Michel Nienhuis, a founding member of the Dutch avant-garde metal group Dodecahedron, has joined a new group of collaborators under the moniker of Autarkh, and the project’s debut full-length album – Form In Motion, a March release from Season of Mist – is a swirling storm of captivating heaviness.
Form In Motion combines blistering metal riffing with an array of uneasy electronica that Autarkh have deftly interwoven throughout the experience. The ambitious avant-garde metal release feels remarkably heavy, the rhythms feel off-kilter yet ambitious, providing somewhat of a psychedelic edge for the musical journey.
Lyrically, Nienhuis explores metaphysical questions on Form In Motion. On “Turbulence,” for instance, he sings of a “power greater than ourselves,” while on “Introspectrum,” he discusses a search for a “unifying principle” for “all of physical reality.” The music poignantly fills out these sentiments, with strikingly intense and emotionally piercing riffing that charts a truly ambitious and expansive sonic voyage.
From the fast and mechanized-feeling guitars that appear on the aptly named “Turbulence” to the comparatively slower and broadly majestic sounds of “Lost To Sight,” the music across Form In Motion – which features the performances of Nienhuis on vocals, guitars, bass, and programming; David Luiten on vocals and guitars; Tijnn Verbruggen on synthesis and beat design; and Joris Bonis on synthesis and sound design – feels like a broad look across an otherworldly horizon.
Read on for thoughts from Nienhuis about Dodecahedron, Mr. Bungle, a youth orchestral performance, meditation, and more!
Thanks for your time! The new record is very compelling. On either a sonic or thematic level, how would you characterize the overarching theme or themes of the album? What sorts of things tie the record together, in your perspective?
Thank you very much, I am happy to hear that you feel the record is compelling. I think the title of the album ties the whole record neatly together: ‘Form In Motion’ describes the process of development, of moving from one place to another in the broadest sense. Musically speaking, the foundation of Dodecahedron served as a blueprint for Autarkh. I had already come up with some ideas for the third Dodecahedron album – those ideas remained intact for Autarkh. From that basis we developed the aspects that were going to be (partly) different from Dodecahedron: the sound and content of the beats, the lyrics and the vocals. The lyrics shaped themselves along this path as well; it has become a story about breaking a cycle and moving forwards. The artwork by Manuel Tinnemans (Comaworx) is also a display of this process.
The sonic imprint of this new record feels very unique. What sorts of things led you down this path of including the very intricately interwoven electronic elements? Have you been a fan of that kind of hybrid, genre-crossing music for awhile?
Most definitely. Ever since I started writing and playing music in bands I have been interested in artists that are somehow able to cross the lines of genres or make combinations of sounds and styles that I hadn’t heard before.
A good example of that is a band like Mr. Bungle. They were absolute masters at blending styles and did it in completely different ways on each album. I used to listen to them a lot when I was younger and learn what kind of things they were doing and which stylistic combinations resonated with me. In that time, I also got acquainted with artists like Amon Tobin, Aphex Twin and Mats & Morgan, who are somehow able to create a new sound or develop an existing sound into something new. I started looking for the same passion for development and experimentation in the more extreme guitar-oriented music that I had always been into and found insane and intense bands like Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Candiria and The End. The numerous innovations that Meshuggah brought throughout the decades served as a foundation for this quest.
These types of artists inspire me to keep searching and reinventing. From Sengaia, to Exivious, to Dodecahedron, to Autarkh.
What sorts of things tended to weigh on the overall songwriting process? For instance – did you specifically aim to craft riffs that were a bit psychedelically oriented, in a way (while remaining very heavy)? That impression seemed to come across – the intertwining of a kind of psychedelic edge with the very heavy riffing felt very powerful.
Some of the songs on Form In Motion were already mapped out as demos for the third Dodecahedron album – I had come up with a concept for writing the guitar harmonies that I liked and I wanted to continue that concept with these songs for Autarkh. I would write one guitar part consisting of only dyads in the midrange and would then try to harmonize them with a riff. The result is indeed a bit psychedelic at times, but it turned out to be perfect for this album.
During this process of development and progress one can sometimes gain insights of a transcendental or non-material nature. When I was trying to capture the right words in order to put those vague but profound kinds of realizations into lyrics, sometimes the music (which was finished before the lyrics) would reveal a bit already in what direction it should go.
In general, what are your favorite elements of contemporary heavy music songwriting? What along those lines has felt inspiring to you lately?
My utmost favorite thing to me about the contemporary approach is: you don’t need to know anything or have any skill in order to create art. You just need a lot of imagination and a goal or a vision of the result you’re looking for (or guidance to get there).
If you need to speed up the decision making, a system and a timeframe is useful. I have done several music projects along this line in different situations and the most fascinating and inspiring conclusion is that all children and adolescents up to 13 or 14 years old are really good at this because their imagination is usually not yet constricted by societal, behavioral and self-consciousness filters. If they experience that any idea could contribute to the larger goal and they feel comfortable to tell you their idea, you will end up with a giant set of narrative possibilities that can be translated to musical possibilities and be discussed with them in order to make decisions that involve every participant. Only then you filter what is practical and what is not.
It has led to a 20-piece orchestra that performed a composition of 10 minutes in four parts written in three days that I conducted where more than half of the kids were playing instruments they had never played before. That was really inspiring because it proved to me it just requires unfiltered imagination and a goal or guidance to create a meaningful experience for the performers and the audience. Skill, talent and education certainly help, but they are not required to create.
As for the lyrical themes on this album of a kind of confrontation with the limits of reality, what led you towards this sort of metaphysical thematic angle? What sparked your interest in this lyrical territory?
I first knew that I wanted to write about this when I started to understand that the ‘confrontation with the limits of reality’ as you describe it are only limits in the world of matter, the world you observe with your senses in everyday life. Everyday life is very real obviously, and the confrontation with those limits is described in songs like “Turbulence” and “Cyclic Terror.” If you need to move from point A to B, it takes time and effort to get there. If you desire a product that is expensive to you, it takes time and effort to gain the money required to get it. This linear way of movement is very real for everyone; time and effort will get you to your goal.
But it seems there is a whole different, non-linear and more satisfying way to approach your goals that is not new in human culture, but only this century the Western world is catching up because there are appearing publications that describe in detail the chemical, physiological and mental workings of meditation and the letting-go of ego and the insights that can bring.
Ultimately, where do you feel like the journey of this album ends up, in a sense? Would you say that, from your perspective, there’s a level of catharsis or bliss in the music?
The bliss and catharsis described in “Alignment” is the logical end to the story, a song that tries to communicate that desired state of enlightenment or peace that one would want to experience. However, the progress or process that this album is about is mostly linear because music can only exist in linear time and moving from point A to B makes sense to everyone. But in my opinion the described experiences and insights are not linear and can occur in random order or even simultaneously, which is kind of scary but exciting at the same time.
On a personal level this is album is definitely cathartic and blissful because I am really thankful that I am able to write music and lyrics, put them together in an album and have fellow partners that believe in this material like I do who help me with all the aspects of getting it across: our amazing record label Season of Mist, my longtime friends Luuk and Luc at Doomstar Bookings, Yvonne at Bonvon (communication) and Arno Frericks (web/design). It is through connection that we can communicate.
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Image courtesy of Autarkh.