It seems to me that you became one of the surprises of this year in the metal scene with your debut "Holoceno" so, first of all, do you consider yourself to be a metal band? How would you describe your music to our readers?
Marco: I don’t think we’re necessarily a metal band. Though we do wear our influences on our sleeves, we’re somewhat wary of being bound by genre labels. But that doesn’t mean we’re mixing everything as if we were doing a collage of different genres: we love stuff like Mr. Bungle, Naked City and Estradasphere, but those guys are on a league of their own when it comes to pulling off a mixture of musical idioms where each chunk remains intact, somehow. We’re certainly not that skilled, and we’re not interested in imitating them anyway. Our sound is more like a stew, as if you put all of the stuff that we love into a cauldron and let it simmer long enough for it all to dissolve and emulsify.
I’d say a more adequate description would be to call us a progressive rock band, and that also carries some caveats—clearly, we’re nothing like Yes or Rush, and we’re not the stereotypical definition of cape-toting, Tolkien-obsessed, drug-using rockers. And even though we play stuff that is heavy and complex, it’s nothing like Dream Theater; quite the opposite, really.
To those who haven’t heard us yet, you could try imagining the sludgy riffage of bands like Clutch and Mastodon blended with the rhythmic playfulness of Magma and mid-70s King Crimson but featuring melodies and rhythms from Northeastern Brazil. In this record, we also play with some of the scales and harmonies used by Igor Stravinsky during his so-called “Russian period” and by Béla Bartók. Even if you’re used to those individual artists, it might not be easy to picture that description, so just give our record a spin and see how it goes.
Hector: Yeah, I don’t see us as a textbook example of a metal band. We listen to a lot of different stuff that ends up showing on our music. Of course, metal plays a huge part in it. We have doom metal influences, sludge metal influences, black metal influences, and the list goes on. One could definitely say we’re a metal band but one could also make the point, just as Marco said, that we’re some sort of aggressive prog rock band. For me, personally, that is a matter of opinion and it doesn’t really affect our goal, which is to create the sort of music we like to hear, whether it’s metal, prog, rock or whatever.
The complex narrative of “Holoceno” involves a ritual sacrifice, a faustian pact and other plot-twists. How did the band write such an articulate story and which is the literature the band used as inspiration?
Hector: The whole thing started as a loose concept and began to evolve as the songwriting process went on. We knew we wanted to tell a story with many elements, places and folklore of the region we came from. We come from a poor state in the northeastern region of Brazil called Paraíba. It’s a place that is historically marked by social inequality, violence and environmental struggle, so we wanted to use all those elements, along with some occult and sci-fi literature influences that we enjoy. So as the actual songs were being composed, we would discuss the feel of that song, the kind of lyrics that would fit into it and what would they tell in the context of the record. Another huge impact for us is the literature that talks about the northeastern region of Brazil. There are classical books written by major authors that tell the kind of story that involves the struggles of the vaqueiro or the cangaceiro (kind of local versions of cowboys and bandits) against hunger, migration, droughts, violence, etc. “Morte e Vida Severina” by João Cabral de Melo Neto and “Vidas Secas” by Graciliano Ramos are two very influential pieces that I would recommend.
Magma seems to be one of the main influences of yours, and it’s one of the less frequent in the prog-metal scene. In your opinion, what is so unique about them and why their zeuhl is important in your music?
Marco: I’d say the rhythm and the way they play with tension is absolutely unique, and places them far, far away from the pompousness and hippie peace-and-love vibe you’d get from bands like Caravan, Yes and Genesis (though the latter is more theatrical than hippie, we know). I do love these other bands but, man, no other band can pull off playing the same ostinato for 12 minutes before bursting into the most cathartic climax you have ever heard in your life (I’m talking about their 1971 piece Theusz Hamtaahk here). I’ve always missed that roller-coaster-ride-feeling in music, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to make music that made me feel that way, too.
The rhythmic drive in Magma’s music is also somewhat similar to Afro-Brazilian music, especially when it comes to syncopation and propulsiveness, so I feel like there’s some convergence between those two masses that came out sort of naturally in Holoceno, especially in songs like “São Francisco”.
Nevertheless, nobody can ever come close to what Christian Vander and his entourage have succeeded in doing—we, for sure, cannot, because he is a musical genius—but we want to make adventurous music within our own idiom and Magma’s music is a big inspiration for that.
Hector: I think Magma’s sound is really aggressive. They have the ability to sound almost like a choir of religious aliens or a death-cult of satanic villains. That’s something that I like about their music. They are very different from classic prog rock bands that play somewhat of a happier and quirky kind of music. My favorite prog rock band is probably King Crimson, and I also find that KC’s sound is very different from other prog rock bands because when they are heavy, they are heavy.
The ecological crisis is one of the main themes in "Holoceno", and it is undeniable that a political message resonates through all of the record. Would you consider Papangu a politically active band?
Hector: The answer to that question depends on what one would consider a politically active band. Holoceno does have an underlying political and environmental plot that relates to what our country is going through right now. Even though we don’t sing through slogans and words of protest, there is a clear message in our record for the ones that are listening closely. I personally think that the environmental crisis is the biggest challenge humans, as a collective group, are facing right now. We come from a place where you can see people walking barefoot for kilometers in search of water. I feel that some of the struggles that northeastern Brazilians go through everyday are a glimpse of what will happen to lots of people around the world if we don’t prioritize the environment right now. That being said, there's a place in Papangu to write about our own feelings and struggles, and also about the occult myths of where we come from, about peoples and places and etc.
"Holoceno" is sung in Portuguese and is inspired by Brazilian literature. It is also influenced by the northeastern music tradition of Brazil. What is the relationship with Papangu and their country? Will you consider switching to English in the future, in order to appeal to a wider audience that doesn't speak Portuguese?
Raí: Historically, the culture of the Northeastern region of Brazil is underappreciated or even marginalized and now, with the positive buzz that the album has been getting, we’re seeing this as an opportunity to do what we love and make people see the struggles and stories of our region through new lenses. Based on that, I don’t see us doing this change to English because we believe that our language and our accent are part of the identities of the songs we want to make.
Hector: While we were sending demos to labels, we got responses about the fact that singing in Portuguese would not appeal to US and European audiences. But we decided to do it anyway because it’s a major part of our sound and we wouldn’t part with it.
"Holoceno" is the result of 7 years of work, 2 of them during a pandemic. You said in other interviews that a lot is due to a low budget and a little inexperience. Did you ever consider publishing something less complex, maybe an EP or a shorter album, in order to get things done?
Raí: From the get-go we had a narrative for the album and we wanted to follow that. We did not know back then how many songs the record would have, that we would have Benjamin Mekki playing sax or that Toby Driver would remix one of our songs, of course, but we knew that we wanted to go from point A to point B.
However, when Papangu started all the way back in 2012, we lacked both experience and money to fund a project like this—after all, we were in our early 20’s, had no jobs and had just begun our Bachelors degrees in university. Knowing these limitations, the only thing we could really do was rehearse and compose. I believe it was in early 2016 that we all had landed internships (which meant a little bit of money) and started to think about recording some demos.
With the demos recorded we started to see things more clearly. However, since we all had our own personal obligations, we never felt the need to rush the recordings and release a final product, so, with that mindset, we just kept playing our old demos and composing new stuff. That changed in mid-2019, when Marco got a job offer to work in another state. Seeing that he would leave in less than six months, we wanted to bring a conclusion to our project.
By the end of that year, we had recorded all the guitars, keys and vocals and were aiming to record the drums in March of 2020, but the pandemic hit just after Nichollas began recording his parts. And this is the moment where I believe our lack of experience started to slow down the project.
We had to rethink how to record the drums and who would mix/master the album and since we did not know how to do that remotely we did lose some precious time and money in the process.
Based on that, I don't think it ever crossed our minds to change the scope of the project, especially because, even with all these humps on the way, when we did find a solution for a problem, the process flowed so well that we knew for sure we were doing something we loved.
As a bonus track of "Holoceno" we can listen to a remix made by Toby Driver: how did you guys get in touch with him and how was this collaboration born?
Hector: Having Toby Driver remix one of our songs is something that I feel very happy about. It all started with Marco, our bass player, who is a huge fan of maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot. He actually introduced me to Toby Driver’s music and I’m glad he did. Marco knew Toby from e-mail exchanges during his long years as a fan of his music and that’s how he asked him to remix one of our songs, originally called “Bacia das Almas”. Toby’s remix is called “Açougue das Almas” and comes as a Bandcamp-exclusive bonus song. I personally enjoy it a lot. I often play that remix while driving. I think it feels great.
Here in Italy not everyone thinks of Brazil when talking about rock or metal. Probably the most common name associated with Brazil in those genres is Sepultura, at least in the last 30 years. What's your relationship with them? Did they have any role in your formation?
Raí: Well, Sepultura is a huge band and I believe they did have their share of influence in our sound, after all they did combine metal with indigenous instruments and beats all the way back in 1996, with Roots. And that combination of local folklore and rhythms with the wickedness of heavy music in general is what I believe we try to achieve with our sound.
Hector: Sepultura was one of the bands that I listened to all the time when I was first introduced to more extreme forms of metal. They made a huge impact on me and I’ve seen them live many times. As a bit of trivia, I’ve actually met Andreas Kisser, Derrick Green and Paulo Xisto! I met Andreas in the backstage area of a festival, and I met Derrick and Paulo at a Baroness concert. Like Raí said, they made a huge impact on metal music, and Roots was a turning point for them. Today, I listen to their thrash metal period the most. Records like Arise, Beneath The Remains and Schizophrenia are the ones I listen to the most, along with the newer Machine Messiah.
Will we have to wait 7 years for the sophomore album of Papangu, or will it be easier now that you have received a lot of positive feedback from many webzines and listeners around the world?
Nichollas: As said before, one of the factors that resulted in this long production period of our debut album was our lack of experience. When we started playing together, we were just teenagers joking around dealing with music as a hobby. Throughout these 7 years, we enhanced our knowledge about instruments, composing, and music production; consequently, we decided that we were ready to record and release our music in 2019. Because of the Covid-19 situation, the release was delayed.
Another point to consider is that our relationship grew, which opened doors to common musical influences helping us create more crazy and complex songs for Holoceno.
Of course, the positive feedback about Holoceno gave us an adrenaline rush to play the album live after all the Covid-19 situation settles down, and mainly to compose new things. We already have a concept for a new album based on themes and songs that were not released in Holoceno.
Saying this, after our experience with the production of Holoceno, we believe that we can release a new album in the next couple of years. You will probably hear from us again sooner than you think.
Is there any chance to see you live in Italy in 2022, or at least somewhere in Europe?
Marco: We can’t say for sure regarding 2022, as lots of the venues are already booked well into 2022 with concerts that had to be postponed due to the pandemic, but we’re looking into touring Europe in 2023—hopefully with new material to boot.
Last but not least: what’s your perception of Italian music? Is there any group or musician you listen to that comes from Italy?
Marco: I think my favourite thing about Italian music is the richness of their melodies and the care with which Italian musicians craft stories through sound; I’m no expert, but maybe this might be due to the influence of the Italian classical music tradition? I feel there’s some of that in Italian rock, at least in prog rock. I’m a fan of the rock progressivo italiano scene, with Demetrio Stratos’ Area, Alphataurus, and projects featuring Paolo Botta and Francesco Zago being my absolute favorites, but I also enjoy Italian classical music to a degree: Verdi, Giacinto Scelsi, and Luciano Berio. I also really enjoy the 2005 debut of a Genovese band called Calomito. Hector and I also really love Goblin, and he saw Mike Patton perform with his Mondo Cane ensemble live!