INTERVIEW: MORAL COLLAPSE

Artwork by Manisha Mohnani

Perhaps… Moral Collapse?

While we work through what was, and still is, a tough year for everybody all round, we are once again looking for solace. But what is solace in a world where sheer pandemonium is the order of the day? Perhaps we try to make sense of it all, or perhaps gather around all the ‘nice’ things to keep us company. That mellow soothing music, that cup of tea, a warm kiss, all those familiar cultural tropes.…

All that?

Fuck that!

Perhaps solace is found in the less than savoury kind. Where normative assumptions of what is ‘good’ are broken and laid bare. Perhaps solace is found in that familiar yet distant “maniacal laughter while the world burns” sort of thing. Perhaps it’s closer to reality. Perhaps it’s why Moral Collapse and their debut release have given me, and quite a lot of folks at The Metal Wanderlust, such unhinged rapture.

The record is bathed in an eclectic mixture of sounds that breaks away from most of Death Metal yore as much as it adheres to it. That statement doesn’t make sense, right? It does, because I’d call their music “liminal” from the Latin word “limen,” which means “threshold.” Because it’s right there at the precipice where it alludes to both Death Metal history and a movement forward. Main man Arun Natarajan, and Sudarshan Mankad deliver what is one of the finest Death Metal records of the year. The record is also peppered with some of the biggest names in Death Metal and other experimental genres. But be warned! These are no mere “insert solo here” or “insert bridge riff there” sort of tokenisms. All the artists collaborate in such a way that they accentuate the thematic focus of the album. It truly is wonderful, but that alone is an understatement.

I caught up with Arun to talk about the record and its making, as well as the equally wonderful label he runs out of Bangalore, India called Subcontinental Records.

As Deckard Cain (of diablo fame) would always endearingly utter…. “Stay awhile and listen.”

Deckard Cain: What interested me the most is that you own and run Subcontinental Records at the same time. As I parsed through some of the music there and heard little snippets of it all, I was frankly stunned. The genres that the label dabbles in are nothing short of eclectic and avoids the conventional in every sort of way. I am deeply intrigued here. Can you maybe speak a little about your experience of running the label, when it all started and your capaciousness for working with artists that are far away from the pigeonhole of Metal and its varied subgenres? How did you get here and perhaps develop this deep and vast network? And between all this you have your own electronic music output in Icostech and how did that come about?

Arun: It all started with my obsession with the bass player Bill laswell, combined with my fascination for making my own cassette and cd covers and labels from my childhood days. Experience of running the label is a dream come true irrespective of the financial ups and downs. It is something that I always wanted to do, which I realized only after we began. Me and Karthik started this label a couple of years back with a shoestring budget or no budget whatsoever, but with the backing of the famous Toshinori Kondo from Japan, whose release was the first one on our label. Other favorites are John Zorn, Bernocchi, Submerged, Hosono, Sakamoto, Alva Noto… we have been always into the lesser obvious explorative music that moves us more, than something which is memorable and structured. Free movement is what drives our label, in whatever genre we take up we look at how free the artist in his or her own expression: that’s all that matters. Ultimately to have a genre-less broad spectrum of sound, a library of lesser obvious music, working with artists all over the world. I never thought it would be possible until I managed to crack the first three artists: Kondo, Daisuke and Hatakeyama. All three Japanese, my obsession with Japan is far more than my obsession with music haha…

SUBCONTINENTAL turned 3 years recently with more than 50 releases under its belt ranging from jazz, new jazz, noise, ambient, techno, free improv, Metal, ambient… you name it , we got it !

Yes Icostech is a project that started out of me playing an 8 hour chill/experimental set in an underground gig called “Athmic Ritual.” Those guys were curious to know what sort of collection I had and what I would play, and how it be different in a rave setting in an alternate stage. Further own there are some mixtapes and sets which are floating on the net. Recently I had the chance to collaborate with Mia Zabelka in both worlds: metal and electronic. She is an amazing violinist composer/decomposer who also believes in what music does to you rather than how memorable it is to you: spontaneity has no end…

Deckard Cain: Why the name Moral Collapse? And what does it aim to signify beyond its literal meaning? And to that end what is the lyrical thread that runs through the album? Does it have to do with birth/death (with the wonderful yet unnerving artwork of the child with umbilical cords from their head)? Is there a philosophical aspect that runs through it all?

Arun: Moral Collapse is quite an old name. My first band was called that and later went on to be called Extinct Reflections, after which Eccentric Pendulum came about. It may signify everyone’s attitude and how far they are willing to go to get what they want… the lyrical theme of the debut album is based on a period drama (something like GoT), where a mother’s treasure (her own child) is traded/snatched to satisfy higher bureaucracies up the hierarchical ladder. It does have to do with birth, wrongful ownership, wrong and deceitful practices, exploitation etc… it addresses the wrong doings and the atrocities of people who are higher up in the society (king/queen etc). The art was done by an artist called Manisha Mohnani, whose work I saw in Chitra Santhe in 2016 on a road side exhibition that happens every year at the same place, Chitrakala Parishad. The Art was bought in 2016, the album was done based on the art and done in 2019/2020 I think. Some of the songs were a result of staring at this piece and imagining a world around it may be? We stop thinking about concept and lyrics and get to work maybe haha

Deckard Cain: One of the things I always loved when listening to and watching Eccentric Pendulum (Arun’s other band) was the bass. Holding the rhythm boat steady but also going beyond the pale in terms of musicianship. Perhaps it’s wont of much technical metal these days that the bass should stand out, but I see that again in Moral Collapse’s work. Sometimes adding into that atmospheric capture that this album simply excels at and sometimes having a strange eerie percussive quality. How much of the bass is important to your songwriting process? And how different has the songwriting process been like compared to your work with Eccentric Pendulum?

Arun: Bass comes towards the end but it can change the whole game, change the way an album sounds and the way it is perceived. It can change an album in ways unimaginable, take for example individual thought patterns by death. An excellent bass player never follows a riff or a beat in particular, he can lock in polyrthyhms at will , slap , pop , slide , get in so much dynamics into the music , though it is much in the background, bass does two things , provides the low end , it also provides a hidden texture to the entire album where you can hear it here and there coming through the entire mix.

 The song writing has been more free improvisational and more free spirited with moral collapse. There is no one to answer to , or ask opinions from or discuss, it is what it is, not much iteration goes into, not much overthought or change, everything is somewhat objective and yet the details are subjective and complex when everyone get their piece of meat to the party , making it simple in few places and spontaneous in most places, though the undercurrent is quite technical and yet old school in some ways that a few may not entirely agree…

I see Moral Collapse to be different, less proggy and more straight forward, in your face death metal attack than eccentric pendulum. Even EP towards the last few years have been bending towards a death metal sound, but things never materialized and I had to find another vent to put out music, I had to do something independently without depending on friends/foes, from there was the thought , to get someone really capable , professional and international to be on this album and thus Hannes (Hannes Grossmann)  was approached and he was more than happy to look at my tracks and found value in taking up the project in a complete way , he is the soul of the band , managing the mix and the drums. Sudarshan also was a key part of producing and recording this album, not to mention composing lead guitars and a few tracks.

Deckard Cain: Sometimes, and this’d be just me mind you, in terms of weirdness and pomp, the album reminds me at times of Comus’ First Utterance in terms of both of those qualities. I do get that they are a different genre altogether but sometimes the weirdness, represented in the violin and sax interjections and overlays are as otherworldly as they are cohesive. How much of your riff composition and songwriting were written perhaps keeping in mind Mia Zabelka, Julius Gabriel’s and Sandesh Nagaraj’s outstanding work? Especially Zabelka’s string improvisation on ‘Trapped without Recourse’ and Sandesh’s eerily pestilent soundscape in Vermicularis?

Arun : None, these elements were not considered during the song writing process, they were put in as a postproduction effect, our aim is to play old school death metal and to be able to play live too someday, a few twists here and there like pestilence used to use back in the day , so not much is planned for them, they in-fact plan their parts for the song and the instrumentation itself is quite unique and different sounding than the usual drums , bass and guitars setup , so this adds a new spice to the album and takes care of itself , not sounding too weird or not affecting the existing death metal framework. The filler songs are there to show how much moral collapse loves experimentation and free improvisation, may be in the future you will hear an even more experimental death metal side from us. Sandesh has been studying music for a long time now, everything from Xenakis to Beethoven to Cynic and Miles Davis on his plate, ethnomusicology has become an important part of our musical philosophies and he got us some bits of that on this album. Like how Sepultura also focused on their tribes and got in that ethnomusicological element into their tracks on an existing thrash metal frame work, more evident towards the roots era.

Deckard Cain: Keeping in mind the collaborative nature of the album, how did you go about contacting some of the household names in metal – Hannes Grossmann, Kevin Hufnagel and Bobby Koelble?

Arun: All by mail

Its lockdown time, everyone is at home with or without corona/ no gigs.

They need avenues to continue making their living plus lastly they might have liked whatever i showed them, so these guys got on board , it was all very easy and professional to deal with and was done through emails.

Hannes is easily the most telepathic drummer i have worked with who just gets whats in your mind, gets the vibe of the song and is on the same page from day 1, usually we cracked every track in like 3 iterations , with minimal drum changes, structural change. He is the most prompt and professional session drummer i have ever worked with, rather the only drummer i’ve ever worked with lol

cheers

Check out the entire album at bandcamp. Also the video premiere of their song ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ over at Invisible Oranges.

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