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Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

2014 will prove to be a busy year for Andrew Markuszewski (aka Aamonael), the elusive multi-instrumentalist whose one man black metal project Avichi will see the release of Catharsis Absolute in mid January followed by a spring release from the blackened sludge heathenry of Lord Mantis with Markuszewski on guitars and backing vocals (both releases courtesy of Profound Lore).  If the previous releases of either band/project are any indication, then next year’s already desolate forecast looks to be even bleaker.  I had the opportunity to ask Andrew a few questions about the upcoming releases as well as the journey that brought him to the darkness he so eagerly inhabits now.  

What was it about heavy music that drew you in initially to have the desire to create your own?  Concerning black metal, specifically, what about that particular sound drew you in, and what about it continues to compel you as a musician and artist?

I kind of have to start pretty early on to answer that.  My parents escaped Communism in Poland and went to Austria to get married where they lived in Vienna for a while.  From there they came to America, but only after being given the option of also starting a new life in Switzerland or South Africa.  They arrived here in America with forty six dollars, and after one night spent on this soil they wanted to go back.  Of course they had a sponsor who paid for their flights and was expected to be paid back in return which they had to work off.  There was no round trip involved in that deal.  It was a one way flight.  A few months later I was born as my mother was already pregnant with me.  So began my start within a culture and a world I’ve always been at odds with.  There was a lot of hardship with my upbringing which my family overcame.  My rebellious spirit would be matched by my rebellious blood. 

I took a strong liking to music as a child.  I heard Welcome to the Jungle at around five years of age, and that was part of what struck the match in my head.  Up until then, I heard some Police and Pink Floyd records my dad would play in the car and that also grabbed my ear, but hearing aggressive metal for the first time is what really captivated me.  My parents at the time didn’t want me listening to metal music, but later on when I was nine, I saw Kirk Hammett playing the guitar on tv.  After that happened, I did what I had to do to convince my parents to get me this cheap Yamaha electric guitar and get me some lessons.  I remember it being a really good playing guitar though. 

After a few lessons my teacher flat out told me I was his worst student and that I’d never pick it up.  Knowing me it of course only motivated me more.  To his defense I was pretty bad.  At first I was playing my guitar with my fingernail as before my first lesson I had no idea something like a pick existed.  I took about a year’s worth of lessons, and from then on was mostly self-taught, figuring out how to play my favorite songs by ear and read basic tabs and scales as I went.  With diligence things of course began to click into place.  I had a year’s worth of music theory in high school, but that was really it.  Actually, I think it was only half a year, because that was the year I had to transfer to this other shittier school for not adapting well to their social conditioning.

When I was fourteen I started a death metal band with my friends who were all older than me, and from then on I have been on this crazy up and down to hell and back path of being a musician while creating and manifesting my own ideas along the way.  We played death metal mostly influenced by Morbid Angel, Samael, and Slayer.  After a few years and my first few shows, a keyboardist joined as most of the other members were starting to lean more in a symphonic black metal direction.  I was getting into black metal too, but the keyboard element in that specific context ruined it for me.  I’m not saying I don’t like keyboards.   I’m just saying the keyboardist who joined and the resulting outcome of songs completely changed the sound and not for the better.  I’m a less is more type of guy, and he was trying to do too much.  I was the first to quit.  They weren’t responding to what I was writing and the band turned into a dead horse for me. 

Concerning black metal it drew me in because it seemed a much more personalized approach to playing metal.  It was also darker, and that’s what I wanted.  It was metal, but it was stemming from the darkest and deepest recesses of the human soul.  Those were the areas in myself I’ve heavily always explored.  It fit my personality like a lock and key. 

       

And yes I do still feel compelled by this black metal current as an artist and musician.  I listen to all kinds of genres these days and am just at home listening to a Swans, Skinny Puppy, or Killing Joke record as I am with most black metal, but of course sometimes the right mood calls for the right ingredient.  When it comes to composing such songs as I have, my natural instinct is to feed off of the same fires that brought me to this genre even if what I write comes out sounding completely different.  

Obviously I’m not alone in feeling that way.  Fortunately there still is great music being made that’s influenced by such flames.  Pseudogod, Mgla, Necros Christos, Blut Aus Nord, and recently Grave Miasma are other ‘newer’ bands that I’m really into.  Of course they’re not entirely new anymore.  What this proves is the fire is burning just as fierce. Going back to my beginning with it, I still like to listen to Thorns, Burzum, Arckanum, Beherit, Celtic Frost, and Darkthrone.  Clandestine Blaze and Katharsis.  These are some of the ones that have stuck with me through the years. 

I’ve always had this hunger in me my whole life.  This hunger to express myself through the musical medium I have pursued.  Food looses its taste, wine looses its palate, and this world becomes unbearable to live in when I’m unable to satiate this need.  Try as I may, I try to not be attached to this need, but needs are needs.  I’m liking it to the basic needs, but that’s how I feel about it. 

I treat it like a profession too.  I take the time and approach my musical studies as a surgeon would his knowledge and practice of surgery.  Now with starting to play drums, I take the time and focus on my technique, coordination, and rudiments.  It’s been a while since I’ve been this focused on the fundamentals of an instrument.  Real practice takes a lot of personal mental devotion.  Sometimes I’m distracted because my mind likes to wander.

You see, I usually reached a fork in the road with others where my own creativity became suppressed to an unhealthy extant, and I would find myself in a great deal of mental and existential chaos through which I would have to sort of purify and renew myself.  Because of this, throughout the years I’ve been forced the hand that pushes me to do and learn more and more of it on my own. 

The bottom line is I usually reach points in my life where it’s do or remain somewhere to die a slow death.  Of course sometimes that’s how life gets us to do and make the changes we need to make.

What’s your journey as a musician been like since that point, and how have you seen yourself and your perceptions change?

Since my writing and attitude became more black metal, I attracted to myself people who were doing similar things.  First it was with Blake Judd who I met when we were still teenagers and he just finished Reign of the Malicious.  I was and still am good friends with the singer of the previous band I quit at that time as he and I shared similar tastes.  He introduced me to Blake having recently met him through band related dealings and so suggested he and I should jam.  To describe my relationship to Blake since that point and over the years I feel would take up a trilogy of books.  My fate has been so strangely intertwined with his over the years we’d hang out followed by years we wouldn’t and back and forth again that it’s ridiculous. 

He just had a falling out with the other guy who was in Nachtmystium at the time, Pat McCormick, who I don’t think I ever remember meeting.  Girlfriend bullshit I think.  Blake and I began to hang out all the time, jamming together and writing new Nachtmystium material whenever we weren’t listening to black metal, walking around in forests, cruising in this Ford Torino Cobra I had at the time to go get burritos cause we were stoned, or having the occasional metal party.  He and I would just hang out in his basement lower level bedroom at his parent’s house for hours listening to black metal records by Burzum, Maniac Butcher, the Old Wainds demo, or Judas Iscariot.  Sometimes it was at my place in Winfield and later on in Villa Park where I lived with two other metal head friends.  We had a bar in the basement which we sort of turned into our own version of the Giger Bar with a bunch of his artwork.  For me my perceptions during that time never changed drastically.  We never talked much together about religions or the occult and why each of us were into what we were.  With him, it was mostly just about metal, what was true and kvlt and what wasn’t.  In many ways it was still also an influential time.  Just in different ways.

Before recording the Nachtmystium mcd, I met through him Peter Kenar who Blake met from an ad in the back of a metal magazine.  Metal Maniacs I think.  It was just an ad where this guy who was from Poland and listened to black metal was reaching out and trying to make contact with anyone else in the area.  So I met Peter, and naturally, he and I having Polish ancestry and liking black metal, we hit it off well.  He had his black metal band Zalnik at the time.  Peter would end up recording vocals for the Nachtmystium mcd when we recorded it at Blake’s house with Andrew Harris while his parents were gone for the weekend.  The drummer back then, Wargoat Obscurum, is still the best drummer Nachtmystium has had on its records in my honest opinion.  Fucking great blasting and a good meter.

Peter and I ended up starting a project called Unholy Trinity.  We would record a mcd with drummer Grave (Dave Swanson) who also played with Nachtmystium briefly live.  It was just a quick four track session type thing.  I showed Dave my songs for it one evening, ran through it once, and we hit record.  Everything back then was done on four track tape and usually in this manner with a drummer.  Zmij would later on do the vocals for it.  Blake was the one who actually encouraged me to do it, and I think he set us up the session with Grave.  That was the thing with Blake - he always had the morale and did the networking that got shit done with other people and labels.  I myself was oblivious to that side of things until I met him.   He started up Battle Kommand with the “Songs for Resistance” tape by Krieg making copies in his room after getting Nachtmystium releases on Sombre and Painiac Records.  He knew what to do.    

After we started to write the Demise record and before recording it, I decided I was going to forsake everything and go out to Arizona to learn motorcycle mechanics and ride around in the desert like a lone wolf.   I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life, my parents were telling me to get a life, and I figured that would be decent.  So I spent two years doing exactly that, made no friends, and returned to Illinois to get an apartment with Peter while he went to NIU in DeKalb.  Blake and I jammed a few times when I returned, and I helped him write a song or two for the Instinct record.  I never released the Unholy Trinity material up until then.  He recommended I start up a label myself and start trading it. 

I took him up on his recommendation which I don’t think he actually believed I would do.   Afterwards, the night before he recorded Instinct Decay, he got drunk and blew up about it saying I would be competing with him if I started a label.  I got in my car, and he came running up trying to apologize about what he said.  Things afterwards spiraled down fast enough.  So that’s when things got ugly the first time.  He was trying to turn everyone against me.  Most people believed whatever he said since, as I mentioned, he has great morale.  My heart hardened quite a bit in those days which sparked a new fire in me.  We stopped talking for a few years.      

I recorded and released The Divine Tragedy during that time.  I was doing my own thing with my label while living in a loft in downtown DeKalb and doing underground trades, but it never got too serious.  At some point Blake moved to DeKalb with his girlfriend.  Nachtmystium was already doing bigger tours and Battle Kommand was serving him well.  I don’t remember how long he was already living in DeKalb, but eventually we’d run into each other at Peter’s new apartment.  This hippie came by on acid with a bag full of sugar cubes and a vial for some other roommate Peter had at the time.  That same night Blake and I met up again, we ended up tripping together harder than either of us ever had in our lives.  I don’t think the hippie realized how much acid he was actually dropping onto each cube, but they were practically melted before he even gave them to us.  Blake and I went to his place and just stood there in his living room frozen listening to Tiamat’s “A Deeper Kind of Slumber” while staring at each other unable to properly speak for hours until his girlfriend woke up and asked, “What the fuck are you guys doing?”.  I don’t think we really needed to speak though.  That experience kind of helped ease the reunion.

I don’t even remember how exactly it happened the second time, but we got into another heated exchange and stopped talking again after that summer.  I was ready to say fuck this to DeKalb and everything at that point.  After meeting Charlie Fell when he responded to my ad needing a drummer for Avichi, I moved to the city as Charlie was currently living in the inner city, and I figured it was time to give that a try.  I dumped most of what was left of my label in the trash out back, took my gear, and moved downtown.  During that time, I ended up jamming with Lord Mantis who Charlie was also a part of.  That’s how that came about.  I started playing shows and recorded the subsequent records with them.    

Avichi tried out a few bassists, but nothing panned out.  I decided it was time for me to just put the kibosh on the whole idea of bringing Avichi live.  After a few years and after recording The Devil’s Fractal, I decided I was going to learn how to play drums.  Charlie was as cool with it as anyone really could be.  He was bummed, but it was my band at heart.  I had a different vision for it at that point.  Plus I had this real eagerness about learning to play.    

Blake eventually moved to the city too.  That was the time he was doing the Black Meddle records.  Not too long after Charlie wasn’t playing drums with me, Blake asked him if he’d be interested in drumming for some upcoming tours.  They started to jam, but still needed a bassist.  And so I came back into the picture.  I said yes.  I wanted to tour. 

photo credit: John Mourlas 

I played in Nachtmystium again for the next few years.  Eventually I switched back to lead guitar.  I focused on Avichi and drumming whenever we weren’t on tour.  Those were good times.  I played a lot of shows, had many enriching experiences, and met a great amount of interesting people.  It was exactly what I wanted to do with my life at the time.  Unfortunately, in time those experiences would plateau.  Eventually, the distrust and lies within the band created such a negative environment that it changed the virile experience I was having into one of virulence.  It’s no secret many members have been in and out of the band over all the years, and Blake has had an easy time having people replaced since it was an actual paying gig.  However, towards the end of my travels in the band, Blake himself became ever increasingly unable to manage relationships around him well enough to maintain some basic skeleton of a band.  We ended up getting ever more confrontational with one another.  It became impossible for me to keep playing with him.

I haven’t seen the guy for over a year now since I quit Nachtmystium as things with him and that band really took a turn for the absolute worst.  It was literally a living nightmare to be a part of, and I chose to endure it for longer than most would have.  I actually lived with him and his ‘wife’ for a few months since at one time I desperately needed the room, and they needed the cash or should I say – he found another way to get some quick cash.  I don’t suppose I need to state what for.  He wasted an obscene amount of money on it.  People simply have no idea.  The money we all would hear about later on from unmailed orders was peanuts compared to the money from his settlement when he broke his leg slipping at a store and later from his vast collection of vinyl that dwindled into a sad shadow of its former self.  Nachtmystium merch sales whether at home or on tour always went directly to him and went undivided.  I brought my own merch for Avichi, so at least I got some extra money from that when on tour to go with the divided show pay between all the members for each show.    

After a few weeks of living there, I found out she thought I was staying for free.  Here I thought we were doing each other a big favor while I helped him out with bills they were behind on and more, but it was just another lie in a bottomless ocean full of them.  Blake had to lie during every single waking moment just to keep the train rolling.  I myself kind of became numb to it all after a while.  I was there for two months, but it seemed like an eternity. 

I remember a few nights keeping a knife nearby my hand while I slept in my room because I heard Blake owed money to the man.  In that part of town in Chicago, hearing something like that for me was no joke.  He tried to calm me down about it, but when you’re so used to someone getting away with lying all the time that they just choose to lie with every breath, there’s no way you can justify trusting that person.  I would have to lie to his ‘wife’ (never truly married legally on paper) to maintain stories created by his lies.  I hated doing it as she was a good hearted person and I’d like to think I’m someone known for his genuine honesty in life, but apparently I wouldn’t hate it enough to leave.  Mostly I played ignorant.  That test of my character I failed.  I hate lies.  I should have left and quit then and there.  I think we were getting ready to record Silencing Machine or tour, and I still wanted to do the record because I believed in what we had prepared.  Regardless, I still allowed myself to be victimized.  That I cannot take back.  I ended up doing the record and one or two more short tours before I said enough is enough. 

You see, during all of this I was in no way an angel myself.   Far from it.  I was probably around the people I was since I wasn’t much better or worse in many ways.  The Law of Attraction.  I was a violent and angry drunk at times who ended up in fights I don’t remember which landed me once in jail and another time in a hospital in a straight jacket while on tour in other countries.  I myself became just as lost as those I was around.  I didn’t deal with my situation by quitting when I should have.  I in turn started to behave no better to those around me as they to me.  I choose to stay in that world even as it became more and more of a threat to my well-being, and I reaped what I sowed.  Even while that unhappy, I didn’t stop myself.  It was complete self-destruction.  So while I never was into hard drugs or touched the needle or even a regular daily drinker of alcohol, I eventually still gave in to the same weak escapism and shared the downward spiral.

People just don’t really know the truth.  But how could they – they were on a keyboard or smartphone somewhere else when it all happened.  Along with that, most of what was reiterated came from someone who behaved like a charlatan to a flock misleading and deceiving through the alchemy of belief and social media.  It’s astonishing how many people don’t question anything anymore.  I remember a time when I was younger when people who listened to heavy metal would never stand for or be fooled by such idiocy.  I was such a person.  That’s the power of social media these days.  Perhaps I’m wrongly judging these people.  I allowed myself to be deceived in many ways, and I was right there.  I know with his recent arrest he came out apologizing for this and that.  I don’t know where that leads from here on out.  I’m not a part of that world anymore.  Maybe he does change it all around for the better in the end.  Regardless, I personally can’t imagine trusting him again in regards to anything after what I myself specifically experienced.  That is the tragic part.  I can only stay focused on what I’m doing and rightly so.  Nothing is getting in the way of that.

History is colored by historians.  Even what I’m writing is colored in its own way.  Question everything.  It’s one of the few freedoms left in this world.

Living there was the lowest point of my life.  After living with Blake for a few months, I afterwards lived in my own private rehearsal room for a year learning how to play drums before recording Catharsis Absolute.  A few months before recording was when I quit Nachtmystium.  The reason for Catharsis Absolute was so I could give myself some sort of blueprint for the future.  It was a subconscious effort on my own part.  This has been the worst year of my life.  A real hellish and terrible year and I’m saying this even after recording Catharsis Absolute exactly a year ago which I thought might change my path for the better.  Instead, I lived experiences which I could liken to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ in many ways.  A lot of it had to do with sticking around Chicago longer than I really needed to.   Another instance of not trusting my gut, and I have to say, I’ve now truly learned my lesson.  It took me quite a few.  

I’m happy making a new record and showcasing that I myself can actually do it all, but there’s still a lot of things I can do better.  I’ve made my own mistakes with it being as obsessive with the fucking mix as I was but I learned some necessary things.  I have to understand recording and mixing more than I do now.  I need to be able to do more than I already am.  For that I’m currently in Arizona again, but heading out to LA real soon to take some short intensive recording courses and pursue my drumming.  I’ll see where this highway takes me.  I enjoy this state of Arizona though.  There’s still places here where one can still live free during these strange times in this country.  I got here and finally let out a great sigh of relief.  Here I can shoot my guns and be close to nature.  Grow things and reconnect with the earth.  Here I can collect myself, gain new strength, and sharpen my wits.  I’m also trying to get my Polish passport so I can go to the EU.  I’m always looking to create something new that’s truly monumental and epic with talented people.  However dark the result or not.  I’m comfortable with all the duality and what is dark in me. 

So this brings me to where I am right now on my journey.  Most of all, I’m just happy to still be alive and well. 

What’s been the most challenging part of that journey for you?

Myself.  I am usually my own worst enemy.  Even when dealing with sneers and ridicule from anyone, sometimes even friends, not shutting that out and letting it get to me for any length of time was the worst thing I’ve let happen. 

 

With the Avichi material there seems to be such a razor sharp focus on a kind of dark transcendence.  That is, that enlightenment essentially is derived from a deeper understanding of the dark.  How much of an influence on your writing process does your study and knowledge of the occult have?

From a young age, I was always eager to learn and taught myself well on my own time.  Even in school I was always an A student.  I read a lot of books and even became interested in the occult at an early age reading heavily and bringing my own books to school before leaving middle school.  I absorbed a wide variety of literature around me.  I had a fierce curiosity which was almost like a sickness, but it was a reflection of my sense of seeing the hidden workings and cause effect relationships running behind my curtain of reality and wanting to tear it all apart and make sense of it.

My household was quite liberal in a religious and occult sense.  My father was in seminary in Poland studying to become a priest which he would leave for marrying my mom, and during my teens they even went through phases of new age religions in the household.  His spiritual pursuits never left him, and I inherited some of it.  They never forced upon me any of their beliefs or the teachings of this or that mahatma, but this was a part of my home environment.  They were free thinkers in every sense of the word, and I am blessed to grow up in such a household not as dogmatic as others in that regard.  While I had my own library of books, my father also had his, and we both read from each other’s books once in a while.  We would even go to the Theosophical Society together as I got older.    

It was funny.  I had my room completely painted black with a bookshelf filled with books by eccentric philosophers, satanic authors, and poets like Milton, Goethe, and Dante Alighieri, while in the room adjacent there was a bookshelf filled with spiritual ideologies, metaphysics, chakras, and astral travel.  Some of those books ended up on my bookshelf.

I was of a different temperament and drawn to the dark side of truth more than them.  Part of my substance.  I was never afraid of admitting or showing the egoic side of my existence.  I was also never afraid of destroying what was considered truth and examining the essence and building blocks which were used to create such truths.  This is a great part of who I am, so of course it goes to show what I do is appropriately influenced by it. 

Outside of my home life there was also the Shed as we called it.  It was a temple of sorts where a selective few of us hung out unbeknownst to the happy residents of that distant Chicago suburb where I grew up called Carol Stream.  It was a den for wolves.  Completely black, an old coffee table, an ashtray, a well broken in couch with a baphomet above it, and an old throne where my good friend who owned it always sat.  He was around 23 when I first met him.  I was about 14 or 15 and the youngest to ever step foot in that place.  I guess they accepted me as I seemed mature in the right places.  I would hear some special records in that place.  Necrophobic “The Nocturnal Silence” and Samael “Blood Ritual” come to mind as well as Morbid Angel’s “Blessed… and Covenant”.  My experiences in that room in the years afterwards approached on the mystical.  I’m sure the few of us who came to know that place would agree.  Stepping foot into it was like stepping into a different world.  My memories are my own and will remain so.  Revisiting that time is having a tremendous calming effect on me right now.     

Really puts who I’ve become in perspective.  Looking into that abyss I can feel it looking back.

 

With both Avichi and Lord Mantis releasing new material early next year, the drive for you to constantly create is obvious.  Is there a different creative approach for you between the two bands?

Completely different.  It doesn’t matter if I’m in the same space; inside I’m feeling different things.  If I write some riffs or a song, there isn’t a moment where I ask whether it will fit with this or that project.  I know exactly which I am writing for in those moments.  With Avichi, it’s normally in isolation as naturally it is currently just me now.  I like to leave a lot of room for creativity and changes when recording.  When something is freshly created or written, it is magick.  I like to capture those moments when recording.  Still I do heavily prepare but it usually takes the form of actually ‘practicing an instrument’. 

With Lord Mantis, I would say it’s half the time while I’m alone, and the other half the time with either Bill or Charlie.  Sometimes I would simply state “check out this new song I wrote”.  Other times it would be jamming a little with Bill and structuring things together or Charlie showing a rough song or some riffs he wrote on his own which needed some structuring and maybe an extra riff or two.  So yeah, that’s how Lord Mantis works.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Other times quite easy. 

With regards to “one man black metal,” how important is isolation for you during the writing process?

Inherit to the writing process.  It wouldn’t be what it is without it.  They only possibility to not have it would be when around recording personnel obviously.  So far I’ve been adamant about pursuing the best studios within my reach, so it comes about that I would be working with other engineers.  Even in those moments, I feel very much isolated inside.  The idea of “one man black metal” is itself unequivocally egotistical you know?  The ego is by its nature an isolated form. 

What can listeners expect from the new Lord Mantis?  Did you guys find that your creative approach changed for this record?

Anyone who liked Pervertor is going to like this one as it’s everything that record was and more.  I doubt we’d loose any fans of that one.  Charlie has had his own sufferable experiences, and the both of us had much to let out on this record.  The song writing was better as we were all better musicians, and the production on it was the best I’ve had to work with on a record.  You have to understand Pervertor was recorded a year before it was actually released, and I’m only talking half the record.  The other half was recorded a year previous to that.  So everyone has had plenty of time to develop as musicians since that time.   

Creatively there are some differences.  Charlie wanted to write all the lyrics.  Well all except for a song Dylan O’ Toole wrote and sang on.  I myself didn’t care as I had already found myself uninterested lyrically this time around.  His mind, voice, and vision were much more befitting which is why this took place for the better.  I wanted to remain focused more on the compositions themselves.  Ken Sorceron also recently joined on guitar, and he did the record with us.  Most of it was already written by that time, but Ken helped write the last track on the record.  All of us did a lot of overdub work on it including Sanford in a few places.

It’s a dark one full of hidden and unexpected surprises.

Thanks to Andrew for his time.

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6 months ago
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