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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Witchrist Interview

After over a year of trying to nail this down, I can finally present to you the following in-depth interview with Shawn/Abomination and Alex/Occultorture "Bad News Brown" on the subject of all things WITCHRIST!

1) The latest Witchrist album 'The Grand Tormentor' has been heavily influenced by the eastern myth known as The Ramayana or Ramakien. Can you please give us a break down of how you have represented this story in the music and Lyrics of the album? For example what songs represent what parts of the Ramayana and how?

The majority of the tracks on the album relate to the ancient tale and also the murals contained at Wat Phra Kaew. Once again this is Witchrist's interpretation of the epic and the lyrics have been released with the album for this purpose.

Examples of murals contained at Wat Phra Kaew

2) On both 'The Grand Tormentor' and your previous album 'Beheaded Ouroboros ' a dark Hindu theme has featured in the art work, lyrics and even Sanskrit translations of the lyrics. Why have you chosen this theme? Is it something that Witchrist will continue with?

Having members of Asian hertiage does play some part in this decision, yes this will continue.

3) I'm aware that you have been working on new material. Could you please give some indications of what lyrical and musical directions this is headed in? Perhaps some titles if they exist yet? I'm interested to find out what other parts of eastern mythology you might be covering.

New material is currently being completed for the Antediluvian split 7" and perhaps another EP. The lyrical concepts are of a similar direction as the song "The Grand Tormentor" - ie. centred around a number of deities and their infliction of doom upon mankind. We will explore sources in the Puranas and certain sects of Buddhism to compile our most sinister material to date. No titles can be revealed as of yet as we are awaiting the finalisation of the material. 

Note: While no description of the new music was given in this answer, I was given the privilege of hearing an untitled work in progress 6 minute track. What I can tell you is that it sounded like a more developed and epic version of the music music on 'The Grand Tormentor'. If this track is anything to go by, future Witchrist will top the current material and be something to get excited about.

4) Despite the eastern themes, the music of Witchrist is generally rooted in western death metal using traditional instruments. Although it was briefly touched on with the intro of "Adoration Of Black Messiah" on the 'Headless Oroborus' album, Have you considered utitlising eastern instruments, rhythms and or/melodies in the music of Witchrist? If not why? If so how and when will we hear it?

That is our way of presenting Witchrist, we use our own weapons and what we have ingrained in us. I listen to a select amount of Indian music and there is a depth to it which goes beyond simply playing an instrument and scale, you could describe this as Occult. Attempting to add these melodies to metal can result in mediocrity if not done correctly or without proper thought. We will use segments of Eastern music sparingly and with relation to that which is contained in the song. 

5) One last question on the eastern occult theme. Obviously you have spent time researching the darker side of side of eastern religions. Have you at any time been a practitioner of any of these? for inspiration or otherwise? If so please elaborate.

I was raised in a traditional Hindu household, however as I grew older I was on a different path and stepped away from the more mainstream thought of Hinduism. Though the theory is a strong base for Witchrist I believe the traditional practices are best left to certain groups who follow the religion as a cultural aspect of society. The music of Witchrist will always be our ritual of darkness.

6) Witchrist is part of a group of bands self labeled as ‘Doom cult’. It currently only involves yourselves and Diocletian, but has included Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus. How did the 'Doom Cult' concept come about and why? What defines a ‘Doom Cult’ band? Are there likely to be any new edition to it’s fold in the future? If so who/what?

If you listen to Diocletian and Witchrist you have a glimpse at what Doom Cult is. We don't take applications.

7) That leads into a technical question about the 'Doom Cult' sound. Through frequenting the same rehearsal studio that both Witchrist and Diocletian use, I've noticed that between both bands you have a sizable collection of old NZ made 'Holden' amps. Why is that you have chosen to use these? What is it that they do that other Amplifiers don't? Are there any specific models of 'Holden' that you use? Why? Is there any other musical equipment (strings, speakers, pedals, guitars, drums etc) that is important to your sound? If so what and why?

The death tone achieved through these Holden valves are key factors in our choice, it is characteristic of Witchrist's sound. Both me and Occultorture have been using Holden in rehearsal for a long time, they are indestructible and noisy. Ultimately, the attitude dictates the direction of which the equipment is used.

8) Your recent video for 'Wasteland of Thataka' shows the band performing with images of skulls, smoke and a mysterious masked figure. After some brief research I have learned that 'Thataka' (Tatakā or Taraka (ताड़का) or Tadaka) is a 'Crow Demoness' in the Ramayana. She was cursed the loss of her beautiful physique and transformed hideous demonic creatures with a cruel, cannibalistic nature (Rakshasas). Thataka then inhabited a forest near the river Ganges that became known as the 'Forest of Thataka'. There she terrorized the people, devouring anyone who dared to set foot in that forest. After reading the lyrics to the song, my assumption is that the video symbolises 'Thataka' as the masked figure, her reign in the forest or 'wasteland' being depicted in the smoke and darkness, with the skull representing her many victims. How close am I?

Though the concept of the track may have a foundation with the Tataka demoness, the video and music should transcend thought. Therefore, the exact meaning behind the video is not easily described in words and it is best for the audience to interpret it on their own accord like you have done.

9) Witchrist and Doom Cult seem to have become quite a self sufficient working machine. Alex does all your artwork (Read a short interview with him on this subject at the end of this article), Cam does all the mixing, mastering and I believe soon the engineering of your recordings, Brendan directed your video and (as I understand) does all the managerial stuff and you run your own distro label 'Goat Gear' where among other things, your releases are available in NZ. Is there anything I've missed out? Was this something that was intended or has it come about naturally over time? What else would you take control of if you had the opportunity? Why?

Yes you could say we are organized chaos. As for expansion... Why not? This is only the beginning. 

As you have mentioned we all contribute certain characteristics to the Cult, I still believe it is essential to place the individual aside for the bigger picture, greater purpose. in the case of Doom Cult our intentions are to invest in what we truly believe is worthy of our time and energy. 

10) Witchrist have an interesting stage aesthetic consisting of minimal lighting, smoke, covered faces and hoods. What mood or feeling are you intending to evoke with this? What was the original inspiration of the the hoods? Is their anything that you'd like to add to your stage presentation that you haven't yet, or would if their were no parameters restricting you? If so what?

We embody the spirit of our music, its a permanent mindset and our intensity does not waiver in anything we do. We do not NEED to have particular clothing in order to do this.. if we discover the hoods are unsuitable we will discard them.... The music should be the ultimate component of the RITUAL. Though at the same time bands with weak stage presence only degregate themselves., perhaps this means they should not be creating that type of music.

11) Thanks Shawn for an enlightening interview into the world of Witchrist. Is there anything else you'd like to say in closing? Perhaps a plug for 'Goat Gear' if you want?


Doom Cult ///
Goat Gear ///
Osmose Productions ///
I chose to ask Alex/Occultorture "Bad News Brown" the following questions so as to get a first hand insight into Witchrist cover art, but also to explore his art as a whole.  Continue reading...

1) Could you please give us a brief rundown on how you started out as an artist, leading up to becoming the well known underground metal cover artist you are now? What were some of your key influences that lead to you developing the unique style you have now?

I've been drawing since I can remember, but never studied art formally. Only after studying graphic design did I realize that a 9-5 job wasn't for me. I followed my own path and somehow arrived where I am now.

Influences are infinite, but the seed for it all was seeing stippling for the first time (probably on a Metallica or Napalm Death record) and thinking it was such a painstakingly detailed technique, more extreme than simple hatching. I had to learn how to do it. Other than this I don't think much about having a particular style.

2) Obviously being a member of Witchrist, the band gets to be in the privileged position of having lots of highly detailed, quality internal and external album art. What research have you done into the eastern and hindu imagery that adorns Witchrist album covers? How long did it take you to complete all of the art work for “The Grand Tormentor” and particularly “Beheaded Ouroboros”? What techniques and tools do you use in your art?

Each album would've taken somewhere between 6 and 12 months each whilst also working on commissions. I read several important 'eastern' texts in research for the art but really only really took base concepts to make my/our own. Traditional depictions were perverted and combined with other ideas related or otherwise. As mentioned above stippling is the main technique, although more line work and black ink washes have come into play as of late. 

3) You recently traveled to the US to take part in an art exhibition “Invocation I”. Which along with your self featured the work of AntiChrist Kramer and a number of other Metal cover artists. How did it come about? Tell us about how it went and what the highlights were. What did you gain from it?

Invocation was my first exhibition as well as my first time visiting the States so it was an all round amazing experience. Eternal gratitude to Rick/DB Think Tank. It was a great insight in Hollywood and connectivity of it all. I met a lot of great people, saw a lot of great art and ate a lot of great food, but it was still just a taste. I'll be back.

4) What are your favorite pieces of your own artwork? Ultimately where would you like to go with your art long term? 
I aim to work on bigger and more diverse projects in terms of size, audience and medium. It doesn't matter if it involves metal or even music at all, as long as I'm able to create. And as for favourites it's hard to say but the Mitochondrion art is up there as well as The Grand Tormentor. I see every new drawing as a step forward mind you and 2013 will hold the biggest steps yet.

5) What should people do if they would like to get you to do art work for them? Any last comments?
Don't go looking for snakes, you might find them;

Alex has these available for sale.  Email him if interested.

Friday, January 25, 2013

2012 International Roundup part 2 - Sanguinary Misanthropia, WaterWays, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Hotel Wrecking City Traders and Bonehunter

This is the last of the 2012 round ups. The longer I’ve worked on them the more I’ve realised could be included. But I’ve got to stop somewhere and I’m sure those other releases will find their place around here at the appropriate time...

Sanguinary Misanthropia - Loathe Over Will ( Supremacy Through Intolerance)

At the time of writing, I will be getting to see these guys play tomorrow  tonight at “APOCRYPHAL CONGREGATION OF RITUAL DEATH” where I’m expecting to be pulverized by an impressive performance of intense dark and rhythmic Black Metal. But I’ll talk more about that later.

‘Loathe over Will’ is a slow but rewarding grower of an album. It’s full of interesting percussion, rhythmic changes and subtle melodies both in the music and vocals. This, of course is all flavoured with aggressive energy and dark hatred of everything. The title track, ‘Bellum ad Internecionem’ and opening tune ‘Revelations 16:4 - 6 (Ritual Opening)’ are particular stand out tracks for me. Both of which reflect the previous description very well. 

The thing I believe could make ‘Loathe Over Will’ a better listen however, is neither to do with the bands performance nor song writing ability. In fact both of those things are brilliant. It’s actually in the production, which is oddly also solid. It’s something in the production that I can’t quite put my finger on. I think it’s either that the guitars are slightly too dominant in the mix and don’t allow the drums and vocals to breathe as much as they should, or it’s because the recording has been pushed slightly too hot during the mastering process, resulting in the music’s natural dynamics being flattened. It may even be a combination of both or neither of those things. Whatever it is, it makes the album a more arduous listen than it really should be, and I say that knowing that this music isn’t supposed to be easy to listen to. This is where I can tell though, through repetitive listens, that none of this will be a problem live. In fact I know that this is where the music of Sanguinary Misanthropia will shine! Perhaps they could sort this out for the vinyl release, which “Loathe Over Will” is destined for.

WaterWays / Sons of Alpha Centauri / Hotel Wrecking City Traders - 3 way Split (Bro Fidelity)
I want this record! It’s a work of art. I mean look at the cover(s) and of course I’ll now tell you about the music contained within. (Which by the way, isn’t what you’d normally expect to be reviewed here but for some reason seems to belong all the same) It’s also the first time I've reviewed a digital promo copy. More of which I know are to come. 
American release
WaterWays, from Southern Calafornia, play gothic guitar pop in the vein of ‘Fields of the Nephilim’, but with almost celtic styled female vocal and a Portishead smoothness. Of the 4 songs here all are varied, dark and beautiful in their own right. Check out ‘The Blacksmith’:

European release
Sons of Alpha Centauri, from the UK, provide a single eight and a half minute track ‘27’. ‘27’ leads on perfectly from WaterWays, with it’s clean guitar opening which ebbs and flows through a journey of different rhythms, riffs and in and out of distorted highs and clean lows. 
‘27’ is the first of two remaining instrumental songs on the album, the second being from ‘Hotel Wrecking City Traders’.
Australian release
Hotel Wrecking City Traders, from Melbourne, continue on the path where ‘27’ finished and ‘WaterWays’ started with 'Pulmo Victus'. 'Pulmo Victus' which sees acoustic guitars, reverbed and delayed strings floating on top of their sub ten minute journey across a mist of looped guitar fuzz. It’s the Noisy climax of the album and the perfect closer.

Both ‘Sons of Alpha Centauri’ and ‘Hotel Wrecking City Traders’ do exactly what that shitty over hyped emperor's new clothing excuse for a band ‘Earth’ don’t. They create lively and interesting guitar driven instrumental rock which transports your mind to another place, and not boring half paced country/blues songs that really should have vocals but don’t. ‘Earth’ should really take a lesson from these guys or split up immediately! By the way I fucking hate ‘Earth’ if you didn’t pick up on that. 

This is the album you put on, on a warm Sunday afternoon, while you’re sitting out in the back yard and recovering from a hangover caused by the excesses of a Sanguinary Misanthropia gig you attended the night before. It goes well with a strong coffee, fruit juice or perhaps the hair of the dog that bit you. Definitely not pot though, that shit makes me insanely paranoid and want to curl up into the fetal position. 

Bonehunter - Turn up the Evil (Hell’s Vomit
“Turn up the Evil” by Finland’s ‘Bonehunter’ is the second release on New Zealand underground Metal label “Hell’s Vomit”. ‘Bonehunter’are self described ‘Street Metal Punk’. In my mind however, the best way to describe “Bonehunter - Turn up the Evil” is to get you to imagine what a Bathory EP would have sounded like if Quathorn had written and recorded six sexually suggestive/crass songs (seven if you include the intro) in the style of this:
Yes ‘Turn up the Evil’ is a fun 15 Minutes of catchy, dirty, rockin black metal. If that sounds like your thing you won’t go wrong with adding it to your collection. 
A suggestion for improvement on this release would be for the tracks to be widened and more bass to be brought out in the mastering. Something I noticed upon first listening was that after the attention grabbing (and dynamic sounding) occult porno intro of “Summoning...” The music seems to shrink down in contrast. Just a minor gripe though.
For fans of the aforementioned, Atomizer, Gospel of the Horns, Venom, Midnight and recent Darkthrone.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 International Roundup part 1 - Swans

This is a long overdue way of me making up for the live review I never wrote after I witnessed Swans play live in Auckland way back on 6 March 2011. I’m not sure why I didn’t review it at the time. It was truly one of the most impressive and sonically intense live performances I’ve ever seen. Probably only matched by seeing Thorr’s Hammer at Supersonic in 09. Maybe it was general procrastination (most likely), all the bad shit going on back then (Mathew Hall had just been murdered and the Christchurch earthquake had both happened in the last month) or maybe I was put off by the rushed and almost flippant answers Michael Gira gave to the email interview  I had sent him (which was arranged via the local promoter). He did apologise for that in the accompanying email (due to the fact he had limited time to answer it while on tour) though and lets face it he’s a total GC in person. I got to meet him briefly after the show and whenever you order anything by Swans (or one of his other projects) from his label, Young God Records, he always signs the releases and even writes notes like “Thank you for your support” on the outside packaging. 
Anyway, here is a rundown of that show by way of reviews of the two Swans albums that were released in 2012.
The version I got
Swans - Live - We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head
2xCD (Young God Records)

I got the pre ordered limited edition of 1000 hand printed, coloured and signed version with bonus demo songs for ‘The Seer’. It was sold (out in less than half a day) by pre-order directly from the Young God Records website in order to raise the funds to record ‘The Seer’ studio album. But because the general version is the one that’s readily available I’ll focus on the live tracks that are contained on both versions in this review*.

The version you'll get
Like my live experience ‘We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head’ opens with a 23 minute track, which after a slow building 10 minute feedback drone intro, crashes down into a crushing rendition of ‘No words No thoughts’, the opening song from the ‘My father will guide me up a rope to the sky’ album. This sets the tone for further alternate versions of songs from that and other albums throughout. And they really are different. For example here is the “My father will guide me up a rope to the sky” version of ‘Eden Prision’: 

This is the version they played at the Powerstation, in Auckland. Which is close to the version which appears as the second to last track on ‘We Rose...”

Completely fucking different!!!

Second track is a stabbing percussive version of ‘Jim’. Once again it’s quite a variation to the mellower almost folk studio version.
Next, finishing off the first disk are three adaptations of early Swans songs. The first being ‘Beautiful Child’ originally from the 1987 ‘Children of God’ album. Unlike the original grandiose orchestral version, this one is made to sound like it’s an old wringer washing machine with throat cancer, that has been turned on to full so as to hypnotize you and draw you into it. This is followed by ‘Your Property’ from ‘Cop’ which is a mellow version that builds up in intensity throughout. Again it’s very different to the original metallic monolith of sound that it came from.
Orginal version:

Current live version:

Lastly we have “Sex God Sex” from ‘Children of God’. Surprisingly this is the most loyal adaptation on ‘We Rose..’ as it’s very close to it’s studio version.

Disc 2 opens with a 30+ minute version of ‘I crawled’ with a differently structured ‘The Seer’ as it’s Intro. But more about that in the next review. That’s followed by the version of ‘Eden Prison’ discussed earlier. The album closer is another tune from ‘The Seer’ - ‘93 Ave. B.Blues’, a strange unstructured but building composition of instrument noises which finishes with Michael Gira performing a solo vocal only version of “Little Mouth” from “My father...”

Whilst being practically the same set as the live show I saw, and despite it being a highly satisfying recommended listen, one thing that the album doesn’t capture (and most likely never could capture), is the enveloping intensity and dynamics of being in the same room as all six Swans. Hammering out their art with the intensity of a blacksmith bashing out his life’s masterwork against an Anvil.
Swans - The Seer - 2xCD (Young God Records)
The highly anticipated album that had been hinted at throughout the ‘My father will guide me up a Rope’ tour and it’s succeeding live album. Lets take a ride through it.....

‘The Seer’ opens with the beautifully grandiose and melodic ‘Lunacy’. One of my 3 favourite songs on the album. It builds gently with it’s repetitive title chant (chorus /choir backing vocals by Al and Mimi from Low). As it unfolds, subtle tensions are introduced in the form of discordant notes and chords. The chant then seems to become a scream, but cleverly, it’s only given a more direct delivery which creates the illusion of it being more. At this point the song breaks into it’s darker second section, with a haunting repetitive chant of “Your childhood is over”. 

“Mother of the World” plays with repetitive, almost annoying rhythms at the beginning before breaking into the main body of the song “In and out and in and out...” A good track but probably my least favourite on the album. 

“The wolf” a short 90 second folk ballad which sits nicely as an interlude before the imminent epic onslaught that’s about to happen. The only thing giving any indication of which, is the strangely placed bed of Pink noise that cuts in halfway through.
Forth is the title track, a 32 minute growing soundscape of layers and rhythms that twist and turn taking you on a voyage to places unknown and unexpected. Whereas the live version on “We rose from your bed..” culminated in a reinterpretation of “I crawled” this version is structured differently to the live album and contains new and entirely different sections. It builds up to the rather odd composition of which I assume is “The Seer” itself. What is “The Seer” exactly? Is it the mysterious Mad Hatter cat-dog creature that appears in the album cover art? Whatever it is, it comes back in the next song. 
“The Seer Returns” which would be the next in my 3 favourite tunes on the album. It’s an upbeat number with strange almost eastern harmonies and twisted poetic lyrics about a greasy beast in a field of sticky black mud. It’s almost like Lewis Carroll is being channeled through nightmare musical instruments from Wonderland. This interestingly is the first of two songs to feature Jarboe on backing vocals. Interesting in the fact that not so long ago (i.e. read my interview with Gira), Michael Gira was saying he had no interest in working with her again, and Jarboe herself had posted on facebook that she didn’t believe the new line up was the Swans without her. I’m not sure, but I think there might have been a change in feelings between the parties once she witnessed the new Swans live.
‘93 Ave. B blues’ is an unstructured droning discordant attack on the emotions, by way of creating an uneasy atmosphere which then leads into the acoustic ‘The Daughter Brings the Water’. This has a subtle underlying bed of what sounds like someone going insane screaming.

Disc one ends.

Disk two opens with the other of my 3 favourites, the beautiful female vocal (by Karen O) folk tune ‘Song for a Warrior’. This could be considered the odd tune, yet it seems to shine like a beacon of hope in the insane darkness that is ‘The Seer’. I’m sure if Gira were to make a video and promote this as a single to commercial radio (or whatever the fuck it is the mainstream music industry does these days), it would be a massive hit. I’m also certain that this is some sort of commentary or anti-War anthem aimed at the current conflict in the Middle East. The closing chorus of “Send them home” definitely points that way. But what the fuck do I know.
‘Avatar’ starts off with an industrial grating noise which is then layered by a chorus of church bells. The band kicks in with a pulsating rhythm which as you guessed it, builds in intensity before dropping back to the core of the song “Your life is in my hands....”

‘A piece of the Sky’, a 19 minute track, opens with what sounds like a fire burning and then cuts to the second contribution from Jarboe, a looped section of whaling. Other sound loops begin to layer themselves upon this, developing quite an interesting texture, until the point it starts to create an uneasy stomach churning mood. This all turns out to be a long intro, as when the final song section of “A Piece of the Sky” kicks in, becoming quite a beautiful melodic number. Creating a sense of relief, much like what happens in the earlier transition from 
‘93 Ave. B blues’ to ‘The Daughter Brings The Water’. I’d actually have to add this as my 4th favourite tune on ‘The Seer’. 

The final 23 minute closer ‘The Apostate’ is much like the title track in that it builds and builds until breaking into the core of the song, a driven pulsating hypnotic bass line. This gradually fades into almost nothing, when you get hit by an aggressive barrage of percussion and screaming before an abrupt stop. Then it’s over.
The Seer is a magical dark and mysterious journey, woven by the magician that Is Michael Gira and his incredibly talented band of Swans. It captures elements from each part of the Swans history, from the early monolithic grinding slabs of distortion to the mid era folk albums and then takes it to new uncharted places. Not only that, but it does all those things on a new level. A master work so to speak. If there is a theme here it would have to be around dark slow building tensions releasing into beauty and light . Reviewers aren’t exaggerating when they say that this is the album that Gira has been working toward throughout his 30 years of SWANS. That’s definitely what this is.

Conclusion, In order to get a fully rounded feel of the ‘Swans’ experience, you should listen to Swans studio albums to hear how the music was intended (at that particular point in time). You should listen to the live albums to hear how those songs, along with older ones, are reproduced and sometimes developed further. Also so that you can hear developing new music being performed prior to it’s studio recording. Lastly you should take any and every opportunity you can to see them live so that you can experience the full enveloping sonic experience that you can’t get from either live or studio recordings.

* - I will say one thing regarding the extra demo tracks, all performed Solo acoustic by Gira. They give you an insight into the skeletons of SWANS music and where they evolve from to their final form or forms. It’s definitely another factor that is worth exploring if solo acoustic folk music is of your liking. If you are interested in exploring this side of his music I recommend checking out “The Milk of Michael Gira” which features solo originals, demo versions of songs from ‘My Father...’ and acoustic versions of ‘Angels of the Light’ tunes.