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Having moved from Death/Doom beginnings to a more Sludge/Doom approach, Portugal's Process Of Guilt have just released their fourth full-length. Comrade Aleks talks to founder Hugo Santos about the band's 15-year history.

Interview with Process Of Guilt.
"During the first years of its existence Process Of Guilt was known as a Death Doom band with an utterly devastating and massive sound. This outfit was born in Portugal in around 2002, and the lineup hasn't changed since: Gonçalo Correia (bass), Custódio Rato (drums), Nuno David (guitars) and Hugo Santos (vocals, guitars). Although these four men have played in one band for 15 years, each of their full-length albums differs from the others. 'Renounce' (2006) was Death Doom incarnated, absolutely dark and earthy. They switched to a more complex sound on the next album 'Erosion' in 2009, and its material paved the way to the almost sludgy 'Fæmin' (2012). After five more years of experimenting, Process Of Guilt has returned with 'Black Earth', where a Sludge sound prevails over the Death Doom. The album was released by Bleak Recordings in September 2017, so it's still fresh, and we managed to get a deep and informative interview with Hugo. That'll help you to take a look under the many layers of Process Of Guilt."

Process Of Guilt: Hugo Santos (vocals, guitars), Gonçalo Correia (bass), Custódio Rato (drums) and Nuno David (guitars).

Hi Hugo! How are you? What's going on in the band's camp nowadays?

Hi Aleks! Right now we're still busy promoting «Black Earth» and we're planning 2018 in the best possible way. We played our first gigs presenting «Black Earth» a few weeks ago, the reactions were really great and we ended up having playing possibly three of our best gigs ever with crowded venues. Apart from this, we're still rehearsing as usual while trying to sketch up new riffs and ideas.

What are these gigs you're talking about? How popular is the music you play in Portugal?

Those gigs I mentioned were the first live dates presenting «Black Earth» in Portugal, namely at Lisbon, Oporto and Viseu, in latest October. Over the years, our live activity never ceased, we take the live gigs as the obvious extension of our work in the studio and, besides our own shows, we also took part in some of the major underground festivals in Portugal. It's fair to say that the kind of music we play can't be considered to be a popular one around here, but over the years we were able to establish a solid base of fans that support our music and attend to our gigs a little bit everywhere we play.

Process Of Guilt developed their sound from the very first record, and now with the fourth album 'Black Earth' you've moved pretty far from the Death Doom you started with on 'Renounce'. Do you feel this sludgy sound is the ultimate formula? Will you stop with that?

Right now, I can say that we're more "in tune" with our music than ever before. The evolution of our music is directly dependent of our personal story both as individuals and musicians and throughout the years in Process of Guilt we changed, our musicianship evolved and our music only reflects that. I can say there was never a masterplan behind Process of Guilt, but one of our main concerns was always to search for a voice of our own and I believe that after four full-lengths our distinct mark is present. This way we couldn't be happier with the way we evolved since «Renounce». But we do know ourselves a little better with the passing of time, and, even if by now we are happy enough with the way we sound, we don't like to think about our music as static or definite. We'll build upon what we have right now, for sure, and if we find it to be worth of further exploration we'll do it without thinking twice.

Photo: Pedro Almeida.

Do you have some other landmarks in Process Of Guilt's career besides the full-length albums? All of your records were released by pretty underground labels, so how would you determine the band's place on the scene?

Besides our full-lengths, I'd say the split with Rorcal is something that we're really proud of having accomplished. Since the inception of this idea to the final release, all the process was really a nice and cool experience. We're good friends with the ones involved in Rorcal and the split enabled us to tour together for a little while throughout the Iberian Peninsula. But we do envision each release with our utmost attention and «The Circle» experiment also left us extremely thankful to all the ones involved, for giving so much of their heart and time to a Process of Guilt track. Our presence in some festivals in Europe like Roadburn, Dutch Doom Days, Madrid Is The Dark, or Amplifest and Reverence in Portugal (among so many other live gigs) is also something that we're still thankful for having experienced. But we're not too attached to nostalgia, especially in what concerns to our own activities, and right now «Black Earth» is our main focus and the only "landmark" that matters to us. As far as our place in the "scene" goes, I really can't tell you. We're here, we persist in releasing new music that we believe is relevant and we still enjoy playing it live and that's far more than we can say about a lot of bands with a bigger label support that started around the same time of us. It's a fact that the labels involved in our releases have changed over the years, but the combo Bleak Recordings / Division Records is one that's been working for us since the time when we released «Fæmin» and, so far, it has fulfilled our purpose.

Photo: Pedro Almeida.

By the way, 'Renounce' was a remarkable start, and it got high scores in reviews: how do you value that material today?

«Renounce» was our first "serious" effort in a recording studio and it helped us started paving our way. Nevertheless, at that time we were a little bit more naïve and today we find that material to be a little bit below our actual standard. The musical style we approached in those days revealed itself a little bit too limited for what we wanted to accomplish with Process of Guilt. Basically we approached the studios with a bunch of tracks that were written over the previous two years to the release of «Renounce». We felt that we could go on with that kind of musical approach but, especially after playing live some of those songs, we couldn't help thinking that we only enjoyed the more heavy parts with some sort of groove or balance. Sometimes we even ended up changing some of those tracks when playing them live just because we don't felt they were a good rendition of what we wanted to pursue as musicians. In sum, it's a valid part of our past and of our story that opened some opportunities for us, but, honestly, we don't feel the need to play it nowadays.

When did you decide the Death Doom genre was too small for you? Was it somewhere after 'Erosion'?

I'd say that even in the beginning, besides the doom/death genre, there were already some other influences that permeated our music. But, definitely somewhere along the «Erosion»'s writing process we found a different approach to express ourselves, a different way to start building tension within our music. The rhythmic approach started to became more and more important for what we wanted to accomplish and we just followed our instinct. There wasn't even a talk between us about changing our musical style or whatsoever. Let me say that I have a problem with style definitions as I think they can stuck you in a hard-shell and limit your reach. I'd like to think about our music as greater than a definition, specially a definition such as death doom that redirects you for a mindset that is pretty much static and closed to other influences. This doesn't mean that I don't follow that particular style anymore, but we definitely didn't want to limit our sound to it. At some point, around «Erosion», we just felt that this was the way to go and the way that seemed natural for us to write music.

Process Of Guilt - 'Fæmin':

The band's lineup has remained the same through all these years: what has held you all together? How did you go through these changes and still write music together?

Sincerely, it's one of those things we don't spend too much time thinking about. It's something that we do and need to do. It's a part of what we are and we take it step by step, almost at a daily basis, while pursuing our goal to make music. In fact, we don't share any kind of nostalgia for what we've accomplished so far. But, it's been a while since we started as a band, indeed, and we respect what we've accomplished in the past as part of what helped building what we are as a band today. It just happened that we connected really well with each other and never envisioned this band in any other way. Of course we had some bumps throughout the process, but right now, like before, we share the same purpose in making dense and heavy music with Process of Guilt and, so far, it's still working.

By the way, who brought most of the song ideas back in the time of 'Renounce', and who are the main song generators today?

Our songwriting process is a little bit chaotic, and it usually starts with some jams around a particular riff. From the times of «Renounce» to this day this is still true and the song's ideas usually start from a riff that I wrote or some riff that Nuno sketches up in the rehearsal. If there's a difference in the writing process, is that nowadays we're far more focused in the rhythmic approach and in the interplay between drums, bass and a somewhat melodic line. Only when we reach the "right" balance we move on with the writing of a particular section.

I've read the lyrics to 'Fæmin' and they're very figurative and compressed. How did you come to use these images, and is it a conscious decision to use such brief texts to express yourself?

At least for me, the lyrical component only makes sense when strongly related to the music. The way I write down this sort of thoughts, like happened in «Fæmin», it's intrinsically related to the atmosphere we want to convey through the music and, sincerely, it just feels right to do it like this. We do not like to include unnecessary embellishments in our music and we also feel the same way about the lyrics, so I just try to leave the essential message or image that I try to express through music.

Full-length discography: 'Renounce' (2006), 'Erosion' (2009), Fæmin (2012), 'Black earth' (2017).

'Black Earth' was released five years after 'Fæmin'. What slowed the band down?

Indeed, «Fæmin» was released 5 years ago, but we do not feel that we slowed down the band in any way. The DIY way of doing things has its own time, its own upsides and downsides. Since we are the ones supporting all the band's activities we needed to have the necessary means (logistically and financially) to support the making of another full length. If you consider that around the time when «Fæmin» was released, also here in Portugal, we were straightened by a financial crisis and that some of us had to move to other cities to search for more stability it's easy to understand that sometimes our mindset wasn't suited for a quick writing process. If to this scenario we add the release of our split with Rorcal and the promotion and live touring that followed it, for us it wasn't definitely a slowed down agenda. Nevertheless, our initial plans were to release «Black Earth» a little bit sooner, but amidst the process we decided that we'd take our time to make sure that each and every step taken would be a steady one. When we realized that the only pressure we had was our own, it was just a question of dealing with our own anxiety to release of a new full-length and to make sure that we wouldn't hurt the writing process just for releasing an album a few months earlier.

How did you get that this sound was a better tool to channel your message? The band seems to sound more aggressive, more furious than before, did you aim for this?

Like mentioned before, this sound comes very naturally for us. At this point, we do not aim to go softer or to produce easy listening music. We just don't see our musical evolution going in that way. We have a way of expressing ourselves, we have a feeling of how we should sound, and being more "aggressive" feels very natural for us. We have a notion of where we are and to where we want to go, and the changes that helped building up our sound to this day were really welcomed by us. We feel comfortable in our own skin and the feeling we get from our music today is one that really satisfy us.

How did the recording sessions of 'Black Earth' differ from the recording of 'Fæmin'? Did your new requirements for the sound have much influence on the process of working in the studio?

The «Black Earth» sessions differed quite a lot from the «Fæmin» ones. When we enter a studio our main directive is to track everything almost like in a live environment and this time we could pursue this goal in a better way. We basically changed everything regarding tracking studios and upgraded some gear as well. We tracked everything in the best way possible while having access to very high-end facilities and we were able to spend enough time searching for the right sound for each instrument, while making it easier for the mixing duties of Andrew Schneider and the mastering by Collin Jordan. We don't like overproduced records and we don't want our music to sound ultra-edited, so we make our decisions based in those premises. We wanted our instruments to sound alive and organic and «Black Earth» is definitely a step forward in the way a Process of Guilt record sounds.

Your second album 'Erosion' has a structure built around "The Circle" concept: why did you decide to unite the songs in this concept? What does it personify?

Basically, it made sense to do that at that particular time and moment. «Erosion» acted as a metaphor for some of the thoughts and experiences I had back then translated into the lyrics of that record. The main "concept" was mainly the analogy between the erosion process and the process of building up relations in our life. At some point of the writing process it made sense that I approached them as a whole and that enabled us to unify the entire album.

In 2011 you recorded new interpretations of these songs as the compilation 'The Circle'. What drove you to make this reissue? What's the core difference with these versions?

When we released «Erosion», the last track «The Circle» seemed especially fitted for some experimentation. It was an instrumental track and that was the first time we made one, and, after the recordings sessions, we couldn't help thinking that there was still something more to build around this song. After some thought, we got in touch with friends that would have a significantly different approach to this track and we just sent it to them in order to rearrange it like it was their own creation. If you know the body of work of all the ones involved I guess you could definitely relate each track to its author, even without looking to the credits, while still sounding reminiscent of the original track. In the end it was a very positive experience and what we got is a compilation of the only Process of Guilt instrumental track remixed by some talented guys that were kind enough to put their time and effort into an unusual release from a band like us.

Process Of Guilt - 'Feral Ground' (Official):

What influences this negative message you transfer through Process Of Guilt? Death Doom bands usually tend to personal tragedies, while the Sludge scene - I'm simplifying here - sometimes deal with society's shit. And it looks like you meld both genres into one with 'Black Earth'

The analogy between life experiences and earthly themes is something that we started to do around «Erosion» and that were further explored in «Black Earth». This time I followed a personal approach in some parts and, on other occasions, I just tried to write down a particular feeling or line of thought that suited a particular instrumental section. In that sense, it's definitely not a conceptual album regarding a particular theme. Instead, «Black Earth» and its diverse meanings, acts as a sort of recurring topic that permeates all the tracks in this record. The lyrics main urge is to follow the music and complement its atmosphere. I objectively try to adequate the "power" of a given word to the right placement in the instrumental section until we think it really "feels" and sounds "right". As far as the message goes, living in a world where we take everything for granted, being it good or (mainly) bad, without taking a breath for an instant to realize if there's something more to it (or not) acts as a source of endless inspiration. There are loads of examples in the world right now that are a constant reminder of all the disorder that engulf us, both within and outside of us. We just have to turn on the news and watch to all the struggles and conflicts that are amplified replicas of our everyday struggles. In a twisted way, «Black Earth» also works as metaphor for the struggle between the paradox of the affirmation of one's own individuality and the sustainability of the outside world, which in this case is getting dimmer and scarier.

Don't you want to attract listeners' attention to these themes with more direct lyrics?

I'm aware of the importance of immediacy in today's everyday life but, at least, with our music I prefer to follow a different path. I believe music and lyrics should complement one another and I'm not that concerned with the writing of a more direct line as I am with the impact of the overall song. Our music isn't the most direct one around and the lyrics should follow this tone. I prefer to think that some words or phrases will have a longstanding impact in you despite being less obvious or direct.

Hugo, you also took part in the band Before The Rain: how different was the energy you put into that and into Process Of Guilt?

That was really a long time ago, I believe it's almost 10 years since I left Before the Rain. Being a part of that band was an experience I had outside Process of Guilt and my energy input was really different from my main band. I would say that Before the Rain had a more "traditional" musical approach and, at that time, a little bit too attached to a particular musical genre and that would condition the energy I would put into it. Process of Guilt is my preferred vehicle for musical expression and it's a little bit unfair to compare my input in it with any other musical cooperation I had in the past.

Why did you leave the band, and what did you achieve with it?

Before the Rain was the brainchild of Valter (guitar) and Carlos (vocalist) and my energy wasn't completely bound to the same vision. Basically, by the time I left this band, I was not interested in that particular way of creating music anymore and I wanted to fully concentrate in Process of Guilt. There wasn't any drama and to this day I'm still friends with the ones that were in Before the Rain at that time, but musically I would say that I was already far from their goals for a while.

Photo: Lais Pereira.

How much, from your point of view, does the current Process Of Guilt differ from the band you started 15 years ago?

It's been a long journey and since we started we changed, our lives changed and, of course, our music also changed. Nowadays we have a far more consistent view about the music we want to write and play than what happened at the time we start playing together. But let me say that, at the beginning, there was never a master plan for Process of Guilt. In the early days we only wanted to write music that was good enough for our own taste and captivating to play and we just kept persisting on that feeling. There wasn't a personal goal we wanted to achieve or something more we'd like to demonstrate through our music. Our existence as a band relied always in our aim to make music that was suited, in first and last stance, to our own ears. In that sense we still have the same goal, but only in that sense. Nowadays, everything else that surrounds Process of Guilt demands a level of commitment that for sure wasn't present in the first rehearsals but the fact that we're still pursuing something based in our own taste and effort is something that we carry within ourselves since the first rehearsal. Actually, in a straight comparison with the first times I can say that we enjoy playing together even more now.

Hugo, thanks for the detailed and interesting answers: that's all for today. How would you sum up Process Of Guilt's sonic message?

Our sonic message is purely escapism channeled through a bleak and oppressive output, but, at some point, still with a blink of hope through all the harshness lying out there. And it's an honest and sincere one. Thanks for reaching out to us Aleks!

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Visit the Process Of Guilt bandpage.

Interviewed on 2017-12-02 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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