Montreal master riffmongers Hands of Despair first came to our attention with their 2011 debut, Hereafter. Actually, scratch that... The band's founder, Max Côté, initially got our attention with his technical work on the black/death gem Creation Born of Trauma by all-female quintet Aenygmist. Then we heard Hereafter, and it fucking rocked, and we were stoked this year to hear the amazing follow-up, Bereft. The new album turned everything from Hereafter up to (generating random and completely unexpected number) eleven, and we demanded an audience with Côté.
After numerous attempts (1) to contact Côté through his label (Deathbound Records), and waiting an uncountable eternity (3 days) for his responses, we finally got the low-down on the band's current incarnation and the process of recording Bereft. You might have read some of Côté's thoughts in Issue #139 (May 2016, Amon Amarth cover), but now you can check out the rest of the interview and get a listen to this consistently powerful underground metal act.
Max, last time we spoke you were in the middle of school as well as working on Hands of Despair and other bands’ music. What is your current status with school, as well as how often you’re behind the boards producing or actually performing your own music?
I finished school about 2 years ago, which is about the same time I started looking for musicians. I don't produce any bands except HoD. Recording an album with a band takes a lot of time, so having HoD and my full-time job is already enough. For performance, I’m feeling lucky to be able to jam once or twice a week with wonderful musicians.
How did the current lineup of Hands of Despair come together?
First member to join the band was our drummer Etienne, during summer 2014. I already worked with Etienne with my previous band Catuvolcus, so I already knew that he is an impressive drummer. You only have to listen to an album of Augury or Negativa or any others bands he played with to understand what I’m saying here!
Soon after, Francois-Xavier (bass) joined the band at approximately the same time as Jeff Mott (vocal). I didn't know Jeff before asking him if he could be interested. I was searching for black metal bands from Montreal on YouTube, to try to find a singer who might be interested in joining a second band. I didn't know his other band Hollow at that time. When I found their music video for their song "Landscape," I was instantly hooked by his vocals. So I asked him if he was interested and he told me that Hands was exactly the type of music he was looking for to get involved in a second band.
At this point, we were only missing a guitarist. Francois-Xavier proposed us some of his friends and, after a short time with Jonathan Fontaine (who was part of Fateless, the old project of our bassist) who decided to go live in France for a while, we choose to bring Alexandre with us as a rhythm guitarist. He is quite the fit and his skills in cinema got us our beautiful video clip.
When did you start writing music for Bereft? At what point did the album begin to feel like it had a particular character and direction?
The oldest song on Bereft, which is "Remnants," is about 4 years old. Most recent, which is "Void," was written about 1 year ago. I think the direction was taken a couple of years ago, about at the time I wrote "Remnants." I wanted something more moody, more melodic and progressive than Hereafter. Also, my influences moved from death metal to black metal, as black metal is the kind of music I have been listening the most since then, along with some doom and post metal. All those styles influenced my composition.
I also need to point the fact that those songs evolved a lot as we practiced them in a full band. Those jamming sessions where sometimes very creative, and it was really interesting to see where those songs I first created were going to.
How did you approach compositions for this album differently than Hereafter?
On Hereafter, I had a bassist playing parts I had written, while this time Francois-Xavier was given carte blanche. He is a very creative musician and wrote a lot of stuff I would have never have thought of.
For the drums, since we jammed as a band for a year before the recording, I could be there with Etienne to think out his parts with him, while on Hereafter I just sent guitar tracks to Lyle Cooper and told him to play what he wanted. It helped a lot to construct the sound we, as a band, wanted. Etienne being very creative and quick to understand what we ask for, it is really fun to play with him.
How did the recording sessions go? Were there any unseen difficulties or surprises that cropped up during the process?
I think the recording sessions went great and quick, but the album production really drained a lot of energy from me. I found it hard to manage to have a full-time job while producing a whole album. Also, when I started the recording for Bereft, I [hadn't] done any recording in a couple of years. So I had to learn again a lot of stuff.
But in the end I’m very proud of what we created. Mixing and mastering my very own composition, I was totally able to create the sound I was thinking about while I listened to the songs in the jam room. Even if I had to compromise with the sound of the bass and drums (François-Xavier and Etienne didn’t share totally my vision of the album sound), I thing we found a nice middle ground, leaving everyone happy about it.