MACABRA feature article
in DECIBEL Magazine [USA] next issue
MACABRA – Decibel Magazine
How did you guys meet and what how did the conversation turn around to you deciding to do Macabra?
Mark: Macabra was initiated in 2011 when Adrien had commissioned me to do some illustration work for one of his many bands, Alienante Damnation. After completing the art and layout for his LP, Adrien suggested the possibility of collaborating on a music project together. After dwelling on it for a few days I decided to entertain the idea and we moved forward with our first four-song demo tape, “Thy Entrails Rot.” We were both very pleased with what we had conjured together so we decided to adopt Macabra as an additional project to our already existing bands.
Adrien: Mark has just summarized it up very well. Also, we simply had the need to research the sound that death metal represented while we were young, then when we just discovered these untamed atmospheres, rage and dismal energy. It came very naturally since we started it all. The band name and whole thing was quite like an evidence as we both always have felt the need to create a damn good authentic "real" death metal act and it's just what Macabra is all dealing about, you know?
What is the working relationship like with regard the division of labor—do you, Mark, handle all the instrumentation, and you, Adrien, the lyrics and themes?
Mark: Yes, this is exactly the case. I write and record all of the instruments and Adrien is responsible for the lyrical themes and delivering the vocal tracks. The band’s name was also Adrien’s idea however we both collaborated on the logo illustration together in lieu of a previous version drawn by Christophe Szpajdel.
Adrien: I loved working on that logo together with Mark by the way as I'm usually very bad at drawing something. But here the spirit led both of our hands, and this collaboration matched really well again. I could compare our relationship to how organs in the human body are depending on each other. One cannot pursue anything without the other…it's a real osmosis.
Who engineered, produced and mixed it?
Mark: I did all of the production and mixing in my home studio, Dungeon 325. Macabra sets out to deliver music that isn’t over produced or polished. The concept of the band is to adhere to the early 90s sound, especially in reference to the demo tape recordings of that time period.
Adrien: For our first album, "Blood-Nurtured Nature," I took the initiative to record all the vocals alone in an abandoned funerarium. I felt the sensation that death should really be present just capturing the lyrics for this opus.
Does ...to the Bone have any sort of unifying theme that ties it together lyrically?
Adrien: I think that the main difference in the new album, in contrast with our former material, resides in its political and religious purpose. It's not a simple "morbid" death metal thematic. Rather an invitation to the conscious, like engaged bands such as Sepultura or Napalm Death use to involve themselves since they started it all. It's not what we could name as a "concept album" but yes, there are similar ideas and themes coming along this new full-length that are recalling one another.
It might just be the power of suggestion that the title gives it but "Global Brainwash Conspiracy" seems to have a real anarcho-crust feel to it—until the keys come in, obviously—and with that guitar tone and some of the vocal patterns, I get a bit of an Amebix, early Bolt Thrower vibe. Is that something you recognize in your sound, too?
Mark: I’m in agreement that the album certainly has a slight hardcore element to it. I believe this comes through more so via Adrien’s vocal delivery; he has a background in this genre which I’m sure he can speak to.
Adrien: Tracks like "Global Brainwash Confederacy" and "Crucified Individuals Nation" denounce current and media selfish-entertainment exploitation. Based on the social networks, avid tools, and facilities to globally encourage over-exposure and self-raping privacy, in our intimacy-prostituted era. So absolutely, there is kind of protest manifest and activist involvement in regard to the new album. For the example, "Death Speculation," speaks about the worldwide threat that is terrorism today. As I wrote the lyrics for this song, on the November 14, 2015, very affected by the then so recent and dramatic events in Paris. And we all know, sadly, that a lot of other treacherous as murderous attacks have occurred again since then.
Obviously there are ways and means of working across continents, and it's easier than ever before to communicate and collaborate, but do you think Macabra would sound any different if you lived in the same city?
Mark: No it wouldn’t sound any different. We are both so busy with our other responsibilities that even if we lived in the same city we would probably be sharing our recordings via email and doing our parts in our respective studio spaces for the sake of convenience.
Is there something to be said that projects like this thrive when there's that distance there, with that distance taking some of the pressure off you when it comes to committing to rehearsals et cetera—especially when people have lives to be getting on with and are busy doing that?
Mark: The beauty of doing a collaboration like Macabra, or even a solo project for that matter, is that you don’t have to depend on too many outside factors to accomplish something. Adrien and I are both creative individuals and we act fast when it comes to being inspired. We both have families--as parents these obligations come first and preoccupy us for the majority of any given day. Furthermore, Adrien has several bands he is involved in, as do I, so this consumes much of our free time. Moreover, I’ve been working on illustrations for underground metal bands for the past 25 years and this keeps me extremely preoccupied in addition to my regular full-time day job as a graphic designer.
Adrien: Amen, I feel 100 percent the same about it.
I mean, if the intention you had was to just create some old-school death metal, you certainly did that, but your sound might be old-school but it's hard to pin it to a scene. It's not Florida. It's not Sweden. It's not Finnish. Your sound has a little of all of these scenes but none in particular. Who is the biggest influence on your sound?
Mark: Musically, as I always do for Macabra, I focus on an old school death metal approach. This is not so much intentional as it is natural because I grew up on early 90s underground death metal bands. In terms of inspiration, some of the bands I listened to religiously during the recording process include early titles from Nocturnus, Pestilence, Arcturus, and Sepultura, as well as bands like Midas Touch, Catacomb, Incest, Cenotaph (Mexico), Horrendous, Cruciamentum, Howls of Ebb, etc. I was certainly trying to steer away from being pigeonholed too much because the idea was to deliver something familiar yet unfamiliar by conjuring a haunting dose of originality to the mix.
Adrien: Our goal is most of all to get our own sonorities. To be a band of one and only kind, personal with a sort of avant-garde touch. This, of course, without denying the ancient ones through our repertoire of influences. But we also live in our times and we are turned toward the future. We definitely don't live in the past, we only know for real where our roots have grown from.
I said at the start, but it's worth repeating as I think it's the most important part of your sound, the atmosphere you guys create, especially ...to the Bone, is incredible. I love the access-all-reverb approach to those single-note guitar melodies and the arctic rhythm tone. Is that something that you guys talk about, that atmosphere, and how best to get it?
Mark: The atmospheric element of Macabra didn’t catch on until after the first demo tape, which was more straight forward death metal in its approach. I began introducing keyboards and dark ambient elements more frequently during the recording of our debut full-length “Blood-Nurtured Nature.” I think the addition of these elements added some depth and interest to the music, much like you can hear on My Dying Bride’s first demo tape or even some other bands like Master’s Hammer, Mortuary Drape, or Septic Flesh. The atmospherics have become a defining element of Macabra and it will likely continue in this direction.
Adrien: That's the magic in something done with sincerity, in my opinion. It's not a technical or a huge production that can bring that. Only when the chemistry makes it happen, then it's a real miracle. And I think Macabra is one! Without a doubt.
Some of those little synth swells and keys over the riffs are kind of reminiscent of Filosofem-era Burzum. Did that record, did black metal, inform your approach in how best to get that sort of haunting, frigid atmosphere onto the record?
Mark: I’m personally not a fan of Burzum’s music, I believe “Filosofem” is the only album I own by Burzum and I listened to it one time and never spun it again. I’ve been told that the Macabra album has a cold feeling to it; I have to give Dan Seagrave some credit for this because I believe the painting he did for the cover is the perfect complement to the music in terms of the atmosphere it resonates. I do listen to some black metal, and I can definitely reference Arcturus’ first album as a point of inspiration for “…to the Bone.”
Adrien: Frigid, obscure, deliquescing, horrifying…all words that are coming to mind just listening to Mark's keyboard and it's probably what makes the trademark of our sound, actually.
It's like you're layering a horror score across some gnarly old-school Autopsy riff and grunt—is horror cinema an influence when writing this sort of thing? Indeed, outside of metal, what gets you in the mood to write and play Macabra?
Mark: I’m personally not a fan of horror movies so I can’t give it any credit as an influence. It had been a year or more since Adrien and I last collaborated before doing the album. It all started when we did a bonus track for the cassette edition of our discography release, “Necroverdose.” After that I just started churning out songs; the inspiration was back so we wrote and recorded an entirely new full-length in about a two-month time period. In terms of inspiration for Macabra, I always turn to my old demo tape collection from the early 90s and listen to bands like Morbius, Phantasm, Putrid Decay, Catalclysm, Mortal Dread, Desultory, Mass Psychosis, Carnal Dissection, Nuclear Death, Execration, etc. for direction.
Adrien: My wife, just listening to the new material, told me it could be the perfect soundtrack for the next "American Horror Story" season...haha.
What were the recording sessions like for this? Did you manage to get together for it? Did you have any company even? And is it a little surreal when stuff you have worked together on, from different parts of the world, are all put together and take on their own life?
Mark: The recording sessions were a fast-moving process. I turned around one new song per week over a two-month span of time. Adrien has always been quick to deliver his vocal tracks too, usually turning them around a day after I provide a new song to him. We each come from a broad but similar spectrum of musical taste despite almost a decade between our ages. What we’ve been able to execute with Macabra is raw creativity and passion, much like the fulfilling work of an alchemist brewing his formulas to attain the philosopher’s stone. In terms of securing the release, most of what we’ve done with Macabra has been do-it-yourself, which is an important part of being an underground band. Almost all of our releases have been self-published under the Morbid Visions Music moniker with some assistance from Metalhit for digital and physical product distribution. We’ve also collaborated with other labels like HPGD Productions, Chalice of Blood Angel Records, and Apocalyptic Empire Records. This time we co-released “…to the Bone” with the Canadian label, Vonfrost Records. Vonfrost is a relatively new underground label but they’ve been extremely supportive of Adrien’s other efforts so it seemed an appropriate arrangement for us.
Adrien: The process is working well from the start. It's really kind of symbiosis; I get the music, and have some lyrics ready. Then I listen to the instrumental a couple of times and there we go! The recording process for the vocals is very instinctive.
Listening to the intro to "Oppression Delegation", which has that sort of Goblin vibe to it, the sort of creepy Captain Corelli's Mandolin vibe, so to speak(!), it feels like something from a bygone era. We seem to have left behind or forgotten the value of a creepy acoustic or clean tone intro.
Mark: The album, including the introductory passage to “Oppression Delegation,” is an attempt to diversify and bring a level of atmospherics to the album that can be heard on and off throughout and between each song. The acoustic parts on the album were actually performed using a children’s app on my son’s iPad. I really liked the way the acoustic guitar setting sounded on the app so I wrote and recorded the “acoustic” elements on the album by holding a microphone up to my son’s iPad-mini and performing the parts by tapping the notes on the display screen. It sounds a bit ridiculous but it’s doing something out of the box like this that forces one to be creative in a new an unexplored way. I’m very content with the result as it sounds very natural and convincing in the overall mix.
That track in particular is off-the-hook in terms of its arrangements; riffs come and go, the tempo seems to shift, it's like almost Voivod . . . But most of all it seems kind of instinctive and impulsive. Does this all come together quite quickly and off the cuff or will you take a riff and really take the time to piece together a song from it?
Mark: Thank you for taking note of “Oppression Delegation,” it happens to be one of the last songs I recorded for the album and is also my favorite among the tracks. The song has a feeling reminiscent of Nocturnus but my favorite aspect is the unusual tempo shifts you noted throughout the song. If you ever have a chance to listen to Midas Touch, a little-known Swedish trash band from the late 80s-early 90s, they did a lot of killer thrashy-chugging riffs with great breaks and fills. They put out only one album on Noise Records and it’s really an underrated masterpiece in my opinion. One of the goals of Macabra is to draw inspiration from underdog bands on occasion, it’s important to me that bands like these are never overlooked. In terms of song-writing, everything is off the cuff and never rehearsed or planned, one riff follows the next. The songs are essentially written and recorded on the fly and in chunks at a time. To add to the depth of atmosphere on the album, I brought in Dawn Desiree, former lead singer of the doom metal band Rain Fell Within, to provide some operatic female vocal tracks on two of the songs. Her parts seemed to fit naturally in the mix and I’m very grateful for her time executing these parts.
Adrien: Instinctive and impulsive could really well-define the whole concept of "...to the Bone.”
With Macabra, you're not afraid of throwing in those curveballs, with little down-tempo sections. Is that a reaction perhaps to rigidity you get in a lot of death metal, where, as awesome as it is, it can want for a little variety, and want for a little surprise?
Mark: When writing an album, each song should have its own identity without straying too far from the overall approach. It’s important to me that each song be great in its own right, in terms of song-writing and interest, because filler tracks are unacceptable. The songs on “…to the Bone” are mostly based around a 200 beats-per-minute tempo but the riffs remain varied enough to keep the listener engaged, shifting from slow, mid-paced, and fast riffs in various parts of each song. It’s also important to me to have breaks or breathing room in a song and at other times build up tension or teases that leave the listener wanting more. These elements coupled together can make for an entertaining and engaging experience for the listener, something I’m mindful of when writing songs for the band.
Adrien: Variety is life!
From the production, from the arrangements and that sort of instinctiveness that mention above, I get the impression that you don't want to over-work it or over-perfect this, I guess, for fear of taking that sense of danger out of it and having it too rigid. Is that something you are conscious of?
Mark: Yes, as I mentioned, the writing and recording process is very fast. There isn’t too much time spent overworking or overthinking each song; it’s very much a fluid approach from each member.
Adrien: The music, when good, doesn't need further artifice.
The artwork for the album is awesome—few people can capture these sort of fantasy worlds like Mr. Seagrave. What direction did you give Dan, and, Mark, were you not tempted to do the cover yourself? Do you have an all-time favorite Seagrave cover (you're allowed to say this one, for sure!)?
Mark: Though I’m an illustrator myself and draw for most of my bands, I view Macabra with a bit more creative freedom in terms of visuals. The only reoccurring theme in our artwork is the consistent green, black, and white color palette prominent on most of our titles. The limited color choices speak to our visual brand as a band. Most underground bands from the early 90s only had access to photocopied products. In some cases, a band would front enough money to do a black and white offset printing plus one spot color to give their product a more professional look. I try to capture this idea with Macabra’s visual approach, essentially treating the green as a spot color. Although I’ve done a handful of illustrations and art collaborations for Macabra, including additional illustrations for “…to the Bone,” we’ve also hired with other artists like Halsey Swain, Toshihiro Egawa, Justin Stubbs, and Vince Locke in the past. I decided to hire Dan Seagrave to work on the cover of “…to the Bone” because I believed the album would suit this approach, giving it the feeling of a true early 90s release. I gave Dan minimal direction on the album cover and after a series of thumbnail sketches settled on the final concept. The end result was beyond my expectations, reinforcing that Dan was the appropriate artist for this album. Macabra, just like my other musical endeavors, pays much attention to the art and packaging aspect of each release. It’s vital the art be an extension of the music and act as a gateway to the auditory experience. I believe Dan successfully captured the overall presence of the album accurately and we’ll be working with him again in the near future.
Adrien: As Mark knows a lot of great artists, we had the opportunity to work with Vince Locke and Dan Seagrave. I personally suggested these collaborative ideas initially.
Do you have any plans to tour or is that just impractical?
Mark: There are no plans for Macabra to tour or play live. I seriously doubt this will ever be a reality given our busy schedules and the impracticality of playing live due to physical distance and recruiting session members, etc.
Adrien: No closed door but not something we are preparing for at the moment.
What does the immediate future hold for Macabra and for your guys individually?
Mark: Macabra will be releasing a split CD later this year with the band, Nucleus. After that, Macabra will take a break so Adrien and I can focus on our other endeavors. We will reconvene when the inspiration comes. In the meantime, I will be shifting my attention to publishing my next art book through Doomentia Press, an over 400- page hard cover tome entitled, Morbid Visions. The sixth full-length from my solo project, Fetid Zombie, will come out soon via Transcending Obscurity (India) as well as several split releases with bands like Dispellment, Necrolepsy, and Hellripper. 2016 has been, and will continue to be, a very busy and prolific year for me. Lastly, thank you very much for your time and feature in Decibel; Adrien and I are very grateful and honored by your support for Macabra.
Adrien: Thanks to Decibel Magazine for the interest and welcoming as well; very much appreciated. And remember that metal is…TO THE BONE!!