"I believe life is a war" - Timothy Pope of The Amenta

Timothy Pope, the Noise and FX supremo from Sydney's The Amenta, talks about the war of the psyche, musical experimentation and the new release Flesh Is Heir.

Last Friday night, I settled in for a phone chat with Timothy Pope about The Amenta’s new release Flesh is Heir. Out in Australia on Friday 22nd of March, Flesh is Heir is the third full-length album from the Sydney-based extreme metal outfit, not that they’ve been quiet with three notable digital EP releases (V01D, Chokehold and Teeth) since the 2008 album n0n.


Though the current line-up has been around since 2010, Flesh is Heir is the full full-length album of original songs by this line-up. “I guess we've spent a lot of time in between albums mucking around, doing a lot of touring and writing and perfecting what we're doing. It takes a while for stuff to get out there,” Pope admits. Flesh is Heir has been a long time in coming, but critics have been finding it well worth the wait.


Pope willingly explained the creative process that has driven this album, “When we try and write a new release we're usually reacting to the music that we've already written. With this album we'd previously released n0n, which was a very digital and very manipulated album and it was quite deliberately sterile and cold. So doing that kind of album again wouldn't have been interesting for us. We wanted to find a new idea, something to reignite the spark of inspiration for us to continue writing this album. For all of our albums, it starts with throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks really. We play with things until we find a little spark or idea that seems worth pursuing. It’s all about experimentation and finding that little opening, that little chink in the album, and then you can pursue that and open it all up. At the end of the day, it all comes down to experimentation.”


One of the aspects that The Amenta are known for, are the semi-industrial sounds and effects that layer in and around the more traditional death and black guitar riffs. Timothy Pope is behind these sounds in the studio, and live, but for Flesh Is Heir he has took a different approach. “This album was a lot of fun for me. For the previous album I spent months and months and months doing really meticulous programming, small panning and changes, and it was hard. It was really kind of soul crushing. It would take two or three months to do a single song just in this programming. So with this album, I obviously wasn't really interested in doing that sort of thing anymore,” Pope confesses. “I was quite interested in the idea of real time processing and samples. I barely played any keyboards on this album; it's all samples I either created myself just with a microphone in front of some metal or recording strange sounds around the house, or little snippets, tiny couple of seconds, of music that I pilfered from modern composers and various kinds of choral and orchestral works. I created patches and samples from them, and played them from essentially my live setup directly into the computer we were recording in. I used some distortion, pitch-shifting and delays in real time as it went in. So I actually played the samples into the recording.”


“When you program things, you program what you know. I know if I do a volume rush going into a riff it will sound dynamic, and when you program that you will have a hard cut at the end and it sounds very digital. When you play it live it flows over, because obviously I'm a bit slower than a computer. You get a bit rougher and more organic sound, which excited us. I think that's how this album is a lot more organic that anything we've done in the past.”


Flesh Is Heir is more organic than n0n, and slower than the relentless Occasus, but this isn’t a change of direction for The Amenta. “We get, understandably, pigeonholed as a really fast and (I hate this word) brutal band. This album definitely has a lot more in terms of swing between the fast stuff and the slow stuff, often within the same song. If you look back at our discography, on the first album there was definitely a lot of fast stuff, but still a song like Nihil, which is a bit slower. It's been there. We always set ourselves rules about the album, and I think for two albums now the rule has been no blast beats. But obviously we don't stick to that at all. For us, that's something that we like to experiment with. We know what we play live can come across sometimes as a full-on and impenetrable wall of noise. Having [slow to mid-paced] speeds in a set list kind of break it up a little bit, and may be able to help people understand the depths and subtly of what we actually do.”


And as for the more melodic edge I couldn’t help but notice? “It's been there in the past, but it's probably peeking it's head up a bit more this time. Maybe, also, because we mixed this album entirely ourselves it's the most sympathetic understanding of the band. I think if you listen to our previous albums it's there, and it wasn't a conscious decision to make it more melodic. But I think with the production being a little bit softer in terms of it's not as trebly and harsh as the second album, and the first album was a bit more of that brutal sound, it allowed that stuff to be perceived a bit easier. With all that high end stuff, all you hear is the really aggressive digital noises. Whereas this one I think it's a bit more open and a bit more natural so you focus a bit more on the melody of the guitars maybe. It definitely wasn't a conscious thing, but I agree there is a strong melody running through this album.”


The Amenta have been called a lot of genres.  Timothy Pope has said in the past that he considers the Amenta to sit outside genres, and the literalist in me had to ask why. “I believe we sit outside them, because I believe all bands should say they sit outside genres. I think genres have their uses. They’re journalistic shorthand to give the reader, the listener, the audience, an understanding of what a band potentially sounds like so they can get a picture in their mind.” Ah, yes. True. “I think if you start giving yourself genres, you're essentially giving yourself rules to work within. As soon as you step outside those rules you kind of have to say, 'Well am I death metal? If death metal means not having clean singing, and we have a clean singer, are we not a death metal band anymore?' You can't work that way. To me you should just make the music you want to make, and it should be an honest reflection of who you are as a person, because at the end of the day you're trying to express yourself.”


But despite this, and a few interesting past classifications, Pope is able to describe The Amenta, “I don't mind how people perceive our music. It's not up to me to tell people how to classify us, that's entirely up to them.  I think appreciation of music is a very private thing. That said, I think if I were to put us on a continuum… I think if you had death metal at one end, black metal at the other, and crossing that at a 90degree angle you had industrial noise, we'd probably be right in the middle of the X.”


The live shows of the Amenta have been called brutal, the album covers are violent and the videos often confronting, but Pope doesn’t think you should take this as a representation of the people behind the music. Instead, it is a representation of the message the music conveys. “We’re not aggressive people off stage and off recording, but the themes we're trying to address are aggressive. I think metal has had many bands, and many years, of people singing truly horrendous stuff that [appears] jokey. You look at all the Cannibal Corpse covers and they're cartoonish, which I know is what they go for and that's fine. But we're dealing with something that we believe is quite serious.”


“This album is about the war between the two sides of the human psyche. I believe this is the Obliterate, which is the part of you that wants to be subsumed or obliterated by something greater than yourself. For a lot of people that's God, for some it's drugs, sex, that sort of thing. The other side is the Realist, the part of you that fights for individuality, that is constantly crawling through the mud to get somewhere. Everyone has got those two aspects in them. I believe life is a war, and quite a violent struggle between those two poles of the human psyche. So for us to write and sing about that, but then to get up onstage in our blue jeans and sneakers wouldn't work for me. To me that's not honest. I know that people would say we wear makeup, we put contact lenses on and that is in some way false, but to me that is the correct way of interpreting the message we're trying to put across. It's an aggressive message, it's about an aggressive thing, but I don't think the aggression is directed externally. It's always internal.”


“All of my lyrics, they're not about hate. They're about frustration. They're about my frustration with living in the world and the things I have to come across. It's not about 'I hate this particular brand of person, I hate this religion'. That's just not me, so writing that way would not be honest. It's this frustration. I think inside everyone, no matter how pleasant and polite they are, there is a frustrated person. If you can imagine what that frustrated person would look like, it's probably a bit like Cain [Cressall] in the Teeth video. An animal. A really primal, vicious part of you. If you scoop away all the Ego and the Id, and you're just left with that really really primal part, that's what it's going to be. This really angry, lust-filled monster.”


The Amenta’s live show is not one to be missed, and Australian fans will have ample chance this year to see them live. They are playing the Metal Obsession 5th Birthday Party in Melbourne on March 23rd, April 27th in Perth before travelling to the Hammersonic Festival in Indonesia, then joining the Cradle of Filth tour down the East Coast of Australia. Pope also tells us that there are plans to play a set of Australian headlining shows in June, with other local bands in tow.


And a final word from Timothy Pope? “We really believe in this album, and obviously all bands believe their latest album is the best thing they've ever done, but I think this is the best thing a lot of people are going to hear this year. I really think this album stands very very strongly, but I can't imagine anyone topping it because essentially I'm an arrogant arsehole. So I suggest everyone check it out and we'd love to hear everyone's feedback so jump on Facebook and let us know what you think.”




Albert Petersen's Review of Flesh Is Heir