Hello Benjamin and thank you for being here ! Ars Goetia and I are taking advantage of this particular time when we are all in confinement due to the global pandemic to find out more about your music and especially, to find out more about you.
As the founder of The Great Old Ones (TGOO), whose music is based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, we would like to know more about you, your fascination with the American author and his influence on your music.
Can you introduce yourself ?
Hello to everyone from Ars Goetia. I’m Benjamin Guerry, guitarist \ singer of The Great Old Ones, a musical project that I started in 2009, with no particular career goals in mind, and that became an actual band in 2011. We have recorded 4 albums, including our last release, called « Cosmicism », which came out in October 2019 with Season of Mist.
As the leader, singer, guitarist and songwriter of The Great Old Ones, of « lovecraftien » inspiration, can you tell us how you discovered the American author ?
Like a number of people, I discovered the author when I was a teenager thanks to the role-playing game « The Call of Cthulhu ». I was an avid reader, and very enticed by fantasy, science-fiction and horror, but I hadn’t heard of Lovecraft at the time. Mostly anchored in reality, his stories are a great background for role play, and I really felt like I was living incredible, dark, fascinating and terrifying adventures, all at once. I felt sucked into this universe, so I wanted to find out more, to directly look into the books that inspired the game, and I spent most of my weekends doing so. I am a very passionate person, so I became a Lovecraft fanatic. Ever since, just hearing the author’s name fills my brain with different images and sensations, ranging from horrid flashes to journeys through my inner self.
Granted Lovecraft is an innovator in the way he appreciates and describes horror, but he was part of the same era as Robert Howard, and later, JRR Tolkien (who also inspires a lot of artists), or more recently Stephen King. In a different range, one could also consider Edgar Poe…so, why Lovecraft ?
As I explained before, I think that discovering him through role play had a particular impact on how I perceived his work. All the authors you mentioned are writers that I love and respect. I read a lot of Stephen King when I was younger, for instance. But Lovecraft developed a cosmology and a believable universe, all the while exploring the visceral fears that haunt many of us and that’s, from my standpoint, what makes his writing and his words so fascinating. What makes all authors interesting, are their very singular styles, and I think that I enjoyed Lovecraft’s in particular. I didn’t really think it through, it’s very subjective.
What short story did you read first ? Did your passion for Lovecraft kick in immediately ? If so, why ?
It’s been a while, but I think the first short story was « The Call of Cthulhu », which seems logical given the role play. I’m almost certain that the second was « The Colour Out of Space ». I was completely absorbed by these stories. In the latter, you can sense a sort of strange beuty.Of course, horror takes over, but horror for the human species. Its nature is elusive, and that’s something you find in most of Lovecraft’s work. And that’s what fascinated me immediately. Reading « The Whisperer in Darkness » back then left me with some crazy memories. The final final, which is fairly typical, left me speechless.
This passion hasn’t left me since. Actually, a few years ago, I was forunate enough to travel to Providence, Rhode Island, and visit Lovecraft’s grave. It made me very emotional. I was then able to walk through town, passing by the places where he lived or that he wrote about in his books, and I even saw some of the original letters he sent to his contacts. I was just as much my current self as I was my teenage self when I discovered this world. It was a timeless experience.
Lovecraft’s bibliography comprises over 70 books, did you read all of his work ?
I think I have read everything between my teenage years and now, but I may have overseen a short story or two. Since his work was assembled into one comprehensive book, it’s easier to find and review everything he’s ever written. I read his stories over and over, whether for TGOO for my personal pleasure. Sometimes, I rediscover texts that didn’t necessarily appeal to me when I was younger, but now I connect to their melancholy or poetic touch. Even if the myth of Cthulhu is very important, and even central to Lovecraft’s work, it’s essential to look at the stories that emerged from it. Of course, as a teenager and a role player, I was particularly intrigued by that particular piece, but being able to revisit his body of work from a different point of views shows what a great author he was.
If you could only pick 5, which would you recommend and why ?
Tough question ! I’m torn between nostalgia and rediscovering some pieces knowing I can only pick a few. I’m going to choose (without giving away too much) :
« The Call of Cthulhu » (obviously) : It’s hard to omit the short story that puts forth the most well-known lovecraftien creature. I like the way the plot develops (through discovering documents), Johansen’s arrival on R’lyeh still gives me the chills, and you can always see the fatalism that is recurrent in the author’s work.
« The Outsider » : I rediscovered this piece when I was older, and what is exterior from the Myth of Cthulhu. The ambiance is particularly melancholic, a dark poem, which I find very impactful. The protagonist goes through many dark times, be it solitude, self-questioning, joy, horror, disappointment, sadness, resignation. Hard to think that this story isn’t in partly autobiographic.
“At the Mountains of Madness” : For starters, in this novel (or short story), the place where the action is set, Antarctica, is almost as important as the protagonists of the expedition we’re travelling with. Lovecraft is not used to making the places in which his stories take place welcoming, but in this case the place is extremely harsh for Mankind. You can feel a deep cold that alters the mind, the immensity of this white and immaculate Hell, and of course the millenary unknown horror. You can sometimes find the author’s inaccessible style, that can be a turn off to some inadvertent readers, but once you look past it, you experience a great adventure.
“The Shadow over Innsmouth” : This is purely the universe of the myth of Cthulhu, and of the creatures of underwater abysses. Here again the city of Innsmouth has an important role in setting the ambiance. I love this novel because is assembles many important elements reflecting Lovecraft’s ability in introducing an unsettling atmosphere, and in narrating a dark and inevitable destiny. You sink deeper and deeper into absolute horror, being chased by hordes of human degenerates.
“Azathoth” : I have been quoting this piece for several years, probably because it’s one of the texts that I discovered more recently, and that I became addicted to. Despite its name that links it directly to the myth of Cthulhu, its content is rather anchored in the cycle of the “land of dreams”, in which one can find “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” that I also recommend. “Azathoth” puts forth the idea of escaping through dreams, the discovery of fantastic and unknown universes, but in an atmosphere that is more mysterious than it is distressing. It is all very poetic, and shows a different and lesser known side to Lovecraft’s work.
2009, you create TGOO by adopting a style that renews black metal, post-black metal ; why did you choose this musical style, and what motivated you to transcribe Lovecraft’s work to music ?
When I started composing music for TGOO, I admit I didn’t ask myself that question. I have been listening to black metal for a very long time, but I hadn’t really tried to write music before. At that tome, I was of course listening to my favorite bands like Emperor or Mayhem, but I had started showing interest in different ones such as Wolves in the Throne Room, or Lantlos (though neither have much in common). That is what incited me to compose more atmospheric pieces, also influenced by a certain form of post-hardcore like Cult of Luna or doom like Year of No Light. So we were quite far from traditional of black metal. I think we needed a term to describe this form of extreme music, so everyone started talking about post-black metal. But in all honesty, that term doesn’t really mean much anymore. There is a large number of groups that have been put in that category, and that have absolutely nothing in common. At the end of the day, I have and I still compose music that speaks to me, and that makes me feel on a deeper level.
Regarding Lovecraft, it all happened naturally, and seemed obvious. After finalizing a few pieces that were to become “Al Azif “,TGOO’s first album, during my listening sessions, I truly discovered the same sensations as when I was reading Lovecraft. Pictures of placed, entities, just appeared in my mind. I didn’t have to think much to decide that Lovecraft would be at the center of our concept. I’d like to think that our music gives you a feel for melancholy, for the dramatic, for fear but also a dark beauty in the work of the master of Providence.
Speaking of which, is Lovecraft your only source of inspiration when it comes to composing, or do you have any others ?
He is at the forefront of my composing process. The atmospheres are guided by his stories and characters. But a big part is linked to the emotions I’m feeling. When a riff gives me deep feeling, I can play it and listen to it again and again, until I’m in a sort of trans. In this style of music, letting go is important to me. When you feel transported by a sound, you let your body speak. So I would say that Lovecraft and my own emotions are my main source of inspiration.
But, to be more pragmatic, I am very passionate about art in general, que be it literature, comic strips, cinema, anything that can generate uncontrolled action. So I can imagine that all those things inspire me as well, but I couldn’t give you a precise reference!
This passion has birthed four albums : “Al Azif “,“Tekeli-li “,“EOD : A Tale of Dark Legacy “ and last year in 2019, “Cosmicism “. Can you describe them by giving us a general overview ?
AL AZIF : Each piece tells a different story, sometimes directly adapted from one of Lovecraft’s, or is just located in his universe. It’s been the starting point for many things for us.
TEKELI-LI : I wanted to create an album based on just one of Lovecraft’s novels. At the Mountains of Madness, in being a cold and barren world, was my instant choice. I also had the desire to compose a particularly long song, and I have always been very proud of. “Behind The Mountains“ that, at 18 minutes long, brings the album to its conclusion in a particularly dramatic atmosphere. And of course, there is “Antarctica “, that the TGOO fans await impatiently at our concerts ! This album really got us to the next level.
EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy : TGOO doesn’t want to make the same album twice, so we’re always searching for how to explore new horizons. EOD is a darker album, more violent than the previous ones. This also has to do with its subject, a sort of follow-up to Lovecraft’s novel “The Shadow over Innsmouth“. The atmosphere is more desperate, it’s darker. It’s a climb into horror, each new piece says what the narrator is experiencing, until the climax with the song “Mare Infinitu “, when he knows he can no longer escape, and accepts his destiny.
COSMICISM : Our last album, and the one that I am, for the time being, the most proud of. Guided by a desire to move forward, this album was the most demanding up until now. I wanted to write epic, varied songs, each telling a story. During the process, new members also arrived, with technical baggage and very personal and interesting feelings. This enriched the songs, and allowed us to test a lot of things. Each track is dedicated to a specific lovecraftien entity, with its own story. But all are not linked by the philosophy of cosmicism, explaining than Man is nothing before the immensity of the cosmos, of what happens there and of what we ignore. It’s a thought process that Lovecraft transpires in his work, through a fear and fascination for the unknown, be it in space, underwater abysses, or even in dreams and nightmares. That’s what the public may feel when listening to the album.
TGOO’s music comes alive in live performances and you are particularly attentive to recreating on stage the distressing and oppressive atmosphere that exists in the music and Lovecraft’s novels. How do you work on staging and coordinating the texts, sound and lights ?
It’s a lot of work and a lot of thought goes into it. Listening to music at home, or coming to see us in concert are two completely different ways of taking on the TGOO experience. We do everything we can in the studio to create an experience to our listeners, and we do the same thing at our concerts. The volume, the bass, make us feel different emotions, sound is powerful, and I think it multiplies our sensations. It’s also important to us to play with the lighting so that it’s not just “in-your-face “. Even a short and rapid part of a song can be magnified by lights that infuse an atmosphere and are not simply aggressive. We work with the right people to this end, who understand exactly where we want to go. Our goal at each concert is to transport our audience, for them to be engulfed in our universe. We have many more ideas and plans to develop that, and we go as fast as our means allow us to !
Just like Lovecraft’s work, TGOO’s music is not easily accessible ; what advice do you have for apprehending your music and understand it, so a listener can fully enjoy the experience ?
Obviously, our music is not easy accessible. We try to paint a picture with different levels of writing, which I think makes it interesting. It’s not necessarily a background music, that you listen to while doing something else. At least, that’s not the best way to discover it, and understand its substance. The best wat to do so in my opinion is to sit at home, close your eyes, and let the music carry you. It’s not such an easy thing to do in our day and age, which is a pity. I might add that reading the texts is a plus to immerse yourself in the story.
One way or another, it’s necessary to listen several times over to grasp the mystery in all our albums. I’d rather see someone do that than the opposite !
TGOO is recognized as one of the staple groups on the French and European extreme metal scenes. You are at many prestigious festivals, like Hellfest, Brutal Assaut, Inferno in Norway (in 2021 because of global confinement) etc… how do you explain your climb and the enthusiasm of both the audience and the festival planners?
It’s a combination of several things. We play with our gut, we want to express deep and powerful emotion, and I think that the public feels that. What’s more is, after 4 albums, we have created our own identity, people can identify our music without necessarily comparing it to that of this band or that band. Of course, we have been influenced, but I think that after 4 albums, we’ve digested them. So long as a certain audience likes what we do, festivals take interest, especially since we’ve worked with fantastic agents / bookers who are very invested. They work very hard to allow us to take up more room, because they believe in us, they know we work hard to go as far as possible. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of these people, including our audience, and the professionals, who have supported us from the get go. Each person has contributed to helping TGOO, and we will continue to grow. We still have a long way to go, many lands to explore, and all of this support encourages us to pursue our goals relentlessly.
Aside from music, I heard that you wrote a storyline for an escape game company in Bordeau. How did that opportunity come along?
Making a living off of music today is very complicated, especially when you do metal (even more so when you do extreme metal). We all need additional sources of income. So, with associates, I opened an escape game in Bordeaux (THE END \ THE HOSTEL Escape Game). It has nothing to do with a project like TGOO, since I do not consider black to be fun and games. It brings forth extreme emotions, a particular state of mind, that is not funny in any way.
But creating stories is exhilirating, imagining the setting, the lighting, the ambiance, the players’s reactions, the goal is to give the latter an experience to remember. I also took care of the music and sound effects, which allowed me to explore new things from a technical standpoint. I’ve always liked Ambient music, and I took great pleasure in composing ling tracks made of drone and dark classical arrangements.
We now have 4 scenarii split between 2 brands, one on spiritism, one on fairs, one on 90’s TV shows and the last one which is a mix between Inception and Maniac. We mostly work on fear, which coincides with the literature that fascinates me.
I often get asked why we don’t do lovecraftien scenarios. I’m not the only to decide, but as you can imagine I would love to do one ! I hope I will get the chance to in the future.
Where did you get your inspiration for this story (cinema, series, literature…) ?
Cinema has a big role to play in producing this form of entertainment. The goal is to immerse the player in a universe, for a given time (usually between 60 and 75 minutes), just like a movie. So depending on the chosen subject, it’s always interesting to look at the atmosphere, setting, sensations, that one gets from going to the cinema. A big part of it comes from imagination of course, but in the existing media, it really is the most important source.
Do you have any other creative or artistic activities ? If so, can you tell us about them ?
My work, whether music or business, take up a lot of my time. It’s tough for me to find free time for something else. I was still able to participate, two years ago, in a reading of 3 Lovecraft novels, for the 15-year anniversary of Akileos, a comic strip publishing house in Bordeaux. A friend and I where in charge of the music and live performance, and it was a fantastic experience. For those who would like to check it out, the event is available online : https://youtu.be/o7a08HK5Vkw. I hope to be able to do something similar sometime soon !
I’d like to cite an excerpt from « The Shadow over Innsmouth » : “(…)That was before the big epidemic of 1846, when over half the folks in Innsmouth was carried off. They never did quite figure out what the trouble was, but it was probably some foreign kind of disease brought from China or somewhere by the shipping. It surely was bad enough—there was riots over it, and all sorts of ghastly doings that I don’t believe ever got outside of town—and it left the place in awful shape. (…)“. Since we’re in confinement during covid-19, what does that being up for you ? From Lovecraft’s visionary point of view and from the point of view of the real situation ? Does this inspire your imagination and creativity ?
Lovecraft often depicts Man’s decline, our insignificance. It’s not surprising, given the modern world we live in, that his work seems ominous of negative things to come. The current situation emphasizes the huge problems linked to extreme globalization, to the way our society works. I’m not an expert, but I feel that our priorities are not in the right place. I’m trying to keep a positive mindset, to think of life after confinement, and to take advantage of the time lost for TGOO to create and compose. Like for everyone else, all of our concerts have been cancelled, these are tough times, but in a time of confinement like the one we are going through, one must optimize means of escaping, and musical research is a great way to get your imagination and creativity going.
To finish the interview, any musical plans for 2021 ?
We hope to go live as soon as possible, before the end of 2020 if we’re optimistic. There are still many places where we have not yet been able to present Cosmicism. We are really proud of this album, and this exploration to the edges of the universe is even more intense live.
See you on the road soon !
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and we will see you on stage very soon !
Pics by Joël Queyrel & Nicolas Hyvoz
Translation in English by Alba O’Neill