INTERVIEW with FIRST FRAGMENT
MPM: We took moment to speak with Canada’s own Phil Tougas about his projects, musical inspirations and so much more. Please introduce yourself and what you do
PT: I handle vocals/guitars in Chthe’ilist & Atramentus and guitars in Eternity’s End, Funebrarum, First Fragment, Serocs, Cosmic Atrophy & Equipoise. I also played in Zealotry, Vengeful & Brought By Pain amongst others. I made my “official” entry into the metal scene in 2008 and I have played guitar/vocals on over 32 different releases since then. Metal runs in my family. DDT was the first ever Quebecois Heavy Metal band to emerge in the late 70s and both of my uncles as well as my father played in that band (and so do I now). My family is literally an integral part of the development of the metal scene in Canada. I live and breathe heavy metal – Every single day, every single second.
MPM: How do you contribute your time being in multiple bands?
PT: Everything is planned months, sometime years in advance. I focus on 1-2 bands (MAX 3) over a period of 2-3 months, then I switch it up.
Here’s a recap of what was my schedule like in the past 1-year-and-a-half alone, and it is only the tip of the iceberg :
In 2017, I recorded the 4th Serocs album titled “The Phobos/Deimos Suite” then in January of 2018, I did the 3rd Zealotry album, “At The Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds” album while I was finishing up the recording of the new Chthe’ilist 7” EP “Passage into the Xexanotth” at the same time.
Next came the debut Equipoise album “Demiurgus” that I worked on on-and-off between February/April, while I was working on live set-lists for DDT and Zealotry.
As soon as those recordings and shows were out of the way, I recorded “The Void Engineers” & “Unyielding”, both sophomore releases for Cosmic Atrophy & Eternity’s End respectively, while adding the finishing touches to the 3rd Zealotry album all between April-July as the Chthe’ilist 7” vinyl was being released on Profound Lore.
In July 2018, I had to pause everything so I could go on tour with First Fragment. We did a 2 week run with Archspire, then I came back and finished the Eternity’s End and Cosmic Atrophy albums.
Between October-December 2018, I released the Japanese version of Unyielding by Eternity’s End as well as albums for Cosmic Atrophy, Serocs and Zealotry. Unyielding was released on Avalon, while TP/DS and ATNOASW were released on Everlasting Spew & Unspeakable Axe respectively. I broke my own personal record that year by releasing 4 albums in 3 months. In January-May 2016, I did something similar with the consecutive releases of Chthe’ilist’s Le Dernier Crépuscule, Zealotry’s The Last Witness and First Fragment’s Dasein.
At this point, my next releases planned were the Equipoise album and the European version of the Eternity’s End album, both scheduled to drop in March via The Artisan Era & Ram It Down Records respectively. I figured I had to do something in the meantime to avoid stagnation. I had downtime before the tour preparations for the First Fragment European tour in February 2019, so I recorded the Atramentus album during the winter before touring.
Following a 3 week-and-a-half tour in Europe, I almost immediately flew to Portland, Oregon to track my parts for the upcoming Funebrarum album. We all wrote and pieced this album together in the jam room during several rehearsal periods :
New York City – Fall 2017
Longueuil – January 2018
Montreal – June 2018 (following earslaughter fest)
Glen Ridge NJ – November 2018
Portland OR – March 2019.
As soon as we finished the basic parts for the album, we flew to Mexico to play a festival and we did mini-tour with Denial, Beastiality & Invocation. It was not as long as my previous tour, but it was much wilder, that’s for sure.
It may sound like a lot all at once, but everything is planned out meticulously so there isn’t too much stuff overlapping all at the same time. That includes shows, tours and recordings. In the case of Atramentus, it all happened spontaneously and it was not planned.
I do have my limits though and sometimes, it gets to the point that I have too much on my plate all at once. When such a thing happens, it is better for me to take my leave. Those who are following Zealotry’s work already know that I have stepped down from the band. The band has already announced it on their page, but I didn’t do so on any of my social media sites yet. The departure was made amicably so I could focus on new musical endeavors and I will forever treasure the music we have made together as it is some of the most unique material I have ever done. My replacement is Ray Brouwer of Garroted, an excellent guitarist and they will be playing a show with The Chasm in July. Be sure to listen to The Charnel Expanse, The Last Witness & At The Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds, 3 albums I have played lead/rhythm guitars and back vocals on. I also produced the third album. I haven’t done so on the first 2 and I usually take on the role of producer in my “main” bands only. I definitely gave my 100% on that last LP. The riffing is much tighter and intricate on this album and the solos are amongst my best. I channeled Jag Panzer and Paul Gilbert big time on it, but the solo for Primus Venatoris is definitely the weirdest, spaciest solo I’ve ever recorded. I went out with a bang. Hails to Roman, Alex and Jake and to everyone who have supported the band thus far. Their next album will be killer for sure.
I am currently writing the upcoming First Fragment album. Once that is over, I will write the next Chthe’ilist album. I will also be touring with Funebrarum again in the summer and again once we release our new album. Another Eternity’s End album will be composed soon as well, and the writing process of my debut solo album will resume (it has started but I put it on hold) shortly after all of those 3 albums are all written and recorded. This solo album will be in the vein of 80s instrumental shred and I will also emulate the production values of these albums to the point that people will believe it was originally released in 1987 and that Mike Varney produced it.
MPM: As a death metal musician, what were some of your biggest inspirations in playing guitar?
PT: Joey Tafolla, Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine & Yngwie Malmsteen left the biggest impact on me and my playing style over the years. My biggest inspiration when it comes to death metal guitar playing is Shaune Kelley of Ripping Corpse/Dim Mak, forever and always the greatest death metal guitarist that ever lived. Nick Orlando is also a big inspiration and it’s an honor to fill his shoes in Funebrarum. Other riffing inspirations come from (but are not limited just to) Rock N Rolf Kasparek (Running Wild), Chris Logue (Savage Grace), Jon Levasseur (Cryptopsy), William J Tsamis (Warlord), Urban Skytt (Crematory), Henk Van Der Laars (Elegy), Jon Drenning (Crimson Glory), Esa Linden (Demigod), etc…
MPM: As someone who’s a huge fan of technical death metal, what’s your opinion on the current scene now than it was decades ago?
PT: I can’t call myself a “huge fan”. I play it, but it’s not what I listen to when I’m home. I’m a heavy/power/doom/speed metal fan at heart. Metal with sung vocals is what makes me feel alive. I’ve played music with blast beats for 12 years so I’m burned out of listening to that genre (with a few exceptions).
If I put on any death metal, I stick to shit with doom elements like Dark Millennium and Gorement or the old Crematory demos. I hate trendy kiddie terms like “OSDM”, so I’ll just say the death metal that plays in my CD player/turntable is on the HEAVY side of things. If I want to listen to shreddy stuff, I have a fairly extensive vinyl collection of albums released on Shrapnel Records back in the 80s and 90s so I got everything I need there, and unless it’s Watchtower, Catharsis or Fates Warning, I avoid most Prog metal.
With that said, despite my ever-changing musical tastes, I am always up to date with what is going on in the tech/prog scene, because I always admire the chops and hard work people put on into these albums. There seems to be some sort of resurgence of bands with batshit crazy, high-speed musicianship and with an affinity for melodic, neoclassical-influenced playing in the past 3 years and I can definitely fuck with that. Dark Matter Secret and Denis Shvarts solo project are the two bands that I love the most out of that new wave but there’s a bunch more for sure. There’s also the more “out-there” bands like Stargazer, Adversarial, Nucleus and VoidCeremony that are on the complete opposite of the typical hyper-polished aesthetic and just creating weird fucking dark riffs and I love that just as much. Most 2008-2015 tech death was weak, so it seems like the genre is coming back in full force.
Nevertheless, there’ll never be another “Fractured”, another “Thresholds”, another “Toddensensucht”, another “Nespithe”, another “Scepter of the Ancients”, or another “Warp Zone” (and please don’t say “what about X album?”, I don’t have time for this shit).
MPM: Are there any upcoming announcements for future material in the band’s you’re currently in?
PT: -The Atramentus debut album will be released in late 2019 or early 2020. We have secured a drummer and most of the instrumental work is already tracked. It was composed a long time ago, but this is will mark my entry into the doom metal scene and it is perhaps the slowest and most depressing music I have ever composed.
-The new Funebrarum album will be released in late 2019 through Pulverized Records. The new material is darker and more crushing than ever.
-A new First Fragment album will come out sometime in 2020. Definitely the most over-the-top stuff we’ve written thus far. I no longer call it death metal. It’s technical power metal with blast beats and growls (no clean vocals/orchestration) and it will have the craziest bass lines ever written in the genre.
-A new Chthe’ilist album will come out sometime in 2021 (though hopefully 2020 is possible somehow). It will be quite different from anything we’ve released before, but still 100% dark, slimy, doomy death metal.
I want to do a lot of things and release music in multiple genres I have not explored yet. I’ve done German-style power/speed metal with Eternity’s End, next I want to do is US style Power metal. I’ve done Funeral Doom with Atramentus, but I want to make traditional EPIC Doom too. Maybe even go back to my roots and play PUNK. I don’t know. There’s so many things I want to do, and there’s so little time. I’m not ever restricting myself to one genre. I’ll do all of them and keep joining new bands all the time, fuck it.
MPM: What’s it like being apart of the extreme metal community?
PT: Well, it’s like being stuck in two alternate dimensions, really. The real metal community is out there at shows, buying merch & cds, supporting their local record stores, running labels/pressing plants/zines, booking shows and tours, working at music venues, hosting radio shows and spreading the word about underground shit, creating artwork and worthwhile music in crusty jam rooms, putting out sick music or engineering it and killing it on stage and on the road. It’s a strong as ever and it will continue to thrive and expand. That’s where I want to be and I’m glad to be part of it.
The ONLINE metal community however, is a completely different world. Aside from tight-knit circles of connoisseurs, bloggers and passionate maniacs, it is mostly a waste of time and I don’t care much for it. Ultimately, most of us musicians, artists and promoters are dependent on social media in a way or another in order to spread our art and message, but it’s just a turd sandwich that we all have to take a bite from.
Between the petty drama and feuding between Instagram/facebook musicians-turned-divas (and the bullshit clickbait metal websites that I won’t name that are continuously giving a platform to such asinine crap for clicks), scene gatekeepers, discogs poser sell-outs flipping albums from hard-working underground bands for 5 times the original value of the release online, losers taking pride over the fact that they listen to bands that don’t use drum triggers (*cough*), those anime-profile-picture-having Brett Stevens wannabes fellating The Red In the Sky is Ours, the sea of edgy, reactionary/crypto-fascist/war metal nwnprod forum rejects, and last but not least : all the fake motherfuckers posturing about how the “extreme metal community” is “one big family” yet they’ll be the first to turn a blind eye (or worse, be directly complicit) to transphobia, homophobia and racism, all of which are running rampant within this utterly damaged, divided, clusterfuck of a scene, I’m just saturated, man.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I love to tour, play sick riffs, put out records for all the crazy fanatics out there into underground metal and get to write rad music with rad people but I could do without 95% of everything else that comes with being in part of the metal community.
MPM: If you weren’t playing music, what occupation do you see yourself enjoying for many years to come?
PT: I would become a part of the video game industry. That’s probably something I will do in the near future. It doesn’t matter what role I will hold. I just need to do it and put myself in that environment because that’s my true calling. Otherwise, I would become a full time sound engineer or work at a studio, or write books, help making movies, etc. I will do all of these things at one point later in my life, but I can’t right now.
MPM: You were recently on tour with Fallujah, Obscura, and Allegaeon for European lineup 2019, what was the experience like for you?
PT: We (First Fragment) played to some of our biggest crowds yet and the response was amazing even though the European crowds reacted to our music much differently than in Canada – something we had to get used to. It was my first tour on a nightliner and it is such a welcome change from the sketchy-ass vans I was used to ride on in the other tours I have done. The women were beautiful, the catering was tasty, the merch sold ridiculously well and we saw some incredibly beautiful places. Success!
Now, when it comes to the bands and people we’ve toured it, I don’t have a single negative thing to say. First of all, Steffen Kummerer was a great host to us and often made sure we felt comfortable and satisfied during the entirety of the tour. He really took care of us. The 4 gentlemen in Obscura are highly professional, and so was their road crew. Seeing them perform flawlessly every night (especially Rafael, what a fucking MONSTER of a guitarist) was a learning experience for me. I got along with Linus particularly well too, and the same could be said about the guys in Fallujah. I wouldn’t have any problem spending consecutive months with them on the road. Fallujah excels perfectly at what they do and they are all around beautiful people and amazing musicians. We had a lot of downtime between shows and I spent the majority of the time hanging out with them, either playing A Link to the Past with Scott Carstairs or listening to random music and talking with Antonio and Andrew, as well as Brandon from Allegaeon. Speaking of which, I really fucking love these dudes too and I miss them already. They shredded our faces off, man. Couldn’t have asked for a better tour package, really. Avocado Booking and our manager François fucking killed it.
MPM: For anyone who wants to get into technical death metal, what bands would you offer or recommend to them wanting to be exposed to it?
PT: Depends of what the person is looking for. I can’t blindly recommend stuff to people if I’m not given a specific example of what they want. Just do yourself a favor however and listen to Millennium by Monstrosity. Sickest, most face-melting riffs ever and there’s everything you need in that album.
MPM: Is there any upcoming 2019 releases that you are most excited for?
PT: This year, the new Traveler album hooked me up instantly. I’m also greatly looking forward to hear the Muenzner/Tunker collaboration album in its entirety. Getting some serious Greg Howe/Infra Blue vibes. Last year, I was very impressed with Black Viper from Germany and Weaponlord. As for the rest, I just know I want a Sortilège – Larmes de Héros vinyl reissue happening this year. PLEASE. Make it happen already!
MPM: Finally, are there any words like to point out to your fans for future time being?
PT: Funebrarum will be playing at CDF alongside Mortician, Devourment, etc and will be returning to Europe between August 23 – September 6 (my 2nd time in Europe this year) and our tour with Galvanizer will be centered around Helsinki Deathfest with Demilich and the infamous Killtown Deathfest in Denmark featuring bands like Abhorrence, Grave, Anatomia, and etc. As mentioned above, the album should drop around that time too, if not a bit later.
Chthe’ilist will also be playing KillTown Deathfest at the same time (but not on the same day as Funebrarum thankfully) as well as the QCDF alongside Possessed, Asphyx, etc.
There may be some european Eternity’s End shows happening in late 2019 or early 2020 for all of you power/speed metal fans out there. Serocs may also make its live debut at the end of the year also but I can’t confirm my presence or make any promises on that.
In the meantime, finishing the Atramentus and Funebrarum albums as well as writing the next First Fragment, Chthe’ilist and Eternity’s End releases are my top priority between now and the coming years. Thanks for your patience.
Interview by Jake Butler
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