Tribunal - Interview
Vancouver's Tribunal have bewitched fans of classic doom across the world in 2023, with their fantastic 20 Buck Spin debut full-length "The Weight Of Remembrance". MetalBite caught up with Soren and Etienne from the band over a transatlantic Zoom call to hear more about the recording process, plans for the future, and how the band failed to turn into Wintersun, despite the seemingly never-ending pandemic. Although the pair may have been nursing hangovers from the previous night's Death To All / Suffocation show, they were thoughtful and engaging company throughout, and this writer's fingers are crossed that they do indeed eventually make it to Europe to treat fans across the pond to their brand of rich, elegant heavy metal.
Although Tribunal appears to have emerged from nowhere, 2023 is far from the beginning of the story, with the band having been playing together since 2018. How did you develop from that point to releasing your debut this year?
Soren: Yeah, it has been quite a while now, even if the pandemic creates a strange blurry period in the middle. We met each other when we had just moved to the city, and we met and became friends, and through talking, it became clear that we had both had projects in the past, and we were both interested in getting something together. So, we ended up talking about doing something in the doom realm – dark and slow were the main adjectives that we tried to use for framing our early jams. We started jamming together, the two of us in the summer of 2018, so quite a while ago now.
Etienne: I remember you were the one certainly pushing it more initially; I think you were very excited to get back to making music. I remember feeling a bit uncertain after my last project had fizzled out, and for our first session you brought over the riffs that became 'Initiation'. I remember playing those through in the space and feeling surprised by how excited I was, at how things were coming together, and things just snowballed from there. We put together an initial line-up and played some shows that had a pretty decent reception, and then during the pandemic some things happened, the band became just the two of us again, and we buckled down and put together the record. It took quite a lot of time between recording it, producing it, and finding the right partner to release it, but I think it ended up feeling really worthwhile.
Soren: Yeah, definitely. We took quite a long time with the recording process, 'cos these songs had been written for a number of years. We were playing most of the songs off the record live before the pandemic.
Etienne: We had 'Initiation', we had 'Apathy's Teeth', and we had the earlier version of 'Without Answer', although we threw out all of the lyrics and the melodies, and rewrote the vocals for it, I think right before we went in to record it.
Soren: These songs have been around for a while, we've been playing them for a while, but we recorded the entire thing ourselves, which is something that neither of us had done before. Everything except for the drums. And I think, when you have an infinite span of time as we had in the pandemic, and you're learning a new skill, we stretched it out and really took our time with the recording process. So, it's very exciting to finally have people hearing these songs that have become very, very familiar to us over a number of years. It's exciting to hear the fresh reception from people hearing it for the very first time.
Your sound doesn't follow any trends. Do you think that operating in relative isolation in Vancouver has helped you develop something more timeless, not rooted in a specific era?
Soren: I think that it's helpful, in that I don't feel there are many bands around here or in the scene that are doing things that are exactly on the same pathway, so I think in that way you're less likely to get consciously influenced by what's popular. Maybe that leads us to be more independent with our sound, but we are drawing heavily from the groundwork that has been laid since the nineties, but it's hard to say how it affects our sound. What do you think?
Etienne: Honestly, the band and the record very much came from a genuine place of just wanting to make music and mess around a little bit. I don't think, certainly when we started, we even thought we were going to make a record, let alone get picked up by a label, or start to get a response around the world like what's happening, so maybe if we'd have had that goal in mind in the beginning, we might have thought more about what's cool, what's happening, how can we set this up to get traction? But we really weren't thinking about that at all, it was just "what do we enjoy doing? How do we get the intersection between what music you enjoy making, what I enjoy making, what the skills we have naturally lend themselves to?", and it just naturally arose itself from that.
Soren: It felt very contained, just within our own musical tastes and interests. I'd been interested in making this kind of music for a long while, and so I had ideas in my head, but I was not so much influenced by ideas of what would kick off right now. At least where we are now, it's more stoner-doom that is the more popular style, and we're an outlier. But that can also give us an advantage in the local scene, in that we've gotten to play some exciting shows, where people have remembered us if they're into this particular style of doom, because they don't hear it around very much, so I think that has been an advantage for us.
What were your expectations when you sent your demo to 20 Buck Spin?
Etienne: No, no real expectations there! The demo policy on their website says that they love when people reach out to them, but they get so many demos that you're not going to hear back unless they want to work with you. We sent a lot of demo submissions to a lot of different labels, just because I'd had an experience of doing a record in the past where you put in all the work to record it, and then you just put it out there, and maybe nothing happens. And so, after the incredibly long and very challenging experience of making the record, we said that we really want to put the work in to giving it the best shot possible. So, we went through every band we thought was comparable, or potentially comparable to us: who was their label? We sent a ton of emails, the vast majority of which, understandably, they never got back to, because again, there are so many bands doing that, but… you only need one hit! And, I honestly wouldn't have expected 20 Buck Spin. I dig them a lot, I dig a lot of the cool underground death metal stuff they're doing, but they do a lot of different things. And Dave (Adelson, label owner) is keen to pick up bands who might not have much of a following, but who might have potential, and to help them to reach that potential. So, I think that was probably the coolest moment in our band, when we got that email back less than a month after we sent it. He emailed us back to say 'Hey, I finally managed to hear the record, would you be interested in working together for a release?'. We were both like:
Soren: Yeah, that was really exciting. I've been a fan of the label for quite a while - I got my partner a shirt with their logo for Christmas a few years ago - so it was very, very exciting for us. Certainly not one I really would've expected. I know that 20 Buck Spin do try to have a diverse roster, and not to just be a genre-specific label. I think he's quite resistant to being pigeonholed to only being a death metal label, or only doing this other style, so once we did get the offer, I feel like you can look back to their catalogue and see 'that makes sense'. But it was very, very flattering for us and very exciting, and it ended up feeling very satisfying. We didn't know anybody there – it was purely sending our record off into the ether and seeing what happened.
It's notable that there's no possibility of interference in terms of your sound. You've made the record, it's totally your own conception, the artwork is produced by Soren, and there's no one asking you to sound a bit more like someone else. Is that level of control something that you want to retain in the future?
Soren: Yeah, I think I would remain open to input, but I don't think the label has any desire to control the work we're doing. They're there to support us, but that doesn't seem to be an attitude that I've gotten from them.
One of the things that excited this writer about Tribunal, was how holistic the whole package is, from the name, to the symbolism of the artwork, through to the name of the band. There is a clear and consistent thread, which I think is often the case for some of the best bands. Was there a lot of thought that went into making Tribunal work cohesively?
Etienne: Yeah! I'm really glad to hear you say that, because I think that's something we really try to do. I think that bands are a work of art, in and of themselves. You can make a record, and that's art in a way, and you can make cover art, and you do all the different pieces, but I think each piece is a smaller part of a greater whole that is a single work. Honestly, I think Soren has a very strong aesthetic sensibility in terms of coordinating our visual art and colour schemes and whatnot, so…
Soren: Yeah - I really love when a band has a unified aesthetic – that's something that we certainly talked about, something that we try to be consistent in. We don't want to be policing ourselves in terms of presenting completely seriously all the time, and calling our shows 'rituals', and that kind of thing, but I've always really liked that about a band, and when there's an album that I like, I find I have a very strong aesthetic sense. When I think of the album, I think of the imagery of the art, and I think of the place that it transports me to, and the images that it brings up in my mind, so I really value having the framework for that in our own project. And I feel I've always had a very clear visual image of what our music feels like and what it should look like, so I was trying to bring that into how we present.
Lyrically, the album seems to be about 'Judgement' as a concept, and the moral and ethical challenges of life. Is that correct?
Soren: Those are themes that both of us are very interested in exploring, and I think in our future work we're going to get into those things more explicitly, but they are certainly themes that were on our mind when we were writing this, and the record ended up being a bit more introspective than that, but the idea of 'judgement': at least in my own lyrics, it feels like it comes through how you internalize judgement from external sources, and how that affects you, and then your own internal judgments of yourself and your worth, and if what you are doing is right. Yeah – those are certainly things that figure into the broader concept of the band. How much they're reflected in these specific lyrics…
Etienne: I think 'Apathy's Keep' probably has the most of that. The lyrics I wrote for this record were, as Soren said, much more introspective, and I think a little bit more self-obsessed maybe, about my own experiences and changes over time. You get that in 'The Weight Of Remembrance' and the reminiscence of times past, but I do think for our next record, we're looking at a concept that is much more moral and judgement-based. And I think we're excited about that.
Soren: Yeah, I think that some of the nature of this record was that the tracks were something that emerged basically, without the idea necessarily of an album at the end. With both of us keen on having a creative outlet, some more personal reflections work their way into the songs just by virtue of the reason that we were writing them at the time.
I imagined that the title 'The Weight Of Remembrance' is about the oppressive nature of the memory of things that have happened in the past. Is that the case?
Etienne: I think you can take it however you want to. Like any good album title, it's meant to be interpreted. I definitely do think it does have a nostalgic edge to it - it's missing the way things used to be, missing opportunities, or "could things have been different if I had made different choices?", or "the way things changed, was that always going to be inevitable?".
Soren: I think that both of our songs reflect a bit differently, just because of our different experiences. Some of the things I was reflecting on a lot throughout were, and it's reflected through the title – we're remembering past values, and past ideas of what you thought it meant to be to be a good person in the world, and what it means to act responsibly, and be the best version of yourself, and how those things have changed over time, and the angst that can come with that. Agonising over whether you've made the right decisions, and whether your views have changed too much.
You're thoughtful people generally. Is that a natural part of playing the kind of slow, reflective music that you do? Do those two things go hand in hand?
Soren: We are very over-thinking people! So maybe this ponderous music is a good thing for us in that way! I think that having songs that are often slower and heavier, there's not the same demand for the spirit of aggression and intensity that you might have with other metal. Feeling that you need to be telling an epic tale. I think the sound lends itself to exploring some of those themes.
Etienne: Definitely I think it fits together well with the kind of lyrics we end up writing.
One of the most startling elements of Tribunal is the cello. As soon as I heard it, I was surprised that there weren't many doom bands with cellos – the richness of it seems to work so well with this kind of sound. What I loved about it was that it didn't feel like an afterthought, it felt as if the cello lines were an integral part of the songs themselves. How do you go about writing, do the guitars and bass come first, or does the cello come first?
Soren: It's surprising to hear you say that, because a lot of this record, the earlier versions were written without cello! We did spend a long time during the recording process reworking songs, and rethinking: "maybe this guitar melody can be on cello, or maybe this could be added here".
Etienne: 'Without Answer' was very fundamentally written sitting in my old apartment sitting jamming with me on guitar and you on cello for a very long time. But I think that was the only song we wrote with cello in hand. And the rest of them were composed with the intention of being a more traditional band set up, and then "ok, how can we bring the cello into this?".
Soren: And our first shows were played as a standard four piece, we didn't have the cello, and I didn't really have an idea of how we would be able to play it live. I thought it might be something that maybe we could do more on the album, or maybe we could do an intro here or there – things were written with a more standard line-up in mind. But then, when I started experimenting with the electric cello, I didn't really know if it would be possible at first, because I'm already playing bass, and I have to get to the mic stand and everything, but with a lot of practice, and faith in my straplocks, we made it work. Once we realized that it was feasible in a live setting, it became more exciting to work it into our songs. I don't think either of us want to have something on the album where you can't have a similar version of that live. I don't want to have big chunks missing, or just have backing tracks, so after we realized that that was possible, we started working it into the songs a lot more, and we did really take our time with it, and spent a lot of time trying to make the cello a natural element of it. I think that's been the biggest thing that we're thinking about in terms of our next album. We're really writing with the cello first in mind, and the keys, because we also didn't play with a keyboardist on the first album, so a lot of the keys were added on later during the recording process. But also, now that we have a keyboardist live, it's really changed our thinking about the role of the keys, and it's expanded the palette that we have to work with.
As you work on your next album, which you've said previously will be more of a refinement of your sound, do you see yourself expanding what you can do with strings, or will you always gravitate to something that you can reproduce live?
Etienne: I think we want to stay in a place where we can reproduce it live. As Soren said, we're keen to try and write from a place where we're thinking about the cello being more of a fundamental part of the songs, but as of right now - violins are great, I think having a whole string quartet would be very fun - but I also like the idea of sticking with a more stripped-down approach, keeping things more achievable.
Soren: And I love the sound of the cello, and there's so much diversity that the cello can bring. The electric cello that I play is also a five-string, so there's also a bit more space to move around on there. Currently I have an extra low string, but I've been thinking of switching it off for an extra high string since I end up playing quite high on the cello a lot of the time just to be able to cut through the mix, so, with that in mind, there's a really, really huge range of sound that we can get.
Do you see the appeal of doing something completely different, like Ulver or Pestilence have in the past, or do you see Tribunal being very consistent?
Etienne: I like the idea of respecting your name and the concept of your project. But, I think we'll grow naturally, and I don't want to put any limits on where that will go. At the same time, when it comes to this kind of project, nobody's making you continue to use the name, so if you want to do something different, just do it in a different set-up. There's a diverse range of music that I enjoy, and there's a diverse range of music that Soren enjoys, but I think that if we were going to do something that made no sense in the context of Tribunal, we would just call it something else.
Soren: I think that resonates with my attachment to bands having this particular aesthetic, or particular vision, and I would like for the project to at least remain legible as still being Tribunal.
Etienne: You can grow over time. I look at somebody like Paradise Lost for example, they got very weird at some point with Host, but if you look at it on an album-by-album basis, each record doesn't sound that different. Draconian Times doesn't sound that different from Icon, and then One Second is not that different from Draconian Times, and then once you're at One Second, Host isn't a huge departure from that. So, I could see us potentially making that kind of slower transition from album to album, though I don't think we're going to go full Depeche Mode! Rather than just doing a total abrupt change, which would be different.
Soren: Maybe just on the weird side-project or something, if we get the urge!
One of the most noticeable characteristics of your brand of doom, in contrast to the more drone-oriented bands, is that there's very much a metallic, riff-based core to it. Are you a traditional metal band at heart?
Soren: I would identify with that. I really like traditional styles of doom, and I always want to have memorable riffs, and I want riffs that feel good to play live, and feel good to see people responding to live, so I feel that I'm pretty motivated by a classic metal ethos. I wouldn't want to lose the heaviness completely to orchestration. One of the joys of playing live as a metal band is having the response that people have at a metal show, and I think that I would really miss that if we were not to do that kind of work. I love making music that's heavy, making riffs that are memorable, so I suppose in that way, I'm fairly traditional.
And what inspires Tribunal? It would be great if you could recommend some music to the MetalBite readers.
Soren: It's very rainy and dark in Vancouver right now, so I've been enjoying a lot of funeral doom. I listen to Profetus quite a lot – The Sadness Of Time Passing and As All Seasons Die. I listen to those two back-to-back quite a lot in the gloomier months. That's the first thing that comes to mind in terms of what's on repeat for me these days.
Etienne: I haven't been listening to that much music right now, but we've got a real exciting rack of concerts coming up our way, so I've been spending a lot of time listening to bands I'm excited to see. With the weather as it is, I've been listening to the new Insomnium record a lot.
Winter's Gate was amazing. They just get better.
Etienne: I think Winter's Gate is the greatest melodic death metal record ever in my opinion.
The new Katatonia album is good if you want a rainy-day album!
Etienne: I love Katatonia, I think it's a fantastic record as well.
Finally, what does the future hold for Tribunal?
Etienne: No huge curveballs. Just as you say, we're working away on our second record. I think we're keen to take advantage of the momentum we have, but at the same time it's an interesting challenge, because now we have an expectation. Working on this first record – it was indulgent, it was a project of our own, something we were doing for a bit of fun. So, it's a very different context now, writing something with a bit of expectation. There's an audience who are actually waiting to hear it! We want to make sure we don't let them down. We're keen to try to play live more, obviously – busy lives, busy schedules: that can be hard. But, we've made a couple plans, we've announced Covenant Fest in Vancouver, we're going to be appearing there, which is going to be really fun, and a few more things that we're going to hopefully be able to announce over the next couple months. But I think at least as of right now, we're sticking to Western Canada, although we'd be open to other offers if we could make them work.
Soren: Yeah, it would be great to have opportunities to travel more broadly. There are always challenges with that, with visas and everything. We're right along a great line of cities here on the West Coast of North America, but you unfortunately cannot just pop down to the United States on a week's notice and play a string of shows, so it'd be great if something broader came along. But we're continuing to just try and play, and get back into the writing mode, and as Etienne said, it is an odd time right now. It did feel as though we were creating the album in such isolation, and when I was making it, I would have a lot of moments where I would think "Will anyone want to listen to this, does it really work?". But it's nice to have some validation that people are really connecting with it, it's hard to ignore when you're in the writing process. A lot of the songs on the second record, we've already had full draft versions of for a while. Now, revisiting those drafts, it's definitely in my mind how we relate to the fact of people having a bit of an expectation of our sound right now, and how much that should influence it or not. Certainly, there's a lot of momentum and excitement about going into the next record and starting to jam out some of those songs.
I'd love to see Tribunal come to Europe, but I know it's a long way, and it costs a lot of money!
Soren: I'd love someone to bring us to Europe!
Etienne: We would absolutely love to if it all made sense, but 'one step at a time'!
And with that, Etienne finishes his (presumably strong) coffee, Soren departs to take care of the dog that has made a few amusing interruptions during our time together, and we all look forward to the next chapter in the story of what promises to be a band to watch very closely indeed.
The Weight Of Remembrance
- Neanderthal - Rise - Jun 03
- Ekrom - Uten Nådigst Formildelse - Jun 06
- Pyrexia - System Of The Animal 25 - Jun 06
- Slow Fall - Obsidian Waves - Jun 09
- The Bleeding - Monokrator - Jun 09
- Scar Symmetry - The Singularity (Phase II: Xenotaph) - Jun 09
- Burial Hordes - Ruins - Jun 09
- Vortex - The Future Remains In Oblivion - Jun 09
- Claustrum - Claustrum - Jun 09
- All Life Ends - Miscreation - Jun 09
- The Arcane Order - Distortions From Cosmogony - Jun 09
- Kaksonen - Universumin Kuningas - Jun 09
- Apocalypse - Retaliation - Jun 09
- Aodon - Portraits - Jun 09
- Pile Of Death - Introducing Our Impending Doom - Jun 10
- Cavern Deep - Part II - Breach - Jun 10
- Invocatio - The Detonation Of The Cosmos - Jun 15
- Altar Of Oblivion - Burning Memories - Jun 16
- Sammath - Grebbeberg - Jun 16
- Wonders - Beyond The Mirage - Jun 16