by Niklas Göransson
This week’s attraction features brown metal of the Belgian variety; from rural origins to the urban industrial comes Lugubrum; carrot-cult cleric Midgaars decrees affinity with outcasts, and the sanctity of fermented gold.
– This was the first time LUGUBRUM set foot in a professional studio. “Wakar Cartel” was to a great extent recorded live as a trio with vocals and additional instruments overdubbed. The reason for this was to capture the feeling of a concert performance; there’s an organic flow of exchange that arises between musicians interacting in the same room, feel-driven not so much as smell-orientated…
Recording live must demand a psychotic amount of rehearsing?
– We were well-prepared but not over-rehearsed, we simply don’t have the time for that. The studio owner had worked with us before – he did the Ghent half of “De Ware Hond” (2007), another live recording – and the guy who mixed it also handled our previous album, “Herval” (2015). So, both of them knew what to expect from us and we what to expect from them. Although we did get strange looks while dragging in our old and hairy drumkit, the very same one we’ve been using for twenty-five years. It’s been in a fire, used to cook spaghetti and… functioned as urinal, but nothing sounds sweeter! We had no ambitions of getting a perfectly streamlined and pumped production but rather to capture the LUGUBRUM sound to the max, including cross-interference, noise and fuck-ups; the proverbial brown gold.
LUGUBRUM flies the flag of brown metal. I’m curious about the pigmentation aspect of this – I’ve detected signs of a somewhat unsettling captivation for manure but thought I’d be polite and not speculate.
– Was it Nathan T. Birk who came up with the term ’brown metal’? I’m not sure, but the first time I read it I thought it was genius and still do. Really, it’s the perfect description for what we do nowadays, as was BBM back in the day.
Things were not always brown. Up until 2003, when studio and rehearsal operations were relocated from the countryside to urban surroundings, LUGUBRUM went under the moniker ’boersk blek metle’. Boersk is Flemish and means something rural.
– And boersk it was! Manure was in the air – whenever rehearsing, we need only open the windows to let the goodness in. Talking of those rural years, my dad once gave me his old pair of Ray Ban pilot sunglasses from the sixties. They had golden frames but what made them so great were the brown glasses; I beheld the whole world through this perfect hue, a gleam of golden brown. I knew from then on that this was the true face of existence, a world where I rule as king from the Brown Throne. Unfortunately, I stepped on them one day when I was drunk.
“Wakar Cartel” is LUGUBRUM’s eleventh album in twenty-five years. Bands with this kind of longevity tend to repeat themselves and lose part of their initial inspiration – criticisms decidedly inapplicable to the trio, who’ve somehow managed to stick to a similar formula without ever repeating themselves.
– That’s the whole point. Each album is a different shade of brown, with all the combined layers painting the complete picture – it’s a work in constant progress. This development is to a large extent driven by the music I listen to, my tastes are always evolving and, consequently, so is LUGUBRUM. I find this very natural but a lot of people clearly don’t seem to understand, or even find it an annoying peculiarity. The way I see it: if you like a certain style of music, you can easily find thousands of other bands who can please you. There’s only one band like LUGUBRUM, so it’s very easy to avoid us. It’s like being on a bus where one of the passengers has soiled himself, you can go sit right next to him and complain about the smell or you can go sit somewhere else; preferably in the vicinity of an open window.
Midgaars notes that most people harbour an instinctive resistance towards the unexpected, which he says is why it takes even their fans a long while – usually until the release of the next album – to collect their nerves enough to process a new LUGUBRUM offering.
– The first listening-session of a new LUGUBRUM album is always accompanied by heavy frowning, or simply having the look of someone whose kettle was just shat in. It takes a true carrot-cult maniac to take it all in without flinching, and there are fewer of those than there are red-haired midgets surfing the jellyfish-ridden beaches north of Aberdeen. I know because I’ve met all of them, whilst visiting Aberdeen.
The observant will notice how “Wakar Cartel” is the first time LUGUBRUM has used a photograph rather than Midgaars’ visual art as cover design.
– My paintings and drawings had become somewhat of a standard requirement or template for our album art so, naturally, I felt it was time to try something different. Besides, the cover picture by Storm Calle is a classic work of art in itself – it’s far more powerful than anything I could have fabricated. I made the background patterns from an old batik design, I enjoyed making those.
Are you a professional artist?
– I don’t make a living from it, no. My day job is art-handling so I spend a lot of time in museums and galleries, which can be inspiring. I’ve often wondered what being a successful artist would be like, but keep finding it a strange concept. Why do we have these creative urges? Why are people not just content with the world as it is, instead of filling it with crappy impressions and wasting material? With this in mind, I’ve begun producing less in the rather limited time I have at my disposal. It takes ages, but it’s more accomplished and fulfilling than my older works. Less is more, so to speak. A great catch-phrase for the homo sapiens!
Beer appears to play an integral part of both LUGUBRUM’s creative process and artistic expression. I’ve noted how Midgaars appears to speak of the beverage more in terms of reverence and awe rather than as a mere recreational stimulant. This wouldn’t be as silly as it might initially sound, since alcohol has been Europe’s primary plant sacrament ever since the Bronze Age – used communally for ceremony, inspiration, and camaraderie.
– Beer is part of every LUGUBRUM gathering. Ever since we first wandered into the woods carrying beer and carrots, the two components have gone hand-in-hand. The brew makes inspiration flow, but also ignites a kind of energy which enables us to communicate without words. None of our albums would’ve been the same without it.
Belgium actually has climate change to thank for its beer culture. It was the Little Ice Age of the 16th century that swept hops, the most important ingredient in beer as we know it, down into mainland Europe. Requiring a cold climate, hops hadn’t spread much further south than Northern Germany around that time, and while cultivated in monasteries and similar it was out of reach for the common folk. The main advantage of hops, besides its distinct flavour, is how it stabilises the brew by eradicating bacteria. Hops, which belongs to the same plant family as cannabis, also has psychoactive properties in itself – hence why beer also has a sedative quality that’s unrelated to alcohol.
– Hop grows in the wild here, but only the females – male plants are controlled in favour of commercial growth. Pollen changes the lupulin-structure in the female flowers, making them taste too bitter. Anyway, wild hop is not suitable for commercial brewing. Before the Middle Ages, people in our regions used gruut – a preservative made from rosemary and bog-myrtle. However, this also acted as an aphrodisiac so friars preferred the calming effects of hops. Check out local beers called Gruut and Gageleer!
To what extent does this enthusiasm manifest, do you indulge daily?
– I don’t consider myself a heavy drinker, sometimes I can go for days without a drop and I don’t like to get soaked or hungover. That said, most days I have at least one beer – usually a trappist – and during weekends I can drink some more when in company. Single malt whisky is also a favourite of mine. I consider myself lucky to have been born without any addictive tendencies. Barditus did have a bit of an addiction but had to stop drinking altogether because of pancreas damage, which is why it became unbearable for him to be in the band.
This brings to mind something I read about the recording of their 2001 album, “Bruyne Troon”, which took place in a semi-flooded cellar. Following an overambitious consumption of liquid intoxicants, the now former vocalist Barditus suffered a minor gravitational mishap that almost rendered him electrocuted.
– Around that time, Barditus’ alcohol abuse was out of control – and this is an understatement. Apart from suffering balance disorders, he couldn’t quite recall getting there in the first place – let alone remember any lyrics or even read them from a sheet. This actually brings to mind our very first gig, when we were all completely ape-faced. Barditus was staggering around the stage with his back bent backwards in ninety degrees. He repeatedly fell over, either on the drumkit or into the barbed wire we’d put up in front of the stage to discourage stage-diving.
As outrageous as this sounds, it was far from their strangest concert experience. That title is, according to Midgaars, claimed by a 2007 event with a correspondingly odd name: (K-RAA-K)³ Festival.
– Barditus called us that morning to say he couldn’t get out of bed – from what would later turn out to be acute pancreatitis – so at the very last minute we found a replacement singer in Slosse, who was also quite ill. It was the first-ever show without Barditus, very weird indeed.
As improbable as it may seem today, LUGUBRUM started out in 1992 as a pretty standard occult metal band of qualities significantly blacker than brown.
– Early black metal was the ideal soundtrack, not only for pissing about in forests and deserted farmlands but also the formative period between teenage years and adulthood – when you’re looking for an identity whilst carving out your path in life. I was always an outsider with a strong interest in nature, history, and esotericism so the black metal mood and aesthetics were highly appealing to me in those days. Unfortunately, I’ve met a lot of people who take the whole thing far too seriously; it seems to be some kind of religion for them, or rather substitute for one. Much like Napoleon Bonaparte, I’m not an ideological person.
LUGUBRUM have a tendency to explore topics which are highly uncommon in metal, and music in general for that matter. Their 2008 record “Albino de Congo” delves into the topic of Belgian colonialism and “Face Lion Face Oignon” from 2011 is based on Napoleon Bonaparte’s ill-fated campaign in Egypt and Syria; a topic which Midgaars turns out to be somewhat of an authority on.
– Of course, every bit of Napoleonic history makes for a marvellous read but this campaign right at the start of his career truly has it all: megalomania, glorious battlefields, forced marches, brilliant generals, starving but loyal soldiers, disease, mass-murder, victory, defeat – everything with the added bonus of an exotic and ancient decor. The retreat from Acre is like a dress-rehearsal for the return from Moscow in 1812, but with camels!
What’s unusual about this campaign was its scientific aspect, with the iconic French general assembling a massive contingent of scientists and scholars. Their purported goal, besides actual research, was to spread principles associated with a philosophical and intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, which was highly prevalent in the contemporary European arena of ideas. Upon reaching Egypt, Napoleon established the Egyptian Institute and ordered the construction of libraries, a printing press, and laboratories. A young French lieutenant would come to make one of the most important discoveries in archaeological history – the Rosetta Stone – a black slab containing the 196 BC decree by King Ptolemy V, then-monarch of Egypt. The royal edict was carved in three different languages: Demotic, Ancient Egyptian, and Ancient Greek, which is what eventually enabled scholars to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs and read their language for the first time in centuries.
– Bonaparte was very serious about the scientific goal of the campaign – bringing along savants from all domains of science, whole libraries, and tons of equipment. But his real dream was to advance and conquer India, thus severing England’s lines of trade. The French Directoire agreed to this costly affair, not so much because they believed in its success but because it kept the ambitious Corsican far away from Paris for a while, and possibly for good. It was, of course, a doomed plan from the start, its death-sentence signed with the destruction of the French fleet by Nelson at the bay of Abukir.
Having come out victorious over the Ottoman Empire in the first Battle of Abukir in 1799, a second showdown – in 1801 and against British forces this time – saw the French overwhelmed and badly outnumbered.
– Still, it’s staggering to consider the French accomplishments: against all odds and setbacks, through scorching heat and watermelon diarrhoea… not only Bonaparte but also by men like Desaix – who went on to become hero of Marengo – Murat, Lannes… and then Kléber, who took over command after Bonaparte until he was assassinated in Cairo. Their archaeological discoveries and foundation of l’institute de l’Egypte, which was destroyed in 2011 but is now being restored, gave birth to the study of Egyptology. But, most importantly of all, the campaign marked the end of the Middle Ages for the entire region.
This kind of conceptual depth was a most pleasant surprise, as I was initially guilty of believing the topics LUGUBRUM explore to be somewhat random and not overtly serious – possibly due to the thematic prevalence of root crops, persons of short stature, and excrement.
– Why is the Brown Netherworld inhabited by dwarves, albinos, mental patients, and the like? Probably because I feel some connection to them. They’re living in the margins of society – often shunned, ridiculed, discriminated against, sometimes even hunted down and killed. However, depending on culture and historic period they can also become healers, shamans, jesters, or artists. All of these function as mirror and teacher, using extreme behaviours to reflect others and force them to examine their own doubts, fears, and weaknesses. This helps them in not taking themselves too seriously, and thwarts any illusions of grandeur. There can be no sun without shadow, and vice versa. There’ll always be balance in the Brown Force.