Interview with Bruno A. of Vertigo Steps

One of the most striking, enterprising and formidable releases to come out so far this year is the stunning Surface/Light from Vertigo Steps. The third album from the Portuguese / Finnish project consisting of Bruno A., Niko Mankinen, as well as Daniel Cardoso, is a deeply mesmeric and empowering album full of immersive thick expansive atmospheres, a melancholic breath, and close emotive enveloping sounds. Most of all it is an album of and real songwriting and expressively well crafted songs. Wanting to know more about the band and music we had the opportunity and pleasure at The RingMaster Review of asking Bruno A. all about Vertigo Steps and the album.

Hello and thank you for taking time to talk with us

Firstly would you just introduce the band to those not yet aware of your great sounds?

VS is pretty much the best band in the world you still haven’t listened to or heard about :) A wee bit more seriously now, it’s a project based in Portugal, but featuring several foreign guest musicians, mostly Scandinavian. The soundscape is a tad hard to pin down and the best is to have a few good listens, but could perhaps be loosely described as highly atmospheric and melancholic Heavy Rock, with several Metal touches and Progressive and Post-rock leanings. We will use any colour from the palette to enhance the global canvas. Strongly emotional and cinematic, but also oddly infectious.

How and when did Vertigo Steps begin?

September 2007, my bedroom. With little more than a guitar, programming software and an internet connection.

Was there an aim or main idea behind the band or the music it was set up to create?

Well, not a very specific, closed concept or grand design backing it all. But surely a very powerful will to come up with a new, refreshing and musically rich sound and vision – with no boundaries save for a high quality standard in all aspects of the band’s output.

You set up the band initially as a solo venture or was there always the intention of having contributing musicians?

Contributions were always intended, yes. Even though I came up with all music, words and concept, I knew I needed some gifted and unique musicians taking part in the action. Another reason would be I can’t play drums as good as Daniel or sing at Niko’s harmonic power and emotional delivery :). Might come out something akin to Tom Waits strung out on opium.

The band now has a core of Bruno, Niko Mankinen, and also Daniel Cardoso? I can imagine the acquaintance with Daniel being also Portuguese and having fingers in most things great from the country haha, but how did the link up with Finn Niko occur?

Yep, that’s pretty much the main core these days. Daniel has always been our producer and drummer, occasional backing singer and also bass player (except for the debut). I actually met and became friends with him around ’99 or so, long before he was producing all those bands. At the time being he played in Sirius and I was starting out Arcane Wisdom, my first “solo” project – for which he kindly offered his drumming skills. Nowadays he’s enjoying the international success he’s entitled to (Anathema, Anneke, etc,). As for Niko, I was an appreciator of his work with Misery Inc. and contacted him through email, sent him a couple of samples and he was interested from day one. Looking back now and watching his evolution and immersion in the VS sound, lyrics and philosophy, it all makes perfect sense. His work is miles away from what he was doing back then and his growing role as lyricist is also glove fitting. We have pretty much worked as a duo for some years now, even given the geographical distance. Apart from the 3 recordings in Portugal, we’ve also met in Helsinki and will do so again next July, in Berlin.

What are your major influences as a musician that has inspired you and the music?

The tangent universe and all that’s real enough to make me feel. If you mean exclusively musical influences, I have always listened to a lot of music and a lot of different styles and bands. Probably too many to mention here, stuff I pick everywhere from metal and rock to post-rock /ambient, soundtracks, electronic music, even classical and ethnic. But none of them ever worked specifically as basis for VS: our sound comes from everything that surrounds us, not just sound and definitely not any band/musician in particular. If you ask me, that’s the way it should more often be, music evolves with one’s own vision – however filtered through particular music tastes and life experiences – and not mere idol rehashing. And I think it shows – people are endorsing the fact we actually write songs, something sadly increasingly absent from heavier realms of music.

Your debut self titled  album came out in 2008 and was a striking album to say the least, how much of its impactful songs, sounds and ideas came as the album was created and how much was elements that has been imagined, thought up and stored in the years before the band even existed?

Good question, probably 50-50! I recall the songs on the debut ranged from 2004 until around the recording date – March 2008. I used to call it intentionally incoherent, because of the major differences in style, but that’s where my mind was at and how I envisioned such a debut album. Since the compositions and lyrics all came from the same place, some kind of cohesiveness would always be present. I still hold it dear as a pretty interesting release, full of energy and strength, an emotional rollercoaster, and am thankful for its warm reception. It did take a lot of people by surprise.

You have just released your exceptional third album Surface/Light. How has your sound changed from that initial release and though second album The Melancholy Hour to this new album?

Thank you! Well as I just mentioned the debut was ostensibly diverse but the idea for the following releases was always to raise the sound cohesion a bit, whilst maintaining the VS sound identity which is always a highly versatile one – never a band to write an album with 10 or 12 songs sounding exactly the same! But with The Melancholy Hour (which also saw great reactions) and, specially, Surface/Light, the songwriting comprised a more specific time period and thus the songs are more focused and sheltered under its albums’ abode. There is a considerable sound difference between Surface/Light and the debut or parts of it, even though you can also tell it’s the exact same band, something I think is natural and expected. It would be impossible to forge what is today Surface/Light back in 2008, for the album is also the product of our experiences and progression as humans and songwriters. Fortunately, and though the new release is the crowning achievement, all albums stand strongly on their own merits.

Has your song writing process changed distinctly over the years and albums too?

Hopefully, otherwise wouldn’t be doing the job right :) I guess 10 years ago I was somewhat over-creative and would insert 10 riffs in 7min songs. The riffs themselves were quite alright, but I evolved as a songwriter into making songs which I want to be memorable and timeless (at least for some!). Therefore I haven’t since long been interested in instrumental show-off or overly complex song structures. What I most enjoy listening to and creating are strong, emotional songs, with impact and that hit you on quite a deeper level than the flashing solo or überfast blastbeat – and I’m sure you know what I mean here. For instance, I always appreciated how acts like Katatonia, Green Carnation or even Anathema gradually emerged amidst the metal scene to become much more interesting prospects on their own and crave their particular niche, still rooted in metal but going far beyond its scope and boundaries.

Are you a songwriter who works relentlessly at a song from its seed until it has a breath of its own or one that takes their time, stepping back from it time to time?

There is really no rule here, it all depends on the mood and how the song appears and builds-up. But usually the main structure and primal grounds are set soon and fairly swift; afterwards I deal more with details, add-ons, atmospheres, whatever I think suits the song in order to enhance it, to grant it wings. Sometimes a specific background ambience or piano note can be as important to me as a riff or clean guitar melody.

With Surface/Light there is not so much a theme but there does seem a kind of connection that flows throughout each track on the album?

I have been told about this seamless connection – and agree. The album is probably best experienced as a whole, creating a mesmerizing, immersive experience, sorrowful but also rewarding and offering several glimpses of light from within the generally darker pathos. I feel the album title and artwork – as well as the lyrics – all offer fine clues to this pervasive undercurrent.

What do the songs deal with and take as inspiration?

Just things that somehow affect us in life. Observations on how to struggle amidst all the madness that surrounds us in modern-day extra-fast society and the extreme complexity of humankind, up to everyday emotions and reactions.

The songs vary from pure expansive atmospheres to at times sturdy aggression and all carrying a melancholic and dark essence, but it is also full of warmth and beauty. How much attention, time, and emotion goes into your music to craft such a full and emotive experience within piece of music?

Your description is I believe quite accurate. It takes the time enough for us to be happy with it. Sometimes not that much actually – I’m guessing because nothing is forced and it’s just the natural way in which the songs come out. This time the songs were all written over a 6 month period – between October 2010 and March 2011.

Does the music and the qualities we just mentioned reflect you personally and emotionally too?

I am sure of it, even though I’m probably not the best person to be discussing that.

Surface/Light is your first release on a label, Ethereal Sound Works. Has this had a big impact on recording and releasing the album?

None on the recording, cause it was done without any label behind. When it became ready we sent it to a couple and ESW presented the most interesting proposal. They also came up with the idea for the “sublight” EP and the very beautiful special digipak edition with the full discography – something I always thought should happen once a label would pick us up, because the first two albums had only seen digital release. Everything is working rather smoothly, we just arranged a release party which was filmed for a small video-edit and will have some merchandise soon, as well.

We mentioned him earlier and the album like your previous ones includes production from Daniel Cardoso as well as his musical skills. The man seems to be in everything good coming out of Portugal musically, what are his qualities that stand out for you and enhance your music?

I’m fond of Daniel both as a person and musician and he was always the obvious option to work with. As a musician and producer, he brings professionalism, instrumental proficiency and a good taste that suits VS rather well. His playing is something I truly enjoy and as producer he’s also cool to work with, especially because we need a strong cooperation, being myself pretty involved in this area. I like intelligent input, and with all the ideas I have on the VS sound and all the pre-production work and programming that I carry along into the recording, I would hardly match as well with a more close-minded producer who would take everything according to his own views and tastes. So forget Bob Rock.

Like in your previous releases Surface/Light contains many guests. Could you tell us a few, why you brought them in, and what they particularly gave extra to your compositions?

Jan Transit from In The Woods… I think needs no further introduction. Stein R Sordal and Sophie are usual guests and both shine with vocal radiance. Patrik Karlsson from This Haven is a first time guest, singing in two songs – incredibly talented vocalist.  All of them brought something very special and unique to their songs.

The way you record your albums with guests and forth, is Vertigo Steps able to be an active live band or likely to be at some point?

Not at the moment. At some point in the future… only time will yell!

What comes next after the Surface/Light? Ideas already forming for future songs?

Yes, even if I try to steer a bit clear of composing for a while after each album, there are always new, refreshing things popping out here and there. Some ideas for new songs and mostly acoustic parts. Exploring quite magical clean melodies, over dynamic, strong backing riffs. Anyway, I’ll relocate to Germany in June so I’ll probably keep playing acoustic guitar but won’t worry too much for now with a future pre-production. All in due time :)

Once more many thanks for sharing your time.

Would you like to leave with some words for those enjoying and about to experience the impressive creativity of Surface/Light?

First of all I’d like to thank you for the excellent review and interview as well. As for future listeners, I’ll strongly advise them to check our profiles – Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, BandCamp – to see for themselves what we’re about and hopefully if they enjoy our work and vision, feel free to order the albums and spread the word around. It would definitely be rewarding and fair to finally get a bit more worldwide exposure.

And lastly we thought the melody within Someone (Like You) was a shoe-in for a Bond movie soundtrack, if there was any movie series that you could soundtrack what would it be?

Not a particular Bond-freak myself but actually quite the cinephile, so your remark is wise and amusing! I have thought of making movie or short-movie soundtracks, given the highly cinematic and ambient nature of my music – both with VS and other. Perhaps an Aronofsky or Lynch movie, or a show like Carnivàle… maybe just an indie road movie. Something moody, eerie, psychological or even epic – and surely edgy!

Read the review of  Surface/Light @

The RingMaster Review 03/05/2012

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Nexhymn: Black Horizon

 

Carrying a definite feel that here is a band that could make a deep mark on metal in the future the debut EP from US blackened death metallers Nexhymn offers up six venomous slices of brutality to leave one satisfied and interested in hearing much more. Without taking the genre into parts unknown Black Horizon lays down a firm statement of a band on the rise with accomplished skill and invention and definite promise for the future.

From Colorado the band began in 2010, rising out from the ashes of Throcult. With a name derived from the combining of Latin word Nex and the word Hymn, their definitions of death, violent nature, slaughter, and simple song of praise respectively suit the music the band creates rather well. Their music is one that you cannot easily turn away from; its slight groove and grind elements adding an additive pull to the harsh and consumptive overall bulk of each track. As mentioned the release does not offer anything openly original but it compensates with fine craft and compulsive sounds.

Fronted by vocalist Holly Wedel, her delivery as impressively bestial and intrusive as heard anywhere, Nexhymn bring a passion and heart to their music which is evident. From the unavoidable intensity of Wedel, to the towering rhythms of Pete Gonzales who drives each song with a varied and strong control, the prowling bass riffs of Tyler Cantrell, and the striking guitar play of Rudy Hernandez and Ivan Alcala, the band is a tight and demanding presence in the ear which feeds off the senses like a permeating blackened fog. The music invades, expands into, and seeks every empty corner of the body to leave a sure vacuum once the release lays down its final note.

As the first track Decaying Monument strikes up its sounds of war one almost feels that is what they are being dragged into. The track is violent and destructive, it might not be the most brutal song heard to be honest but it is as intrusive and effective as most. Immediately one is aware of the skills of Gonzales, he is a major asset that leads and compliments the strong ability and play of the rest of the band. He holds it all tight and driven whilst the others can expand and flourish which they do more as the EP progresses and one feels in the time ahead as the sound evolves so will their individual presences.

     Undetermined Supplication and Repacious Temptest continue the very pleasing start, the first with a persistent groove lined eagerness whilst the second simply lurches across the emotions with a punishing and deliberate vindictive malice. Added to the opener there is a thinking that this is good stuff and very well brought forth but show us something more, the real Nexhymn. Which they do impressively with the best songs on Black Horizon in the shape of the title track and Exquisite Plague.

Black Horizon, the song, shifts intermittently from rampage to stomping to a predatory stroll through its length and is as intense, imaginative, and infectious as you could wish. The guitars whip the senses up into an eager recipient of the rampant pummelling beats and corruptive riffs whilst treating them to reserved but clear melodic invention. The following Exquisite Plague is equally ravenous as it grinds deep within its host. Again like its predecessor it strides with a confidence and pit borne intent to bring submission before its feet and accomplishes it to give thought of what a quite remarkable band Nexhymn have the prospect to become.

Closing on the brief instrumental Death Emotion the EP is a very satisfying release which shows in Nexhymn a band that has yet to evolve its own distinct sound but is well on the way which the just mentioned duo of songs give strong evidence for. Black Horizon deserves an investigation and Nexhymn a close attention as they grow into what one suspects will be a formidable and striking band.

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RingMaster 03/25/2012

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Cattle Decapitation: Monolith of Inhumanity

Without having a full and firm knowledge of the career and previous output of Californian death grinders Cattle Decapitation, there is still a feeling that it is not too far from the mark to claim their new album Monolith of Inhumanity is up there as possibly the best thing they have unleashed upon. The album is immense, a towering brutality that takes all that the band is known for to a deeper and harsher level whilst stretching themselves and the genre with an incisive invention and inspired originality. With previous album the excellent The Harvest Floor as the main reference to compare the new album with, there is a further defined intention and realisation on the new album to bring not only the aggression and combative directness but also themselves and their music as a whole into new and imaginative avenues.

Cattle Decapitation have not veered sharply away from the intense and dehabilitating extreme sounds they have been known for and cultured since their beginning in 1995, in fact they have turned that aspect up to flesh searing and bone snapping heights. Into this though they have brought irresistible melodic insertions, groove fuelled hooks and lures, diverse vocals, and multiple infectious invitations unlike anything the band has created before. These are used subtly and sparingly but when used they bring something special to the visceral decimation going on all around. Monolith of Inhumanity is outstanding and makes being punished by its limitless violence a pleasure.

Released via Metal Blade Records on May 8th Monolith of Inhumanity sees the first appearance of bassist Derek Engemann in songwriting and recording. Joining vocalist Travis Ryan, guitarist Josh Elmore, and David McGraw on drums and alongside producer Dave Otero (Allegaeon, Cephalic Carnage), together they have spawn an album which lives and breathes to annihilate the senses as it brings through its concept of where humanity will end up if it continues its current course. From the moment the opening track The Carbon Stampede swarms around and bears its heavy vindictive weight upon the ear you know Cattle Decapitation have not lost their might and viciousness but have increased it with relish. The track rages like a furnace as the riffs splinter the sinews holding the ear in place whilst twisting the senses into a defenceless molten obedience. It is a devastating start still only suggests the greater things to come.

The darkly grinning bass of Engemann in the following Dead Set In Suicide alongside devastating rhythms from McGraw send bestial claws straight into the soul but it is the impressively varied and contrasting guttural gratings of Ryan with presumably his own high higher pitched demonic chorus which whips the song to be an immediate highlight. With riffs puncturing the body like offspring from a semi-automatic and melodic guitar play as sharp as cheese wire the track is enormous.

The album though just gets better and better, from the consuming vehemence of A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat with more brilliant diverse vocals and …well, just about everything, through the spiteful deeply intrusive Gristle Licker with a groove that opens up in the latter stages as demanding and additive as heard anywhere, to Lifestalker a track which almost breaks out initially into a wanton grooved swing attack until its bestial heart reasserts itself, the quality simply rises and rises.

The best is saved to last though with the trio of tracks Do Not Resuscitate, Your Disposal, and the closing Kingdom Of Tyrants. The first of the three turns the senses into a splatter board for the debris from its uncompromising intrusions of blistering riffs, acidic invention, and ravenous vocals. As shown everywhere the production allows each member to express their individual agenda and malice to bring a fuller and open but no less titanic assault from Cattle Decapitation. Your Disposal is the best song on the album, bringing all the best elements on the album into one rampaging maelstrom of intensity, violation, and ingenuity. It is like being in the middle of a charnel pit as your skin and bone are flayed by the sounds.

Kingdom of Tyrants is equally impressive and unpredictably imaginative, the perfect creative and destructive end to an outstanding album. With essences of the likes of Carcass, Dimmu Borgir, and Cannibal Corpse spicing up their own distinct death, grind, and what is at times melodic black metal, Cattle Decapitation have let loose one of the best extreme metal albums in a long time. Monolith of Inhumanity will leave you on your knees and devoid of feeling but most of all it will leave you fully satisfied.

RingMaster 03/05/2012

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