The Thunder Down Under
CoC chats with Ethion of The Amenta
by: Jackie Smit
It's an arguable point and likely to be a bone of contention among a fair few metal acolytes, but the lineage of extreme music in Australia can be traced all the way back to AC/DC -- a band whose influence stretches over several decades and at the very least got a fair few aspiring metalheads started on their road of discovery. And while in the subsequent years, those who were formed in the wake of AC/DC's renown haven't always been quite as salubrious as the gloriously cacophonous din that Angus Young and his cohorts kicked up so many years ago, the 21st century has thus far seen the Australian metal underground ready to explode like the proverbial Mount Vesuvius, with bands like Alchemist and Destroyer 666 sharing refreshingly unique interpretations on extreme music for the next decade. But perhaps most impressive of all has been The Amenta's _Occasus_ -- a debut which, as I stated in my review thereof on this very website, is not only one of the best albums to be unleashed this year, but quite possibly one of the most evolutionary stride to hit death metal since the release of Nile's _Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren Ka_. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to one of The Amenta's chief engineers, who rang me from his home in Australia in the small hours of a Monday morning.

CoC: Ethion, I hope that the ungodly timing of this interview hasn't forced you to curtail any social activities?

Ethion: <laughs> Absolutely not. I've been in bed, sleeping and getting ready for work tomorrow, so it's all good. I didn't cancel any of your midday activities?

CoC: Not at all. I wanted to ask you first of all: how did the deal with Listenable come about, because from the bio on your website I saw that apparently Chronicles of Chaos had a hand in setting the wheels in motion?

E: Yeah, absolutely. We actually sent out about 70 or 80 promos for _Mictlan_, our mini-album, to different zines and things like that. We sent one to Chronicles of Chaos and one of your guys [David Rocher] got in touch with us and mentioned that he had spoken to some of the people at Listenable about us, and they had said that they couldn't guarantee anything, but that they'd want to have a listen to it. So we sent a CD out to them and they got in touch with us and said that they were really interested. We prepared some demos for a few more songs that we had been working on and that would eventually become _Occasus_, and from there it just kind of evolved into a deal. We tied it up around last year -- we were talking to them for a while -- but eventually everything got set up and that's how everything came about.

CoC: Did you speak to any other labels prior to this?

E: We sent out _Mictlan_ to a couple of other labels toward the middle of 2003, but no one was as enthusiastic or seemed to be on the same page as Listenable was. There were a couple of other labels that expressed interest, but I guess we went with Listenable because of their reputation and because of the dedication they show towards their bands. Also, there's a million and one horror stories you hear about labels and how they treat bands. Listenable definitely seemed to be the most honest and definitely the one with the best reputation as far as that was concerned. That was a really big factor for us.

CoC: They also happen to have Immolation on their roster...

E: <laughs> Yeah, that was a big thing for us as well. They're a big influence, and it's a good thing to be able to run around and tell everyone that we're on the same label as Immolation. That definitely sealed the deal for us.

CoC: The reason I asked you about labels is because there's a really strong underground scene in Australia right now, but often one hears stories about bands having difficulty getting deals because of the geographic limitations that artists in your position obviously have. Did you experience that with The Amenta at all?

E: I imagine from a label's point of view that when you sign a band from Australia there's certain logistical things you need to take into consideration. It's easier for a label to be based in Europe and to take on a European band, if you know what I mean. I think to counteract that though, you have the curiosity factor that the US and Europe have got toward the Australian scene. I think that we definitely have a really unique flavour out here, so for as many bad points as there are, there are one or more good points canceling that out, you know. Australian extreme music definitely has its own identity and I think that's a factor that counts in the favour of bands like us.

CoC: So tell me a little bit about the Australian scene. What's support like for local bands out there?

E: Because all the cities are so far apart, it tends to be a case of a lot of bands sticking to the city where they're from. Melbourne and Sydney for example are about 800 kilometres apart, and in between those cities there's very little scope for other shows. So scenes tend to be based in the bigger cities and they don't really intermingle. Of course, that's much different to the impression one gets in Europe. What you also find is that each city has a really strong identity, like Melbourne which has a really strong black and thrash scene with bands like Destroyer 666 and so on. Then in Sydney they're more caught up in a modern death metal style. So, each city has its own scene, but then the bands that make it will move up to an interstate level, if you know what I mean, where they're touring nationally. Bands like Destroyer 666, Alchemist, Nazgul are all really big players in the scene.

CoC: How many people could you expect would turn up if you guys were to play a local show?

E: At a guess, I'd say anything from 150 to 250. We're very new on the scene. For the bigger bands in Sydney you could get anywhere from 250 to 400 people for a show.

CoC: I know you all played in different bands before, but how did The Amenta eventually get together?

E: Well, I had been working with a couple of the guys in different bands before this, and for quite a few years we were actually working on songs for The Amenta; just working and reworking the songs and doing stuff in our little home studios. I didn't really have all that much to do with the Australian scene, to be honest. But anyway, we just gradually developed into The Amenta and like all other bands we've gone through our fair share of line-up changes to get to the point we are today.

CoC: Off and on, how long have you all been working on the material that's on _Occasus_?

E: Some of the stuff we've had on this album, I had with me when I was sixteen. But really, from the point where we first sat down as a band, I'd say probably two years that we've been working on that material. Probably a bit longer, but then there's things like line-up changes that slow things down. And it's quite an evolution when you get someone new into the band; a lot of things change, you know?

CoC: How do you guys go about writing music -- is The Amenta a completely democratic band, do you jam on stuff together?

E: We are very technology-based, which I think really comes out in our music. We don't write a lot in the conventional sense, like where we would go to a rehearsal room and jam until a song magically appears. Everything we've done... We're all quite knowledgeable in the computer recording front, which I think shaped our sound a lot. Everybody brings in riffs and stuff like that, but it's always a question of how we can model or mangle something until it becomes something new, or how we can take our influences and put like a new spin on them. So we might chop up a guitar riff on the computer or something, or our keyboard player might tell us that he has found a new sound by plugging his keyboard into a new distortion pedal or something like that. Things like that tend to result in a new part of a song, which tends to create itself, if you know what I mean. We take things like that and experiment together, and that's how things come about.

CoC: With _Occasus_ one can hear that a lot of the album was recorded digitally, but tell me more about how you guys went about doing the record.

E: Initially we decided that we'd spend a fair bit of our recording budget on the drum tracks; so we went to a studio called Q Studios in Sydney, we tracked all the drums there, took it away to our home studios, and then took things further from there. Basically, I was working very little at the time, as were some of the other guys in the band, because we decided that we wanted to be able to focus on completing the album as much as possible. So we'd get together every day and just add things like guitars and vocals to the drum tracks and try new things and see how it turns out.

CoC: So a lot of what one hears on _Occasus_ was done at home?

E: Yeah, everything except the drums. Essentially we got to the point where we just felt like we couldn't take things any further. The process took about five months, starting in January this year. When we were done we took it to our engineer, we started mixing the thing and we spent six days doing that, letting him shape the sound as much as he could, and just put his perspective on everything, which ultimately led to the album sounding the way it did.

CoC: The five months you mentioned; are we talking two to three hours of work a day, or was this a full-time deal?

E: Well, just the nature of how I work -- I work weekends -- meant that this was a full-time job for us for that time. I work weekends, as do a lot of other guys in bands, so we'd spend Monday to Friday just pottering around in the studio, recording and re-recording songs and just, as I said, taking everything as far as we possibly could. It was quite intense, for sure.

CoC: That's quite a long time to be working on an album, particularly when you consider that a lot of bigger acts sometimes don't even spend half that much.

E: Yeah. For us it was a blessing and a curse, because probably a few things we did, we didn't really have to do. When you spend that long on a record, you tend to risk over-analyzing things, so when you have that much time on your hands, you might end up being just as destructive as you are creative. In the end, it was definitely quite a lot of work, as you say, but I think we did get the most out of what we had. I mean, everyone's performance -- we had nothing left to give, if I can put it that way.

CoC: Now, the drums -- I'm sure you get this from a lot of people, but to what extent did you enhance the drums in terms of triggering, etc.?

E: Everything barring the toms and the cymbals was triggered. We replaced the kick drums and the snare drum sounds completely. The snare drums were a blend of the actual sound in the room, as well as the ambient sound picked up by the recording microphones. That was quite a complex thing to do, particularly because of the speed at which some of the songs are played. In terms of performance, our drummer is definitely one of the best in the country, if not in the world. And we get a lot of questions about this, but I can assure you that the performance is real and that he can play the stuff on the album.

CoC: I've actually had a few debates with people about whether or not you use a drum machine.

E: If you're listening really closely, you can hear when a real snare of tom is being played, I think. But it's quite a bone of contention on a lot of websites and a lot of message boards, which is quite entertaining.

CoC: _Occasus_ has a very consistent theme that runs through the record and also throughout the visual aspect of the band. Could you explain a bit more about this?

E: The theme is essentially about how religions and philosophy act as a mind-control for society in terms of giving people a crutch and not giving them reason to question anything that they're presented with. They're happy to work nine to five in something they're not passionate about in their lives, because they feel that at the end of their time, they're going to be presented with this grand reward that makes everything worthwhile. Obviously our opinion, if you read our lyrics, is that you're presented with this short amount of time on earth and then you die. Society, and especially Western society, has been trained and conditioned not to question, and so the whole album's underlying message is to think for yourself and to reject anything like that -- be it Christianity, Satanism, Islam or anything that would affect how you act and how you behave -- because you've been brought up to believe in certain things. It's got a lot to do with taking back individual thought rather than following herd mentality.

CoC: Talk me through some of the lyrical influences you had for _Occasus_, because a lot of your lyrics are very visceral and you refer to a lot of mythological imagery.

E: We didn't want to present anything on _Occasus_ as being just this basic cut and dried thing. If you were to take the time to look at the lyrics to the album, I would hope that you'd see that the lyrics aren't just stories: they're metaphors that use comparison to point toward what we're saying. The lyrics look at how, for example, certain older cultures viewed religion, and how their society's thoughts were shaped and how people were being trained in how to act and how to live their lives. And we run those metaphors and comparisons through a variety of different eras, so for example you have a song like "Mictlan" that looks at certain Aztec mythology, through to a song like "Zero" that takes a very modern approach. That's essentially what we wanted to do. We wanted to take a holistic look at how various cultures and societies have affected human behaviour and thought throughout the years until now.

CoC: Given how densely layered the material on _Occasus_ is, it must be a phenomenal task recreating that on stage. How do you go about doing this?

E: A lot of it comes down to the samples and effect on the keyboards and we've been working more and more toward being able to recreate the album in its entirety on stage, using a lot of computer technology and things like that. It's quite interesting and it's quite complex, but it's something we can definitely do.

CoC: What does the future hold for The Amenta? Can we expect to see you guys in Europe or in the rest of the world anytime soon?

E: Well that is something that is definitely on the cards, and it's our biggest aim at the moment, because we know that we need to get over there and we need to show people what we can do. So hopefully in the next twelve months we'll definitely be in Europe and hopefully even the US touring.

(article submitted 19/11/2004)

12/3/2008 J Smit The Amenta: The War of Art
11/11/2008 J Smit 10 The Amenta - n0n
10/19/2004 J Smit 10 The Amenta - Occasus
5/28/2003 D Rocher 5 The Amenta - Mictlan
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