To most of the outside world, heavy metal is just a collection of shouts, bangs, and noises played far too loudly by the misfits of society. Maybe that isn’t far from being accurate in some cases, but nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Brooklyn, NY’s Belus. The trio, made up of Matt Mewton, who also shreds for the mighty Woe, bass player Lesley Wolf of blackened sludgers Mortals, and Jacques Johnson behind the kit, delve deeply into complex intellectual themes on Apophenia, their first full-length. The intensity of their music more than matches the recondite ideas they explore in their lyrics, and the album artwork by Travis Wyche further builds on those ideas, and makes it worth getting physical copy of the album.
If you are in the Brooklyn area, get yourself to the album release show at Bar Matchless on November 17th. If not, be on the lookout for tour dates coming soon. You are going to want to see this live.
Indy Metal Vault: Congrats on the new record, what’s the reaction been like so far? Do you like to get online and read reviews and fan reactions? Have you had the chance to gig behind it much yet?
Lesley: So far so good! The reviews I’ve seen have all been positive. I wouldn’t say I “like” to go online and read reviews necessarily, but it feels obligatory in a way. We have played only one show over the summer since we recorded the album. We are playing again in a week 11/17 at Matchless for our official record release (though the vinyl won’t actually arrive until December). We are also planning a US tour for late March/early April.
Matt: We’re definitely happy with the reaction so far. A lot of people have come to us and said positive things, both close friends and others who are just finding out about us. It’s been really exciting to finally get this record out there. While I also don’t spend a ton of time searching online for reviews, I do get a good feeling when someone actually gets what we’re doing. It’s always great when a reviewer identifies a unique trait about our music that I never thought anyone would pick up on. That’s when you know you’re doing something right.
IMV: New York is one of the main hubs for black metal in the United States. Is there an advantage to being in a place known for it’s black metal pedigree? Or is it harder to try to stand out as a band with so many great bands close by?
Jacques: Being in New York has tons of advantages as far as exposure goes, but I don’t know so much about pressure to stand out. I don’t think we see it as being oppositional in any way. We are very lucky to have a community of people here that play in amazing bands, put on great shows, and generally enjoy each other’s company.
Lesley: I definitely think it helps to have other bands nearby that fit roughly into the same genre. They serve as inspiration and support, it fosters a scene, and gives perspective. It can be seen from both sides, too. Good bands could potentially get lost in the shuffle if there are so many around putting out quality music. But I think the alternative would make for a much less interesting scene.
IMV: Apophenia, coined by psychiatrist Klaus Conrad, was originally attributed to the onset of schizophrenia. My personal introduction to the word/idea was through Terrence Mckenna. Just looking at the album cover and other ideas within, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if there is a connection to Mckenna within the band?
Jacques: I think the three of us would absolutely agree “Culture is not our Friend.” My familiarity for the term comes through the writing of Peter J. Carrol. His work certainly is congruous with Mckenna’s, but comes from an occult perspective rather than the psychedelic.
We are creatures that have to create a narrative in order to understand the world around us. It’s all just incoming data without being pulled into some kind of story. Carrol frames apophenia as a psychological technology — a mental tool we possess to process the data our senses collect, which in turn create information about the world around us. Through occult techniques, one can wield that tool in slightly different ways to achieve desired results; as in magik (With a K).
In summary, the realms of psychedelia, the occult, and human psychology all intersect in interesting ways and seemed to make for a good album title/idea.
IMV: I feel often times people make connections with music that wasn’t originally intended be it misinterpreting lyrical themes, only listening to a chorus, or even playing a record backward to hear Satan. Do you see Apophenia happen in music? Do you think that is a positive or a negative as an artist?
Jacques: Neither, I think it’s unavoidable. It’s kind of an intrinsic part of people interpreting art, or music, or anything. I mean, Manson thought the Beatles were telling him to gear up for Helter Skelter on the White Album. Likewise, for a long time I wouldn’t listen to a certain record that I really loved because I was convinced I had shitty luck the following day for having heard it. With some healthy outside perspective it’s pretty easy to see that those kinds of thoughts are pretty ridiculous, but at the same time, I couldn’t finish a song on that record for three years — and we all know how the Charlie Manson thing went down (unless Paul and Ringo wanna tell us what they were really up to). Aside from getting super pseudo-intellectual about this stuff or awkwardly over sharing, it’s pretty fun to think about playing a record backwards and literally raising Cthulhu from the depths.
Matt: People can read into meanings in music in a variety of ways. Although there are a fair amount of bands in the past who have harbored, shall we say, unorthodox beliefs about certain classes of people, there are other bands who have been accused of similar beliefs because of a misinterpretation of intent. So there’s that side of things, and then there’s the more ethereal side of it. As an artist, I’d say that if you’re able to reach someone in a deeper way and get them believing in something that excites or improves their life — and simultaneously doesn’t drive that person batshit crazy — then it can totally be a positive thing.
IMV: I read that you worked with Nolan Voss at Chapel Black Studios, what was the recording process like? The album has a beautiful organic, almost analog, sound to it. There also isn’t the usual amount of distortion that we see in black metal. Was that the vision going into the studio or something that happened while recording?
Lesley: There wasn’t a vision of what we wanted the album to sound like prior to entering the studio, no. Nolan is friends with all of us and is very familiar with our music sensibility, so we trusted him to make us sound the way we intend without having to pull any fancy tricks out of the bag. He recorded us mostly with all our normal settings; Jacques used his own drum kit and cymbals, I used my own amp and pedals, same with Matt (though he did play two guitar tracks using different guitars and amps). The main thing different on the album from our normal sound is the addition of the synths which our friend Ivan Khilko added in, but we believe they added an atmospheric quality that doesn’t disrupt the essence of the music we wrote.
Matt: Nolan is the man, for real. He was able to identify tonal differences in my guitar playing, and at one point we decided to redo an entire guitar track because he helped dial in a better sound. The slight dialing back of distortion, if that’s what you heard, was intentional. It’s an old trick of sorts that a lot of metal albums have used in the past to allow guitar melodies more room to breathe. The two that first come to mind are Reign in Blood and Rust in Peace, but there are countless others. Overall, I think it helped the mix on the majority of tracks on the album.
IMV: The songs on Apophenia all stand apart from each other but at the same time feel like parts of a whole. What is the songwriting process like with in the band? Is there one person bringing most of the songs in fully formed? Are you all bringing songs in? Or is there more a jam out in a room collaborative effort?
Jacques: We jam out a lot.
Lesley: I’d say about 95% of the initial riff ideas come from Matt, but there is never a song that comes in fully formed. He generally will bring in an idea, and we jam on it and see where it takes us. I tend to be the person who figures out how to transition from one idea to the next, and Jacques makes it interesting. The drumming patterns he comes up with often makes Matt and I adjust our picking patterns and then eventually all the pieces fall into place. Thus, it is a collaborative effort.
Matt: We are all such different musicians with varying sensibilities that I gave up long ago on trying to bring in fully formed songs. In some cases I have a clear idea of where I want to go, but there are plenty of songs of ours that have started with us jamming on a single riff and then going off in one direction or another. I think that approaching composition as a collaborative effort adds to what we’re trying to accomplish — everyone has a voice by the time a song has gone through the writing process.
IMV: The drumming on the album really sets itself apart from what is usually done within the confines of black metal. Jacques is back there doing all sorts of awesome stuff. The cymbal use is very impressive. Is there a background in playing jazz? Where do the influences come from in regards to drums?
Jacques: Thanks, I can’t play a double kick to save my life, so a lot of that is just trying to think of something else that I can do. I enjoy some kinds of jazz and still listen to a lot of old Tony Williams records and stuff, but I don’t have any real training — I just really enjoy playing.
IMV: Can we expect to see Belus out on the road anytime in the near future?
Lesley: Yes! Look for tour dates posted, we are still working things out but we’ll be on the road from March 22-April 7.