of festivals.
The highlight was playing a number of shows on Felipe’s home soil, something he feels had to be done since the album contains so much more of Chile than the sonic output from two of her native sons. Another one of these ‘intense tours’ took place in Europe during November 2014.
– Oh fuck, says Felipe when reminded about it, yeah – we toured Europe with DREAD SOVEREIGN. Some fuckers broke into our bus and stole all of our personal belongings; pedals, passports, clothes, laptops and so on. Losses for approximately 4500 Euro.
As if the indignity of banditry wasn’t enough, for reasons unknown the brigands left behind a wooden giraffe in the car. The remaining token was as unrewarding as seeking help from the law.
– We went to the police station the morning after and they were extremely rude, as if the whole thing was our fault for even coming to Spain. Complete nonsense. Fortunately, everyone on board had grown a pair of rock ‘n’ roll balls by then so we managed to disregard anger and frustration. The tour had to continue – no matter what.
Alan Averill (DREAD SOVEREIGN, PRIMORDIAL) sent a plea for help through the band’s social media channels.
– I remember the support of people from all over the world with that donation thing, we wrote down the names of all donors and they will not be forgotten. Another side-effect was when we got to Romania; they wouldn’t let us in since we didn’t have passports – the border police basically told us to bribe them.
Having had all their money stolen, the unfortunate musicians gave away some merchandise in hopes of it being considered an acceptable bribe but after 90 minutes of deliberation, the guards had deemed their fashion senses unequipped to handle garments of doom. They told the bands to turn back, but not before administering another reminder that harsh mistress fortune never forgoes an opportunity to demean you.
– I was inspected for heroin use due to some old burn scars on my arm, he says laughing, for fucks sake. Anyway, this whole mess explains why it’s essential that PROCESSION and DREAD SOVEREIGN finally play Romania together next month.
Felipe reveals that PROCESSION is currently moving towards a third album, slowly but surely.
– We have four songs already so it’s shaping up – the title is “Doom Decimation” and it will be recorded later this year and then released on High Roller Records some time in 2017. 2016 marks a decade since I founded PROCESSION so we’re considering something special prior to that, a single or something.
When PROCESSION first set foot in Europe, on a tour in support of the 2009 EP “The Cult of Disease”, the line-up was all Chilean. A chance meeting in Nuremberg would however end up rewriting the demographic landscape.
– I met Uno and Jonas in 2009 when PROCESSION and IN SOLITUDE played together. Half-jokingly, both of them said I should give them a call if I ever needed musicians. We kept in touch and the following year played Hammer of Doom in Germany together, as PROCESSION. Accepting them as members was natural since they showed genuine interest in the band’s concepts and sound. We are different in many ways but when we rehearse, compose or perform on stage it’s a unique communion – it just feels right.
PROCESSION’s first show outside Chile was before a roaring audience of over 800 people at the Doom Shall Rise festival in Germany.
– The biggest discovery was that Europe had such an enthusiastic crowd, even for doom metal. We finally felt some vindication for all the hard work we put in, for once not having to play in front of narrow-minded thrash metal youngsters throwing beer cans at us.
Sounds like Stockholm in the mid-nineties. As TIAMAT’s and KATATONIA’s influences spread and the more mid-tempo atmospheric black and death metal made its appearance, many of them were ridiculed with constant shouts of ‘Play faster!’ In Chile however, tempo criticism could take on a more obtrusive form.
– We once travelled twelve hours for a gig in Valdivia, only to play no more than two songs. It was some speed metal show organized by a group of friends, packed with a very wild and drunk crowd. They didn’t like it slow and started throwing bottles at us. They were threatening us so we threatened back, then people started fighting and we had to get off stage and drive twelve fucking hours back home. Chile!
When setting foot on German soil, Felipe was prepared to leave behind life as he knew it.
– I had literally closed my life in Chile without knowing whether or not I was going to come back after the tour. It didn’t matter; I’ve always been the kind of person that rarely declines an invitation to the unknown.
The summons from the unfamiliar were heeded without hesitation and he ended up staying in Germany for a few months before finally moving to Sweden the following year. Having decided to make the country his new home, he opted to do things right by applying for a residence permit as well as learning the language and customs.
– Reasons for settling were many, the primary one was the feeling that I had something to say with my music and that this was the time to do it; where it happened was of less concern. I had found that place within myself – my conviction and my will, all I needed was a scenario for it to play out in.
Now, the fundamental calling that led Felipe to quit his job, give up his apartment and leave girlfriend and family back in Chile was the craft that had come to dominate his entire life; doom metal.
– I would never be where I am now if I wasn’t obsessed with doom metal, or heavy metal as a whole thing.
He feels that it was an important factor to discover the genre at its most underground, unaccepted and primitive stage. This was back in 1996, when the styles of brutality held the Chilean metal scene in a steel grip.
– I got a cassette off this guy who sold pirated tapes at a local market; side A had some random death or thrash metal, then – bam! Side B: CANDLEMASS’ “Tales of Creation”. I just couldn’t understand it; side A was fast, melodic, dark and heavy – must have been SLAYER, EXODUS, MORBID ANGEL or something like that. Side B was slower but just as heavy, melodic and dark – this lack of speed though, it made the scope of the music feel bigger; more time, more room, more feeling!
Until 2005, most Chilean metalheads considered the term doom metal to equal (quote) ‘weak gothic shit’.
– This ‘Century Media propaganda’, as we called it, had hit hard in an already narrow-minded and speed-obsessed Chilean metal scene. We were getting all of these goth albums described to us as ‘doom metal’ in zines and stuff.
For Felipe to finally discover that it was in essence closer to heavy metal was a total revelation. There was unquestionably ‘metal’ in doom.
– A week later I went back to the market, I needed more of this CANDLEMASS thing. I returned home with a dub of “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”.
That sealed the deal; CANDLEMASS was hands-down the darkest band on earth. Felipe went on to discover SOLITUDE AETURNUS, SAINT VITUS and British doom pioneers SOLSTICE. As fate would have it, 15 years later he would wind up on stage with one of them.
– In 2011, SOLSTICE were booked for a festival gig in Athens but had no vocalist. I’d been in touch with Rich Walker (SOLSTICE) for many years, PROCESSION were also playing there as well so I offered to do it – I went to London for a week of rehearsals and then did the show. We even started working on “I am the Hunter” (which ended up on the 2013 EP “Death’s Crown is Victory”), I couldn’t believe it – I was part of the return of SOLSTICE! Those were some great gigs we did together, a massive honour.
SOLSTICE really needed to get things rolling and Felipe living in Sweden made it difficult to rehearse, compose and arrange new material so he ultimately decided to step aside.
– Even better, they found Paul Kearns (ex-ARCANE SUN, FIFTH DOMINION) and the band is now stronger than ever. We’re still close – Rich is living testimony of sheer conviction and obsessive creativity. I think he’s a bit Chilean, he just doesn’t know it yet.
Felipe’s juvenile days were rife with adversity, with his parents having taken issue with his musical and social inclinations. If metal had been his secret place before this, doom became the holy grail in its inner sanctum.
– I didn’t come across any new albums for months, nobody had even heard of these bands. The closest was people trading or selling death/doom like the early stuff from CATHEDRAL, ANATHEMA and PARADISE LOST. I really enjoyed it since I could hear where their musical influences came from.
In an almost poetic way given the genre’s lyrical leanings, Felipe‘s foray into its confines was a lonesome one. While never losing interest in faster music and despite having places to meet other metalheads and watch bands – as the only fan in his area, doom metal was something he had to enjoy in solitude. One might even suspect this to be a contributing reason for the intensity of his passion.
– Around the turn of the millennia I fucked up badly at school, just youngster shenanigans really. I came home to find that my parents had destroyed my entire collection and then had to cut my hair due to the resulting trial.
No records, short hair – a virtual nightmare for any self-respecting adolescent metalhead. Getting all of his music back took massive efforts. Despite most of it being just bootlegs, he observes that as youngster he put strange value on those things because they were his and his alone.
– I knew that if I went back at it again with the same obsession, it would never leave me. The feeling remains the same, as simple as that.
Thanks to pioneers like PROCESSION, these days Chile has a small but dedicated doom metal scene.
– I can say with confidence that PROCESSION has played an important role in the understanding and acceptance of traditional doom as a heavy metal offspring. This is why we try to play there any time we can and have even done some exclusive deals with Chilean labels.
From 1973 to 1990, Chile was ruled by a military dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet. This made life difficult for not only doom metal fans.
– Memories still bring me back to the protests and curfews during the final months, I was very young then. Based on Claudio’s and other older friends’ stories, the newly born metal scene and everything related to it was considered criminal and treated with zero tolerance. If you had long hair and a black shirt, cops would stop you on the streets for ID control, interrogation and eventually threaten or even beat you with batons with the promise that next time could be the last.
He mentions stories of police pulling the hair off teenagers with pliers or simply burning it off with acid – given the regime’s renowned proclivity for ‘enhanced interrogation’, as it’s called these days, this doesn’t sound all that unlikely
– Sadistic? In a way, but none of it managed to stop the most raging and angry music on earth – gigs and demo recordings were made in secret and fanzines copied at people’s homes. In the late eighties, people from Chilean bands like PENTAGRAM, SADISM, DEATH YELL and ATOMIC AGGRESSOR were tape-trading and exchanging letters with the US and Europe. Just listen to their early recordings and you will hear an indescribable darkness that feels natural and primitive, that anger is a direct consequence of the tension and insecurity they woke up to every morning.
The fall of the Pinochet reign made life a bit easier for Chilean metalheads but the process was agonisingly slow.
– When the military left we still had a highly militarised catholic church with a strong voice over the country’s policies – the classic example being IRON MAIDEN unable to play Chile in 1993, due to their ‘satanic influence’ over younger generations. When I had to cut my hair for that trial it was my lawyer’s strategy to distance me from the ‘bad guys’. That was in the early 2000s, so there you go…
He ponders for a moment.
– I remember another one, he says laughing, when we had to spend the night at a police station on our way to play that gig in Valdivia back in 2011. An old woman complained that we were drunk and impolite, so the cops didn’t bother to ask our version and took us and all of our gear off the bus in the middle of the night. Mind you, it was a twelve hour drive down south.
The police subsequently conceded that it wasn’t right but said they had little choice in the matter since it looks good on the night reports. Also, in the eyes of the law, an elderly woman is more trustworthy than grown men sporting long hair and leather.
– Perhaps laws and tolerance have changed since the eighties but prejudice and discrimination is still there.
Felipe reckons that economic hardship plays a large role in forging the more dedicated and passionate fans of South America.
– The fact that Europeans starts playing an instrument knowing there might be a possibility of making a living out of it definitely makes things different. That’s why you have these constant fashion trends and sense of competition on all scenes. In Chile you’re frequently challenged; a classic scenario is the young metalhead giving up as soon as he gets the job, car, wife and family package. I know it happens everywhere but in Chile the regular salary is probably 60 percent lower than in Europe so a choice has be made.
Felipe believes the wilder crowds are a result of metal concerts being a far newer novelty over there. Fortunately, not quite as wild as they once were.
– In 1991, KREATOR was the first foreign metal band in Chile. They played for 20 minutes before they had to stop as people got violent and the cops had to do break it up.
One interesting phenomena in South America is that regular fans take matters into their own hands by bringing over bands they want to see.
– It still happens. That mad show we played with NIFELHEIM in 2014 was organised by a group of friends that were simply fans. They made about 50 Euro in profit after expenses, which goes to show that their motivation is hunger for music rather than money.
One does get ever so slightly curious as to what made the show ‘mad’, by his standards.
– The venue was packed with dedicated headbangers that had been waiting years to see NIFELHEIM live. They carried around their collections to get them signed and even brought massive amounts of strange gifts; from their own demo recordings to… well, strange substances and even weapons. The stage was secured by about ten huge black guys and the front door was held by some private skinhead security service. In between, there were more than a thousand maniacs banging and screaming, beating each other, flying around and drinking beer. Not just the front row but all of them, an ocean of raging beasts screaming in your face. Crowds like these are the right ones for this kind of obscure music, one wishes it was always that sort of metal ritual; no bullshit, just furious darkness.
Claudio, Felipe and PROCESSION’s co-founder Daniel Pérez Saa (King Heavy) also tried their hand at amateur promoting, bringing over CANDLEMASS in March 2006. The idea was conceived a few months prior, when they discovered that the Swedish doom legends were booked to play Brazil.
– We said: Come on, they’ll be so close for the first and perhaps last time. It can’t be that hard, we just need to find someone with the cash to pay for everything.
They approached a known CANDLEMASS diehard that had a bit of savings, then contacted the band’s manager and suddenly the whole thing was set in motion.
– I couldn’t believe it! We were making this happen.
Besides experiencing old heroes live in concert he also got to hang out with them for a few days, hearing stories from recording sessions and old tours. The culmination was a suffocating two-hour set in front of 250 lunatics.
– I remember standing close to the stage when some crazy guy jumped up and grabbed Messiah in a headlock, he panicked so we had to punch the maniac off the stage.
He chuckles and reminisces how a shocked Messiah couldn’t fathom how or why something like that would ever happen at a doom metal show.
– The average fan there was probably in his thirties so yeah, mostly a concert organised by and for long-time fans. It also turned out to be one of the last CANDLEMASS shows with Messiah, which in hindsight makes it feel even more special.
Curiously, physically summoning their musical lodestar is what led to the formation of PROCESSION.
– Daniel and I started jamming together a few days after the concert. There was no name yet, just a desire to for a bit longer hold on to that soul-crushing feeling from two hours of the heaviest metal we’d ever experienced.
From the vaults of the most overused questions in nineties zines, what are your lyrics about?
– Preparing yourself to die for what you aim to achieve, without ceasing to exist but exploring your existence to its full limitations. In an esoteric way, I’d say it’s a journey into the alchemy of the self. In this case; my-self and PROCESSION as a-self
Felipe says that when you commit to making an album, you’re also assuming responsibility as a communicator. Revealing as much as you want, without betraying the true purpose of its creation.
– I usually never write anything down before I start recording vocals, just like I rarely come up with riffs while holding a guitar. Its pure fucking perception through reflection put into creation.
Felipe credits this outlook to being exposed to authors like Friedrich Nietzsche, George Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Miguel Serrano and Hermes Trismegisto at a young age.
– My father had a great collection of books since his and my mother’s hermetic days, there are common patterns and codes in all of these esoteric works. I feel inspired when reading something that invokes previously unexperienced feelings, or studying texts that not only answer questions I haven’t even asked but also raises new ones.
The lyrics of the title track mentions a pilgrimage – but not where it’s headed or what one might hope to find upon arrival.
– Those are questions I haven’t had the urge to ask myself yet. And it feels right – they might come up as I get older but for now the creative obsession has taken over. This pilgrimage isn’t as much about the final destination as where it stops along the way.
He says that “To Reap Heavens Apart” was a great moment of consciousness in that matter, full of analogies for understanding which directions to take.
– It’s a pilgrimage through all the stages of the self, commonly known as chakras and symbolised on a backwards journey from Sahasrara (the crown chakra) to Muladhara (the root chakra). From north to south – from possible ends to the beginning. Where we violently interrupt consciousness in order to reach the primal stage where the egoless first self finds all beginnings.