by Niklas Göransson
Seeds of Vengeance – sown in solitude and cultivated amidst disease, Italian black/death veterans Hierophant return with their new album, Death Siege.
– When it comes to opening up about one’s music, says guitarist Fabio Carretti, finding the right words is often difficult. The path which led us to “Death Siege” was tortuous and uncertain, but I think it’s safe to say that we pursued what we felt was the light to follow. It brought us through chaos and darkness, where we understood that this feeling has always been there.
– “Death Siege” is by far the best record I’ve ever written, says guitar player and vocalist Lorenzo Gulminelli. It was composed during the world pandemic, and it goes without saying that this was not the best time. However, I firmly believe that all the negativity and disease in the air contributed to the success of this album. I can now say with certainty that I’ve gazed into the depths of my soul and found what I’ve always been searching for.
HIEROPHANT’s fifth studio album was released by Season of Mist on August 26, 2022. The writing for “Death Siege” began in March 2020, shortly after Italy became the first European country to experience lockdowns. Consequently, the band members could no longer meet in person – their preferred way of writing new material – and had to resort to remote composition. I found this a bit surprising, as I first assumed the record came together through regular rehearsals; it has a bit of that energy.
– I’m flattered that our songs give off that kind of live jamming energy, especially since that was not the case. We’ve always been a ‘rehearsal space band’, but this time it was impossible to uphold our usual modus operandi. The writing process was frustrating, endlessly long, and sometimes even disheartening. Working alone, locked in your home, is alienating and will drive anyone nuts after a while. However, I believe the compositions received the attention they deserved: we poured over even the most minuscule details, aspects which might not have been given as much thought during a normal writing process. Even if they are almost undetectable, the small particulars represent a strong base for what I feel is a killer record.
– We spent numerous hours on video calls, says Fabio, trying to mimic what an in-person conversation would’ve looked like. It was unbearably difficult; we were not ready for that, no one was. As for what difference it made to the final product, we’ll never know how it would’ve come out through rehearsals, but the result is so overwhelmingly positive that I cannot imagine how it could’ve turned out any better.
This approach appears to have brought out strong MORBID ANGEL influences, with a violent twist that draws ANGELCORPSE to mind – but where the Americans draw from thrash, HIEROPHANT have more of a black metal feel.
– I’m intrigued by the ANGELCORPSE comparison. Besides catching a couple of their shows in the past, I never followed them very closely. However, I’d definitely say that MORBID ANGEL played a crucial role in defining the whole atmosphere surrounding “Death Siege”; nothing emanates utter chaos more than their hellish riffs.
– I’ve never been a big ANGELCORPSE fan either, says Lorenzo, but you were spot on in mentioning MORBID ANGEL. They represent everything to me; I’ve been listening to them since I was a kid. MORBID ANGEL signified my first approach to death metal and have had – and still do – a huge influence on me. But, at the same time, I’ve always been a black metal maniac. “Death Siege” is the perfect fusion of rawness, chaos, and total destruction conveyed through meticulously crafted riffs. Because let’s face it, it’s all about the riffs.
I’ve been led to believe that the earlier works are not super-relevant to the HIEROPHANT of today. Fair enough, but there is one aspect of their 2016 album “Mass Grave” that I found worthy of note. Apparently, it was recorded in Los Angeles and financed by an extensive DYI tour of the Americas.
– To be honest, says Lorenzo, I don’t like talking about HIEROPHANT’s past – but this question is interesting and legitimate. In the grip of the ‘American dream’, we decided to record “Mass Grave” in Los Angeles. Of course, travelling overseas involves costs which aren’t easy to cover. We thought that doing a tour could help us recuperate some money – and it did. Making full use of all the contacts we’d established over the years, we organised our tour schedule, rented a van in San Francisco, and played all over the US West Coast and Mexico. No agencies involved, no bullshit, just real fucking raw DYI. It was forty days of madness and wildness: an amazing experience. But one I might not want to repeat since I believe this kind of crazy magic works only once.
Fabio joined HIEROPHANT in mid-2017. After a small tour of Italy in January 2018, they embarked on the Europa Chaos Campaign in March of that year. Besides club shows, the tour passed several fests such as Netherlands Deathfest and Poland’s Into the Abyss. One of the bands HIEROPHANT shared the stage with at the latter was their labelmates PROFANATICA.
– I remember that the PROFANATICA guys were totally incredulous when Ben (drums) started puking during our set, says Fabio. I realise this might look like an oddity – but for us, this was fully normal. I never quite figured out why that happened every show, but he was cool about it and I’m sure his vomiting added some roughness to the performance.
– Ben is an extremely emotional person, says Lorenzo, especially when it comes to music, which led him to puke every time we played. It became so routine that we no longer paid attention to it. I was completely drunk at that festival but clearly remember Paul Ledney, the PROFANATICA drummer, coming to me in the dressing room, quite concerned about Ben’s health after witnessing him throw up all over the drumkit. Paul and his bandmates – the bassist in particular – were very impressed with our live performance.
I’m not sure about the other HIEROPHANT members, but at least Fabio lives close to the Italian city of Parma where PROFANATICA played with RITES OF THY DEGRINGOLADE in March 2018 – one week after Into the Abyss. In a CARONTE interview, the concert’s promoter Dorian Bones said it was ‘one of the most amazing concerts in terms of energy and thrill’. In a yet-to-be-published PROFANATICA interview, Paul Ledney told me it was probably the best show he’s ever been involved with.
– Yes, says Fabio, I was indeed there. I’d stayed in touch with Richard, their bass player at the time, after Into the Abyss so we met in Parma before the show. What can I say? What can I say? Dorian and Paul were right; that night was unreal If it’s true that what makes for a great show is half on the band and half on the crowd, things were out of balance that evening. People went fucking crazy! You rarely see that level of brutality and responsiveness from black metal crowds, but this was something else. On such occasions, you just have to acknowledge that you are witnessing history being made and then live every second of it. I also recall RITES OF THY DEGRINGOLADE delivering a crushing performance.
In the summer of 2018, HIEROPHANT set out on a festival tour called Against the Light. Void Fest in Sinzendorf, Germany, made for a memorable experience – in several regards.
– We started drinking heavily with the PALLBEARER guys during the early afternoon, says Fabio. Several hours later, come the evening, we walked on stage completely galvanised. The tent was packed and since the festival took place in a German forest in the middle of nowhere, our sound was rudely loud – just the way we want it. That was one of those shows where everything makes you feel like something great is gonna happen, and you’ll take part in it.
– If I had to quote a phrase for that evening, says Lorenzo, it would be, ‘When it’s cold and when it’s dark, the freezing moon can obsess you.’ As Fabio mentioned, we started drinking in the afternoon already, so I have only a few memories. However, I do remember a very impressive moon and getting covered in blood among people, totally unconcerned and without restraint. That was one of the most devastating live shows of our career – a performance we will eternally be proud of. Unfortunately, someone decided to completely ruin the mood by stealing one of our skulls.
– Touring lets you face the most unbelievable things on a daily basis, says Fabio. I mean, what are the odds of someone stealing your stage props while you’re playing? It sounds like a joke. The day after Void Fest – I think we were playing Party San – we discovered that the skull was missing and ranted about it on our Facebook page.
As it turns out, an inebriated gentleman in the crowd was so smitten with the performance that he drunkenly decided to bring home a souvenir.
– Months and months later, says Lorenzo, a private message popped up completely out of the blue: a message of apologies and repentance for the act. I responded – and being perfectly honest, not very politely. But ultimately, our skull returned home.
Shortly after Fabio‘s appearance, HIEROPHANT recorded “Spawned Abortions” – an EP that besides an original track also contains a BOLT THROWER cover. However, it was not released until September 2018, courtesy of Unoly Anarchy Records.
– We had some issues with a label manager who told us he wanted to release the seven-inch but then went back on his word, says Fabio. Of course, such things might happen if you work with unprofessional people, but whatever – we always find a way. What’s more important is that “Spawned Abortions” marked a point of no return which brought us to where we are today; it shaped our music into what took the form of “Death Siege”. We played the song at various festivals during the summer tour, and the overwhelming response convinced us even more that this was the way forward.
The EP cover artwork was provided by the late Finnish artist Timo Ketola. Prior to this, Timo and Fabio had been unwitting collaborators on the online edition of Bardo Methodology. Ketola provided all artwork for the site, whereas Fabio – who is a web developer – built it.
– One day, out of the blue, Timo emailed me the cover art of Bardo Methodology #3 – I guess for some web-related use. I don’t recall us having any prior contact. I immediately took the chance to ask him about his works and if he had some unsold paintings we could license for for “Spawned Abortions”. When Timo responded, he wrote in Italian which confused me greatly. Not what you’d expect from a Finnish guy! I later discovered that he’d lived in Italy for many years and worked as a tattoo artist in a Rome-based shop called Yama Tattoo.
Soon thereafter, at a tattoo convention in Bologna, Timo and Fabio met in person to discuss the artwork for “Spawned Abortions”.
– He pulled out a sketchbook from his pocket, opened it, and showed me a rough draft. I was immediately blown by what he’d done so far; I couldn’t finish expressing my feelings as he started drawing frantically, adding details to it. What an extraordinary artist and human being, he will be missed. One day I visited the home of a friend, Michele Toscan, who since the mid-90s was the owner of a cult Italian record label called Nuclear Abomination Records, which later became Buio Omega – a physical store in my hometown, Modena. I was helping him with a couple of web things on his label site. I noticed a painting on the wall and immediately recognised it as coming from Timo’s hand. Michele then told me they were close friends and that he had stayed at Timo’s place for a while in the past. Small world, great people.
Fabio’s first foray into web development was by making Myspace pages for local metal bands – a hobby that developed into a career over the following years.
– Sure, says Fabio, my starting point was working in the metal sphere, but truth be told I’ve never really managed to get where I wanted to be there. When I started making Myspace pages back in 2008, I was young and naïve; the web development world was still in its earliest stages. Nonetheless, I could see a huge underlying potential. Then I found myself working with bigger and bigger bands, and just when things seemed to be at a turning point… Myspace died, and I had to reinvent myself. Until then, I’d just been staring into the abyss – but that ‘incident’ led me to go all-in and jump in the fire, knowing there was no turning back. Like many times in life, adverse developments might lead to greater things if you know how to be efficiently resilient. One of the downsides was that I had to completely abandon the music field and focus on where the real business was.
This path brought Fabio from working with local businesses to more prominent Italian agencies and further onto multinational giants – until he had enough confidence to go solo.
– Once I started winning international awards, things scaled up and I began working remotely for a respected US-based agency. I still do music-related projects occasionally: for instance, I helped Claudio Marino with his Nergal documentary, Adam the Apostate, by building a nice site to showcase the trailer. Sometimes I help some bands do online press kits, but I mainly craft web things for HIEROPHANT.
Speaking of which, what’s next for HIEROPHANT?
– I don’t want to spend any time talking about certain unfortunate events we experienced recently with previous collaborators, so I’ll focus on where we’re headed now. In July 2022, we joined Heart of Music – a booking agency that works with bands like HYPOCRISY, MELECHESH, PAIN, WOLF, PENTAGRAM, etcetera. Moritz, our agent at HoM, immediately enjoyed the band and asked us to join them. We only want to work with people who genuinely support and appreciate HIEROPHANT, so we felt it was the right thing to do. Since I mentioned folks who genuinely support us, I must spend a word on Season of Mist and, in particular, Jessica at the PR team: simply the best guys to work with when releasing a record. So keep your eyes open and beware, you’ll hear a lot from us in the following months. We’ll take no prisoners while abusing “Death Siege” throughout Europe.