An Interview With Anicon: Brooklyn And Black Metal Tropes

Recorded during a furious winter, Anicon’s newest work, their sophomore LP Entropy Mantra, represents a shift in their sound. More riff-heavy than prior work and certainly more open to individual contribution, Entropy Mantra is yet another solid album from the Brooklyn quartet. Since the release of their debut LP, Exegeses, much has changed not only in the Brooklyn landscape, but also in the personal landscapes of each member’s lives. Channeling the energy of that change, Entropy Mantra is decidedly darker, more moody and depressed. Thus, 2018 sees Anicon revealing more of their personal selves in their music while being more bold and challenging boundaries and conventions.

With that in mind, we sat down with Owen Rundquist (with a little help from Nolan Voss) to chat about the recording process of the new record, Owen’s artwork, and sobriety (when necessary).

First off, I want to talk about the artwork on the cover. I understand that you handled it yourself this time. Did the painting pre-date the album? Which influenced the other?

Owen: I find that you tap into a lot of frenetic creative energy when you’re working on a big project, and once you’ve really been immersed in it for a while and it starts to wind down, it can feel like a vacuum. This time around, that energy kind of compelled me to start working on some drawings. As the album moved into the mastering phase and the drawings progressed, it became clear that we were going to need some art, and eventually, it became clear that I was going to be the one to do it. So, by the time I made the art for Entropy Mantra, I knew that’s what it would be for. But it was also kind of the natural progression for a body of work that developed alongside the album simultaneously. I honestly didn’t want to do it and tried three other artists before giving in—I’m glad I did; it’s my favorite thing I’ve made in a long time.

In your press release, you’re quoted as saying, “[w]e wanted to make an album that reflects the lives we live rather than relying on more typically established tropes of black metal.” Can you extrapolate on that concept? What separates your lifestyle from a black metal trope?

Owen: Yeah, that’s in the press release, but I think you could say that about anything Anicon has done to date. I don’t think you can get where we’re trying to go while doing what everyone else has already done—which is not to say we don’t take influence from what’s come before us. I think you can definitely hear other bands and musicians in our music, black metal and otherwise. To make music that we’re personally connected to demands that we use our own lives as source material, and our lives are more than readily digested images or slogans. I don’t find the mysticism or pseudo-religiosity that a lot of bands espouse to hold much weight or bearing on my life or spiritual condition. I don’t find talking about it lyrically to be especially illuminating or cathartic. That’s not to say I don’t experience or strive to have a deeper understanding of the world around me and my presence in it, but I don’t see the path toward that having anything to do with candelabras, shitty incense, and rehashed ideas. Maybe that will make it more relatable to some people and less to some others. It doesn’t really matter—the music and lyrics are what they need to be, and if that’s taken us in a different direction, we’re happy to explore it.

Since the release of Exegeses—not going to try and pronounce it—there have been a lot of life changes for your band including moves, practice space closures and marriages. Has any of the affected how you guys write, record and perform?

Owen: It’s definitely caused us to streamline practice. When we first started, we’d be in there like 4 hours and we’d drink and get high and hangout until like 1AM before calling it. Now we practice like 2 hours max and are more sober doing it—we don’t have the time we used to have. And Alex lives upstate now, so he has a long drive every night after practice. That said, I think our time together has become more productive, or at least as productive in a more condensed time, and we’re still in the space twice a week, every week. We were also younger then, much as I hate to admit it, and treating practice as a launch pad for going out all night doesn’t appeal to me the way it used to. Writing hasn’t changed, really. Though Entropy Mantra was almost entirely written in our old space. Maybe in that way it’s one of the final relics of The Acheron, as we used to share a wall with the place before it closed. We were pushed out by a hummus shop, which was a tough pill to swallow at first, but our new space is cheaper and they make great sandwiches.  Really, though, it’s been a part of our lives for so long at this point that I don’t think much accommodation needs to be made for it. It’s just been a matter of choosing the things that allow us to keep doing it, you know?

You guys chose to have a member of the band, Nolan Voss of 30 Legions at Chapel Black, handle the recording. Nolan has handled the production for a number of Brooklyn bands, including your other project Trenchgrinder. What’s it like having a member of the band be so intimately involved with the production? 

Owen: Yeah, and it was great. Though, to clarify, Nolan is not actually affiliated with Chapel Black. He does his own recording and mixing under the 30 Legions banner. But Chapel Black was the space we used to record, and they were excellent. They’re friends of ours and were gracious enough to let Nolan engineer out of their spot. He also did Belus’ Apophenia there. Having him lead the whole thing is one of the best decisions we made on the album, I think. He’s so detail-oriented, and he’s so good at anticipating and understanding what someone is trying to do. It just made the entire process go really smoothly. He was able to put a lot of things together and bring certain elements out fairly intuitively in the mixing process, so it had a positive effect on the recording at every step. This is by far the best Anicon release to date, both from a musical standpoint and a production standpoint, and Nolan was responsible for a great deal of that.

Nolan: We were constantly reworking these songs, so I had a relatively good idea on what to accomplish with the recording. I made a lot of mental notes about mic placement and what kind of processing/effects to use. It was a great experience recording at Chapel Black, and everyone there is always very accommodating. Sometimes the beginning of a new recording project can feel overwhelming. But I was pretty familiar with the setup going in, so getting started hardly took any time at all. We all knew what we wanted, and everything just fell into place as we were tracking. Owen had some great ideas on how the guitars should sound spatially in the mix, and reamping gave us more flexibility when it came to dialing in guitar tones. Focusing on a more aggressive sound with the kick and toms was something I also wanted to achieve. I think having the ability to mix without any time/location restraints definitely had its advantages. We were able to really focus on the sound we were aiming for.

You mention anxiety, oppression, and darkness as overarching themes of life in an urban environment. Obviously that’s worlds away from the cold landscape of the Scandinavian origins of black metal. Is the urban environment compatible with black metal? What’s changing in the scene?

Owen: I don’t think it really is that far away—it’s just a different portal into the same energy. Despair, isolation, depression, domination, hatred, loss, grief… these are all common themes in black metal, no matter where it’s from. Even those are just words—abstract signifiers that are attempting to describe something and failing in everything but name. That’s why we, as humans, make music: to contend with these things. To revel in them and to distance ourselves from them. So our aesthetic may be different, but the mortar is the same. I see networks of people that are inter-connected, and those networks spawn commonalities within themselves. There are local and regional scenes, touring circuits and label rosters, but I don’t see an overarching narrative on the whole. At least not one that amounts to more than trend chasing.

Finally, I think people view the Brooklyn black metal scene as a cohesive unit, at least from the outside. There’s almost a “sound” of sorts that can be described as Brooklyn black metal. What do you think of when you hear the term and how do you think Anicon maybe fits into that scene but also stands out?

Owen: Maybe the approach that some bands take is similar in its layering and density, and I could see that as a byproduct of our environment, but otherwise I don’t really agree that there’s a Brooklyn sound. That said, I know most of the people involved to some degree, so maybe it’s too close for me to see clearly. There is a very active musical dialogue going on between the 15 or 20 bands playing this music here, so it would make sense that things would be made in response to other things, consciously or not. When we were first writing for Entropy Mantra, Alex and I ended up back at Will’s from Yellow Eyes and he played us some of what would become Immersion Trench Reverie, and Mike played us some demos for Vanum’s Burning Arrow, so obviously there’s some conversation going on there. You can’t help but be influenced by your surroundings. I say this a lot, but I prefer to let the listener decide what makes Anicon unique to them. But too often people miss the mark and describe us as an atmospheric black metal band, and I don’t think that accurately describes what we do. There’s atmosphere, but there’s also a shitload of riffs—I think I counted 58 on Entropy Mantra. We do both.

Our thanks to Owen and Nolan for taking the time to answer our questions. Entropy Mantra is available right now on LP, CD and digitally through their bandcamp page. We advise you all to go throw some cash at them right now:
Anicon bandcamp

Posted by Manny-O-War

Infinitely committed to the expansion of artistic horizons. Interested in hearing your grandparent's anecdotes and recipes. @mannyowar

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