"We continue to combat the rejection of metal music as the authorities and the media do not understand this style of music and view it as a part of the ideological weapon of the enemy of the north."
When you think of the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, you tend to think of the ever-lasting Cuban cigar, rum, Spanish-colonialism and the historical Cuban Missile Crisis; fronted by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But beneath that is a metal scene that's practically built on a DIY attitude, just like our ancestors did when they first created the boat to enable voyages across the seven seas.
Perhaps it's then fitting for the quintet Mephisto to deploy their Latin-infused style of Black Metal, a sound that would rival the very ferocity of a barraging hurricane. For a band that has been around since 1996, a revolving-door of musicians coming and going and their debut album coming 20 years later, you would have thought it was curtains for the band... alas you'd think wrong, they are set to deliver their second opus in the form of "Pentafixion". It was therefore fitting for Global Metal Apocalypse to grill the quintet and find out info relating to the album, why you need a 'can do, will do' attitude just to survive in the Cuban metal scene and why bands (like Mephisto) look outwards to Europe (in their case) and the USA for exposure.
This culminated in them signing with Italian label WormHoleDeath. Now whilst Mephisto plans a national tour of Cuba (slated for mid 2021) and a run of dates later in the year in Nicaragua, check out the birth of "Latin Black Metal" courtesy of Cuba's veterans Mephisto.
Hi everyone, first of all tell us what is it like to sign with WormHoleDeath and what this means for the band?
"Signing with WormHoleDeath means a huge step forward for the band. The visualization of Mephisto in the European and Asian markets, where I am sure that people from those regions do not even know that there is even a small island called Cuba in the Caribbean and even less that European metal is made on that island. This exposure is important as it’s what Mephisto does, although future fans will notice that the influences of the Spanish and African mix of our culture are noticed in our music.
We have been ostracized for years due to the little attention that metal in general has in our own territory and the little we have achieved has been through perseverance, work and talent, so the opportunity to belong to the family of such a prestigious record company gives us a visibility on the map that we could not achieve with our own means or with the help of Cuban record companies that have little reach."
Not many people would associate Black Metal with the exotic climate of Cuba, what makes your style of Black Metal different?
"Not having contact with other leading bands of the genre worldwide, not having access to international festivals and due to the scarce exchange on stage with bands from other countries, means that we have few external influences that mould our music, so our Black Metal takes on a rare originality. That is the reason why several bands in the world, when they go to compose or record an album, isolate themselves in remote places, so that their product is genuine. It happens to us for reasons of force majeure.
The different musical tastes of each member also make a difference, the same in metal as in other musical genres, so do not be surprised if we are caught listening to Jazz. Also the amalgamation of Caribbean sounds that we are surrounded by influences us indirectly. In Mephisto you can find patterns that jump from 4/4 to 3/4 or 6/4 and 7/4, or the use of syncopations, Latin jazz patterns on the drums, and even the Cuban keys. Of course, deep down, if you know music you will notice."
Arguably, the Caribbean has some pretty good metal scenes, but those in Europe are often not noted, what do you think is missing or owed to those in Europe who don't explore Caribbean metal?
"Because death metal and brutal death abound. The consumption in Europe is mostly more in the symphonic styles, and even perhaps melodic or symphonic death metal. I think Europeans are more attracted to black, folk and death metal trends that I mentioned earlier. The metal market is in the USA, mainly Florida and New York, so the Caribbean bands try to enter that market. There is a rejection between both parties. In the case of Mephisto we have a special interest in Europe, because it is the market that suits us best. Although if we’d welcome success in America too."
Logistically, would we ever see a Caribbean Metal Festival take place? What is the general perception of metal music by the general public?
"If you mean Cuba, well ... there are about 9 metal festivals throughout the island, but only some have an international character and few bands from the USA and Europe have participated due to the poor logistics of each of them. It must be taken into account that the government of the island, of a socialist nature, is not interested in financing this type of event for ideological reasons and all are carried out by a small but strong non-governmental organization called AHS that puts its funds to carry out these events. International groups that have an interest in acting on the island must do so with their own financing, and not everyone does that because it is a great expense.
As for other regions, in Central and South America there are events that can afford to have first-rate bands, but let's bear in mind that they operate in a market economy where they invest and obtain benefits. That way everything can be done."
You are preparing to release your new album "Pentafixion", can you tell us what the album is about and how did you come up with the lyrics? Tell us about the process of recording the album.
"Pentafixion is composed of songs from different eras of the band. Songs that were collected in poorly recorded demos, with a sound impossible to commercialize. Due to technological advances in music production we managed to make this recording with a lot of effort and group work. The sessions were held in my house (Mole's Home Studio) with minimal conditions that will seem impossible when you listen to the sound of the album. The orchestration was done with Kontakt software without acoustic conditions of any kind. But I repeat, you will not believe it when you listen to the CD since the software, plug-ins, etc., have helped to clean up the mix and give it the professional studio environment that you will listen to. As we have had the need, we have become experts in these software programs and in sound engineering. What else could we do with no access to professional recording studio in Holguin?
Once the album was mixed, we took it to a private studio of another sound lover: Samuel P. Santiesteban (Botija Productions), who was in charge of the mastering. I was then charged to make the DDP file, guided by a YouTube tutorial. As I said before: necessity is the mother of invention. As for the letter of Pentafixion, it is simply the fact of the crucifixion on a pentagram for the performance of a ritual of evocation for the materialization of evil on earth (Mephistopheles). As for the other topics, I can summarize it this way:
Tell us what it was like to grow up as metalheads in Cuba, the challenges, the difficulties, how has COVID-19 impacted the country in general?
"Difficulties have grown perseverance. Necessity is the mother of invention, and surrender is not an option for Cuban metalheads. It is not new history, the metalheads and bands of Eastern Europe went through the same thing and bands like Behemoth and Vader did not see the light at the end of the road until the fall of the Berlin wall. We are in the same situation and we have had to invent our equipment and instruments until we had access to branded equipment with outside help. There has also been the production of t-shirts with their own means by fans and a thousand other curiosities.
We continue to combat the rejection of metal music as the authorities and the media do not understand this style of music and view it as a part of the ideological weapon of the enemy of the north. Of course, over the years some of these things have changed and there is some openness and some other space on radio and TV, but the anthropological damage has already been done in the population, so metal is still minority music.
The Covid-19 has achieved that in 1 year there are no metal events or concerts in the country except in our city, Holguin, where the rate of infected is lower, and there were a few months that it reached 0%. Of course, only groups from the city and other nearby cities have been able to participate, since the west of the country has not had respite from this new disease.
Under normal circumstances (i.e., without a pandemic), what sights / attractions would you recommend to metalheads visiting Havana?
"There is only one place: the Maxim Rock room on Bruzón Street, in Ayestarán corner, Plaza municipality. It's where the only metal concerts are held."
What are your plans for next year taking all things into account? Do you have any greetings or thanks that you want to send to friends, family, fans, etc.?
"We are preparing another album, this time a conceptual work on the myth of Dracula. It will be titled Carpathian Tales. It's more of a remake of an album that we recorded in Cuba but we couldn't do anything with it due to the sound quality. Later we will do the same with our first two demos and while this happens (in a space of two or three years); we will be composing a totally new album with unreleased songs. 5 songs out of 10 that are in process are ready but as you can see, there is work for a while.
Also, depending on the epidemiological situation, we plan to tour Central America and Europe, but we still have to wait to see what happens for now. It’s frustrating not being able to tour but we have the time now to effectively promote the Pentafixion album in all possible ways."
Official Website – https://mephistoband.com
Official Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/MephistoCubanMetalBand