The release of AETERNAM’s new album, AL
QASSAM, was a fantastic opportunity to speak with the singer, guitarist and
mastermind behind this oriental-inspired death metal quartet from Quebec. I saw
them on the 7000 Tons of Metal Cruise back in January in the smallest,
club-like venue, and liked them so much I went to their second set on the pool
deck at 4 a.m. They were THAT good. You would never guess from Achraf’s warm
smile and engaging nature during our Skype conversation that this man and his
insanely talented band is capable of unleashing the kind of brutality and rage
on stage that is absolutely fearsome. Check out the videos for the songs “Al
Qassam” and “Damascus Gate” to get an idea. Then imagine what seeing them live
BA: Greetings! It’s great to “see” you again.
AL: Great to see you too! I definitely
remember you from the cruise.
BA: I know I spoke to you when I saw you
in the Windjammer (the main buffet/dining room). I believe you were with some
of your band members.
AL: Oh, we definitely were in there a
BA: Before we talk about the band and the
album, how are you guys doing over there in Quebec with the current situation?
AL: We are actually doing OK. Our
government implemented the “shut down” early enough to slow down the spread of
the virus, and to be quite honest, here in Canada, we’re not big “huggers” –
not like they are in Europe, where people touch each other a lot more. Besides,
Quebec is not as populated as other cities are, like Montreal, so we’re more
BA: Got it. Here in the States, some
people are having a hard time embracing the concept of “social distancing.”
Some get it, and some don’t.
So you guys worked on your new album, “Al
Qassam” …you have the release scheduled…and wham. This happens. I’m sure this
is not the way you planned it.
AL: Definitely not, but you know, at the
same time, what better time is there for people to listen to new music? They
are at home…
BA: True. And like you noted on your
Facebook page, the album has been released in all formats, and that’s what’s
great with today’s technology, people can access it all over the world. Now, I
understand you used to be on Metal Blade records – are you still with Metal
AL: No, we are releasing our albums
independently. We signed a five-album deal with Metal Blade when we first
formed as a band, and we were really young. We released our first album with
them. The problem was they wanted us to tour, and I couldn’t do that because I’m
originally from Morocco and I was in Canada as a student, and I didn’t have a
Canadian passport yet (I have since become a citizen). They wanted a band that
could tour. So we record and release our own albums. We’d like to get the
attention of a big record label, which will hopefully happen in the next few
BA: You’re the one with the Moroccan
background, but when I saw you perform on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise, and
in your videos, the other band members (Antoine Guertin-Drums/Back Vocals, Percussions,
Maxime Legault-Guitar/Back Vocals, Maxime Boucher-Bass/Back Vocals) were all
very much into the music. All of them brought the same intensity, passion,
windmilling, as though they come from the same background, even though they
clearly don’t (laughing).
AL: That’s true, I’m the only one with
the Middle Eastern background, but I will tell you that our drummer, Antoine,
really embraces this music and takes it to another level. We met while we were
in school. I write 90% of the music and lyrics, but he then takes what I give
him and adds layers and layers to it that make it way more than I could. Maxim
Boucher, our bassist, has been with us since 2012 and he’s just amazing, as is
our guitarist. Everyone is 100% on board with what we are doing.
BA: Let’s talk about the new album, “Al
Qassam” – The Oath. I understand there are several different dialects of
Arabic. I found it interesting that when I used an online translator and typed
in “The Oath”, I got “Al Qassam”, but when I typed in “Al Qassam” I got
something very different…(laughing). I didn’t get “The Oath.” Did you consider
that when you chose this name for the album that if people type it in a search
engine it will come up as the military wing of Hamas?
AL: (Smiling) Yes, we did. See, there is
a difference in how the word “Qassam” is spelled. In Arabic the two words are
spelled differently*. So yes, we did think about it, but decided to go ahead
with the name we wanted. And who knows, if we get enough hits on Google, maybe
we’ll help fight terrorism by having our album be the first thing you see when
you type those words in (laughing).
BA: That would be great. I figured if you
got Kobi Farhi from Orphaned Land to provide guest vocals on one of the songs
on the album, there definitely had to be another definition…
AL: Yes, definitely (laughing). It was a
huge honor, for me personally, for him to do that. I think he’s a great
vocalist and a huge influence. I’m a huge fan of Orphaned Land, and it was
great to be able to tour with them, Ghost Ship Octavius and Týr back in 2018.
BA: When I listen to you guys, I
definitely hear some of the Oriental influence of Orphaned Land, but you are
definitely not Orphaned Land part II. Their music is more about peace and love
and why can’t we all get along and “All Is One”…you guys are a bit more ANGRY.
You are like Orphaned Land meets Exmortus with a bit more rage thrown in.
AL: To tell you the truth, a bigger
influence would be Behemoth. Antoine and I really, really loved their earlier
albums “Demigod” and “The Apostasy.”
BA: You look a bit like Nergal in the
video for the song “Al Qassam” – your makeup is similar.
AL: Thank you!
BA: It looks like the second track on the
album, “The Bringer of Rain”, seems to be an early fan favorite.
AL: Yes, and that’s a bit of a surprise
to us. We didn’t figure that song would be a huge favorite.
BA: Which songs did you expect would be
AL: Well, the title track, Al Qassam, for
BA: It IS a great song, and a great
AL: Thank you. This song, and a few
others, are very personal to me. The words are actually an ancient incantation
sung in Arabic, and just before I recorded the song, I spoke with my mother in
Morocco to make sure I got the words right. She corrected some of them.
BA: I really liked “Ascension” – the meaning
of the words to that one is a little easier to understand, for me at least!
AL: That’s one of my favorite ones too.
That song has nothing to do with ancient history; it’s about personal evolution
and the way you ascend spiritually.
BA: Is there a reason you asked Kobi
Farhi from Orphaned Land to provide vocals on the song Palmyra Scriptures in
AL: The song is actually in Arabic but I
could actually hear his voice in my head, and I wrote the word “orphans” in the
song with him in mind. We thought he’d sing the chorus but he ended up doing
more. It came out great.
BA: It really did. And who knows, maybe
one day you’ll be asked to do guest vocals an Orphaned Land album!
AL: (laughing) That would definitely be
BA: You do both death metal growling and
clean singing, and you do both well, by the way. Did you have any singing
AL: No, I just keep working and I think I
can improve my clean vocals a little. I’d have to say that some of my
influences there would be Nergal, George Fisher from Cannibal Corpse, Glen
Benton from Deicide, and Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth. I
really like Tatiana from Jinjer. I think what that band is doing is amazing. I
also consider Freddie Mercury an influence.
BA: What do you think it is about your music that speaks to
people? Because I saw the crowd that was there to see you at 4:00 a.m. on the
cruise. It was a pretty good size.
AL: We have a very loyal fan base. People that hear our music
either love us or REALLY love us.
BA: I think it has to do with authenticity. People look for
authenticity, and they can tell when it’s there and when it isn’t. I would say when
people see your band, they see genuine intensity, emotion…I could see that when
your set was over, all four of you left 100% of what you had on the stage. You
gave it all to the crowd. These days, there are a lot of bands, but I believe
the ones that survive for the long haul are the ones that bring not just good
music, but great songwriting too. Metalheads aren’t stupid. They may not all
have degrees, but they are very well read, and like to dig a little deeper.
AL: I agree. We are extremely passionate about what we do. We
don’t get to perform a lot, so when we do it’s something we put everything
into. And with our lyrics, there are definitely things to look into at a deeper
BA: So with the situation the way it is right now, with
touring at a standstill…some bands, like Code Orange, are doing performances in
empty venues and streaming the performance live through mediums like Twitch. Is
this something you have considered?
AL: Not at this time, but in the future, maybe. We really
hope we will be able to tour soon, and it would be great if we could eventually
play the festivals in Europe.
BA: I know you had a tour already scheduled with Wilderun
that has been postponed –
AL: Yes, unfortunately. It will probably be rescheduled for
next year. So right now, we’re focusing on spreading the word about the album.
The sales have been great so far. I’m doing all the social media, and we will be
mailing out all the pre-orders soon.
BA: You got vinyl?
AL (smiling): We got vinyl.
BA: I will have to check out the vinyl. From what I heard, I
think this album would sound amazing on vinyl.
AL: I haven’t actually heard it on vinyl yet, but Antoine
said it sounds great, so if he said that… (smile).
BA: Here’s hoping that this virus thing will be over soon and
we’ll be able to see you live. In the meantime, best of luck with the album!
AL: Yes, we are looking forward to that too. And thank you!
*Note: He’s right, of course. One word
has the actual letter “a”, the other uses punctuation for the sound, and they
are pronounced differently.