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Interview: Blood Incantation

24 February 2022

I’m as surprised as you are to be featuring a death metal band on the Big Takeover website. But, Blood Incantation’s new release, Timewave Zero, is a far cry from the usual punishing noise the band is known, and loved, for by the metal community. To be fair, there are moments in the band’s catalog that hint at the ambient direction Blood Incantation takes on the entirely instrumental new release.

With just two songs on the album, each lasting over 20 minutes long, Blood Incantation has created a sonic landscape that is surprisingly calm and peaceful. If you can imagine an entire album made up of Pink Floyd instrumentals, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect on Timewave Zero.

Drummer Isaac Faulk and bassist Jeff Barrett were the first to hop on the Zoom call so we got started before singer/guitarist Paul Riedl joined for the last 10 minutes. Blood Incantation is rounded out by guitarist Morris Kolontyrsky who did not participate in this call.

Timewave Zero is a completely different sound for you but there are hints of what is to come from your last album. The beginning of “Inner Paths (to Outer Space)” has a bit of that ambient sound as does the ending of “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)”. Was it always the plan to make a record like Timewave Zero or was it born out of being in isolation during the pandemic and trying something new?

ISAAC: It was always something we wanted to do, even from the beginning of the band. The idea that solidified when we were recording Hidden History of the Human Race we did that part of “Awakening” specifically and, at that time, we were like, “We can do something like this.” It was all four of us in a room improvising with synthesizers and we were like, “This could be something in its entirety that could be a really awesome listening experience.” Sort of stripping away those metal qualities and getting back to the ambient stuff, which has been on every record up to that point. We set aside a reel of tape at that time and said, “Let’s set this aside and maybe we can come back to this” because we thought maybe we could do it alongside Hidden History but that record was so involved that it took all of our time to do just the album. So we put that aside and, in the back of our minds, the third record was always going to be an ambient record. We had our first EP, then two full lengths, and then we were like, “Okay, let’s do an ambient record.”

Even before the pandemic and the lockdown, that was already in our minds. And then the lockdown happened. It was a little bit of Column A and Column B because we already had the idea but in 2020 we were poised to do an entire world tour and we would not have had the time to spend working out these songs and writing them together. It probably would have ended up being something more like an improvised whole album which could have been cool in it’s own way. But, it probably ended up working to its benefit, the silver lining I guess, that we ended up having basically a year-and-a-half to figure out what we wanted to do with synthesizers, improvise a lot together, and then write these songs, compose them together. That took a lot of time but, luckily, we had that time. When we entered the studio, we had these two songs that were actually written that way and we could perform them together the same way each time. And then the bonus track was the improvised track that is more akin to what we were doing before that.

So you were able to record this all in the same room at the same time together?

ISAAC: Yeah, it was all recorded live to tape. Four guys just working together and there were some overdubs like gong and tanpura and Hammond organ, stuff like that, that was added on top. But most of the tracks are just us doing what we’re doing live in a room.

When you were recording these songs and get to the end, was there silence in the studio or did someone yell out, “Hell yeah! That was good!”?

ISAAC: That’s interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that.

JEFF: We usually let it be quiet until the tape stops rolling and then, when we come together to listen to it again, because these tracks are 20 minutes long, and if you mess up any part, we have to start from the beginning since it’s all tracked live. I mean, you can kind of have a feel for how it went but you don’t really know until you listen to it again.

ISAAC: I think each song kind of ends with the tape echo, this really long tape delay just devolving into nothingness. I think both endings, at that point I’m not even playing anything, none of us are actually even playing anything, it’s just letting the tape delay keep going so you just have that moment to sit there within the sound and then when once it dissipates totally, yeah, you’re just sitting there. Just a point of reference, everything was recorded at 432 Hz which is an alternate tuning to the 440 Hz that most modern music is tuned to. That 432 Hz is supposed to be more in line with your chakras or whatever it is, but it’s supposed to allow you to get to a more meditative place more easily. It’s a little less harsh, it’s a little softer, it’s a little more inviting. It kind of almost feels like a blanket. Often times when we’re playing, or when I’m listening to the tracks, I will get kind of zonked out and lost in it and it kind of stops me from thinking too much. As opposed to being a rock band and you finish and it’s like really intense and you have that energy swell. This is more of like an energy calm.

Where does your interest in ambient music come from?

ISAAC: Ambient music has been an interest since I was a teenager. Some of that music was around before that, in soundtracks like Alien, but coming to ambient music through the metal world, there’s a lot of black metal bands that utilize ambient music. I think that was one of my earlier instances of experiencing ambient music was through black metal. And then, after that, I was getting really into the sounds of the ’60s and the ’70s, bands like Pink Floyd. It’s a logical continuation, especially when you’re listening to prog and progressive rock music. It’s in the small world. So, people like Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and then, of course, the Kraut rock stuff like Can, Faust, Amon Düül II, it’s all kind of this outsider music that’s connected to prog in that in all came out of the psychedelic ’60s but it went the other way, it went more minimalist where as straight prog rock is more about maximalist, everything all the time. I would say our metal stuff is akin to that. We’re very influenced by stuff like King Crimson and Yes and Gentle Giant, those more technical prog bands. And then, this exploration is more like finding that space in the minimalism and Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze are probably the two biggest cornerstones of what we’re aiming for. And stuff like Popol Vuh and world music and stuff like that. I think all four of us starting getting into that stuff around the same time, like as late teenagers. For me, when I was 18, I was experimenting with psychedelic drugs and so that led me to not just the Beatles but everything that spawned after the ’60s like that.

There’s one Can song that I keep hearing in movies and TV shows, “Vitamin C”. I think it sounds relatively modern but it’s actually 50 years old.

ISAAC: That’s the thing about Can, you listen to something like Tago Mago or something like that, or you listen to a band like Neu!, you listen to these bands and they don’t sound antiquated, they sound really relevant. A lot of indie music, what people would call hipster stuff, is very much tied into that. You listen to Brian Eno’s Another Green World, there’s parts of that where you’re like, “I’ve heard that in the 2000s of people trying to do this exact thing.” These records, they were popular at the time, but they were never like Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd is a great reference point because they were doing these soundscape, giant side-long songs, but at the same time they were commercially viable. Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most experimental, expansive concept albums and, at the same time, was on the charts for like 30 years.

PAUL: The word “Kraut Rock” is a pejorative term leveled by the English press at the German music scene in the ’70s making fun of the novel idea that they could do something non-Western or non-Beatles or non-Americanized. That’s part of why all these Kraut Rock records sound so contemporary 40 years later is they were totally tapped into something that was anti-commercial and, the fact that it is popular or relevant or can still be used in a movie or it sounds like somebody from the early 2000s being a hipster, they did that completely against the grain through and through. I think the first Cluster record in ’71 was on Phillips, a subsidiary of Columbia. It’s like a Velvet Underground thing where maybe they didn’t sell that many of them but everybody that bought one of those first couple of Cluster records started a band. Even the first couple Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream records, they are straight up noise. They disown them now but they were really on a mutual tip.

Another interesting thing about this Kraut Rock phenomenon is that all these bands, like the old school death metal scene, they all sound very different and yet they were all on the same mental strain of trying to push it into the inner-outer space continuum or to make something with textural soundscape oriented type stuff, not just synthesizers. A lot of the earlier Cluster, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulz, they did not have synthesizers. It was Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh who bought the first Moog modular system in Germany which he later sold to Klaus Schulz who later sold it to, I think, Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream before he went solo. They were pushing it with samples, tape loops, Faust and Can in particular, tape manipulation, industrial sounds, live recordings of them in a warehouse banging on whatever.

I assume Timewave Zero will be available on the streaming services. Why should someone go out and buy a physical copy of the album?

PAUL: I think we take an extra step in the presentation of all of our physical records. We love records. Hidden History was the most over-the-top death metal vinyl layout in 15 to 20 years. There’s a 20-page conspiracy ‘zine/pamphlet, a huge A2 gatefold poster and a double-sided lyric insert. Lots of little jokes in the layout, it doesn’t say 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, it says “Reincarnations Per Minute” but you only notice if you’re really paying attention. Lots of nods and little references that give the listener, which we identify the most as, we make the music in the band but we make the music in the way that we do because we like to listen to it, we like to look at it, so we take that extra mile. We have etchings on two of our records, screen-printed cover on our self-released live record. All of our records have a poster that doesn’t have a band photo on it because we believe the art is great.

With the Timewave Zero record specifically, the German version of the record does not have a poster. But, the layout for Timewave Zero is a very austere, really restrained, specifically because a record like Hidden History is stacked on riffs on riffs on riffs, it’s so much intense mental activity, all this crazy visual stuff to look at and take in, Timewave Zero is the opposite of that. The mental journey you go on with the minimalism of the layout, the minimalism of the song titles, the aesthetic allows a lot of breathing room for your visual landscape to unfold within. Vinyl’s going to be the ultimate way to listen to it. The CD’s fine, the digipack is going to be cool with the Blu-Ray and the bonus track. For a CD, it holds it’s own weight in the world of vinyl superiority. We just prioritized that stuff because we like to buy that. If I buy a record that comes in a plain white inner sleeve and no gatefold, no lyrics, no poster, not even a download, we want to give the listener that shows, “Hey dude, we care about this thing that you just bought. Thanks for buying it. Here’s a little extra stuff for you.”

I would pose a challenge to the largest audience that you could shout this to from the internet mountaintop, I challenge anyone to show a more epic band photo of the 21st century. You have the entire millennia to argue against this record. Paul Riedl of Blood Incantation challenges you to find a more sick band photo than what is waiting for you to open in the gatefold of Timewave Zero.

It looks like you have very limited tour dates announced so far. There’s a date at the end of February. Are you going to be playing the album in full and make some sort of experience out of it?

ISAAC: It’s an album release show. We will be playing the album in its entirety as well as a set of improvisation. Originally it was intended to be at a planetarium but, unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, the planetarium we were looking at playing has a restricted capacity so it was not feasible to do it there. Instead, we’re doing it at the Gothic Theater in Denver which is a prominent venue where we did the Hidden History of the Human Race album release. We’ll be doing a visual presentation with lights, lasers and us four guys playing this music live.

We are going to be doing more touring for Hidden History since that never got it’s proper touring after it came out. So we will be doing dates in support and playing death metal for the rest of the year.

Have you started working on anything else?

PAUL: We have some ideas for things we’d like to do. We jam out in the practice space. For the first time in Blood Incantation history, Timewave Zero is a literal palate cleanser for listeners and for us. Songwriting has always been held back by time recording and limitations in our schedules. Every record has things that were written years prior. Our Demo II came out over two years after it was recorded, every song written on Starspawn was written Interdimensional Extinction came out. Two of the songs on Hidden History were written in the Demo II era. We really appreciate being totally fresh and being like finally we have this whole sonic palate to work with in the Blood Incantation style people like. We can really pull from that now rather than be like, when we started the band, “Let’s combine this and this and this.” Now we have Blood Incantation riffs which are the predominant influence in our metal material.