After reviewing "The Noble Search" by The Firstborn, my interest and curiousity in both band and album got piqued. Luckily, I found frontman Bruno Fernandes willing to answer a few of my burning questions.
Let's get started with a classic, warm-up question: how would you interest people who have never heard of The Firstborn before to get them listening to your music? How would you introduce The Firstborn to them?
Well, it all ultimately depends on what you're looking for in music... if it's mere entertainment, then The Firstborn might not be your cup of tea. Even though we have our catchier moments here and there, our songwriting is more focused on atmosphere and the little details you might not notice if the album is just playing in the background.
However, if you like being challenged by unusual structures and instrumentation, then you might find our work appealing... we build our soundscapes upon a very thought-out concept and try to illustrate with our music what the lyrics are meant to convey, and as such a careful listen of "The Noble Search" with the guidance found in the booklet is the best way to fully aprehend what we're all about.
The Firstborn are not the kind of band you can judge by casually listening to a couple of songs, hence some less favorable reactions here and there we ocasionally get... nothing we aren't used to, by now!
You guys are from Portugal, a somewhat overlooked metal country. How would you describe the metal scene in Portugal?
It is what it is... Portugal is a small country, and has a small scene to match, so it's very limited in terms of how far you can go if you stick to your home ground, so to speak. There are a lot of casual Heavy Metal fans, Iron Maiden and Metallica can sell out a stadium here but an underground festival like SWR Barroselas Metalfest or Caos Emergente struggle to get 1500 people.
A lot of decent bands have surfaced over the last few years, so I'd expect a little more international exposure to come along in the near future thanks to these newer bands... estabilished names like Decayed, Corpus Christii and ourselves among others regularly perform abroad, but these are the exceptions and not the rule.
And then you have Moonspell, well above in a league of their own. It's very unlikely that any other portuguese band will be able to reach a status such as theirs anytime soon.
What catches the eye immediately on your latest effort "The Noble Search" are the Buddhist based themes of course. These Buddhist inspired themes only got inserted after the second release, when "The Unclenching of Fists" got released. That album deals with Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan "Book of the Dead". From where this change? And why exactly the Buddhist concepts?
I have been intrigued by the Orient ever since I was a child, after a fascinating trip to the then portuguese territory of Macao... so that has stuck with me while growing up. When we started writing "The Unclenching of Fists" our sound had taken a turn to the "exotic", and I began looking for a concept that would fit the music we were now producing. Eventually I remembered what I had read about Buddhism some years back and decided to rediscover it... so it started out as a more aesthetic concern than anything else, but it quickly became the focal point in our writing and image.
None of us is a Buddhist in the religious sense, if "religion" is a concept that can be applied to it, but I myself have found an affinity to the philosophical aspect of Buddhism, curiously enough unearthing quite a few parallels to my own perception even before having studied this.
To be honest, I'm kind of intrigued by the amalgamation of extreme metal and Buddhism. Mixing the search for inner peace and consciousness through moral discipline and silent meditation on the one hand and extreme metal music on the other, seems a bit curious and puzzling on first sight. Please excuse the former caricature, if any, but do enlighten us how we need to see this mixture.
The Path to Enlightenment is one of conflict, convulsion, shattering of artificial concepts and beliefs... it can be a violent thing, to strip oneself of what was elaborately constructed throughout an entire life. All the comforts of an estabilished status quo which adapts itself to the privileges of life in the modern world are but delusions, and to finally see beyond them is both exciting and nerve-wrecking.
The dynamics of our music try to reflect this inner struggle, the awakening of the dormant, the destruction of the conceptual, the embracing of true reality: that we are but fragments of the same decaying matter that composes everything else... a mere part of the ever-evolving chain of events that takes place in levels far below and above our own perception. Like streams flowing to and from an infinite ocean.
What is the difference between anti-Christian black metal and black metal relying on the doctrines of Satanism and free will, and the kind of black metal influenced music you play, based on Buddhist beliefs?
When music is properly written, the way I see it, whatever message it attempts to convey will permeate the atmosphere and is therefore noticeable even when you're not entirely aware of what's being said in the lyrics... that's why with proper occult music you get this dark aura encompassing it, an almost palpable blackness that oozes from every note being played. These are, obviously, rare cases amidst the thousands of mediocre releases being put out, solely relying on imagery to jump in the Black Metal bandwagon.
In our case, even though there are depictions of a more occult nature which we try to carry onto the music, the whole atmosphere is generally quite different, one of strangeness and detachment, whilst retaining tangible links to the physical world as most perceive it. So we direct our efforts towards getting a more ethereal, outwordly atmosphere in our soundscapes... and hopefully it will come across as such.
How are the reactions of the public on "The Noble Search" so far? Are people open-minded towards these Buddhist lyrical themes?
Well, some people tend to disregard our work entirely, especially the more "orthodox" metal fans... judging the book by its cover and all that. However, the exact opposite has also happened a lot - we've been getting a lot of interest in the Buddhist community, especially among those who also grew up listening to heavier music and who found in The Firstborn a symbiosis between the two worlds they hold dear.
We are not preaching to anyone, I think you can enjoy our music without having to relate to the concept and the message therein, but when you reach out to people on all levels then it is an incredibly rewarding moment.
The album was recorded in Foel Studio's in Wales, with producer Chris Fielding. I read in another interview you got in touch with Chris and studio owner Dave Anderson thanks to the guys in Primordial who just recorded their album "To The Nameless Dead" over there. What is the link between The Firstborn and Primordial exactly?
We've played with them a few times, and I've worked with them a few more, here and there in this small neighbourhood that old fortress Europa has become, so we're familiar with each other by now... if they still remember us now that they've hit the big time, that is!
We were looking into studios to record "The Noble Search" and I was considering a more extravagant (read: expensive) adventure across the pond, and discussing it with Nemtheanga he mentioned Foel, how wonderful it had turned out to be and how it would definitely suit our purposes. And it did, it was very relaxed and at the same time we managed to work really hard and for incredibly long hours to bring this album to fruition. Our eternal gratitude goes to Chris and Dave for all the help, hard work and friendship.
Is Primordial also a band you see yourself supporting on some European tour one day?
I think it would be a good bill, Primordial seem to have gotten stuck in the whole "Pagan" genre, which generally tends to be a caricature of what the band is all about... so maybe playing with bands that take themselves a tad more seriously would be a refreshing change of pace for them, as opposed to the beer-chugging anthems most of their support acts seem to thrive on.
As for ourselves, it would be excellent in all aspects, but it's never as simple as that... there's always a lot of behind-the-curtains issues to be considered, label pressure, buy-in fees and whatnot. But it's a nice thought, indeed.
"The Noble Search" also features several guest musicians, like Vorskaath of Zemial, Luis Simões of Saturnia, Hugo Santos of Process Of Guilt and Proscriptor of Absu. How important are guest appearances on an album like "The Noble Search"?
Extremely important. We invited these people because we knew they would offer an extra something to the album, instead of mere name-dropping to feature as "selling points". All these people contributed exactly what was expected of them, and then some, and especially Vorskaath has to be highlighted for helping us throughout the whole recording process with the drum set-up, the percussion, plenty of other ideas and an unhealthy dose of Hellenic humour. Luís Simões already worked with us in our previous album "The Unclenching of Fists", but this time he was a lot more involved... as for Hugo Santos and Proscriptor, they each added their own very characteristic vocal performances, and it suited the nature of the sections they sang on beautifully.
Like I said, the previous album handled about Tibet. You're also supporting the Free Tibet Organization with this new album (for every album sold, The Firstborn donates part of the profit to the Free Tibet Organization, ed.). Somehow I can't help but thinking about Taiwanese symphonic black metal band ChthoniC, who also use oriental instruments in their music by the way. The band is known for their firm support for the Tibetan cause. Maybe one day both bands can join forces in some sort of musical project?
It's curious you mention that, I actually tried to do just that for this album but my e-mail to the band's management doesn't seem to have gotten across to them, which is a shame. There is a lot of common ground between the two bands, so a collaboration on a musical level (or any other, for that matter) would be most fitting.
"The Noble Search" was elected Portuguese album of the year - surpassing albums like Moonspell's "Night Eternal" and Heavenwood's "Redemption" - by Loud! Magazine, an influential heavy metal publication in Portugal. What was going through your head the first time you heard that news?
It is obviously very rewarding, especially with this album in which we all put so much effort and hope... to have people considering it as good as we do is proof that we were right in taking so many chances with "The Noble Search", and even if we're not getting a direct return of all the sacrifices we made for this album we are, at least, getting some recognition for it.
However, those polls are what they are, we really don't let that have an impact in our work or our approach to music... we're an underground band and will remain so, our sound being too specific to appeal to the vast majority of Metal fans. If we manage to reach most of the people who this kind of atmosphere might appeal to then it already is a victory of sorts for The Firstborn.
And what was your favorite album of the past year in fact?
Without a doubt, Virus' "The Black Flux". As a big Ved Buens Ende fan I was a bit disappointed when I heard the much anticipated new album was turned into a Virus album, but when I heard it I couldn't care less - it's pretty much Ved Buens Ende to these ears.
What can be regarded as the band's biggest achievement so far? And what was the all-time lowest and darkest moment in the history of The Firstborn?
I would have to say recording "The Noble Search" is the proudest moment I have in this band, it was a very long process and one that took so much of everyone that to finally hear the finished product and realising how it had surpassed our most optimistic expectations made us all feel quite proud... and relieved!
We've had plenty of less than fortunate episodes in this band, especially in the first few years... between promising record deals gone down the drain, tours that never materialised and a constant of line-up problems it's hard to pinpoint the sole lowest point. For me, personally, probably losing my long-time partner in the band, Paulo Vieira, shortly after we recorded "The Noble Search" - we all saw it coming for a good while, but it's hard when the one person who stuck with you since day one calls it quits.
What will the future bring for The Firstborn? Any touring plans perhaps?
Touring would be excellent, but the circumstances are far from ideal, with the recession taking its toll on all but the biggest tours and festivals... still, we hope to at least do a few smaller tours throughout Europe, and a few festivals as well, before we set out to record our next album.
Speaking of which, what kind of a live band is The Firstborn in fact?
We try our best to convey all the atmosphere you find in our albums to the stage, although that means we have to resort to a lot of pre-recorded sections which makes the whole preparation for the concerts quite tedious and takes away some of the spontaneity a live performance should always involve. That being said, we are nevertheless a very intense, passionate, competent and professional band as anyone who has ever seen us perform will undoubtedly confirm.
How would you like The Firstborn to be remembered like?
As intelligent risk-takers. As a band unafraid to venture forth without falling in the avantgarde-for-the-sake-of-being-avantgarde trap. Beyond genres, yet familiar enough to draw parallels in most peoples' minds.
What is the most important life lesson you learned so far?
We are but one, every organism an integral part of the same cycles of arising and vanishing that take place on all levels below, above and beyond our perception. Our understanding of our surroundings is based on mind-objects created by ourselves and our peers, concepts we take for granted as real and palpable, yet whose existence is immaterial and artificial. If we disregard these concepts, life unwraps itself before our eyes and we free ourselves from the bonds of ego, passion and ignorance.
Let's wrap it up, shall we. Thanks again for doing this interview! The final words to the Metal Storm readers are all yours.
Thank you for your kind words and the in-depth questions. If you're still reading this and feel intrigued by our approach to music and life, feel free to head to our website - http://www.thenoblesearch.com - or our MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/unclenchedfists - and discover The Firstborn.
May our paths cross soon! Until then, keep on reaching for the Perfection of Wisdom.