One of the most frustrating things about being a fan of heavy metal is that the all too many people think that the entire scene is like one giant, global version of Heavy Metal Parking Lot on infinite repeat. It isn’t. In fact arguably it continues to produce some of the most diverse and forward thinking music around – why can’t you grow up on a healthy diet of Kiss and Motörhead, and then eventually find yourself playing guitar in front of the Dalai Lama as part of a free improv collective performance that includes, amongst others, seven Tibetan monks, a Japanese Trumpeter and legendary bassist Bill Laswell? Because as strange as it sounds, as part of Somma, that’s exactly what Eraldo Bernocchi did. And what he continues to do through more recent, more metal orientated bands – the sludgy, yet near-operatic Obake and the Colin Edwin featuring Metallic Taste Of Blood.
Although currently a member of two bands, Bernocchi’s first serious musical venture, the industrial-tainted world/noise outfit Sigillum S, was created with the specific intention of being totally against the perceived notion of what a ‘band’ is, with members and collaborators dropping in and out as they saw fit. Since then his collaborations have veered from the warped, beat driven noise of Black Engine – featuring Mick Harris and members of Zu – to the ambient, guitar only drones of Parched, with Ephel Duath’s Davide Tiso. And all this from someone who has Lamb Of God’s latest album on heavy rotation on his iPod and (rightly) believes Slayer to be the best band in the world.
In the lounge of a small hotel in Wroclaw, Poland, the morning after Obake’s headline set at the Asymmetry festival, the Quietus caught up with Eraldo to find out about his latest projects and to try and keep up with his truly heroic intake of espressos (we failed miserably at the latter).
EB: I did a project called Parched, a record called Arc, together with Davide Tiso, the guitarist from Ephel Duath – only two guitarists, it was an ambient record, kind of like a soundtrack thing. Then, one day I got an e-mail from a friend who said, ‘Look, Parched is in the end of year top ten of Colin Edwin from Porcupine Tree – it’s one of his favourite records’, I think it was number three or something, so obviously I was like ‘Whoa, what the fuck?’ And after a couple of days Colin contacted me on MySpace and said that he loved the record. I wrote him back and we started to exchange ideas and at a certain point we said ‘Ok, let’s try and do something together, maybe the result will be interesting.’
At the very same time I was producing the Obake record, so I was working with Balazs, so invited him to be involved and we started to work on some tracks. Colin came to my place two or three times, we worked on tracks, put together some ideas – very open structures. After a while we started to say to each other, y’know, where are we heading with this? Are we going with a trio? No. We needed some other voice – but I didn’t want to have a vocalist because that would have made it Obake number two, basically. I didn’t want to have, like, a trumpet or a saxophonist either, because I’d already worked with those recently.
Then Balazs had this idea of involving Jamie Saft, and I said, ‘Well, why the hell not?’ Jamie is one of my favourite keyboardists – notwithstanding Jamie loves Slayer, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and all this stuff – so there was a lot of connection there. We started to discuss this with Jamie and he was totally into it and we started to work on things.
Are you a fan of Porcupine Tree?
EB: Yeah. I mean, not a massive fan, I like a lot of what they do – especially the last two albums, The Incident I love. But it’s a mix; it’s one of those things where sometimes they are too overly complex for my tastes. For instance, Steven Wilson, he’s one of the most incredible musicians that has surfaced in the last 20 years, I think.
The improvisational aspect is key to your other ‘band’ project, Obake…
EB: Well, I would say that a good 30 percent of what we play live is improvised – but the album is totally improvised.
So presumably that’s the same with MTOB?
EB: Yeah, me and Colin put together ‘structures’ – we just give a name to the madness and try to encapsulate things. What I try to avoid, it’s something I really hate, even when I’m producing bands, is the ‘cut and paste’ thing. I hate that. Let’s play things for real! The real shit!
Generally speaking then, do you have skeletons of tracks or basic ideas before you enter the studio?
EB: No. Maybe I’ll be thinking ‘Yeah, I have this riff that I like’, Colin will say ‘Well, look, I have this bass line in mind’ or Balazs will be doing certain things; we’ll just be jamming. And when we’re jamming, if we’re finding something that we like we’ll record it – 20, 30 or even 40 minutes – and develop it. So that’s basically how all the tracks are made.
Colin is known for his often bizarre time signatures – how was it trying to establish a connection with him, musically, at first?
EB: The connection was there right from the beginning really, I didn’t struggle with playing together at all. In the very beginning I had to change my musical perception a little bit. But that’s part of the fun, right?
EB: Well, I’m used to working on so many different things that I’m always Obake-sizing myself and shapeshifting, so it didn’t take long. There’s one track on the record that is in 7/8, it’s very drum & bass-y, almost a bit tribal, and on that track I only did droning guitars because I tried so many different things every time it was sounding like fusion or something. Because the drums and the bass are so precise, with that piano line on top, putting a groove on top of all that was spoiling everything.
That being the case, and with the amount of improvisation going on live, how much is Obake more or less a live band than a recorded one?
EB: I was asked the same question by another guy just yesterday actually. I never had bands in the past because I hated the concept of ‘bands’, I hate the idea of playing the same shit every night. To me that is unbearable, I’ll never understand how people can do, like, 200 gigs playing the same fucking songs every night – to me that is unconceivable. What I like is to have some structures, that replenish my energy, and to have open sections. For example, the last track that we played last night – ‘The Human Genome Project’ – on the record there is no improv part but over these last three of four gigs we have started to develop this improv part – we never know how long it’s going to last, it could be five minutes, it could be ten seconds, it depends on how we look at each other, how Trevor and Balasz are working with bass and drums. That for me is the key, that’s the only way I can imagine a band.
And do you see MTOB as becoming a live project at any point?
EB: Oh yeah, totally, we are thinking about that – we are actually thinking about it as a proper ‘band’. There’s a lot of people asking if there’s going to be another album already too, but it’s like, c’mon, enjoy the first one first! But yeah, we’re thinking about doing some festivals or something.
Changing track slightly; we talked a little bit last night about some of the first records you’d bought – Elton John, Kiss, etc – and, of course, your love of Slayer. Yet with Obake and MTOB especially, the influences don’t seem quite so obvious…
EB: Ahhhh… But I listen to anything, absolutely anything!
So those early record are just the seeds that things grew from, or do you still draw inspiration from Love Gun or Capitan Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy?
EB: Oh yeah, totally, totally. It’s like, for instance, Kiss were my idols when I was 10, 12, and as a teenager, and they are still there – if I listen to ‘Deuce’, ‘Detroit Rock City’ or ‘Cold Gin’ for instance, I love it, I mean, it’s something that is there. The guys from Asymmetry [Festival, Poland] they did for their website a long, long interview with me – I mean, it’s endless! – and they asked me about the five records that are most important to me; that’s Reign In Blood, Ace Of Spades, Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing and then you have The Pearl by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, and Closer by Joy Division. I mean, how can you fit them together?
I only had five, otherwise I could have even put stuff like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and A Love Supreme by Coltrane. But I don’t know if in my music you can feel that influence. Tangerine Dream are another one, they were a major influence on me, especially in terms of the electronic parts. And actually I don’t really care if people can pick it out!
Last night, for instance, I had a very good time with Trevor during the last track, during the last part of ‘The Human Genome Project’, I recognised that the bass line he was playing in that very moment was the bass line from ‘100,000 Years’ by Kiss, so I played on top of that the guitar riff from that song – and it worked perfectly, it’s like four bars of, like, a quote, but nobody will discover that. It was great fun!
Improvised or not though, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of positivity in the sound of Obake, especially with Lorenzo’s vocals – parts of it sound almost anguished…
EB: To be honest with you, I can tell you honestly, I’m really, really tired; I’ve been a dark, negative, negative person for a long, long time in my life – coming from industrial music and all the darkness – there’s a dark side to me. But I’m tired of doing all that shit. It’s obvious that Obake is not something that you listen to at the beach, it’s not something that you pump out under your parasol like [in a girlish falsetto] ‘Yeah, ‘Human Genome…’ by Obake, yeah!’, but you’ve got to have a serious sense of humour – and I want you to underline serious sense of humour – if you want to survive the fact that this fucking planet is doomed.
So, we’ve got a record that is heavy, kind of dark sometimes, and sometimes it opens up with light, melodic parts and stuff like that. Lorenzo’s vocals I think are reflecting that, he’s sad in moments and he’s raging and angry in others. Some evenings on tour we play without a single fucking smile, we barely even look at each other, except for me and Trevor, and some other evenings, like yesterday, it was like ‘Yeah, rock & roll!’ and with those guys bringing those [shop dummy] legs on with them. I like it like that. It’s not diminishing the value of what’s happening.
Metallic Taste Of Blood’s self-titled debut is available now via RareNoise records. To listen to tracks from the album, head to their website.
Photo by Bruna Rotunno