Exclusive interview with Rorcal

Swiss extreme metal fiends, Rorcal, are a band you need in your collection. Just when you thought it impossible to hear anything more devastating or blistering against your ear drums, they teamed up with their original bassist from Earthflesh to produce the ugliest audio assault since the last Anaal Nathrakh record. If you haven’t heard their latest Witch Coven LP, you’re in for thirty minutes of inhumane aggression and gratuitous noise. 

Rorcal unleash a visceral agony that transcends cerebral concerns. With five albums, four EPs and three split releases since their inception in 2007, the Swiss quintet subsist in their own world unaffected by trends or what people think of them. You’ll hear doom, black metal and power electronics on Witch Coven, but one listen will confirm that there’s something unique about Rorcal. Post-metal or avant-garde might also be accurate, but the band care nothing for genre labels. Their music is spontaneous and cathartic, like a pandora’s box of rampant emotions and incandescent rage waiting to escape at the first opportunity. As we said in our review in April 2021: ‘Rorcal are that sound in your head that dares not contemplate the violent revenge fantasies and murderous rage inside you… One must ask the question: Is the goal here to translate the agony of torture and human suffering into the language of music?’

We spoke to vocalist, Yonni Chapatte, to discuss the Earthflesh collaboration and the work that goes into creating their trademark blast of extreme metal.

Above: Yonni Chapatte looks into the abyss on the latest Rorcal record.

Your original bassist, Bruno da Encarnação, plays on your latest record. He now has his own project under the title of Earthflesh. Why did you present Witch Coven as a collaboration album with Earthflesh rather than as a simple Rorcal reunion album with your old bassist?

Well, a reunion would imply that Bruno would be back as a bass player, which is absolutely not the case… On this record, we collaborate with Bruno as Earthflesh, meaning as a harsh noise/drone/electronics sound designer, not as a bass player.

Many people cite your home city of Geneva as the birthplace of extreme metal thanks to Hellhammer and their later transition into Celtic Frost. Thrash metal legends, Coroner, and avant-garde heavyweights, Schammasch, are also from Switzerland. How much impact does your country’s rich legacy of experimental metal have on your art?

First of all, Hellhammer is not born in Geneva, but in Nürensdorf, near Zurich. [Editorial: We stand corrected!] Then, to answer your question, Switzerland, despite being a very small country, indeed possesses a rich and influential extreme metal history, and we are both proud of and grateful to these bands that have opened the road for younger formations. But I think people are often stuck in the past and tend to forget that our country also has much more modern influential bands, such as Knut, Nostromo, Impure Wilhelmina and so on. Switzerland is full of talented bands, and it has been the case for quite some time now! The relations between bands are quite good. We’re often sharing the stage, and as everyone has their own proper style, there’s a good fellowship between all of us!

The acapella vocal harmonies at the beginning of ‘Altars of Nothingness’ are surprising on first listen. From where did you draw inspiration to write such a sophisticated piece of choir music?

It was mainly in order to give a liturgical aspect to these songs. Michael from Impure Wilhelmina is a good friend of ours and we just asked him if he would be interested in laying some harmonic chants on this song. He agreed and sent us what you heard in the beginning of the album! It gives a “sacred”, almost religious tone to the music; it’s something we thought would work great with the whole atmosphere we were trying to develop.

The press release says your aim on Witch Coven was to give birth to the ‘ugliest, darkest and roughest tracks’ of your career. We agree that your latest LP is one of the most extreme albums we’ve heard in the last five years. What reaction did you get from friends and family when you released your latest record?

Well, we never have been a particular easy listening band, so the majority were not really surprised by it. But still, some people were quite shocked by the barbarian tones, though! Some of our girlfriends also had anxiety attacks when we tried to push them to listen to Witch Coven. It wasn’t nice for them, of course, but we were quite happy because we really wanted this album to be the most traumatic experience possible, and it seems that we achieved our goal pretty well. 

Members of Rorcal in the studio for the Witch Coven recording sessions.

The way you integrate the harsh screams and harrowing wails into the distortion of the music is quite distinctive. What are you raging about in the two extended songs on Witch Coven?

To be perfectly honest, this album channels a lot of frustration from all the cancelations that we’ve faced due to fucking COVID. Our European tour, which was including an appearance at Roadburn festival, got cancelled. All the other shows planned were cancelled; we were working on a tour in Scandinavia in the summer and on another one in Canada for this Spring, but as you might have guessed, we were quite soon aware that none of them were going to take place… So, we started writing new music and soon the idea to do something with Earthflesh was born. The album concept is about an occult reunion of witches trying to summon an unholy beast, but the rage fuelling the music is really much more born from frustration. 

Rorcal’s music operates on a similar footing to Belgian black metallers, Alkerdeel, almost as if you’ve both discovered a unique sound on your own. How much do you know about this band?

Never heard of them, but we will make sure to put an ear on this band.

On first listen, Witch Coven is violent, angry and misanthropic. Where can the listener expect to find subtle hints of humour in this record?

We’re not a particularly humorous band, you know… But I think that you can see two little demons holding hands somewhere on the artwork. That would be a trace of humour though! I also think that the title ‘Happiness Sucks – So Do You’ is quite funny. It’s so extreme that it becomes quite silly, actually.

Above: Yonni Chapatte getting ready for a live show in 2019.

Your music is heavy in an emotional and audio sense, like Neurosis. In a live setting it can often be hit or miss if the crowd are unprepared for the explosion of noise to follow. What tips would you give to other drone metal/blackened doom bands who struggle to keep a live audience engaged with their onslaught of noise?

The intensity always comes from the music in the first place. I think that you can have the best and most powerful amp, the most expensive gear, but if what you’re playing is not inspired, it will fall flat. You need great songs. In order to have great songs, you need to work your ass of while writing them. So, I don’t feel like we have any advice to give to anyone, but I would say that writing good songs implies a shitload of work, and if you’re not willing to invest time and energy in the process, you’ll never be happy with what you do on stage, and neither will the audience. 

Your music is as intense as Napalm Death. Barney Greenway has one rule for his band members in a live setting – attack, attack, attack. When was the last time in your career you stepped on to the stage and could not perform at one hundred percent intensity levels?

Well, it happened, of course. There are always one or two shows when things seem to not go the way they should, but we almost always find a way to push intensity to its maximum, no matter what conditions we play in. I think that to put on an intense show, when you have songs that you think are good, is a matter of the brain and not the gear. So, almost nothing can really stop us… And believe me, we’ve had a lot of strange/disastrous conditions in our career, but we almost always find a way to put on the best show possible.

What is the biggest misconception people have about Rorcal’s music?

Well, to be honest, we don’t really care about what people think of us, so if there are some misconceptions, I have really no idea what they would be…

The cancellation of the band’s 2020 tour was the biggest setback of their career.

How would you approach your next record if somebody challenged you to write something even heavier and more hostile than Witch Coven?

I have no idea! I think we achieved something really ugly and nasty with this album… The fact is that we generally avoid doing two times the same album, so regarding a fusion of black metal, doom, drone and power harsh electronics, we probably won’t go any further/deeper than that!

Final question: Which is your favourite Rorcal album, and why would you recommend it to somebody who has not heard your music?

My favourite remains Muladona. I think it’s the complete, the most well-thought realisation we’ve done. The concept is great, the interaction with Muladona’s author, Eric Stener Carlson, was awesome, the collaboration between all band members was great. It all falls into place very easily, and I think that the narrative aspect works really well. Furthermore, the songs are really well written, powerful and full of dynamics. I really am proud of what we achieved on this one!

*** Rorcal & Earthflesh released Witch Coven via Hummus Records on 2 April 2021. You can read the original SBR review here. ***