Interview Celestial Season – Just Smile Back at the Face of Death

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On April 25 Celestial Season, one of death doom’s pioneers, released their new record, the follow up to their 2020 comeback album ‘The Secret Teaching’. ‘Mysterium I’ is to be the first part of a trilogy.. We talked about past, present and future with vocalist Stefan Ruiters and guitarist Olly Smit.


GRIMM:

Together with My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema you witnessed the birth of the death doom genre in the early nineties amidst a thriving death metal scene in the Netherlands alongside Asphyx, Gorefest or The Gathering to name but a few. How do you look back on that quite intense creative period?

Stefan:

That was indeed a very beautiful period. In hindsight, there was this momentum in which everything just fit for several years in a row. The period from 1991 until 1995, from the ‘Promises’ demo until ‘Solar Lovers’. We were in perfect sync with each other. We met up a lot at that time in this notorious metal hangout, called the Barracuda’ in Hilversum in North-Holland. A lot of bands got started there actually, like Bluuurrgghhh, Korsakov and a bit later us. You can’t plan for such an event with the right people at the right place and the same creative intentions. It just happens.

GRIMM:

After ‘Solar Lovers’ you headed off into a different direction stylistically. In 2001 it even looked like the curtain had finally fallen over Celestial Season. Where did the idea to breathe new life into the band spring from and why return specifically to the doom era?

Stefan:

In the summer of 2019 I got a mail from Jason in which he asked if I would want to start singing again since he wanted to breathe new life into the ‘old’ Celestial Season. He had even already written a couple of songs and was already in contact with our bass player Lucas and guitarist Olly. The songs sounded so good that somehow, I got sucked back into that time and just picked up where I had left off all those years ago. Luckily, my vocal cords were able to go along for the ride. Our breakup in 1995 had not gone so pleasantly back then due to that switch to stoner rock. There was no way I could have adapted my voice to that new style in just a few months. By then they had already found a new singer in Cyril who had replaced me quite quickly. That was a tough time where next to the music I had also lost a couple of friends in the process. Jason wanted to set this straight after 25 years and he succeeded there. No hard feelings anymore. Not for some time already. Life goes on.

GRIMM:

Was it hard to convince the band to get back together?

Stefan:

Everybody jumped on the wagon pretty easily again. Except for my brother Robert. He found it difficult to combine the music with his family or his own company.

GRIMM:

Way back in 2012 we already got a first sign of life when you reunited for a special one off performance at the Roadburn festival where you played ‘Solar Lovers’ in its entirety. A magnificent gig of which I hold very fond memories. Was that the moment when you started to ache for writing new material?

Stefan:

I’m going to have to pass this on to Olly since I had no part or knowledge of it at that time, which is fine. I just can’t say much about it.

Olly:

This was actually a 1-2 with Walter from Roadburn. We had played on the very first edition of Roadburn and it sounded like fun to do it again and perform ‘Solar Lovers’ back-to-back, including the song ‘Vienna’ which we had never played live before. We took the path of least resistance at that time and not try to bring back the whole original lineup, but you are correct, that this was when the seed was planted for what was to come.

GRIMM:

‘The Secret Teachings’ sounded like a direct successor to ‘Solar Lovers’ where you could even recognize some of its motifs. While the ‘Mysterium’ trilogy follows along the same path, it does feel like you’ve turned a page. How do you see this yourself?

Stefan:

This may sound strange, but the source from where I determine my vocals or write the lyrics is still one and the same: literary associations, mythological tales, your own past and experiences, philosophical reflections, how we deal with each other and our planet. These are themes and sources that will always float to the surface. I usually get a piece of music from Pim, Olly, Jason or Lucas or even a whole composition and I just start working from there. Each song evokes certain feelings, experiences or filmic scenes for me and that feeds back into my lyrics.

GRIMM:

‘Mysterium I’ is to be the first part of a trilogy. Could you elaborate a bit on the concept of this triptych?

Stefan:

The word ‘Mysterium’ says it all. There will always be something which cannot be explained. Yet it exists and guides us, even if we don’t know exactly how or why. It is this creativity, at least it is for us, that thrives on the melancholic forces in this life. It can be depressive or nostalgic with a slightly bleak view on the matters of life, but it also feeds us positive things, like making music. For me, the first chapter in this trilogy represents the many facets of the mystery like the unknown presence that is Death. It is out there, yet we do not know it as an individual, even though in the end we all die eventually. You can be sad about that, which is ok, but you can also find strength in it. Like it says in the song ‘Amor Fati’ in ‘The Secret Teachings’: “Just smile back at the face of death”.

GRIMM:

When can we expect the next installments?

Stefan:

If all goes well part II will be released later this year as early as October/November and then 6 months later, meaning a year from now, chapter III will follow. That’s the plan at least.

GRIMM:

On April 25 your new record will be released through Burning World Records, the house label if you like from Roadburn Festival that will just have rounded off her latest edition. That is as ideal an opportunity as you’re likely to get to present it to a very appreciative audience. Doesn’t it feel a bit like a missed opportunity?

Stefan:

You might say that if you’re into our music, but at this moment we have no intentions to play live. Never say never of course, but right now we’re more than happy with the flow of things as they are, writing new songs. That well  is far from drying up.

GRIMM:

Your drummer Jason Köhnen has founded another interesting doom project called Thy Catafalque under which he has produced a beautiful melancholic record ‘Forlorn’. Are there any other musical outings we should be looking out for?

Stefan:

I believe Jason is the kind of creative soul that has multiple persons inside him just to be able to do all that he does. I could not do that. Olly is also involved with his hard rock band Meyer Bliss and our violin and cello players have other musical activities outside of the band as well.

GRIMM:

Any final words?

Stefan:

It gives us a really good feeling to see that there are still people out there that buy and appreciate our records. That is something truly special to me. Apart from the fact that it is just wonderful to make music for yourself, that public recognition is a huge energy booster. So, a big thank you to all of you and until who knows?

Read the review for Celestial Season latest album ‘Mysterium I’ here

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