“BAND DISCLAIMER: Negative Atonal Dissonance is not an album. It is a statement, a philosophy, an experiment; a rejection and reaction to the current trends within the mainstream and underground alike. Extreme metal has painted itself into a corner. Production values that serve no other purpose other than to sound recognisable and palatable. Arrangements, rhythms and harmonies that are more concerned with being identifiable and ‘viable’ than with originality. In an infinite universe, music is endless; a spectrum of emotion, of atmosphere, a vibrational connection running through and joining all frequencies; a spiritual, meditative practice, a dream and a nightmare connecting the creation with the creative force…”
Astute followers of Black Metal Daily may recall a while back I sung the praises of Serbian/UK experimentalist MRTVI, calling full-length ‘Negative Atonal Dissonance’ “…less ‘music’ than it is an attempt to shatter the space-time continuum”. In a fortunate and happy coincidence, I ran into the multi-instrumentalist mastermind behind it all Damjan Stefanovic in a diseased back alley somewhere in the dark shadows of the Internet (alright, it was a Facebook group comment thread. Same thing) and as it turns out he’s a super cool, down-to-earth guy with a diverse musical background and an intense passion for what he does. The result is one of the most in depth interviews we’ve had on these pages, about everything from recording techniques to the future of music… Not to mention his plans to change the fabric of music itself.
If you’re unfamiliar with his work, have a listen to the various audio samples scattered throughout the article. He largely implements improvisation along such lines as Nornahetta for example, but travels to infinitely more disturbing places sonically. The titular final track from ‘Negative Atonal Dissonance’ sounds like time unravelling around you. Even the production values are outside the ‘metal’ norm. The whole thing is an unsettling listen that descends further and further into chaos as it goes along; challenging comfort and the perceived natural flow of the universe, seemingly tearing a black hole in reality as we know it.
It’s an utterly mental release and you can hear a myriad of genres having varying degrees of influence on the sound of it, yet at its heart still beats a seething, horrifying mass of black metal. Not your typical black, however; what’s here is stripped back to beyond the core of it, black metal (or indeed, music itself) at a primal level but then enabled and allowed to flower outwards like a fractal, as it will. Natural, yet totally alien and undeniably panic-inducing. No bullshit, no restrictions, no tropes; you get the feeling we are seeing Damjan at his most pure artistic and creative self. It simply wouldn’t work if he called himself Lord Mordor and wore a cape, and the honest exploration of music for the sake of it is refreshing.
‘Negative Atonal Dissonance’ (and its predecessor, ‘Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare’) is by no means an easy listen and depending on your own pre-existing mental restrictions when it comes to music, there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll think it’s shit. But for those that find pleasure in the avant-garde and the utter disregard of musical ‘boundaries’, it’s an incredibly rewarding release that truly breaks new ground. So read on and listen carefully… You might just expand your boundaries before you come to any conclusions. After all, the journey is the destination.
Greetings Damjan! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, I hope you’re well. Your astonishing second MRTVI release “Negative Atonal Dissonance” has been out for almost four months. Now that the dust has settled, how have you found the general reception to the album?
– Thanks for sending me some questions! In general the response has been really positive. There’s been a few negative reviews too, which is interesting. It seems some people get the jazz influence and some think it’s all just noise, which is fair enough. I got a couple ‘this isn’t metal!’’s too, which is always a good thing. I’m aware it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I don’t really want it to be, I’m trying to go for something different, but it seems like there are people out there who ‘get’ it, so all in all it’s been a positive step. It’s really interesting reading people’s thoughts especially when you’ve never met them and they can say whatever they like. There’s been reviews from all over the globe too, which is really cool. I think the point is to provoke people a bit too, get the listener out of their comfort zone, so I can’t complain. Also, this has been interesting for me because this album was finished a year or so before it was released, so while I’m in a new head-space musically I’m getting jolted back a couple years to the creation of NAD.
The first track “As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh I” is an almost spoken word piece calling the listener’s attention to the lyrics from the get go; the themes of which resonate particularly well with me. How would you describe the lyrical content and how does it relate to your personal philosophies?
– Well to pre-empt a later question, this one, and in general a lot of the MRTVI lyrics, have been the product of automatic or free writing. I like the spontaneity, and it’s kind of like a verbal improvisation in some ways. I try and get some topics or ideas in my mind without thinking about them too specifically and then let the words flow out, but I’ve got to be in the right frame of mind. Lyrics aren’t the easiest thing for me, though this time around I think they came out well. The first track is kind of like a briefing for the soul before birth. A cosmic initiation a friend called it haha. The whole track is supposed to be a development on the standard atmospheric opening every bm album seems to have, which is why I made it quite long, and it builds to a crescendo. I wanted it to sound like there’s no reference, no gravity, no up or down, or tempo or anything… the melting energy of the ALL before the soul takes its human form.
The album contains a hefty amount of improvisation. I believe you have an interesting way of going about it that separates you from other acts that integrate improv into their art, especially on the mammoth, chaotic maelstrom of a title track which is like nothing else I’ve heard on this earth. Can you tell us a little about the process involved and why you utilise it?
– So I realised a while ago that metallers don’t really improvise. I get that 2 guitars in B played loudly with loads of dist is probably gonna sound terrible, but I wanted to try anyway hahahaha. This was something that I started on this album and have done a few times since (on stuff that was gonna be MRTVI but ended up a little too different to this particular album). So for the title track I recorded a 20 minute drum jam, with only 3 mics (all the drum sounds on this album are with 3 mics, kick snare, and a zoom stereo mic for overheads- which I had to sync up to the other two mics because it records on an SD card). Then I recorded a second one over the top, with the first take in the headphones, but without listening to it beforehand. So with 2 drum tracks, left and right, I recorded 5 guitars, one after another, without listening back to each take. So every take has a layer I’ve only played once before, and the previous layers. Then a bass track and 3 keyboard layers the same way.
Then when it’s all done you listen back to it. It’s interesting to see where it’s a complete mess and where it comes together almost as if on purpose. The whole thing sort of ebbs and flows together, and after a couple takes I started recognising certain drum fills or sections, so slowly it comes together. After than I went through and put effects all over the place, on every instrument, volume dips and swells, effects coming in and out, phasers and pitchshifters on drums and cymbals has a pretty cool sound to it. Then I free wrote the lyrics and recorded them the day after in one take, improvised. There’s a video of the vocal recording that just went up recently actually:
Do you find creating in this way more stressful, easier or cathartic than standard composing? Or is it more akin to, say, the phenomenon of automatic writing?
– I don’t find making music stressful. Sometimes it can be hard to make a decision of one part or sound over another, arrangements or song orders, those big picture things can be tough. I like getting lost in that weird in-between dimension where time and space doesn’t exist and it’s all happening in sounds. This improv technique (I dunno if it’s a ‘technique’ exactly, but hey…) is cool because it sort of pulls you in, and with a 20+ minute song with 10 layers that’s a good few hours of being in the zone and oblivious to everything. It was a specific thing I wanted to try because it was new, and while it has some good results I found after doing a couple other EP’s in the same way that there comes a point where my guitar knowledge isn’t enough and I started repeating some things, so I’ve moved on since then, but I’ll definitely work like that again because if you don’t overdo it you get some really cool sounds, and the process is pretty cathartic when you’re right in there. I’ve also had times where I’m alone recording and I see shapes standing behind me or walking across the room, or sometimes I hear them singing along as if through the ceiling or walls. Sometimes it sounds like a choir and sometimes like disembodied screams. Complete immersion in intangible vibrations hahaha…
You’ve recently made the move from The UK back to your home of Serbia. Has the change in surroundings influenced you creatively in any way?
– Well recording alone in a house in a forest with basically no neighbours is a trip, like I mentioned above… It’s more about just putting myself out of my comfort zone, meeting new people and places. It really puts things into perspective, I’m a lot more sure of what’s important to me and what’s not. What and who I want to spend time and energy with. It forces you to confront things about your personality that you don’t really need to if you’re more settled or comfortable and just going on auto-pilot day in day out in familiarity. I had a lot of good fortune in life (and a lot of bad too…) so I’m just trying to use it to grow and learn and expand, and I think the music and creativity will follow. I’ve managed to create a space to be able to concentrate on music without distractions, I’ve recorded a tonne of new music while being out here in all different styles, which was the aim. Also all of the MRTVI visuals since the first album have been snapped/filmed in Serbia, while the music for the first two albums was recorded in London, so it’s been a nice mix so far.
I think there’s probably gonna come a point where the murderous suicidal existential monotonous cacophony will become overbearing again, then I’ll be off to a new place for a couple years 😉
Negative Atonal Dissonance was released on CD through champions of the underground Transcending Obscurity Records, with a tape edition coming soon through fresh label Tenebrae Sumus Records. How has your experience been with both labels so far?
– Well with Tenebrae Sumus it’s early days, we’re still sorting some details, but it should be a January release. He’s put out some really cool releases so far and pays attention to details like presentation, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always wanted to get my music out on all formats. Kunal at Transcending Obscurity is wicked. He totally gets his metal and is honestly really passionate about it which is great. He took a chance on an experimental album so I’ll always be grateful. I’ve chatted to him a bit too, it seems like we’re on the same page about a lot of things which is great.
The packaging for the CD version is gorgeous, a beautiful physical product in an increasingly digital world. Can you tell us a little about the artwork and photographs used?
– Kunal gets the credit for suggesting the digipack route. I want my artwork to be simple, understated almost, and photographic rather than painted, at least for now… I just don’t want to follow every other band with sacred geometry and pentagram artwork hahaha. The front/back was taken in a doorway in BIGZ which is a giant old building in Belgrade that houses loads of rehearsal and recording studios and probably half the Belgrade music scene. The inside photos are from an old complex on the other side of Belgrade that also has some studios upstairs, but plenty of disused space too. Belgrade is a very photogenic place, every crack in the pavement and graf and alleyway feels like it has a million stories to it. The covers for the first 3 albums are all gonna be linked visually…
This thing also deserves to be on wax. Is there a vinyl release planned?
– Not yet. I’m working on it. Like I said I’d like to get releases on every format but vinyl is expensive and blah blah. I’ve moved beyond those childhood ideas of ‘making it’ and ‘blowing up’ that all the magazines sold us when we were kids. It’s a journey, I’m making music that I care about and building step by step. Vinyl will happen sooner or later… it takes time.
A little history: What was the genesis of the entity known as MRTVI?
– So after a couple year period of little creative output, playing with various bands, various bands breaking up, fizzling out, etc, I wrote 2 songs in a style I hadn’t tried before (the first 2 songs on the first album). Basically it was just a couple songs, but my friends were really supportive and urged me to write more tunes like that. 3 months later the first album was finished. Within a year of writing the first 2 songs, the album was out on tape and disc, getting really positive reviews that I hadn’t expected at all, and the second album was almost finished.
The atmosphere and general negativity and aesthetic was kind of influenced by an ooooold noise demo of mine that I rediscovered on my computer after years and years, but obviously with a few years more experience and listening to build upon. It had to have that classic European sounding black metal name of course, even though the project doesn’t really fall under the classic BM umbrella in terms of sound.
It came at a time when I was really disillusioned with music and playing and most everything else in life, a real existential crisis at 22/23, and it helped me figure a few things out and gave me something creative and positive to pour my energy into. MRTVI really is what I want to do, fuck everyone else and their expectations. I’m not making a ‘product’ for someone to ‘market’ in order to have an excuse to tour and take peoples money. I want to break all the rules and then some, I want to make sounds that excite me, I want to push myself, and anyone listening, and see what I can uncover, how deep I can go with it, and if the process and the outcome is inspiring me that’s the most important thing.
I came across a really cool interview with John Frusciante around that time where he said something like, ‘most people aren’t interested in what they can do for music, they’re interested in what music can do for them.’ I’m doing this for the sake of doing it, and doing it in a way I feel is right.
And with all this in mind, the positive feedback and support that I’ve received from people all over the world, who I’ve never met, is amazing. It was surprising initially, but validation on an ‘underground’ level has made a lot of fucking bullshit over the last few years super worth it… I’ve gone on a tangent here but fuck it, thanks everyone!!! Hahahahaha
You also run your own label, Life As A Dream Records. What inspired you to start it up, and what is the mission statement of the label, so to speak?
– “We believe true art should be expression first, entertainment second, and a product never.”
But let’s keep it real, it’s a Facebook/YouTube/Bandcamp page at the moment haha. Basically I want it to be a place where I can keep all the work I’m really proud of together, all different styles and sounds, solo and with bands, and a place where friends of mine can put out their music rather than just potentially sticking it on soundcloud or whatever. I’ve uploaded one album every month this year, mainly its been old bands and solo albums and EP’s. I also want to have some sort of visuals for most of the releases, videos, artwork, everything is in house and idiosyncratic to me/the group/the friends involved.
In some excellent news, you’ve re-issued the first MRTVI album ‘Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare‘ through Life As A Dream… Today! (Pick up a copy from the Bandcamp page HERE.) What was the thought behind re-releasing your first album now?
– So the label who put that album out initially has since folded, and (with the help of a couple good friends) all the stock came into my possession. I’ve been holding onto it, but with the release of the new album I started getting messages asking where can people find the first album, so here it is, direct from the artists so to speak. I put together this video for it over a year ago that I finally got to put out!
Another thing I should mention is that the debut album is also getting a Japanese release in January on MAA Productions, which I am so excited about! There’s more info here: http://www.maaprod.org
What do you feel the key differences are between ‘Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare’ and ‘Negative Atonal Dissonance’?
– The first album was catharsis, the second was a slightly more confident experiment building on what came before, and the response to the first album. The production is totally different, the approach to structuring the songs, the overall flow of the albums. The first album is songs developing themes and atmospheres and pushing ideas individually, the second is more of a whole, overall, concept. There’s technically only one pause in the music on NAD, its pretty much 45 mins of solid noise haha. The second album also has a slight, let’s poke em in the eye, see how metal they REALLY are, sort of provocation to it. Alongside the fact I was pretty much listening only to jazz when I made it, the new album is kind of self-reflexive in a way, how far can you step outside of the conventions of metal, or black metal, while remaining rooted in the sound and atmosphere… when does it, or does it at all, stop being ‘metal’. What is metal? To go back to your first question, I think for some people it is a new perspective on metal, and for some its totally not haha.
I believe the third MRTVI experiment will be actualized very soon, is this correct? You’ve previously mentioned the two albums so far are connected thematically, will this continue with the third? Can you describe how it all flows together?
– Yea so the third album is done. It just needs mastering. I have most of the ideas for the artwork but nothing shot yet. I also have a load of video shot to put together, but I need to shoot looooads more still. The artwork will be linked, and thematically the lyrics are linked. It’s not like a direct reference or whatever, but it’s there. I’ll talk about that more when the time is right. It’s essentially a 3 album concept though. Musically it’s certainly still MRTVI all over, but there’s a few elements that I haven’t played with yet being introduced, mainly hip-hop. Hahaha that’s a joke obviously…. (I’m listening to loads of hip-hop recently though).
I’m fascinated to see where you’re going to take this project, you already dive to depths others wouldn’t. How do you see your sound developing further? Does MRTVI have a foreseeable end, or are there infinite possibilities?
So album 3 is done. Album 4 is all in my head, and, without wanting to sound like a total cunt, it’s gonna be something special. What I’ve got in mind doesn’t exist in the metal world or anywhere from what I’ve heard. That’s gonna be a LOT (A LOT!) of work though, I have 2 demos at the moment, and theyre not even finished. NOBODY out there is doing what I’m imagining but like I said its all empty talk right now… gimme a couple years to get it down… it’ll change the game 100% for sure…
Other than that, and more realistically at the moment, I’m putting together a set and figuring out a way to get playing live as a solo musician. I was on the fence about it for so long, but I came to the realisation if I want to break the rules, being a one man bm band that tours is a pretty good rule to break. I want to travel and play and meet people and getting 4/5/6/7/8/9 people together to go on the road is a major pain more often than not. So booking agents hit me up hahaha.
How far do you think exploration of sound and music can go? Imagine 300 years in the future. What are we listening to, how are we experiencing it?
– Hahahaha best question ever. I dunno man, either we’ll all be in some Huxley-esque emotionless future or everyone’s gonna be a cyborg capable of everything… Or maybe flying hi-fis blasting out Slayer from the sky..?
I think you’ll have an interesting take on this: What is the essence of Black Metal to you?
– Black and metal are the two essential ingredients.
I think there’s a lot about black metal that is very punk. It’s gotta be against the establishment. I like the idea of being elitist in the sense of pushing yourself, better yourself, the Nietzschian overman working to improve himself, educate himself, take responsibility for his own actions and development. Unfortunately a lot of people seem to grossly misunderstand what he was saying, and turn it into another form of toxic herd-like group-think… I dunno, I think that kinda contradicts itself by definition.
It’s gotta be music that you want to listen to, it’s not supposed to be made palatable for everyone. It’s for people who need it in their lives. It’s should be anti-music. There’s a lot of ‘metal’ bands out there now putting pop choruses in their songs, claiming to be pushing boundaries. No, they’re watering it down. It’s supposed to go the other way. Putting blues solos in bm songs and albums… c’mon man, it’s a specific sound for a specific emotion. It’s not accessible chart music. The lo-fi production I think is also an important part of distancing the whole thing from ‘the norm’, it needs to be challenging.
And finally, because we’re coming to the end of the year and I’m intrigued to know what the mind behind this madness has been listening to: Any 2017 releases of any genre you’d recommend we check out?
– This year I was excited about Dodecahedron’s second album, also the new Blut Aus Nord that just came out. Fulgurum put out a wicked album, kind of like At The Drive In does bm, although that was in ‘16. I’ve been catching up on the 20 or so albums Omar Rodriguez Lopez (The Mars Volta) put out over the last 18 months. MRTVI label mates Norse, from Australia put out an awesome album, really dark with some tasty riffage. The new Akercocke was interesting. I’ve been privy to the new Voices album (shhhhh!) though that’s out next year. I found a new band, Artificial Brain, they put out an album called ‘Infrared Horizon’ this year which is fucking wicked!!! Really filthy fucking shit hahaha!! The new Wolves In The Throne Room is cool too, they never did anything for me before but this album is really cool. The new Inferno album was cool too. I can’t think of any more right now. I’ve been listening to all sorts this year. There’s a London band called Corpsing that put out an EP this year that my friend recorded, and that is brutal, they have an amazing drummer in that band. Oh yea I just remembered I rediscovered Mastodon this year, they’ve changed into a band I put on to relax to, after listening to metal all day hahaha.
Sincerest thanks for your time Damjan, very keen for the next conjuration. Any last words?
– When Beavis and Butthead get asked the same question by some redneck after tripping on cacti in the desert:
Erm… Boobs… Heh huh heh huh.
In all seriousness though, thanks for taking the time to check out my noise and for the support and encouragement! To everyone that’s shared it, got in touch, listened, downloaded, bought, stolen, whatever. I went off on one earlier, those sentiments still stand. Check out http://www.facebook.com/sustainedthroughdeath for more info as and when it comes, be good to each other!
Also check out https://lifeasadreamrecords.bandcamp.com/music for a load of music in different styles, and for anyone looking for mixing and mastering check out http://www.warlockstudios.co.uk/ he does all my mastering and I’ve worked with him loads over the years, he’s super talented!
Purchase ‘Negative Atonal Dissonance’ on CD and digital from Bandcamp/Transcending Obscurity Records here and keep an eye on Tenebrae Sumus Records for cassette pre-orders here.
‘Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare’ available on digital, CD and cassette from the Life As A Dream Bandcamp page here.
Like Black Metal Daily on Facebook for more kvlt sounds and tonal blasphemy.