Interview with Ecclesia
Frater Arnhwald – Vocals
Julius Accusator – Lead guitar
The Witchfinder General – Rhythm guitar
Frater Ignis Sacer – Bass
Pater Hexenhammer – Drums
Pater Walkelinus – Organ
Interview by Kieron Hayes
Ecclesia’s debut album, De Ecclesiæ Universalis, made a great impression here at Metal-Rules, so we gladly took the chance to chat to the band on the eve of its release.
I believe you guys formed in 2016, originally as a trio. How did you come together? And was the intention always to expand into a wider line-up?
The Witchfinder General (rhythm guitar): Indeed, but to be honest I started the band on my own, more or less as a solo project. Former guitarist Conrad the Inquisitor quickly joined the project, we got in touch thanks to a common friend. Ecclesia’s very first goal was just to release a demo, back then I didn’t have a very precise idea of what I wanted to do next. I first wanted to sing on the demo but the result was absolutely awful. I got in touch with Frater Arnhwald who was doing vocal covers of bands like Helloween and he accepted to sing on the demo, but only as a session vocalist. In the meantime, Frater Ignis Sacer joined the band as a bassist.
When we released the demo, I understood that Ecclesia had the potential to go further and to perform on stage so I looked for musicians but finding persons who were capable of involving themselves and understanding the essence of Ecclesia was extremely difficult.
So it came like a blessing when Arnhwald finally agreed to join the band as full-time singer. He recommended me our drummer Pater Hexenhammer (formerly known as The Priest) who was a close friend to his and an amazing musician by the way. The final touch to the line-up was added when we recruited Pater Walkelinus to play the keys.
The band’s name is, I believe, Greek for “church”. Was there any special reason for the use of Greek, or was it just a good name that fits with Ecclesia’s themes?
The Witchfinder General: Exactly, “Ecclesia” stands for either “church” or “assembly”. I have to admit that there was no particular reason for using a Greek word, even though it may somehow refer to the First Council of Nicaea, but that was not the point. When looking for a proper band name, I wanted to find something simple, not too long, easy to remember and that would define the band’s music and purpose. When I found Ecclesia, it just made perfect sense. Sometimes you just feel that things are right, and so was the case.
How did you personally first get into music, especially heavy music? Any particularly big influences?
The Witchfinder General: As far as I’m concerned, I got into music and began to play the guitar at the age of 12. What really got me into heavy music was The Matrix soundtrack, with songs by Rammstein or Rage Against The Machine, among others. It’s hard to explain, when I stumbled upon these songs, it just felt both weird and fascinating. From the very beginning, I knew something was going on inside my mind and that I wouldn’t return from this journey.
I’ve had a lot of different influences when it comes either to playing the guitar or composing music, but to name a few: Rammstein, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Candlemass, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Slayer, Sepultura…I got also a lot into extreme metal with, for example, Anorexia Nervosa, Emperor, Dissection, Marduk, Impaled Nazarene…
Your debut full-length, De Ecclesiæ Universalis is about to be released. How would you describe Ecclesia’s music to someone who has never heard it?
Frater Arnhwald (vocals): The best music to go on crusade.
The Witchfinder General: It’s always hard to describe your own music, but I would say it is a right balance between melody, catchy riffs, the “fun” aspect of heavy metal and the heaviness, darkness and gloomy side of this music. Also, we like church organs. They really rock.
Do you have any favourite songs from the album?
The Witchfinder General: I will speak only for myself but to my mind, “Vatican III” and “Deus Vult” definitely are the highlights of the album. And to name a third track, I’d mention also “Montségur”. Candlemass meets Rammstein.
Going back to the topic of influences, your bio mentions a range of classic doom metal bands, and while I can certainly hear that in there, one of the best parts of your sound is how you bring it together with other styles of metal. Are there any other bands you think have helped shape the sound of Ecclesia?
The Witchfinder General: Thanks! Indeed, we mainly play heavy/doom metal but as you noticed, there are a lot of other things in it. It’s almost impossible to answer precisely this question as every member of the band has a different musical background. Some of us have been involved these past few years in extreme metal, be it black metal or death metal, but also in progressive bands, industrial music or classic heavy metal. The influences we have, apart from the doom and heavy side go from Strapping Young Lad to Combichrist, and from Malevolent Creation to Savage Grace or Orange Goblin. I could add bands like Chrome Division, Nevermore, Rainbow or even the French Phazm, but doing a complete list would take hours I think.
What was the process for the album’s creation, does any one member tend to do a lot of the writing or is it more of a collaborative effort?
Frater Arnhwald: Witchfinder General wrote all the riffs, basic structures of the songs, and the majority of the lyrics. I have found the vocal melodies and also wrote the organ arrangement for a perfect liturgical mood.
The Witchfinder General: The writing process took more or less three years for De Ecclesiæ Universalis. As I said before, I started Ecclesia on my own, back in 2016. I alone wrote the three songs that appear on our demo (Witchfinding Metal of Doom, released back in 2017). Former guitarist Conrad just added the solos. After that, I wrote the rest of the songs for the album the same way, entirely on my own and wrote most of the lyrics. Frater Arnhwald rearranged the lyrics, wrote the text for “Vatican III” (which in the beginning was meant to be an instrumental song) and helped find arrangements. He also wrote all the keyboard tracks and our new lead guitarist Julius Accusator added the leads, solos and a few nice guitar arrangements. The next album will have more riffs from each other, so it will be a bit more diverse I think.
Religious themes of heresy, witch-burnings, the Inquisition and the like are especially prominent on your lyrics. Are these topics you had an interest in prior to the band?
The Witchfinder General: I’d say yes, but it was only a fascination for something we don’t really know, if you know what I mean. I started opening books about the Holy Inquisition and searching things more generally about the Church history at the same time I was developing the project, also I needed information and knowledge to write lyrics that wouldn’t just be a stupid collection of clichés. It was all very inspiring and it still is. We, and especially Arnhwald, have a lot of ideas for the next releases. Ora et labora.
Frater Arnhwald: There are historical reasons, of course: the fact that the Inquisition was an important institution whose black legend is, in a way, far darker and more brutal than anything the satanist-related folklore was able to ever produce, without mentioning the fact it also (the black legend, not the reality) encompasses a great number of “gothic” themes that can be used within the context of a metal band. It’s also surprising to see how the metal fans reacts to our live performances – these kids and old men who flatter themselves to be rebel-minded can easily be thrown out from their conventional-subversion safe-spaces when you chose to dramatize their own personal boogeymen.
How do you find the music scene in France?
The Witchfinder General: Well…at the time I’m answering this interview, the Covid thing has been destroying a lot of things here. Almost nothing has happened since last March, and the French venues, bookers and all professionals related to the music scene (but not only) fear that they will probably go bankrupt in the next months.
Apart from that, the scene is very diverse in France. The metal scene remains mostly underground, even though there are a few big events out there and a few bands who have managed to go international. There are hundreds of different bands, with, of course, some of them that really deserve interest, and sadly, a lot of shitty bands too. But we cannot complain, it is way more serious than 20 years ago, when the French scene was a joke, apart from a few bands.
Do you find it difficult balancing out your commitments to the band with life outside of it? Any dream artists you’d love to play alongside?
The Witchfinder General: Half Ecclesia’s members are actually professional musicians, so the question is quickly answered, speaking about them. Making music and producing it is actually their job. For the other half, including me, it’s not that difficult. Of course, running a serious band takes a lot of time and commitment, but I never feel like it is annoying. Also, what helps is that we try not to imposing ourselves any deadlines or anything. We want to make something, and we take the time and put the efforts needed until the result is really good to our minds.
Of course there are plenty of artists I would like to tour with, but I doubt this happens one day. Just to name a few, I’d say Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass.
Do you think image is important when being in a band?
The Witchfinder General: In our case, yes. It is a big part of our identity. Even though we are a music band, that wouldn’t make much sense without the image we want the listeners to have from us. Ecclesia has to be seen as a whole, it’s the music plus the picture. I don’t think people would stick to our music if we simply got on stage with t-shirts and blue jeans.
I’m sure Covid has had an impact on touring plans as it has with so many. Do you have plans to tour in support of De Ecclesiæ Universalis once you can?
The Witchfinder General:of course, Covid has had a horrible impact here in France as I was explaining in a previous question. We were supposed to perform on 30th October in Chambéry, France and in February in a French festival, but both gigs have been cancelled. As I’m answering you, France has just been put again under lockdown and there is no way that normal concerts can happen before next Spring. And to my mind, there are 100% chances that nothing will happen at least before next Summer. So we’ll wait and see…
Do you think it’s important for a band to be signed to a label to be recognised in today’s society?
The Witchfinder General: I think, yes. Self-released albums can be cool, but you definitely have to work extremely hard and invest a lot of money to get a proper promotion when you do it yourself. And at the end, you’re not even sure that it will be successful. But at least you’re free to do it your own way.
We are very pleased to have signed the deal with Aural Music. Promotion is going well for the moment and things are positive. I think this is a guarantee of seriousness when you get signed on a professional label.
Are there any bands that have particularly caught your attention recently in your personal listening?
The Witchfinder General: Portrait, Crypt Sermon, Sorcerer, Kvaen, Chronus, Sarpanitum, Sulphur Aeon.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
The Witchfinder General: Thanks a lot for your interest towards Ecclesia. Confess your sins or run for your lives!
De Ecclesiæ Universalis is out on the 13th of November via Aural Music!