Long established as one of the greatest live acts on Earth, Amenra has also always had great, purposeful albums with heady concepts. Following their Mass titled albums I through VI, released over fourteen years, the band has rebirthed itself into a new final form. De Doorn begins their association with the mighty Relapse Records, continuously the arbiter of good taste for extreme music. From epic post-Metal, pastoral Folk motifs, moody post-Rock moments, to wicked eruptions of pain and grief stricken movements; Amenra’s music simultaneously feeds the brain and soul.
As we expected, The Atlas Moth’s new album The Old Believer (Profound Lore) is as much a study in rough hewn crushing heaviness, as it is in delicate somber patience. One of the best releases this year so far, fans should expect it to top many year-end, best-of lists. When Chief Editor Keith (Keefy) Chachkes caught up with Chicago’s Svengali of riffs and screams, Stavros Giannoplous was on tour opening for The Ocean and Scale The Summit, we conducted our interview in the crowded, smoke-filled little green room, while The Ocean jammed about 20 feet away on stage. Our conversation ebbed and flowed freely, like the water pipe that was passed around, as we discussed the new album, the pressure that comes with critical acclaim, and how one of the most prolific guys in the metal scene creates art on his own terms.
There were clear advantages for the band being out on the road in the months before their new album dropped. With no fanfare on this night, were treated to three new songs from The Old Believer, and everyone in the crowd had their mouths agape when it was over. Having already heard the rest of the new album shortly thereafter, we began by asking Stavros to contrast his new opus with their last album An Ache for the Distance (also Profound Lore):
“It’s really all over the place. I’d like to think it’s a pretty logical next step. We don’t try to write a certain type of song or anything. We just make a lot of fucked up noise, like we always do, and it just comes out like it does. The leap from the first record to Ache was really huge, this is more like a regular step as opposed to a gigantic step to me. It’s a definite progression from the last one, but you know it’s kind of hard to explain. It varies throughout the entire fucking record. No two songs sound the same on it, so that is very cool.”
An Ache for the Distance was such a critical success and certainly one of the best albums of 2011. We wondered how much pressure Stavros and the band placed on themselves to top it, and if it interfered with the creative process:
“Yeah. I feel it musically and artistically, like as far as layout goes. The layout last time just seemed like a perfect storm. Everything kind of came together and it just happened. It was great! People still ask me about it and it came out great. I still look at it and I totally feel like I accomplished everything I set out to with it. It doesn’t matter if anyone agrees with me or not. It means a lot to me. Everything about this new one was so hectic. So the people who really enjoyed An Ache for the Distance really connected to it. So it’s kind of hard to ask them to care again and become emotionally connected to a new piece of music. I know myself, I am probably my harshest critic. But at the end of the day you can’t worry about the pressure. It’s going to come out how it comes out.”
In addition to work on The Old Believer, Stavros has been involved in now defunct black metal supergroup Twilight, Chrome Waves, several other bands and art projects on a continuous basis for several years now. We surmised that he must be a fairly prolific guy artistically, and that perhaps makes new music all the time. He weighed in on this theory:
“I don’t know about all the time, but I play a lot of guitar at home alone. Sometimes things happen, and somethings things don’t. And I’m a very big believer that if I don’t remember something I wrote, it probably wasn’t that good. I’m kind of freewheeling with things. And now I really write a lot off of what other people are playing. It’s become a real strength for me. It’s more realistic for me than…I just don’t sit around and say I’m gonna write a song today between 8 and 10, you know? That would never work for me. Sometimes it comes and that’s great, and sometimes it doesn’t and I let it go.”
As a band that has logged many moons on tours in opening slots, choosing a set list at this point in their career must be a challenge. Especially when you factor in the three new tracks tonight that made up more than half of their set on this night:
“That is a really great question. We did a week of headlining dates by ourselves before the tour, and we ended up missing half of them, because our van fucking blew up. We were in Seattle and we had a good mix of old and new songs. Then I thought we had 25 minutes for this current tour, but then we found out that we had 40 minutes! So we were trying to put more (songs) in there. I wish we’d had more time, because now with three records of material, it’s kind of tough. We barely play anything off of A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky (Candlelight) anymore, and even less since Ache came out. Even just picking between Ache and this new one has been really hard as shit. I am really looking forward to playing an hour-long set again when we headline.”
Since Boston was the last night of the tour, Stavros was feeling reflective on the past few months on the road: “It’s been really rad! I feel like I have been gone forever. But also I feel like it’s over already and it really hit me today. I mean, we still have three more shows with The Ocean in Canada. Overall, it is kind of fucking weird. Between Silver Snakes, Scale the Summit and The Ocean’s fans, we are like the tie that binds everything together. It’s been an awesome tour! It was good to play for all these guys fans. It’s kind of like we are playing for that same Gojira crowd again, which is really the last national tour we did. So it’s nice to come back here and tour the entire country to full rooms before our album comes out, and get warmed up before our release. It’s been really cool.”
KEITH (KEEFY) CHACHKES
Since the birth of post-metal in the 90s, a lot of bands have tried to put their own spin on the genre. Some bands have crafted their own way, taking a germ of inspiration and really making some amazing art with it. Others have had a lot to live up to in order to prove themselves worthy, often falling short of the mark. Artists at the forefront of heavy music such as Neurosis and ISIS (RIP) constantly raising and redefining the bar, always outshined the rest of the field. After many releases in a scant few years, we have come upon the third full-length album from Chicago’s The Atlas Moth, and are stunned to at last find a worthy successor to those a fore mentioned greats. The stakes were high enough following enough 2011s An Ache For The Distance (Profound Lore), and this band delivered to the fullest.
The Old Believer (Profound Lore) is massive record, if not a slightly less brutal companion to the last album. What An Ache had in bludgeoning will and power, The Old Believer is more refined and expansive release. They lost none of the heaviness and entrancing motifs this band has been known for. Mantra like guitar lines, stretch layer upon layer without trampling on themselves. Shiver-inducing droning guitar parts fill you with despair and longing, depending on the song, snaking their way into your brain like good Kaya. Other elements, such as the harsh/melodic vocals, and many synth lines act as earworms, and are all nods to to the influence of ISIS. These are all done in a style that can only said to be pure “Moth-music”. We are hearing a band that has never been more confident sounding; tight and loose all at once.
‘Jet Black Passenger’ opens the proceeding with an ominous feed-backing guitar before a waterfall of guitar riffs and dreamy beats just knocks you out. Stavros Giannopoulos (Twilight, Chrome Waves) and David Kush share the vocal and guitar spotlight, much more equally in the past. While Stavros is unquestionably the leader of his band, there is room for everyone to shine; indicative of this track and the album as a whole. The harsh/melodic vocal mix is the right amount of suspense and horror. The driving beats of drummer Dan Lasek carries a nautical ebb and flow that will have you nodding along. The track is nothing short of ecstasy, and I wished it would never end.
‘Collider’ definitely has a bit of that sub-conscious, circadian circuitry working for it. Equal parts Deftones and Failure in flavor, the ever-present soloing lead lines and the baddass groove drop the hammer on your ears. Also the harrowing, blackened shriek of Stavros is again present here and he has perfected this sound on this album. He also stands up quite well as a subtle melodic singer when he wants to. This is one of the best songs on the album, and it stays with you long after the final notes cease. ‘The Sea Beyond’ again slams with a powerful pace, but this where the band has dialed it up considerably. Hitting upon the right blend of light and shade, never sacrificing the cool melodies or poignant lyrics for roughness. One of the things that makes this possible is the deft production values brought to the table by the bands’ own Andrew Ragin (keyboards/guitars) who has found the magic formula to make all of these parts blend smoothly.
The first inkling I had that this album was going to be more special than before was when I heard ‘Halcyon Blvd’ live when the band opened up for Scale The Summit and The Ocean this spring. ‘Halcyon Blvd’ is catchy, Gothic, dark and spooky. Almost like a TAM version of a ballad, the beautiful verses lull you to a calm before asking what size blouse you wear, then bashing your skull in with a frying pan. Since we know the band is heavily into progressive rock, there is no surprise when the guitars switch up a la Pink Floyd and King Crimson with lead playing in verses in a non-traditional context. There is so much epic guitar work going on here, I’d love to see the tabs transcribed at some point. ‘Sacred Vine’ is another chill-inducing track.
‘The Old Believer’ has a god-like guitar tone and heaviness to it, quite fitting for the title cut. ‘City of Light’ is another atmospheric jam with more great synth work from Ragin. Rainy-day music with doleful lyrics and killer singing. ‘Wynona’ again brings us back with the sea-faring rhythms, and more haunting lines to ponder. Some parts reach for the heavy Neurosis stratosphere and make it there, without being repetitive about it. The song also features some slick drum skills from Lasek too. Although TAM seems to write in mostly in one tempo which I will refer to forevermore as the “zombie shamble tempo”, the songs are so compelling you never feel bored. ‘Hesperian’ also has a similar feel, but goes through several cool dynamic and key changes. Alen Klein’s smooth bass lines attest to the slow burn factor, with a nice rounded tone. ‘Blood Will Tell’ closes out the affair with a track both catchy and heavy in a manner I haven’t really heard since Type O Negative was around. Fitting of a final stanza, this upbeat track has a hopeful feeling when heard against the mournful backdrop of the other songs. The urgent beat coupled with the gang vocals from Gojira sound humongous. There are other choice guest appearances on the album too, such as fellow Chicagoan Marcus Eliopulos (Stabbing Westward), and Subrosa violinists Kim Pack and Sarah Pendleton.
Befitting of a release of this stature, it has an amazing album cover with special treated material. When you dip the the cover in water it changes colors, revealing more art and reverts to normal when dried. This band on the rise won’t just be opening up for legends for too much longer, rather they are minting their own status in the scene. A must have purchase and a possible contender for album of the year.
KEITH (KEEFY) CHACHKES