Interview by Ed MacLaren
Boasting a heavy progressive metal sound, France’s Devious eXperiment of Synthesthesis – or DXS –immerses us in a dark apocalyptic world with their debut album “Cathar5y5”. But the devastation on this impressive concept album is not of nuclear holocaust or war spinning out of control: the destruction takes place deep with the recesses of the mind. Vocalist Alienor Colin took some time to discuss with Femme Metal the foundation of “Cathar5y5” and some of its deeper meanings.
“Cathar5y5” is a seriously awesome debut. You’re treading in some serious concept album territory though – we’re talking major Ayreon, Queensryche sci-fi stuff here. Give us a little background on the story of “Cathar5y5” and how it evolved?
Well, first of all, thank you for the compliment. As for the story, Jean-Michel, our keyboards player, laid its foundation, drawing his inspiration from events that happened in his own life to create a fiction based on people’s psychology and their ability, not to say their need, to develop their own torments. Then we worked on these themes to harmonize them with our musical needs!!! I’d like to remind you that “Cathar5y5” was first “born” in a futuristic fictional world, in which a free from physical sufferings man, particularly thanks to pharmaceutical and genetic progress, will more than ever enjoy psychological torments (romantic philosophy).
“Cathar5y5” makes some bold philosophical points over the course of the album – most prevalent the disruption of natural order through scientific manipulation. It’s interesting that in “Cathar5y5” as mankind masters its external environment through the eradication of disease it loses control of its internal mental mechanisms. What is the connection you’re trying to draw here?
We can see through that inevitability, a mere irony of fate, that despite the Cartesian aspect “Cathar5y5” takes advantage of, remains a notion that governs our world in a cruel manner.
The “Cathar5y5” vaccine provides an artificial self-actualization in response to society’s desire for instant gratification in all areas of life. Will this ultimately always fail?
The Cathar5y5 world had to be plausible indeed, but by definition, a totally imaginary futuristic fiction. Even though the concept origins lie in many winks, we never wanted to transfer the ins and outs of the story to the futuristic or contemporary real world. The script was to end badly to show the whole tragic and therefore “metal” extent of the album form and content! Our music is meant to naturally be in minor keys, dark and melancholic!
The people in Cathar5y5 strive for peace and perfection but actually enjoy the suffering they endure. Is it that the reach for the unattainable always comes with pain and hardship?
Human nature has always wanted to be equal to the Creator, perhaps out of vanity and therefore to reach perfection. However in Cathar5y5, the question is about controlling rather than reaching perfection. Nevertheless, if there was a message to learn, it would be the contradictory and perverted necessity for man to endure suffering! Here indeed, as he is deprived of physical sufferings, he develops new mental torments, which are the subjects of each song. So Cathar5y5 does take its essence in the romantic philosophy.
Is there a biblical allegory in Cathar5y5? Man strives for perfection through its faith in false idols (or corporations) instead of God and suffers the ultimate consequence?
There are some biblical hints in the script, in particular the seven vaccines and the seven diseases that echo the seven seals of the Apocalypse, however the ultimate punishment that ends this fiction doesn’t really embody anything allegorically biblical but merely tragic.
“Cathar5y5 ” highlights a bleak world-view. Do you think humankind is in a downward spiral of self-destruction? Can we do anything to change it?
The album indeed develops a rather pessimistic vision, perhaps simply to match the traditional aesthetics of metal music we’ve heard so much about lately (Hellfest). Nevertheless, we must confess and note that the members of the group ceased believing in “man’s nobility”. Fortunately, fantastic people are still to be discovered in our world that are worth forgetting the rest!
Why did you decide to tackle something so conceptually intense for your debut?
That’s not an easy question. Let’s say that, even though it’s a debut, it is a project into which we wanted to put ourselves totally and show a great maturity to compensate for its status as a “first album”. And also, the making of a universe for a group seems to me an essential matter that helps musical, visual and textual cohesion.
How directly is DXS invested into the “Cathar5y5″ storyline? Will future releases continue to be extensions of the Cathar5y5 concept?
The story of Cathar5y5 remains a fiction as a source of inspiration for this first opus; we have already started working on the second album that should offer a different concept, still based on an imaginary script!
A great story and lyrics are a big part of a great album but you need to back it up with a strong musical foundation. DXS has the musical skill to really bring the concept and lyrics alive. Was the music written to match the concept or did the music come first?
Thanks again! Well, I don’t really remember whether we had already written some lyrics before completing the concept album, however some songs like “Mirror of Terror” or “Catharsis” obviously showed from the composition a schizophrenic will through the elaboration of their asymmetric riffs or of their structures. Other tracks inspired themes matching the concept but peculiar to the universe about them, for example “Nocturnal Phobia”.
DXS displays some serious prog chops with some great riffing that match perfectly the tone of the story. How difficult was it to conceptualize the music to fit around the story?
This was done fairly naturally because, through the colour we wished to give to the album and the concept that was written in order to never betray that will of darkness, we all were in a very special state of mind during the stages of difficult composition!
Your vocals really stand out on “Cathar5y5”. Your singing is strong with a beautiful tone that drives the music forward. Did you experiment with your technique to get the right vocal feel for each track?
Thank you! Generally and also to face the other productions, progressive music leaves little place for singing; however as a singer I have more freedom than my fellow instrumentalists. I must confess that once the musical parts are ready I can quite intuitively and easily compose my vocals. What takes me more time is to find the right vocal feel for each theme. And I’m not used to always singing the same thing! The vocal parts evolved as the pre-productions and also as the recordings progressed thanks to the advice of the sound team I worked with!
Alexandre Ardisson’s grunts are excellent but you also brought in some guest vocalists for “Cathar5y5”. How did you get Clément Marse of Continuum and Julien Leon of Darkenhold involved in the project?
It happened quite naturally. Clément is a long time friend who sings in another prog music group Continuum and we have played some dates with them. We really needed a particular male voice to punctuate “Amnesia” and we are fond of sharing our musical trips with our close musician friends. The same thing with Julien Leon alias Cervantes. Alexandre is also Darkenhold’s bass player and we are all very close friends of Julien, who is quite an interesting person, humanly speaking! “Psychotic Depression” is a very dark song and we wanted a very strong and typically “black” voice to confront the lead vocals!
What were the influences and inspirations that fed “Cathar5y5”? DXS seems like it would have many other influences other than music though…literature and film?
From a musical point of view, with a concern for originality, we give a great importance to combinations at the same time: prog with Andromeda and Dream Theater; black/death with Dimmu Borgir and Ihsahn; and symphonic with Symphony X, Revamp and After Forever! As I said before, the concept album was widely inspired from the Romantic philosophy.
Finally, several members of the band are students in audiovisual courses and all of us are widely influenced by cinema: as an example, the lyrics of “Mirror of Terror” are a tribute to David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
We have to talk about the band name: Devious eXperiment of Synthesthesis. It’s a bit of a mouthful. Can you explain the origination of the name, especially the Synthesthesis part?
Let’s say that in a way, we adapted the definition of “synesthésie” (synesthesia in English), a mental pathology consisting of the association of two senses like sight and hearing and that’s exactly what we wanted to translate – that is to say music and colour, especially from a harmonic point of view, which is not always easy thing to do… and we must also confess that we wished we had a much longer name than our friends in Spheric Universe Experience, who by the way, asked me to sing on one of their songs “White Willow” during the recording of their last album.
Are you planning on touring and showcasing “Cathar5y5” a la Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime?
It’s really difficult to find dates in the metal circle, especially with a first album. However, we should work on a tour project by the end of 2011!
(Famous) Last words?
Describing the world of DXS is not an easy thing to do. I do hope that, thanks to our answers, you’ll fancy having a look at our MySpace and giving “Cathar5y5” a listen.