Altar of Plagues - interview

 •  Posted in: Kogaionon Interviews

Hi James. How is life in the beginning of this Autumn? 

Very good thank you. I had a somewhat reclusive summer due to an academic commitment but all is returning to normal now. I am writing a great deal of music at the moment so that always gives me pleasure. 

What feedback have you received about "Mammal"? 

Overall it has been very positive. Some people appear to have found the more raw production somewhat less accessible, but overall support has been good. Regardless of any criticisms we are very proud of what we created. 

For me is one of my fave Metal albums from this year... How you create this album, this kind of music? I know you listen to so many different musical styles, starting with Jazz till country... What is the message of this album... describe me a bit the texts, the concept, the tracks... 

We all have a huge variety of influences and as such the focus with Altar of Plagues has never been to consider genre, but rather to bring all of our influences together to create a cohesive whole. I hear music in terms of the emotional content, rather than in terms of genre. The album deals with the subject of death, exploring its significance and meaning. The came about initially due to some certain aspects of my personal life and at the time of writing I was thinking about death, questioning its significance, purpose and even value. The timing was somewhat coincidental and as such it naturally became a part of the motivations behind the music which was being written at that time. During this period in which the concept and music were being developed, the subject matter sort of crept into my day to day life as I had ever much engrossed myself in all sorts of different works relating to the subject (writings, music, film, etc) and it became a constant mindset at the time. The word 'Mammal' bares significance within the lyrics of the album and that is why it was chosen as the title. The poetry of Emily Dickinson has always been a major inspiration and during the time of writing I returned to her work. In a number of her poems she refers to the relationship between the animal kingdom and death. That gap between the significance of the human death and the animal death interests me. While the consequences may not relate, perhaps there is no difference beyond that. The lyrics are very personal and this is the first time that we have taken such an approach. In the past the subject matter has been somewhat more narrative and topical. I'll try to refrain from excessive analysis as none of this is formally defined considering it is just my own thoughts and interpretations on the subject matter. 

Someone else may choose to interpret differently. The mention of Neptune refers to the planet, which is the furthest from the Sun within our solar system. The sun represents life, it is life. Perhaps Neptune is the other half, the yang. The distance between them may be our journey. “Feather and Bone” is both a literal description of some of the percussive elements utilised in that particular track, and also a referral to remains. These words describe the physical component of our being and that which remains. These things are not a part of us following the moment of death. While a part of our living life, they are not a part of our greater being. “When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean” is reference to the ancient Irish belief that the setting of the sun is symbolic of our transition from this world into the next. It was believed that the sun entered another world via the ocean. The rise of the sun was seen as birth and the renewal of an eternal cycle. In this song is also a live audio recording of what is known as a keen. Keening (derived from the Gaelic word caoineadh, to cry) is a vocal lament that was traditionally practiced over the body of the dead. I think that the final title, “All Life Converges to Some Centre”, is the most apparent in its meaning. It conveys the point that following our death, all life will go to the same place. I do not believe in an afterlife as such, but perhaps a return to the cycle. Maybe even something beyond that. 

Tell me about the rest of the members... They play in other bands, maybe? I know you have changed the drummer. You are the leader or do you consider yourself to be the leader of the band? 

Johnny (drums) is the only member who is in another band, called Abaddon Incarnate. Dave and I have been in Altar of Plagues together since its inception and both of us have committed most of our musical capacity to this. I am very reluctant to refer to myself as the leader as I think there are two dimensions two Altar of Plagues- the live 'band' and the creative entity. As a live band the four of us commit equal effort and share equal responsibility. In terms of the creative side, as the person who writes all of the musical and develops all of the concepts, then yes in that regard I am the 'leader' so to speak. Dave has handled all of our artwork since day one and we always work closely together on that. How you can you do rehearsals as you stay in 3 different European capitals? This is not so easy... 

We have never been a band that rehearses two nights a week, or even regularly at all. We prefer to practice in large, consecutive sessions. It is still possible to make that work with all of us in different countries. The four of us have been performing together for a few years now so that makes thinks much more fluid. 

I know in Bucharest you will have the first gig after more than one year of silence... Are you nervous about this, maybe? Stressful? I know you will have after a lot and a lot of gigs... 

We are very excited and feel prepared. This is the first time that we will perform the 'Mammal' material live and I very much look forward to that. It will give completely new life to the material for me. 

What is the difference between AOP in studio and live? Can we discuss about different concepts, different way to play the music, maybe? 

All of the music that I/we make is simply a document of a time and a place. It is made very much for ourselves, and is an vital form of expression for us. The music changes/progresses in its own way without it being a conscious decision. As time move on our tastes, opinions, and inspirations all change, thus changing what we create. “Mammal” felt very natural and was created without pretence. We followed our natural instincts and in a lot of ways we allowed it to construct itself. With “White Tomb”, the sonic qualities were a very important part of the music and we felt that it required a sonic weight. Production played a large role in achieving this. “Mammal” was a more impulsive expression. It felt frantic and I think the aggression was born of that. We wished to create the most honest representation we possibly could, and we happened to need to record this. In a lot of ways we just wanted the studio to just be there to capture our creation, rather than the mentality of going to the studio to submit to its mechanical process. I feel a very strong connection with the finished work as a large amount of emotion and energy was committed to the recording process. We choose to record all of our vocals in one take, as to do otherwise would has been dishonest to ourselves. The lyrics are deeply personal, and we wanted the delivery to be the same. We achieved this by taking time to reflect and get into the emotional head space before recording, and we collectively agreed that we would stick to whatever the end result was, warts and all. As well as that we also built the albums atmospheres from our own field-recordings, as opposed to using synthesizers as we have done in the past. We can identify each field recording to a time and a place and this. I like keeping elements to ourselves and retaining some privacy, particularly in a world where anything one wants is a click away. 

Are you satisfied with candlelight? Why you decided to launch the album with different covers, one for Europe by Candlelight and another one in US by PLC? 

Yes, we are very happy with our relationship with Candlelight. Choosing to have two covers was not any sort of a marketing ploy to sell extra copies (we detest such things), it was just a simple means of keeping both releases distinct from one another. We decided that we would choose two very different artworks, but wanted both to be entirely representative of the albums concepts. I am extremely pleased with the outcome. The photograph used for the Candlelight edition was captured by Daniel Sesé, whose work I came by when looking at some photography. We contacted Ketola as I am a huge admirer of his work and I was confident that he would be more than capable of creating a fitting piece, which we feel he did. I like that both covers are quite ambiguous and are open to interpretation. However, both artworks were created (in the case of the Profound Lore editions) or sourced (in the case of the Candlelight Edition) after the album was complete and as such the lyrical content was in mind throughout this process. I think that the representation of each cover becomes somewhat more apparent when one reads the lyrics to “Mammal”. 

What do you know about Romania? About history, geography metal music and not only... 

Ashamedly I don't know enough but I will be eager to learn as much as possible when there. I remember the first time I saw Herzog's 'Nosferatu' film, I was completely blow away by the scenery. Ever since I discovered that it was filmed in Romania I have long wanted to visit. 

What are the best albums you listened this year? Do you have some special bands you like? 

Mammifer's 'Mare Decendri' definitely stands out. It is absolutely incredible. James Blake's self titled album has also been listening to allot. 'Special' artists that I like would include Kate Bush, Arvo Part, Boards of Canada, and early Emperor. 

How is a normal day for you?

....Normal. Like everyone else, I have to endure some necessary banalities. In my life I generally try to find a good balance between the mundane and that which truly makes me happy, weather that is creating, hiking, being with good people. 

In the 1st of October you will offer us the first opportunity to understand your music in Romania... What are your expectations from the audience? 

Honestly, I have no idea. I hope that they will appreciate what we do as we look forward to sharing our performance with them. 

What kind of merchandise you will bring with you in Kulturhaus venue? 

Vinyl, cds, shirts, and even a few special items... 

How long will be your show and what tracks you will play? 

I think that it is best to leave an element of surprise. 

I forgot to ask you about the history of the band and the albums you released till now... Can you have some patience to offer to the Romanian fans all these details, pls? 

Altar of Plagues essentially began as a bedroom based demo. I recorded a few sketchy tracks, asked a friend to perform vocals and that was it. There were never any ambitions or even an intention to release the music; I just made it because I wanted to. When people were interested and we were offered shows we just went with it as it felt right. As we eventually grew into a band rather than 'bedroom' thing, we just took each step as it came. 

Thank you for this short chat. See you in a few days in Bucharest. The last idea: what is the difference between religion and spirituality? 

That’s a difficult question, one which a person could spend a lifetime trying to answer. I do not care for religion at all but I believe spirituality it something everyone should have. It is important that we all find deep connections with the world. 

September, 2011