Rorquals are the largest group of baleen whales, including such tiny critters as blue whales and fin whales, both being the biggest organisms ever to reside on this planet. These marine mammals have been around for millions of years, peacefully gliding in the deepest depths until becoming threatened and endangered by none other than human strives within the last one hundred and fifty years. These colossal animals without natural predators – with the exception of some megalomaniac orcas – only narrowly evaded extinction, simultaneously avoiding becoming just another statistic in the global devastation charts. Nature seems to find its way, thankfully.
Rorcal are a four-piece band from Geneva, Switzerland, who began their earthly trek fifteen years ago. Their unique blend of doom, death, and black metal joint with drone and post-something inclinations doesn’t pale in comparison of mass or nature with the species described above. Set to stem from the deepest corners of human psyche, create the heaviest music they possibly can, as well as explore some experimental paths, Rorcal‘s whole discography spans thirteen releases, divided into five full-lengths, a few EPs, and a multitude of collaborations and splits. After releasing their latest full-length Muladona (my personal favourite from last year), it quickly became obvious for me to ask the band to join this feature and dig into them more profoundly. Gladly, the band agreed, and I got the group’s guitarist JP and vocalist Yonni with me, offering some insight straight from the horse’s mouth. Or actually, given the context, more like straight from the whale’s mouth, am I right?
Rorcal‘s first album The Way We Were, The Way We Are, The Way We Will Be…, released in 2007, lays down the foundation quite firmly, even though it’s stylistically more post-metal and sludgy than their later works. The cover’s deep red also resonates with their name, as the French ‘rorqual‘ is derived from the Norwegian word ‘røyrkval‘, whose first element ‘røyr‘ in turn originates from the Old Norse name for the whale, ‘reyðr‘, being most likely related to the Norse word for red. That in itself is a nifty little detail, as albeit being very primitive in expression at times, Rorcal‘s output is still defined by just that: details and nuances.
Their debut consists of three songs and two ‘landscapes’, as the band dubbed them, basically being atmospheric drone pieces between each track. It was followed by two collaborative and experimental releases, Monochrome and Ascension, the very next year. Both of these are single thirty minute-ish tracks, one being an audiovisual project with a short film to illustrate it, the other simply aiming for transcendence and excess between two bands. The other band was Kehlvin, whose vocalist Yonni then joined Rorcal, but more on that later. These releases formed the bedrock for the full-length that came later that same year.
Myrra, Mordvynn, Marayaa revolves conceptually around the creation of the world, in a time when there was nothing but water on its surface. This dark and disturbingly gloomy work already started to resemble the modern version of the band, adding even more atmospheric and what you could describe as blackened elements to their output. The production is grittier but organic, and Rorcal could release tracks like “Savernaya” and “Dysrethmia” today without disrupting their growth curve that much. This curve reached its destination on 2010’s Heliogabalus and its companion drone piece, Prelude to Heliogabalus. On that album, the band were able to establish their signature sound more pervasively, and this is something the band themselves agree on:
‘Working on the theme around the fallen emperor Heliogabalus came around shortly after the release of Myrra, Mordvynn, Marayaa. We felt quite comfortable around this more “evilish” doom and also felt the need to go a few gears up, as you can hear in the final part of the album. It’s true this album felt like we’d found the foundation of what we really want to do as Rorcal. Not only from heavy riffs and growling but also through the varying atmosphere we worked on with samples which really opened a whole new dimension of musical experiences which we continuously tried to evolve in. It was one of the most naturally composed album of ours, as much as it was one of the most challenging when you include all the processes we’ve been through for the physical release.‘
Heliogabalus is a single 70-minute track, an earth-movingly heavy opus, and a definitive cornerstone on the band’s career. It almost feels like they rediscovered themselve completelys on the album, which seems to be accurate. However, when compared to the earlier works, the natural growth is audible, and I don’t think Rorcal would’ve arrived to that particular place without the necessary, anterior build-up. Echoing this, I asked them about their writing process, and if it has fundamentally changed along the way:
‘As for Heliogabalus and many other releases, we start out with a concept or a theme we want to work around. The atmospheres you get in albums like Creon or more lately Muladona are reflection of the books we took inspiration from. We’re attached to the idea of an album being a whole and coherent piece divided in several sections. Working around a concept allows us to reach this global coherence we’re after.‘
This ridiculously intense journey of an album was followed by the aforementioned companion piece (done in collaboration with Music for the Space), a split with Solar Flare, and a three-way release with Profond Barathre and Malvoisie. For the latter, Rorcal partook with a track called “Világvége I”, which could be seen as an overture of sorts for their following full-length Világvége, released in 2013. The group’s current vocalist Yonni was introduced as a full-time member on that album, although he had already lent his voice to the band on multiple occasions in the past. On Világvége, Rorcal went more black metal than ever before, and the album is definitely more aggressive and violent overall when likened to their earlier material.
Drawing influence from the concept of Armageddon, the intro track “I” is only a drum beat slowly gathering drones around it, introducing a compositional structure coming into flesh on the following track “D” (as a side note this idea is also put to use on the band’s newest album, Muladona). The extremely abrasive, fast, and much shorter tracks “II”, “IV”, and “VI” give contrast to the other, more moody, doomy, and sludgy songs. That said, everything flows together seamlessly, making Világvége appear as a single piece, very much like its predecessor. A live version of the full album was also recorded and released in the following year.
The pair was then followed by yet another experimental work, this time created with the help of Portuguese act Process of Guilt. I might sound repetitive here, but collaborations obviously play a huge part in Rorcal‘s catalog. The flavours and approaches are plentiful, reaching all the way from the tribalistic and primitive Ascension to the elongated drone work that is Prelude to Heliogabalus and onwards to the aforementioned, more simplistic splits with other like-minded artists. Each of these has its own nature, and while they differ from Rorcal‘s ‘regular’ output, they are integral parts in between the main releases, so to speak. I dove headfirst into the deep end, asking the band that what it is exactly that they set out to do with these collaborations; are they simply aiming to expand their output, highlight other, perhaps smaller acts, or something completely else?
‘Collaboration is an interesting challenge. It gives you new opportunities to rethink how you work by sharing new ideas with other bands or band members. We always see it as a pure benefit regarding the band’s evolution. It’s been quite a long time since we last collaborated with other people/bands though… Maybe for the next release? Who knows!’
For their tenth anniversary, the band recorded and released La Femme sans Tête, said to be a gift from the band to their audience. Recorded in a humid basement – apparently just an euphemism for their practice space – the release can be seen as sort of a return to their roots. The three noisy, discordant, and distorted tracks utilize a live feeling, giving the release a value of its own that’s very different from the rest (again). As far as I’m concerned, it’s quite exciting how many times a band can reinvent themselves without risking to sound intermittent or abrupt.
This brings us to Κρέων or ‘Creon‘, a four-track concept album about four well-known Greek characters, all linked to the mythical figure Creon, best known from the legend of Oedipus. These tracks, however, are far from being figurative and abstract tales, as their contents are something so magnificently heavy, bleak, and excoriating by atmosphere that it requires more effort from the listener to pull through than any of their earlier releases. It’s still accessible, but so punishing that I understand why someone might find it too uneasy. When achieving this part of their catalog, I finally comprehended how the themes and lyrical narratives are in a key position. Sure, I got it earlier, but it hit me much more sensibly during this album.
Heliogabalus was a Roman emperor, Világvége revolves around the end of the world, Creon is (similarly to Heliogabalus) about the death of its eponymous Greek character, and Muladona is based on the book of the same name, dealing with perhaps the most horror-drenched and downright evil backstory of Rorcal‘s entire career. I asked the band to elaborate how they approach themes and lyrics. Is there a particular source of inspiration, or a reason as to why they choose to explore these stories and tales through the means of music?
‘As said before, the concept always comes first. When we’ve chosen the new path, a huge part of time is spent reading and doing research regarding the theme we’re working on. For example, when writing Creon, both Sophocles and Anouilh plays were read and analyzed in order that we can create our own interpretation of the story. For Muladona, the book was read at least five times, then the first lyrical draft was quite quickly written in order for the music to follow the story’s movements. Then they were revised with the help of Eric Stener Carlson, Muladona’s original author.‘
Three years passed before Muladona, the bands newest, most accessible, cohesive, and fascinating album was released. It was my initial introduction to them, certainly sparking my interest in their work. Being easily one of the best albums of last year, I think that this album is also a definitive cornerstone – and perhaps culmination – of Rorcal‘s string of releases so far, not too dissimilar to Heliogabalus in effect. The original author provides the chilling and eerie narrative throughout the album, also adding a new layer to Rorcal‘s already towering mound of expressional and colorful diversity. On this album, they reach a whole new kind of depth, previously unmatched levels of tension and aggression, as well as the aforementioned, more unforgiving and ominous atmosphere than ever before. They’re still pushing their limits very greatly, both musically and conceptually.
‘We came across the book Muladona around the end of 2017 if I remember correctly. The abstract of the book felt perfect for a new album; a devil mule visiting a boy every night for seven nights and telling him horror stories to destroy his soul. Definitely something we could work on. After a more melancholic album like Creon, we felt the need for something more extreme, a bit in the way of Világvége. The very long songs on Creon were also quite challenging to play on stage, so we had a strong desire to come back to shorter songs with more dynamics. The idea, basically, was to take the uncompromising and visceral violence from Világvége and merge it with the more melodic approach displayed on Creon, or something in that vein.‘
‘As an interesting coincidence, the author also lives in Geneva. We got in touch to share a bit of our ideas about how to write music around the very horrific and tense feeling you get from reading the book, but at the same time, how to make each song to properly reflect each story of the book. We went through analyzing each nightmarish bedtime story, what atmospheres they reflect specifically, the rhythm in which the story goes, etc. Like said, there was also a big work around the lyrics which was shared with the writer. Yonni really worked on trying to re-tell each story in some other way than the book itself does. Having the writer featured on the album felt like a perfect way to glue the whole release together.‘
Well, that pretty much wraps it up! Rorcal are one of the most interesting and intriguing bands I’ve ever came across, which is something you might have figured out by now. They will be embarking on a couple of European tours throughout this year, and plan to travel overseas with similar schemes again next year. That’s as far as their concrete plans go, as they’re mostly focused on making as big of a number out of Muladona as they possibly can while simultaneously spreading the legacy of an untimely passed close friend, whom the entire thing is dedicated to.
There’s not much left to be said at this point, so make sure to follow the band on Facebook to keep an eye on all their doings. Take a listen to their discography on Bandcamp, and finally open yourself up to experience Rorcal‘s boundary-breaking aesthetic and presentation if you haven’t already for some humbug reason. And as credits should go to where they’re due, the featured image of Rorcal & Eric S. Carlson was taken by Nicolas Schopfer.