Within the metal underground, it is fair to say that anticipation for the debut album from US band Skin Drone has been increasingly eager in many quarters. The web based project is the creative union of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Erik Martin of Critical Dismemberment and multi-instrumentalist/producer Otto Kinzel from Chemical Distance and the founder of Bluntface Records. Next month sees the release of debut album Evocation; a proposition offering emotionally and lyrically dark tales as raw and caustic as they are seductive and elegantly evocative. The album pulls the listener into ravenous experimental landscapes of imposing shadows and emotional turmoil shaped by a fusion of extreme, industrial, and avant-garde metal with provocative ambiences, to simplify it all. It is powerful and invigorating, and the source of a hunger to dig deeper into its heart. So with big thanks to Erik and Otto, that is what we have done as we explore the world of Skin Drone…
Hi Guys and thank you for sharing your time with us.
Can you first tell us how you both met?
Erik: We met through Operation: Underground [a compilation album on Blutface Records]. Critical Dismemberment was on that release and Otto mixed/mastered the song for us. From there, we became good friends throughout the months and when Otto approached me about Skin Drone, there was no way to say no.
Otto: After Operation: Underground, which my label Bluntface Records released, I started working with Critical Dismemberment much more and they eventually joined the label. So by that point I had already been talking with both Erik and Chase Fincher (who did all the mixing & mastering on Evocation) for some time. I was always impressed by both of them and we all became really good friends. Erik and I have a lot in common so I think we naturally connected on a musical and personal level. When I asked Erik if he’d be able to help me out with vocals on some songs he jumped at the chance. That first song was what ended up becoming Witching Hour, and Erik hit a home run with it! I was so blown away by what he wrote and performed that I knew we had to pursue this more. Long story short, here we are. And it’s funny because even though Chase isn’t a “member” per say of Skin Drone, he played a huge role in the final product because he’s the one that brought the tracks to life when he mixed the album.
As you have already touched on, you are both heavily involved in other projects, solo and with others, and Otto you with running Bluntface Records too; so when did the seeds to the actual project of Skin Drone first arise?
Otto: I had been trying to get a variation of Skin Drone off the ground for probably a year or so prior to hooking up with Erik. And I had basically no luck whatsoever. So when I started working with Critical Dismemberment, and subsequently got to know Erik and Chase better I knew that there was special talent there. As I mentioned, Witching Hour was the first song we collaborated on together. I had a rough demo with just guitar and drums recorded when I sent it to Erik to try his hand at it. I never had a serious vocalist attached to this project and the whole thing was basically dormant in my efforts to get it off the ground. Erik came back with a very impressive performance and lyrics, and I was blown away. I specifically remember thinking “damn, if we can make this work, even with 1,000 miles between us, we might be onto something really special”. And the momentum kept building with each song afterwards as both of us got more comfortable working & writing with each other. The chemistry was very natural; I don’t remember ever really having to “force” anything in the creative process.
What was the initial spark and indeed the moment where you knew it was going to work?
Erik: For me it was hearing the final mix of Witching Hour when we first started. It just felt right and when we really started to venture out into the experimental with Shepherd Of The Damned, we ran with it and embraced the sound we were crafting, that for me cemented that we were a force to be reckoned with.
Otto: Shepherd of the Damned was the first song we did where there were multiple changes in the timing, and in the overall feeling of the song. The levels of dynamics in that were tricky to start but once we had the final version, I think we both knew we had stepped our game up a notch.
Did you set out with a particular intent and direction for Skin Drone or let things organically arise?
Otto: Everything that happened was organic. Sure, we tried to push in a particular direction. At first I think we just wanted to pursue the technical death metal type of sound. But funny enough, the more we “tried” to push for one specific style, the more things spun out of control and took on a life of their own. It was fairly early on that we realized that we needed to just “run with it” so to speak, and however the songs came out is how they came out. It’s hard to explain because so much of it was done by “feel”; but everything was organic.
As you mentioned you live hundreds of miles apart and more. So I am assuming a physical coming together for the project is near to impossible, so how does the writing and creating process work between you online?
Erik: Usually it starts off with a demo that we toss back and forth a few times until we have something that we feel out did what we accomplished with the last song. Some take longer than others but for the most part it is no different than writing in the same room; the only difference being that when we are communicating our ideas to each other, we have to be very clear as to what we are trying to achieve sonically. There is always the potential if we are having an off day that it could derail the entire song, but we always catch ourselves before that happens.
Is this a time consuming process in the creation of songs and do you work on them one at a time or work away on numerous tracks at the same time?
Otto: I’d say no more or less of a time consuming process that what a “regular” band goes through. Some songs naturally take longer than others to complete but as a whole we work at a very efficient pace. That’s because both Erik and I each do a lot of work on our own time to develop our parts and work thing out, before presenting them to the other person. And yes we’ll typically have a few songs continuously in the works. For me it helps because if I’m stuck on a certain song or just not having any luck then I can go work on something else, and still make progress without holding the whole project up.
You have just released your striking and enjoyably often disturbing debut album, Evocation. How long has it been in the making?
Erik: If memory serves me correctly, we wrote the first song in autumn of 2014 and finished the last one in the beginning of summer in 2015. It was then gone back over and mixed/mastered in the winter of 2015. We have the luxury of being able to take our time and not have to a label or pay for studio time, I feel like that lack of pressure really shows in the music.
Is it a project which has had to grow around other commitments or were you able to create it in a period of no other musical distractions?
Erik: For me, I had just finished my parts on the Critical D debut, so for 99% of this, I was musically not distracted.
Otto: I had no distractions musically. I always try to make sure I can give 100% focus and energy to the material when I’m in writing /recording mode.
Can you give some idea to its themes?
Erik: The themes are mostly centred in occultism, rituals, witchcraft, paganism and even some calling out thieves in organized religion. There are also certain personal elements hidden in plain sight, but we leave those to the listener to decide what is fiction and what is real life. It adds a level of mysticism that we build upon musically.
I was going to ask about that; as much as it trespasses the senses and psyche, there are just as evocative moments of melancholic beauty and intimate psychosis to songs. So to push for more insight, how much of their inspiration and exploration comes from the emotionally personal side and experiences of you two, lyrically and musically?
Erik: Lyrically during the writing process I was in a very dark place. Dealing with vices and very confused on what life even meant; that included the people in it. You could liken it to just doing what I had to do in order to keep breathing. All that translated to some of the darkest and angriest lyrics I had ever written. The best example of this is Salvation. That song is about a spirit that drives his killer insane and ultimately kills him and makes it all look like a ritualistic suicide. If you really pay attention to the lyrics, you start to see a very personal story of being consumed by something and the only way out is death it seems. There are examples of this spread out through the entire album; it is all just up to everyone’s individual interpretation of the lyrics.
For us Evocation is the darkest most invasive nightmare, yet equally at times, a shadowed but understanding emotional affair between listener and song. How much was this deliberately sculpted and again how much an organic evolution?
Otto: From my perspective, watching how Erik was so methodical; in his approach to writing the lyrics and developing the themes, I would say it was deliberate. He did a wonderful job orchestrating how it all went together, like an architect. For the music and the basic song structures, all of that was organic and natural. But when it came time to add the lyrics and really focus in on shifting the songs into their “final” state, Erik was the guy commanding the ship. I know how personal and painful a lot of these lyrics are to him and I’m so impressed with his commitment to the art.
There is also a real cinematically ambient feel to some parts. This is a style in your composing which you might explore more, or already may have?
Erik: The cinematic effects (I hope) remain a staple of our sound. Already in writing some rough ideas for record two, those ambient parts will go along with the heavy parts and we will throw in some curveballs when it comes to the time changes and the melancholic parts of the music. I think we are hungrier to really explore the depths of what we can do sonically and evolve as a band.
As we mentioned earlier, you both have other projects which between them I can say have given some of our favourite releases in recent times. When you get an idea for one, is there now an element of stepping back and looking to see if it might fit better with say Skin Drone or vice versa?
Erik: 100% of what I write in my solo project is open for us to try and make a Skin Drone song. You just never know when you put something together that you think will not work actually turns into something that makes the record. Sometimes stepping back from the craziness for a day or two can yield some badass results.
Otto: I had some random riffs and drum patterns kicking around here and there, that for one reason or another just never got used. It was fun to go back and rediscover some of that stuff. I record tons of music, almost every day. So I have a huge catalogue of material that runs the gamut from metal and industrial to dark ambient and more instrumental/score type of compositions. Most of this I just do to capture an idea so almost everything is unfinished and in a “demo” type of state. But I like being able to capture an idea and then have it saved, so someday later on if I find a place for it I can go back and see if it works.
There is no escaping the raw and bold kaleidoscope of styles within Evocation either. What are the artists or flavours which have most inspired your own inventions would you say?
Erik: For me it was a lot of Deconstruction era Devin Townsend Project. Another I was reminded just recently was the Declaration album from Bleeding Through; most notably the song Sister Charlatan. The heaviness along with orchestral parts was really my first taste of the two blended together and since then has always been something I’ve wanted to incorporate into music. Lastly, Landon Tewers who uses a lot of ambience and really dark imagery with his lyrics was a huge influence. He was my introduction onto whispering vocals and I absolutely loved it.
Otto: Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Mike Patton and almost all of his various bands, Ministry, KMFDM, Obscura, Gorguts, Nirvana, Kyuss…those are a just a few. If you give me long enough I can come up with a ton of stuff haha.
What comes next for Skin Drone and yourselves individually?
Erik: For Skin Drone, it’s riding the album cycle until there is no more gas in the tank and then some. After that we probably take a short break and get back into writing the next record with our foot mashed on the gas. With Critical D on hiatus, Skin Drone is my one and only focus.
Otto: Like Erik said, we’re going to promote the hell out of Evocation until there is literally nothing left to promote. We’re prepared to work as hard as we’ve ever had to work in our lives to get the music out there and make sure people hear it.
After that? I think we’ll take a short rest so we can recharge our creative batteries and then jump right back into writing the next album. We already have some rough ideas kicking around for themes.
Once again many thanks for chatting with us. Anything you would like to add?
Otto: Evocation drops June 14. Please pre-order your copy at http://skindrone.bandcamp.com/releases!
Check out our review of Evocation @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/skin-drone-evocation/
The RingMaster Review 19/05/2016
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