If pain had an aural component, it would undoubtedly sound a lot like Abstracter. The Oakland-based quartet are know primarily for crafting hellish blackened doom soundscapes, but their forthcoming third full-length Cinereous Incarnate is a whole different kind of ugly. Crustier and more doomed-out than their previous albums, they also add a hefty dose of both noise and dark industrial to particularly miserable effect. Imagine Primitive Man in a really bad mood, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how caustic Cinereous Incarnate truly sounds.
I had the chance to ask the band a few questions ahead of Cinereous Incarnate‘s June 8 release, shortly after our friends at Red River Family Records announced their participation in this year’s edition of the Red River Family Fest in Austin, Texas. Check out our conversation below, and then depending on where you are in the world and your preferred physical format, you can preorder Cinereous Incarnate from I, Voidhanger Records (Ltd. Deluxe 4-Panel Mini Gatefold Replica CD printed on matte paper with spot UV outside and inside. Lyric booklet on matte paper with metallic silver ink), Sentient Ruin Laboratories (US LP/Cassette), Vendetta Records (EU LP), Tartarus Records (EU Tape), and Daymare Recordings (Japanese enhanced CD w/cover of Amebix’s “Fear of God” as a bonus track + an OBI strip).
Indy Metal Vault: Hey – so for starters, thanks for agreeing to an interview. Cinereous Incarnate is a fucking beast of a record – easily the most oppressive entry thus far in Abstracter’s discography – and I’m looking forward to talking about it a bit. I want to start, though, by doing something that I almost never do: ask about the album title. For our readers who might not be familiar, the word ‘cinereous’ means ‘ash-grey,’ which makes for a truly striking bit of imagery – ash-grey personified. Where did you come up with that title? There are short interludes on the album called “Cinereous” and “Incarnate” – which came first, those or the album title?
Abstracter: Thanks for the interview. Cinereous Incarnate is nothing but our world, our surroundings. The new reality that materializes in a vision as you hallucinate and decay before the event horizon, as the rays of a dying star are cast down to an atmosphere-less earth and burn your retinas in the last seconds of survival. The title references the wretched world the album attempts to envision and describe. This album may sound sonically different from our past work, but the themes it covers of deviated environmentalism in a “nightmare” setting are pretty much the same as past works. Cinereous Incarnate is the embodiment of the man-made hell “born of the breath of every nuclear warhead,” where everything is ash and disintegrating existence, and reality has turned into a place of sunless darkness, a nightmare from which one can not wake up as they are awake already, and this is the new world that awaits. The album title came first, but it just made total sense to call the two dark ambient tracks with the two words from the title, as they perfectly represent it as a whole.
IMV: In a way, Abstracter kind of comes around full circle on Cinereous Incarnate. The band started out as a noise duo, and you’ve (re)introduced those elements into your sound on this album, courtesy of guest appearances by Sutek Hexen mastermind Kevin Gan Yuen and SF-based dark industrial artist Only Now. At what point during the writing process for the album did you decide that you wanted to bring those textures into play?
A: We’ve always had a strong interest in this type of sounds, and since Wound Empirewe’ve been recording layers of feedback to then twist and mix into our songs to make them more abstract and atmospheric, and we’ve obtained great results there – especially in developing and achieving that “apocalyptic” sound we’ve been known for. But as four piece primarily focused on “riffs,” it was hard for us to take it to the next level. Sutekh Hexen is a local band for one thing (so physically in the same place as us), they are friends of ours, and are a hugely inspirational act who’ve mastered incredible realms of atmosphere, so when we came full circle with our limitations in the atmospheric compartment we reached out to the one and only entity that could take things to the next level, and that was Kevin. And of course he killed it. As far as Only Now, I’ve known Kush for years, he’s one of my best friends and is another amazing talent, and just like Kevin I know what he’s capable of as far as electronic sound sculpting goes. We felt like the album needed these black holes where the listeners just lose themselves and get pulled apart by sound. These places of total darkness, where nothing feels human or familiar anymore. So I contacted Kush, and in one afternoon he composed some of the most amazing dark ambient pieces for us that I’ve ever heard. Cinereous Incarnate would not be what it is without their contributions.
IMV: The noise/dark industrial elements aren’t the only reason that Cinereous Incarnate feels so much more claustrophobic than its predecessors. This is just an unrelentingly bleak record from start to finish, and if my ears aren’t deceiving me it also feels much more doom-influenced than some of your recent output. Granted, doom has always been one of the aspects of Abstracter’s sound, but the slower tempos and crushing, caustic riffs really seem to dominate. Did you approach the writing for this album with a mindset of ‘let’s go for something slower and even more soul-crushingly miserable this time,’ or was that something that evolved as you were working on it?
A: The real change here happened when we added Adam on drums. He comes from a grind/powerviolence background, so that’s when we were finally able to make double-bass and blast beats a pillar of our sound (something we’d always struggled to fully incorporate before), with faster parts becoming more central to our sound. With the addition of faster parts, the songwriting kind of just derailed into this dark and violent place. The drumming dragged the riffs with it. In order to sound consistent, the slow parts had to mirror the fast ones, so the end result is somewhat like listening to a black metal rampage in B tuning slowed down 30 times. Perhaps that’s where the end result happened. Nothing is really pre-determined in this band and there is no book of rules we follow. Shit just happens for a million different reasons, which at times we too struggle to understand…
IMV: While prepping to write these questions, I took a look at some previous interviews online. There’s one with Battle Helm from 2016 where you’re asked how important Abstracter’s lyrics are, and the response was “Very. The lyrics complement the art, the music and the band’s entire imagery […] a surreal, grotesque and hallucinated reflection on the world that awaits us if mankind is not stopped in all its wrong doings towards mother earth, and of the inevitable demise of this species.” Given that response—and since Mattia’s lyrics for Atrament, the other band he currently does vocals for, are readily available—I was more than a little surprised that Abstracter’s lyrics aren’t online anywhere. Is there a reason you don’t publish them? Will they be included in any of the physical formats of Cinereous Incarnate?
A: Most Abstracter physical releases have lyrics in them, and Cinereous Incarnatewill indeed as well. But I feel like they should be added value for those who decide to invest in bringing the music home with them, as the lyrics are kind of part of the experience as a whole here. They are very personal – akin to cracking my head open and seeing what’s inside of it and dissecting my nightmares – so I feel a bit weary of just putting my open head on display online. But they will indeed be in the LP, tapes, and CDs. Atrament is a different band, a punk band for one, and there I like to do things the punk way and pay homage to my punk heroes like Doom and Discharge, so the lyrics are way more direct, intelligible, unfiltered, and political. It’s just hatred and disgust pouring out, so it needs not to be held back in any way.
IMV: You once again worked with Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios for Cinereous Incarnate, as you did for your first two full-lengths (though Tomb of Feathers was recorded elsewhere and only mixed by Wilkinson) and for Atrament’s full-length as well. I’ve talked to several bands who’ve recorded with Wilkinson, and they all speak of him in the highest of terms. What is it about Wilkinson and Earhammer that keeps you going back there to record? You also use Brad Boatright at Audiosiege for most (if not all) of your mastering as well, right?
A: I could get into technical details of why we work with them, but long story short Greg and Brad simply “get it.” They are one of us and one with us, we’re cut from the same cloth and they love heavy dark shit. They know what a band like us wants, and they make it happen. So it’s a huge time saver, and they’re both a breeze to work with.
IMV: Building off of that last question, I always like to ask about gear – the subject kind of fascinates me in general, and the instrument tones on Cinereous Incarnate are acidic enough to peel paint off the walls. What did everyone’s studio rigs look like? How close are they to what you use live?
A: Abstracter uses VHT 100w amps (a very dark but articulated sounding amp), and Orange and Emperor cabs, and Gibson RD guitars with Bare Knuckle pickups. For bass we use a Hondo/Fender P-bass hybrid found in the trash (no joke – and it’s been the only bass ever used in this band), GK 300w amps and Ampeg cabs. When recording with Greg, all these are used to obtain/preserve our core sound, but we add some layers in some parts recorded with Marshall JCM900 and Red Bear heads for guitar, and Ampeg and Red Bear for bass. A Les Paul was used for overdubbing, and an Ibanez Artist guitar was used for most clean parts.
IMV: In addition to handling noise, Kevin Gan Yuen once again provided the cover art for Cinereous Incarnate. At this point, how closely does the band work with him on the cover concept? Do you discuss general themes with him, or do you basically leave him to his own devices? He perfectly captured the essence of Cinereous Incarnate with his cover image.
A: Kevin is the fifth Beatle, even more so on this record. We spent a lot of time together brainstorming the art, and he always nails it. We keep working with him because just like Greg and Brad he gets what we want, and on top of that he has a style that we all love and respect. For this record we wanted him to emphasize the noise and dark ambient elements on the record, and he knocked it out of the ballpark. He’s an incredible musician and visual artist all around who always has a fundamental role in taking our vision to the next level.
IMV: Instead of asking the usual influences question, I prefer to approach the subject from a different angle. Given Abstracter’s lyrical themes and overall aesthetic, I’m curious as to what your non-musical influences were for this album. Were there any books/films/pieces of art/etc. that provided inspiration for Cinereous Incarnate?
A: Obviously post-apocalyptic art and culture is the main inspiration here, as well as science fiction and some surreal horror fiction in a lesser degree. South African philosopher David Benatar has been hugely inspirational for the lyrics, as well as all the nihilists, misanthropes and end-times enthusiasts out there.
IMV: You were recently announced as one of the bands playing at this year’s Red River Family Fest in Austin on September 28-29. Are you planning to augment your lineup to include the power electronics/dark industrial from Cinereous Incarnate? How much touring do you hope to do behind the album, either around the time of RRFF or otherwise? Near as I can tell, Abstracter has done a run of dates in Europe, but hasn’t played anywhere further east than Tucson here in the US.
A: We don’t play live much for various personal life reasons, and we’re not sure about the live soundscapes. Our live sound is already overbearing as is, and while the record is mixed to make all the elements shine in their own right, we’re not sure how it would translate to a live mix. As Cinereous Incarnateis coming out on Daymare in Japan, we’re trying to get over there on tour ASAP, and then go back to Europe next year, as when we were out there the first time we realized we have a strong following there and touring logistics are way more simple in Europe than they are in the US. We’ll do some US tour planning once the record is out, but it won’t be extensive. That will probably never happen.
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
A: Thanks to you guys for the support and for asking engaging questions.