.:.GIVE THEM TRAGEDIES.:.
An Interview with Doctor Livingstone
by Conor Fynes
Doctor Livingstone—and, to a slightly lesser extent, its twin project Sektemtum—have been a persistent fascination to me for the past couple of years. Starting as a little-known French hardcore punk entry, the band’s first handful of releases were impressively chaotic. It wasn’t until 2014’s Contemptus Saeculi that the band’s destiny began to take form, however. With an increasing nod towards orthodox black metal (with vocals from Meyhna’ch of Mütiilation, no less) Doctor Livingstone never lost grip of their iconoclastic attitude. The result is music that strikes closer to the adversarial heart of what black metal represents through the act of breaking down its modern pretenses. With their follow-up Triumphus Haeretici recently unleashed, questions begged answers.
Heathen Harvest: How might you describe the sound and experience of Doctor Livingstone to the yet-uninitiated?
REL: I would say it’s a wild and ruthless sonic compound which has a finger in every pie as long as it feeds the Beast.
HH: Doctor Livingstone was initially a one-man act. How did the project first form, and how did you all meet ultimately?
REL: Doctor Livingstone was not really a one-man act—there’s almost always been other members involved in the band, coming and leaving endlessly, but I was more or less the one who was struggling for the band to survive. So let’s say it was not really a band, it was more like a ghost. But I believe everything happens for a reason and if nothing very interesting happened until SIX, Reverend, and Jaythro arrived, it’s probably because the time was not yet ripe for Doctor Livingstone to flourish.
We met each other thanks to our brother Nehmel from LMN Productions and our friend Hervé from Osmose Productions. Both of them made this gathering possible; that was in 2009.
HH: Contemptus Saeculi from 2014 is one of my favourite black metal records from the last decade, and a total hidden gem it seems. The album marked a notable shift in the band from punk-oriented roots to black metal; what inspired this change?
REL: We never really decided to play a certain genre of music. This just happened naturally. It’s the collision of our former bands that shapes Doctor Livingstone’s identity today. Doctor Livingstone is a hungry, voracious animal feeding on anything that lies on its path. We started out as a punk band; now let’s see how far we will take this ‘sound’. Maybe we can make it even worse, or maybe the next album will be a pop album. It will depend on our mood.
HH: Fast-forward to 2017: Along with the new album from Emptiness, the new Doctor Livingstone was my most anticipated album early on this year. What is the general idea behind Triumphus Haeretici?
REL: There was no general idea behind Triumphus Haeretici before recording it. We just wanted to dig deeper, closer to the source.
On balance, Contemptus Saeculi is a straightforward, kind of in-your-face album, and it’s quite easy listening in a certain sense. It’s an album and it’s dedicated music, but that’s about it. Triumphus Haeretici is an era—an important episode in our lives and definitely a much richer and intimate album. There are a lot of elements and different atmospheres. We know it can be confusing, so the album will require several plays for the listeners to be seduced, or at least to get a grasp of what’s going on.
We had no plan. While we were recording the album, we just tried whatever came to mind: noises, improvised instruments, etc. The studio where we recorded ended up being an instrument, or an extensive set of instruments. We recorded moments and impromptu situations in and out of the studio all along the making of the album. Triumphus Haeretici was a long, exhausting, unhealthy but rewarding journey.
HH: I feel like Doctor Livingstone virtually perfected your sound on the last album. What new innovations does this new album bring to the table?
REL: Basically, on Triumphus Haeretici, you can hear the band working together, storing and discharging the same energy in the same direction. Each band member contributed their ideas and added their stone to the building. Contemptus Saeculi was more like if everyone had a specific role in the band and each member had to stick with it, with some sporadic exceptions.
On the new album, there is undivided creative effusion; there’s a stronger mass of energy. The result is obviously more relevant, more complete.
Triumphus Haeretici is definitely not only about nice riffing, screaming, and fast blast beats. There’s much more than that, and I hope that people, at least some, are aware of it or will discover it by considering the album as it should be.
HH: One thing I was concerned about in the months leading up to the album was the loss of Willy Roussel (from Mütiilation) as a vocalist. I felt his vocals added an amazing last-gasp energy to the last album; fortunately, the vocals on this album compensate for the loss. Why did he leave in the first place?
REL: Meyhna’ch is tired of doing shows. We, on the contrary, are eager to do more and more live shows in the near future, so there is no point having him singing on the album while he won’t be on stage with us. The Mütiilation show in 2015 was the very last deed we accomplished all together, and I think it’s a beautiful way to end our collaboration.
HH: What circumstances would you prefer listeners to listen to your music under? Is there any experience you would like to give to them?
REL: Yes, certainly: On a full-moon night, lights out, lit candles, with one window open. Make it beautiful; put some flowers on your table, some incense, open a bottle of red wine (a Grand Cru will do it). It is absolutely necessary to start listening to the album from the beginning. You need to go through the sixteen-minute-long ‘Codex Haeretici’, then you will be ready for what is to follow. Turn the volume up really loud, empty your mind, lose yourself, and let it take you.
HH: Do you have any favourite songs from the new album? If so, why?
REL: I like to consider the album as a whole—as one solid, abundant piece shaped by various emotions and extravagances forming that particular but complete specimen which is Triumphus Haeretici. I’m sorry, but it is impossible for me to cut out a part of it.
HH: One thing that will definitely stick out in listeners’ minds is the first track, ‘Codex Haeretici’: an ambient track that other bands may have left idle for a minute or two. You drag it out for sixteen minutes! I was definitely laughing and thought it was your way to piss people off enough so that the uninitiated could leave the proverbial theatre before the show began. What was your idea behind it?
REL: The Codex was made long before the recording of the new album; it was just waiting for the right moment to be presented to the world. It’s a very powerful piece of the album for us and, as you may have noticed, we took our time on it. We invite people to do the same. In the end, the journey will be even more profound.
I understand what you mean, but—and without any conceit—what other bands do or what people might think has never been that much of a concern for us.
HH: What is your songwriting process like?
REL: In most cases, I will come up with the songs. I’ll show them to my accomplices, and they will improve the songs by revamping the pulse and make it swing wild. We then rehearse for a few hours, start recording a few days after, and then we will adorn the whole thing together with voices, noises, percussion, and moments we happened to record when we were dancing with horses on celestial bodies.
HH: Are lyrics an important part of Doctor Livingstone? What inspires your lyrical manifestations?
REL: Yes, indeed. The lyrics are as important as the music itself. I must say, I’m somehow a bit thwarted by the fact that most of the people who listened to our album didn’t pay much attention to what we were screaming. That goes for the artwork too. Six days and nights were spent drawing, painting, cutting, and bleeding on the album artwork. Maybe black metal is just about minor guitar riffs and wicked witch vocals today, or maybe because most of the listeners got a digital copy of our album… Well, as long as everybody comes out on top…
HH: Doctor Livingstone has a sister project in Sektemtum. The two projects are more or less by the same personalities; what do you think separates the two? On Triumphus Haeretici, I noticed the sound of the two bands is beginning to come closer together.
REL: I reckon that both projects have similarities due to the fact that the members who form these bands are the same indeed, at least when it concerns their cores. But I assume that the music is quite different, and people who like Doctor Livingstone won’t always like Sektemtum, and this works both ways. You’ll never hear a song like ‘Direction Cataclysme’ on a Doctor Livingstone record, for example. And you’ll never find a track like ‘Opus Magnum’ on a Sektemtum record, among other examples. With Sektemtum, we like to keep everything under control, while on Doctor Livingstone everything needs to get out of control. Sektemtum is catchier, scholastic, and more polished than Doctor Livingstone, while Doctor Livingstone is more about instinct, rampaging, and unpredictability.
The sound might be quite similar though because we more or less used the same gear to record Panacea and Triumphus Haeretici. Also, it got mixed and mastered by the same person. We’re responsible for the vocals on both albums too, so yes, obviously there are quite some connections. But this is already the case on Doctor Livingstone’s and Sektemtum’s previous albums as you could already hear Meyhna’ch’s vocals on both albums.
HH: Which of these two projects is your arguable priority at this point? How would you say Triumphus Haeretici compares to last year’s Panacea from Sektemtum?
REL: We like those records for distinctive reasons. Panacea was more like a challenge—some sort of exercise but a very pleasant one—while Triumphus Haeretici was carte blanche. It’s a creative outlet with no boundaries at all. It’s as close as you can possibly get to who we really are.
I even dare to say that Triumphus Haeretici is the album we’re the most thrilled about, among the mass of albums of all the different bands we’ve been playing and recording with so far.
But there is no priority. Properly speaking, we still focus on both bands, but I think Sektemtum will be easier to reproduce live than Doctor Livingstone. We’ll soon find out.
HH: Will there ever be fresh repressings of the early material pre-Contemptus Saeculi?
REL: No, I don’t think so. Nothing is scheduled yet though.
HH: I wouldn’t be able to do this interview without at least wanting to ask about your successful electropop band Panzer Flower. Your electronic band has earned millions of hits on YouTube, and is arguably vastly more successful than any of your metal material. What was the idea behind Panzer Flower? The contrast between the family-friendly ‘We Are Beautiful’ video and Sektemtum videos of whoring, drugs, and murder is fucking unbelievable and hilarious.
REL: Le Monde Nouveau doesn’t prioritize a musical style over another and does not distinguish between underground and mainstream music and such futilities. We cast the net far and wide, and we definitely don’t like to be confined within a musical cloaca. The purpose is the only thing that matters, and we hope that you enjoy the masquerade.
HH: As a final note, what inspired you to choose the name Doctor Livingstone for this band?
REL: I was fifteen years old, and I had no clue about decent band names. I must say, however, that today the name fits the spirit quite well.
HH: The last words are yours.
REL: Thank you very much for the interesting questions. Take care, Conor.