Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Anasarca

I've been an admirer of this band's instrumental and songwriting proficiency for a while now, going back a few years, but it wasn't until they released their newest album, "Dying", that I felt like contacting Anasarca and initiating an interview. Guitarist/vocalist Mike was good enough to attempt answering my questions.

Your new album, "Dying", has a unique concept that provides the subject matter and structure for the lyrics. It is briefly explained within the lyric booklet itself, but will you please let the people who are reading this interview (and who may not have the album) know exactly what was the initial inspiration for this singular theme and how it progressed over the course of the record's writing? Did this idea provide the inspiration necessary to start working on your music again, or was the music already written and needed a lyrical concept to base itself on?

The music was already written, but I had an idea to do another lyrical concept. I never composed any songs to existing lyrics, the music must be brutal and tell its own story. The songs must "kill" even if there would never be vocals on it. So, the idea for this kind of theme was born through personal experiences with people that were dying. It was important for me to show they should not behave, because most of those dying want to be treated differently. They want to talk about their feelings, they want to talk about their past and mostly all in their surroundings are very insecure within that situation.

One thing that troubles me about this: how do you separate, in your own mind and in the effect you create with this album, the two separate ideas of a concrete "tribute" to these people who contributed to your lyrical matter and the notion of a product, of something to be sold and enjoyed as entertainment? Are you worried that some critics may point to your original lyrical concept as just another form of exploitation, as a kind of morbid savoring of other people's suffering?

Sorry, but I think death metal is not fun, it is not "entertainment" as many people would proclaim it to be. Death metal is emotional and for me it is important to make people think about topics, and to realize that there is sheer brutality in our everyday life, everywhere are situations that are so fucking brutal because that brutality is real and not one of those fictional gore and splatter stories. I already got reactions that said it is somehow macabre to do this, but hey, death is a normal part of our life and those people are happy that they can show us their thoughts - it is some kind of "psychological cure". They felt better and why should it be macabre to show other people what they maybe can expect when they become deadly sick some time?

Were you surprised by the number of cancer accounts in the responses you received? Or is this overriding appearance of cancerous subjects an artificial highlight that you emphasized by selecting only certain relevant stories to build on? What is Anasarca's general opinion of the progress of cancer research today? Has cancer personally affected you in any way, through the striking down of friends or family members, perhaps?

Many people in my girlfriend's family died by cancer, and so there is some anxiety about the fact that she seems to be in a risky group. A good friend of our family died by cancer and so it was the main reason for me to do such a topic as a concept for the next album. Cancer research is an important thing, but I don't have the medical background to say it is going well or poorly. I am more interested in those who suffer and their point of view. There are many possibilities to cure cancer sometimes, for example with genetic research, but the question is still, if it is really an aim we should reach [for]. Mankind grows and grows and we try to tear down the laws of nature - is that good and acceptable? Hunger and war is just an instrument to decrease the number of humans in the world - and I think in a way it is necessary.

There was a long hiatus between your last album, "Moribund" (which also means "dying" or "on the edge of death", doesn't it?) and the new one. Are there any direct reasons for this? Did the band have trouble with its members, or its label, or anything else? Do you think this time away from releasing music hurt the progress of the band in any way? Were the current members individually working on music this whole time?

Nope, the point was that we had some differences within the group such as how to exactly work in and for the band. On our tour in 2001 it reached a point that I couldn't accept anymore. So I decided to pause with the band, not knowing if we were going to do something again. But it was not possible not to write any songs within that time, and so I started composing songs for myself. After some time passed by, I asked Herb if he was interested in continuing the band and in recording a new album. He was happy with that idea and so we rehearsed the 9 tracks that were ready. A 10th song was half-ready and we completed it. We did some cover songs as well, because for possible license deals we wanted to have some more bonus material. Unfortunately no label in Asia or the US was interested in doing this licensing, so the three bonus-tracks were "for nothing". So, we recorded the album and that too took more time than we expected. But finally everything was done and we are happy with the result. Now we have a new guitarist named Joshi and we have already played live again.

In the liner notes you explicitly curse certain unnamed individuals who you say "try to blame me, talk shit and spread rumors" - what does this refer to? Does Anasarca face some sort of criticism in the metal scene that I am unaware of? Is this just part of your local scene, started by other bands? Is it competitive and motivated by envy, or is it something else?

We had some quarrels over here in our local scene. Some people talked shit about me and tried to blame me. Maybe it was motivated by envy, I don't know. But meanwhile we received a few explanations and now I hope we can finally behave like grown-ups and all cooperate, not [fight] against each other.

One thing that I definitely noticed about the new album is that your material here, in the present, is much darker and more refined than it was before. One also picks up on a faint black metal influence at times, for example the Immortal reference in the first riff on the album. Does this darker direction reflect a decision on your part to steer Anasarca towards other kinds of death metal, away from the sometimes overtly melodic constructions of the past? Does this new darkness just represent a "natural" evolution on your part? Is it used to give weight and emphasis to the despair and confusion so prevalent in the lyrics? Is it important to you to mix various styles of metal into your sound instead of just concentrating, say, on limited subgenres, on constricting little definitions of what one can and can not do with the music?

The lyrics had no influence on the songs. Those kinds of "Immortal" riffs have always been a part of our songs - just listen to "If Only ..." or "Condemned Truth". It wasn't intentional to do parts of other metal styles, the music is just composed "from the gut", just spontaneously. I don't think while writing songs, the best riffs that fit are just placed, it doesn't matter if they sound thrashy or like BM. By the way: I don't care for any black metal, so to speak...I don't like that kind of music. I am an old school death metal maniac and if you listen to my favourites, you can hear parallels to our music. I think the next album will be the same as it is now, maybe some more influences from [new guitarist] Joshi, but I think we found our own style, a style I prefer playing and listening to, so why change anything? Some people say it is a lack of variety in our music and the last two albums, but who cares? I am satisfied with our songs, I love that kind of style and I never want to do something special only to have some more variety. If it fits - ok. If it grows - ok, but we do what we want, not what others want.

"Dying" was actually recorded, as it says in the liner notes, between June and August of 2003. Why did it take almost a year for it to be released? It must have been difficult for you to wait for this long in order to see your music finally unleashed. Has Anasarca been working on new music this whole time, through the past year? Are you writing a new album? If so, how will this new music compare to what we can hear on "Dying"? What has the response been like to this album so far - from your friends as well as the fans? Has the tone of these responses had any kind of impact on the new music you are writing?

Responses never have an influence on our music. We do what we want to, not what others want or expect. The only thing is, the name Anasarca will always stand for brutal death metal - if we would like to do something different than death metal, we would change the name or something like that, but I can't imagine that ever could happen. It took such a long time with the recording because our studio is a little one in a family environment. So we had weeks our engineer had to work in his job, or my studies were more important, or I felt sick and so on and so on ... but finally it succeeded, so it was worth waiting. Right now there are no new songs written and as I said before, everything would be the same quality as on "Moribund" and "Dying".

The art on the new album, filtered through blue tones, was done by someone involved with your label, correct? How much of an involvement did you have with the album artwork? Did you pick the images and design the presentation or was this done without your consultation and then presented to you? The emphasis on the color blue throughout the art is interesting, but what is also striking are the images that evoke a controlled paranoia of contagion and medical procedures, analogous in a fashion to decorations from industrial bands like SPK. The choice of images is used obviously to lend visual context to the lyrics, but do they also reflect a wariness on your part both of the modern world and Western medicine? Are Anasarca dystopian critics, do you wish for a return to an earlier form of civilization?

I'm the one who did the cover. I did the whole booklet as well. Of course the whole thing was done to underline the main concept, but there is no dystopian criticism or anything else. We don't want to criticize medicine or every kind of civilization. We got in contact by email, so is this an early form of civilization? I am a technological maniac, interested in and studying business, so I want progress in life. I think the mood was hit well with the colors I chose in the cover, and it is of course close to the "Moribund" cover that has this blue touch as well. Many people told me they thought it looks like a black metal or even a gothic album with that cover, but it is saddening and it fits perfectly with the music and the lyrical concept. The German mag "Lärmbelästigung" wrote that they think this cover is absolutely crap (the same with our logo), but I think it's okay if people can't understand that we want to do more than blatant or obvious gore and splatter.

Are there any plans to tour in the near future, or will you be mainly concentrating on the studio while you only have two members? I know there must be a number of American fans who would love to see you play here. Will your new label be helping in any way with this? Please let us know your plans for the future. Thanks for answering this interview, and I wish you good luck with your music.

We have a lot of contacts with American fans and we had the possibility to play there, but it was too expensive for us. Our label isn't able to help out I'm afraid. I have a good friend over there, playing in the band Gutrot and maybe we can do some shows together in the near future - we'll see. We were asked to play the Maryland Death Fest, but it was not possible. Okay, thanks a lot for the interview and I'm sorry that it took so long. Everyone should check out "Dying"! Hope to see ya some time! Cheers.