Aluk Todolo’s Occult Rock is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year; a monolithic double LP of blackened experimentation of the highest order. With help from the incomparable Nathan T. Birk, I contacted the band via e-mail to gain some insight into their instrumental alchemy. The following interrogation transpired…
THKD: Occult Rock is Aluk Todolo’s most expansive work to date. What were the challenges you faced while crafting such a sprawling work? Is this the definitive Aluk Todolo recording?
Antoine Hadjioannou (drums): The main challenge was to find the definitive shape of these tracks…
Matthieu Canaguier (bass): We’ve been playing them live so many times, we knew that we had to find the essence of these compositions for this recording. On a certain level, this album is like a sum of our past works, but can we call it definitive ? It’s more like a beginning.
Shantidas Riedacker (Guitar): We’ve been working on these tracks since the beginning of the band in 2004, each version we made had its own intensity, the versions on the album Occult Rock are unique and belong to time and space.
THKD: Did you have any specific goals in mind when setting out to create Occult Rock? Perhaps something you hadn’t yet accomplished with your previous recordings? What can you tell us about the recording sessions?
M.C.: Our previous albums were studio experimentations, unlike this time. We really wanted to have a natural, incandescent live sound. We wanted to keep the same formulas and concepts that drive the band but played in a new orientation.
S.R.: We went to the Drudenhaus studio, far from everything in the countryside of France. Xort, the sound engineer with an acoustic approach, captured our live sound without any unpure transformation.
What can you tell us about your writing method? Does improvisation play a roll in Aluk Todolo’s approach to composition? Do you write as a band or is there a “main composer?”
M.C.: We have no main composer. A piece can be created on the base of a rhythm pattern, a guitar note or even just a sound or a word. Improvisation doesn’t have such importance in our composition methods, maybe we can speak of live or spontaneous creation…
A.H.: It is all about emptying our minds to allow the forces coming. The feeling of “absolute necessity” is important to us.
Much has been made in reviews and such of Aluk Todolo’s fusion of black metal and krautrock elements. What is the common ground between the two genres? At what point did you become aware of these commonalities?
A.H.: These are words to describe our music, it’s not a concept.
S.R.: If you dissect the music with references in mind, you always can see everything as a fusion of borrowed elements. Our interest is the primordial pulse.
On the flipside of things, how does the black metal pedigree of Aluk Todolo’s members inform the music you’re making?
A.H.: Austerity is what we kept from black metal.
Some of the guitar and bass playing on Occult Rock is quite reminiscent of bands like PiL and Killing Joke (at least to these ears). Are you at all influenced by post-punk?
M.C: It’s always difficult to speak about influences or references, as we are not thinking of that at all when we are playing our music. Reminiscence ? Yes, of course. So you were right to mention Killing Joke. I really love that band, for the cohesion and the originality of the rhythmic section especially. I can mention albums like Brighter than a Thousand Suns or Fire Dances as big turning points in my musical culture.
Your music has an extremely cinematic quality to it. Is Aluk Todolo in any way influenced by film or perhaps film makers or even soundtrack composers?
A.H.: I guess that the “cinematic quality” is inherent to any hypnotic/ meditative music.
S.R.: Our recordings are soundtracks.
One of the first things that struck me about Occult Rock is that it is an incredibly mesmerizing listen. How do you achieve these hypnotic qualities within the music and is it intentional? Is it a simple matter of repetition?
A.H.: Yes it is intentional, it is one of our main goals. Repetition surely does that, but also disruptions, the appropriate harmonies or disharmonoies, and weird rhythmic patterns. But we don’t have a secret recipe. The way we proceed is more mediumnic.
SR : The work on the assimilation of our own musical creations as a mass was essential to achieve their cosmic dimensions.
What prompted you to call the album Occult Rock? Is this a response to the various bands claiming “occult rock” as a genre tag?What does “occult” mean to you personally and how does that translate into Aluk Todolo’s music?
A.H.: We named our music “occult rock”, and by “occult”, we mean that our music deals, sonically, musically, thematically and aesthetically, with the knowledge of the hidden mysterious powers of cosmos and mind. By “rock” we mean rock instruments: drums, bass and guitar.
We don’t have anything in common with this “occult rock” genre. As for the title of the album, there is a double meaning which is very obvious if you look at the artwork.
A.H.: The image of the volcano is in direct connection with the album title and concept, as Occult Rock deals with the alchemical transformation of the primordial vibration into matter, through all its elemental phases.
You strike me as a band that is always evolving and progressing. How would you describe the evolution of Aluk Todolo’s music up to this point to an outsider? Are you aware of the progression taking place as it is happening? Is the feeling palpable?
A.H.: I don’t have a feeling of progression. We are servants of the music, we do what the music requires.
M.C.: The tracks we recorded on Occult Rock are as old as the band. The albums we made have always been imposed by the moment, the only moment. The concepts that feed our work remain the same, but each album must be a new experimentation, an exploration of our basic formulas.
SR : We are always under the music.
You recently played several shows here in the US. How would you describe the experience? What does Aluk Todolo get from playing live?
M.C.: Playing is the US is always a great experience as we have always been supported there (our label has been American since our beginning).
Were there any specific artists that directly influenced or inspired you during the creation of Occult Rock? What are you currently listening to? Do you have any recommendations for THKD’s readers?
M.C.: We didn’t refer to any other artist during the creation of Occult Rock, we kept focused on our own compositions.
These days I’m totally into to the following bands : Sacrifice (from Sidoarjo in Indonesia), Guzzlemug (US), Menace Ruine (CAN).
A.H.: I’m currently listening to Christian Vander’s album : A tous les Enfants.
S.R.: I recommend listening to the whole discography of Christian Death !
What does the remainder of 2012 have in store for Aluk Todolo? Will you continue to play shows in support of Occult Rock? Is there any new material already in the works?
A.H.: There is always new material in the works.
S.R.: We’ll continue to play Occult Rock.
Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
A.H.: Aum Tat Sat.