It’s not often you come across a band quite so esoteric and steeped in a seemingly ever expanding mythos of their own twisted and artistic creation. Groups from our particular corner of the underground like the band (cult?) of Sleep Token come to mind but this appears to be something different in it’s own interesting way.
Introducing for the first time on this site, Art Against Agony! This is not merely a band but a collective of artists based in an unknown corner of Germany and boasting an international set of members. Speaking of which, most band’s claim a conservative number of members but AAA have a much different vision, listing out a total of 13 participants. Six play the music and the rest cover everything from visuals to marketing and beyond. Obviously, many bands out there work with a large team but the fact that Art Against Agony include them as actual members is a cool twist. They all go by a pseudonym to boost the lore behind the operation – all of which share a common underscored pattern. For example – the_sorcerer, the_machinist, the_surgeon, the_heretic, the_malkavian, and the_maximalist make up the core instrumentalists… and there are plenty more members where they came from!
Altogether, they support and play out what they describe as “forward thinking music” – a mixture of progressive metal and jazz surrounded in layers of creativity and a visual focus.
Currently, the band is preparing the release of a new album “Shiva Appreciation Society” for this year to follow up the release of two EPs, “Russian Tales” and “the forgotten story”, last year and two LPs, “the difference between a duck and a lobster” and “three short stories”, in years prior. One may call this band many things but lazy is not among them. You can take a look at the album trailer they released for their latest effort and find a music video along with much, much more content in the lay of the page below.
We had the opportunity to dig into the mind of the band’s lead guitarist and designated philosopher recently. He goes by the name of the_sorcerer and it was an interesting look at an interesting collective to say the very least. You can see how he answered our questions here:
TS – the_sorcerer
TCP – The Circle Pit
TCP – What can you tell us about progress on your new album “Shiva Appreciation Society”?
TS – Art Against Agony has always had the_surgeon as their piano player, but contributions to records had been scarce so far (compared to our guitarists). That’s why we wanted to highlight our piano influences on the next record. Also, about one year ago, the_maximalist – player of the Indian mridangam, joined our collective and since then lots of crazy percussive rhythmic structures have been mingled with our already quite experimental music. Of course, you will find also a few oriental/Indian harmonies, but always in balance with jazz or metal concepts of music.
We are currently still in the process of writing most of the music, though a few songs are already in a very presentable stage. We will probably be setting the release date for late autumn 2018, followed by a European tour.
We also shot a short trailer before Christmas 2017, spotlighting the_maximalist:
TCP – How would you describe your approach to making music?
TS – As we produce our own music in our own recording studio and release everything on our own label “Vault Records”, for us composition, recording, mixing & mastering are no separate steps to a finished record, but rather one big blended process, everything happens at the same time. Songs are written mostly directly in the studio while recording and editing. And, through touring, old song material gets revised pretty much on a constant level, which has already been resulting in “The Forgotten Story”, a very special EP for us in 2017, because it exclusively contains current versions of five songs from our first album “three short stories”, which we released in 2014.
Our own approach to writing music has of course massively influenced our sound: We tend to give musical ideas some ‘time to rest’ when recorded, like good wine needs years of rest to fully develop its taste. Thus, after weeks, months, sometimes even years, we listen to our recorded material and add more ideas to it, always adding layer by layer, step by step, then giving the material time to rest again. Added layers of music can apparently be of melodic or rhythmic nature, and very often a newly added layer will change how we perceive the entire construct of previously recorded music, which can then prompt us to rewrite the entire song and ‘cultivate’ the music in a completely different direction than planned before.
Accordingly, writing music is an incredible time consuming process for us, but sometimes we end up with beautiful mosaics of songs which you can listen to by utilizing many different approaches and always hear them different ways, like listening to a kaleidoscope – this is what fuels our musical passion the most.
TCP – Something that immediately struck me about your band was the titles – from the tracks to the band name itself. What’s the method to the madness behind naming an Art Against Agony song / album? Can you tell us about your band name as well?
TS – Inspiration for Art Against Agony song titles can be derived from anything from a recent Hollywood blockbuster, an indie video game, a moody rainy Sunday, a musical influence, a biographical anecdote or of course our own personal experiences, which can be demonstrated by our most recent release, the “Russian Tales” EP, which portrays our first tour through Russia in 2016, touring for 20 shows and driving for more than 12000km even through Siberia. Every song title of us is either a concrete reference or a more or less unambiguous metaphor. Google might help with most titles, but we agree, there are tougher ones, too. Have fun with that.
The project’s name Art Against Agony, however, is an entirely different game, and it is derived from two philosophical claims that underlie everything that happens in the name of the collective: First, all life is agony. Since we all are animals, ethic and moral codes are eventually just superficial gibberish, because evolution doesn’t know any ethical commitment but self preservation. As life will spread through the universe over the future aeons of time, so will agony, and we are the only ones able to stop this dread as long as we are still confined on planet Earth and don’t dare to deliver our form of life to outer space by colonizing other planets or space systems. Life in its current form is the source of what we call “evil”. To be an artist therefore means to enjoy the freedom to resist, to protest, to act against this horror. Art is both a mission and a remedy for the unfathomable amount of agony which is yet to come.
TCP – What was the inspiration behind including Guy Fawkes masks in your image?
TS – Second: Names, faces or any other bodily forms of expressing our human identity are of no value to our achievements as ‘humanity’, because as individuals we are inevitably irrelevant living beings, and in fact all we cherish about our individual self is of most vivid insignificance regarding to what we consider to be our actual ‘human’ achievements and distinguished traits: Culture, technology, science, philosophy.
What matters after all is not who we are, but what we do. We wear masks to facilitate you focus on who we – perceived over the enormous time intervals of evolution – really are: Nobody, nothing – no bodies, no things.
We are ideas. Everything behind our culture, technology and knowledge is ideological, and ideas can not be attached to any individual person or identity. Sir Isaac Newton might have first described the laws of gravitation, but these laws are not his, and we should not celebrate Newton, but the laws. Newton is just a name, and his body is rotten. Newton is irrelevant regarding to the laws of gravitation. They exist with or without him.
To stress this fact and to celebrate ideas instead of bodies, names and faces as our true ‘human’ achievement, we have chosen to wear masks to cover our faces, to use costumes to cover our bodies, and to utilize pseudonyms to cover our names. Because ‘we’ actually don’t matter. We will be ashes in just a few years. However, what will stay are the ideas that we brought forward, because these ideas were here before we conceived them.
Guy Fawkes is just a marketing trick in this philosophical plot. Since “V for Vendetta”, people popularly associate his ‘face’ with ‘anonymous’ and ‘rebellion’, and we desire to make use of this pop-culture phenomenon as it allows us to factually stay anonymous while still being able to deliver an entertainment factor to the people, who pay money for our records and to see us perform live. We acknowledge that the entertainment industry is an industry after all, and therefore – despite all philosophical endeavors – some compromises must be accepted. If we can spread our message even more effectively with the Guy Fawkes masks, then we are more than happy to make use of them.
After every show we deliver a short speech to the audience, why we do what we do. Also, with each musical release, we deliver a philosophical essay that explains our mission. These essays can be read here: http://artagainstagony.com/the_philosophy/
TCP – Can you tell us about the “random art series” you feature alongside the music on your YouTube channel?
TS – Art Against Agony is not solely an experimental progressive metal band, but an artist collective with currently 13 members around the world. The band apparently raises the most attention these days, but after all we value all forms of art, because all art is free and the art of music – eventually – just entertains us through our ears.
The “random art series” on YouTube are a more visual approach to our philosophy: One form of conceiving ideas is as ‘intention created within randomness’, and within each video we try to provide visual insight into one particular idea, despite we can of course only depict aspects of a certain idea and never the full picture.
So far, we have created 8 parts of the series, each with their own idea as a title. As an example I might introduce part 6 to you: the_barrel.
Back in 2015 the members of the band had the idea to built their own custom guitars that had more to them than just the usual obsession with expensive tone woods and what not. So we ordered a whiskey barrel from Scotland, teamed up with a local guitar builder and built a guitar out of the wood of that whiskey barrel, which even over the passing of three years still bears a very distinctive scent that makes every gentleman go wild. And, of course, it feels quite different to play to blues on a whiskey guitar, than on any other random guitar, right?
Thus, what is the idea of a ‘barrel’? It is a container, for sure. Through art, however, we made it a sound container. Still the same idea, but viewed from a different perspective, visually.
TCP – How are you feeling about the modern German progressive metal scene? Any bands people should be paying attention to in particular?
TS – First, we should maybe mention that we are probably more famous outside of Germany, though most of the band members curiously are from Germany (However, we are determined to finally correct that fact with a European tour in the end of 2018)
If there is a German ‘prog-scene’, then it is certainly more centered on what 30+ aged people nowadays are believing to be ‘prog’, ergo starting with Dream Theater, and then going backwards to bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Any of these bands (or their remains) will still fill big concert halls anywhere in Germany with people.
However, current progressive metal superstars like Animals As Leaders, Periphery, Between the Buried and Me etc. are not even getting remotely close to them, as they are filling clubs with ca. 150-500max. people per city, and only if they tour as a bundle.
Progressive music that wishes to overcome borders between musical communities is having hard times not only in Germany, probably everywhere. Blues people detest the metal community, metal guys always prefer beer over a nice jazz harmony, and the jazz folk, phew….
However, we can definitely recommend two bands that you should check out (after you have acquired our entire discography, of course): Just recently we had a show together with a rather fabulous acoustic progressive band called A Kew’s Tag from Cologne. They are very talented and their acoustic approach is very refreshing and on a very high technical level. Worth mentioning are also Schizofrantik, who are playing fantastical technical progressive metal based in Munich.
TCP – As hinted, you’ve gotten to see a good slab of the world through your music including places like Brazil and Russia. Did you come back with any great tour stories?
TS – We have shaped one of our most memorable stories into musical form, the “Saratov Incident”, released on our 2017 EP “Russian Tales”:
We shouldn’t have played there actually, because we were scheduled to have a show in another town, but our tour manager somehow changed his mind, so everything got re-organized within a matter of few hours, and here we are now:
Saratov city near the river Wolga, friday night, cool club, wonderful audience, amazing support band.
Alright, somehow the show really happened despite all the troubles – but where do we sleep?
20min to the city suburbs, arriving at a “small hotel”.
Pink walls, shady proprietor with gold necklaces, two huge rooms for us with absolutely no furniture inside besides a king size bed and a luxurious shower cabin.
“The hookers are downstairs!”
“The prostitutes, guys! We can take four of them! I made a good deal with the owner, we can stay over night, its very cheap!”
TCP – Your 2016 album was titled “the difference between a duck and a lobster”. So the world must know… what is the difference between a duck and a lobster?
TS – All of our albums are concept albums. Our first album is called “three short stories”, hence consists of 3 bundles of 5 coherent songs which form a short story each. Our second album title is a reference to Uwe Boll’s film adaption of the video game “Postal”, in which the protagonist is asked in a job interview: “What is the difference between a duck?”
We sent the album upfront to Uwe Boll himself for a review – if you are not familiar with him, he is known to the world as the world’s worst movie director, ask Google for more – and he kindly responded back to us: “Das schlechteste Album, dass ich je gehört habe.” [The worst album I’ve ever heard.]
This is probably the best compliment he could ever give us, thus we decided to print his verdict on every copy of “the difference between a duck and a lobster”.
Now, regarding to the lobster: We tell you the difference, and the message is hidden in the music on the album (really). And to everybody who found it already and thought of it as a bad joke: We also have a second, more sophisticated answer. The first track of the album is the_duck, the last one is the_lobster. The actual difference is the music between these tracks.
TCP – If you got to choose between temporarily owning a time machine or a space ship that could take you anywhere, which would you choose and what would you go see?
TS – Go and see how planet earth looks in 10,000 years, to determine whether our philosophical endeavors are to be taken seriously or whether we are better off taking our masks off right now becoming millionaires with pop music instead.
Or go back right before the Big Bang and kick the ass(es) of the guy(s) who put us here in this mysterious dimension, on a planet with limited resources and money hungry societies, without any clue what the hell happened.
TCP – Any last words for the good people out there?
TS – There is no spoon.