Extreme metal comes in diverse expanses of sound, styles, and hunger but there are few which explore and evolve limits and depths as powerfully and inventively as Australian colossus The Amenta. Their new album Flesh is Heir is a leviathan of craft and intensity, a release which ravages the senses and emotions in an onslaught of insidious manipulation and intrusion. To find out more about the band, their scintillating album, and the core of their creativity we had the pleasure of talking to Timothy Pope from the band who took us into the heart of The Amenta.
Hello Timothy and welcome to the site, many thanks for taking time out to chat with us about the band and your excellent new album, Flesh Is Heir.
Thank you very much for the interest and the interview!
We called Flesh Is Heir in our review an album ‘which is schizophrenic in its touch and overwhelming in its breath, but most of all a towering tsunami of dangerous imagination which simply consumes the passions.’ Has this been an organic culture across your time which has evolved or something you have deliberately worked towards?
I think that our music and that “schizophrenic” nature that you mentioned are quite natural for us. We try to make sure that every note or word that we put into the recording is honest. I think a lot of bands that try to be crazy and schizophrenic miss that mark. If the music is not honest then it becomes ridiculous. If you are just adding different, “strange”, elements for their own sake then you are not expressing yourself as an artist, merely trying to project a false front. Our music has evolved over time because we are constantly evolving ourselves, as people, and our process is about a constant search for the ideas that resonate with us. When we write we throw a lot of ideas around. Most of them are fucking terrible or dishonest and they get cut and never make it into songs. It is the ideas that are truly honest and interesting that make our spines shake. Those are the ideas that we search for. And, as we have changed as people, the ideas that resonate with us have changed so our music can tend to differ from song to song and album to album.
The only thing that we have “worked towards” is that honesty. When you first start writing music you have to work out any influences so that what remains is the purity of your own subconscious. Early on, the ideas can be a little confused but as time passes and you experiment and get more experience the ideas crystallise and clearer. The more we write the more the music becomes genre-less and solely The Amenta.
…Your most predatory piece of work to date too?
I don’t really think of our music in those terms. I like reading them in reviews and interviews of course because we want to give people very strong impressions of the album but I don’t think in those terms. The albums have all been so mixed up with my own growth and psyche that the touchstones and signifiers that I use are much more personal. I remember the recording process, the ethos behind the sound choice. I think this album is definitely more organic and human than previous albums and I think it is a very vicious piece of work but I can’t compare it to our previous albums. It’s like picking a favourite child. I might have a favourite but I’ll never voice it.
I am not sure in our review we successfully portrayed the wealth of textures and eclectic sound within the onslaught of the album, from the inside how would you describe it to those yet to feel its glorious creative brutality?
We consider our music to be Extreme Music. It isn’t death metal or black metal and it certainly isn’t the dreaded industrial tag. Extreme music suggests that the music’s only categorical sound is extremity and I think we have that in spades. I don’t mean extremity in the sense that we are the fastest or lowest tuned band with hyper-technical bass sweep picking and quadruple bass. I mean extreme in that it always pushes boundaries, whether just for us as artists or for the audience as well.
We obviously incorporate a lot of different sounds in our music. We grew up listening to Death and Black Metal so obviously we come from that background and it appears in our sound but we never set out to write a “Death Metal” riff. We just plug our guitars in and see where they take us. We use a lot of effects and processing which is more common to dub music. We will take recorded guitars and run them through computers and affect them in real time back in to the song. We sample a lot of household objects and found pieces of metal which people tend to confuse with industrial (fucking ridiculous term). We like the discovery of sound so we will try to make music from anything. We are ugly-minded people with ugly things to say so obviously the music ends up being very dark and dirty. And I guess that is the best way to describe it. This is ugly music, made by ugly people, for ugly people.
Flesh Is Heir is your first proper album, without dismissing the experiment of V01D in 2011, since n0n in 2008. How long has it been in the making from the first seeds of ideas and how do you feel you have moved on and expanded in sound and intent from that previous album?
Flesh is Heir took a while to write and record. We had a few ideas early on, after the recording of “n0n’ but nothing really concrete. One of the issues that delays our writing every time is that our inspiration is quite fragile. If the idea that we are working on is too similar to something that we have recorded before then we get bored and discard it. It’s not so much a conscious decision not to repeat ourselves as a Darwinian process of evolution. We are uninspired by ideas that are repeated so we have to keep experimenting until we find the new and exciting direction that is going to inspire us to continue writing. After our first album, “Occasus” the ideas that inspired us were very electronic. We were bored with guitars because we had just spent five years writing and recording an album and then we toured those songs for two years. Riff based ideas didn’t get us excited so we found our way with noise and electronic effects which pointed the way for “n0n”. After that experience with “n0n” we really couldn’t go down that path again so we experimented until we found a more organic and immediate direction. Rather than constantly polishing and refining ideas, we through them down very rough and ready and just tried to capture the magic as simply as possible.
It took a long time to get to that point, but after that the skeletons of the songs came together quite quickly. It then took a long time to record as we all now live all over the country and it took a while to get everyone’s parts correct.
I think our growth is a very natural one. As I mentioned above, we are constantly experimenting so all our albums are different. With this album I think we have become more adept at getting our ideas across. In the past we would have recorded layers and layers of synths and effects but this time
Obviously there was the Chokehold EP last year and the Teeth EP after, but just looking the albums, does having such a long gap between them lead to more compromising in creating a new release, the time allowing an excess of ideas and explorations which cannot all be fitted in a release needing to be culled to some extent?
We are probably quite unique when compared to other bands in that we have never written a song that has not been recorded or released. The only song we had in the vaults was the track “V01D” from the multimedia release of the same name (still available free from Bandcamp). We recorded that song originally for “Occasus” but it stuck out a bit like a sore thumb so we canned it for a little while. Everything else has been released so there aren’t any full songs that have been culled due to the length of time. There are definitely avenues that we venture down but never fully develop into a full length album, though, as reflected in both the “Chokehold” and “Teeth” EPs. They were experiments to get the creative juices following. While they are not the same sound as “Flesh is Heir” (with the obvious exception of the track “Teeth” which is taken from “Flesh is Heir”, they are the genesis of ideas that became “Flesh is Heir”. For example, “Chokehold” was an experiment in immediacy. We write, recorded and mixed that song in six hours which is an absolute record for us. It gave us the ideas of how we should approach the material for “Flesh is Heir”.
But those examples aside, all of our bad ideas are jettisoned before they take shape, as they don’t excite us, while the good ones are polished and reworked into the songs that you hear. So there isn’t a lot of lost material. We may not be quick but we are economical.
Did you approach Flesh Is Heir any differently to your previous releases going into the studio?
Definitely. It was all about that immediacy. In the past, when we had a great idea, we worked and worked on it, adding different elements and building up huge, dense, walls of sound. The result of this is that we tended to lose some of the original magic of the idea, but gain some other magic in the process. This time we wanted to preserve as much of the original magic as possible so we tried to move quickly and not over think things.
One thing that was definitely different, for me as the samples and noise guy, was that I didn’t agonise over micro programming as I have in the past. For “n0n” particularly, I spend months on each song, tweaking audio, creating sounds and programming automation. This time I tried to be a bit more immediate and the end result was a lot more pleasant and a shit-load quicker. Instead of programming synths to get the sounds I wanted I made a huge bank of samples. I recorded all sorts of things around my house, from oven trays and baby toys to electric fans and heater grills. I also grabbed some tiny samples from various modern composers. I then made patches from these samples that I could play from my controller keyboard and I mapped the knobs and faders of my controller to various effects on my laptop. This allowed me to play the sample like a keyboard sound and mangle the sound in real time as it was recorded rather than spending hours automating the changes. It was a much more “live” process and I think it adds to the organic and human nature of the album.
Another big change for us was that we all recorded in different parts of the country. We have always been a band that is very geographically spread out but, with the introduction of Cain [Cressall, vocals] into the band it became ridiculous. Cain lives in Perth, while the rest of us at least live in the same state of New South Wales. Cain is about a three or four day drive away through inhospitable desert. So we couldn’t get together each weekend to nut out the ideas. We had to do a lot over email and Dropbox files to each other. It was a slow process but I think what we lost in time we gained in fresh ideas. As we were all working pretty independently at points, it allowed us to hear ideas completely unfiltered. I think it helps to break open the doors and let chaos in sometimes.
Tell us about the theme across the album.
“Flesh is Heir” is about the war between two sides of the human psyche. There are two poles between which every human oscillates. The first is the one we term “The Obliterate”. This is the aspect that desires to be completely annihilated in something greater than itself. Some people assuage the needs of The Obliterate through drinking, or drugs, or mass violence is also effective. Obviously the most black metal example would be those that drown themselves in religion. This aspect tries to escape the worries and troubles that are inherent in existence. The other side is called “The Realist”. The Realist is the aspect that tries to further define the self, amidst chaos. When problems are presented to the Realist it begins to work out ways to overcome and continue to exist. Everyone has these two poles, though some lean further to one side than the other.
“Flesh is Heir” is structured as an argument between these two sides. I believe that the war between these two aspects and the tension created is, in fact, the energy that we call life.
How does the songwriting process work within The Amenta and do new unexplored ideas come first or more often evolve from the already established spine of your sound?
Our song writing process is constantly changing and evolving but basically there is a small group of us who control the aesthetics of the band. We have never been the kind of band that can write in a rehearsal room with the whole band. I don’t believe that it is truly possible for a band to exist as a democracy. Dictatorship is the only way to get a pure direction. Democracy is a series of compromises which can have some lucky results but tends, over time, towards homogenization. We are lucky in that most of us can play a few instruments, so ideas can come from any instrument first. Sometimes it’s a riff, a noise loop, or drum pattern. We always try to push ourselves to find new ideas that will inspire us to continue. As I mentioned before, if the idea isn’t interesting and original it will get quickly jettisoned.
I don’t think the ideas evolve from the spine of our sound. I think the spine of our sound evolves from the ideas. The spine of our sound is a restless bastard. Songs like “Cell” which is almost trip hop, are just as important to the overall sound of The Amenta as a more straight up “metal” song like “Disintegrate”. I would like to think that our albums are defined by their refusal to be defined so the spine of our sound is not concrete at all. Of course, I am just the artist so maybe I am full of shit. Only the listener can really say.
Quickly going back to the EPs earlier mentioned especially Chokehold, were they part of the process in creating Flesh Is Heir or ‘merely updates’ for the fans?
They were both. We are well aware that it takes us a very long time to record albums and in that time, people move on or forget. We experienced that between our first and second albums. We used to read forums where people would state, very knowledgably, that we had broken up. At that time we were working 7 days a week, 6-8 hours a day on “n0n” so we thought that was pretty ridiculous. But we go into a self-imposed hibernation when we record so we don’t play live and we have never really been active on social networks or that ilk so I can understand why people would think we had died.
This time around we wanted to give people a little something during the wait so that we would still be top of mind when the album came out. But we also experiment a lot and we decided that it was worthwhile opening the doors a little and showing a part of the process to the public. “Choke Hold” came out of a period where we had terrible writers block. Everything sounded too similar to our previous work and we couldn’t find the “way in” to the album. So we set ourselves a task of writing a solid song as quickly as possible. Erik [Miehs, guitars] and I bought some beers and sat down in front of our computer one evening. We programmed a simple, repetitive drum machine loop and he played guitar while I played bass. Very quickly an idea developed. This showed us the magic of immediacy. With “Flesh is Heir”, while the sound of the albums is worlds apart from “Choke Hold”, the process was similar in a lot of ways. We worked quickly, found magic and moved on to the next part. We hope to record a few more ideas like this in the future as we enjoyed writing under these self-imposed limits. It gave us something to struggle against and rules to break.
The keys infuse your music in a way unlike any other band. How do you see them as an aspect of your creativity and their use?
As the keyboard, samples and noise man I think they are extremely important to our sound. Unlike most bands, we don’t see keyboards as fluff on the top of guitars. I hate most keyboard parts. Bands use synths with shitty sounding orchestra patches to pretend that they can afford an orchestra session. It sounds like terrible computer game music. They write a song and then paint this fluff over the top. It isn’t relevant to the song at all. Our music is very different. When we write we are trying to create interlocking parts. The percussion is as important as the guitars which are as important as the keys which are as important as the vocals. Take one element away and it doesn’t work. We use sounds that steer away from the keyboard clichés. A synthesiser/sampler is the most versatile instrument in the world. It can sound like anything you want, yet people try to make it sound normal, like choirs and orchestras. We like to bend sound and create new, stranger ideas. There are choirs and orchestras on “Flesh is Heir”, yes, but they are not shitty keyboard presets. They are samples that I have created and then pitched lower than normal so they start to get harmonically unstable and warble sickeningly.
Often people mistake our instrumentation. Sometimes what you think is a guitar is actually a sample. Sometimes what you think is a keyboard is a guitar and sometimes what you think is a sample is a vocal. We like the idea of sonic manipulation and taking standard instrumentation past the point of familiarity.
The Amenta has been raging storms from the beginning of the previous decade, conquering the metal scene in Australia before making indelible marks further afield. How has the situation for a band at home and in a wider scenario changed in that time in your experience?
At home it has changed considerably. We had existed as a band since 2000 but we didn’t play live until 2005. By the time we began to play live we had built up a substantial buzz about the band without trying. Our first gig in our home town of Sydney was a headline gig that had about 700-800 people. Of course, that bubble burst after a while as we stopped playing live and knuckled down into our second album. When we came back we had changed the line-up and the sound considerably which, I think, alienated people. Which was fine by us of course. We enjoyed surprising people. Now we are almost considered one of the elder statesmen of the Australian bands, which is pretty amusing. In that time we’ve always tried to bring the biggest shows that we can to the stage which meant we have made little to no money as all of our income gets chewed up by production costs but we wouldn’t change it for anything. We enjoy creating a show. I think it is important to provide an experience. Nothing is as boring as going to a gig to see your mate’s band at the local Tavern. We want to bring some magic and theatre to the process.
Internationally our touring has been a real eye opener. We went from being pretty big fish in the tiny pond of Australia to being fucking plankton in the Atlantic. It was awesome. We played really shit dives to smaller crowds and we had to work fucking hard to convert them. But we did it and we will keep doing it.
I think the music industry has changed considerably in our time both internationally and in Australia. We released our first album just as the bottom dropped out of the industry with downloads. We have seen consistently diminishing royalty checks with each album though our profile has risen exponentially. But there are also a lot more options that we can now explore. For example, we were able to release the “V01D” release absolutely free and independently which would not have been possible a few years before. While I think there are obvious downfalls to the destruction of the music industry the other side of it is that it all the rules and regulations are falling by the wayside. A band has so much more freedom than they have ever had. It will just take a few smart people to work out a new model and I think we, as artists, will be much better off.
There has been plenty of line-up changes in that time too which you can only assume has aided the consistently evolving invention and exploration of the band, but has it equally held it back too in some ways?
The line-up changes hold us back only in the sense that it makes it hard to tour or record if we don’t have a vocalist or drummer. Artistically and aesthetically it isn’t really a problem. The band has always hinged around Erik and me. We write the music and lyrics and we envision the sounds and art of the band. We pretty much recorded the first two albums as a two piece with session members and we could do the same again in a heartbeat. But on the other hand these new members have been a real boon in terms of shouldering the burden. For the first time ever I have been comfortable enough to allow a vocalist to write some lyrics for the band. Cain wrote two songs for “Flesh is Heir” which was really cool. Dan [Quinlan, bass] is a sound engineer, as well as a killer bass player, so his professional input was priceless when it came to mixing the album. Robin [Stone, drums], who is unfortunately no longer with the band, is an incredible drummer who really brought our ideas to life and had a lot of killer input into the parts. We have been very lucky in that way.
Where do you as individuals and as a band take influences from more often than not nowadays and how has it changed from your early days?
We never take influence only inspiration. I think that is the mark of true artists. Influence is a negative word. It implies that we were forced from a path by outside factors. Inspiration, on the other hand, is something that encourages you down the path you have chosen. The art that I find inspiring is when I can see that the artists are expressing themselves uniquely. It is this unique language that is the aim for all true artists. You can’t express yourself in someone else’s words, which would be influence; you have to find the language that is completely unique to you. That is when art becomes exciting and interesting. We find inspiration across a plethora of different mediums and genres. I can’t and won’t speak for the other member of The Amenta but my inspirations are very varied by necessity. I always look for art that excites me and that only comes when the artwork is saying something new or in a new way. I find these works very inspiring and my great joy in life is searching them out. In the distant past I heard a lot of that in Black Metal and some Death Metal. There were no rules and bands were experimenting with sounds and voices and it was much more scattershot and varied in quality but when it hit it was fucking amazing.
As I have got older I have become a lot more jaded and I have had to look further afield to find these inspirations. Lately I have been listening to SWANS a lot; they were a direct inspiration for “The Obliterate” aspect of “Flesh is Heir”. I have also been listening to some backpacker hip hop which is something I never thought I would be into but I am finding the range of expression very inspiring. I have always been an avid reader of fiction and I’ve always taken a lot of inspiration from those I read. I’ve recently “enjoyed” (as much as you can) “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce which blew my mind. It is constantly inventive and every single word is a pun. The amount of work that went into it is staggering. I haven’t seen a truly amazing film in a little while as I haven’t had time but in the past I have been very inspired by filmmakers such as Jodorowsky, Cronenberg and Lynch.
Tell us about the great artwork for Flesh Is Heir, an aspect you can sense is very important to the band for each release.
The cover photo, and the photos in the booklet, was taken by a frequent collaborator of ours, Jess Mathews. Jess has worked with us a lot in the past. She is responsible for the film clips for “Teeth” from “Flesh is Heir” as well as “Vermin” from “V01D”. She gets our imagery and ethos. This image was taken with assistance from Cain, who also models in the shot. We gave Jess the idea of what the album was about and asked her to interpret the idea as she saw fit. What you see is what she came up with. She took Cain out one freezing night and strung him up from a tree in chains. I like the image because it is ambiguous. The character is obviously being held against their will but if you look at his hand around his neck it is almost pressing the chains to his throat. This ties in with the idea that people are constantly at war between their impulses of obliteration and survival.
I am very happy with the cover image. I think it is very striking and human. It marries well with the more organic and natural nature of the music. I hate the typical Photoshop monstrosities that a lot of bands use for covers. It looks like shit I used to make when I first got Photoshop. It’s cheap, tacky and it is why people laugh at metal bands. Dragons are not cool you fucking nerd. I think we need to bring the photo back to the forefront of graphic design. There is something much more honest and immediate about it.
What comes next for The Amenta, tours?
We have just announced a small headlining tour in Australia with our good friends in RUINS. These will be killer shows as we are bringing a lot of our new gadgets on tour. Our Lighting/Audio Visual Producer, Shane “Swanee” Thomson, has purchased a whole bunch of new lights and lasers as well as some Go-Pro cameras that can be stuck directly to guitars etc. We will record every show with the intention of releasing them at some point in some form.
After that we’ll definitely look at playing internationally again. We just came back from Indonesia and it has given us our first taste of Asia. We’d love to get back there as it is a complete unknown to us. Then there is, of course, Europe and the Americas which it would be great to get back to. It all comes down to the right tour at the right time and at the right price.
Once again a big thank you for talking with us, any last words you would like to share?
Thank you very much again. It was a pleasure talking with you. For those of you who have read through this entire thing and are not yet turned off by my arrogance: Go get “Flesh is Heir”. It is the best album that you will hear this year. Guaranteed. It wipes the floor with the shit that you think is extreme.
Something we wholly agree with!!!
Read the review of Flesh is Heir @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/the-amenta-flesh-is-heir/
The RingMaster Review 25/05/2013
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