Even though Chaos Moon has been around in one form or another (give-or-take a hiatus) for the better part of the last decade, 2017 feels like the year where they broke through and caught the attention of the average black metal fan. First came the cassette reissues of the first two Chaos Moon full-lengths–Origin of Apparition and Languor into Echoes, Beyond–from our friends at Fólkvangr Records back in October, and then they released their long-awaited fourth album Eschaton Mémoire in November. One of those rare albums that delivers on the anticipation and then some, Eschaton Mémoire ranks as one of the high points in prolific guitarist Alex Poole’s (Krieg, Skáphe, Martröð, Lithotome) long and varied discography,
Part of the reason that Eschaton Mémoire stands apart may well stem from the fact that it’s essentially the first Chaos Moon record where Poole approached things as a band instead of an extension of his own musical ideas. Vocalist/lyricist Eric Baker was integral to that progression, and he played a huge role in why Eschaton Mémoire is such a successful album. I recently had the good fortune (along with an indispensable assist from editor Lyle Almond) to chat with Baker via email not only about Chaos Moon, but his contributions to the most recent Manetheren album and his recently reactivated project Conqbine as well. Read on, Vault Hunters!
Indy Metal Vault: Hey, man. First off I just want to say thanks for agreeing to an interview. We’re absolutely loving the new album at the Vault, so I’m definitely stoked to have a chance to talk with you about it. And as a side note, I recently picked up the Conqbine comp without having any idea it was you. I actually wrote the premiere of Manetheren’s The End back in February when I was doing still double-duty with another site, too. So it turns out I’ve listened to you quite a bit this year without realizing it, and I’ve dug the hell out of all of it.
Eric Baker: Really glad to hear you have been enjoying the record. I did not put two and two together that you wrote the Manetheren premiere! Conqbine has been a small project with two of my friends for a handful of years. Just a fun thing to do and a mix of everyone’s individual influences. Can’t thank you enough for the support of all my projects this year.
IMV: Congrats on the release of Eschaton Mémoire. From what Alex Poole has said, it sounds like the album had been gestating for quite some time, so I imagine it must feel pretty good to have it out there in the world. Since I know you’ve been at least halfway paying attention to the online reviews, what’s the overall reaction been like thus far? In general, has the reception been what you were hoping for?
EB: We had an entire album of material completed, and one day Alex just said “we can do better.” At first, I was somewhat hesitant about abandoning that album, but it truly turned out for the best. The reviews thus far have all been positive. I think we have hit our desired mark with it. Eschaton Mémoire was intended to be a lot more than just straightforward, riff-based black metal, and it seems most are picking up on that. We don’t want people to fully absorb it in one listen; rather, it should stand as an album in which you notice something different each spin.
IMV: If I’m not mistaken, in terms of Chaos Moon’s current iteration, you’ve spent the least amount of time playing with Alex – the Blackburn brothers have been with him through several projects, including Chaos Moon before it’s original hiatus. Meanwhile, you came on for the 2015 Amissum EP, right? How did you end up joining the band?
EB: That is correct. Alex has known the Blackburn brothers for years, and their chemistry is excellent. They can describe things to each other in very general terms and know exactly what one another is trying to convey. That helps a ton in the writing, recording, and mixing phases. I met Alex through his involvement with Krieg. Being a fan of bands, I always like to dig deeper and see what the other members are involved with musically. That was my gateway to discovering Chaos Moon (albeit late), and particularly Resurrection Extract. I became a fan of the band before I really knew Alex. I caught wind of him searching for a vocalist and threw my name in the mix, not expecting much. He gave me a shot, we wrote and recorded the album which we eventually discarded, and did it all over again. The one song that survived that scrapped album is the title track of the Amissum EP. That was the first track (and only one on that release) that I had a hand in.
IMV: The lyrical themes on Eschaton Mémoire are complex and well though out. In the past, Chaos Moon has largely been Alex’s outlet, but I know that Steve Blackburn had a hand in writing some of the music this time around – how much freedom did you have in terms of developing the lyrical ideas on your own? Were they ideas you had prior to writing the album, something you were just looking for the right musical vessel to share? Or something you came up with as the music formed and influenced your thinking?
EB: Alex expressed a desire to push Chaos Moon in a new direction moving forward. Getting other musicians involved was part of that plan. I was given a ton of freedom with regards to lyrics and vocal lines. We set a generic theme guideline in the beginning, and each person ran with what they felt fit that theme. I don’t want to blatantly state the themes involved, but those are things that I’ve wanted to write about for a while. I’ve just never had a project that fit it so dead on. The songs they wrote and recorded made it work well for me. The music certainly provided the additional inspiration I needed to write lyrics that I feel are my best work.
IMV: There’s an interesting blend of mythology and metaphor in your lyrics, alongside some more real world based ideas. What was the thinking behind interweaving them rather than just sticking with one form? If I had to guess, I’d say that there’s probably a personal element to the lyrics that you’re trying to obscure and it’s not just a case of you trying to present some kind of apocalyptic worldview. I’m not asking you to explain your lyrics, because that kind of thing is just bad form – just curious about your process.
EB: Mysticism is a crucial attribute in this genre. In my opinion, once that is taken away, the value of the music drops. My goal was to write lyrics that can be taken at face value, but are not intended to be just that. There are pieces addressing religions, mythology, mortality, inner strife, etc. And while those things are all relevant, I tried to position my words in a manner which each listener can form their own takeaways beyond the literary meanings of the lyrics. Some things are apparent, others are hidden deeper. The writing process involved a lot of repetitive listening and outlining. I approached this album as though I were writing a story, with the music painting a lot of intense mental pictures for me.
IMV: One of the things that really struck me about Eschaton Mémoire as I was listening to it the first time is how different your vocal technique is on the album from what one usually hears in black metal. And listening back to Manetheren’s The End from earlier this year, I’m hearing something very similar – you favor a lower-register vocal that’s much closer to a growl than the more traditional black metal shriek. How did you develop that technique? Does it stem from doing more of a crust-influenced thing with Conqbine, or does it date further back than that?
EB: I began practicing vocals when I was 15. I did so many things incorrectly and had blown my voice out, to the point that I couldn’t even whisper numerous times. A majority of my progress and finding my voice occurred in the first band that I formed with some high school and college friends when I was 17. That band didn’t last very long, but I kept working on my voice after that. Years later, I got involved with Conqbine, and I credit my good friend (and Conqbine guitarist) Nik Flood for much of where I am currently as a musician. He encouraged me to push boundaries and work on new techniques, and helped me with learning to record myself. I did a lot very wrong with my voice early on, and it may seem cheesy to some, but those DVDs from Melissa Cross called The Zen of Screaming taught me quite a bit as a teenager. There are some important things in there that refined my way of thinking regarding how my voice works. Understanding how the vocal cords work and the mental aspect opened my abilities more. I’m sure that my techniques still involve plenty of “wrong” and “bad” habits, but it works for me and I don’t feel any damage when I’m done performing or recording. I would say my style varies dependent upon the project, subject matter of the music, and what my ears perceive as suitable for each song.
IMV: You guys worked with Jef Whitehead (aka Wrest of Leviathan) on the cover art. What did that process look like? Did you discuss concepts with him or show him any of the lyrics, or did he come up with the art entirely on his own?
EB: Alex worked with Jef the closest on the cover art. Keeping our general album themes in mind, we searched for some ideas and collaborated on them as a band. Once those overall ideas were decided upon, Alex coordinated everything with Jef. He put a bunch of time and effort into it, and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Much like the music on the record, there are many things referenced in the art that most may not grasp on the first look.
IMV: At this point, are there any plans for Chaos Moon to play any shows in support of the new record? There’s a part of me that hopes the current lineup will turn into a touring entity, but I’m not holding my breath…
EB: Personally, I would love to perform material from Eschaton Mémoire and the previous albums in a live setting. There isn’t anything on the books as of now, but we are not opposed to performances. Unfortunately, we don’t really have the ability to do a full-fledged tour, but maybe some festival appearances would be possible, provided some promoters would have us.
IMV: So what’s next for you? Any new music in the works from any of your current projects? Conqbine is active again, right?
EB: I’m working on some projects to which I’m not attaching my name or promoting directly. I’ve been doing this a lot throughout the course of 2017. I’ve had extremely early, quick discussions with both Manetheren and Chaos Moon about future material. With any luck we can get writing and recording demos at some point in 2018. But there aren’t any deadlines in place. Conqbine is on a small break right now, but definitely in my 2018 plans for creating new music. Most likely a different direction than previous works.
IMV: Based on your Instagram page, I get the impression that you’re at least kind of a craft beer guy. Assuming I’m right about that, what would you consider to be the ideal beer pairing for listening to Eschaton Mémoire for the first time?
EB: I would recommend something dark and potent, like a stout or barley wine. Specifically, Only Void from Tired Hands Brewing or Old Guardian from Stone Brewing. Those are personal favorites of mine. The Troegenator Double Bock from Tröegs Brewing would also be fitting.
IMV: If you don’t mind a slightly more personal question, you’re a big gym guy, right? What got you started down that path? Is it something you’ve always more or less been into? Is there any piece of advice you could give to people who are thinking about getting into the gym – maybe something you wish someone had told you before you started lifting?
EB: Typically, I train five days a week. I’ve worked a desk job for about five years now, and if I didn’t have regular physical activity, I would become fat and lethargic. I’m turning 30 in December, and I’m in the best shape of my life. It helps a ton in vocal performance, believe it or not.
The main reason I got into weight lifting was to combat depression. Music is a great outlet, and I’ve found similar results with lifting. It doesn’t completely fix it, but it reduces the effects noticeably. I used to only run three miles, three to four times a week, but I didn’t enjoy it. So, I switched to more weight training and it’s been more enjoyable (some days are still brutal). The added strength has been a bonus, both physically and mentally.
For anyone debating whether they should start, the answer is yes. I avoided getting a gym membership for years and I regret not getting in there sooner. There is a wealth of free information online to help you in reaching whatever goals you set for yourself. Ease into it, but commit and do it for the long haul. Don’t worry what the other people are lifting, focus on you. I’m a firm believer in breaking yourself apart to improve. That applies beyond lifting for me.
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you want to add?
EB: Thanks to Indy Metal Vault for the continued support, and thanks to those that have given Eschaton Mémoire a listen this year. Ave!