< CODE >
Of Magical Fog And Twisted Fury
Story online since: 27.05.2009 / 05:10:59
A band as unique and obscure as < code > has been known among our crew at least since the very inception of the AGM webzine, so it was with an equivalent curiosity and excitement that I decided, four years after Nouveau Gloaming, to get in touch with the band's mastermind extraordinaire, Andy Aort Mcivor. Resplendent Grotesque, < code >'s new high-altitude black space opus, is going to hit the streets on june 1st, and I think it is as much a pleasurable duty as it is a sincere honour to pay our tribute to an album we already consider to be one of the few stellar highlights of 2009's Avant-Garde Metal. Hail to outer exploration, and my musical salutes to the beast within!
Welcome to our freak show, Aort. How're you doing? It's always interesting to discover who is behind the songs we hear and feel so much inspired by, so I would like to know where you're from, musically speaking. How did you end up playing such intricately emotional, dreamy and yet very technical Metal music?
Firstly, thanks for spending the time to talk to me and also thanks for the positive words, that always makes the days go by easier...
Well I guess like a lot of people in our situation, I developed a love affair with metal from a pretty early age. Once I discovered Iron Maiden in what must have been 1987, I was totally hooked. I bought all their albums and listened to nothing else. I dipped my toes into other albums but none of them compared with what I got from Maiden, they had it all.
Of course, time goes by and tastes get heavier, moving through the thrash stuff and into death metal which by 1991 was a pretty big deal. The precursors to Terrorizer were on the shelves (Thrash n Burn and Xtreme Noise) which were a big window into a new world for me, especially the classified sections which is where I was introduced to tape trading... which is where my thirst for music was quenched. The extreme metal underground was a big part of my life from 1991 to 1995. All my spare time was taken with trading tapes, writing fanzines and running distros. It was perfect for me, I got access to huge amounts of great music, I got to contact many of the bands that I really idolised at the time and built a lot of contacts which would end up helping me further down the road.
Death metal was the means by which the underground pulled me in but I soon found a lot of black metal which was becoming the dominant force by 1993. It seemed that every week I would find another amazing demo or album that would make me re-evaluate what extreme music was to me. The output around then by Necromantia, Master's Hammer, Immortal, Emperor... it was a revelation for me, and later one, the Ved Buens Ende and Ulver demos made a very big impact on me too. This was the music I had been waiting for, the marriage of dissonance, darkness and technicality with an earthly feel appealed to me massively.
Up until 1998 I had always enjoyed music passively, just soaking it up where ever I could. It was only at this point that I got a half decent guitar and started playing. I was only marginally interested in learning other band's songs. Making music was the itch to scratch for me and I had access to computer recording software from the off so it was only natural for me to start making my own music.
In terms of where I am now, I love technical music and I love music with feel. Anything left field tends to pique my interest. An unusual chord or chord progression, different time signatures... all this aspect of music is what really interests me (although mindless Neanderthal music has a definite charm too). I am not a massively proficient guitar player. I can't play other people's music very well, but I think through this lack of formal musical education I have been able to develop my own way of writing and playing which always tends to have an emotional pull to it and very often a lot of quirky chording which is down I think to my own trial and error. I love technical and brutal music, but that's not how I play. My influences have broadened considerably over the last 7 or 8 years too which has helped develop my style. I listen to a lot of 60's/70's prog and acid folk, minimalist classical music such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich and of course the shifting sands of metal.
I like to think that part of the appeal of <code> is that it combines the base components of black metal and applies or melds them with more left-field elements. I think the more black metal inspirations in a lot of aspects are self-evident, it is the more tangential references that when combined with the bread and butter elements of black metal make things more intriguing.
Purists be damned...
I must say I had been wondering for quite a while when the new <code> album would be finished and released. It seems there were complications along the way. Would you mind revealing how the writing process and realization of the album went like for you? I mean, did you struggle nailing down Resplendent Grotesque's new songs?
<code> songs always start with me, that's the way it has happened since day one so I did feel an amount of pressure to firstly write better songs than on Nouveau Gloaming, and also to progress our sound. I wanted to make a statement with the new album, for it not to be a bunch of new songs written in exactly the same vein as the debut, there would be nothing exciting at the end of that particular road. So I worked a lot on tightening up the songs in terms of arrangement, and pushing the guitar parts as far as I could both dynamically and technically. The key element though was in the "song"... These needed to be concise songs that work in a more or less traditional framework but to not lose the battle of outward simplicity and all the other limitations that are abound within the concept of what a traditional song is.
I wanted the songs to be catchy and memorable, but to remain dark and emotive, which to do that within the confines of the boundaries I had set was a hard task. There was to be not an inch of fat on this record, every second of music must have a purpose which is something I did not focus on with the debut album, which is why that album works in a very different way.
It was a very difficult task to write these songs. I probably wrote 17 or 18 songs in total and only 8 made it to the album which is a way I have never worked before. On Nouveau Gloaming for example I probably only had one song that wasn't used (not including the demo song that didn't make it too), so I really knew that I had done the best job I could and had only put forward the best material I could muster and that worked together as an entity to put down the bones to make the album I wanted to make.
Was this a process you went into all by yourself, meaning that you did all the music, or were you occasionally keeping in touch with the only other musically creative core member of the band, Vicotnik?
The usual process is that I work on the songs in the first instance in isolation. I will then create demos of the songs and send them around to the rest of the band for comments and suggestions. As the band changed personnel over the last few years it did start to become a more insular process. Vicotnik has always maintained that he doesn't want to write songs for <code>, he would like to distance himself from that aspect so he can develop his bass lines without prejudice. So his part in the process is more of a supporting role which was invaluable in itself as he was the only constant member during the line-up turmoil, and the one person who I could always call and air any problems. A massive tip of the hat to him for that without a doubt.
How did you work the sound itself out? To me, just the way it happened with Nouveau Gloaming, it sounds like both the mixing and the mastering, also this time around, gave the new album a multilayered and oceanic dimension to explore. Was for example Vicotnik as much involved in the sound shaping of Resplendent Grotesque?
Vicotnik was very much the man behind the sound on Nouveau Gloaming. The rest of the band had limited studio experience before then so he very much took the lead in that respect. I can never overstate Vicotnik's role enough in developing the sound of the album as without him, it would have sounded like any other album that was recorded at that particular studio. He was taking the lead at every step from tracking to mastering and he always fought for the best interests of the music.
The new album was a different situation. I felt I had gained enough experience myself to guide how the album would sound. I had a clear idea in my head of how I thought it should sound almost from the start. It has to be a completely different beat to Nouveau Gloaming which was a much more underground feeling album, the production needed to reflect that. I wanted Resplendent Grotesque to sound much more "big budget". I wanted a contemporary sound where everything could be heard. The right decision had to be made for the studio to mix the album.
I tracked and produced the guitars myself at my studio. I had to invest in a fair amount of equipment to get the sound to the standard I wanted. I also wanted to save every penny I could for the mix as that was the most crucial element to my mind. Mixing was actually quite a convoluted process as it was undertaken in two parts. Firstly the music was mixed as at that point in time the vocals were still an unresolved issue. So it was basically myself in the studio with the guys from Fredman. Vicotnik was back in Oslo working on the bass at the same time so it was a very dynamic process. Kvohst then recorded his vocals in Holland and we both went back to Fredman to finish off the mix. Kvohst had very clear ideas of how his vocals were to be produced. He had worked multiple layers of vocals in most of the songs so it was a credit to him to have all those subtleties worked out in his mind before we went to the final mix. It made the process a lot easier. Essentially Kvohst was producing the vocals and I was producing the music. Of course we leant on each others opinions in those final few days but that was the main plot. Vicotnik gave some very useful suggestions based on initial mixes so I made sure they were incorporated too.
The cover looks out of this world. What was the intention supporting its imagery? As we're at it - is there any sort of meaning fusing together the cover with the lyrics and the music?
Kvohst is really the person behind making that collaboration happen. He was speaking to Stephen Kasner probably two years ago about the possibility of him doing the artwork for our second album. Both parties were really into the idea so it was just a case of keeping the flame alight while the album finally materialised. Once the lyrics were finalised and the feel of the album was more concrete, Kvohst briefed Stephen as to the sort of themes we would like to see portrayed together with rough versions of the songs and copies of the lyrics. Stephen then went away and worked his magic based on his interpretation of what our music and lyrics would look like in a visual context.
Obviously Kvohst will be able to conjure the words best to describe what the album is about, but essentially it deals with the journey of a spirit from imprisonment to release. A journey of vindication, a journey of realising potential and spiritual freedom. It can be viewed as a mirror on what it is to be human in a way, being held within the confines of earthly trappings and sentimentality and the battle to break free of these restraints to achieve freedom in its truest sense.
The very strong statement you're making with this album, would you want it to get you involved in a more public setting, so to speak? Obviously, after Nouveau Gloaming, the band slowly dissolved in silence, except for a few recent concerts, but would you say touring and a bit more promotion also are part of the plan by now?
I think the development of Resplendent Grotesque was a little less calculated than that. Personally I really wanted to stretch myself and develop the musical style I had somehow developed with Nouveau Gloaming. Just chopping out a bunch of similar songs to the debut was never an option for me. My priorities were development and refinement. It was probably after the first couple of songs that I wrote for the new album, and probably the chorus to "Smother the Crones" that I realised that this process of refinement had potentially brought us to a position where we had an opportunity to reach a bigger audience. This is the cusp I feel like we are on now. There is a potential for this album to reach a much bigger audience than if we had stuck to the same formula. I would love to reach more people and for <code> to become more successful. Retaining underground credentials with <code> is so far off my radar right now. It is in the lap of the gods to see if we can somehow reach that potential audience and be heard above so many other bands.
We definitely want to tour more for this album. We just recently rehearsed the new set in Amsterdam and the balance of old and new songs works really well, much better than when we were relying on songs from a single album. The older songs we still play now sound better in this new context I think so we are really positive about how the new show will come across. The timing for the new album has meant that we will miss a lot of the summer festivals this year but we should be doing more club shows later in the year and get back to the festivals in 2010.
What is attractive about the 19th century, Victorian, black & white English fashion? Your band image, in some mysterious way, at least as I perceive it, somehow opens a door to the dark urban yet mystical past of England.
The Victorian angle to our music really is purely a reaction of those who listened to it. It wasn't something we set-out to create but it seems to have latched on to an extent. I'm not complaining about it. It is great to see that the music is inspiring some people and taking them on some kind of journey.
I think in London, of all the periods of history that the city has existed in, the one that leaps out to me in a visual sense when I walk the streets is the Victorian age. It wasn't that far back in the big scheme of things, and a lot of the architecture still exists as it was a period of massive growth in the city. Of course there are a lot of inspiring events and stories based around that time that are brought back to life through the street names and districts.
The theatrical nature of the music and live performances of <code> is really something that I must give a lot of credit to Kvohst for. The visual side of music in general is not something I invest much time, yet I do appreciate that it is an important and often overlooked facet of metal. Kvohst always has new ideas on how to develop the visuals of <code> and how to perform in order to best complement the music. I tend to focus on the music more so our yin and yang coincide pretty well in that respect.
As far as I know, you just completed your new Blutvial album. Previously to this one, you had released a 7", Full Moon Possession. How different would you say the new material is, if you compare it to the first Blutvial recordings?
Yes, the Blutvial album was finished over the winter. We are just finalising the artwork and master and then handing it over the label. Spikefarm will be releasing it this summer. Don't expect massive progression with Blutvial. I started Blutvial, almost as a reaction to working on the second <code> album, where every detail is meticulously laboured upon in order to make the "best" album possible. Blutvial is the opposite, it is base level primal black metal. Writing songs in one evening, single take recording and zero subtlety in the mixing process. It is refreshing to just totally let loose and create such barbaric black metal. If Resplendent Grotesque exaggerates the details and development of Nouveau Gloaming, Blutvial takes the overtly black metal elements and drags them further into hell.
In addition, Blutvial is a two man project... myself and Ewchmylaen who played for many years with Reign of Erebus. We live in the same area and our strengths play to each other's weaknesses so it means that we can play, record and produce the whole thing ourselves. It is a very DIY approach to music which in the current state of the music industry is a bonus.
The album will be out in the summer and it will be entitled I Speak of the Devil.
I'm not going to ask you the usual Simen vs. Kvohst question, or the rhetorical "what-if" excursions into nothingness, simply because I think it's quite a waste of time. Nevertheless, I'd like to know what really happened with Simen. I heard he hadn't even written anything for the band? It seems to me he never really got "involved" in the project at all; is my impression close or not to the facts?
That is not really true. The obvious first hurdle with Simen was that he is in the biggest black metal band in the planet. They have a really packed schedule, so when you try to get hold of some of Simen's downtime (time when for example he would rather be with his family) it is a big struggle. We were in regular touch during the period when he was composing his ideas for the <code> album. We passed lyrics back and forth and discussed scheduling a lot. We met up in London a couple of times when Dimmu Borgir were in town to go over the songs. He hadn't recorded anything but he had a lot of the material worked out in his head and would hum parts to me while we were doing some arrangement changes.
The real problems arose when it came to the recording process. The mix date kept creeping up and it transpired that he was not ready to record before the mix which really threw everything on its head. The timescales for when he could actually do it were vague and far to the right too so it was just proving to be too difficult.
For most of this period I had been in close contact with Kvohst, especially with the live shows we were doing. I never wanted him to leave in the first place but the timing was just wrong at that moment for him to do the second album both personally and musically. I made it no secret that I never wanted him to leave and that we had unfinished business with this album so when the situation with Simen arrived at its conclusion we talked more seriously about it. The time was right at this point and we have not looked back since. <code> is stronger now than it has ever been. Kvohst and I have a very unique musical chemistry and we seem to bring out the very best in each other's ideas. I regret that the line-up changes have caused delays and confusion for the people that care about <code>, but when all is said and done, I believe that this incarnation of the second <code> album is the best it ever could have been, and at the end of the day, that is the most important point to make.
How interesting is it, for you, to see Metal as a genre tends towards more and more dimensions, structures and spaces? From your point of view, will that evolution ever stop at some point?
Metal has been doing this as far back as I can remember. It is a strangely contradictory genre in that there are certain rules as to what metal is, and yet the scope of music that has been produced is massive. I don't think one period in metal's history was particularly more inventive or regressive than another. There always seems to be a balance in that it is a very DIY scene where a big proportion of the people who are into the music are proactively involved. That includes being in a band, writing for a web-zine, promoting shows, running a distro and on and on. All these different viewpoints and tastes get fed back into the machine in one form or another so the music that emerges is a reflection of those powers. That's how I see it in my mind. Metal is not going away, progression won't stop, and the need for mindless musical violence won't stop either... and that is good news for me.
Do you guys also have daily jobs in order to support your own releases or musical activity is sufficient to make a living?
I'm not even close to making enough money to live on through music. In fact all being told, I have made next to nothing from my releases so far and have spent a great deal of money on recording equipment, instruments and travel. Unfortunately that is the way things are. Sure it is easier to make ok sounding recordings at home studios, but at the same time expectations have increased massively. Sloppy playing and average sounding productions are not what are expected in the sort of area which <code> finds itself in now so we had to raise our game to get to those levels. All these factors need to be taken into account with regards to budget and with falling record sales it means that you have to start taking on a lot of those responsibilities ourselves, which takes time and money. Vast quantities of pre-production and tracking for Resplendent Grotesque were done ourselves in order to use our budget as wisely as possible (on the mix for example).
As for playing live, with our line-up spread over numerous countries it tends to result in a higher cost to get us to shows in the first place, again reducing what we might make from live performances. I guess this all is a long winded way of saying that personally, my musical endeavours are really a labour of love and I of course have to hold down a regular job, and in turn, practically all of my time away from work is taken up with music. Actually getting down to writing music is a bit of a luxury in reality as there are so many housekeeping jobs that need to be taken care of too. These include maintaining websites, answering emails, booking and organising shows, taking care of interviews, keeping things moving with the record labels, planning releases... the list seems to be endless and it is hard to get in the right frame of mind to actually write music. I do find that when I get the momentum going and my head is locked in the right place, I can go on a writing spree and be pretty productive. But it is a tricky job, and in fact becoming trickier as the band grows to get into that writing headspace.
I know you're into prog rock and obscures vinyl impressions of psychedelic old-school gems. What is so good and attractive about 60's and 70's music? Do you think it's somehow gotten somewhere into your guitar sound?
Prog and folk from that era has become a bit of an obsession for me over the last few years. There is a warmth and atmosphere to a lot of those recordings that really appeals to something very deep inside of me. Prog tends to grasp me on a musical level whereas the British folk recordings from those days really stirs a connection with my environment here in England both in terms of landscape but also (and this is a very cheesy phrase) a kinship with the earth and what it is to be a part of where I live and my place within the essence of my surroundings. Apart from my years at university, I have always lived in a very green and picturesque part of England and the pastoral moods of English folk music readily make associations within me to my surroundings. It is a confirmation of sorts. But with everything in my life, I am very picky with the exact music I listen to, so overtly traditional folk music doesn't appeal to me a great deal (although The Watersons and Vulcans Hammer have something about them). I really click with folk that has a left field edge to it, something more than maypole dancing and ale. Classic examples are Dando Shaft, Forest, Comus, Magna Carta, Synanthesia, Fresh Maggots, Amazing Blondel, Crooked Oak, Dr Strangely Strange, Spirogyra, Stone Angel... these give that instant connection with my surroundings.
As for whether these types of music have affected my guitar playing... well I honestly kind of doubt it as if I was to be analytical about such things I think I would have to try pretty damn hard to find some common ground. The way I write generally comes from finding beauty in dissonance and in irregular patterns whereas folk and prog from those times come from different reference points. It is just not the way I play.
Well I must say that the way you played on Resplendent Grotesque assuredly deserves massive attention from all fans of both the elegently mysterious and the darkly dissonant. I wish you all the best with everything you're going to explore in the future! Honestly it was a pleasure to feature your band on our avant freak show, where you clearly deserved your own space. But as for now and to close this with, what do you think everyone else should know about?
Thanks to you Olivier for sparing the time and space for <code>, it is very much appreciated. I know we feel more of a kinship with your left field ethos than a lot of more traditional metal websites. The only thing I would like to re-iterate is to ask your readership to check out our music, head along to www.myspace.com/codeblackmetal. If you like what you hear, all the better... if you don't, then move along and all the best to you... but either way have a listen, you get nothing for not trying.