The Amenta - ''I’m excited by the ideas that make the hair rise on the back of the neck''
Arising from the underworld, the Amenta are a musical force to be truly reckoned with. Unleashing their brand of musical mayhem since the beginning of the millennium. The Amenta do not cross musical borders as they do utterly destroy them. Their music defies normal descriptors except for the one common factor; they are heavy, and they are truly extreme. Not just one of Australia’s but the worlds true innovators; From Occasus and Non to Flesh is Heir, their sound is unique as it is identifiable with their intense live shows …
… and then from 2013 nothing. It has been 8 years their last release and their new album Revelator is another landmark release. Had life gotten in the way of Amenta or did it take something truly special to restart the project?
Timothy Pope (Samples, Keyboards): ‘’There are a few factors that went into that long time between albums. The first, and main, cause was that we were completely burnt out after the process of writing, recording, and touring for “Flesh is Heir”. It was a huge process, over a long time. The shows afterwards were excellent, and a good time, but touring has its own challenges. By the end of all that, we were completely flat and uninspired. It was time to write another album, but it felt like doing that at that point would result in just “more of the same”. Looking back on our three albums, we decided that they perfectly encapsulated a chapter of The Amenta and adding another album to it, just for the sake of it, felt wrong and a disservice to the work we’d already made. We decided to take a hiatus for as long as it took to recover that inspiration and find the new direction for the band.’’
‘’Erik [Miehs, guitars] and I actually started writing music for another project. This is something that we have done before in between releases and I’ve realised that it’s a subconscious attempt to break free of the pressure of following up an album. By writing for a new project, there is no historical releases to live up to, there are also no expectations for external parties so there is completely freedom to write whatever comes to mind. We started writing that way, but soon realised that we wanted to be writing for The Amenta again. We took our songs for the other project and reworked them into songs for The Amenta. These tracks brought with them the freedom and openness which inspired us for the next chapter. That all happened many years ago. In that time, we’ve been working on the songs, restructuring them, experimenting with sounds and orchestration. But, of course, there was the usual life-shit that got in the way. Some of us moved countries, had kids and other massive changes so that slowed things down at times. It is good to be back. I think we feel pretty fucking inspired now, so hopefully we can release another album in a much quicker timeframe!’’
Revelator is a more organic release compared to your others? And has a more central theme?
“Revelator” is definitely a more organic album. That’s something we have been working towards for a while, after the total noise chaos of our second album, “n0n”. A lot of people seem to peg us as an industrial band, which comes with a whole lot of preconceptions about music being “cold” and “mechanical”. Looking back, we only see “n0n” as really having that vibe. The other albums are completely different. After “n0n” we found ourselves moving in a more organic direction. I think the third album, “Flesh is Heir” is significantly more organic than the two before and was where we started experimenting more with organic sound sources, like violins and pianos. “Revelator”, however, is another significant step further into organic side. The sounds that we found inspiring tended to be the more open, “real”, sounds. For the drums, we used a lot of room mics to capture natural reverb. The guitars are all effected beyond belief, but this was all done through chains of effects pedals that were manipulated in real-time to get a human element. In fact, Erik ran most instruments through guitar effects in the mixing process to add elements of chance and chaos. There is a big difference between punching a pedal and playing with effects on-screen. ‘’
‘’The theme of the album is actually more decentralised than previous albums, though conversely it also has a very tight, overriding idea, if not a concept. In the past, for the lyrics, I started out with a theme and then wrote lyrics towards that theme. This time I wanted to bring the subconscious into play a lot more, both in the creating and in the way the lyrics would eventually be heard/read. I started by writing down phrases and even just words as they occurred to me. Often these were puns or other plays on words that had something to do with whatever I was thinking about at the time, the things I was obsessed with. I followed this process for several years and the end result is a kind of map of my subconscious thoughts, of which key themes appear and reappear. But because of the way they were written down, over such a long period, often the original meaning or reference is forgotten. I went through these collections of phrases to piece the lyrics together and didn’t consider their original meanings. It was more about the tension and suggestion of meaning that juxtaposing two phrases brought out. Like a collage of images, the strength of the lyrics comes from two phrases that were written years apart that have some internal, unspeakable, logic. Hidden within these collections of lyrics, however, are the original meanings from when I first wrote them. So, it becomes a palimpsest of meaning. Meanings and themes overlay each other and reoccur in strange places’’.
It is more than a one listen affair with multi layers....
‘’I would hope so. I think any piece of art that has any depth, of any discipline, requires repeated exposure to understand. My favourite releases are those ones that I hear and am not sure whether I like them as they are so different and strange. But there is always something that brings you back and you can’t stop listening. Eventually the album clicks for you, like learning another language that you suddenly understand, and it becomes a favourite. That’s something we would hope happens with all our releases, and this one more than any other. There is so much going on, even in the very simple parts. I hope that people will give it the time to reveal itself completely rather than shove it on a playlist and forget about it. I hope it is immersive.’’
Yet it is still very much an Amenta record with all sorts of chaos going on?
‘’Definitely. It’s very important for us to do what we do naturally. There is nothing forced about any progression or growth, it’s a journey and a process of discovery for us all and we are writing from the same wellspring of inspiration that we have always done. We are the same people who wrote “Occasus” back in the early 2000’s. The process is exactly the same, but in our journey, we are on a different road so the view out the window is different. We are still, fundamentally, an extreme metal band. We like noise, we like chaos, aggression, and anger. This time we have upped the tension and unease. I like to think that each album is a building that we are constructing. The design may differ substantially, but we are building them all out of the same swamp. No matter how ornate and filigreed, it rests in a pit of filth.’’
And then there is Cain’s voice! The reflection of Amenta’s tortured soul?
‘’ Cain blew us away with his vocals on the album. He has always been the “humanity” of the band, in all the anguish and pain that implies. I hope his performance will assist people to do away with the bullshit industrial tag that we can’t shake. His voice is so versatile and honest that I can’t see how people can label us as a cold, inhuman band. We’re embracing pain and real darkness and he is certainly the reflection of that. When we were demoing the album, Cain started bringing in these incredible ideas. The first one I recall was a falsetto clean vocal line in ‘Twined Towers’ that was so strange but so completely right at the same time. It really opened our eyes to what we could do. Cain experimented with all sorts of ideas, and from the way he tells it, he was reacting to the music, so they fed each other in different ways as we often rewrote parts for Cain’s vocal lines. He has undoubtedly topped himself with his performance on this album. Still gives me shivers to hear him.’’
Was there pressure to top an impressive back catalogue?
’We’ve always felt the pressure to, maybe not top but certainly to progress from, our back catalogue. It’s important for us to be inspired; it’s the fuel that keeps us moving. The thing we find most inspiring is the new idea. Ideas that sound like something we have done before tend to be boring and uninspiring to us, so the important thing for us is too often follow that inspiration away from our previous works. We hope that each album is better than the last, but it’s hard to say which one is actually better. For us, they are moments in time. There are things I love about all of our albums, as well as things I would change if I could, so my “favourite” could change every day. All we can hope to do is find a new direction and ensure that each album is a discrete and honest work.’’
Does Amenta still reflect the ugly side of music, and the misconception of being labelled industrial?
‘’ I certainly think we tend towards ugly music. The sounds that I get excited by, in my own music, are the sounds that are breaking up or waving in and out of tune. I love that shit. I think all three of the writing team of The Amenta (Erik, Cain, and me) all have completely different inspirations. We all love different kinds of music, but the common ground for all of us, where the music seems to end up no matter what we bring to the table, is the ugly, dark, and nasty end of the spectrum. I think our music will always be ugly, the music of The Amenta will definitely change over time, and who knows where it will be in five years, but I am relatively certain that it will be ugly stuff.
‘’The industrial tag, which I mentioned before is a recurring annoyance, is something we find very strange. I understand that we use electronics to create certain sounds and to some people that equals industrial music. But pop music uses electronic sounds, are we pop? Are we techno? “n0n” I can see as an industrial album however we came across that by accident. When we were writing that, I saw that more as a psychedelic album. It was more about the trails of delay and reverb than a soundtrack to the Terminator. I can’t see it for our other albums at all. But then, I know that other people hear different things in our music. Maybe we are too close to it to hear it objectively. But I can’t shake the feeling that people don’t listen to music, they judge it based on preconceptions and other people’s takes on it. No one listens to anything in a total vacuum I guess, all we can do is try to convince people to open their ears and hear that we aren’t a fucking industrial band.’’
After 21 years what still excites you about music? And your growth from NoN?
’What excites me about music, and the growth from “n0n” is the exact same thing. I am excited by newness. I’m excited by the ideas that make the hair rise on the back of the neck. Everything we have ever done has been about capturing those moments and extending them for as long as they can be held. That’s what keeps us making music and it’s also the process that has allowed us to grow from album to album. Each time we sit down to write, we are looking for that spark of an idea that inspires us to create a song. Those sparks are always new ideas and so just by following that process we can’t help but grow and evolve.’’
Considering all of your musical capabilities is there a style you will not include in your music and is the song writing process an organic one?
Timothy Pope: ‘’ There is nothing that we would set out to exclude. Just as we don’t sit down to write a “Death Metal” song, we would never deliberately set out to write a “not K-pop” song. The process is completely organic because it is based around improvisation and finding the ideas that excite us all, then following them to the end point. We can’t say what ideas will excite us. For example, this album there is a track called ‘Silent Twin’ which is based around an acoustic guitar. It’s almost blues or folk or something. We didn’t set out to write that style of song, that was a matter of picking up a guitar and improvising an idea until something stood out. It just happened to form into a completely acoustic song in the chasing of that spark. If we wrote a part that felt natural and was an honest spark of inspiration, I don’t think it would matter at all to us what style of music it is. I hope our music is internally logical enough to sound like The Amenta, rather than “here’s a Black Metal riff, there’s a Death Metal one and hear comes the Doom bit”. Any idea is accepted as long as it has that internal logic, and it inspires us.’’
Extreme music is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Yet being extreme is not just brutality. How do you define it?
‘’ I couldn’t agree more. “Extreme” isn’t about speed or heaviness. Ideas that are extreme are the ones that are on the fringes. In metal, every fucking man and his dog is fast and heavy, so that’s the norm, not the fringe. The extreme bands are the ones who are pushing boundaries, who aren’t happy repeating the same formulas and following the pack. When everyone is playing fast, playing slow is extreme. If everyone is being melodic, dissonance is extreme. And vice versa. Extreme is an ethos, not a sound. It is about pushing your own boundaries and those of the listener. Presenting new ideas in new ways and subverting old ideas and recontextualising them. Extremity is a challenge, not a comforting blanket as the term is often used.’’
The concept of hidden identity behind the mask?
’’ That came out of Cain’s experiments. He was making the masks as a possible cover art idea, but as soon as we saw them it sparked the ideas that eventually became the band photos and clips. We’re not an ego driven band, and even band photos have always been a strange process for us. We’d prefer to let the music do the talking, not our faces, so the masks were the perfect solution. We can still present a “human” element behind the music without tying it to us personally. It feels like allowing that remove for our faces from our art, allows a tension or a distance that lets it breath and become more “real”. Obviously, our faces are in no way secret, but by presenting the mask there is a character we can assume that allows the artwork to divorce itself from reality and become unencumbered by real world shit.’’
You’re not afraid of being aggressive? Does anything give you pause?
‘’ I think the key to aggression is honesty. If you’re wearing aggression like a pretence, just drawing it over your music like your father’s coat, then it’s a fucking joke. But if the aggression is come by honestly then it is just another facet of the expression of human experience. We’re not afraid of it at all, it seems to come from us naturally when we make and perform music. It’s not pre-considered, it seems to be a natural state. We’re not particularly aggressive in our day-to-day life, but perhaps that is why it comes out in art. It is obviously something that is there and must be expressed in one way or another. If it is honest, then it doesn’t give me pause, because I am honestly not a bad person (I think), despite my frustration and anger at the world. If what was coming out of me, and the rest of us, honestly, was something like punching seal pups or eviscerating street urchins then obviously that’s a whole other thing. I think bands who write those lyrics tend not to be honest. It’s fiction, but it’s not their fiction. They are aping the Cannibal Corpses of the world and fulfilling extreme metal tropes, rather than plumbing their souls for the real aggression inside themselves.’’
Is man and his materialism the plague? And is there a cure.
‘’It’s certainly a symptom of what I would call the real plague, which is a lust for power. Materialism is a symptom of a desire to control, fundamentally to control your own life, but to have complete control of your own life it feels like you must control others. That’s where power comes in. Power is the material that everyone really lusts after. All our systems are based around the idea of shuffling power upwards. Part of me says, break the system and restore power more equitably and that would be a potential cure. However, in my, admittedly limited, experience I have never seen a system that people couldn’t exploit for their own gain. So, creating a new system that discourages materialism works in theory, but there will always be people who will find a way to turn that system upside down and inside out, until it is completely indistinguishable from the system it replaced. There is a reason why it’s called a revolution. It keeps going round and round.’’
The most important book we haven't read?
‘’There are so many brilliant books, and fiction has just as much power to change the world as philosophy. However, I will name a philosophy book that has impacted my thinking significantly over the course of this album creation: The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer. Not only does it make you rethink what you know as the “real” world but its central themes of consciousness as a curse that must be transcended definitely spoke to me. There are so many books I could name that inspired aspects of this album, and are important to me in general, but I think that one has enough in it for people to delve into.
What's next? Live shows look to be a little while away?
‘’Unfortunately, so. Just as it looks like we may be able to do a few shows here in Australia the borders between states will shut and the whole thing gets scrapped. We’re still hoping to be able to play some shows here in the next year at some point, in which case we’ll film them and record them properly so we can at least show international fans what they are missing. It would be killer if we can maintain the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand so we could get back over there for some shows! We’re also working on another release, which isn’t a new album but related to “Revelator”. After that is finished, we’re into the new album and hope to get it done in well under 8 years.’’
Your top 6 albums of all time....
‘’That’s a hard one. I’m not big on favourite albums, I have albums I really like and albums that are formative but hard to say they are my favourites of all time. However, that preamble aside, I’ll say that six very formative albums for me are:’’
Akercocke – The Goat of Mendes
Immolation – Close to a World Below
Mysticum – In the Streams of Inferno
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones
Einstuzende Neubauten – Drawings of Patient O.T.
Morbid Angel – Covenant