Alkaloid – Pushing the Boundaries of Extreme

Sunday, 29th March 2015

Sometimes it’s just cool how some groups materialize and form, seemingly out of nowhere. Take Alkaloid, who originally announced their intentions just shortly after Christian Muenzner and Hannes Grossmann announced that they were parting ways with Obscura. Of course, as you’ll read below, there was much more to the formation of Alkaloid than a simple Internet announcement. But boy, was that announcement something. Alongside Christian and Hannes was Danny Tunker (currently of Aborted), Morean (Dark Fortress, Noneuclid), and Linus Klausenitzer (Obscura). Surely, this is the stuff that true supergroups are made of.

With intentions of expanding on the band member’s vast extreme metal talents and bring it in new directions, Alkaloid laid an ambitious pathway before themselves. The band steered clear of any label backing, despite the pedigree of performers involved, and manned a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund their debut album, The Malkuth Grimoire. A metal opus at over 70 minutes in length, the now available final product is the successful fusion of the band’s talents within the metal genre yet feels also unique. True to their mission statement, the music of Alkaloid takes some familiar elements and gives them a wildly successful, distinctive spin.

Despite the band’s frequent release of information and videos explaining the release, DR still needed more info for such a top-shelf album. Luckily, we were able to reach out to the band and line up a conversation with guitarist Danny Tunker. We discussed things such as the decision to go label-less, the extreme progressive metal tag, the approach to songwriting, and even some nerding out about Psycroptic (which didn’t make it onto the page below). Read on…

Dead Rhetoric: Could you explain the “Extreme Progressive Metal” tag the band is using?

Danny Tunker: We didn’t really make that tag up, it was given to us. All of our bands are on different labels: Aborted is on Century Media, Obscura was/is on Relapse, and we know a lot of people in the business so we just sent them some material. Uniformly that is what they called it. In the end, when we decided that we weren’t going to be working with a label, we thought, these people know what they are talking about. They gave us this label, and people want a label to put on something. We decided to use that because we couldn’t think of anything else. If it was up to us we would have just called it Alkaloid. Honestly, I don’t really know what to call it.

I was initially against the progressive death metal tag, because as soon as you mention it, people say, “oh they sound like Opeth.” And I don’t think that we sound anything alike. But it is what it is. It was a weird thing as you can always normally think of a term to call it, but this time it was different. Especially since the material changed so much in the recording process. We don’t live close to each other, so most of the material was just guitar and bass and drums to me; I didn’t know what the vocals were going to sound like. Everyone just got full free-reign to do whatever they wanted, so it changed the material all the time. The best examples would be “Carbon Phrases” and “Orgonism.” They both changed drastically from the time when I put all the rhythm guitars down to the point when I heard the vocals on them. It was to the point where I was like “what the fuck, what song is this?” Then you hear what it is and you are like, “really, that’s what the song turned into? That’s great!”

It was a really cool moment because I got the first rough mixes around the end of November I think. That was the time when Florian [Magnus Maier (Morean)] was recording his vocals. We were all very excited about it because we didn’t know what he was going to do with it. We don’t rehearse because we are too busy and live so far apart. Hannes [Grossmann], Linus [Klausenitzer], and Christian [Muenzner] live about an hour away from each other but I live in the Netherlands, about 6 hours away. And Florian lives in Rotterdam, which is another 90 minutes away. There was no way to rehearse or work on the material together except through the Internet.

Dead Rhetoric: With everyone being scattered all over the place, how did the entire band end up coming together?

Tunker: It was one of those things that happened over time. I have known Christian for quite a long time and have met the other guys at certain shows that I was playing in with God Dethroned at the time. We would meet at certain festivals and hang out. I played guitar for Spawn of Possession when they were on tour back in 2012, because Christian was struggling with his Focal Dystonia and didn’t want to play both an Obscura set and Spawn of Possession set. During that tour, the idea came about that one day, we would maybe work together and do something. The last day of the tour, I met Florian since he came to the show. It was the first time I met him too but immediately the idea was formed. Originally, Christian was not going to be a part of it because he was struggling with his Focal Dystonia and was focusing on his solo project. But from that point on we started talking about doing something. Originally we were going to have Victor Santura (Triptykon) play guitar, but he was way too busy with Triptykon and Dark Fortress and he was burnt out, so Hannes brought up the idea to ask Christian. So that’s how it call came about. It was really natural, and it was really easy.

Dead Rhetoric: With so many “big names” in the band and undoubtedly having your pick of labels to choose from, why did you decide to release The Malkuth Grimoire independently?

Tunker: The deals that we tentatively got were not very good. But, the problem was that all the labels were very confused by the music. They all thought, how do we market this? At a certain point, most of those labels would say, “so we could market you as a new Opeth,” which would immediately put the hair on the back of our necks up and we would say, “No, we do not sound like Opeth.” Maybe in an approach to music, we work in the same way, but we don’t sound anything like them, and that was just wrong. We would rather do the whole thing ourselves and make a name for ourselves and show people what we are, and then maybe work with a label once they know what to expect to us, instead of being marketed as Opeth’s heir or something, which we really do not want to be.

Dead Rhetoric: It seems to me that you wouldn’t need to market the sound so much as just listing out all of the bands that you have been involved with and say, “Hey, this is what these guys are doing now.”

Tunker: Yeah, that seems totally plausible when you say it like that. That’s what should be done, but apparently it doesn’t really work like that in the business. People just need to be able to put a label on something. That’s not just the labels talking, but it’s something that is happening in the metal scene. People need to be able to put a label on it or they are going to hate it. In a scene like the metal scene, that’s supposed to be open-minded, from experience I can tell you that most metal fans are not open-minded. We already saw that when we released “Carbon Phrases.” We first posted the album teaser and then “Carbon Phrases” the next day, and immediately we had people going, “oh, these guys are just like Opeth” and “what the fuck are you talking about, these guys don’t sound anything like Opeth.” We had that whole thing going, and you are just like “come on.” Then there seems to be a new trend when you label something as progressive, especially in death metal, it means that it’s fast. So when you release a song that is not fast, you get “oh, they called it progressive – this is not progressive.” It was just one of those things, it makes me laugh.

Fortunately, now that the album is released, people get what we were going for. That is really rewarding. The last Aborted album was really extreme speed-wise and heavy and I wanted to do something completely different. I’m glad this came along, because I was able to do something totally different and that was a blessing. Especially after last year, where our last tour with Aborted lasted about 7 months, so being able to get home and work on this – to completely shut off and do something different, that was just really cool.

Dead Rhetoric: So is that how all of the songs went? Shipping around the parts of the album until everyone had added to it? Would you add more to it along the way as you went?

Tunker: Yeah, that’s how most of it went. There were certain parts that were set in stone. All in all, there were 9 songs on the album, if you take “Dyson Sphere” as one song. So what we did was to divide the rhythm parts among the three guitar players, so Florian plays all rhythm guitars on three songs, Christian did his three, and I played my rhythm guitars on three songs. On the other songs, we all had other parts that we would add. To save some time, it was easier for me to do three or four full songs. I actually did four, since we recorded more songs than what made it to the album. It would have taken longer if I had just recorded my part on twelve different songs.

They mixed the record for 28 days. That is absolutely crazy. I can’t believe the stamina Hannes and Victor [Santura] had. When I finally got the mix, I was excited. Though of course, there were some funny things going on at the end of the project. Florian was gone on holiday but he forgot to send some of his guitar tracks, and I was in Tasmania at the time. Christian was too busy with his solo records, so Hannes asked me if I had my recording stuff with me, and I did. Hannes told me that Florian had recorded these two guitar parts that he had not sent in and he could not get ahold of him since he was in a jungle somewhere in South America. So he asked me to record the two parts for him, which I did. But the funny thing was that I was in the middle of nowhere in Tasmania and had to send these five wav files that were like 500 Megabytes altogether. The Internet is infamously bad in Australia, but if you are out in Tasmania it is even worse. It took me 11.5 hours to send it! It kept timing out and I had to keep moving the mouse to keep the laptop from going to sleep. It was like I was back in 1997 [laughs].

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