Last week we spoke with Brendan Brown of Infinite Density, Ne Obliviscaris and Vipassi fame, and today we’re joined by another very special guest. His bandmate in two of those projects, the inimitable Ben Boyle, contributed vocals to Infinite Density’s debut 2016 release Recollapse of the Universe, and guitars and composition on Vipassi’s debut EP Śūnyatā. As well as those two projects, Ben is the mastermind behind the experimental grind band A Million Dead Birds Laughing (got to be the best band name ever, am I right?), and is perhaps best known for his role as a guitarist and songwriter in the death metal band Hadal Maw. Every single one of these projects is creating art of the highest quality, and they absolutely deserve all of your time. Before we get stuck into Ben’s words about these projects, his inspirations, his thoughts on the Australian scene and more, why not listen to some tunes as you read and check out Hadal Maw’s brand new single from their upcoming album, The Olm (preorders available here)?
Hey Ben, thanks so much for taking the time to join us today. Let’s start off with Hadal Maw. 2014’s Senium was a brilliant album, and the way you combined eerie, haunting atmospheres with monstrous grooves, almost tribal drumming, and occasional flashes of lead playing was quite special. I’m not sure I can think of another band who combines those elements in the way that you do. When writing, does that type of music come naturally to you, or are you consciously trying to fill a void in what you think is out there?
Well, Senium was primarily composed by Nick [Rackham], and a lot of the material dated back years to the inception of the project prior to it becoming a full band. Once the lineup was solidified we all brought our own flair and tweaks to things, namely with me it was the leads and helping develop and shape some of the riffs. The new material has been largely more collaborative, with a lot of the new tracks stemming from either myself or from Nick, or even in one instance, a drum track composed by Rob [Brens]. It was a very even keel. To be honest I don’t focus on anything else that’s happening in music while I write. I never consciously write. I can just hear patterns and melodies in my head, and generally I can envision a whole song before I even pick up the guitar. Once the initial spark is there, it’s a very fluid process, but it can be sporadic depending on my frame of mind, as I never force anything. I think that’s very important.
Interesting. I remember Tom ‘Fountainhead’ Geldschläger saying something similar about songwriting. He said that he never starts writing until he can hear the complete song in his head, and then he does his best to transcribe what’s in his head onto paper. Were you pleased with how Senium was received and did you feel any pressure when writing a follow-up?
We were definitely stoked with how it was received, even the strength of the support on the release of our first Promo throughout our extensive touring in the beginning was great. We really did hit the ground running, we’ve all been in bands for years and we didn’t want to waste any time. The new album was an interesting situation and approach, as we had lost our vocalist. We went through some fill-ins and false starts, so there was a bit of frustration and no real indication of the final result as far as vocals go. So we felt free to just write for ourselves and really hone all our unique styles into something we felt was fresh, so there wasn’t any pressure per se regarding the album itself, the pressure mainly came from finding the right vocalist for the job.
You’ve already released “The Olm”, a single from your upcoming album of the same name. To the surprise of nobody, it’s a killer track, and its style is quite similar to what we’ve heard before if perhaps a little slower. What do you think is the main difference between the upcoming album and Senium, and how are things going with your new vocalist Sam Dillon?
The new album is certainly a different beast to Senium. In a way it’s much darker, though more open and groove orientated. We really wanted to let go of the death metal restrictions and let things develop in a natural way. The final result is much more dynamic with a bit more emphasis on the song writing and atmosphere of it as a whole. We couldn’t be happier with what Sam has brought to the band, he’s a really diverse and aggressive vocalist, and one hell of a performer as well. We’re really excited for people to hear Olm, and hope people come out to the shows, it’s going to be quite a cathartic experience for the band.
Awesome. Yeah, having seen Sam perform live, I can definitely see where you’re coming from. It really is a sight to behold when he gets the crazy eyes going haha. Senium’s digipak came with some of the coolest artwork I’ve ever seen, and it’s clear that visual presentation is really important to you. Is there anything you can share about how the artwork relates to the music and lyrics?
The artwork is predominantly directed by Nick, he’s an incredibly talented artist, and pretty much an all round Wizard at anything creative. The tone and art ideas are discussed early on as we write and as things take shape. Sometimes we have a general theme and images in mind before lyrics are even written. For Olm, Sam also contributed art and a lot of ideas, including illustrating the front cover and several of the panels within the package. It’s truly fortunate we have such talented artists within the band, the united aesthetic is much easier to communicate and marry to the music without any outside influence. In saying that, the themes and concepts within the art behind the new album are really something to behold. A lot of work goes into creating amazing pieces of art, including watercolour and charcoal, and it will be interesting to see how people interpret it. We hope sometime in the near future to put the original pieces on display, for both Olm and Senium.
Wow, that would be super cool! One can only hope, right? Now, you’re still very much considered an underground band, so let’s hope Olm really takes off because you guys deserve a lot more attention. Now let’s switch gears to another one of your bands releasing a record in 2017: AMDBL. Where are you at with that and how is it sounding relative to what we’ve heard before?
So far the drums and guitars have been tracked for the new AMDBL, and though it still sounds like AMDBL, it also sounds like nothing AMDBL have done before. I feel I’ve switched gears quite a bit. I went through a very trying and self-destructive period emotionally throughout 2015-2016, and the new AMDBL is very much the result of that, and I’m sure it will be polarising when people hear it. At one end it’s probably the darkest and most technical thing we’ve ever done, but at the other end, it’s also got some of the softest and most ambient driven things we’ve done. It’s hard to describe in a way to prepare people for it. The concept behind the album is exciting, and I’m stoked with the line-up, definitely the strongest line up the band has ever had. You can expect the release in 2017.
Nice man, that sounds intriguing, I’m excited to hear it. You mentioned it will be a concept album, so did you want to share a bit about what the concept relates to?
The concept heavily relates to the mechanisms of a muse. It places the listener in a void, each ‘song’ being a glimpse of the beauty or destruction that inspires creation. There’s also an underlying tribute to femininity, and how the goddesses have been a powerful symbol in mythology, such as the Graces, the Fates, and the Furies, in addition to the Muse. In simple terms, it’s kind of a very dark album of love songs. The catalyst for all this was kind of a metaphor for my depression (the void), and the journey discovering and creating to better understand and process what I was going through (and still go through). There is a song on the album that directly touches on how I see creation as an act, and how I honour and interpret the process of creating music and art.
Things that personal and emotional often bring out the best in artists, and I’m sure that will translate really well on the record. I also hope you’re doing well on the mental health front, as it’s a battle most of us will fight at one point or another.
Moving onto Vipassi, your debut EP Śūnyatā came out in 2016 (note: it’s being reissued in 2017) and was absolutely killer. And congrats on your signing with Season of Mist! Given everyone’s commitments and each member being in 3+ bands, do you envision being able to turn that into a consistent project moving forward, or is it more of a one-off kind of thing?
Thanks so much man! Couldn’t be more stoked with Season of Mist. Vipassi is very much an ongoing project, I’m currently writing the follow-up to Śūnyatā at the moment. Everyone is onboard and though we’re all busy, Vipassi is a project we all believe in. If it all goes to plan there may be some other people involved and collaborating on a few things with the next release, but nothing is in motion just yet. I’m focusing on some initial demos and ideas, and diving into some new thoughts and perspectives for inspiration. So expect to hear more Vipassi in future!
Awesome, that’s what I like to hear. When writing music, do you do so with a particular project in mind, or do you write whatever comes into your head and then see which project it would fit best?
Each project comes from a very different place. I never pick up the guitar and decide to focus on a particular process, it’s whatever comes out. Whatever presents itself, I can tell where it’s headed. My mood plays a big role in that. AMDBL is a very personal and internal place for me. Musically speaking, it’s obscure and twisted and is something that always sticks with me … whereas Vipassi is very inspired, very much a tribute to history and art, and explores a lot of my beliefs and interest in science and spirituality. Hadal Maw is generally a mix, it comes from a place of power and foreboding, there’s more of a focus on story and atmospheres, such as the HP Lovecraft mythos and trying to capture a certain movement or shape. For example, one of the tracks I wrote on Olm is based on a waterfall.
Interesting. As someone with a keen interest in both history and art, I’d love to know a bit more about which historical periods or artists/pieces influenced your work with Vipassi.
No specific periods per se, I more looked at deities and the traditional art that portrayed them, as many as I could find, mainly tying together similarities between Buddhist / Hindu deities and early Greek mythology, along with their interpretation of the creation of the world. Also how through different cultures, they essentially had the same or strikingly similar ideas, which, in essence, I guess can be seen as them interpreting the natural world. But I find it very fascinating. I also read The Divine Comedy by Dante, and got very entranced by Gustave Dore’s art for both that and Paradise Lost, hence the artwork used for Śūnyatā. For modern art, I’m a big fan of Dan Hillier, Anthony Hurd and Jeremy Geddes.
Super cool my man. Now let’s switch gears again and talk about Australia. The last 15 years or so I feel like Australia’s reputation within the metal community has soared, and we keep seeming to get more and more amazing bands coming out of there. Why do you think that is?
I think that generally has to do with the Internet and the world becoming a much smaller place. Now that Australia is getting a bit more attention from overseas, the quality of acts we do have here is getting noticed. I feel the bands here have started striving for the same level of professionalism and quality as the bands they idolize, realizing that there really isn’t much between them and us. The veil has been lifted thanks to constant social media interaction, not to mention the fact that the overall Australian scene inspires itself when we see bands like King Parrot or Ne Obliviscaris really capitalizing on the opportunities their hard work has garnered them.
It shows young bands that it’s possible, and the standard set with at-home production and recording through the myriad of solo artists and bedroom musicians coming out of the woodwork these days, I think the quality of bands overall has shifted. Not only that, in my opinion, Australia produces stronger bands as a result of us being isolated, which has attracted more respect from a lot of the bigger players in Europe and America. It’s harder for us to make the leap overseas, so as an Australian artist, you have to put in the hard yards and groundwork to even make things viable as an option. Touring becomes second nature, and producing the best material possible to create noise in an over-saturated world almost becomes a necessity. Australians have a very down to earth, gritty approach to things, and I think we breed talented and unique artists. We see things a different way. The world is looking for more of that.
What a great answer. I’ve never really thought about it that way before, but what you say about the isolation being a strength makes a lot of sense. I can see how having that ‘backs against the wall’ mentality really pushes you to do something special, because something that’s merely solid isn’t going to cut it when you’re so isolated.
Despite this, the geographical isolation from major markets definitely makes it a lot tougher to survive as a touring band from Australia. So what do you think about crowd funding campaigns like that of Ne Oblivscaris’ Patreon, and do you think these types of funding models can remain sustainable as more and more bands (like Allagaeon and Shining) begin turning to them?
To me… if it works, it works. I’ve seen bands (Ne Obliviscaris especially) who have made all the right moves to prove that Patreon and dealing directly with your fans can be a truly viable option. But I don’t think it’s for everyone, and there are plenty of bands who made it work without crowdfunding. At the end of the day it’s up to the fans themselves. I honestly don’t think the crowdfunding and Patreon approaches are a scene issue, it’s not up to other bands or journalists or outsiders to decide what’s ethical or suitable for a particular band to communicate their art to the world. There are no rules. The fans will decide what they want. We’ve seen plenty of bands crumble and fail attempting to crowd fund, and there’s no coming back from that. You can’t argue with results.
I’ve seen people argue that it’s no better than a homeless person begging for change, which is an absolute joke. It truly demonstrates to me that we have a long way to go before the typical metalhead, holding onto the past, can grasp the concept of offering an ongoing service to fans, rather than a one-off product. The world and the industry is changing, and more power to any band willing to try something different.
I couldn’t agree more. I did some research of Australian bands, where in the country they come from, and the style of music that they play, and I got some interesting results. I found that generally speaking, Melbourne & Tassie had a much higher proportion of extreme metal bands, like Be’lakor, Psycroptic, King Parrot and more, compared to other parts of Australia. Having toured around Australia fairly often, and being in a few Melbournian extreme metal bands yourself, can you pinpoint something specific or unique about Melbourne that makes it so conducive to producing extreme metal?
It’s a strong and diverse scene in Melbourne, not just with metal, but with everything. It’s very much an artistic place to be… and Melbourne has always produced extreme bands, and has been home to a lot of bands who were pushing the envelope dating back to the 90’s. So it has always been a motivating and inspiring place to be.
For me, growing up and discovering bands like Damaged, Alarum, Abramelin, Blood Duster, and Psycroptic (not Melbourne, but still stands) etc, really put it in my head that it was possible to get my ideas out there and to be a band in Melbourne achieving that level of extremity. So I think the scene feeds itself in a way. In saying that, these days, you can see anything at all times on the Internet, so it’s a very different beast. But I think the groundwork and reputation of the Melbourne metal scene has always inspired and generated people and artists who want to uphold that, and attracted musicians from other states to move and be a part of a thriving scene. I feel it’s unmatched anywhere else in Australia.
This is a tough one, but is there a characteristic about the music coming from Australia that really stands out to you? For example, a lot of people familiar with melodic death metal might hear a song and go ‘this sounds like it’s from Gothenburg’. So is there a certain sound that you hear and think to yourself, this sounds like it’s Aussie?
In a way. As mentioned earlier I think Australia produces unique musicians and voices, we have a certain attitude down here that doesn’t really align with anywhere else in the world, which can be hard to put into words. King Parrot as a recent example, they nailed it.
Haha yeah, and if anyone doesn’t understand what you mean, they need to watch a King Parrot video. They’ve got such an Aussie sense of humour, and their videos are always great. Did you want to highlight a couple of Aussie acts that perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve?
Hard to say. My favourite Australian band at the moment is Departé, they are truly something special. If anyone reading this hasn’t heard their debut album Failure, Subside, I urge you to check it out! Although they have split up as far as I’m aware, my favourite Australian band ever — which people don’t seem to talk about much — is Robotosaurus. Other than that, a band everyone should check out is Blackhelm.
Agreed on Departé, that album is awesome. I haven’t heard of Robotosaurus (what a name!) before, but it sounds like I’ll need to check it out. Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us today Ben, we really appreciate it and wish you the best for all your upcoming endeavours. Before you go, we saved the most important question for last. How do you like your eggs?
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Preorders are currently underway for Hadal Maw’s Olm (coming out February 3) and the Season of Mist reissue of Vipassi’s Śūnyatā (coming out January 20). Tickets to Hadal Maw’s February tour of Australia are available here, and remember to follow Hadal Maw, A Million Dead Birds Laughing, Vipassi and Infinite Density on Facebook.