Admittedly, I've been out of the loop, but it seems to me that the realm of experimental noise has been growing increasingly powerful and diverse—and thus more exciting—in recent years, with a vast number of impressive releases across a wide spectrum of sounds. Just issued by the ever-excellent Malignant Records, Futility Rites, the new eight-track, 48-minute full-length from Pennsylvania's Abjection Ritual, really captured my interest—from the consistently high-quality arrangements of its gnashing death industrial textures, to the simple-yet-striking black and white aesthetic of its artwork. I reached out for an interview, which returned more than a bit of surprising background information…
Abjection Ritual debuted a little over a year ago. Is this your first project? Had you been working on recordings for long before the self-titled CD-R was released?
Abjection Ritual is definitely not my first project. I have been writing, recording, and playing live since I was 16, and I'm well into my 30s now. I've been in a ton of different bands. I started recording death industrial/dark electronics in the late-'90s on a cassette four-track, but never did anything with the material. I did make a CD-R release under the name Immersed in Filth, but only made a few copies after realizing that it pretty much sucked. After playing in many different bands over the years, I became burnt out and completely bored with the whole thing. I also stopped working second shift after nine years of doing so, and was amazed by how much that change led me back to being creative/inspired. I was also at a point financially where I was able to afford some decent recording equipment. I began obsessively writing/recording daily, and started Abjection Ritual.
Were these previous outings more "traditional" bands (i.e. death metal, etc.)? Did any of them release anything?
Yes, more traditional for the most part. I love all kinds of music. I can't imagine just listening to one genre constantly, like the dude who only listens to death metal, or the guy who only listens to HNW [harsh noise wall]. How fucking boring. I have played in bands ranging from death metal, sludge, doom, and "stoner rock" (hate that term) to a band that did weird acoustic stuff (Tom Waits and Nick Cave covers). Some of these bands released stuff in the form of demos and CD-Rs, some never did anything at all. One of these bands was called Village of Dead Roads, who released a split and two full-lengths on MeteorCity Records. Some of it is cringe-worthy to me at this point, but I really like certain songs. I was trying to push the band into more of a direction such as what Meatjack and Zeni Geva were doing, so that is why some of the songs contrast in style. I actually use the same synth for Abjection Ritual that I used on some of the tracks for Village of Dead Roads.
I just realized you were actually in Abnegation, too, towards the end of their run, after the band had essentially morphed into full-on death metal. What was that experience like? That was a tumultuous time in Abnegation's existence.
I was 19 when I was asked to join Abnegation. I thought their early stuff sucked, but had heard the split 7" they did with Chapter while listening to a weird local radio show. I couldn't believe it was Abnegation! The playing and intensity were just awesome. I found out that I knew the bass player and got in touch with him. He introduced me to the drummer, who gave me a copy of the 7" and a newer demo that was also amazing. A short time later, some conflict arose in the band and the guitarist/main writer quit. I was asked to join and was psyched to be able to play in a band with an amazing drummer who could play blast beats.
A week after I joined, the vocalist and other guitarist quit, so it was literally just me and the drummer until the main writer came back again on bass and vocals. I urged the drummer to change the band name, as this was definitely not Abnegation anymore, and we wanted to play death/grind stuff anyway. He refused, and already had a deal with Goodlife Recordings to do a new full-length; so we soldiered on, wrote some new songs, and kept some old ones with completely changed lyrics. Verses of the Bleeding was a complete rush job, and we were unprepared. It was a fucking mess. Goodlife released the album, but quickly withdrew all support after finding out that we were not straight edge, vegan warriors, but just scumbags who drank and smoked weed. The owner of the label ended up ripping us off and washing his hands of the album, but had no problem continuing to sell it, ha, ha.
We played some shows and were looked upon as a joke—a travesty of the former Abnegation. Some metal/crust people dug what we were doing, though, and somehow we were able to get a track on the Cry Now, Cry Later Volumes 3 & 4 compilation CD on Pessimiser Records—alongside Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Soilent Green, Cavity, and a bunch of other awesome bands. We also played in Philly with Grief and 16, two bands that I was a huge fan of, so it wasn't all bad.
What artists first exposed you to more experimental sounds such as dark ambient, death industrial, power electronics, etc., and eventually drew you towards creating your own soundscapes?
Brighter Death Now, Megaptera, MZ.412, IRM, Atrax Morgue, Slogun, etc. Basically, everything on the Cold Meat Industry and Slaughter Productions labels.
When you first heard death industrial/power electronics, did it click instantly, or did you have to sit with it for a while and do some exploring before you really "got it"?
No, it didn't click right away. The first time that I heard Merzbow I thought, "What the fuck is this shit!?" I was intrigued enough to explore and understand it better. The Cold Meat Industry stuff was much more to my liking than the harsh Japanese artists, although I do like some of that stuff, too. I still prefer more composed material over improvisation.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I definitely started with metal and expanded from there. The pretty standard introductory fare (Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer) until I discovered death metal and became completely obsessed with it. The Relapse Resound catalogs that they used to send out are what introduced me to death industrial/power electronics. They released Brighter Death Now's Innerwar and Megaptera's The Curse of the Scarecrow, two major influences on me. Also, the Industrial Culture Handbook put out by RE/Search introduced me to Throbbing Gristle, SPK, and Non. Godflesh, Skin Chamber, and Neurosis are also huge influences for me.
This may be a completely ignorant question, but is there a like-minded scene in or around Erie, PA at all? And/or, does your geographical location in any way impact your work?
Erie is a pretty backwards city, so no like-minded scene here aside from some experimental/electronic artists that are much more palatable than Abjection Ritual. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo have a lot more going on and are only a few hours away, however. I don't leave the house much anymore, so I'm really not aware of any specific projects beyond a handful.
As far as my environs being an influence on my work, I would have to say that it does play a part, even if only on a subconscious level. Erie is a small, decaying city that is in fast decline. Major industries have shut down and moved elsewhere, and the crime has gotten really bad. Pennsylvania is allowing Detroit parolees to relocate to Erie. Since that has happened, the crime is worse than it has ever been. I lived and worked in one of the worst neighborhoods for a few years and experienced some of this shit firsthand. People trying to break into the house, people walking inside to panhandle money, my car being vandalized during a brawl. At one point one of my housemates had a boyfriend who was dealing coke out of the house. I ended up putting a padlock on the inside of my bedroom door after kicking him out. Keep in mind that this was a fucking group home! I once watched a crackhead stand in the same small square of pavement for eight hours in front of the house, almost like it was an invisible force field that he was trapped inside. These experiences influenced the track "Scum Immersion." I no longer live in the city. Fucking shithole.
Comparable projects often amass fairly extensive discographies of self-released material, splits, compilation appearances, and so forth before landing the opportunity to work with a reputable label. How did you hook up with the mighty Malignant Records so early on in your development?
After the first CD-R, I wanted to step everything up and this included having the material mastered properly. I knew J. Stillings from Steel Hook Prostheses did a lot of mastering for Malignant, so I simply asked him to master Psychiatric Failures and he did. He ended up liking the material and asked if he could pass it on to Jason Mantis at Malignant. I of course was elated when Jason contacted me and expressed interest in putting out my next release. So… luck, I guess ?
Your past work has dealt with mental illness, depression, etc.; whereas Futility Rites seems to focus on anti-religious themes. Is that an accurate assessment? What's your perspective on the thematic concept(s) of the new album?
Futility Rites' central theme is about how mankind has always called on some higher power for divine intervention, guidance, meaning, etc., etc. How long will it take to realize no one is listening? I know people personally who continuously have bad shit happen to them, but wait for God to take care of it all, refusing to accept any responsibility for themselves. "Let go and let God," all this bullshit is insane. Fighting wars over fictions, believing your reward lies in some paradise beyond the heavens, upholding laws invented by people living in the desert thousands of years ago… it's amazing. Man refuses to accept his fate as a higher animal driven by self-interest and base desires. God helps us sleep better at night, but deep down inside we know what we are.
Another thing that fascinates me about religion is the various ways religious texts can be interpreted and manipulated to fit in with an agenda. I had a sibling who married a born-again Christian and traumatized me with her interpretation of Revelations when I was a child. The whole tribulation/antichrist narrative scared the fucking shit out of me for many years. It seriously fucked me up. So, since then, I have been simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by organized religion. Every song on the album is not about this theme, but it's all tied together by a jaded, shitty, nihilistic view of existence.
Would you consider your releases to date to be "concept albums"?
I guess they all have had a central, unifying theme so far—Psychiatric Failures being the most cohesive thematically. "Concept albums" makes me think of Genesis, Rush, or Pink Floyd, though, ha, ha, ha.
Do you come up with track titles and a conceptual basis first, or let the textures and tones of the sounds dictate how you perceive the end result(s)?
I generally come up with the sounds/mood first, and then add content/lyrics to it later; although it has worked in the opposite way a few times as well.
Process-wise, is this the kind of material that you carefully craft and layer on a computer, or are you more the cables and pedals and physically manipulating live equipment type?
I actually do not use a computer at all. All of the looping and processing is done on a sampler. I sometimes record things to a click track as well. I don't have anything against computers, I'm just set in my ways from recording on cheap cassette four-tracks for many years. Now, I use a Zoom R8 to record everything. Definitely a physically manipulating live equipment guy, for the most part.
Some of your tracks utilize vocal deliveries that lean more towards a power electronics style, but that's certainly not the dominant niche within which your material would be classified. What dictates when a particular composition is "right" to head in that direction? Would you say that you consciously try to avoid overusing such vocals?
I like to use a wide variety of vocals so as not to overuse any one particular style. I assume you mean "power electronics style" vocals when I am just yelling? The song dictates the vocal style, for sure. I plan to try to expand on adding to the range of vocal styles in the future.
I don't know if it was copyright paranoia or what, but I feel like dialogue samples were somewhat "out of style" for a bit. It's nice to hear them so well-integrated into some of your pieces.
I am really interested in dialogue samples taken from real people, and not just some line from a movie. For example, using a sample of an actual schizophrenic instead of some actor. I feel these can really add to the vibe of the song, and make it really powerful when used in the right context. I think that I will continue to do this on future releases.
It seems like there's a real upswing happening right now in terms of there being a large number of noise projects creating really interesting and powerful sounds with an increased focus on diversity and integrated aesthetics that extend beyond the music itself. What are some other currently active contemporaries of Abjection Ritual that you would strongly recommend as a fan?
I know this is going to sound like a really lazy answer, but the Malignant roster is full of amazing artists: The Vomit Arsonist, Gnawed, Sewer Goddess, Sektor 304, Theologian, STROM.ec, Shock Frontier, T.O.M.B., IRM, Control, U-731, Yen Pox, and Deathstench are all so fucking awesome and well worth your time. I really like Pharmakon, Mania, Wertham, and S.T.A.B. Electronics, too.
Your last release, Psychiatric Failures, surfaced a mere nine months ago in January, so you seem to be moving at a fairly productive pace. Without necessarily going into too much detail, what do you have in the works now, and where do you see things headed next?
I have several new tracks in the works now, but do not have any concrete plans for where they will end up. I want to start bringing in some traditional instruments (bass, guitar, drums) and work with a percussionist and drummer, too. Make the material more varied and powerful. I may try recording in an actual studio as well. I'm talking to someone about doing a tape for their label, so if all goes well that will be the next release. Narcotic Burial is a possible title.