Pillars of the 90s: An Interview with diSEMBOWELMENT about Transcendence into the Peripheral
Album: Transcendence into the Peripheral
Label: Relapse Records
Favorite Song: "A Burial at Omans"
The Bare Bones: Transcendence into the Peripheral is the only album to be released by Australian death-doom outfit diSEMBOWELMENT. Several members of the band would go on to play in Trial of the Bow, d.USK, and Inverloch.
The Beating Heart: As is the case with several of the bands and artists that will eventually make up the Pillars interview project Australia's diSEMBOWELMENT is, in a way, a band entirely of its time and, somehow, radically ahead of its time. Melding the rugged brutality early 90s death-doom, more than a hint of black metal, and the etherial, almost goth tendencies of bands such as The Mission or even Dead Can Dance, it is as if diSEMBOWELMENT took hold of random musical items off of a metaphorical musical shelf and just threw them together. But in reality what the Australian pioneers had done was reach for those colors and moods they saw fit, breaking apart certain melodic vocabularies, fitting them among other inventories of aggression and fear, borrowing, stitching together, and thereby helping to usher in an entirely new era of doom metal.
When I had conducted the interview with former diSEMBOWELMENT founder/frontman/guitarist Renato Gallina I did not know I would be publishing it following a conversation with another Relapse alum, Neurosis. And yet the proximity of those two articles has fleshed out interesting parallel. That parallel being that in both cases the unexpected intervention of post-punk and new wave in both cases, and quite simultaneously, had proven essential to the development of genres we could categorize today as funeral doom, post-metal or, for the more poetic, atmospheric doom and sludge. The power and influence of those bands, to a large extent, stemming from the ability to search for moods and colors elsewhere, and then reincorporate them into a form of extreme metal.
Before my exchange with Renato, the first he's given, I believe, in quite some time (ever?) be sure to follow all things Machine Music on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to my interview with Renato.
Is there a moment with a song or an album, maybe as a younger person, that really changed what you thought about music or made you want to become a musician yourself? Obviously there might be more than one of these, but anything that stands out?
You mentioned as a "young person." Ok, so let’s rewind to 1980 when I was 10 years old. The album: Kiss, Hotter Than Hell. I recall my uncle taking me to the record store to buy me a record. My fascination with Kiss had already started one year earlier when my mother bought my brother and I Kiss' Dynasty. I had seen the album cover of Hotter Than Hell in the record store many times and it was like a powerful magnet. It kept drawing my attention. It was the most captivating album cover I had ever seen and I was so curious to hear what Kiss had done on that album, as I was already hooked on Dynasty. The stand out song for me on Hotter Than Hell was "Parasite." That opening riff, that lead solo, that reverb on the guitar, the way Gene sang it, even the song title. The production of this album was so different to Dynasty due to their lack of budget and experience at the time. When I listened to the album for the first time I rejected it because it sounded too "dark" – remember, I was 10 years old. It didn’t have the hooks or polish that Dynasty had. After the first listen, I told my uncle I didn’t like it and he suggested that we could go and exchange the album for another Kiss album … that album being Destroyer. I instantly became obsessed with Destroyer, but Hotter Than Hell still haunted me. That artwork and imagery, those songs, the production. There was something about it. Yes, it did shock me and it was a little scary at the time. The band photos on the back were incredibly mysterious. I was so fascinated by them. The front cover with its Japanese references, "that" infamous band photo, the colors and composition. They looked like they were from another dimension. Years later, I realized that Hotter Than Hell was my favorite Kiss album. It contained "magic" – from the artwork to the songs. If it weren't for Kiss I doubt diSEMBOWELMENT would ever have existed because their music changed the course of my interests.
So, looking back as an adult, and perhaps also as a more experienced artist, whether musical or in visual arts, can you find some links between what you loved about that moment and what you do know, even in terms of general artistry (art, design, music)?
Those links would be: a) to not follow trends; b) to have integrity. I believed in these two principles back then and believe in them even more now. I have my own "unique spin" that I bring to my creativity. Whoever it resonates with, so be it. That’s destiny. You cannot force people to like what you do. This recent system and preoccupation by artists and creatives to "buy" likes or plays in order to completely deceive people that hordes and hordes of individuals like what you do is truly sad. It’s only for sheep.
For me some of the power and perhaps influence of Transcendence into the Peripheral is its mashing together of very harsh sounds and oppressive atmospheres with melodic, ambient interludes and breaks. Can you speak about what was interesting about that for you? Whether at the time, when you may or may not have bee conscious of it, or now looking back?
I was very conscious of it. What was interesting about that for me were two things – the first was to "differentiate" and make our mark. To differentiate you simply have to take risks and try to be innovative. Innovation scares many people but without it there would be no progress in the world. The second thing was to focus on music that could create an oppressive, ominous, yet majestic atmosphere. Looking back, it obviously succeeded because many people are still talking about the album. To me, the album wasn’t perfect and there are many much better albums than ours, however, it’s what we were capable of at the time.
A lot of time that seems to be the case with artists associated with doom – that it isn’t that they actually wanted to write a doom record, just that the creative needs and moods were such that led to what others interpret as doom – melancholy, slower parts, an emphasis on atmosphere. So, would you say any of that resonates with the writing and recording of Transcendence?
When we recorded the album we already knew what style we were focused on. It was death/doom that had atmospheric elements, plain and simple. Anything else that people have labelled us, is their interpretation of our sound. I have to admit, this whole "funeral doom" tag is amusing. What is funeral doom? Who created that term and why? What does it have to do with Disembowelment? Answer: nothing.
Where did the idea of using clean guitar tracks along with the heavy distorted riffs come from?
The idea came from listening to Lush, Ride, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, The Church, The Cult (specifically the Love album) The Borderland (Melbourne), The Mission and also ambient artists such as Harold Budd and Brian Eno. It was critical that the clean guitar tracks had ample reverb and delay. They needed to sound ethereal and distant. To me, those effects really have profound impact and transport a listener rather easily. And, it was also about contrast (light and dark).
One thing that is shared both in music and really any art also the visual arts which are also a part of your world is this idea of balance. That creative, artistic objects are more memorable not because they "peak" at something or attempt to do something "better" but balance elements that seem, at first, not to mesh well together. How important is this idea of balance to your notion of music and art, and also how could that be then applied to your work with diSEMBOWELMENT?
Yes, balance is very important. Think about your mind and body being out of equilibrium. That’s a recipe for unnecessary problems. So, balance is something that underpins a lot of things for me. Of course it’s not so easy to achieve perfect balance, equilibrium and harmony but you need to work on it, and more importantly, be conscious of it in the first place. In reference to diSEMBOWELMENT, I did think about how much of "this and that" should be used in each song to create some kind of balance. As mentioned previously, contrast was always a preoccupation.
Is there something about your experience with band and its really quite unique use of balance and contrast that you took with you, so to speak, to your work in design? Something that were able to translate into that world?
Basic design principles concern themselves with balance and contrast all the time, so it's something that you always consider when you create a piece of design work. These are things that you learn in your first year of design school. After a while it just becomes automatic to incorporate them. They underpin all competent design.
Is there anything you’re especially proud about when you look back at Transcendence? A choice, a song, a decision, or the album as a whole?
Yes, the decision to stop after the recording of the album. Many didn’t understand it at the time (and maybe still don’t) but I believe it’s sometimes a wise idea to quit while you’re ahead. It’s highly disappointing when a band can’t produce a follow up that doesn’t live up to their debut. I know we could not have achieved a better second album because my heart, and mind, simply wasn’t in that music or scene anymore. And finally, I believe that for people to "want more" is a very good thing.
What was it that realization that you've said your peace that led to the band’s demise in the first place?
I recall that after we got signed to Relapse I realized that we would have to start playing live, and possibly tour, in order to promote the album and band. However, I had problems singing and playing guitar at the same time and that's one of the reasons why we never did play live. I didn't have time to devote to practicing as I was in the final year of my graphic design degree at university and that was more of a priority to me than the band. I was focused a lot on my career and also had pressure from my father, who wasn't happy with me being in such a type of band. Australia was also experiencing an economic recession so I was really focused on finding a job straight after graduation. At that stage I was also listening to a lot of North and South Indian classical music and was losing interest in the local metal scene. I didn't have the enthusiasm to write anymore of that type of music. It was too negative and emotionally draining.
So you were aware at the time that it was something that you weren’t interested in pursuing?
Yes, I knew. I had to be honest with myself.
And did the other band members share your opinion, at the time, that diSEMBOWELMENT had sung its swan song, so to speak?
I can't recall the initial reactions of Paul, Jason and Matt, but they accepted and respected my decision. There were no arguments or ongoing discussions.
The style that that album helped create would prove to be quite influential later on. Is there a sense for you personally that the band was in some way "out of its time"?
No, not at all. The music that was created was right for us "at the time." Whatever was going to happen in the future, was completely out of our control. You can't possibly know how listeners will react to your music in 10, 20 or 30 years time. I do find it interesting how the album is still being talked about. It makes me feel proud to have left such a valuable mark in that music scene.
Was Transcendence your final say in terms of musical output?
No, it wasn't the end of my musical output. I've been creating electronic music under a different artist name since 2005. In 2019, I actually re-recorded "Nightside of Eden" as I was never satisfied with the version that was released on the album. Doom-Metal.com uploaded it onto Youtube and there is a free high-res download on their site. Music is still a big part of my life and always will be.