Interview - Belenos - Cold, hard and severe...

Belenos is a band hailing from France, founded in 1995 by Loic Cellier to realize his need for playing black metal inspired by celtic spirituality. It turns out that he is a quite talkative guy, so instead of torturing yourself with a boring preface just read what he has to say about his band, modern metal scene and celtic heritage of his country.

1. Hello! The history of Belenos is quite long, yet my first contact with your music was last album so far, “Yen Sonn Gardis”. Because of my ignorance, I’d like to ask you to write shortly about band’s history, and it’s musical evolution.
I founded Belenos in 1995 as a one man band and I recorded 3 demos. From the end of the 90s till 2004 Belenos became a real band but the line up was very unstable. We performed at about 25 gigs, mostly in France, and 3 albums were written during that period that leaves a rather bad taste in my mouth. A turning point took place in the mid 2000s when I moved to Brittany (I used to live near Belgium) and I started on my own again. This period worked out much better, I was able to record a lot of things and start live performances again on a good basis. This rather stable situation should continue as such. Musically speaking the style has quite changed, but Belenos has always been and always will remain a band which mixes a black metal base with a lot of non-commercial things!

2. You describe your music on your website as “a mix of black metal (fast and dark) and pagan metal (dark and slow parts with Celtic choirs)”. Do you consider your band as something unique and original on metal scene?
No, it has nothing unique or original and yet! When we take the big majority of bands, very few of them evolve in both universes at the same time, they are rather one or the other. The term "pagan black", which I consider correct to be applied to my music, can be applied to rather few other bands! Will there one day be a pagan black fashion after the black metal one? I certainly hope not!

3. Also, can you tell me what inspires you when you’re composing new tracks? You seem to be a fan of old, good Norwegian scene, but also of doom metal. And what with folk approach, do you often listen to such music?
I am indeed a fervent fan of the Norwegian scene which has inspired me a lot, that's for sure! I used to listen to a bit of doom at some point but I don't that much now. I certainly listen to more folk music than before but it's not easy for me to bring out this folk aspect , the melodies being often festive, on a dark metal basis : to make them both cohabitate isn't an easy thing. The track "Gorsedd" that you seem to know is a good summary of all the influences that compose Belenos. 

4. “Yen Sonn Gardis” made a big impression on me. It’s hard to describe it, ‘cause of many tempo changes in each track. You also use “typical” folk tunes quite rarely, and focus on creating a certain, mystical atmosphere. A lot is going on here, so the album doesn’t bore even after many replays. Can you agree with me?
I would say that it's a rather dark album, not as much as Chemins de Souffrance, but nearly. One has often told me that it's a relatively brutal album, although not as much as Chants de Bataille, and it's probably the one that's the most difficult to perform on stage because it is quite technical, though not blatantly so. I don't think this album is better than the ones before, I think it is harder to listen to, it needs to be listened to a few time to really be able to make an opinion on it. I am satisfied but I can do better!

5. A middle part of “Gorsedd” sounds a bit similar to Thergothon. Are you a fan of them? And don’t you regret that they released so little music? 
Really? I used to have one of their albums but I hadn't thought about it, it's true that this track possesses some doom parts but with some typically celtic melodies. 

6.  Until “Yen…” you were using French lyrics. Now it changed, and you are writing in Breton. Why did you decide to do it? And are you a Breton yourself?
I am not of Breton descent ( I actually have distant Polish origins!) but I've been living here for the past ten years or so.
Little reminder : Brittany is the peninsula at the far west of France, it is to France what Scotland is to England: a land where the Celtic tradition is still quite alive, with therefore the Breton language that has no common point with French.
I chose this linguistic transition for many reasons :  French has lost its originality and exoticness to my taste, and since I am very linked to the cultural heritage of Brittany, it's logical for me to somehow be its ambassador throughout Belenos. The next album that I'm currently finishing will be in Breton as well.

7. Also, I can be wrong, but it seems that the lyrics are very important to you. Is this true? What they are mostly about? I mean, not only on your last album, but in general.
I write texts because I need some to be able to scream something, I admit that I am much more motivated for writing music than the lyrics! But then I don't like to botch things, fall into clich├ęs or get external help, so I force myself to do them my way, and I usually manage it. Working in Breton is more interesting, I feel freer.

8. I know that you have returned to playing live gigs. Who are your new companions onstage? And why you play concerts mainly in France and Belgium? Is there no interest abroad? I think that now it is, because you’re going to play in Austria and Ireland…
Dealing with the concert activity for Belenos is particularly difficult, the innumerable conditions aren't often reunited to allow us to produce ourselves on stage easily. There have been  long periods where stage activity had to be on standby, between end 2004 and 2010 for example, because it simply wasn't possible.
I found motivated and technically suitable people to accompany me on stage only recently and with a lot of difficulty! And we can't rehearse very often at all because it takes me three hours to get to where they live, plus they play in other bands (Les Chants de Nihil, Kerifern).
About ten years ago, Belenos was less or maybe not known at all abroad, that's why we mostly played in France. Performing abroad is something really recent for us : Germany, Ireland, Switzerland.. Leaving France is very complicated because of the distance and the costs that it implies, most organizers aren't prepared to pay 1000-2000€ for one concert, they would if we were more famous but let's be honest, we are far from having that notoriety that would make all the difference and after 18 years of existence, though I don't complain about Belenos's career, I doubt very much that it will rise at a point where there is a lot of demand for us. 

9. What are Belenos' plans for the future? I know that you're going to release a new album entitled "Kornog", can you tell more about it?
I'm working on it right now when I have some free time, which is rather rare! But the hindsight is necessary. I am not in a hurry, I'd rather "take" a year than record an album that isn't ripe. As I write, all the tracks are written as well as half of the texts, I will need a few more months to clarify certain parts or structures that deserve to be improved. Only then will I start the final recording, probably at the end of the year because many session musicians are required for playing traditional instruments. I'm no good with estimations but I guess everything will be done before summer 2014...

10. Since 2007 you cooperate with a German label Northern Silence. Are you happy with it? Most of bands seem to be very positive about them. Also do you like some of their roster?
Yes everything is going well with them. I don't know much about them but they usually produce good stuff, be it pagan or post black metal..

11. Yeah, and about other bands: do you follow modern metal scene (especially this pagan/folk) or just keep to listen only what you liked in the past? And can you recommend some bands from France? To be honest I don’t know many pagan acts from your country... 
There aren't that many pagan/folk metal bands in France! We can find some in Paris such as : Bran Barr, Heol Telwen, the Nightcreepers, Nydvind, Himinbjorg. All my favorite albums date from the last century, there are some good things once we sort out the new stuff, but I don't recognize Belenos in the current pagan folk scene at all!

12. You were playing in many other bands, and among them three were death metal. I know that you’re going to release another death metal album, can you say more about it? You seem to be a big fan of this kind of playing!
Before getting into black metal, at the beginning of the 90s, I used to listen and play death metal. I don't deny this period and it's true that I'm currently trying to record an album, just one, just for the fun and nostalgia.

13. Your playing a pagan black metal, so I have to ask you - what means paganism to you? Are you taking part in rituals and festivals? Or is it only a philosophy of life for you? Because I don't believe that you treat this only as a "cool" topic, like many other metal musicians.
Paganism is vague! For me, I'd say it concerns my everyday life. I'm not the kind to follow religious beliefs, but I'm rather a bit of a hermit, being pagan for me is to live close to the nature and thus far away from cities and all this shitty modern society, eating bio food from one's garden, looking after one's physical strength, defending one's culture, values and heritage against globalization and appreciating some kind of wild liberty.. It's a way of living before being a musical genre.

14. It was always bothering me - the Romans gave French people language, the Germanic invaders gave you name (Franks), yet most of your nation treats Celts as their direct ancestors. Why do you think is that? Maybe because of hidden celtic spirituality in each of your countryman?
Well the big majority of Europe used to be Celtic more than 2000 years ago. This culture has remained alive only in a few regions of the west of Europe. The rest of France, culturally speaking, is closer to countries such as Spain or Italy and much less like Germany or the UK.

15. How does life look in France now? I know that there were many protest against your government, especially against this whole gay-marriage and adoption thing. Your thoughts about that?
Our beautiful country has been decomposing itself for the last 30 years, and things have considerably accelerated these last 4-5 years. Our leaders are cowardly, corrupt and incapable of doing anything, gay marriage is the only thing that seems to be a progress for them in our country when there are so many much more serious problems that weight on the society. I don't complain about the quality of life I have here but it's far from being easy, people are getting poorer and poorer (except for the rich), the years of glory and prestige are over, decadence is coming! 

16. You're on the scene with Belenos since 1995, having on account 3 demos and 6 longplays. You've seen many passing trends and fashions. Do you feel like a veteran, haha? And what are your thoughts about a thing that divides metal fans - internet. Many say that this is a thing for poser, others that buying CDs and vinyls (not saying about cassettes!) is just a waste of money. And some says that this is OK for promotion, but the true heart of music is always on the physical format. Your opinion?
Yes indeed, I'm starting to become part of the old ones who have seen all the tendencies pass, we have a lot of stuff to tell the new generations who haven't known the rich 90s in real time! Internet turned everything upside down, to pass from a closed scene where only cassettes and fanzines were exchanged to a virtual world where everything is accessible was a shock, a lot of adaption was required. Internet is a good thing for promotion but too much information reduces its efficiency. CDs are suffering a lot today!

17. OK, that was the last question. Thank you very much for your time, last word is yours. Good luck in the future, and I hope to see you someday on the gig in Poland!
Thanks for the interest you have in Belenos, I hope to one day be able to perform in Poland! 

Photos: band's archieve.
Interview by Vladyka 2013. Please do not copy this interview without HA'Z permission. Respect the copyrights!

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