Monday, October 22, 2012

Interview With Experimental British Metallers, Monsterworks!




Country of origin:
New Zealand
Palmerston North, Manawatu-Wanganui
Active since:

Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Heavy Metal
Lyrical themes:
Current label:
Casket Music


Monsterworks: Interview with Jon (with the other guys chipping in where noted!)

1. Let me start out this review by saying that you four gentlemen have made some of the most interesting metal that I've heard in recent memory. The fact that you don't play by genre rules and manage to unleash some superb music in spite of it is awe inspiring. What do you feel about these genre rules that many other bands follow, and explain more of the concept, "Image Is Nothing; Metal Is Everything."

First of all, thanks very much for saying so! It is very cool when we get an “awe inspiring” comment.
They say “rules are made to be broken” but that would imply that we go out of our way to break those “genre rules” you mention; I don’t think we do. Monsterworks has always been about doing what feels right at the time, and rolling with it. We like a wide range of metal and see no reason why that diversity can’t be applied to our own music. If other bands want to follow a particular formula for themselves or their audience they probably have good reasons to do it. I know from the feedback we get that some people just can’t handle thinking outside the box; which is puzzling because you would think metalheads are open-minded to some extent.

“Image is Nothing; Metal is Everything”: comes from the fact that I realised we didn’t have much of a distinctive image the way other bands do and we didn’t care for one. The metal “culture” has quite a visual aspect to it and once upon a time I used to have long hair and a wardrobe full of black band t-shirts…but I just grew apart from that as other things in my life moved on. However, I never grew apart from the metal; the music always stayed a constant. The other guys basically share that view.
However, possibly because we don’t conform to a particular appearance associated with whatever sub-genre, we aren’t restricted by what goes into the music either.

That said, the lack of image is probably a hindrance to really capturing the attention of the wider world if I am honest about it. The problem is we never wanted to portray ourselves as anything that we weren’t genuine about. I think it’s highly likely that many bands do enjoy dressing up to play live etc. It is all part of the theatre…but we never really felt that way.

But, if we had the budget I don’t actually mind the idea of putting on a more visually striking stage show by wearing armour and using pyro(!). It would be a fun experience.

2. Describe the recording process for both "Man Instincts" and "Man Intrinsic."

Both are taken from the same recording sessions for “Album of Man”. It was essentially a marketing decision to release the parts separately. Eventually, when all the material is out, it will make sense as a complete, coherent, album.

The basic tracks (drums, guitar, bass) are laid down to tape, using an old reel-to-reel machine. This lends a somewhat “vintage” sound to what we do as it’s a completely traditional setup – acoustic drums, amps turned up loud etc; as opposed to amp modelling software and triggered drums. After initial tracking everything is dumped into Cubase for vocals and extra guitars to be added. For that second stage, it is simply a more time and cost efficient way to work since PC-based editing is so much faster than the analogue alternative.

The 10 song set was recorded in 5 days at Earth Terminal Studios in Hampshire. It is a studio with room for us to stay over and inhabit the recording space for the full five days. Mixing is done in a separate 4 day session a few months later.

3. It is interesting that you prefer an analog approach to the music, like the classic albums that you grew up with. Do you guys hate the idea of over-polished music completely? Are there any bands that you've liked in the past that you no longer enjoy because of the production value?

I quite like modern metal music and production, but since we started using the old-school tape machine a few years ago it just felt like we were transported back in time. Everyone in the band enjoyed that vibe.

Some bands need the polished sound because it fits the precision of the music. I just think we sound better “gritty”. Mind you, I have no comparison; meaning no one has ever offered to remix any of our albums and polish it up by replacing all the drums with samples etc. Ha.

I should clarify that I am not some “lo-fi” freak that revels in crap production, like it was recorded on a cassette player in a dungeon. It just seems to me that if you go back to the late 60s and early 70s the sound quality of those records is actually better. It breathes well. Granted that might be partly due to the fact that the music was simpler and modern metal is very loud and busy. It is like comparing apples and oranges but that (capturing the vintage spirit) is just my justification for why we do the things the way we do.

I wouldn’t say there are any bands that I got turned off of because of production. The music underneath the production should be the deciding factor…although maybe in some cases the music gets more lame at the same time they make bad production choices….but I can’t think of any examples right now.

4. Talk to me about your instruments. What equipment do you guys use, how long have you all been playing and how much do you practice?

Recently I have gone back to using my old Gibson SG special, because I installed some BareKnuckles “Aftermath” pick-ups which are great; they gave it a new lease of life. I first started playing seriously/properly when I got that guitar about 16 years ago. I think I used a BC Rich Warlock on the latest release with EMGs but I can’t remember for certain.

My amp is a Diezel Herbert through a Mesa rectifier cab and I have some analog pedals to experiment with during recording sessions. For home demo recording I use a POD X3 Live, or more recently this clever little BOSS DR-80 which is basically a multi-track recorder, drum machine and amp modeller in a box the size of an old Walkman.

I play guitar a couple of times a week but we don’t practice as a band until we have something specific coming up, like a gig or recording sessions. Even then we only get together a few times. The guys in the band are good at what they do and get on with it based on the home demos I produce. Recording is usually pretty smooth.

I asked the other guys for their feedback to this question so here it is:
Hugo: OLP MM22 bass (cheap Musicman copy!); Markbass LMKII; Ashdown MAG410. Been playing 20 years. Practice at home a few times a week, usually.

James: I use Tama Starclassic Performer drums. They have a lot more punch so it’s perfect for cutting through all those noisy guitars! I also use Ludwig snare drums and DW hardware including their 5000 series double pedals. Cymbals are a mix of Sabian and Zildjian and I use carbon fibre CarboSticks as I play very hard in MW and these are the only sticks that can take the abuse!!

I’ve been playing for about 15 years now and if I'm not gigging or teaching drums I'm usually splitting my time between eating, sleeping and practising. I wouldn't call it personal practise as I'm usually practising songs for recording, working on pieces for teaching or rehearsing through songs for upcoming gigs! Personal practise is sadly rare these days.

Marcus: I have loved the Dean ML shape from the moment I saw it on Pantera's 'Cowboys from Hell' Album, managed to find a second hand one when I was in Uni (not really studying much) and now have a few of them :) My pride and joy is the Dean that I now use which is quite special (50/100 of the lost 100). I also always have my old Ibanez RG around (which I used for The God Album) in case of emergency. My sound is quite basic really, just a Metal Muff pedal going straight into the back of a Marshall EL 100/100 Power amp, with just a Memory Boy pedal (for delay) and Dime'o'wah for when I need them.

I did 2-3 years of classical guitar and basic school band stuff from aged 9-13, but then really started playing at 15 when I heard Iron Man for the first time (didn't stop playing that riff for a week!!). Practice nowadays is not always as regular as I would like, but in the beginning it was easily 5-7 hours a day, just banging around and making noise. Now I will try to do a couple of hours a day in the months leading up to a recording or gig. I definitely would like to do more live shows as I feel that they are the best practice!!

5. Let's talk about the concepts of the two albums. What is the nature of Man Instincts and Man Intrinsic to you? What messages are you trying to get out with these albums?

As mentioned previously, the underlying theme was set by the overall “Album of Man” sessions. This followed on from “The God Album” released last year (2011). That one was about religion (a trusty old topic for heavy metal songs) whereas this one is about, well, “man”. I guess it is humanistic in flavour.
The original concept idea behind the record was a “birth-to-death” scenario, just following the kinds of experiences even the most mundane people go through: conception, childhood, loss, self-awareness, the illusion of free will and, finally, thoughts on facing death. It is a free-fall lyrical jam on all these subjects.

The digital releases through Mortal Music, “Instinct” and “Intrinsic” got named after the fact, based on the songs that were chosen to fill them. Somehow each is deep and meaningful….but I am not exactly sure in what way! Both have some kind of reference to the inherent nature of man but that interpretation only comes by reading into the lyrics I already wrote based on the above subjects.
The “message” is supposed to be a positive one. Thinking for yourself is at the heart of most of what we do and everything else just builds around that.

Exploring the general topic of “why are we here?” is something that can drive you insane. Sometimes I imagine a long pull out camera shot (I think they did something like it in the film: Men In Black?) from me, to the city I live in, to the Earth to the stars, into the Universe and it messes with your head to consider just how small we are.

But so far as we know, we are also a miraculous achievement of natural forces. Mankind might be the only sentient beings in a vast Universe that spontaneously appeared from nothing 13.7 billion years ago. We also might not be alone…but it’s worth taking the time on an album thinking about it.

6. Are there any plans for another full length LP?

It might surprise you to learn that Monsterworks has two unreleased albums in the wings after “Album of Man” and a third in preparation. The next two take the “birth-to-death” concept and apply it to Earth and the Universe respectively. This is a band that doesn’t stand still for long.
Our new catch phase is “The Most Prolific Band You Never Heard Of”.

7. Do you guys play any shows in London or elsewhere? If so, who have you guys shared the stage with?

We played a gig this last weekend in London. It was with two bands from Sweden: Doomsayer and Panic Area. I don’t know what it is about Sweden and metal…. These are two relatively unknown bands but they are excellent, as is most stuff that comes out of Sweden.

Other than the odd show here and there, we don’t tour because it is rarely financially viable. Just once I would maybe like to do a European or US tour that would double as a road trip and adventure. But the logistics are such, it is unlikely.

8. What are some bands/musicians that you're currently into right now? What bands/musicians helped to inspire the band in it's genesis, and which bands/musicians are inspiring the band's current sound?

My most recent listening trends have involved the earliest Pink Floyd albums and, in the last few weeks, Animals as Leaders. The vibe of Pink Floyd might end up being an influence on music I am writing at the moment, but I doubt Animals as Leaders will. That stuff is too virtuoso; but there was something about it I found fresh to listen to and enjoy. However, I am not about to go out and get an 8 string guitar.

The key bands in the beginning for us were probably things like Carcass and Obituary. I still love these bands and some of the modern tech-death, even if that is not what I can (or want to) play myself. The trifecta of bands that was the foundation of my youth was AC/DC, Judas Priest and Queen. The spirit of these is ever-present in everything I do.

In terms of current sound…I like the post-metal bands like Isis and Neurosis. That kind of stuff has filtered the death and thrash influences that were more present on earlier material. Vocally I keep trying to broaden the range of styles….which is probably the core polarizing aspect of Monsterworks. I doubt the “genre switching” label would be applied to us so regularly if it were based on the music alone. It’s the vocals which really confuse people.

James: Bands I'm into right now might not be very relevant for MW apart from Decapitated, Converge and Meshuggah and their new albums. I'm enjoying Queens of the Stone Age, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Dub Trio too.

Hugo: Baroness, Kvelertak.

Marcus: When it came to inspirations, I have always said that Tony Iommi made me pick up the guitar [in the first place], and Dimebag Darrell never let me put it down. Other bands [that inspired me] were The Beatles (first band I became a fan of), Pink Floyd, Sound Garden, Sepultura, Hendrix, Led Zep, etc. Generally I like the older stuff I guess. Nowadays the most interesting and fresh band in my opinion is Mastodon, I love the rich sound they get from only two guitars and I guess I have that in my mind when listening to Jono's demos for an album.

9. What do you all do when you're not playing metal music? What other hobbies do you have?

I used to lift weights quite a lot. Not so much now but I try to keep fit and eat well (meaning “eat good food, and plenty of it”. I am not into starvation). I have a daughter who’s nearly three years old so family oriented things take up the rest of my free time.

James: I guess my hobbies are Downhill Mountain biking, planning cool holidays/adventures and relaxing with friends and my girlfriend when I get the chance! In the latter, I usually just join the masses and watch TV.

Hugo: Editing books (work); Cycling, taking pictures, other music stuff (hobbies).

Marcus: I have recently started archery, so when I am not playing I am usually with friends or practicing that.

10. Are there any good films or books that you could recommend? Something to help us understand the lyrical concept of your material better?

That is a good question. Most of the Album of Man material was written based on personal experience and trying to discover exactly what my philosophy about life is. So there wasn’t that much external influence on that specifically. However, when I am preparing for writing album lyrics I tend to get side-tracked by Wikipedia a lot, on a variety of subjects.

The anti-religion aspect that rears its head in Album of Man is influenced by books like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins) and End of Faith (Sam Harris). The latter particularly is quite a confrontational book and I’m not sure I completely agree with its approach, even if the content is fairly well presented. But there’s no harm in reading these things. I take from it what I need.

One of the songs (“It’s Alive”) was based on The Philosophical Baby (Alison Gopnik) which I was reading around the time of expecting my daughter to be born. The basic premise is that babies and children are a lot more aware and switched on than we generally think. I am intrigued by the wide-eyed wonder that children must feel and a little envious. Although, for myself I think I have always been keen not to get too jaded by the world. In other words, I have never grown up.

At around the time of this album I probably saw the Zeitgeist series of films. I am not sure if I can actually recommend them because the first one is the ramblings of a conspiracy theory nut, but the second one is a little better. However, given the filmmakers’ credibility is already blown from the first instalment you have to wonder how accurate it is with regard to the portrayal of the US monetary system. The third Zeitgeist film is the most interesting in my opinion. It’s not necessarily a very realistic solution to a utopian future (they kind of lost me when describing a giant tube across the Atlantic for a Mag Lev train to travel through – imagine the resources it would take to build that!) but there is plenty in it which is worthwhile food for thought. The central theme is that mankind has to be sustainable in its relationship with the environment if we are to survive. That is the truth.

11. We're currently in the middle of an election year that people are literally shitting themselves in fear over. With massive unemployment and our social security and right to bear weapons being threatened, people are going insane. How do you feel about this election year in our country, and how does it affect you overseas?

I keep up to date with the US election and maybe have more of an interest than most in the UK, but I am still distanced so we tend not to think about any actual long term effects on ourselves, probably at our peril. Mind you, your fate is in the hands of American voters so there’s nothing I can do about it.
Every generation goes through some form of “shitting themselves in fear” moment (I am not sure that is literal as I haven’t heard any reports of mass defecation!) so this generation doesn’t have a special claim to feeling threatened. Unemployment has been worse, as has the social security situation (if there was any in the dark past) and the rest of the civilised world has always been baffled by the “right to bear weapons” debate.

Most outsiders see a correlation between the number of gun deaths in the US being hundreds of times higher than other countries and the constitutional right to bear arms (i.e. resulting in a high proportion of gun ownership). I understand the point of it, i.e. to be prepared to topple a tyrannical government but, in practice, it just seems to lead to an arms race within society and a climate of fear. Escalating violence rarely leads to a positive outcome. But what do I know?

I have no particular fondness for either Presidential candidate as they are both indebted to big business interests that manipulate policy to transfer more wealth toward those that already have it. It is the reality of a two party system that is either centre-right or right-right.

Romney is a Mormon which, by definition, makes him bat-shit crazy and Obama has been systematically broadening executive power in alarming ways. It still amazes me that a president can order a hit squad into a foreign country (that, at least on paper, is an ally) to assassinate somebody and get away with it….and the reaction at home is people partying in the streets. The murder of Osama bin Laden (there was no compelling evidence that they tried to capture him alive) is a disgrace. It doesn’t matter how evil or dangerous an enemy is, any Government must allow that person their day in court; if that Government wants to project itself as morally righteous. America simply sends the message “we will do what we want and damn the rest” and, probably, a significant proportion of Americans agree with that stance.

Most of the rest of the world sees America as a bully. Obama might have successfully smoothed over some of that image after the Bush years but there is no genuine change in foreign policy.
But, again, what do I know? Opinions are like arse-holes.

12. This country is obsessed with reality shows. I know that you're aware of Pop Idol and Britain's Got Talent, but they were exported over here as American Idol and America's Got Talent, as well as The X-Factor. What is your honest opinion of this crap and how do you think it can be detrimental to people, or their children? I've seen people on that show that say they want to do nothing else, but to become a pop star. Some of them don't even have jobs, because they're so obsessed with fame. Is it the same way over there in London? Or are we even worse? I also want to talk about "icon" Simon Cowell. Many in America don't really know, but I'm sure that you in Britain are aware that he paid bail for a man who sexually assaulted five young boys, back in 2001.

I remember having lunch a while back with a colleague who was quite enraged after having seen X-Factor or something like that. This colleague is a smart man, very well read and can probably provide a more reasoned and comprehensive response to the previous question about US politics than I can, but yet it really got to him. I found it funny that he could be so upset by a reality TV show, so I just said “well, turn it off then”.

I am happy to agree with you that it is crap, but it is only there because people watch it. Over time I think the public will see through the fa├žade and they start to get bored or realise they’ve been duped into watching something with no entertainment (or otherwise) value. Big Brother slowly got less and less ratings in the UK and was canned. I think it might be back but it’s totally off my radar.
What you describe about people being obsessed with fame in the US is not that different to what I come across on TV in the UK. I never directly watch the “got talent” shows but I do like comedy; and ripping the piss out of people that have no talent is a British national pass time which makes its way onto a lot of comedy panel shows. On some of these panel shows they sometimes have the hapless victims of fame….and said victim probably knows they are going to be crucified but they can’t help themselves because it’s a TV appearance!

Having a dream of being a pop star isn’t a problem in itself. I used to stand on my bed playing a tennis racquet pretending to be Dave Mustaine. The TV shows just often try to find the saddest of these dreamers to exploit in the name of entertainment.
But…don’t get angry, just switch it off.

I didn’t know about the allegation against Simon Cowell. It is the sort of thing that would be big news here but maybe I was asleep that week. He is a figure that is universally demonised in pretty much every reference that is ever made to him on UK television (at least what I watch). However, that is his angle “the man they love to hate”. He has built an entire industry out of loving to hate people. It’s not healthy, so switch it off.

13. Finally, what do you think are some things that we as people could do to fix the problems in society, or the world in general?

Wow. You pretty much just exposed what I was planning the next Monsterworks album to be about. Specifically, rather than bitching and moaning about how bad things are I think it is more useful to look at ways we might actually be able to change things for the better. So I wanted to explore that on the next record and make a few suggestions….but I am only just starting this journey and don’t have the answers yet (and maybe never will).

The main thing all people can do is to open their eyes and become aware. Unfortunately, the general masses, even in the “civilised” world are too tied up in a treadmill of work, sleep, consume, repeat that we lose sight of what really matters…which in my opinion is being happy (and not at the expense of someone else). It is pretty simple really.

My present assessment is that, at the heart of all our problems, is wealth inequality; which is why as many people as possible need to realise what a divisive force that is. Money doesn’t make you happier, nor does the endless pursuit of it. Anyone that says otherwise is a dick. And there are plenty of those….which is why it is not an easy task to overturn the present mindset.

However, the research seems to show that the “happiest” countries, like in Scandinavia, are those with the flattest societal structure, i.e. the narrowest gap between the rich and poor. Also, these countries have a consistently excellent standard of heavy metal so there must be a correlation between metal and safe, happy countries! (an ironic statement, perhaps, to some people – but not to me since I am a happy person that thinks metal is awesome).

The wealth inequality issue is something I have been aware of for some time but I recently read a book, 99 to 1 (Chuck Collins), which crystallised some of the ideas. It talks about the forces for social change and how that is happening in the world today, e.g. via “Occupy” movements etc. There is still hope.
Unsurprisingly, the solution to these problems is governments having the balls to legislate for a redistribution of wealth. Using the present economic framework that means higher taxes for the rich resulting in better social services for the poor. There are plenty of people, especially in materialistic societies like America, that say “I work hard for my money and those poor people just don’t try hard enough!” That is bullshit because everybody gets a helping hand somewhere. No one should be more “entitled” by an accident of birth than anyone else to a prosperous life.

On a related note, multi-national corporations now routinely avoid as much tax as possible through any means necessary (usually offshore tax havens) and it is not illegal in most cases. It is just immoral because so many corporations specialise in bleeding money and resources out of a society (like education systems that provide them employees) and only give back the bare minimum they can get away with.

A good example I read about recently was Facebook’s operations in the UK which paid about £240,000 in UK tax but the actual declared profits were £20 million. This is because it routes its UK profits through business operations in Ireland. It is legal; I am not disputing that. However, one government opposition minister commented along the lines that a massive investment has been made by the UK government into the internet infrastructure in all kinds of ways, which is funded by tax revenue. Facebook is completely reliant on that infrastructure but contributes almost nothing to it. They are parasites.

Apple, Amazon, Starbucks …. There is a long list of global companies that try very hard to give as little back as possible to the countries in which they operate in terms of cold hard tax dollars. The excuse they plead is that they have a responsibility to shareholders to give the most efficient tax regime possible. It is true enough. But the shareholders are predominantly people who already have enough money. Kids go hungry while someone else increases their already significant wealth.
I realise this starts to sound a bit of a “boo hoo” whinge, but everyone should be aware of these things when they are deciding whether to buy a particular product from a particular source. These global companies are able to undercut local businesses because they can organise massive tax benefits and don’t give a shit about the local community.

I think we are all to blame for this happening because we as consumers often go with the lowest price. My own awareness is causing me to change consumption habits. Every little bit helps (which ironically is a catch phrase for UK supermarket giant, Tesco – a known “tax avoider” in the present context).
A critical second issue is the environment. Another book I recommend, The Great Disruption (Paul Gilding) explores inevitable social/environmental collapse, and is a real eye-opener. But incredibly, even this book has a positive spin! In other words, these problems are surmountable.
We live in interesting times certainly. The take home message is this:

There is, even now, enough food production capacity in the world to feed everybody. There are enough resources to educate everybody (which results quite quickly in a stable population as women realise they are not just baby factories) and to provide a roof over everyone’s head. The only thing that stands in the way is power brokers that wish to maintain an unbalanced political and economic system for their own ends; but they are the minority. Their way is unsustainable, has failed, and it’s time to move on.

14. Is there anything else that you want to add, or think that we should know about the band or its message?

Jeez. I think the above is extensive enough! After all that it is important to remind your dear readers that Monsterworks is first and foremost a metal band. We play heavy metal and that is more important than any political leanings I might have.

Thank you very much for your answers, gentlemen. I hope that you continue to make the groundbreaking music that you have, free of genre tags or stereotypes.



Monsterworks - Man: Intrinsic (PR2012) - Monsterworks has done it again with their second EP, fifteen minutes well spent in the company of a progressive, melodic, and extreme form of expression. This is not unlike their older EP, Man: Instincts, but I feel that I like it much more. The first track, "Unconditional Lie 4:40" starts the disc out with a raw (but audible) production value that opens with a beautiful melody and a high pitch vocal that soon duets with a death growl. While this sort of thing has been done before, no band has done this kind of material quite like these guys. They aren't afraid to add slight acoustic and light-hearted moments, nor mix a slightly doomier/sludgier style in with "Taste Of Doom 3:36." As usual with these guys, the whole process sounds organic and just fucking works. Of course, the best moment on this disc is the closer "Air 7:26" which is not only breathtaking, but showcases some truly epic moments. Rest assured, all the time on this track is used to effectiveness, and for that matter, all of the time on this disc is used effectively. Not only is the disc catchy, but the music is done well. There are also some fantastic solos, but in a package done so well, it's all just icing on the cake. Monsterworks still have their very best days ahead of them, and I'm literally pining to hear a new full-length. The band who has no boundaries has once again sold me with just fifteen minutes of original material. One of the best EP's of the year, for sure.

Highlights: All (3 Tracks, 15:00)


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