Morphing The Particles of Death Metal: An interview with ALKALOID Frontman Morean
A death metal supergroup comprised of current and ex-members of bands like Obscura, Necrophagist, Aborted and Dark Fortress sounds too good to be true.
Yet, it exists, and its name is Alkaloid.
After quietly releasing their debut album The Malkuth Grimoire in 2015, the band, comprised of five of Germany’s arguably finest death metal musicians (Hannes Grossman, Linus Klausenitzer, Christian Münzer, Danny Tunker and Morean), became somewhat of an underground sensation and caused an insatiable desire for new music almost immediately.
Three years on, and Alkaloid has at last unleashed its much-anticipated sophomore record, Liquid Anatomy, and it was every bit worth the wait (read our review here). Carrying on in the same forward-thinking spirit as its predecessor, Liquid Anatomy is rife with mind-bending compositions that push the very boundaries of what progressive death metal is capable of. Special emphasis should be put on the “progressive” moniker, because Alkaloid doesn’t so much bludgeon as they do lobotomize (though plenty of bludgeoning is still involved).
Each of the members of Alkaloid have rightly earned their own impressive and extensive pedigrees as musicians, but vocalist/guitarist Morean has perhaps the most diverse. In the metal world, he’s known for his work in melodic black metallers Dark Fortress and progressive thrashers Noneuclid; however, he’s also gained a fair amount of notoriety throughout Europe as a classical composer, a talent that carries over into his work with Alkaloid. It’s evident throughout the entirety of Liquid Anatomy that Alkaloid isn’t content to merely blend in with the current overgrown crop of death metal bands; they’re seeking to reconstruct the genre at a molecular level and morph the very particles that make it up.
Morean was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule and give us an in-depth look at the philosophies that drive Alkaloid and how Liquid Anatomy came to be.
It's been three years since Alkaloid's debut was released. What's been keeping you busy in the interim?
Morean: All kinds of stuff, as always on the music roller coaster! Let’s see… Hannes made his second solo album, on which we all appeared, and has been touring with Hate Eternal and producing albums in his studio. Danny quit Aborted while playing with both bands in Egypt but is always involved in all kinds of things. Obscura made a new album in an exciting new incarnation. Chris has Eternity’s End going, and played quite a bit also with other bands lately. I wrote a children’s opera together with a good friend, which we’re performing right now (and I actually took the main riff from the song “Azagthoth” from it on the new album), and a whole bunch of other music too; there was an orchestral piece celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, some brass pieces, a virtual reality project that’s coming up with the crazy ensemble Black Pencil from Amsterdam… 2015 seems long ago! And none of us gets to stand still much I guess.
Liquid Anatomy is a very diverse and eccentric collection of music, even more so than The Malkuth Grimoire. How did the writing process differ this time around?
M: In principle, it was written in the same way – basically, everybody does whatever they want – with the difference that Danny also brought some stuff to the table. And of course we all learned from the first album, and wanted to improve what we started then. It’s always a process of exploration, and this band is taking us regularly to places we didn’t know before. That’s what we love about the process – its unpredictability, and finding cool solutions and connections for self-imposed compositional challenges.
Is Liquid Anatomy a concept album? What sorts of themes and ideas served as inspiration for the lyrics?
M: Broadly speaking, yes. Whereas the previous album dealt with rearranging existing particles into new stuff, this one deals with changing the particles themselves. If you could manipulate and generate matter on a subatomic level, what becomes possible? And how would you define yourself as a being if you could change everything about yourself, fluidly and infinitely? These ideas come together as connected but independent strands within different stories, sometimes tying songs together with songs from the first album or songs not even written yet. I’d say Alkaloid is a beast that is allowed to grow organically and without premeditated goals – except that it has to be awesome, of course.
Collectively, you guys come from very diverse musical backgrounds, and it shows in your songwriting. That said, it's pretty apparent listening to Liquid Anatomy that you put "the song" above all else, never injecting technicality for the sake of it. Can you talk a little bit about putting "the song" first, especially in a genre like metal?
M: In fact, music is always about “the song,” whether it’s a symphony or an advertising jingle. The sports aspect of musicianship is interesting when you’re 20 and learning the craft, until what comes out of your limbs doesn’t sound too dreadful anymore. But then, once you can play, it should always be about the music, about creativity and expressing something strongly. All the tools in the world won’t help you if you don’t know what to build with them. But it’s easy to talk for us now, we have all had plenty of chances on all the albums and in all the bands we’ve played in to show off our chops. And maybe we had to live through all that before we could finally relax into the freedom we give ourselves and each other in this band. I personally don’t feel I have to prove myself constantly anymore, and show off how br00tal or fast I am, and I can imagine my colleagues in Alkaloid would agree. It feels like in this band, what I’ve always tried to do in metal is finally working. I don’t mean to put down any of our other work by saying this, everything was always genuine. But we profit from our experience and need for certain standards, which are only set by ourselves. And now we finally have the tools to achieve a better representation of maybe better ideas than in the past, without necessarily making it about the tools themselves.
Obviously, Alkaloid is a death metal band at its core, but there's no denying the strong prog elements you bring to the table. It almost seems as though each song on Liquid Anatomy touches on a different musical style to a certain degree. Was this intentional on your part?
M: I suppose so, at least subconsciously. But it wasn’t planned like this or anything. It’s just the sum of what was on the table a year ago. Each of us just pursues whatever they’re interested in, and we know our common ground is big enough to accommodate pretty much anything coming from any of the members. I don’t remember any of us ever saying that something went too far or wasn’t welcome in any of the songs. Well, of course Hannes had the mammoth task of forging all the chunks into an actual, consistent (for a given value of…) album in the studio, and his hard work there helps to amplify these differences and at the same time connect them. I couldn’t care less about genres and definitions, but we’d rather define ourselves as an extreme prog band than a proggy extreme band, if you know what I mean. So I guess it’s prog first, because that makes the extreme also necessary, while not condemning us to it forever and always.
With your guys' lineup, Alkaloid is a death metal nerd's wet dream come true (I say this as one myself). There are A LOT of death metal bands out there these days; some might say the genre as a whole has become very oversaturated, making it hard to seek out the good bands. What do you think of the state of the genre as it stands today
M: It’s as irrelevant as other genre hairsplitting, because all music is drowning in an all-consuming ocean of itself, and hence irrelevance, anyway. Not only death metal is oversaturated – music is, and not only music. At the same time, we live in a time of abundance that is unheard of. The world’s too big now to worry about the orthodoxy of 30 year old ideas. Death metal is around, it’s a thing (thanks, Ace Ventura!), and with a bit of luck it’s here to stay, like expressionism or Gothic architecture. What’s important is that it keeps evolving, or it dies an unspectacular creative death like so many other genres before it – genres that have closed the door to new ideas in 1985 / 65 / 45 / 25 etc… and now wonder why the world isn’t perplex with amazement about the same old stuff anymore.
What advice do you have for young musicians/bands who are looking to stand out from the pack?
M: Be yourself, always, and as much as possible. Only you are you. Everything starts with imitation of course, but if you want to be heard, you have to say something that everyone else hasn’t been talking our ears off with already for the last several decades. Dare to go far. Exaggerate. Don’t wait for praise; look for the kick in the music itself. And don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself either. You can never quite control how much success your voice, your art will have in the outside world, and that’s completely the wrong reason to do music anyway. You have to enjoy the ride. For if you don’t, you can better find another hobby or job, because then, music’s not worth it. Besides, this manifesting of your deepest essence in a work of art (or whatever) is one of the most profound experiences you can have and share, if you are so inclined – whether it’s for 20 people in your back yard or televised for the millions.
Does Alkaloid have any plans to tour?
M: There’s nothing fixed yet, but we’re working on it. Stay put, and thanks for checking us out!