The Firstborn | Interview with Bruno Fernandes

[The Firstborn]

In a world largely dominated by themes of utter chaos, violence, bible bashing and occultism, it’s extremely rare to find a group in heavy music whose main source of inspiration relies on the Buddhist doctrines and the ever-going search for inner enlightenment and contemplation.
With a lyrical thematic predominantly revolving around the Buddhist scriptures, Portugal’s The Firstborn is a unique and exciting musical entity and their new album “The Noble Search” is proving to be their most daring and compelling work yet, delving deeper into the Tibetan culture and Buddhist philosophies.
Scratch the Surface approached vocalist Bruno Fernandes to discuss the guidelines to their musical creations and discovered a man for whom Buddhism is more than just a lyrical inspiration, it’s a sacred code of life.

Buddhism-inspired Portuguese collective, The Firstborn return to record releases three years after "The Unclenching Fists", an album that marked a change in the group’s sonority towards a more dynamic, interesting and demanding musical path, having been extremely well received in Portugal.
Did you expected such positive reactions from the press and general public, considering that the more elitist followers of the musical style that characterized your initial steps, namely Black-Metal, tend to be little tolerant to changes and innovations?

“Quite honestly, that seldom crosses our minds, if anything there was a certain degree of curiosity, especially regarding how the new album would be received by those who thoroughly enjoyed "The Unclenching of Fists". We are quite aware that only a handful of people will like our entire catalogue, and I am definitely not one of them!
In the end, we never snugly fit into niches anyway, thus I suppose it never has been that much of a problem. Sometimes, especially in concerts, we might get the odd request to play an older song... we tried it and they simply feel too different from the newer material to be included. Maybe we might revamp them a tad someday so they blend in better, but until then it's just nonsensical.”

Now surges "The Noble Search", a record where The Firstborn develop the ideas initially explored on its predecessor, an incursion through labyrinthine and distinct musical paths like Black-Metal with ethnic contours and Death-Metal with progressive leanings. Do you see this album as another evolutionary step in your extensive and in some way mutable musical career?

“Most definitely... we are like water, ever-changing. If now the mutations are of subtle nature, that doesn't mean they're not clearly there. It is a natural process, even if you just consider that we never had the same line-up in each album, new musicians bring new ideas, and especially new ways of handling our ideas.
It tends to get tiresome, especially the part in which they have to learn the back catalogue all over again, but on the other hand it's also good and refreshing to get to work with new, talented people every now and then.”

Following several spins I felt the impression that "The Noble Search" is a much more intimate and organic record than the previous "The Unclenching Fists". Do you agree with such perception, do you really felt the necessity to confer the new songs with a deeper and more organic ambient?

“This album was composed in a very simple, straightforward way by myself, with a guitar, no distortion whatsoever just that clean guitar sound and trying the lyrics over whatever came out. That's why, in my opinion, it all sounds so natural, whereas in the past we tended to sound contrived to some extent. Obviously that atmosphere transpired into the compositions themselves, even after working on them with the whole band and adding all those layers you can hear in the final result.
Another aspect that particularly pleased me in "The Noble Search" was that we could finally work as a band again, jamming in the rehearsal room until it all clicked. That is definitely something I want to do more of in the future, after so many years of working in solitude, or near solitude, composing with our former guitar player Paulo.”

This search for an intimate and organic feel was a determinant factor for the band to opt for an analogue studio to record “The Noble Search”, in this case Foel in Wales?

“Yes, hearing the way the songs were turning out we clearly felt a "modern" production would butcher them, stripping away their essence. After some research, we came up with a few options, very few mind you, that would suit our purposes. Our budget wasn't that big which limited us somewhat, and after talking with the Primordial fellas about it they recommended Foel where they had just recorded "To the Nameless Dead". After hearing the final result and all their praise for both the studio and the people there we just went for it and booked some studio time.
In the end, it was the best thing we could have done, the album wouldn't sound the way it does if not for all the hard work Chris Fielding put in, and the singular nature and atmosphere of Foel and its surroundings. Being cut off from the world for a month was, at times, maddening... but it was the only way for this to work.”

The new album features participations of diverse musicians such as Vorskaath of the Greeks Zemial, Luis Simões of Saturnia, Hugo Santos of Process of Guilt and Proscriptor of Absu. These invitations had some special intention according to a necessity to give certain aspects and details to the new themes or that was something that happened quite naturally?

“One of the faults we immediately recognized in "The Unclenching of Fists" was its overall abuse of sound samples throughout the album. We were experimenting a lot when writing that album, and didn't filter the outcome as much as we should have, perhaps. Regardless, one of the main changes we decided on was to reduce the use of such samples, and with that in mind we got in touch with a few people to play in the album... due to successive delays in recording it, some of those contributions had to be cancelled, but in the end we managed to avoid resorting to that "trickery" at all and we're quite proud that every single note you can hear in "The Noble Search" was played and recorded by ourselves and the guest musicians that feature in it.
Some of these contributions happened by chance, whereas others were well thought of. In the future we will definitely work with these people again, if possible, and hopefully add a few more in the process... especially musicians in the "World Music" genre.”

It’s frequent to see the words avant garde associated with the current sound of The Firstborn, a concept that although have become a little ambiguous in the last few years, is generally invoked to describe something experimental and innovative.
Can this be seen as some sort of creative freedom that the group possesses, that allows them to avoid any sort of stylistic barriers?

“Call it what you will, we never cared much for label or other such constructions. We fumbled our way to this direction for a good few years, releasing music that should for the most part have stayed in the drawer and we have earned, the hard way, our right to be carefree when creating music. In almost 15 years we had to put up with a lot of grief that would have made most people simply quit and move on, yet we persevered by sheer stubbornness and maybe some idiocy. Be it as it may, we are still here, and of all the past mistakes we learned how to mature and progress... and that's where we find ourselves at the moment, a band finally grown.”

I would like to ask you about the concept that involves the new album "The Noble Search", the little in itself seems to transmit a message of inner contemplation ingrained in the Buddhist doctrines. What kind of ideas do you intend to transmit with this new record?

“This album is based on the "Buddhist Scriptures", a very loose collection of texts dealing with the multiple paths to enlightenment, and nirvana itself. What I found most charming about this was its multiple answers to the same question, and the multitude of paths seemed quite fitting to our volatile nature as a band. As such, every song deals with a different, at times paradoxically aspect of the "Search" for enlightenment, and the object of said "Search". If one is to find, one must know what to search. This ultimately allowed for a somewhat "looser" album in form and content, when compared to our previous effort. The concept devised for "The Unclenching of Fists" was a fine tool to guide us in a time of experimentation, but now we clearly needed a tad more freedom to create. Another aspect that influenced the music was the more philosophical nature of this subject when compared to the formal religious content of the "Bardo Thödol" which called for a different kind of atmosphere to transpire.”

What aspects of the Tibetan culture and the Buddhist religion inspire the band to make music?

“Initially, it worked the other way around, I found myself looking for an "exotic" subject to fit the music we were creating at the time, and ended up embracing Buddhist philosophy to an extent I certainly didn't foresee. Nowadays it's more than a simple source for lyrics, it permeates every note we compose in a very natural way.

What inspires us is as ever-changing as our own nature as musicians, sometimes it might be a simple piece of local music we hear that triggers something, a text and its very particular form of poetry, a landscape, a painting, a mandala... it's hard to define what clicks at a given moment. It just does, and that is enough for us.”

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