The War Inside My Head: An Interview with Mania and Phobonoid

The newest installment of the The War Inside My Head series of interviews is upon us all and this one is quite different. Whereas I usually pick out the contemporary artist I find most intriguing, for the most part in the wake of a new release, this time the focus of my stunted writing and high praise is in fact a split. The Mania/Phobonoid album that came out earlier this year and is now getting a tape release via Lunar Seas is one of those rare splits that not only showcases the best of both projects but also, I think, works very well as an album, with both bands bringing something a little different to the proverbial table, creating a fine balance of viceral, existential angst and cerebral, melancholic etherealness.

Mania, a long running, one-man project out of Portland, features Nate Myers (Predatory Light and others, as well as a live member of both Hell, Mizmor, and Vanum) on, well, everything, brings that semi-orthodox, semi-manic mode of black metal that can be traced to the Mayhem-strain of the genre. Which means you're getting it fast, ferocious, and ugly, but also very creative, emotionally impactful and, well, weird. "Twisting Vines," just one highlight, might be one of my favorite black metal songs this year. Nothing too flashy, and perhaps not as out there as a lot of the music I cover tends to be, but perfectly done, wonderfully written and performed, and impeccably recorded. I should add that not only is that a great song, but that the switch from "Twisting Vines" to the following track "The Path to Nothing" is one of my favorite 2-song runs of the year. Just saying.

On the other side of this split's intercontinental divide is Italy's Phobonoid, an Italian one-man project harking from the planet of Phobos that released a wonderful album via Avantgarde Music just last year, and which also incidentally released the CD for it's debut EP via Nate's Eternal Warfare Records label. And where Mania deals in the earthly, grounded mode of torment and melancholy Phobonoid (who can also be heard in Spanish outfits Cruz and Blazar) brings in a much more cerebral, much more estranged and bizarrely beautiful aspect, one that traces its sonic origins less to bands like Mayhem and more to projects like Blut aus Nord or Summoning. I personally hate it when bands are described as "cold" or "frozen" and yet that seems like an apt descriptor here – emotionally wrenching, somewhat atmospheric, and powerful bliss.

And so it is this ying-yang pull these two projects bring to the fore that, aside from delivering incredible music, that drew me to present both these artists in our very own "music appreciation" series. But just before we get to the interesting bit, just a reminder to check out our other interview series (Albums of the Decade and Pillars of the 90s), to follow us on any one of our social media outlets (FacebookInstagramSpotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene and beyond such as the newly launched music compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 2 of amazing local metal, hardcore, and noise as well as some of the best forward-thinking metal in the world right now. And there's our brand new podcast MATEKHET, my somewhat philosophical take on a metal podcast, and can be found in all your favorite podcasting platforms (SpotifyYoutubeApple Podcasts). On to the musical inspirations of Mania and Phobonoid.

What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?

Mania: This will probably make you laugh. When I was 10 years old I got my first allowance from my parent, $10. I remember I went to a music shop and bought Aquarium by Aqua. It was my favorite album for so long after that. I abandoned pop music in my early teenage years and slowly got into punk and extreme metal, but in my 20s I rediscovered how much I loved 90's dance music. Now I can confidently say that some of my favorite songs of all time are from that Aqua album, as well as songs by La Bouche, Haddaway, etc. One of my favorite things ever is to DJ a dance playlist after a metal show. If you catch all of these tough metal people who are just drunk enough right after an intense concert, a raging dance party will easily emerge.

Phobonoid: I think it was Therapy?'s Nurse, I bought it when I was 10 years old in a music shop called "Il Ventitre" in Padova, Italy. I still remember insisting on going to the shop so that, with the money that my grandma had given me, I could buy the tape that contained "Nausea," a song I became obsessed with because of the video clip that MTV showed once a week. I think it was on Headbangers Ball, but Italy’s MTV in the 90s was part of another TV, so it was kind of chaotic to follow their programming. Nurse is still one of my all-time favorites!

What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?

Mania: As an early teenager, I listened to Cradle of Filth's Midian on repeat for several years. I realize that's not "trve" black metal, but honestly looking back that album was really something special. A close second was probably a tie between Misfits' Static Age and Subhumans' The Day the Country Died. I spent most of my time around friends who were more punk than metal. To bridge the gap, I listened to Dystopia's Human = Garbage over and over again. I remember being in detention listening to Dystopia on my portable CD player. Shortly after, I discovered Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and got deeper into black metal from there.

Phobonoid: Iron Maiden's Fear of the Dark was the album that I listened to pretty much everyday when I was 11/12. Nowadays I think it is one of their worst, but when it came out it was quite a revelation to me. The album that introduced me to black metal was Dimmu Borgir's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant when it came out. I know, I know… but I come from a small town in the mountains and internet wasn't a thing when I was 13/14 years old. And the atmosphere emanating from that album is still class! I have to add to the list Voivod's Phobos, My Dying Bride's The Angel and the Dark River and Emperor's Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk as well. I literally grew up with them through different phases of my life. And they are still with me.

What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?

Mania: In the spirit of mentioning black metal splits, I wanted to bring up the Leviathan/Xasthur split. This was immensely important to me as an 18 year old. Both projects are solo bands, and both projects capture aspects about the music that I love. Leviathan is pure hatred and focused chaos, while Xasthur is disorienting, atonal and tormented. I wanted to combine these sounds and that's how Mania became a solo band. This split proved to me that you could produce low-fi music on your own and be successful. I know most people will cite Burzum for that epiphany, but I didn't want to sound or be like Burzum. I was proud that these two American bands could create something more twisted and dark sounding, and wanted to follow in those footsteps.

Phobonoid: I think that one has to be Breach's Kollapse. It was so different from everything I was used to listening to when it came out. The drums seem to come only from the overhead mics, the guitars are so angry and yet clean, the bass frequencies cut through everything, the suffered voice… Atmospheric slow hardcore with some electronic elements and that apocalyptic vibe. The other one comes from a completely different genre and is Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do. It's the album that introduced me to the electronic world and to the infinite possibilities of ambient music. And I'd like to add Marduk Panzer Division Marduk, because blast beats.

What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?

Mania : I should mention another split: Anhedonist/Spectral Voice. These bands are good friends of mine, and I know they are both extremely heavy, but I was shocked at how incredible the sound was. The Spectral Voice side is so crushing. Seeing them live is something you should not miss if given the chance. The guitar player Paul was my childhood friend and we have played in a few bands together. Since moving to Colorado he has started some of the best newer bands in the US, and Spectral Voice is no exception. On the other side is Anhedonist. The members of that band have become great friends of mine over the years. They were a bit older than me; I remember opening for Anhedonist when I was in some of my first bands and their sound being so loud and punishing. They were one of the first death/doom bands I saw live and it was incredible. They broke up years ago and recently, one of their guitarists passed away so there is no chance to see them live unfortunately. RIP Kim H.

Phobonoid: Tony Allen's Film Of Life. What an album! I listened to his work for the first time only when he passed away last April (my bad). I was really surprised by this album not only because of the usual good old stuff (a solid production and an incredible songwriting) but mostly because, starting with the idea that his music genre is not exactly my cup of tea, the sound touched me in a way that I wasn't expecting at all. I guess that nowadays I need a surprise in order to be shocked. And thinking about it, it has been ages since I have been shocked by a metal album. Either way, this album is pure gold!

What album relaxes you or centers you the most?

Mania: I am a huge fan of downtempo/dark ambient. Kammarheit, Boren & der Club of Gore, Mount Shrine, etc. Another group I love is Huun Huur Tu, the Tuvan throat singers. Their album Eternal is incredible, as well as the album 60 Horses in my Herd. One more favorite of mine is Novemthree. All of their content is amazing. It has a calming effect like no other.

Phobonoid: Michael Hoenig's Departure From The Northern Wasteland and Percival Pembroke's Arpeggiatorworld++ are albums that I listen to quite often, especially when I need some comfort and relaxation.

What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?

Mania: I've recently revisited my old love for Dark Funeral. Not the most obscure band, sometimes even a bit cheesy, but honestly they are incredible musicians and have the power to invoke powerful emotions. In high school I was a big fan of their album Diabolis Interium but as I grew older I left them behind in my search for more obscure bands. I decided to go back and check out their later albums more recently. I've really grown to love Angelus Exuro pro Eternus. I know it came out in 2009, but I was freshly 21 and no longer listening to "mainstream black metal". Now that I'm older I no longer care about what's "true" and can simply enjoy what's good. That album is incredible!

As for newer music, here are a few albums I've been listening to, all very high quality albums: NaxenTowards the Tomb of Times, Armagedda – Svindeldjup Ättestup, and Magoth – Anti Terrestrial Black Metal.

Phobonoid: DIIV's Deceiver, the Behind the Sky Music compilation and Rising Sun Systems's Oberheim Space.

What album is grossly underrated?

Mania: One album I immediately became hooked on is Darkestrah's Манас. After researching the band more, I knew there was something very unique and intriguing about them. This was the last album with their vocalist Kriegtalith and in my opinion was the height of their career. She used a mixture of horrifying shrieks with some throat-singing styles reminiscent of the Central Asian traditional styles from their home region of Kyrgyzstan. The music is very dark and hypnotic and sometimes quite beautiful. Plus, I can always get behind a band that is willing to explore deep and ancient roots of humanity in their themes. Sadly, it seems almost no black metal fans have heard of this band.

Phobonoid: I don't know how much it is "underrated" but James Plotkin's The Joy of Disease should be put in the hall of fame of… music? And I think that The Kinks’ Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) it's not underrated per se but should be studied as the perfect example of songwriting.

What album would you recommend from your local scene?

Nate: I'm from Portland, Oregon, USA which has a ton of metal bands. Too many to name here, but I can suggest a few. I highly recommend Drouth who does a unique blend of black/death metal. They just released a new album Excerpts from a Dread Liturgy. Another one is Mizmor, who I also play live drums for. The new album Cairn has gotten a lot of good praise. If you're into grindcore, there are some young guys in a new band called Human Effluence who seriously shred and have great promise. Triumvir Foul, Weregoat, Idle Hands, Uada, Vitriol, Aenigmatum, are all good bands from here.

PhobonoidI am the only band on Phobos, but when I travel I usually go to Barcelona. So I'd start by making some promo of two bands I play in: Cruz, a punk infused HM-2 death metal band and the doom/sludge/death Blazar. My favorite bands in town are the doomy Tort, who have recently released their new album Void Addiction, and the super-heavy death metal band Morbid Flesh. Their split with Graveyard (another awesome band from Barcelona) is amazing. Besides these 2 bands I want to make sure that everyone will listen to Veneno, a crazy punk/hc'n'roll band that have just released their first album Herejía (which I had the pleasure to record).