I’ll be thirty-four this year; just short of halfway to forty. But I’ve never felt like I was getting older as a metalhead until recently. It occurred to me a few weeks ago when I was attempting to listen to a new album by a band that shall remain nameless and is being released by a well respected label; for the first time, I felt like the crotchety old fart who didn’t understand what the hell the young whippersnappers were doing. I simply could not wrap my head around what the appeal of this album was supposed to be or what the intent was. I shut it off after one track on my first attempt, after three tracks on my second attempt. And that’s when it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
2012 has been more stressful than a motherfucker; probably one of the most all-around stressful years of my life. Buying a house + assorted family and work-related issues that I wouldn’t even dream of getting into here managed to turn the year into a goddamn pressure-cooker. I’m pretty sure the only things that kept me alive were my wife’s unwavering love (and limitless patience) and an avalanche of incredible music. In 2011 I was feeling pretty jaded and dissatisfied with the state of heavy metal, this year I found myself feeling better about things than I have in years. That isn’t to say there weren’t great albums released in 2011, there were, but in 2012 I felt like there was so much greatness that I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all.
I must admit, I was late to the party on Brown Jenkins; I didn’t hear them until the inimitable Nathan T. Birk sent me a copy of Death Obsession while he was doing PR work for the once prominent black metal label Moribund Cult. I fell instantly in love with the band’s spellbinding attack, which blended elements of black metal, doom and gothic rock with an appropriately Lovecraftian sense of dread and crumbling sanity. I gave the album a glowing review for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net and subsequently came into contact with band mastermind Umesh Amtey. That correspondence blossomed into a friendship that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying for several years now; although Amtey and I have never met in person, I consider him a close comrade and look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses together in the same room.
As a result of our friendship, I’ve had the distinct privilege of watching the next phase of Amtey’s musical journey come into being. The Ash Eaters shares some traits with Brown Jenkins, but is an all together different beast. The guitar-work is more complex, the arrangements are more frantic, attacking the listener from every direction, while at the same time remaining catchy and memorable; Amtey has drawn from a wide range of influences and pushed them forward in every way imaginable.
I’ve been waiting for my chance to interview Mr. Amtey, so when he finally gave Ruining You, the debut Ash Eaters full length, to the world after a string of shorter releases, I knew the time had finally come. While I’ve had many private conversations with him regarding his musical history, motivations, influences, etc, I wanted to afford my readers the same opportunity to learn more about this truly unique individual and the excellent music he’s been releasing over the past several years. I contacted Mr. Amtey via e-mail for the following interrogation.
Roughly 5 months ago, Brandon Duncan (whom you may know from The Sequence of Prime) contacted me with an idea; let’s start a new online metal zine. Typically I prefer to work alone, but Brandon’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m proud to call him my friend, so there was absolutely no way I could refuse. Brandon gathered an ace design team while I hand-picked some of my favorite writers from internet metal land with the express purpose of creating something new and unique, to drag the old school metal zine into the future, come Hell or high water with an emphasis on good old-fashioned writing and design.
After 5 months of hard work, I’m proud to present to all of you the fruits of our labors in the form of Backlit #0; fifteen pages of mind-melting music, art and literature.
Backlit / 0
Now available at backlitzine.com
Cover Art by Dan Harding
Raping Angels in America #1 / Joshua Haun
Angry Old Men / Jordan Campbell
Helpless Child / Dan Obstkrieg
Fucking The Future / Joshua Haun
Libations in the Labyrinth Vol. 1 / Dan Obstkrieg
Words That Wound / Dan Obstkrieg
Doomsday Device / Joshua Haun
Interview With Jester King Brewery / The Dragon of M87
Interview With Ashencult / Jordan Campbell
Art & Fiction:
Succubus in the Attic / Nikki Guerlain
Dan Harding: The Fine Art of Horror / Brandon Duncan
The Dragon of M87
I hope that you will all enjoy reading the first issue of Backlit as much as we enjoyed crafting it. This is only the beginning!
Since 2011, The Ash Eaters have been releasing a steady stream of demo tracks, EPs and cover songs. The band continuously evolves with each new endeavor; guitarist/vocalist/evil genius Umesh Amtey is seemingly always refining and tweaking his approach, while at the same time expanding upon it in order to explore even darker, more twisted musical vistas. At this point my friendship with Mr. Amtey is well documented; it has been a joy to share in his excitement as the project has grown from the embryo that was last year’s Cold Hearts demo to the full-grown beasts of The Cruel Side EP and now the mesmerizing Ibn Ghazi EP.
WARNING: The following year end rant contains numerous piss poor attempts at humor and a healthy dose of cynicism. Reader discretion and a grain of salt are advised. THKD cannot be held responsible for anyone suffering from a severe case of butt-hurt as a result of exposure to this rant. Thank you for your support.
The Ash Eaters have released a new two track digital EP, The Cruel Side via their bandcamp page. For those not familiar, the band is the new project of former Brown Jenkins mastermind, Umesh Amtey. Amtey is probably one of the most underrated guitarists in metal, his playing a schizophrenic locust swarm that attacks from all sides and encompasses elements of black metal, doom, gothic rock and beyond. But as abrasive as this material may appear on the surface, it is also strangely catchy, the sheets of insectoid distortion burrowing deep into the inner recesses of your mind. I’m listening to the EP for the first time as I type this; I’m already eager to listen further. Amtey doesn’t just write songs, he creates musical labyrinths for the ears to explore.
Those of you familiar with The Ash Eaters’ Cold Hearts demo (also available via bandcamp), will instantly notice a distinct progression in playing and composition (as well as the return of Amtey’s Cthulu-esque vocal assault); indeed, the beautiful thing about this music is that it is constantly progressing, changing, morphing into something beyond the confines of extreme music.
I could say a lot more, but I’d rather let the music do the talking. Go grab this now!
I’d also highly recommend stopping by The Ash Eaters’ blog to download their cover versions of the Misfits’s “Angelfuck” and “Death Comes Ripping.”
Invisible Oranges main man and fellow metalhead Cosmo Lee has extensively championed the use of Bandcamp (here and here). He probably did it a hell of a lot better than I ever could, but considering that Fiends at Feast and The Ash Eaters, two bands I’ve been doing a little championing of my own for of late (I reviewed Fiends at Feast here and dished on The Ash Eaters demo here), have Bandcamp pages, I thought it was about time I weighed in.
Bandcamp blows Myspace out of the friggin’ water. Bandcamp is simple, clean and uncluttered. It takes the concept of bands using social networking as a promotional tool and strips it of all the nonsense that goes with it. No friends, no spam, no frills, no bullshit. Bandcamp is all about the music. It gives fans easy access to high quality downloads without a bunch of bric-a-brac getting in the way of their enjoyment. Just look at the screenshots included in this post. Could it get anymore straightforward than that? Highly doubtful.
Part of the reason for Myspace’s downfall is the high level of customizability. Once bands realized they could slap oversized logos, a dozen videos, five million and one flyers, photo slideshows, etc on their pages, it was all over. Chances are, if you’re an unsigned metal band from Oklahoma, someone from Japan listening to your music online doesn’t give a shit about the flyer from the hometown show you played five years ago or endless slideshows of you drinking beer with the local metal tarts. In other words, Bandcamp forces bands to “keep it simple, stupid” and makes them look that much more professional in the process. Trust me, if you want potential fans to take you seriously (not to mention potential labels), you’re better off leaving the drunken slideshows and fancy backgrounds to the teenage girls.
To make matters worse for Myspace (and the bands who try to use it), the one-time social-networking king recently went through a re-design that has rendered the site about as user-friendly as a Sasha Grey film with the sex scenes edited out. I’m not sure what the hell they were thinking, but the end result has made Bandcamp’s spotless presentation, and easy to use media player even more appealing. It amazes me that anyone even bothers to go on Myspace anymore and I’ve for the most part vowed not to post links to bands’ pages on the site unless it is the only option available for THKD readers to hear their music.
The Ash Eaters and Fiends at Feast couldn’t be more different musically, but both bands share a common goal. They want as many folks as possible to get the chance to check out their music. Bandcamp offers them the opportunity to do so in a way that is completely free of distractions, allowing the music to once again take precedence, something that had been lost amongst the dilapidated bells and whistles of Myspace. It draws a straight line from listener to band, which is exactly how it should be.
Below are some more excellent bands that have pages on Bandcamp.
Sepulchre – blackened Canadian death-crust
Vastum – gnarly Cali death metal featuring ex members of Saros
Imperial Triumphant - East Coast baroque black metal
Murmuure – French ambient black/noise/drone/clusterfuck
The Sun Through a Telescope – Canadian feedback-worshipping power drone
In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I consider The Ash Eaters mastermind UA a friend. We’ve developed a correspondence that if memory serves goes back to a review I wrote of his previous project Brown Jenkins’ swan song, Death Obsession, for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers site.
Even if we weren’t pen pals, I’d still be a fan of his music, especially his guitar playing. UA’s guitars are alive. They swarm and sing like a horde of locusts. They’re somehow melodic and dissonant at the same time, heavy and brittle and biting and hazy. His music, although certainly blackened, isn’t black metal, per se… it brings to mind visions of Varg Vikernes pistol-whipping Robert Smith and Daniel Ash in an abandoned cellar while Geordie Walker chain-smokes in the corner. This is manic music with a bizarre pop sensibility. It sticks to your ribs as it attempts to shatter them.
Cold Hearts is the inaugural demo from The Ash Eaters. It is three songs, twenty-five odd minutes of instrumental delerium. Although I miss UA’s Cthulhu-with-black-lung vocals from the Brown Jenkins era, his guitar-work and songwriting are compelling enough on their own. If you’re familiar with Death Obsession, you’ll recognize Cold Hearts as similar, yet taken many steps forward from both a playing and compositional perspective.
I could go on, but I’d rather let you hear the music for yourselves. You can listen to and download the Cold Hearts demo for free from The Ash Eaters bandcamp page HERE. Or download it for free via mediafire HERE.