Venomous Echoes interview (10/2023)
|Conducted by:||Auntie Sahar (e-mail)|
Sahar: As I've talked about before, every year on the Metal Calendar is bound to have a few "ninja albums" coming your way. Albums that seemingly come from nowhere, just out of the aether seemingly at random. But they do impress you, floor you even, with their songwriting, originality, performance, production, some combination of two or more of these. For 2023 the one album that probably did this hardest for yours truly was Writhing Tomb Amongst The Stars from Venomous Echoes, a curious little black metal one manner out of Kettering, Ohio. Dazzling, hallucinatory, and with a noticeably cosmic theme, the album brought to mind some of the greatest from similarly cosmic - themed BM artists: Wormlust, a bit of Darkspace, and even the more recent Lovecraftian - shenanigans that have come out of the elder statesmen in Blut Aus Nord. And yet... it still had something going on uniquely all its own. Something potent. Something I wanted to unveil further.
Hunting down the talented Benjamin Vanweelden, commander of the ship that is Venomous Echoes, a thorough, intriguing conversation ensued. Read on for a glimpse into the mind of a musician who, not without reason, has gained a significant amount of underground attention this year, and whose star in the American and possibly even the international black metal scene is fast ascending.
Sahar: Hello and thanks for taking the time out for the interview, Ben! I'm very happy your music has been getting as much attention as it has lately, and Metal Storm is happy to help boost your street cred even further now with an interview. Let's hop to it!
First... being in command of a one man black metal operation, I'm curious as to what your first instrument was. And what made you go to others from there?
Ben: My first instrument I ever learned was cello, but unfortunately I didn't take it seriously. But my main instrument to this day is bass.
I used to experiment with bass a lot like a guitar, and it just gradually moved on to me exploring that instrument as well.
Sahar: Did you ever start trying to to nix the idea of playing guitar at all by just playing bass with a bunch of crazy distortion, effects, and mixing?
Ben: Yes, I used to play in a dual bass doom band called Drowner. I used to use my bass as a lead guitar.
Sahar: When venturing into metal, was black metal your starting ground? If not, what pushed you to it?
Ben: The first metal album I ever heard was Ride The Lightning by Metallica, and that started it all for me. I rode the Nu Metal wave too because that was just my generation. But the first extreme metal album I ever heard was Deicide's Once Upon The Cross. That kind of sent me down the path of stranger and heavier music.
Sahar: You mentioned some dual bass doom stuff you did before. Did BM involvement come before that, or after?
Ben: I would say before a little bit. I was listening to black metal before then, for sure. But after I was heavily involved with it. Something about funeral doom just beckons black metal tendencies. When I was in Drowner, we spawned many different bands of different styles from noise, black metal, doom, and just pure fucked up music. We all had an ear for the strange and the Avant - garde.
Sahar: Nothing wrong with that at all. So as far as the emergence of Venomous Echoes, then... this is much more recent... how did you go from the group band approach to deciding to fly solo as a one manner?
Ben: Well, Venomous Echoes was born out of the pandemic. When shit went down I was left with no option but to figure out a new way to satisfy my musical needs. Home recording. And I could write music until the cows come home, but the problem was making it sound good. So I learned how to mix and master.
Sahar: Did you know every instrument you’d end up having to utilize for the project, or did you end up having to teach yourself some new ones?
Ben: I'm not a strong guitarist in my opinion, so I wanted the main focus to be that instrument, so I could push myself to learn new things. I am not a drummer at all, so I program my drums via midi. I also use Toontrack's EZBass to write with and then go back in and redo the bass parts on my own. It gives me the freedom to focus more on the guitar and kind of expand on that instrument.
Sahar: To the crystallization and emergence of the vision, then. Was there a road map you had in mind? Or did the project end up taking an entirely different course than what you had at first envisioned?
Ben: When I first started the project in 2020, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do with it. I self - released a demo of pretty straightforward black metal without vocals because I wasn't confident at the time in my voice. Then I recorded a more blackened death metal single without vocals shortly after that. But this year I put out an EP called Twists Of Slurs, and that's where my story really begins with this band.
I started talking about personal issues of my own depression and body dysmorphia. Creating this world where I am the protagonist going through this grotesque metamorphosis, so to speak. Twists Of Slurs was kind of an introduction to the world of the Tomb that is described in Writhing Tomb Amongst The Stars.
The Tomb represents depression and what it can do to the human mind and body. And the protagonist is me working through all the bad thoughts in my head. Trying to change into something or someone better. I have been going through some big changes in my life this year with my weight giving me a scare. And these releases kind of reflect what kind of suffering I went through in this process. It's been very hard for me. I am lucky in the aspect that my wife is my rock in this, and she helps me through my darkest periods. I have a support system like no other, and I am grateful for that.
So I guess when you hear the shrieks and cries on the album, it's really me going through it. I honestly didn't know how well it would be received.
Sahar: That's incredible, man. Kind of makes me think of what I would always read Dan and Tim from Have A Nice Life say, about how they never expected such a strong reaction to their music. But now Deathconsciousness is like... one of the highest - regarded albums of the 2000s. It can happen. It does happen.
So did you go at Venomous Echoes with…. not so much a goal of emulating any bands, but at least of sort of tapping into any specific bands’ legacies, trying to make them your own? Blut Aus Nord are too obvious a line to draw here. I want to know the nitty gritty that some people might not be considering.
Ben: When I recorded Twists and Writhing, two bands were always on my mind: Portal, and Antediluvian. But it also became kind of it's own thing. I wanted to push some boundaries in the genre and try new things that I hadn't heard. So I tried my hand at some noir jazz and other experimentation. I also am a huge fan of The Mars Volta, so there is a very small tinge of that in the guitar work.
Sahar: With regards to the themes you’re playing with, feeling trapped, the mental health issues, etc... I feel as though you sort of project that as an actual entity in a way, like a literal alien force that is, perhaps telepathically, and perhaps from a great distance of light years, gleefully torturing you. Perhaps this is the strange being on the album artwork. Am I on to something here?
Ben: You are correct. It is told as a cosmic horror story.
Sahar: That being on the cover gives me a real "King In Yellow" vibe, actually.
Ben: Yes! I love that story. Proto cosmic horror, in a sense.
Sahar: It's a goodie, for sure. Too many people are unaware of the fact that it's sort of like the missing link between Poe and Lovecraft.
Well, then... as far as the compositional process behind Venomous Echoes is concerned, here is where I (and others, surely!) have been seriously impressed. Primarily because your music is anything but a relentless BM barrage, and all the better for that in my book!
So what fuels your transition into the more ethereal, psychedelic dimension, more away from the black metal and into pseudo dark ambient territory? With all the effects, your whispered vocals, a style that is more restrained but somehow actually sounds even more insidious.
Ben: I've always loved the feeling of being in a vast atmosphere. Especially in music. But restraint? I think my biggest influence for that is none other than Jeff Buckley. The way he could control his voice was incredible. But I wanted this album to feel like opening a book and reading a story, or watching a movie. I wanted that kind of cinematic atmosphere. So, bringing those ethereal and psychedelic elements to the forefront... that's always in my arsenal.
Sahar: It's a great aspect of the music, perhaps the icing on the cake, even.
The whole "album as story" idea... could you elaborate on this, and where your current releases sit as far as the chronology of said story?
Ben: Well, the demo sits nowhere in this realm. Twists Of Slurs is kind of the beckoning call of the Tomb from the protagonists' dreams. Also, the story is not over yet, as there are more transformations for the protagonist.
I am trying to kind of build a world, so to speak.
Sahar: And I would say you are very much succeeding at that. I know I'm not merely speaking for myself when I say I'm intrigued to see how this is further fleshed out from here.
Did you do the artwork for Writhing Tomb Amongst The Stars, or was it another? I see there are two different pieces, actually, the one with the standing figure holding the cage, and another that's a bit more abstract and Lovecraftian.
Ben: I did the artwork for the Jaibaña version, yes. Along with the original logo. The version that Vargheist Records put out the artwork was done by Kumislizer artwork. And I redid the logo for that version.
Sahar: Both are attractive in their own rights. The one with the figure is a more literal depiction of the themes you're playing with, I think, but the other one somehow looks a lot more menacing, perhaps because it's harder to decipher. Some truly puzzling, cosmic horror from beyond the stars?
To your future, then... you mentioned having been in prior bands before venturing off with Venomous Echoes. This is actually kind of the opposite of how a lot of other one man BM - ers go. Most of them start solo and then join a larger band, if at all. So do you see yourself returning to playing with a full band sometime soon?
Ben: I might be soon. I am in talks with a couple of my friends to make one of my solo projects a real band called Years. It would be a Drum and Bass funeral doom band. So we will see.
Sahar: With respect to Venomous Echoes, something of the opposite question... have you given any thought about bringing it to a live space? And if so, are you eyeballing anyone for potential live collaboration?
Ben: As of right now, no. I think I will keep it to just me and tell my story for now. If it happens in the future, then that would be awesome. As far as collaborators, I would definitely say Justin Volus would get my guitar style. But it would be hard to say who else would be interested. Especially on a local level.
Sahar: Well as far as at a “local level” then, what’s going for your area, metal or otherwise? Anything you’re really involved in, even if just as a regular at certain venues perhaps?
Ben: Unfortunately, after the pandemic things dried up, some shit went sour with some bands, and I just got kind of fed up with the scene in general. There are still some great bands like [b]Opium Doom Cult in Cincinnati, and Valdrin are holding it down for black metal.
Sahar: What non musical influences from other artists and mediums have gone into Venomous Echoes? Excluding the obvious Lovecraft touches and nod to Robert Chambers that we already mentioned?
Ben: Horror movies, mostly. As I have a couple movie clips on the album. One is from Fire In The Sky, on "Swallowed Into The Eye Of Lies," and Infinity Pool on "Irrelevant Malformations Forgotten," at the very end of the album.
Sahar: I love sampling from films, it's very cool that you do it because it's not often something you see in black metal specifically. More so industrial and hardcore.
So wrapping things up, how have you been taking the attention Venomous Echoes has received, and how are you looking to capitalize on it from here?
Ben: I wasn't expecting anything at all, to be truly honest. I thought it was just going to remain dead like most of my projects. But I am really glad that people are digging it, and I am full speed ahead with this project. I want to put out as many releases as I can.
I have a follow up album already written and recorded that I'm planning on releasing next year at some point, and an EP will probably come before that. And then I also have plans to do a release for Centipede Abyss in 2025.
Sahar: Sounds like you're locked and loaded for at least the next two years, then. I know myself and others will eagerly be awaiting new material!
Ben, that's all from myself and Metal Storm for now. Thanks again for a great interview and some pretty high quality BM this year! Any last words for the Storm?
Ben: Thanks so very much dude!
At this point... nearly 20 years after the rise of Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega, and almost 10 since its true crystallization with the likes of Fallen Empire, Mystiskaos, Prava Kollektiv, etc., we could probably say that "dissonant psychedelic black metal" has established itself as a legitimate style within the larger subgenre.
Mark Venomous Echoes as a worthwhile addition to this trend for the 2020s, and if you're a fan of the obscure, Avant - garde, and forward thinking in black metal, you would be unwise to sleep on the work of Mr. Vanweelden.
Cheers again, buddy!
||Posted on 18.10.2023 by Metal Storm’s own Babalao. Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable since 2013.|
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