The COVID Chronicles #2: Belgium’s Amenra

In late 2021, we touched base with a smattering of our favorite bands to see how they were coping with COVID. Due to the global reach of the biggest pandemic in more than a century, we connected with artists in various countries to see how the restrictions in those places had affected them personally and professionally.

As you might expect, COVID impacted each artist somewhat differently. Regardless, the pandemic and the precautionary measures it provoked hit each band hard, with many having to postpone tours, album release dates and promotional campaigns. COVID left no artist unscathed.

For the second installment in our series, The COVID Chronicles, we focus on shadowy, enigmatic art-metal band Amenra. An introverted project by nature, vocalist Colin H. Van Eeckhout and his four bandmates actually found that their new album, De Doorn (Relapse), was an oddly fitting piece of art to put out at a time when many people unaccustomed to self-isolation were forced into it.

In this interview, which took place in late November 2021, Van Eeckhout explained the bizarre serendipity that accompanied De Doorn, elaborated on Amenra’s affiliation with the DIY-minded collective Church of Ra, and predicted what the band would do after the pandemic finally passed.

Go here to check out the first installment in our COVID Chronicles series with Carcass frontman Jeff Walker.

Thanks for chatting today, Colin. I’ve wanted to speak with you since Amenra tore the roof off the House of Blues with one of the most memorable sets at Psycho Las Vegas in 2019. Recently, you’ve said what a relief it was to finally release De Doorn in June. Is that correct?

Yeah. It was supposed to come out in February; then it got shelved. Then we were in June… you know, everything’s kind of hazy (because of COVID).

Did you have your hopes pinned on a February release the entire time, or did you originally want the album out even earlier? Was there a sense of urgency with releasing De Doorn?

I think February was the initial (target date), but then it got moved forward because of the lockdowns. We didn’t want to release it in haste, but we also didn’t want to wait until we had full freedom again (after the pandemic). So it made sense for us to do it now. 

I haven’t heard that opinion expressed by too many other musicians, purposefully wanting to release a new record during lockdowns. Some bands I’ve talked to had a real rigid plan in place for when they were going to start touring after their album was supposed to come out. What were the motivations behind, and benefits of, releasing De Doorn during lockdown?

For us, it was pretty clear that the timing was was right to release it within this weird period in our existence. This is the first moment of (global) collective trauma that our generation has experienced. There was a sense of urgency in that solitude was everywhere. Everybody was locked in and confined. Everyone really fell down upon himself or herself, and that was very confronting. All the social possibilities were cut down. So there was a big sense of solitary confinement for every human being on Earth. That made it interesting for us.

That sense (of solitary confinement) is always a theme in our music, so it made sense for us to release it (during lockdowns) so people could make use of it and… when they needed it most, maybe. So it made sense. But it’s somewhat hard to explain.

Does Amenra’s focus on solitary confinement provide some rationale for why your live performance is structured the way it is? At Psycho, you turned your back toward the audience for much of the set.

Yeah. I mean, (I turn my) back to the audience because our music pushes people towards a moment of self-reflection. So I don’t think it’s very appropriate for me to draw… most frontmen pretty much stand in front (of the crowd) and demand a certain amount of attention. You know, like (the crowd came) just to see (a front person) proclaim his or her truth.

(With Amenra), everybody is all onstage together—but alone, (as if we) were abandoned. Everyone gets into his own bubble anyway. And same goes with the audience. You kind of have to let yourself be engulfed by the wave of sound that that comes toward you. You have to allow yourself to lose yourself in that magnitude of sound. So that’s kind of the idea.

As it turned out, the release date of De Doorn also made sense from the perspective of Amenra’s timeline. Since the late ‘90s, you’ve been releasing an album every five or six years. (Amenra’s previous release was 2017’s Mass VI.)

Yeah. We don’t see the release of an album as a (means) of market durability. You have to release an album before you can start touring (again). (Releasing an album on a specific date) makes sense in a commercial kind of system. But us and our audience pull away from standard procedures.

Returning to the topic of solitude, do you find that music lovers who are into your sound are predisposed to having a solitary nature? And if that’s true, to what extent are you not only trying to connect with such people but also maybe help or even show them how to live on their own?

Yeah, there is. I think there is a sort of collective character trait or stance in life or something that is (shared among our audience). I think people who connect with (our) music most of the time have lived through a certain amount of trauma. Or these people have been confronted with bad phases in their lifetime that might not have been very good to them. I think that is definitely something that connects (with) the listeners or followers in our audience. (They’re not all) used to being on their own or like to be alone.

There’s a certain sadness connected to that solitude. A lot of people (who listen to Amenra) are on the lookout for a certain connection with (other people). And most people, most humans, are even unaware of looking for connection in (their) lifetime or (for) people whom they feel related to, even if it’s in a weird way. I don’t know if I’m making sense. 

You are. You’ve mentioned collective trauma, which is distinct from personal trauma. It would be in bad taste to say there might be an upshot with the pandemic, but have Amenra noticed an opening here, so to speak, to connect with more people as they experience collective trauma?

Hmm. I think that’s… a topic or a sphere that is as approached by every album that we have written so far. So, in that sense, this one does not necessarily answer to a specific time. We wrote (De Doorn) a couple of years before its release. But it does obviously answer to that.

This collective trauma (involved a lot) of loss of human touch and human and social behavior. That’s something that we had to miss for a long while. And there was a lot of suffering for a lot of people. But De Doorn wasn’t necessarily written with that in mind. This album was more angled (toward the) gatherings that we had organized the years before, with fire rituals and moments where a lot of people came together and burned whatever. So it was a collective story more than it was an individual one. The Mass albums were pretty much only self-centered albums, content-wise. 

Those events staged by the Church of RA, right?

Pretty much. Church of Ra helps to to organize those (events). We cooperated with local arts centers who helped everything logistically to get it done. There were some exhibitions around it too. But yeah, it’s not just the five of us. We had friends from all over Europe (bring) food (and) help us out with the big fires and stuff.

Pardon my linguistic ignorance here, and I’m sorry if you’ve answered this question before, but is it not a coincidence that “RA” is the last syllable of your band?

Definitely. Ra is an Egyptian deity who is like a sun—and that’s the symbol for life and everything around it. So the Church of Ra (means) “The Church of Life.” We try to tell our life stories as good and as in-depth as possible with whatever artistic medium we work with. (The Church of Ra is) what kind of gets us together.

Of all the musicians I’ve spoken to lately, you guys seem to have played the most shows since COVID started. You must be so exhausted after every show, given the physicality of your live performance. Do you feel a similar sense of catharsis, whether it be a spiritual catharsis or some other kind of catharsis, after every show? Or does that change? 

It changes every time. We always aim to give it our all and reach that feeling of being invincible or whatever it may be. But it doesn’t always work. The planets have to align. Everything has to go well. 

It was very weird to have this big break within COVID. We did a hell of a lot of acoustic shows because a lot of them were seated. And we don’t really want to (play our heaviest music) at shows for a seated audience. It doesn’t feel right.

We had a long break (between shows). I physically remember the first ones we played (during COVID]). We’ve had to get used to it again because we (hadn’t gotten) that amount of energy from our bodies in a long while. It’ll take us a long time to get back into the saddle like we were right before (COVID). We need that training. It was something that we never had experienced before—same with fear that I wouldn’t be able to scream anymore. You never know.

Do you typically reserve your screaming only for recording and performing live?

Yeah. Mostly I never really scream on rehearsals or something. It’s only when we’re recording, and we’re all onstage.

Do you plan to broaden the scope of your shows next year? Or is it still too early to say?

We have shitloads of stuff scheduled already, and booked, but it all kind of disappears every time (a new COVID wave hits). So, yeah, as soon as we can. We especially (have to get to) the States (again), but we can’t just yet. But as soon as the gates are open, we’ll be there. That’s that’s a fact.

Photo courtesy of Amenra

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