From Recession to Progression: An Interview with Process of Guilt
Process of Guilt's dogged DIY survival during harsh economic times in a country not particularly well-known on a global level for its metal is proof that if you continue to stubbornly follow your passion good things can happen.
The global economic crisis of 2007-2008 plunged numerous nations into austerity. Like previous recessions, the poor and working-class suffered the most. Portugal, which joined the EU with Spain in 1987, was one of the worst affected European countries, requiring a bailout of €79 billion. Its residents experienced unexpected tax hikes and budget cuts, and many became unemployed for the first time in their lives. Hugo Santos, vocalist and guitarist for the Portuguese doom/post-metal act Process of Guilt, recalls living as a metal musician in such a financially devastated country.
“The economic downturn was especially hard for the vast majority of Portuguese people," Santos begins. “It affected our lives, our jobs, ending with some of us having to move to other cities in search of work. It had a strong impact on Process of Guilt, from our rehearsal routines to limiting our chances to tour outside Portugal. It consolidated our perspective about a world ruled and ruined by egomaniacs whose only desire is to have more power, more money, more possessions. It helped us to realize that if we can't change the world, at least we can change our perspective about the world."
He continues, “There were too many years of listening about the financial crisis, about all the sacrifices we should do in order to make a couple of guys more wealthy and happy, about all the sins that we made in the past and that the [Portuguese government's] austerity program was a sort of redemption. After eight years I can't understand why all this was necessary. The taxes are still overwhelming, the wages are still low, and the prices are still rising, so, from my perspective, everything looks the same… or worse."
Indeed, things do appear worse when you also consider the current political unrest and the amount of mass killings happening worldwide on what seems like a weekly basis, not to mention increased racial tension and the irreparable destruction of our natural environment. Nobody is unaffected. With their latest album, Black Earth, Process of Guilt try to make sense of the chaos we live in by drawing parallels between our outward destruction of Earth and the internal pain we can cause ourselves. Hugo is quick to point out, however, that while he discusses personal/global experiences, the album does not have an overarching concept.
“We don't have a strictly socio-political tone to the album," he says, “instead our approach is based around thoughts that we believe are the root of the disorder we see every day. Right now, it seems that our main way of living is to judge everything as quickly as we can, in order to make statements to reaffirm our egos, again and again."
You can tell by the quality of Black Earth's five tracks that Process of Guilt are not only deep-thinkers but also meticulous song-writers, focused on condensing musical and lyrical ideas to their most potent forms. Their location in the world -- a country not particularly known for its metal scene outside of the work of the legendary Moonspell and a handful of lesser-known black metal acts which formed in later years -- has given the band a resolute DIY work ethic. On the one hand, Hugo says that the upside of being a DIY band is the total freedom they have to make the music they want to create without undue label pressures or interferences. On the other, he admits the DIY approach comes with its own problems.
“The major difficulty is obviously the lack of monetary support," notes the songwriter, “and the low media exposure. If to this scenario you add our geographical location, away from the European center, and from the major touring routes, it's a perfect headache for a band. Today we still see the same tours with the same bands that made their success in the '90s and almost every new band that appeared during the '00s has had to find their own way in a vicious world, sometimes without any support whatsoever besides from their own fans."
Twenty-five years ago, long before life got complicated in the ways highlighted above, Hugo was introduced to heavy metal through the usual genre figureheads -- Iron Maiden and Metallica. However, it was a certain Teutonic thrash act's seminal albums which cracked open the gateway to extremity for him.
“I remember listening to Kreator's Extreme Aggression and Coma of Soul on the same tape back in 1992, and everything changed afterwards. By then I was already in touch with heavy metal, but Extreme Aggression was the first album that opened my ears to more underground styles. From those early times, I remember a few bands that were huge to me, and still are in one way or another, like Entombed -- the Clandestine tape was played to its maximum resistance -- Autopsy, along with so many others that were releasing awesome music… Sepultura, Death, Carcass, Obituary, Napalm Death, Godflesh, Ministry, Gorefest..."
Process of Guilt subsumed the deafening sounds released by the above-mentioned bands, amongst others, to forge their own music. As of today, their closest contemporary comparison is probably Gojira -- albeit if they were influenced more by Celtic Frost, Unsane or Swans rather than Morbid Angel or Meshuggah. Black Earth highlight “Feral Ground", for instance, is pure primal power; its gnashing main riff a punishing lesson in rhythmic control. Because of concise, forceful songs like “Feral Ground" and the title track, Black Earth is by far the finest album this group has released.
“We also consider this to be our strongest release to date," Hugo agrees. “We just tried to be as focused as we could be [during recording] and did our best at that particular time. Our songwriting process is based on a trial-and-error method. We like to take our time to explore rhythms until we find the right one. We do throw away a lot of music that we feel is not good enough by our own standards and sometimes this slows down the creation process in a nerve-wracking way."
We're told that it wasn't until the late '90s/early '00s that metal bands started to pop up everywhere in Portugal. Prior to that the metal scene was very small and centered around one or two bigger bands located near the main cities. Those bands were still at very embryonic stages, and recording studios were clueless as to how to track their music. For then-burgeoning musicians like Hugo, interested to explore metal's slower stylings, the Gothic doom-death of The Peaceville Three proved influential and many bands formed as a consequence.
“The first releases of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Anathema caused a huge impression in the Portuguese underground," Hugo confirms, “and subsequently Sculpture's EP Like a Dead Flower, Inhuman's Strange Desire, Heavenwood's Diva, and Desire's Infinity produced slow and heavy music that attracted a lot of people. There were also other bands with some doom parts in their music but one way or another they didn't manage to record full-lengths. I don't know if those bands started a 'movement' in Portugal, especially because all of them were geographically apart, but there was a feeling that an audience existed in Portugal for those 'doomier' bands.
“When Process of Guilt started, some of the previously mentioned acts were already disbanded, and there wasn't a proper scene happening anywhere [in Portugal]," he explains. “Right now, there still aren't many bands playing heavy and slower music, besides Wells Valley or Sinistro. But we're still here, and we definitely feel part of the Portuguese underground music scene."
Process of Guilt's original line-up remains intact despite going through ups and downs over the last 15 years. What do they attribute the stability to?
“It's one of those things we don't spend too much time thinking about," Hugo says. “[Process of Guilt] is something that we do, and need to do. It's part of what we are. But, it has been a while, and we acknowledge that what we've accomplished in the past has helped build what we are today. At the beginning only Nuno [David, guitars] and I were friends, and I was in touch with Gonçalo [Correia, drums], who had already played with Custódio [Rato, bass] in another group. So when I thought about starting a band, they were the first names that popped in my head. It just happened that we connected really well and never envisioned this band in any other way. We had some bumps throughout the process, but we share the same purpose in making heavy music as Process of Guilt and, so far, it's still working for us."
Process of Guilt's dogged DIY survival during harsh economic times in a country not particularly well-known on a global level for its metal is proof that if you continue to stubbornly follow your passion good things can happen. The sweetest fruit of their labors to date, Black Earth, is undoubtedly one of the best metal albums to come from Portugal -- the personal and professional struggles Process of Guilt have experienced have been positively channeled into art reflective of the tense, recession-battered environment it was created in.
“Where we come from will always play an influence in what we do," Hugo concludes. “We are a product of this context. We want to take our music everywhere we possibly can. We are committed to doing that."