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:: Spotlight :: Interview with The Amenta

By: Justin Donnelly

When Sydney based outfit The Amenta released their debut full-length effort ‘Occasus’ in 2004, they not only managed to set a new benchmark within the Australian metal scene, but helped forge a bold new direction for forward thinking death metal on the global scene.

Four years on, and The Amenta have finally returned with their sophomore effort ‘n0n’, an album that successfully takes the blueprint laid down by their debut into bold new extremes by blurring the lines between death metal, industrial influenced soundscapes and sheer brutality.

Having just returned from a tour of Europe, and currently on the road across Australia, I caught up with sampler/programmer Timothy Pope to talk about the band’s challenging new release ‘n0n’, and the problems of getting the album completed after a lengthy four years of hard work.

“Both ‘Occasus’ and ‘n0n’ were difficult recordings to make, but in very different ways. ‘Occasus’ was written over a five year period, and we were constantly refining it in that time. So we really knew those songs back to front by the time we went into the studio. But when we recorded the album, we were under a lot of pressure from Listenable Records. We wanted to make the best album we possibly could, but we also had this heavy external pressure upon us. ‘n0n’ on the other hand was something that we wrote quite quickly. I think all the songs came together in around six months. Recording that album was a lot harder though, just because of the amount of technology involved. As you’ve probably read, we had over one hundred tracks on each song. So a lot of the equipment that we had access to and we were using couldn’t play back all of those tracks at once! (Laughs) So as you can imagine, we made a lot of compromised mixes so that we could get an idea of what worked and what didn’t. It was very hard. We also saw some line-up changes during the making of the album. We were basically working with a vocalist from the U.K. for some time, and that fell through for various reasons. So we didn’t have a vocalist there for a while. In the meantime, we kept writing the album. And then it wasn’t until about halfway through the recording of the album that we found our current vocalist Krafczyk. He was virtually just around the corner from us. So there were a lot of big problems for us while making this album. It was hard work. But I’m glad that we put in what we did because I think you can hear it in the album.”

Aside from pushing the levels of extremities, ‘n0n’ is notable for amazing sound, with the depth and sparseness of sound mixed on the album something not commonly associated with your typical extreme album.

“There’s so much detail in the album, with some songs having upward to one hundred and sixty tracks at the one time. A lot of it is keyboard stuff. Sometimes a track will have a five second noise piece that is really layered to give off an effect. A lot of it is softsynth’s, and that’s something we use a lot of effects with. It’s basically about having a whole track with a few distortions and delays to get that sound to work. So it’s not one hundred tracks running simultaneously, but each song definitely has that much detail running in it. Unfortunately, that was kind of my job to create those sounds for the album! (Laughs) It took me about four months of programming stuff to get that detail in there. ‘n0n’ was a hard album to mix as well. It was ridiculous trying to get that detail audible. But we used Lachlan Mitchell again (who also mixed ‘Occasus’), and he was able to find a place for everything, which was good. With ‘Occasus’, we compromised a little on the sound due to our ignorance to the mixing process. This time around, we were very definite about what we wanted, and that came about due to more experience and training in the studio. So when it came time to mix ‘n0n’, we were a lot more hands on, which I’m sure was very frustrating for Mitchell at times! (Laughs) Basically it meant that we were willing to spend as much money we had to get it sounding right. It was a really hard thing to mix, and I was really worried at one point that we would kind of get a typical death metal mix of really high guitars and drums, and missing out on the electronics. There were a lot of electronics that didn’t make it onto the mix on ‘Occasus’. Perhaps not quite as much as on ‘n0n’, but they were mixed down just the same. But this time around, we knew a lot more about mixing, and spent sixteen hours a day to make sure that we got ‘n0n’ to sound exactly how we heard it in our heads. Thankfully, we were able to finish the album in the time that we had booked at the studio, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.”

While ‘Occasus’ may have had The Amenta sounding like an extreme metal act with electronic influences, the same can be said for ‘n0n’. The band’s sound on ‘n0n’ has come a long way from their debut, so much so that the band no longer sounds like a death metal album with electronic influences, or an industrial album with death metal influences. Instead, ‘n0n’ is a truly unique hybrid mix of an album, and one that’s not easy to describe in words.

“I really don’t see us as an industrial band at all. And I’ve stopped seeing us as a death metal or extreme metal band as well. Our aim is to try and find a new language for music. Within heavy metal, it’s very easy to fall back on the old language with guitar riffs and quite obvious drum beats. We forged this new language, and because of our interests, what we’ve grown up doing and our talents, our sound tends to head towards the uglier end of the spectrum, which happens to encompass a lot of industrial like sounds. Our aim wasn’t necessarily to be an industrial/death metal band; only to create an extreme music, with what I guess you could say includes those influences. But we definitely didn’t want to be one of those death metal bands that suddenly breaks into a little industrial bit, and then goes back into a metalcore breakdown. It needed to sound like us, and it needed to sound honest. And that has to be everything going through a blender, and coming out as The Amenta. ‘n0n’ is not a guitar based album or a riff based album. It’s more about the interplay between the electronics and the guitars, and I think this album captures that really well.”

Of course, with anything new, there’s bound to be some differing opinions. And ‘n0n’ is no exception, with both the band’s label (Independent French label Listenable Records) and the public offering both praise and criticisms of The Amenta’s latest release.

“Listenable Records’ reaction to ‘n0n’ was probably similar to a lot of reaction around the world to the album. They were a bit confused and didn’t know what to make of it at first. But as they listened to it a bit more, they started getting into it. We actually met up with them face to face for the first time in Belgium about two weeks ago, and they were over the moon and excited about the album. I think it’s one of those albums with so much detail, that the first time you listen to it you either think it’s this weird death metal thing that doesn’t gel, or you totally understand it. It isn’t until you give it time that you start picking up the language and you start to understand what we’re trying to do. All the albums that I really love are the ones that polarise people. If I read two reviews, and one gave it an eight or a nine out of ten, and the next gave it a two out of ten, I would pick that up because I think that’s pretty damn interesting. I definitely think its one of those albums that’s really hard to put into words. Even I have trouble doing that, and I wrote the damn album! (Laughs) It seems to me that the people who are into it, are really into it couldn’t necessarily tell you why they do. I think they get it on a very primal level, which is a very good thing. I think it’s one of those albums.”

Another bone of contention amongst some fans is the lack of melody within ‘n0n’. But as Pope points out, while the album is a challenging listen, the melodies will present themselves through the persistence of time.

“I guess from my point of view, I have been living with the album for so long that I no longer understand the initial listen any more. I was there to build it from the ground up. But I can understand that people that hear it for the first time can get the feeling that they’re being pushed out because of the level of complexity of the actual sonic palette, rather than the musicianship and density of what they’re actually hearing. They initially think this is a blast beat-fest wall of extreme noise. For me, I can hear the songs in there. We wrote them like pop songs, and there are some defined structures in there. We always made sure that there were choruses, there’s a middle eight, a hook and parts where the songs almost drop down to nothing. Take a song like ‘Junky’ for instance. It starts off with blast beats, but then features a big open chorus. I think it’s quite catchy, but I guess I’ve been spending a long time learning the language of the album. And then you have a song like ‘Vermin’, which has quite a pronounced groove, which has that off-time tom thing. Having just played that song live a million times over the last few weeks, you can see people picking up on it a lot more. It comes across in the live setting I guess because of the way the live shows are mixed, which helps reveal a bit more of the nuts and bolts of the song’s construction. I really think it’s a varied album. ‘Skin’ is almost a trip-hop song. I really don’t see how people can see the album as monochromatic. I think it’s a very in-depth and detailed album. We spent a long time on the structure of the songs, and spent close to two days figuring out the order of the songs on the album so that it would flow. I think it’s an album that if you spend enough time with, you’ll start hearing the things you mentioned, like the hooks underneath and the overall melodies. The melodies are there, they’re just not your conventional melodies of Iron Maiden solos and Queen sung melodies. It’s all hidden in this new language we’re trying to create.”

One of the strangest and most melodic moments on the album appears in ‘Dirt’, which bears a striking resemblance to some of Devin Townsend work outside Strapping Young Lad.

“We’re always experimenting with sounds, and if something sounds exciting, we’ll generally go with it. Even if it scares us a little, we’ll go for it because it challenges us. When we wrote this album, it was very dark and ugly. But then in amongst all that darkness, this little section pops up. It’s all major key, which is something I don’t think we’ve really done before. We had discussions as to whether we would use it or not, and it was only because we were discussing it so much that we realised that it had to go in. We figured that it was pushing our boundaries as much as it would eventually push our audience. The Devin Townsend influence thing was certainly not intentional. I’m not really familiar with a lot of his stuff. I have ‘City’ (Strapping Young Lad’s album from 1997), and I think that’s an excellent album. But I haven’t heard much of his solo stuff. I couldn’t say he was an influence as such, but quite a few people have mentioned that to me. So that seems to be a common thought from most people when they hear that small section of the song. Things like that make the album interesting. I think there are a lot of them in there. Within the same song, there’s this big block of noise that I think is quite melodic, and almost symphonic. The way its structured is the guitars and keyboards melding together into this big wall of noise is I guess our version of melodic black metal. There are parts throughout the entire album that are like that. For me, that’s what makes the album interesting.”

Despite the negative feedback from some fans, you remain positive about the feedback of ‘n0n’ so far.

“To an extent I’m happy with the way the album’s been received. I always knew that this album was going to get a mixed response, and I was prepared to brush the negatives aside. But when you get the first bad review, you have visions of jumping on a plane to Bum-F**k in the middle of Idaho, or wherever they are and beating their head in! (Laughs) It’s never nice hearing someone stag off something that you spent so much time on, but it was inevitable. It’s silly of me to resent them too much, because that was something I was expecting. I’m just happy that it’s polarising people and generating a bit of talk.”

As mentioned earlier, The Amenta has just returned from a European tour alongside Deicide, Samael, Vader, Devian and Zonaria.

“We had a great time. We played a lot of Europe, but we didn’t get to play in central Europe unfortunately. We did fourteen shows all up, and it was awesome. We got to see a band like Vader play live every night, and that was really inspirational. Here is this one guy (vocalist/guitarist Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek), who has built up this band around himself, and he just kind of whipped them into shape night after night. They were just jaw dropping. And Samael had one of the best light shows of the tour. So it was really inspiring to see just what those guys could do. I think for us as a band, it really put us under the microscope performance wise. We’ve always prided ourselves on our live shows, but then you go over there and see what the standard is and you realise that you have to lift your game a little! So I really think that tour really put a lot of pressure on us, but we came back in the best live shape we’ve ever been. Apparently we held our own on that stage. We had a lot of people who came specifically to see us, and were apparently blown away. So it was really good.”

Giving themselves a week to recover, The Amenta soon packed up their gear once again to take part in a month long co-headlining tour alongside industrial death/grind act The Berzerker under the banner of ‘The Australian Corruption Tour’.

“We toured with The Berzerker on the ‘Festival Of The Dead’ festival back in October 2007, so I think we’re very suited musically. I think it will be a lot of fun for us, as well as the audience. And the good thing is that we’re playing a lot of regional areas that we’ve never played before. So we’re really looking forward to playing those kinds of places. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what sort of crowd turns up and all that kind of stuff. We’ve already completed the New South Wales leg of the tour, and the shows went really well. Newcastle and Canberra were real stand outs. They were places that we’ve only placed once before, and that was some time ago. So we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we were blown away by the turn out and the response from the fans toward the new material that we hadn’t played here in Australia before. That went down really well, and was quite exciting for us.”

Whilst playing Sydney, the band took the opportunity to film their performance for a potential DVD release.

“The guys from Moshcam, who have filmed us before, were there for The Berzerker as well. They’re really professional, and really good at what they do. I’m not a big fan of hometown shows. For some reason, something always goes wrong for me. But this time everything went really swimmingly. It was a really good show. I think we played really well, and we had a huge crowd. So I think it’ll look really good on camera. I’m not entirely sure what we’ll do with the DVD yet, but it’ll probably make its way onto a release as some kind of bonus footage. It may very well be released on it own, but that’s something we’ll decide at a later date. In the meantime, we’ll keep ourselves busy until the tail end of March with this tour, and then jump straight into writing again for our third album. Obviously with four years between albums, we want to cut that down by at least six months. We’ll try and have a new release out within two years if possible, so that way Listenable Records don’t have a heart attack like they did prior to giving them the last two albums! (Laughs) Apart from that, we simply want to capitalise on the release of ‘n0n’ with some more overseas touring. We’re in talks at the moment with various people, but nothing is confirmed. You have to strike while the iron’s hot as they say, and that’s something that we definitely want to do.”

I would like to thank Timothy Pope for his generous time, and Erik Miehs for making the interview possible.

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