Every time I write about Hands of Despair, I feel like I have to reintroduce Max Côté and his French-Canadian black-death project, because it’s never clear to me how much their star has risen since Hereafter‘s not-so-humble beginnings. The band’s music has always been both intelligent and bestial, all convoluted prog structures armored in blasting urgency and galloping cruelty. In April, Côté’s coterie pulls back the curtain on their most recent body of work, called Well of the Disquieted, on their longtime label Deathbound Records. The album explores various aspects of the struggle with mental illness, and takes its time doing so, weaving its tales through nearly 80 minutes.
Every single minute is earned and worth it, as you will find in today’s premiere of the album’s final cut, “Body and Souls.” This gargantuan song packs all of Hands’ best attributes (and some new twists) into its extraordinary sixteen minutes. We reached out to Max to learn more about the song and the album as a whole. Check out his thoughts below.
When did you decide on the concept for Well of the Disquieted? Did it impact the writing process, or was it the other way around?
Côté: My first idea was to write a concept album about a story inspired by the movie Identity, which is a movie I really like. I wanted to make a song about each character, or something like that, with heavier songs for the more violent characters and lighter songs for the softer ones. I talked about it with Jeff (MacDermott, singer), as he’s the one who writes most of the lyrics for the band, and although he liked the concept, he suggested we make it more about mental disorders, which is kind of the central point of the movie. I thought this was a great idea, as it fits perfectly our music, and wasn’t something which has been done a lot of times in metal.
I always write the music first, and then Jeff writes the lyrics on it. Jeff quickly took the lead and came up with a mental disorder for each song. The only exception is for “L’invasion,” which lyrics were written by FX (Jodoin, bass), based on a text he wrote some time ago. He had lyrics for the first part of the song, and then wrote lyrics for the second and third parts when he heard the music.
Were there any particular musical ideas or techniques you were interested in working on with this record?
Côté: Even before starting the writing process, I knew that I wanted a heavier and more technical album then Bereft. The last song I wrote for Bereft was “Void,” and both me and the rest of the band knew we wanted to do more songs like that one, which is more aggressive, technical and progressive than the rest of the album. I didn’t expect the songs to become as long as they are, I don’t think about the length of the song when I’m writing it, I just go with the flow. I watch a lot of movies and when I write songs, I view the music in a really cinematic way, I think. I imagine the intro of the song like an introduction in a movie, the climaxes of movies are like choruses, etc. I think the usual pop structure is pretty boring, I like when you listen to a song and never know what to expect, and get a smile when something completely unexpected pops up.
How has the full-band dynamic played into creating this new album? Any particular differences from the work on Bereft?
Côté: The songwriting process was similar to Bereft; basically I write riffs on my guitar, when I’m happy with a complete song on one guitar only, I record it and add programmed drums, overdubs, maybe some keyboards, etc., then I write the Guitar Pro file and send it to the guys so Alex (Primeau, guitars) can learn the song and tell me if he has any suggestions, FX writes the bass, Jeff starts lyrics and Étienne (Gallo) write drums, sometimes inspired by the programmed drums, sometimes completely from scratch. Then we start jamming it and sometimes add/remove some parts. We really like working like this and will probably work the same way for our next album. Also, Alex wrote a song on Well of the Disquieted (“Pressure”), which is the first Hands of Despair song not written by me, so it felt kinda weird at the beginning, ha ha. But Alex and I share a lot of musical tastes, so it’s really easy for us to write songs we both like. “Pressure” has Ghost Brigade influences which is a band Alex and I both really like.
How does “Body and Souls” fit – musically and conceptually – with rest of Well of the Disquieted? Can you give some commentary on the song’s creation process and your thoughts about the final recorded result?
Côté: Lyrically, I think “Body and Souls” has the most interesting and richest concept on the album. The song is about a person having a multiple personality disorder, so Jeff had the great idea of having multiple singers singing in the song, each representing a voice/character that the main character hears. I’m usually not a fan of guest vocals on albums in metal, because most of the time, the guests are so similar to the main singer you can’t even hear the difference, and it seems more like a way to add promotion to your music than to make it more interesting. But in the case of “Body and Souls,” it really fits the theme of the song, and Jeff picked five singers which all had really different voices, so I think it added something really nice to the song. When we started jamming the last part of the song, I knew without any hesitation I wanted Luc from Gorguts to do the vocals there. He’s a good friend of Etienne so Etienne asked him and Luc immediately said yes. We went to his house and spent a couple of hours recording the vocals and just chatting about music. It was awesome working with such a creative and talented musician.
For the rest of the guests, Jeff thought about which kind of voices he wanted and asked various singers from Montreal metal bands. Most of them said yes, so one by one they came to my studio to record their parts. It was really nice to work with so many talented singers. All of them had to learn the lyrics on the spot, and they all did a great job. Musically, the process was not different from the other songs. Basically I just started with the intro and wrote the song riff after riff. I remember listening to a lot of Dark Fortress around the times I wrote that song, and I think their influence is easily perceivable in that song.
Find album pre-order links and check out more Deathbound releases here. Vinyl also on the way in the coming months.