Interview – Thecodontion
Just stopped in to see what codontion Thecodontion was in.
In the schola of death metal, where the engineering dorm is all finely-drilled tech death and the philosophy department is overstocked with pontificating prog bands, Thecodontion have their corner office in the natural sciences and history building. These Italian paleo-riffologists are unabashedly in love with the genera and morphology of long-extinct reptilians, and they back it up with a suitably gnashing and savage approach to deathgrind, from a time before guitars had evolved from their bassier ancestors. In the leadup to the unveiling of their newest exhibit, the directly-titled Permian-Triassic Extinction Event (split with Vessel Of Iniquity), I got a chance to correspond and see what they’ve managed to dig up.
Your lyrics have always been distinctly matter-of-fact. In fact, you’ve mentioned before that you’re trying to not do typical ‘war metal’ style of lyrics, avoiding violent conflict or gore themes in favor of scientific precision. On your leading single for this split, however, you end with the claim that Thecodontosaurus was “the very epitome of Dinosauria”. What made you finish on such a poetic note? What do the clades and classifications of dinosaurs mean to you, emotionally?
G.D. (bass, lyrics, arrangements): I really dislike the war metal tag lately to be honest, there was some of it in our first two releases (“Thecodontia” and “Jurassic”), but it was mostly punky deathgrind than full on war metal, in my opinion. With Supercontinent and The Permian-Triassic Extinction Event we’re closer to the more atmospheric black/death metal bands like Mitochondrion, Auroch and Antediluvian and spacey death metal like Mithras, than stuff like Blasphemy. I also hate the fascist/social darwinist attitude that permeates war metal and I don’t think I’ll ever write lyrics about violence or gore for their own sake, I’m just not into it at all.
I called Thecodontosaurus antiquus “the epitome of Dinosauria” because it was one of the earliest sauropodomorphs, and it’s possible that it was a common ancestor to sauropods like Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus. At the same time it looked more like a bipedal theropod (creatures like Velociraptor and the T-rex), so I wanted to depict it like a sort of (once) living compendium of dinosaurs.
Clades and classifications are really fascinating to me, especially how many become outdated and obsolete in the span of a couple of decades when new discoveries are made. Entire genera of dinosaurs end up being absorbed into a broader one, and a former genus then becomes something akin to a “ghost”, if you will.
We have a song about that in “Jurassic”, Breviparopus Taghbaloutensis was thought to be one of the tallest dinosaurs to have ever existed (something absurd like 25 meters of height), just from a set of fossil tracks. Nowadays it is considered to be just an oversized Brachiosaurus specimen, but back then that was enough to have a separate genus of its own formed.
This is a highly thematic topic to split an album on. What sort of working or writing relationship did you have with Vessel Of Iniquity? I noticed that you left the actual extinction event up to them. Having trouble killing your favorites?
G.E.F. (vocals, songwriting): We have already known A. White of Vessel of Iniquity because we released some of his works on Xenoglossy Productions, a black metal/noise/experimental music label run by G.D. and I. We also published Vessel of Iniquity and other projects from A. White like Uncertainty Principle and Crown of Ascension. So we realized that we could have worked on a split together, Thecodontion was probably the most fitting project to realize this idea. Plus, G.D. has known White’s musical endeavours for several years, especially Uncertainty Principle.
G.D.: We consider “The Permian-Triassic Extinction Event” to be a sort of appendix to our debut album. Vessel of Iniquity’s side ties in with the ending of Supercontinent conceptually, so having lyrics about two creatures from the Triassic was perfect to create a connection between these two songs and the album’s, since they were recorded in the same session as Supercontinent. Vessel of Iniquity’s side is a great continuation to “Pangaea/Panthalassa”, the cataclysm described in their song actually paves the way for the earliest dinosaurs of the Triassic period.
You’re also returning to talking about individual species after your debut full-length was focused entirely on geological eras. I’m sensing a little conceptual idea there, of having your short releases be about the lives of short-lived species, and your long record be about the extensive timespan of Earth itself. Where do you plan to take your concept for your next full-length release?
G.D.: It’s purely coincidental actually, lyrics for our side of the split were written before we came up with the concept for Supercontinent, back then we were still all about individual dinosaur species. When we formed Thecodontion I wanted to talk about creatures and events in a chronological sequence, from the Permian up to the Cretaceous and beyond, but after a while I found out that adhering to this specific set of self-made rules was kind of constraining, so now I just go with the flow if I find out something interesting to write about, without planning too far in advance.
I wrote about supercontinents and oceans for our debut full-length because we were slowly evolving stylistically and musically speaking, so we wanted to explore a completely different subject while still staying close to paleontology and geology-related concepts.
Maybe I’m spoiling too much, but I would like to set our second album during the final moments of the Cretaceous period, before and after the meteorite impact. The idea is to both describe dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous and how they slowly perished after the event, and to have a first person description of that tragedy (I got that idea from a television special I mentioned a couple of answers below), with death metal-styled songs describing the various creatures, and less metal/more atmospheric and progressive-styled songs advancing the actual story, using new musical solutions like organs and clean vocals.
It seems like Thecodontion is something of an excursion from your other musical project, Batrakos. Where did the urge to shift from noisy, highly avant-garde electronic music over to bony, choppy death metal come from? Is it like a vacation to just write straight-up riffs and bridges instead of complex sampling and atmospherics? I guess in some ways Thecodontion is quite an experiment in itself!
G.D.: After starting Thecodontion, Batrakos quickly became one of our side projects, and we actually have quite a bunch that we release through our label Xenoglossy Productions: Deathvoid (noise/black metal/sound manipulation), Framheim (atmospheric black metal about polar exploration), Perpetuum Mobile (blackened grindcore about alchemy and medieval emblems), and Quilmoloncm (bass heavy improvised drone doom about glossolalia). As you can see we like exploring unusual subjects and we think raw black metal and drone music are a nice musical background for weird concepts to build upon.
By the way, new Batrakos material is coming out in the next few months and the project is turning into a full on sample-heavy ambient/drone/noise act.
G.E.F.: Thecodontion and Batrakos are not linked. Actually, even if our bio says Thecodontion were officially formed in 2016, my idea dates back to 2012: at the time I wanted to create a bass-only Norwegian-sound black metal band, and I already had the idea of using prehistoric themes, it sounded coherent to me because of the rawer sound produced by lack of guitars. Things took shape slowly to gradually get to our current style. Batrakos was formed as a black metal project, but lately noise/electronic elements have become prevalent. Probably Thecodontion and Batrakos just share the same will to experiment with “different” lyrical themes and visual approach.
You’re clearly very committed to this bass-heavy sound you’ve evolved into. What are some different ways you’ve found it has expanded or constrained your musical direction? Is it easier or harder to keep the bass riffs and melody clear through those thick drums without a guitar to mix in?
G.E.F.: As I said before, the original idea behind Thecodontion was a bit different in terms of genre and approach. Then speaking with G.D. we thought about some ideas to make the project more interesting. We are evolving continuously, I’m sure all of our records will never sound the same because we’re always open to new influences and contaminations. As you may have noticed, this is because of our peculiar approach: by using just the bass we have to fill some empty sections in the mix. This approach results in having more issues compared to bands with a “classic” lineup (vocals + guitars + bass + drums). We worked on the arrangements a bit more this time in order to fix some things, also with the help of producers and sound engineers that worked with us. I can also say that we’re going to use keyboards and synthesizers in the future, in order to enrich our sound a lot more – while still avoiding guitars.
How did that guest appearance from Skadvaldur come about? What did he bring to “Thecodontosaurus Antiquus” for you?
G.E.F.: I have known Skadvaldur for a while: I love his bands and, even if he never realized artworks for us (at least, so far…), I love his art as well. Check it out here.
When we were recording Supercontinent and the split with Vessel of Iniquity in 2019, I thought I would have liked to have a special guest on vocals, with a different vocal timbre than mine. Moreover, Skadvaldur’s growl fits very well with our lyrical themes, in my opinion. I think his performance on “Thecodontosaurus Antiquus” was super, he interpreted the track in a really good way and his growl was perfect for this.
The thing we all want to know nowadays is: when are the next shows? I think you should have university slides showing off the fossil samples you’re discussing.
G.E.F.: We have performed quite recently in 2021, it was July 23th in Rome. We’d love to play abroad, since—little controversy incoming—I think people overseas appreciate us a bit more than Italians, according to our fans, sales, etc. At the moment the situation is a bit complicated due to Covid, but playing a show again was very fun and cool. I must admit we haven’t distinctly thought about how to enrich our shows from a scenic point of view yet, but in the future we’ll try to emphasize our live aesthetics even more.
I’m guessing that you, like me, were totally dinosaur kids. One of my most special memories as a child was watching the original Walking With Dinosaurs specials on Discovery channel and rewatching them on VHS constantly. I notice in your lyrics you often note when a species was mis-identified or incorrectly reconstructed for a time before having the mistake rectified, which reminded me of checking out the WWD series on Wikipedia and reading on how outdated it is 20 years later. What is the source of your dino-delirium, your favorite book or movie on the subject, and how has your understanding changed in the time since you first encountered it?
G.D.: The Italian counterpart to WWD was a special called “Dinosaur Planet”, hosted by science journalists Piero and Alberto Angela. I absolutely love it and that’s where I first heard about thecodonts, the band’s moniker comes from that memory. Like WWD, a lot of information is now outdated (it was 1993), for example nowadays thecodonts are called archosaurs, Apatosaurus was still called Brontosaurus, and it was thought that Oviraptor fed on other dinosaurs’ eggs: it was later discovered that the fossil eggs near Oviraptor specimens were their own.
Another inspiration was a kids’ magazine called “Dinosaurs” (localized worldwide in several languages) and it was full of now-obsolete nomenclature or still-unknown dinosaur sizes. I guess that’s where my fascination with outdated classifications comes from.
My favorite book on the subject is actually fairly recent, it’s “The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs” by Steve Brusatte. I’ve never read something so in-depth and entertaining at the same time on the topic of paleontology before, and I’m happy he’s going to be the new dinosaur consultant for the upcoming Jurassic World film. About that, we all loved Jurassic Park as kids and it’s still one of my favorite films (I actually love the whole series and Michael Crichton’s original novels too).
I have to ask, GD aka “Stilgar”, what are your feelings on the upcoming DUNE movie? Do you have any attachment to the David Lynch movie, or Jodorowsky’s pipe dream of an unmade psychedelic film?
G.D.: Honestly, I hated David Lynch’s adaptation, his aesthetics have nothing to do with the atmosphere and depth of the novel. Jodorowsky’s unfinished project sounded really ambitious in comparison and it seems like he wanted to recreate DUNE’s universe up to its finer details, back story and lore (which is my favorite thing about the novel), but I can see how this could be a near impossible task to pull off.
I have to be honest, I’m hyped about the upcoming movie. I was a bit thrown off by the neo Star Wars-like attempt at humor and fast-paced action from what I saw in the trailer, but the world-building seems to be rather in-depth so we’re in for some eye candy at least, unlike Lynch’s version.
Will you be making an album about mosasaurs? Or perhaps paleozoic oceanic insects? Is the Cenozoic completely off-limits, or will we get some songs about Basilosaurus-style whale monsters? The ocean’s where it’s at!
G.D.: We have a couple more split releases coming out in the near future, one of them is going to have two songs about aquatic invertebrates: the hallucigenia and the trilobite. “Supercontinent” had songs about (super)oceans too, the intro/outro/interludes “Gyrosia”, “Lerova”, “Tethys” and “Panthalassa”.
I usually don’t plan concepts too far in advance, but I can say that the other split is going to have songs about prehistoric flora, and I definitely want to do something about living fossils like the coelacanth for a future release. I don’t know about Cenozoic mammals or cetaceans yet, but I would like to write a song about the earliest terrestrial cetacean someday, Pakicetus.
And while we’re at it, what do you guys think of The Ocean? Did their Precambrian or Phanerosoic records have any influence on your direction?
G.D.: No influence at all, the post metal-sounding interludes and atmospheric sections in “Supercontinent” were influenced by Neurosis. The Ocean is a superb band, but I really don’t like how their music is sometimes considered like a “geology lesson”, when their lyrics are mostly metaphorical and deal with personal stuff and the only thing resembling references to paleontology is album and song titles. I think we deal with such concepts much better and in-depth than them, although their lyrics are better than mine on the whole. I don’t mean to boast or drag them down, I wish we were as good as The Ocean musically, actually.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Anything else you’d like to add before we go?
G.E.F.: We thank YOU: you always supported us since our first demo “Thecodontia” when no one knew about us, and we’re extremely grateful for this. For those who’d like to buy our material or just follow us, you can find us on Bandcamp, Instagram and Facebook.