4. Anicon, ‘Exegeses’ (Gilead Media/Avantgarde Music)

anicon-coverI think the era may have passed where people buy a record based on its cover art alone. At least I don’t do that anymore. I’ve been burned too many times. But if there are those out there who still do determine their purchases based on artwork, Anicon’s debut full-length “Exegeses” would have to be one of those that jumps right off the rack and into the front seat of a buyer’s car. Then that person would go home, put on the record, and get their head ripped right the fuck off.

Kari Greer’s photography is so gripping, especially when you experience the gatefold experience of the vinyl presentation, you can’t help but wonder what’s inside. The answer is some of the most creative, intelligent black metal of the entire year and an album that pummels you with riffs and savagery over its seven tracks and nearly 49 minutes of power. The band—guitarists/vocalists Owen Rundquist and Nolan Voss, bassist Alexander DeMaria, and drummer Lev Weinstein—keep you spellbound and savagely beaten, though this record isn’t just about brutality. The way the songs build and the playing weaves its way around your psyche could have you staring for the entire run of the record. Experiencing the band live is another matter altogether, as they find a way to transfer that heavy fury to the stage. Rundquist and Voss were kind enough to take some time to answer our questions about “Exegeses,” and they discuss its creation, the breathtaking Greer cover art, and their relationship with both labels—Gilead Media and Avantgarde—that released this music. If you somehow missed out on this record, don’t let another second pass. Your cell structure may never be the same again.

MEAT MEAD METAL: We’re naming “Exegeses” as one of our top 5 favorite metal records of 2016. What took you guys so damn long to get out a full-length?!

OWEN RUNDQUIST: Well, first, thank you. I guess it has taken a little while, but we’ve released a lot of material over the past four years. Our first EP was in 2012, and between now and then, we’ve released at least two LPs worth of music. It’s just come out in the form of splits and EPs. Touring and other musical commitments have probably played a role in delaying things too. 2015 was a really busy recording year for us with “Aphasia,” the Unsacred split, the Forest of Tygers split, and “Exegeses” all in like a 10-month period, so it does feel good to finally have it out. The FOT split should surface sometime next year, too.

MMM: Before we even get into the music, let’s talk about the album art. What was it about this piece that was the proper visual accompaniment for this album? What’s the symbolism involved?

OR: We’ve been pretty lucky with all of the art we’ve used as it’s always found its way to us very easily. I came across Kari Greer’s work kind of by chance and was looking at her site and really enjoyed the painterly aspects of some of her photography. We’d briefly talked to another painter, and I had worked up a layout with photographs I took in Yellowstone Park in the ’80s, but when we found Kari’s stuff it was just the right fit and feel. I emailed her, and we quickly found that we had a lot in common having grown up near each other and having been involved in the music scene in the Northwest, so that personal connection really helped cement the decision.

I think as an image the art has multiple meanings: It’s a destructive natural force dwarfed in an even larger landscape. The vastness and emptiness of the landscape in the American West is an integral part of the mythology of this country and a defining aspect of our national identity. The image of this uniquely American landscape burning seems in keeping with making countercultural music. Forest imagery is also such a cliché of black metal, which can, as a genre, suffer from excessive traditionalism. Similar to the image we used for the “Aphasia” EP, we felt that this cover was a little bit iconoclastic and reflected our writing, wherein we make the music we want to hear and don’t concern ourselves with how it fits into any particular genre or aesthetic.

MMM: Anicon obviously is no stranger to the road (you’ve been in Pittsburgh twice since the record came out). How are the songs coming along in the live setting? Is there anything from the record you enjoy playing the most? Have any of the arrangements changed?

OR: Almost all of the songs had already been road tested at length before they were recorded, though there were a few that were written in the interim between our tour with Forest of Tygers and the studio session. There have been some changes in the playing like tempo or adding a bent note here and there and ways we approach riffs or emphasize things differently, but no major re-arranging. Really the biggest changes have been in the vocals, because we worked out all the phrasing in the studio, so there are some things on the album that work a little differently in the heat of a performance.

“The World As Will” was the last song to be written on the record, and that one’s a favorite of mine personally. “In Shadow and Amber” is also just one super meaty riff after another with a lot of different styles of playing. Nolan does almost all of the vocals in that one, so I enjoy getting to just zone out and play the fuck out of it. Really there is stuff in each song that I really enjoy playing.

Nolan Voss: “From Teeth and Tongue” is one of my favorites to play live. I really like how the beginning is subdued and builds but then gets pretty raging as the song progresses. This song has a unique sound compared to the rest of the record. What I enjoy the most is the wide use of dynamic parts throughout. “Hallucinating Fate” is always fun to play. While on tour with Wayfarer, we usually played that one first. That song has a steady blast beat, and I like how the structure is simple but aggressive sounding. I’m usually warmed up for the rest of the set after playing it.

MMM: The title “Exegeses” is an interesting one. What was it about that singular word that defined this collection of songs?

OR: The title suggests looking at things with a clear, critical eye, and I think that is one of the most valuable roles of art in a society. Typically, an exegesis is an examination of a religious text, and lyrically we are concerned with issues of religiosity, though it isn’t a defining theme for us as it is for a lot of bands. Anicon is also a pretty straightforward musical endeavor in most ways. We are four people who get together, write the riffs, turn them into songs, and then we play the songs.  No pseudonyms or altars or makeup. So, it’s kind of like a statement of intent. It’s also just a great looking and sounding word. I like the vowel/consonant pattern and the repetition of the E.

MMM: Anicon’s music obviously is heavy. It’s black metal. But you also weave a ton of melody and drama into the music. How important is that aspect to the band as opposed to just abject heaviness?

OR: Yeah, absolutely I think those elements are pretty key to what we do, but they kind of just work their way into the music. I don’t think there’s ever been a conscious decision to make something more melodic. If anything, I can recall the opposite kind of decision being made. Like to dirty up a part, or I remember bringing something into practice and everyone deciding it needed to be played faster or it was just too corny. Too on-the-nose, as Nolan likes to say. I think melody, drama, and heaviness are all related things that are inherent in any song, so they have to be considered, similar to tempo or duration. Different songs will have different trajectories, and so some aspects will be considered differently from song to song, but they will all be considered.

NV: I agree, it’s important to have different elements, especially when writing for an album. But I think it’s important to have a balance between heaviness, melody, and drama. I think focusing on that balance helped shape the sound of “Exegeses.”

aniconMMM: Lyrically, your songs are kind of abstract. There are none of the normal trappings of a black metal band. What types of things inspire your song lyrics?

OR: Our lyrics take inspiration from a variety of sources, but are heavily influenced by our personal experiences of life. I’m interested in existential questions and tend to read a lot of fiction that kind of probes at those and uses a lot of metaphor. I guess I like lyrics to ask questions. Not necessarily literally, but I’m more interested in the unknown of a situation than platitudes or rigid opinions about it. It’s a little oblique, but “Exegeses” is a very critical album lyrically, so maybe that’s another way the title ties in.

NV: I concentrated on self-reflection and fears that I deal with daily for these songs. In the past, I would write in a concrete, sequential way focusing more on a story or theme, but now I found myself writing about things that affect me on a personal level.

MMM: The record came out on both Avantgarde and Gilead Media. What was it about those two labels that were the right home for Anicon’s music?

OR: We’d been talking to Gilead ever since our first EP came out and have always been impressed with (label owner Adam Bartlett’s) curation of the label and the quality of his releases. Being an American-based label is helpful, too. We met at the Dissociative Visions fest in Brooklyn last year, and we were able to just talk on the phone about the album and what our expectations were of each other. I kind of talked Adam’s ear off when we were finalizing the agreement. I had like a page of notes and questions that I was ticking off throughout the conversation.

Avantgarde is a great label that also has an excellent history of releases, having put out some really formative stuff very early on. He has handled a lot of Krallice’s stuff, so Lev had already had worked with him and was very happy with how he treated them. We sent him the album, and he was excited about it, and it just seemed like a really good fit.

We’re all very happy with the work both of the labels have done. Both the LP and CD versions came out beautifully.

MMM; Obviously, the band was pretty busy in 2016. What do you have planned in 2017? Looking at more touring? Any new music rolling around in your heads?

OR: We’ve talked with some other bands here in New York about doing some shows overseas, and that would be exciting. We had such a good experience doing the fly out for Migration Fest, I think we’d like to do more of that. As of yet nothing is set in stone, though. We were prepping songs for the album for a year or so leading up to recording and have been playing them for the past year now that the album’s come out. So I think we’re ready to get back to work in the practice space. We were on a roll writing after the recording was finished and joked that we’d have the next album written before the first one came out. That didn’t happen, but we have a good start on a new batch of material and are working on more now. In contrast to “Exegeses,” which was written over a fairly long period of time, I’m looking forward to working up a body of music in a more succinct fashion and seeing how that affects the overall feel of the next album.

(Released July 7, 2016)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/scrapingearthandsky

To buy the album, go here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

Or here: http://avantgardemusic.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

And here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/