Interview with Alex Jorge La Mole (bassist and composer)
Interview by Demitri Levantis
With the release of their second studio album Pentafixion last year, I caught up with Cuban black metallers Mephisto to see what they have in store for the fans and have planned for the future.
Hi and thanks for joining us, let’s start with Pentafixion, what is the meaning behind that title, and why did you choose it?
Pentafixion is a crucifixion in a satanic pentacle. That is, the star of 5 tips, that right side up signifies mankind, humanity… upside down means the Baphomet, the devil’s representative goat. The crucifixion of a person in a pentacle is used for rituals of invocation.
We elected that title for the song because the lyrics talk about a person that gets sacrificed to bring Satan to this dimension and begin the end of times.
There are many references to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in the new songs, how big an influence are the books and films on Mephisto’s music?
Literature and movies are big references for Mephisto when writing and creating songs. The North American writer H.P. Lovecraft is one of our principal influences. Also other writers like C. Baudelaire, Tolkien, Goethe, and philosophers like Hermes Trimegisto, F. Nitchze and Satanists like Alesteir Crowley and Anton Szandor LaVey.
Do you enjoy other fantasy writers as well as Tolkien, and if so why?
Right now, most definitely! We want to be a band of intellectual songs and with consistency, perhaps influenced by the Heavy’s Metal glories like Iron Maiden or the artist / frontman Dani Filth. They know how to receive nourishment of philosophical knowledge and loud literature to write their songs.
Why did you wait five years to release a new album following 2016’s “Reborn From Ashes”?
Many line-up changes happened in the period of the 2016 to the 2020, and this is always hard assimilating a new line-up. It eats into time because its necessary go back to revisit the entire repertoire again. The Pentafixion album was being recording during those 4 years, but the new members brought new arrangements and many things were re-recorded. The orchestral arrangements were also tweaked and re-recorded 3 times. When the music was re-recorded, aligned and stable, we knew that the album was finally finished and ready for release. There was no way we were going to rush this album and put out a pile of steaming dog shit! We respect our fans too much to do that.
Are any of the songs on the album linked like “The Birth”, “Rebellion”, and “The Falling”?
“The Birth”, “Rebellion” and “The Falling”, belong to a trilogy called: “Creation of the Magnificent”. It was based on Milton´s “Paradise Lost” poem. There is another trilogy in the album called: “The Rings of Sauron” with the songs: “The Mighty Ring, “From Hobbiton toward the mountains of Gorgoroth” and “The Last Battle”, all of which are based on Tolkien’s work.
Your music is usually described as Gothic Black Metal, is this how you would describe it yourself or do you see it as different?
Others reviewed have called us Symphonic Black Metal. I believe that this is the best definition for us.
Orchestrations are very important for us and the sonority that you listen to in the album is what we have been focused on for many years.
What is your personal favourite song from the new album and why?
I have two songs preferred in the album. The songs: “The Falling” and “From Hobbiton Towards the Mountains of Gorgoroth”. I think that they are very epic songs and they generate emotion in the people that listen to it. I also enjoy the song “The Undivine Blessing”, which is the track that possesses the most complex orchestrations, but it does not compare with the other two tracks mentioned.
Is the theme of vampires something new for the band or is it a new take on the theme compared to your previous albums?
Ha ha, no, it’s not a new take… In fact I think we are ahead of you on this one, as we are currently creating a conceptual album based on Dracula’s myth. This news I’m revealing is an exclusive to you, as we’ve not made this information public before.
The record is so advanced in the recording process that we only have vocals to record before sitting down to finish the mix and getting it mastered. You can guarantee that Bran Stoker’s book is the principal source for this album’s songs.
Seeing that you originate from Cuba, have you ever thought of releasing an album entirely in Spanish?
Rock was born for a reason in an Anglo-Saxon country. Imagine salsa music in English (It’s not bad at all, insert sarcasm here) or other languages like Japanese or German. It just wouldn’t work without a loss of soul and swing of this genre. I don’t like rock or metal in Spanish… perhaps punk and rap metal, but definitely not our music.
What made you take the name “Mephisto” when you started and what is the meaning behind it?
A friend gave me as a present a book with the two parts of Faust, a dramatic work of J.W. Goethe, many years ago. In that work Faust is a doctor/philosopher that is longing for immortality and total knowledge, so he made a pact with the devil. He then assumed Mephistopheles’s name in the book. Right away I thought that name was the best-suited one for a group that dedicated itself to the brunette lyric poet. In order that this name be more palatable, I abbreviated it down to Mephisto.
What’s it been like working with Orchard Music Group, and why did you choose them?
Orchard Music Group has a great global reach and Wormhole Death is a label we were introduced to by a good friend Omar, who is the “Subtle Death” magazine editor. Listening to and researching many of the artists on WHD, we already had references of the fine job accomplished by them. Belonging to Orchard Music Group’s catalogue gives us a positioning and a visibility outside of Cuba that we never have had before. We are conscious of the fact that we live on an island that does not know anything outside the idea of being a tourist destination with good Havana cigars and rum. Nobody knows the metal scene hidden in the country and that information doesn’t interest the Cuban music labels either. It was an easy and obvious choice to sign to a label that respected us, our music and our musical direction. WHD and Orchard wanted to work with us to bring our music to the world and they actively work on our behalf to generate further opportunities for the band to get our music in front of thousands of listeners. We are grateful for this opportunity and their support shown to us over the past 2 years during a global pandemic.
What was it like working with film maker Victor Vinuesa when shooting your video for Pentafixion?
Víctor Vinuesa is a video producer with experience. He has worked with groups of varied styles, although his personal pleasure is more for metal. The video was filmed in two days, a very fast process, but we were able to do this as everything was organised and set up ready to shoot prior to us arriving in Havana. It was a great experience and we learned a lot, encouraging us to start creating our own videos, but using CGI and 3D modelling because is cheaper. We are very fortunate that our drummer David Neives is a computer engineer and is now responsible for all the programming and 3d modelling we use when creating new music videos.
In recording new material, is there anyone you would like to work with whom you haven’t yet and why?
We have done our own recordings to find the sonority that we want. Unfortunately in Cuba there really aren’t any specialized producers or engineers in the metal music scene. It would be a tremendous waste of time and money if we decided to work with some of the more well-known engineers and producers here, simply because they just don’t have the background or skill set in metal music. So for now we do it ourselves. Eventually we would like to record in some European recording studios that specialized in Black metal, but it would be a whole new interview just to explain how difficult it is for a Cuban to leave this country.
How has Cuba’s metal scene changed in all the years you have been making music?
In the 80s and 90s the conditions to make rock or metal music were very bad. The instruments and PA systems that were circulating in the country came from the Ex-USSR, and were very, very bad quality. However the passion for these musical genres was building and the fans were responding in a euphoric way so we persevered with what we had. In time the conditions to import instrument and PA’s from Western countries improved, but by then the genre experienced a downturn in support and was just not the same. Other music styles had caught young people’s attention and you can’t force people to attend concerts of music they’re not in to. It certainly didn’t help that the stigma attached to being a metal head was severe and many were condemned and convict in this country for being so. In recent years, there’s definitely been a softening in people’s attitudes toward metal fans and musicians however the support offered by the various agencies and institutions on the island is still very much skewed towards more traditional genres and the more popular “music of the day” like Reggaeton and RnB / Hip Hop.
How has the Covid pandemic affected yourself and the band, did you have to cancel a lot of things?
Covid almost destroyed everything! The country has not still recovered from this and right now has an economic crisis that has the entire population in a state of survival. Consequently many pubs and clubs are closed. Although they are recovering little by little, life no longer is the same for anyone. Mephisto lost a lot of gigs and touring opportunities but that has not stopped us. In fact we worked on two more records through the pandemic period and a fifth record with brand-new themes got underway, that we plan to record it in 2024. We also began the development and creation of multiple videos clips. We’ve released two so far via WHD, which are now also on our social media platforms and website. There are three more in production with the filming complete for them all, but the editing yet to be completed. We hope to see this happen over the course of the next 3-6 months.
Have you guys spent a long time on the road and if so, do you have any funny stories you’d like to share with us?
Many things happen in the tours. I am one of the drunkest. Once I vomited everything in our tour bus and the guys had to throw me off the bus whilst they cleaned it out entirely with several water buckets. One of the guitarists is diabetic but doesn’t let that stop him. He passed out multiple times backstage after a show after hitting it f’kn’ hard prior to the show and forgetting to monitor his levels. A long time ago back in 90’s, our vocalist took down a drunkard who invaded the stage and tried to snatch the microphone. It just so happens that that individual was a well-known criminal in that city and he laid siege to the hotel we were staying at. We found ourselves held hostage by a band of armed men wielding knives and machetes. The police had to escort us out of the hotel on to the bus so we could get out of there as quickly as possible. I don’t think we’ve ever returned to that town to play another show since! There are many more anecdotes for sure, but these will have to wait until the “tell all” book is written and released.
Do you have any tours planned now that touring can happen again?
There is a tour for Central America currently being looked into and prepared by our management. We are hoping that this will be in early to mid-2024 if all goes well with the planning phases. I think that it is the first thing that we are going to do as soon as we have an opportunity.
If you could tour with any band at all, who would it be and why?
There are bands we would like to share us scene with, like Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Dark Funeral and Cradle of filth, but personally I have the fantasy to share scene with Fleshgod Apocalypse and Septic Flesh, the ones that I deem a special affinity with.
What made you want to get into music in the first place and what was the first instrument you bought?
As a teenager, the musician in my family was my brother, but he focused on traditional Cuban music. For that reason I was not interested. My affinity was actually painting. But one day I heard metal music, and became a fan of the genre. I realized that I was not happy just to be a simple fan. I wanted to be the one making the music and stepping on the stages, so I decided to learn music. I play the bass in Mephisto, but also play guitar. I also have several projects of different styles of metal that I have toured and recorded with, and I’ve had some records released through different labels throughout my career.
Who are the biggest bands who influenced Mephisto’s music and what are your favourite bands today?
Mephisto’s first influence was Septic Flesh. At the time, we did not know Black metal, only that we wanted to do dark and orchestral music… until we had in our hands the album “The principle of evil made flesh” from Cradle of Filth. It was then that we began our incursion into Black metal. Perhaps you might ask why there is so much variety in Mephisto music? It’s because although I am the composer of the themes within the songs, the whole band (who all have varied musical tastes), contribute to the arrangements, the tones, the sounds and the overall development of the music. We never have been a band where all members are set just on Black metal. We know that when you allow different elements and other styles to broaden your musical pallet, it results in stronger and better development of our own music.
When you’re not making music what hobbies do you and the rest of the band have, any fun pastimes?
David L. Nieves, our drummer, he’s a computer engineer and buried in the world of programming. Fabián, one of the guitarists have enough entertainment with his family and a restless daughter, although he also moonlights with other groups performing styles nothing like metal. Kevin, our other guitarist, is always having a party and listening to a lot of music. I am fond of movies and TV series and also write; in fact, I have published books. Osney´s hobby is creating and running businesses. He has recently opened up a venue in Nicaragua called the “Black Palace” and is now hosting regular concerts for local and touring Metal bands. The rest of the band will be joining him soon in Nicaragua where we will continue to write, record, tour and perform for many, many years to come.
What would you say are the biggest pros and cons about being a musician?
I am going to begin with the pros: Knowing a great many people and traveling. I love to travel, and I know my country from coast to coast thanks to the music. Also I get to have an amazing creative life. It’s very sad, in my opinion, the life of the common people that spend weeks and months from the house to work and vice versa and at the end grow old and go to their tomb without ever leaving an impression.
The cons: Problems with relations and marriages. The majority of the people don’t understand the commitment required to be in a successful band. You dedicate your entire life to it, often to the detriment of other things like relationships. In fact I am at three divorces, and the rest of the band, except Fabian, have all had broken down relationships. The other is the life of sacrifice that bears the musical being, and more so in this country, where nothing is easy to do or achieve. The music industry bears many disappointments, treason, frauds, problems etc. etc. In spite of everything though, it is a wonderful life that I wouldn’t trade for the world!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own bands, what should they be aware of?
A. Look for relationships with people who like and respect what you want to do. This goes for personal and band members.
B. If somebody brings problems to the band, fuck them off! A problematic person can destroy your band quicker than you know.
C. If you are composing, register immediately each composition that you make. There’s always somebody out there who wants to plagiarise and take credit for your hard work.
D. If you come up with the name of the band, register it immediately. At that point it might not seem so important to you because you’re all “friends” in the band, but everything can change instantly.
E. Never abandon the music for any woman. She has to accept you as you are. No woman changes for anybody, and if you look back on your life later, the women go and come; your work however will remain true and loyal to you.
F. You should always try to hold on to your copyrights and ownership of your songs. That way if members leave the band, you only have to replace that person rather than shelf a song or re-record etc. etc. This way your sound and musical composition remains true and unchanged.
G. If you are composing and somebody collaborates with you in arrangements, make sure you register them as an “Arranger” not as a co-author.
H. If you compose a theme in tandem with someone else, you should have an agreement in place that allows both parties to utilize the song even if they are in a different band.
Finally, do you have anything you would like to say to our readers?
For sure! Many readers would never know that great Metal music was and continues to be made in Cuba. Well then… I invite you all to direct your attention that way in order to discover an underground world with very valuable bands. Bands that they have been lost in isolation and remained hidden to the world, thanks largely to always being locked-up on an island, suppressed and admonished by a totalitarian regime that only considers Metal music like an unsafe weapon wielded by the enemy. Taste the forbidden fruit! One bite and you’ll be hooked.
Thank you so much for joining us and I wish you all the best for the future.
Thanks to you too… We hope to see you soon on tour someday.