The emergence of d.USK four years ago did two good things – it gave a welcome live return to some of the finest death-doom material in the world and it gave a creative push that resulted in Inverloch’s debut EP Dusk | Subside, a Lovecraftian dreamscape of nebulous horror and mental disarray. Now, that EP has finally led to a full-length, the equally monolithic Distance | Collapsed, and guitarist Matt Skarajew was kind enough to chat to us at an obscenely early time about the demise of Disembowelment, touring in Australia and why Innsmouth now has competition for the ‘doomiest fishing village’ award.
Good to have you guys back – when I saw the album announcement it was quite a welcome surprise. It’s been four years since that first EP so what made you decide to keep going with the band and how long has this been in the works?
The album was finished in April or May last year. I recorded it in the December / January period of 2014 to 2015 so it’s been finished for quite some time. There was always an intention to do a new album, it was just a matter of having time to complete the new material, get it together, take out some of the songs live and try them at shows and then just give it time to come together as an entity, a complete work. It took a long time and, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m notoriously slow in writing. The good thing was that Relapse were very patient – they weren’t in a hurry for us to get things done. I think they trust me enough that if I say I’m going to do a record it’ll get there eventually. We just let it do its own thing, give it its own pace, and there are so many distractions in life – unfortunately for us, Inverloch is not a full-time proposition and the older you get, the more responsibilities you’ve got to deal with as well. I agree that it took a long time but thankfully it’s all done and I’d like to think that next time around it won’t be so long.
What prompted you to begin working on new material?
It’s just a stream of consciousness deal when new ideas start coming together. After we visited Europe last time, we sat back and had a little bit of time to contemplate what had evolved. The d.USK project was initially a one-show concept and it grew and it grew until it ended up with us coming up with an EP. The music for the EP was very much a natural evolution, the result of five guys getting together in a room. You get that energy again, new ideas start flowing. After 2012 into 2013, I just started sketching and recording new ideas in my home studio. Then I’d take it and show it to the band and we’d sift through a whole bunch of stuff. It wasn’t so much a deliberate decision that we had to do a record now, we were thinking it would be cool to do it and then the ideas started to come together. Distance Collapsed was the first song off the album to come together. That song’s been around for some time too and you can sort of see that stylistically it’s a pastiche of all different elements. Once we had that song complete and we were satisfied with that, we felt, “This was good. We can do this some more.” I just sat back in my studio and worked on bits and pieces until they came together. Mark would come over and we would work on things together. When we felt we had any solid ideas on any kind of a style we would take it to the band at rehearsals. Some of the songs, like “Eventide Pool”, the second track, that’s purely conceived in my little home studio. The outro, “Cataclysm Of Lacuna” – the final track but I think of it as an outro –was all done in my studio at home. There’s an intro to the album that never made it onto the disc but musically mates up with the outro. It was very much an organic thing in that the record evolved of its own volition.
Given that this had evolved out of the d.USK project and you now have this full-length, do you feel that you can completely put Disembowelment behind you now?
Yeah, we do. Even that whole d.USK project feels like a long time ago, as a band and as an identity. As I’ve said before, both Paul and I are very proud to have had an association with Disembowelment and we really respect everything that Disembowelment stood for but that was 25 years ago and, from our point of view, it’s been put to bed. Occasionally, at the odd show we might pull out a Disembowelment song just for fun at the end of a set. It’s really cool to see everyone’s reactions if you pull out a song like Tree… or Extracted… but from an Inverloch point of view we’re just interested in letting it be its own musical entity and letting it grow and develop in its own way.
You can really feel that growth in the new material in that there seems to be a stronger old-school death metal feel here. How do you feel the band have developed in those four years?
To me, it feels stylistically not so far removed, more that the ideas are a little more refined. I think that the songs as compositions had a little more thought and yeah, a little more refinement to the way that I approached dealing with them, knowing that it was going to be for a longer play disc. I think of the new record very much as a single compositional entity because there’s so much going on. All of the songs have little compositional links with each other so I think that the evolution is less so in the style – I still think it’s very much an ambient death-doom record. When I listen to the EP, it feels very earthy and raw and I like it, I like listening to it, but we were talking about that last night and even Paul said that in some ways the EP sounds like a demo and I know what he means. It has that very raw element and we were just finding our feet but now, the band are more confident and comfortable in what is our sound and what it takes to achieve it. It feels good in that way, that it’s growing and developing and finding its own way.
Was there a specific lyrical or atmospheric theme on the new material? I understand that there’s some reference to Anna Akhmatova in there.
To be truthful, that poem for Distance Collapsed was quite evocative and I felt like it had a quite lovely, sad theme behind it that I suppose I can relate to, having parentage who came from a war-torn part of Europe during the second World War but when I was kicking back and looking at it, there is this kind of thread of an almost dreamlike sequence through the lyrics. It’s very introspective and it has this dreamy kind of quality, dynamically, through the lyrics but there’s no specific conceptual themes going on. We just touch on various concepts that are perhaps more based on an imagination-based than feelings-based point of view. Musically, there’s a lot more. I spend so much time focused on the musical compositional side that I maybe don’t pay as much time to the lyrics but Ben and I sat through and talked about them, what sort of feeling we wanted to achieve in any given song. “Eventide Pool”, for example – even that title is evocative of a dreamlike sequence, dealing with the notions of a watery dream, that feeling of sinking and drowning. “Lucid Delirium” deals lyrically with angst, the torment of the soul but again, it’s from an introspective point of view. “Empyrean Torment” leads as close as it can to an, I don’t want to say religious, overtone but it deals with grappling with ideas with one’s own faith. When I look at all the lyrics end to end, it’s very much a dreamlike sort of thing. It made me laugh because I wonder if that’s my Alice Cooper influence coming out from the past. I’m very careful and thoughtful with lyrics but I probably don’t spend as much time and care with them as I do with the music, but Ben was very good with the lyrics. He likes to bring it all together and put it in a way that’s meaningful, so that it’s like he’s telling a story. That sounds a bit lame, saying it like that, but that’s very much the way we look at the lyrics and the vocals in our recordings – it’s like he’s dynamically trying to tell a story.
“I think of the new record very much as a single compositional entity because there’s so much going on.”
You sound like you’re quite visually driven in your composition. Do these ideas and images exist before the music or are they more a reaction to what you’ve created?
I’d say it’s equal parts of both. Usually, I will have ideas in my head that I’ll get into the studio to try and develop but typically, once I’ve got a thread or even a simple melody or riff, things will grow and develop from that. Sometimes I tend to get a little more elaborate with things and the guys will make fun of me for that but it could be anything. Sometimes Mark will come in with a riff or Chris, our bass player, will come in with these great little pieces or motifs or riff ideas and it really springs my mind into action. They’re great – the guys are really good at giving me license. They’ll come in with an idea or they’ll record an idea and I’ll say, “Look, I’m going to take this away and start fucking with your ideas.” They’re good, they understand I don’t do it because I want to take ownership or distort the original premise, it’s just if it hits an emotional nerve with me I’ll start playing with it or messing around with it, flipping things upside down and back to front and adding ideas. A great example is the final riff from Distance Collapsed was an idea from Jason (Kells) from Disembowelment. We were chatting and I said to him that I missed the way he plays; I love his sound and style and he said that he had a bunch of ideas just sitting that he had recorded every once in a while. I said to him to send them along and we’ll have a listen. It’s just a really simple, elegant riff and it struck a nerve with me. I started messing around with it in the studio and it added a part of the end of Distance Collapsed and it was so cool to have that little bit of J involved in the band, and he feels very cool about contributing ideas. I always say to him, if you have ideas just send them through because he’s got that old-school sound in his hands.
You mentioned about taking those songs out live. Are you the kind of person who trials the material live and then tweaks them, builds them up over time?
Distance Collapsed evolved a little bit through playing it live, the other songs we were pretty confident about how they sounded. You get a feel when you play songs about whether certain ideas are going to work or not. “From The Eventide Pool” we’ve never played live and I’m not sure if we’ll ever play that as it is on the album because it’s a little elongated and introspective. I don’t want it to negate the audience too much and become an exercise in self-indulgence. We’ll probably do a more truncated version of it. We’re working on playing that too to see if we can bring it to life on stage, just to see if it can add dynamic contrast to the set.
How is the touring situation in Australia and elsewhere? Cost-wise, it has to be a nightmare for Australian bands to tour overseas.
Thank god for low-cost airlines in this country anyway. If you make an effort, you can get to the major capital cities anyway and you can play a show where, if you’re lucky, you might break even. I know Ben from Mournful Congregation has been great as far as putting big shows together and he’s really cool with getting the bands to whatever capital city he’s putting it on in – it’s a good venue and there’ll be accommodation and that’s pretty much it. Getting to Europe and the US is enormously expensive and it’s a big drawback but a lot of bands are doing it now. The world’s a smaller place; you’ve just got to make an effort. It can be done. I think a lot of bands are resigned to the fact that it can be an exercise where you might not break even, you might be out of pocket but the opportunity to play in another country, particularly Europe and the US for a lot of bands, is such a great one for bands from here so people are making that effort, rolling up their sleeves and making it happen and that’s great. I applaud it. It can be hard but thank god, here in Melbourne there’s a great live music scene so there’s always shows happening here of one sort or another, whether it be the tiniest little clubs up to the bigger venues, and there’s a few international acts coming through all the time so we’re a long way away for sure, and it’s costly, but people seem to find a way and we don’t feel so isolated.
One of the biggest early shows for you was Roadburn. How did you find that show, and that great one in Edinburgh?
Those two shows, Roadburn and Edinburgh, for us were probably the highlights of our lives. Roadburn’s just the most amazing event and I have to say that the first time we were there, in 2012, Walter and Roadburn treated us so well. We had the greatest time. It was like a little working holiday for us so we got to spend a few days at the festival, experience that and it was mind-blowing. Amazing to see a whole town just applaud a festival like that and it’s so phenomenally well-run, the bands were amazing and all the people were really nice. We made some great friends who we’ve stayed friends with since then so Roadburn’s phenomenal. Edinburgh was kind of like a classic small club show that was completely crazy. We had a ball, it was the end of the tour so we were completely relaxed and the crowd were just fantastic. It felt fun and it felt like home, like an extension of Melbourne but a little more wild.
“I think the EP is an opportunity for a band to release a small, concise musical statement that is far more succinct and has less filler material… It’s actually a much more concise way of delivering a musical statement…”
The Inverloch name was originally intended for an offshoot of Trial Of The Bow. Have any elements of that band bled through into Inverloch?
It’s there. I’ve got a fair bit more Trial Of The Bow-esque music there, when I think about it. It’s very similar to Trial Of The Bow and I’ve often flirted with the idea of bringing that into Inverloch. I didn’t want to do it this time and distort the premise of what we’re trying to set with this band, and I thought for a full-length album it was right to do it the way it is. There’s still a lot of ambiance on the record for sure but not a lot of other ethno-ambient influence. So, to answer your question, yes, the idea was to bridge those concepts together a little with Inverloch and you may find that in a future release. I find an EP is always a good place to experiment with little ideas but I don’t want to distort the premise and turn people off from what Inverloch really is. I think it’s important to maintain a level of continuity and I think this record sits well as a complete statement. That’s why I left off the intro I had written initially because it’s not so much that it was more abstract in its style but it didn’t give the album anything more. I didn’t feel it was improving on anything so it was better to leave it for another time and find a better context that I can fit that into. I think in the future, there will be the opportunity with other releases to bring in elements of Trial Of The Bow but not too much. Inverloch’s a death-doom band and we’ll keep it that way.
I’ve recently heard people offer up the idea that the EP is now a dead format. Do you feel that EPs are still a useful tool these days, for yourselves and for musicians in general?
That’s a really interesting idea but I see it completely inversely. I think the EP is an opportunity for a band to release a small, concise musical statement that is far more succinct and has less filler material. To do 40 or 50 minutes of your best compositional stuff is hard. I’m sure we can all think of instances where we’ve heard a great album where there are one or two songs that you don’t remember too much, they’re just filler material and I don’t like that. I just want things to be a complete statement. If you imagine an EP to be 20, 25 minutes of music, that’s a lot of music if you’re thinking of it as one complete musical statement. For me, I think the EP is entirely valid in the world we live in, too. It’s actually a much more concise way of delivering a musical statement because if you deliver 40 or 50 minutes of music, that’s a very big ask of a listener to give time to listen to that music, to absorb and contemplate it and understand what it is you’re trying to say, whereas I think with the EP you can deliver. For example, with the first EP, what I love about it is there’re just three tracks, they have these dynamic contrasts about them but there’s this cohesive thread that delivers the statement and by the end of it, you feel that it’s a complete statement. I think that’s very valid and very powerful. I don’t know if record companies see them as viable for a business case point of view but musically, I think it’s very valid. Historically, if you think of orchestral works, 20 minutes of music is a lot of music. That argument lives between the business and product point of view versus artistic point of view. I think an EP is a healthy way for a band to trial new material or deliver something fresh or new and I think albums are a place to spend a little more time, but maybe I’m out of step with everyone else, I dunno. I like it, simple as that. I like an EP.
I totally agree. If anything, they’re even more valid nowadays given that we now have a faster pace of life and generally have access to much more music at any one time.
I agree. When I was a kid growing up in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, you’d put vinyl on the record player and lay down on the floor or the sofa or something and you’d listen to the album. You made time for yourself but now, I don’t know if people have the opportunity to do that. I can’t think of many instances where I sit down on a Saturday or a Sunday and make time to be able to listen with the degree of peace and quiet that we used to do in the old days, to put on music for pleasure. Now, I think the car has become a key listening place or maybe on public transport, on their phone or iPod, and on work computers. I think that’s very much a big part of the way the world is now. That’s what I think adds validity to the whole notion of an EP and I’ll definitely always explore the idea of the EP. Of course, it can always be delivered digitally. It doesn’t always have to be a physical medium so it’s a good way for people to buy into sampling a band or artists. I don’t mind spending a few Euros or US dollars to buy an EP. If they like it they’ll hopefully be engaged enough to want to spend again and legitimately buy into a bigger record. That’s good, it perpetuates good practice as far as supporting music and the arts.
Finally, going back to that name. Inverloch is the name of a fishing village near you and, well, fishing doesn’t seem particularly doom so…
Yeah, it’s a small town down to the south-east coast here in Victoria it can be a dark, doomy little place as well, I’ll tell you what. I think back in the days of Trial Of The Bow, I felt that might have been a cool name for a song or something like that and then I wrote a song, and that became the song Inverloch. It’s got a cool, evocative idea; it’s certainly not anything to do with a fishing village or a holiday seaside resort, but it’s quite an evocative title. It’s simple, elegant and there’re no undertones of religion or declaration of violence in the name. I wanted something that could be substantive without pointing to any one specific element and I think the notional idea of Inverloch sits well as a brand or a band name, and we’ve become quite attached to it. I don’t think there’re many bands out there that start with ‘I’ so that’s probably to our favour. The logo’s cool and the name sticks out – if you see it on a bill-poster for a festival, our logo’s always easy to read and stands out. Apparently, we got a little write-up in the local paper down there. Somebody was doing some kind of research on the town and they noticed that there’s this band called Inverloch all over the net. My sister lives down that way and she showed me it. It was pretty fun but they all seemed quite enthused about the idea.