Exclusive

THE AMENTA – Between the Obliterate and The Realist

I’m really proud to reveal this interview with Australia’s THE AMENTA, the extreme metallic iconoclasts, who have just released their new album called “Flesh Is Heir“. It is already being called as the album of the year, so you should really get round to it.

The band released their debut album “Occasus” back in 2004. It followed with 2008’s “n0n”, which revealed more extreme and industrial side of the band’s nature. The new outing is an organic extreme metal album recorded in DIY manner. Really worth your time.

We discussed their history, the new album, the science and even the Vatican conclave! Ha! Dive into this feature to learn more!

THE AMENTA have entered a new era of their growth. Like always, this music is not for the tin-eared and terrified. This music is for the true adventurer. It is extreme music. It is not Industrial. It is not Death Metal. It is not Black Metal. It is THE AMENTA. / Listenable Records

Hey guys! Many thanks for doing this interview. First off, I’d like to welcome you to my e-zine and ask for little help. What should I say if my orthodox punk readers ask why I am encouraging them to read about another extreme metal band in the pages of IDIOTEQ? [smiles]

I guess first I would suggest you question them on their understanding of the term punk. What does punk mean to you? Is it a genre typified by three chords, snotty vocals and an anti-Reagan/Thatcher/Howard/Darth Vader lyrical stance? Or is it a rejection of the bloated state of modern music, a stripping down to basics and rebuilding a new music which is more honest and real? If it’s the first then maybe they shouldn’t read about us. If it’s the second then perhaps I could convince you that we, in our own perverted way, are punk. We reject what “Extreme Metal” has become. It has become a series of stale genre signifiers which serve only as handholds for ironic “fans” to use in pulling it down into the dirt. In the same way that John Lydon, Keith Levene and co stripped music down to its nuts and bolts with “Metal Box” and rebuilt it with dub bass and tin guitar, we are stripping extreme metal down and rebuilding it from building blocks of discarded sound and broken electronics. We are creating an honest representation of ourselves as artists. We are not singing about the Lord of the Rings table of contents. We are pulling ourselves apart and putting our egos on the line to create something singular and unique. I, personally, believe that that is punk if punk is an idea, not a sound.

Well said. Now I’m extra sure you’re the right band in its right place [smiles]. Let’s start off with you new release, of course. “Flesh is Heir” will be released on the 22nd of March through Listenable Records internationally and EVP Recordings in Australia. How do you feel right before the big premiere?

As always, before an album release, it’s a strange mix of nerves and frustration. It’s like sending your daughter into a beauty pageant. You think she’s beautiful, you want her to know she’s beautiful but you are terrified that the judges will hurt her feelings. Plus you are a bit sceptical about the validity and morality of the whole process of judgement in the first place. It will be a relief to get it out there though. We are (in)famous for a large delay between albums, it takes us a long time to write and record our albums because we set ourselves very high standards for songwriting and, most importantly, forward movement. If we are not happy with a track and don’t think that it is a progression for the band then we tend to scrap it. Which obviously draws the whole process out. So to have an album finished yet not released is for us a very frustrating situation. We are very proud of this album. It’s very different for us. It combines some very strange and unusual techniques with some very solid song writing. I am looking forward to getting feedback, whether positive or negative, back about it.

Was it hard to put it together in DIY spirit? Did it make the whole process even longer?

Probably longer for sure. We are perfectionists in that sense and our experimental spirit can get in the way of deadlines. It’s very hard to lock down a mix as definitive when your instinct is to keep messing with it and trying different ideas. But there are other advantages to DIY creation. In the past we’ve had to spend precious (and in a studio, expensive) time trying to make the outside person understand the idea behind the music so they can mix it correctly. We are very headstrong and opinionated so we’ll invariably upset someone and then you have to balance their emotional needs with the needs of the project. So while I think it cost us a little in time, it certainly made the process much more pleasant and much smoother. Plus it was substantially cheaper for us. We’ve spent the last ten years building up a decent level of gear so instead of going to a studio to mix, as we have in the past, where you can spent upwards of $1000 a day even before engineer costs, we were able to sit in our own studio for the cost of rent. We’ve always predominantly recorded at home so this was the next natural step for us. The only thing we outsourced was the mastering. That’s a whole other level of knowledge. We used Alan Douches of West West Side Mastering in New York. He’d mastered our “V01D” release and we were really happy with his work. He added that last beautiful polish to “Flesh is Heir”.

Did you spend some time with him over there? How do you spend the last days of interregnum period, right before the new king rises? [smiles] What duties around the album do you have at the moment?

Unfortunately we didn’t get over to New York, I’d love to go back as it’s a pretty incredible place, but we still managed to have input into the master. Alan made two version of a master for one track, we gave him a bit of feedback and he provided a third which was top notch. Once we were all happy we trusted him enough to follow through with the rest of the album. In the past we’ve always sat in the studio during mastering and I’m not sure how much value we added to the proceedings at this stage. We all have knowledge of mixing and we are able to guide and direct that process but when it comes to mastering we, or I should say I, am in the dark to a certain extent. Though, that said, Erik [Miehs, guitars], mastered our “Choke Hold” release and that sounded sensational so perhaps we will wrest this aspect back as well.

I love the word interregnum. I don’t think it’s ever been used in an interview before! In a lot of ways it’s very appropriate. When an album is released you become a bit of a servant to its king. You are always running after it, picking up the detritus it leaves in its wake like chicken bones it throws over its shoulder. So we are using the period before its release to relax a bit but we are also rehearsing for some upcoming live dates. We are supporting CRADLE OF FILTH on their Australian Tour as well as headlining Metal Obsession’s 5th birthday party on the 23rd of March. But there are always the chicken bones, at this stage we are doing a lot of the promo work which involves interviews (though some, like this one, are not a chore) and writing of press releases, making trailer videos. We’re also prepping for the release of the first film clip for this album which is for the song “Teeth” and will probably be live at www.terrorizer.com once this interview is posted.

Can you provide some details about the video? What was your favorite part of the shooting? Tell us a bit about the filming process and the whole story behind this visual.

The video was conceived, directed and shot by a frequent collaborator of ours, Jess Mathews. Jess created our “Vermin” video from the “V01D” release as well as shooting the photo used for the cover art for “Flesh is Heir”. We had so much faith in Jess (and Cain [Cressall, vocals] who worked with her on the shoot) that we pretty much gave her the audio and lyrics and said “interpret!”. She and Cain created the video over in Perth, where they are both based, while the rest of the band relaxed in New South Wales. So my favourite part of the shooting was that I didn’t have to actually be in front of the camera. We’ve always been a big fan of making Cain the focus of the band’s image and this film clip utilises his particularly unique brand of creepiness extremely well. Lyrically the song is about the use of drugs to supress the upper, “human”, mind and allow the primitive, “lizard” aspect ascendancy. The song is about intentional de-evolution to cope or escape. My interpretation of the film clip is that the lizard aspect is subjugating the human aspect.

From what I am told it was a pretty full on shoot. They filmed in a few inches of freezing water, carrying heavy chains. The actors are smeared in dirt and mud and generally look pretty uncomfortable. Cain performed extremely well and, as anyone who has seen us live will know, he is the creepiest leering satyr on Australian stages so you can expect a pretty confronting performance.

[watch the video above]

Alright, back to your new outing. You stated that “the album deals with the two warring sides of the human psyche: The Obliterate (which desires to be subsumed and therefore free) and the Realist (which embraces pain as a life truth). Tell me more about this concept, how does it differ from your previous lyrical skin and do you imagine writing without a particular concept in mind?

The theme for this album is almost a reaction to my previous lyrics. On “n0n” there was a song called “Vermin” which was essentially decrying what I saw as a primitiveness in modern humans. We, en masse, became base. We indulged animal urges (fighting, feeding and fucking) rather than using our brains and trying to rise above the muck. I realised, after a little while of playing that song live, that, while one part of me still wholehearted believes that this is a bad thing, a part of me also enjoyed the baseness and the regression to a primitive state. The more I thought of it the more I saw our collective psyche as a continuum with the Obliterate (or primitive aspect) at one end and the Realist (or human/god) at the other. People just exist at a different point on that continuum. Existence is defined by the war between these two aspects. Some people lean heavier to the Obliterate end, such as your religious types, while others lean towards the Realist, such as philosophers. That constant tension between the two desires is life.

I don’t think I would write without a concept. When I write lyrics, or anything else, the concept or theme comes first because that informs metaphor and word choice. I know some people can write without a theme but I would be hard pressed to get started. I am not a journal keeper so the idea of writing about my emotions, at least directly, is distasteful. I would prefer to write about my place within a greater scope. Then, hopefully, you avoid the pitfalls of pretension (while I am also aware I can come off as pretentious!) as well as, hopefully, address something that is a bit more universal.

Do you consider yourselves men of science?

I certainly consider myself a man of science; I won’t speak for the others. I don’t think that being a man of faith is feasible anymore. That Church bus left millennia ago. I am probably the least spiritual person you will meet. I don’t need a god or a belief system to justify my life and decisions. Religious codes are often praised as the ethical scaffolding that holds civilization together, however, if you remove them, you soon find that civilization doesn’t need that sort of buttress. These “Ethics” are actually more often morals and something that exist without any spiritual backing. I don’t steal because I don’t like the idea of someone being upset by the theft, not because I am scared of punishment by my Great Bearded Father. My issue is with the idea of Faith. I have none. When I was a child I believed wholeheartedly in Santa Claus, I have never felt that believe for a god. Data, on the other hand, I understand.

So I guess you’re not following the Vaticans’s conclave? [laughs]  It’s a tough subject here in Poland, you know? We still have a bunch of traditional practices and Christian ceremonies, pilgrimages, liturgical processions. It gained a new dimension in 1978 following the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the papacy. He revolutionized the Catholic Church, opened it up to the problems of the contemporary world and got linked to the huge socio-political changes (Poland’s transformation from a communist to a post-communist state), so imagine how he and the papacy is viewed here. He remains an unquestionable moral authority, not only for the religious part of society.

Anyway, I totally get your point of view, even though I consider myself standing somewhere in between.

So imagine how difficult it had been for Adam Darski from BEHEMOTH to defend himself in a court for calling the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet” and tearing up a copy of the Bible, calling it “a book of lies”. [smiles]

Do you face some controversies regarding the form of your image and performance?

On the contrary I find the Vatican conclave fascinating! The Catholic church as an organisation is a pretty strange beast and, if I can put on my Nergal costume for a second, as an extreme metal musician I should admire their commitment to evil. They are so much more Satanic than Anton Lavey! When you read about the level of back scratching and contra-deals in that organisation to protect sex offenders etc it’s hard not to agree with Mr Darski. Maybe the bible isn’t a book of lies but it is certainly being interpreted by liars. Of course I don’t mean to offend you or your readers if they are Catholic but I ask you to take just a moment to consider that error of allowing religion to be controlled by “powerful” people. William Blake said something along the lines of (and I am paraphrasing): A religion was formed, which some took advantage of. Thus began: Priesthood. This is one of my major concerns with religion. Belief itself is perfectly fine by me. If it makes sense to you then go with God, but to allow humans, who are notoriously dictated by greed and lust for power, to interpret the “Word of God” is to open the doors of perception to allow oppression in. But I am a cynic, a non believer an agent provocateur.

I feel for Adam Darski, we’ve played with BEHEMOTH a number of times and he actually performed quest vocals on our album so we know what a good, strong willed and polite gent he is. He has had to fight off these abusers of power while also fighting other cancers. Yet through out it all he seems to maintain his humour and positive attitude.

We, unlike BEHEMOTH, are not, in any way, celebrities. So at this point no one gives a fuck what we do. If we tore up a bible onstage I don’t think it would cause an issue. We aren’t public figures like Nergal. So we’ve never really had controversy. The idea of courting controversy for its own sake is repellent to me. We just keep following our own path and try to be honest about our beliefs and art. If it pisses people off then so be it, but this music is so full on that it is unlikely to get mainstream exposure and therefore cause any real controversy. As a private person, it suits me more to exist sub-radar, however I could certainly use the money that controversy seems to herald!

What other Polish bands are you aware of? How about VADER? They were huge back in the day, right? I wonder if there might be more of them on the tongues these days.

We are very aware of VADER, we’ve toured with them both in Europe and North America so we know those guys well. They are a very professional band. It was pretty amazing watching those guys night after night. I don’t think they ever had a bad show. They were ridiculously consistent and excellent guys too. From Poland, DECAPITATED, HATE, CRIONICS and VESANIA all spring to mind. Polish Death metal has actually become an entire genre of itself; typified by VADER’s deceptively simple guitar lines and a very European aggression. There are a lot of American and Australian bands that I can think of that sound like they could have come from Poland. While the Polish scene might not be the biggest, it could certainly be called one of the most influential.

Tell me about the industrial side of your music. Why did you decide to create such a blend? What was the inspiration to include electronics in your music?

The term industrial is, for me, a troublesome one. We have been called industrial, I have even used the term myself, but I am not sure we ARE industrial. Industrial was originally THROBBING GRISTLE’s record label. Their tag line was Industrial Music for Industrial People – You Get What You Deserve. The idea was that they, THROBBING GRISTLE, would churn out music like Ford churned out motorcars. The quality (though I love a lot of TG’s music) was considered secondary to the quantity. We are almost the opposite. We spent years on our albums making sure they are perfect. If TG were Ford we are Faberge. People are getting way more quality than they deserve. We are almost anti-Industrial by that definition. Of course, then the term go co-opted. It became short-hand for dance beats and twinkling, arpeggiated synths. And we have nothing to do with that either. One of the things I have tried to do with the electronics for THE AMENTA is to push away from those safe and normal ideas and try to embrace the more experimental and interesting ideas of originators like THROBBING GRISTLE. So while I consider those original “industrial” bands to be very inspirational I don’t consider us to be of the same genre.

The blend was a very natural progression. When we first started writing I played more traditional keyboards such as you would hear in more straight forward black metal bands. But we became bored by the music that we were hearing and creating. Music based around the same ideas as other music is redundant. So with the riffs we started pushing towards uglier chords and harmonies. Trying to make ugly music. And with that, the keyboards started sounding ridiculous. So we were always trying to make the keyboards sound uglier and nastier. At one point I had a few guitar pedals that I ran my keys through to roughen them up. I had a Metal Zone distortion pedal that made everything sound like roaring static. We kept pushing and discovering new sounds until all of the traditional sounds dropped away. I guess I discovered my own voice on the instrument. We learned a lot about different ways to process sound and, as we became less of a “band” and more of a studio based thing (at least initially), we began processing everything because we liked changing sounds from what you would expect to something new. It was all a process of growth and discovering the things that got us excited.

The inspirations for the electronics is the same as our inspirations for creating music. I am inspired by bands and artists who create their own language to express themselves. THROBBING GRISTLE had their own language. Another “Industrial” band EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN had a completely different language. IMMOLATION have their own language. SONIC YOUTH have their own language. WHITEHOUSE, NURSE WITH WOUND, AKERCOCKE, TOM WAITS and WOLF EYES. All have their own language and all inspire us to create something in our own language.

Have you faced any disparaging remarks from orthodox metalheads about your appreciation of electronics?

Not very often, or at least, not too our face. We aren’t once of those frilly FLOCK OF SEAGULLS synth bands. We make uglier music with our electronics than most people do with distorted guitars. People are more likely to be confused by our music than openly mock it. Of course, you do get people online and in reviews who are obviously turned off by the idea of electronics before even hearing the music but what can you do with these people? If we focused on pleasing the lowest common denominator then we would be no better than the thousands of terrible bands already doing so. We’d rather make music that excited us and keeps us interested. If it offends “orthodox” metalheads than that’s fucking great. Because if those close-minded sheep hate it then we must be doing something interesting.

[laughs] Exactly!

Following this path, what bands did you turn away from because of their change of course.

To be honest I can’t think of any bands that I have turned away from because of changes in their sound or method. One thing that I find really inspiring about great bands (and really artists of any medium)  is that they are on a journey to find their own language. Bands such as SUN CITY GIRLS, BLUT AUS NORD, ULVER, DALEK, TOM WAITS etc., all change from release to release and, while some of their releases obviously resonate with me more than others, their releases are always interesting and the journey itself is inspiring. I find, with a lot of bands that change from release to release, that I may not connect with one release in a series but then they’ll release something down the line which really blows me away again. As an artist you can’t run around chasing the zeitgeist. You have to be honest and create the music which represents you as the artist. If that music connects with someone, however temporarily, then it’s a great thing. If it doesn’t then that’s no loss, as long as we are doing it for ourselves and for the right reasons. Hopefully one day our vision and their tastes will collide again someway down the track. It’s the same as a listener. Sometimes a band will be perfect in a moment of time for you. They will encapsulate an emotion or represent a victory but their next releases might not connect the same way, the change is often interesting on its own, however the deeper connections can always be found if you keep looking.

As a listener, all I ever want is to be astounded by music. I want it to smack me in the face and leave me reeling. I want to be presented with new ideas. Confronting ideas. Ideas that scare me. Is that too much to ask?

Not at all. I hope it’s not only music though and we’re talkin’ lyrics and putting new ideas into our heads, making people think, as well. What’s your recommended ratio between thought-provoking, important lyrics and other that are simply fillings and trimmings for music?

Definitely, I believe lyrics are a very important part of the process. Lyrics allow us, as artists, to give the music focus and context. However, I am also aware that, especially in Extreme Metal, people are often not interested in the lyrics. To some people, and myself included a lot of the time, the lyrics are secondary to the music. One of the great things about extreme metal is that, musically, there is a wordless rage in its DNA. Lyrics are just an added bonus. Plus you have bands whose music you love but their lyrics are terrible. Then it’s best not to delve too deeply. That said I think our lyrics stand up to analysis. I know some people won’t care but I hope a certain percentage will check them out and think about them. I write them to be like puzzles. Things will reveal themselves overtime or under analysis. Words often have more than one meaning. One of the great tools of the English language is the Homonym. You can sound like you are saying one thing but actually be saying other.

For our music or, more specifically, my appreciation of our music, the lyrics and music take up 50% of the importance. But other people may only dig the lyrics. It took me a while to appreciate this but I have come to the conclusion that it is not the Artist’s right to dictate how their art should be appreciated. If people love our music but don’t care for or about the lyrics then that’s fine. If they love the package then I am ecstatic and promise them more hours of lyrical decoding in future releases.

Alright, before we finish off, tell me more about your upcoming Australian trek. Are there already some details known about it?

We’ve just played our first show in support of “Flesh is Heir”. It was awesome. We’ve introduced a lot of new elements to the visual side of things. We have some pretty intense new lighting, courtesy of our mad lighting tech, as well as some new cameras so we can film every show for future use.

After that we’ve got a kind of sporadic tour happening. We’ll be playing over in Perth on our way to Indonesia to play the Hammersonic Festival which we are told is enormous so that should be amazing. We’re also supporting CRADLE OF FILTH on their Australian tour. I am really looking forward to those shows. Cradle’s fans will either hate us, be confused or both. Maybe one or two might be ready for something as nasty and confronting as our music. The way we see it, we are sowing the seeds. People might not be ready for us now, but if we keep throwing our music in their faces, eventually they’ll submit!

After that we have a couple of other shows around the country and then we will look at a larger headlining tour in June/July. We also hope to get back over to Europe and North America as well as Asia and South America. I think we are in fine form, the album is killer, and we are ready to tear everyone’s heads off.

Any possible date on when we’ll see you conquering the Old Continent?

Nothing set in stone yet. Tours are always being discussed and we are always on the look out for a good touring package to join but as such there is nothing solid enough to announce. We hope to get over there mid this year though.

Cool. I’m staying put then [smiles].

What differences do you see between your local metalheads and extreme music fans in different parts of the world?

What characteristics are common among these hordes?

There aren’t too many differences between metalheads in countries in my experience. There are a couple of things that spring to mind though: Australian fans drink a hell of a lot more while watching the bands. IT’s rare to see a band and not have a beer in your hand. The first thing I noticed in our tours over in Europe and the U.S is that drinking isn’t such a huge part of the experience. Sure there is still drinking, and definitely drunk people, but it doesn’t seem to be an all-in kind of situation.

I think there are a lot of common characteristics between metalheads across countries. It is cross-cultural, in that it is a culture in and of itself that crosses geographic and ethnic culture divides at right angles. I think the kind of people who are excited by extreme expression have fundamental similarities. But I think this is true of all types of art. People, at their basic, insect, level are similar. We all react to stimuli in the same ways.

I hope all of them will be ripped apart by your new outing, guys. It sounds really strong. Can’t wait to check it out live.

Is there anything else that we should keep our eyes peeled on coming up?

We’ve got a few ideas for follow up releases but nothing concrete yet. I actually have lyrical ideas for the next release already which is unheard of for me. Normally I am rushing to write while Cain is desperate to record so this will be a nice change. The next few things on THE AMENTA calendar is the live shows. We hope to get a lot more touring done this year. We’d love to really push this album internationally as we know that this is a damn strong album.

Great! Thanks so much for your time and patience [smiles]. It was a great fun and I wish you good luck for the upcoming gigs.

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