Violent Magic Orchestra Shatter Black Metal's Boundaries on Their Dizzying Debut
Stream 'Catastrophic Anonymous' and read our dual interview with transatlantic masterminds Pete Swanson, Vampillia, and Mondkopf.
Sonic extremists attract one other. Grind bands find themselves drawn to work with noise projects; techno producers seeking to wreck the dance floor sample thrash and death metal riffs; and projects arise that combine the harshest, most aggressive sounds around into a whirling jigsaw intended to tear the listener's ears off (in a good way, of course). Last year, American grinders Full Of Hell collaborated with Japanese noise legend Merzbow; this year, a somewhat similar, if even wilder, exchange is going in the opposite direction.
Osaka's Vampillia have described themselves as a "brutal orchestra"; their 11-member lineup includes multiple vocalists, violin, guitar, piano, turntables, and bass. But five group members have split off for a new project called Violent Magic Orchestra, on which they embrace black metal, then combine it with shrieking, nerve-jangling electronic noise with the help of two Western collaborators: American Pete Swanson, formerly of Yellow Swans, and French electronic music composer Paul Régimbeau, aka Mondkopf.
The resulting album, Catastrophic Anonymous, whips the listener back and forth between blazing black metal riffs, speaker-destroying waves of harshly processed static, melancholy piano interludes, and gut-churning sub-bass frequencies. Oh, and as if that wasn't unsettling enough, two of the most spirit-harrowing vocalists in metal, Mayhem's Attila Csihar and The Body's Chip King, put in appearances, too.
Noisey: Whose idea was this project, and when did you first begin working on it?
Vampilia: We had the idea to mix black metal, industrial, techno, and noise, to make a kind of electronic music separately from Vampillia. It started almost two years ago.
Paul Régimbeau: The project was born when the members of Vampillia contacted Pete Swanson for a collab around one year ago. They were looking to blend their black metal with more electronic and noise sounds. Then Pete reached out to me thinking about my Extreme Precautions project, thinking my electronica meets grindcore sounds would complement this collaboration well.
Pete Swanson: I was initially hit up by the Vampillia dudes to work on a project with them. They're friends of friends and they thought the collaboration would be interesting, but they wanted me to contribute all of these things I just don't know how to do…I don't really know how to use a computer to make program music. I do everything live on hardware. So when they asked me about doing drum programming, I knew we'd have to bring in someone else. I knew Paul could handle it. He's a total grind fiend and had just made that Extreme Precautions EP, which is just brutal.
What was everyone's role? Were these Vampillia songs that Pete and Paul were contributing extra noise to, or something different?
V: We were in charge of making the models of the songs and playing instruments. Then we sent the models to Extreme Precautions/Mondkopf and he added beats and synthesizers. After that, we sent all these materials to Pete. Pete added some electronics, then it went back to Extreme Precautions/Mondkopf. At last, Extreme Precautions/Mondkopf mixed the song.
PR: The harsh noise touch comes from Pete who twisted every track I sent him. On my side, I did the rhythms, I added melodic lines on SH101 synth and pads with Juno, then mixed down all the songs.
PS: There's a lot there that I added, but none of it is like...instrumental. I wouldn't say that it was all noise, but I did a ton of sub-mixes of the instrumental tracks that were sent to me and just totally mangled the original music in all sorts of ways…When it got down to mixing, we agreed to try and mix those sub-mixes in a way that would make the music sound more aggressive. So, not just using rhythm and time changes, but employing aggressive shifts in EQ, sound quality, etc. to make the music much more aggressive and brutal.
What was the logistical nature of the collaboration? Were you ever in a studio with anyone else, or was it all done by email/FTP?
PR: Everything went through mail! That was a first for me, especially for an album. Vampillia sent the first tracks of their songs already in shape structure-wise, then I built around that, and sent to Pete for him to add his own touch. Then with all these tracks, I mixed down everything.
PS: 100 percent Dropbox. It's not really something that could've been hashed out in a studio…at least not for me, since I have a pretty serious day job.
What was your relationship with the other collaborators before working on this project? How did you know each other?
V: When we started this project, we thought about the sound and image, then Pete Swanson's sound come to mind. So we contacted him to please play with us. Then Pete introduced us to Mondkopf, because Pete thought he was very suited for this project. So then we started the project, these three of us.
PR: I only knew Vampillia by name, I saw that they had worked with many great artists (Lustmord, The Body, Ben Frost, etc.). I have known Pete for a few years now; last time we met in Paris for the Presence Electronique festival, I showed him the city and record shops. He's a great dude and we get along very well.
PS: I didn't know the Vampillia guys, but they're friends of a few of my friends. I've still never met them, but working with them has been fun. Paul helped me out on tour. I had a few days off on a trip and Paris was a good place to hang. He and his roommate, Guillaume, tried to set up a really last-minute gig for me, that didn't work out, but they were kind enough to let me crash on their couch and drag me around the city. It was a great trip. We got to go see a press-viewing of a Giesele Vienne performance at the Pompidou that KTL did a live soundtrack for, hit some record stores with Ron Morelli and got to go to one of my favorite record stores anywhere for the first time…Between all of that Paul and I bonded over our appreciation for Assück and Union of Uranus…lots of good, heavy punk tracks explored over YouTube. Since then, I've seen Paul a few other times in the US and France and it's always been a blast.
How long did the project take to complete? When did you start working on it?
V: Each role became clear, so it was smooth. But we wanted to make music without precedent. So it was very exciting that they always sent us such thrilling sounds. After all, it fused of black metal and electronic music exquisitely. But we got a new image while making this album. So we are sure the next album will be more exciting.
PR: I don't know remember how long it took me, but several months I think. But this was also because I had a pretty full agenda this past year. Because as soon as I was working on VMO, things were going pretty fast. Pete also wasn't available full time, so we managed around that too.
PS: I think it's been about a year and a half start-to-finish. It took a long time to figure out the working process, naming things, etc…ultimately it's worked pretty well I think. But I've also been fairly hands-off. I think my fingerprint looms pretty large over aspects of the record and I didn't need to be too involved in figuring out what vocalists to work with. Vampillia made some proposals and I was very happy with their suggestions straight out. Attila was a big, obvious yes, and they were also talking about trying to have one of the members of Ladybaby sing on a track too, which was also really appealing to me since they're such an odd, pop phenomenon that both plays with and subverts metal tropes. I like that.
How collaborative was it, creatively? Can you point to anything specific that you feel best represents what you brought to the album?
PR: I had a lot of freedom so it was very nice to work on this. I based myself on the sound of Extreme Precautions, using the same instruments and plug-ins. The overall sound of the album bears my touch, Pete accentuated the harshness of it and Vampillia brought the melodic aspect.
PS: I think the album just happened/turned out how it had to happen. It was created by people that all have pretty distinct sonic identities and we all sort of had our lane sonically…a lot of other things were hammered out either by consensus or just by someone working on the project deciding to take it on. Which worked fine for this project since the aesthetic is pretty messy. I mean…just how gross it sounds, that's all me. Anything on there that makes you feel disgusted…
What is your favorite song on the record, and why?
V: "Divorcer." Because in this song, black metal, techno, industrial, and noise exist at the same place and they become one something. Oh! But every song is like that!
PR: I think it's the song with Attila. A very short but ultra-brutal song. The song was ready when we sent it to him for vocals; he immediately raised the bar in craziness and brutality. It's a real honor for me to be able to say that I worked on a song with him.
PS: "Divorcer." Attila sounds so brutal, the track gives me a headache from the weird strobing drums, and the music video is super gonzo and made by one of my favorite dudes.
Vampillia/VMO European Tour Dates:
2016.12.07 – Germany, Munich: Feierwerk (Orangehouse)
2016.12.08 – Germany, Karlsruhe: P8
2016.12.09 – The Netherlands, Amsterdam: OCCII
2016.12.10 – The Netherlands, The Hague: State-X New Forms
2016.12.11 – The Netherlands, Tilburg: Incubate
2016.12.13 – Czech Republic, Prague: Cross Club
2016.12.16 – Belgium, Brussels: Magasin4
2016.12.17 – United Kingdom, London: Underworld
2016.12.18 – United Kingdom, Leeds: Temple Of Boom
Phil Freeman is staying gonzo on Twitter.