Smoldering Sub Terra
CoC interviews unsigned metal stalwarts Ember
by: Henry Akeley
If you've kept your ear tuned to the American metal underground, then you've no doubt heard of this band already. Ember hail from Illinois and hammer out a distinct and potent alloy of dark-blackened metal, spiked with a bit of thrashy aggression (minus the retro cliches) and hardcore punch (minus the cornball machismo). They've put out two well-received demos thus far (_Within the Realm of the Snowqueen_, followed by _The Gate_), and they're currently working on a CD, which you can read about below. If you make it to Milwaukee this year, check out Ember's set -- downstairs on Friday, as far as I know right now. Anyway, enough blabber out of me. I recently put some questions to vocalist Pete; here's what he had to say.

CoC: How would you describe Ember to someone who's never heard the band?

Pete Mlot: From my point of view, I would say we're a modern metal band, in the black metal vein, which utilizes influences both old and new to create an aggressive sound without losing a sense of melody. It's kind of hard doing a self-description, especially when you hear so many conflicting reviews. However, we tend to focus on having a sense of aggression -- not basing it on hyper-speed and grind, but maybe feeding off of Slayer and older thrash influences of the same style.

CoC: What brought you guys together and inspired you to write and perform this kind of music in particular?

PM: Well, I had known Abbas since the early days of high school, and we had talked about getting a band together, but procrastination got the better part of us. A few years later, Mourngrym and I got to talking a bit. We had never really hung out much, but we had mutual friends. This connection led to a lot of talking, but after procrastination, we got going. Abbas was soon brought in as a drummer, and by winter of 94 the ball was rolling. So far as our specific style, a lot of it had to do with what we were listening to at the time. Obviously, the black metal craze in Europe affected us greatly, as is evident in the first demo. However, the music came to us kind of naturally, and everything grew from there.

CoC: I understand that you're planning to put together a CD release some time in the near future. What can you tell us about that?

PM: Well, after several label offers (some really quite good, some not so good), we decided to do another self-financed release, for several reasons. First and foremost, I suppose we feel that since Ember is our creation, we're a little hesitant to give up any control. Since we feel that we have the means, and we've gathered a little experience with the demos, we were ready to compile what we have. Also, the lack of interest in demos kind of forced us into the position of doing something in a different format, and since what we would have wanted to do with a 7-inch would have cost too much, a CD seemed most efficient. The CD will consist of five or six new tracks, two covers (probably one Misfits and one Cure; however, there are some other ideas being tossed around), and both demos. The plan is to sell it for the price of a mini-CD so no one will be stuck paying for the demos twice. If all goes well, we are hoping for an early summer release, but as things tend to go with Ember, delays are possible.

CoC: How does the new music you're working on compare to the material from the demos?

PM: There are some changes, for sure. Not huge, but I would say noticeable. While the bulk of the material is a combination between the first two demos, I would say that we have been paying more attention to how we structure the music. Instead of going from fast to slow, there are now bridges, which help the songs flow a little better. There are also parts which are really somewhat different from what we've done before, plus a few more "breakdown", or slower thrash/hc parts. It just seems that most bands today in the underground are really vying for a nice mix of classical and metal (atmosphere, etc.) or are experimenting with goth sounds (both of which we are all highly fond of) -- but I would say that we have chosen to continue by making things a bit more aggressive overall. Technically speaking, we have tried to place focus on the drums quite often, as it really does seem that the beats we have used in the past have all been quite standard. In order to show a bit of differentiation, it seems that with different drum beats, trying to leave a little of the standard "pitter-patter" behind, we add a new dimension to the music. All of this said, the music is still noticeably Ember, but I would say we have now started to confirm the definition of our sound a bit more -- a lot of this happening only within the last few weeks. For the few who have heard it, they are quite happy with the way things are progressing.

CoC: In addition to the two demos and the forthcoming CD, there's your appearance on the _Under the Pagan Moon_ compilation (Cyclonic Productions) -- anything else?

PM: We've also been included on various cassette comps. All are important, but there are just too many to list.

CoC: What else would you like to see the band achieve over the next few years?

PM: For me, I would really like to be able to get something going in the U.S. again. It seems as if it is starting to happen a little, but I suppose only time will tell. I feel that Ember would play a nice role in importing a new sound into the current scene. [I agree. -- Steve] Other than that, I hope we can continue to release strong material and, along with that, be able to play out more often. The opportunity to tour would be a nice plan to have...

CoC: What would you say your biggest band-related frustrations have been?

PM: I think I could truly whine forever, but well, go figure... <laughs> Actually, I would say the biggest frustrations have to do with distance and time. With Mourngrym and I still in school (not to mention the fact that Mourngrym is about 150 miles from us 3/4 of the year), this only allows so much time for the band throughout most of the year. Other than that, I would say that the choice to have had _The Gate_ released only on cassette was a bad decision in some ways. It seems as though we got plenty of recognition from 'zines worldwide, but at this point, people want CDs. I'm kind of at a loss as to how a band could receive quite a bit of good press, but in the long run have a relatively small response through mail, etc. I would say the first demo garnered more in the way of mail; however, the second tape has outdone the first in terms of promotion and good reviews... frustrating, nonetheless. In the long run, I would imagine that every band that tries to carry on their work with persistence encounters these same experiences, so we try to make the most of what we are doing -- and surely it has been a hell of a good time so far!

CoC: What have been some of the most fulfilling aspects of the experience?

PM: Well, to start off with, we all hang out with each other anyways... Abbas and I have known each other for far too long at this point, and Mourngrym and I have built a strong friendship over the course of the band. Just the same, both Allen and Chris have added a lot, not only with playing, but personality as well. Our jams seem to have grown a bit more eventful over the last year or so, not to mention the fact that we have been having a great time meeting new people and entertaining them (or vice versa). I would say the best aspects come from travelling (although for a performance, we've only done this once...), as we tend to have some quite memorable experiences from these instances. If we ever get a chance to tour, all hell is going to break loose!! You've been out with us a few times, and we were nowhere near our peak... Finally, I suppose being a rock star at local burrito joints is always a plus... <laughs>

[Heheh! That, dear readers, is an inside joke pertaining to some culinary exploits in which Pete and I partook not too long ago. Funny stuff, in a you-had-to-be-there kind of way. -- Steve]

CoC: From your own vantage point as a member of a damn good unsigned band, would you say that interest in underground metal in the states (or in the midwest, anyway) is growing, dwindling, or staying about the same?

PM: Recently, things seem to be growing a bit. I mean, to my surprise, the death/grind scene is still quite large in Chicago. Some other evidence would be Cradle of Filth's reception at Metalfest. Usurper also had a crowd of about 300 at their last show here in Chicago, so... While I wouldn't say metal is at European standards so far as fanfare is concerned, the scene is changing. I also think the increased distribution of European black metal bands in the U.S. is a sign. It won't be an overnight sensation, but I think within the next couple of years the changes may be rather dramatic. Finally, as the punk scene seems to be dying out a bit, these kids will need somewhere to go, and in my point of view, metal in the U.S. can afford to welcome some of them.

CoC: Who are some of the other unsigned or lesser-known bands, in the States or otherwise, who you'd consider especially worthy of checking out?

PM: Lately I haven't heard all too many bands. A few would include Garden of Shadows, Scepter (although they may now be signed), Lilitu, Forest of Impaled (if they are still a band), Novembers Doom, and maybe a few others. All of the bands listed are from the U.S. I know there are others, but I highly suggest looking out for these band's releases.

CoC: How about the whole black metal phenomenon? Quite a few people who really got into black metal early on, before it became the much bigger phenomenon that it is today, are kind of down on it now because it's become so much more commercialized and formulaic than it was at first. (I guess that's my own attitude these days.) But on the other hand, it seems like more people than ever are into it, now that some of the bigger metal labels are really pushing it, certain bands are headlining big festivals, and so on. Anyway, speaking both as a serious long-time fan of the music, and as a member of a band with some black metal heritage, what do you think of all this?

PM: A catch-22 situation, I suppose. This a bit of a difficult one to handle. Logically, there are some bands which I feel deserve all the credit in the world for what they have done for the scene (I'm solely speaking musically here). Bands like Emperor, Katatonia, Mayhem, and numerous others have been great influences on Ember as well as metal in general. But at the same time, growth and change is a bit disturbing. For all of us in Ember, I think the black metal scene is the first we have been involved with since its beginnings, and when it no longer belongs to a select few, it can suck. Personally, the scene is no longer as interesting and passionate as it once was for me. There used to be genuine excitement in waiting for a new release of a band I had heard of (Ulver and Gehenna come to mind) or read about, but things have changed, a lot. The mystery that once surrounded so much has dissipated, and now we have pictures of Ulver in suits mocking what was once sacred. It is an annoying situation. There are some bands who have been able to keep their respect levels up (e.g. Emperor) without having to resort to tactics in no way related to their music. I feel there are a lot of bands that I could criticize, but it would be quite pointless, mostly because I don't know what their motives were, and anyway we have all passed judgment on the actions of many bands. Still, many bands (Sort Vokter, etc.) keep the "true" underground spirit alive, and while this group remains a minority (many demo-level bands as well as bands who have released CDs are third rate), the music is still phenomenal. I am getting caught up here in my own words a bit, but the scene hasn't hit a point where I am completely sickened, and there are only a few blemishes which have left their marks. I guess the biggest criticism I have is that the music back in 92, 93, and 94 was just so much better... But what once was will not be again.

CONTACT: Ember, P.O. Box 2177, Darien, IL 60561, USA

Pete adds the following additional info: "We have only a handful left of the second demo, and technically it is available for five bucks (US). If they want at this point, those interested could send a SASE (with sufficient postage = three stamps) and a blank tape (no cases) and we'll copy the second demo and include a cover too... Also, if you haven't heard, we are playing Metalfest. We are on the lower stage, Friday night, now scheduled to go on between 5:00 and 6:00 sometime. Thanks."

(article submitted 7/6/1998)


ALBUMS
10/12/1999 P Schwarz 8.5 Ember - Chapter III: Concession (& Anthology)
DEMOS
7/14/1997 S Hoeltzel 5 Ember - Chapter II: The Gate...
2/4/1997 S Hoeltzel 5 Ember - Within the Realm of the Snowqueen
GIGS
9/14/1997 S Hoeltzel Vital Remains / Incantation / Ember Vital Remains - Unplugged
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