It’s rather fitting that Chicago progressive metal giants Veil Of Maya found lyrical inspiration for their soon-to-be-classic sixth album, False Idol—out now via Sumerian Records—from a hypothetical tyrannical leader.
It’s appropriate, because these djentlemen, in writing about a futuristic king, have created the record that seals their status as one of the greatest heavy acts of our time. False Idol—their second album featuring vocalist Lukas Magyar—contains Veil Of Maya’s most varied and progressive songwriting to date, featuring a lethal dose of neck-snapping riffs and contagiously catchy hooks. There are even some throwback tech-death moments to remind listeners that these Midwesterners still know how to throw down. Prepare to bow down to your new masters.
Magyar wanted to create a story that captured the album’s dark and heavy nature and was eager to tackle the challenge of forging a futuristic world for their titular “False Idol” to lord over. “One of the main things that I wanted to portray lyrically,” he explains, “especially watching shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Narcos,’ is that these people are still people. As much as they seem like they’re not human—like they’re pure evil or just these forces—it’s amazing to me how relatable these people can be. So, even as terrible as this person is, there’s this underlying trait to him that is human, that you could almost be in the same room as him—or her, we never specify whether this character is a man or a woman—and see the good, or at least the humanity, in them. It was just in these specific moments that he or she was always consumed by something else—by their legacy, if you will.”
It’s interesting how Magyar’s vocal melodies and inflections play off the different sides of the character, switching between brightness and darkness. Magyar laughs at the image of sunshine and tyrants together, but notes that this textured approach was intentional. “There were songs where I wanted fans to be able to hear the compassion in the character and be able to tell that he really does see what he’s doing and he understands it,” he shares. “The same way, I went the other route in melodies in ‘Whistleblower’ and ‘Pool Spray,’ and even a little bit in ‘Graymail,’ where I wanted you to be able to hear the anger and the intensity in his voice, because those lyrics are far more about him not having any sort of regret.”
Magyar wanted to find out how far down the rabbit hole he could go, and the results surprised him. “I can definitely relate to him at times,” he admits, “but there are many things that he or she has done that I would never do, and that was the part that was so interesting. Lines in ‘Tyrant,’ like ‘All your organs will be mine, take out their eyes’—actually physically writing that and recording it, knowing that was coming from me and reflecting on it later—you wonder where that comes from. Where did I draw that from? Maybe it was just from horror movies, but it’s crazy to really dive in, to see how far from your personality you can really get.”
“There’s something wrong with this guy for sure,” Magyar chuckles. “When you get into writing something that dark, it puts you in a weird place for a bit too. So, I was definitely in a bit of a funk trying to wrap my head around what I was creating. I drew all sorts of visuals from it. I would visualize the character in his castle, overlooking the land and visualizing everything that was coming. The lyrics were often his thoughts about what was going to happen as he’s sitting on his throne.”
Magyar notes that while it took a little time to regroup after this immersion into the character’s darkness, he found the experience more invigorating than exhausting. “I like writing, in general, and with all of the records I’ve worked on, there’s usually some sort of storyline, because it makes it more exciting to me,” he says. “Instead of getting music and blindly writing to it, I like the times where I just sit and contemplate and figure out how I want to put it together and how detailed I can get with it. That’s just more fun for me. I think part of that is what helped me drive through it and not get exhausted, because it propelled me through the process.”
Since there are no real potential tyrants in our midst—ahem!—where did Magyar find his inspiration for False Idol? “I don’t really go out of my way to seek inspiration,” he says. “Honestly, I spend a lot of time just thinking about what it is I want to create, so instead of going and listening to a bunch of music or watching TV shows to pull influence from, I’ll just sit in a quiet room and think about what it is I want to create and how I want to go about doing it. I’m not trying to recreate something that’s out there. Everyone’s going to pull influences from around them, but I’d rather those be unintentional and just there—and have people notice them if they want. But I want it to sound original and refreshing and [like] something that I created, rather than just something I refabricated.”
Regardless, one spark of inspiration did find its way through the cracks, Magyar explains. “I was watching [the TV series] ‘Westworld,’” he admits. “I actually sat down and watched the whole first season in one sitting, and that might have been where some of the lyrical content in ‘Follow Me’ was pulled from.”
The album wasn’t written in a near-perfect vacuum, though, and Magyar found himself writing about a dictator in an era rife with sociopolitical context. “It’s not about any specific person in the past or present,” he states, “but I’m sure that the way things are going on around me had an influence. I can say for sure that some of the lyrics in the song ‘Tyrant’ were based on current events. Something had just happened as we were writing that one, so we threw it in the song.”
Fortunately for listeners—and Veil Of Maya—Magyar was able to plunge deep into the darkness, resulting in an album that is captivating, fascinating, and most importantly, a joy to listen to. It’s the type of concept album that is rich enough to warrant further exploration rather than being bogged down by details. By writing about a truly bad king, Magyar and company have become kings in their own right, ruling the metal landscape with this mammoth release.