Indy Intel Report - Ironwood, Isolation and Kevorkian
CoC talks to some of the best independent bands around
by: Quentin Kalis
Most demos and independent albums received by us here at Chronicles of Chaos tend to be pleasant enough to listen to. A few are absolutely horrible, and the artist concerned is better off being an accountant or pumping gas -- anything, so long as they not allowed near a recording studio or stage. But a handful of bands create something so strong and so powerful, one has to wonder why they are not signed, given the nonsense regularly churned out by signed and established bands.

Clearly such acts deserve wider exposure, and thus I arrive at the purpose of this column. The Indy Intel Report is intended as a regular column (appearing as often as is warranted) which features the best unsigned bands that have had their demo or indy album reviewed recently. The only other prerequisite is that the band must be good -- nothing less than 8 out of 10 for an independent album or EP and 4 out of 5 for a demo.

This report will focus on Ironwood, an Australian prog / pagan / black metal act; Isolation, a German black/doom hybrid; and Kevorkian, a USA-based death metal band.

Waking Skaldi
CoC chats with Henry Lauer of Ironwood

When I first heard Ironwood's demo, I immediately placed them alongside the Viking metallers; a comparison emphatically rejected.

"We are not influenced by Viking metal, battle metal, or the like", explains Henry. "I cannot stand most of that stuff -- by and large these bands are as musically mediocre as they are superficial in their use of Germanic mythological imagery."

He is more forgiving of black metal bands. "Although I have no problem with hatred-fuelled bands (and I like listening to vengeful black metal), Ironwood is not one of them." This seems like an odd statement in light of some memorable yet furious passages and their use of harsh distortion, but Henry is quick to amplify. "Of course the music can get extremely furious, but it is an ecstatic fury. Woden means "inciter of fury and ecstasy". Hatred is quite a finite emotion; very human, at least from my point of view. Fury and ecstasy come, on the other hand, from the gods. They cause evolution, whereas hatred generally seems to cause fossilisation."

Naturally, this begs the question as to who exactly influences Ironwood musically. Norwegian vets Emperor and Ulver did not come as a surprise, but Tool certainly did. "They are masters of atmosphere, and they've always followed their own path. They are also masters of compound time, which is a huge compositional interest for all of us in Ironwood. For me as an unconventional bassist, Justin Chancellor has always been an inspiration. And of course, Maynard's lyrics betray a deep grasp of spiritual experience. "Third Eye" might be his coming face to face with Vishnu, not Odin, but I get the intensity -- I am ensnared by different forces, but I can hear in his lyrics a true depth."

It is perhaps not surprising that Ironwood's origins derive from and are inseparable from his heathen path. "Ironwood started when Ruarik, who is one of the founding members of the heathen scene in Australia, asked me to set some of his poetry to music. That happened some years ago, and Ironwood became a side project that I tinkered on, shaping acoustic guitar riffs around poetry and vice versa, imagining all kinds of atmospheres. I didn't know what sort of music it would be, originally -- folk, metal, ambient, what?"

"Around early 2005, I became frustrated with my musical projects. I was playing in various bands with personality problems, lack of direction, and so forth. I was extremely unhappy. Ultimately, I realised that I was not using my music to express my spirituality. So the solution was to make Ironwood the primary project."

If their self-titled effort can be considered as an accurate indicator, this may have been a wise choice.

Playing the devil's advocate, I ask whether it is perhaps not anomalous that Nordic heathenism should surface in their Australian homeland, given its vast separation from the Germanic lands. "My ancestral gods come to me whether I call or not -- so if anyone thinks that Australians "can't" be heathens or make heathen-inspired music, they've seriously missed the mark."

Ironwood have already started work on a future full-length, and apparently there is quite a bit of label interest. "It will include the tracks on the EP, but rearranged and recorded the way they deserve to be. It's going to be a long album, with plenty of variation between acoustic folk and black metal, between atmosphere and some pretty technical passages as well."

Sounds like more of the same, only with a better budget and greater experience working as a unit. Fine by me.

Entering the Cathedral
CoC talks to Johannes of Isolation

Late last year, when virtually everyone in the Western world was indulging in the saccharine, emetic orgy known as Christmas, a number of CDs crossed my path which were the perfect antidote to the pseudo "good cheer" of the season. One such CD was the two track demo by Isolation, a despairing mixture of black and doom metal. What inspired such angry despair?

"I think I am mainly influenced by the atmosphere a song creates, rather than the way it is built up technically", remarks vocalist Johannes. As far as black metal is concerned, "bands like Ulver, Bethlehem or Burzum are our main influence."

No surprises there. But Johannes throws a curveball when he cites post rock bands like Isis, Mono or Godspeed! You Black Emperor as potential influences! He puts this into perspective: "There are trip hop songs far more dark and haunting than your average depressive black metal group!"

Trip hop might be going a bit too far, but the point is made.

Having released two demos, Isolation's work is far from done. "We have actually just recorded new material for an MCD, which is currently being mixed, and there are some split releases planned for the future."

"We don't really feel the need to release an album as soon as possible, and we'd rather take the time to create something we are fully satisfied with. I wouldn't want to release an album with any filler material on it, and I do not even want to talk about all average album releases out there."

Isolation's first demo, in the words of Johannes, is "very raw, chaotic and fucked up."

"The whole session was a little spontaneous, and a lot of the vocals were improvised, but we really wanted to get the recordings done. In the end, we did not know at all what kind of feedback to expect for _Striding on the Path of Nihil_, and we were a little surprised that quite a few people out there liked it."

"The second demo _A Prayer for the World to End_ was recorded in a proper studio instead of our rehearsal room, so we could concentrate more on the music. It sounds far less chaotic, more structured, and the sound is totally different. Again, the vocals were mostly improvised, to make sure the emotion linked to them would be unconsumed. But for the future, we have chosen to abandon this principle, to be able to work more on vocal details and also because we are going to perform the songs live."

Speaking of live performances, Isolation will be performing alongside suicidal / funereal black metallers such as Hypothermia and Nuit Noire in the coming months.

The Doctor Is In
CoC interviews Brad Kevorkian

I was a bit surprised to discover that Kevorkian's _Promo 2006_ demo was intended purely for radio stations, magazines and the like. Possessing a tightness and production rarely found in bands at this stage of their career, surely a wider market could be found?

"We're not really selling it or giving it out at this point. Maybe we will make it into an EP."

I certainly hope so, as it would be a shame to let those songs go to waste. They can be downloaded from their MySpace page. But _Promo 2006_ is not the first time they have entered the studio, having independently recorded a full-length (_Immortality in Culture_) in 2002.

Having been born in Boston, they relocated to New York City to pursue their musical ambitions. The band is named after the infamous Doctor Jack Kevorkian, better known as "Dr. Death" for creating a suicide machine to release the terminally ill from life. Surely this is a name better suited for the goregrind set?

"The name wasn't something that we thought too much about. One day, after throwing many names around, someone just blurted out, "Hey, how about Kevorkian?", and we liked the sound of that and the fact that everyone told seemed intimidated by it -- the way they should be with a good name. The funny part is that he isn't even a scary guy!"

The scariness arises from the challenge Kevorkian represents to the Christian idea that all life is sacred, even if in terminal pain and with absolutely no hope of recovery. An ironic sentiment, given the Christian belief that we survive our own death to be transported to eternal bliss in heaven. Many Christians fail to realise that the doctor was merely a facilitator for those who saw no way to ease their suffering other than through death. Christians predictably sought to locate the biome elsewhere, rather than examine a society that keeps people alive at all costs, even when in a vegetative state. This theme of avoidance of responsibility is a dominant one in Kevorkian's music.

"Lyrically we take our cues from politics and world events, but I think that rather than blaming others, making threats and predicting doom, we talk about personal responsibility."

Their particular brand of death metal suggests that the more technical acts may have been an inspiration. "Our musical influences are diverse. The thrash era of the 1980s and the death metal period of the late '80s and early '90s are very important to us." Cynic, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Meshuggah, Testament, King Crimson and Alan Holdsworth are also cited as important influences.

As for Kevorkian's short term plans? "Finding a solid, technical drummer and finishing all the songs that are in the works; getting signed and touring for as long as we can stand it!"

Anyone who thinks they are up for the drumming post, as well those interested in damn good and under-recognised death metal, can take a peek at their MySpace page.

(article submitted 27/7/2007)

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