With the music that constantly shifts between fast and slow, aggressive and mellow, sinister and sentimental, Abiogenesis showcases a wide palette of sonic contrasts and that diversity makes the album feel like a diary of all the different moods and emotions you went through while writing it. Would you say this is a fair assessment?
Cihan Akün: One of the main themes of the album is the process of realizing the limitations we have as human beings, and while being aware of how limited our scope of reach is, keeping in mind that it is always worth striving for surpassing our own personal limits in terms of perception, thought, self-knowledge and so on. Art, in our case extreme metal, is just one tool at attempting this. So your comment may be accurate in the sense of the album being a starting point of a diary about an endeavor of this kind.
How much your music says about your dispositions and who you are as people, can you hear some of your personality traits shine through it?
Cihan Akün: It would be impossible for this to be otherwise. If the music doesn’t say anything about our vision, our curiosities and what’s in our minds, I see no point of making it.
Presuming that writing riffs is what amplifies your creativity, you must have felt at least a little bit off and outside your comfort zone while writing those cello and acoustic guitar arrangements for Tenebrous Horizons. Although its length might suggest otherwise, would it be fair to say that getting that song done wasn’t as easy as it may seem?
Cihan Akün: Actually, that song was the one with the fastest completing process. But before that time, out of curiosity, I had already made myself familiar to a few classical guitar pieces by learning parts from them and to basic music theory like intervals and key changes. It was a humble, but quite useful background.
About the cello melodies, I had to write them before hearing the melody on the actual instrument, which didn’t take much time either and flowed quite fast, which is unusual considering how much time I take normally to complete a song. When I presented them to a professional cellist, she added her own expressive touches in her performance and after a couple of rehearsal sessions it took its final form.
What about the melody or the atmosphere of that song made you feel Tenebrous Horizons would be a fitting title for it?
Cihan Akün: At one point I spent half a year in one of the southern regions of Turkey, and I was living in a place just nearby the coast of the Mediterranean. One night as I was taking a walk along the shore, I sat down nearby the sea and watched the horizon while enjoying the different hues of black and how they became even more intensely black as I looked farther into the distance. The next day I came up with the beginning part of the song and, as the image of the day before was still in my mind and made an impression on me, I associated the song with that impression. By that time the lyrics for Revival were already written and that view I saw the day before was exactly a tenebrous horizon of viscous black, I thought borrowing the expression from these lyrics would be a fitting title for this dark piece of music. So the same expression is used in two different songs in the album with different connotations. In the lyrics of Revival, it doesn’t mean an actual horizon as seen from a planet, it means rather the dark horizons which we must dare to stare in our own minds to challenge ourselves to tear down as much as possible the limiting schemes of thought with which we might have been unknowingly infected, also the darkness of our own unconscious which might be keeping us from fulfilling our potential.
I’m glad you mentioned that particular verse from Revival, a tenebrous horizon of viscous black, as the way you emphatically scream those words, with that slow, hefty riff underneath, is easily one of the most memorable moments on the album. Of course, there are many more equally impressive ones, like those two remarkable solos in the eponymous track, or the entire last three minutes of Visions Of The Hereafter for example. Are these some of the album’s highlights in your opinion as well?
Cihan Akün: Those are surely some of my favorite moments as well, but there are parts in Phantasmagoric Transcendence that I also feel deserve a mention. It is a very understandable thing to have favorite moments, but they may change through time and may also change depending on whether you’re listening to them sitting down or playing and hearing them live.
Despite some minor production-related shortcomings, Abiogenesis is quite organic and analog sounding album that doesn’t miss the living feel. Would you agree with this notion?
Cihan Akün: Yes, that organic feel was what we aimed for, but I would prefer if the production was also punchier than it turned out to be, as some riffs didn’t show their whole potential because of this.
The term Abiogenesis refers to a scientific theory based on the hypothesis that the transition from non-living to living entities was a biological, evolutionary process, meaning that it intrinsically collides with the creation myth and all other possible religious standpoints on life’s origin. With that in mind, was naming the album that way a statement with religious connotations, among others?
Cihan Akün: I obviously see things from a non-organized religion standpoint and Visions Of The Hereafter deals with the belief of the afterlife imposed by organized religion, it being detrimental to the mental growth of humans by luring them into the habit of wishful thinking. But constant religion bashing is in no way a center in our themes, I think there is a lot of work one has to do after leaving behind the comfortable boundaries of religious belief, even though many of our non-religious convictions are beliefs and can even be considered as individual religions. Only with being aware of this one can be on a quest of constant self-renewal and discovery, and although it is easier said than done and never-ending, it is definitely worth keeping in mind and making an effort towards, in several fields, whether it’s the music and art in general, personal life, worldview and so on, which are not disconnected from each other anyway.
Speaking of this interesting subject, in one of his post Formulas Fatal To The Flesh interviews, Trey Azagthoth expressed the following sentiment: The true meaning of satanism is nothing more than the means to tear down the old, limiting beliefs. Period. It’s not something to establish new beliefs. Read a bunch of books, listen, learn, and then piece together your own belief, what serves you. Belief has to serve you. If belief doesn’t serve you, it’s useless and meaningless. It’s not just because other people can hold it and say there’s a power in it – if it doesn’t give you power, if you don’t get something out of this belief, it’s meaningless. Do you think there’s something profound about this reasoning and would you say that it relates to the way you feel about things, at least to an extent?
Cihan Akün: Trey is definitely hitting the right notes there, though I wouldn’t necessarily call that point of view satanism, to me what he defines there is actually avoiding any isms. Like I said above, we may need convictions and beliefs to keep moving in life, otherwise we may be lost, but as Trey says, they must serve us instead of the contrary, also we must be ready and willing to refresh them.
We have developed language, created words and categories which help us classify things and communicate them to each other, but it must also be kept in mind that these classifications are artificial and one depiction of reality might not be as accurate as the other. So we can actually deceive ourselves because of our language, and it seems impossible to completely break out of the box as language plays a huge part in shaping our perception. That’s why we have to be careful with categories and isms. I think any thought or belief system which claims to offer a perpetual solution for the human condition deserves to be approached suspiciously.
Mentioning Trey in Burial Invocation interview seems appropriate not only because of his stances on different things, but also because of the superb guitar work on Abiogenesis. Considering that his contribution to death metal canon the over the first twenty years of Morbid Angel’s career is, by pretty much unanimous opinion, still unrivalled to this day, would you say that all aspiring death metal guitarists of your generation that hope to leave their mark on the music are basically chasing his ghost, figuratively speaking? Does that apply to yourself as well?
Cihan Akün: I think a huge part of Trey’s contribution comes from his approach to breaking out of the comfort zones of guitar playing and him having the courage to play and explore the outside more than anyone else. I also think that his contribution shouldn’t be considered only in the field of death metal, I think if musicians and listeners who are interested in other genres listen to his work with an open mind, they would find a lot to appreciate.
About your question, there are bands and musicians which are influenced by Trey and Morbid Angel and then go on to play music which is very well executed, but sound too much like Morbid Angel. And there are others who are influenced by Trey’s approach and then go on to seek their own ways of playing extreme music. I think the second idea is what guitarists of my generation should be after, and that’s the direction I am going for while writing our new material.
Are there any other death metal musicians that you look up to, that still predominantly influence the way you feel about music?
Cihan Akün: There are several people who I enjoy listening to a lot and whose work motivates me to become better at my instrument and writing. Other than the obvious classic bands and musicians, Lille of Defeated Sanity and Kyle of Vitriol are the two which come to my mind at the moment.
As dynamic and crammed with ideas as they are, four out of five songs on Abiogenesis revolve around the ten minute mark. Did you ever consider spreading some of that versatile, busy songwriting over more songs with conventional length or did you make a conscious effort not to do so?
Cihan Akün: There was no conscious effort to make the songs long, they just ended when it felt right that they should. I can’t really tell a specific reason for it, the riffs just kept coming up, like the songs were kind of writing themselves.
Regardless of how difficult it is to keep the band going when band members live in different places and constantly need to travel in order to rehearse, write music together and build the chemistry while actually being in the same room, you insist on doing things that way, even though technology has advanced so much in the meantime that you don’t really need to. Is that because you feel that a significant part of what being in a band entails gets lost otherwise?
Cihan Akün: One reason for that is simply that we like playing and practicing as a band, another is that our drummer wasn’t used to this kind of song structures and drum parts when I first started introducing him the material, so we practiced the parts in loops until he became totally comfortable with them and we all developed as musicians during the process. Also I like spontaneous ideas which come during rehearsals, that’s how we arranged Visions Of The Hereafter and it’s still my favorite song to play live, maybe because of this reason. But as we grow older and responsibilities keep piling up, maybe it won’t be possible to rehearse together as much as we did before and will use more of the newer methods, but as we have already done a lot of rehearsing in the past, we know and understand each other’s playing very well and the band chemistry is already established.
Speaking of established chemistry and the importance of gaining a reputation of a solid live band, would you agree with what Lemmy Kilmister once said, that a band that doesn’t play live is not much of a band anyway? Or do you think that there is something equally valid about bands like Darkthrone, whose reluctance to play live, despite being perfectly capable of doing so, is a matter of principle?
Cihan Akün: We definitely like playing live a lot, and will do it as much as we can, to the extent that our life situations allow us. And if a group of people have written some music and made a record, and if I enjoy that record, it would be interesting to see them live for sure, but if they choose not to do that because of whatever reason, I don’t see the point of throwing that record away and not caring about what they do, because they are not a band. I think no one would do that, it just doesn’t make sense.
It is all up to the musician’s decision. It’s their music, they should do whatever they feel like doing with it. I regularly dig and discover obscure bands from the past which are not active anymore, so there is no chance of seeing them live, but they still made those records and if I like it, I listen to it, and see nothing wrong with this really.
Saying all that, I would definitely prefer if a band also presents its music by performing it live. It is always interesting to see how the music I like actually works, and how the musicians present it on stage.
Was your decision to hire Dan Seagrave motivated by strictly aesthetical reasons or were you striving to become a part of his portfolio precisely because of the names that were already in that portfolio?
Cihan Akün: It was aesthetical reasons in the first place. Of course we cared more about a cover art that goes well with our album than being a part of some portfolio, but still, I cannot deny the satisfying aspect of working with the artist who has created great art for many of my favorite albums. I just told him about the topics each song dealt with and he delivered. The seriousness and weight of his style just works so well with this kind of music.
Speaking of Dan, what is your favourite artwork done by him? Also, what is your favourite album among those he did the artwork for?
Cihan Akün: It is impossible to pick just one from each, so I will just name two of them I have been listening to recently, which are great both in terms of the art and the music, The Erosion Of Sanity by Gorguts and …And Time Begins by Decrepit Birth.
In a recent interview with Decibel magazine, Matt Calvert put Rituals Of The Grotesque EP, the label’s very first release, on the shortlist of the most important Dark Descent releases. Do you ever take time to reflect on the journey both the label and the band went through and the fact that you still stick together after all these years? How does that make you feel?
Cihan Akün: Dark Descent has come a long way and has become one of the most important labels in the extreme metal underground, and it definitely feels good to have left a mark in the formative stages of it. I don’t reflect much about the past though, and I think neither does Matt, he is always busy putting out new releases and supporting his bands, and my mind is occupied mostly with creating new music and looking further.
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