The best sci-fi and fantasy often succeeds due to the strength of its world-building. The stronger your world, the more daring the directions you can take with each new episode.
Such is the case for the excellent and exciting second chapter from German progressive metal group Alkaloid. Their sophomore record, Liquid Anatomy—due out May 18 via Season Of Mist—expands on what made their debut, 2015’s The Malkuth Grimoire, so impressive while rewriting the band’s musical and thematic playbook. The complex and mind-melting mix of spacey prog rock with truly monstrous death metal is still Alkaloid’s foundation, but the diverse sections of the band’s style have been stretched beyond their previous limits, resulting in a record that is strangely addictive and melodic, despite its musical density. There’s a playfulness that comes with confidence.
Likewise, vocalist and guitarist Morean’s impressive narrative skill has been augmented on Liquid Anatomy. One of the band’s best attributes is their lyrics based on a wide range of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror concepts, and Morean has challenged himself to create even more vivid and vibrant worlds.
“In such a collaboration of musicians, where each of us has their own world and the means to express it but, also, to constantly change it, the end result is pretty unpredictable, also to us, when the songwriting process starts,” he says. “In principle, every one of us is a composer and completely free to make whatever they want to make. This is one of the great things about being in this band: total artistic freedom, no limits at all, and the unquestioning trust from your bandmates that whatever you come up with will be welcome.”
Part of what makes Alkaloid such a unique entity is Morean’s lyrical focus, which has shifted over the years to a new paradigm in sci-fi and futurism.
“Don’t get me wrong, fear, horror, destruction, and ugliness should always be a part of metal, because they best fit the emotions that the music kicks loose,” he explains. “Already, for a while, I’ve felt the need to also expand the range of emotions in my lyrics and vocals. I mean, how many songs can you write about the urge to kill, the glory of Satan, or any of the other metal clichés, before you have absolutely nothing new to say anymore? Besides that, I think that creation is a much more interesting subject or activity than destruction. Destruction is easy: just smash the damn thing with a hammer. Every idiot can do that, but to create requires vision, understanding, and dedication. It’s a much richer process.”
He notes that this creative vision is a bit different than outright escapism, elaborating, “To me, it’s about discovery and exploration and the denial of limits. Maybe you can’t always change things where you are right now, but you always have the option to move on and look for more satisfying or more interesting things. People may imprison your body, but the fetters in your mind come only from yourself, and no one except yourself can ever take away your freedom to escape into the worlds in your own mind. This is one of the absolute fundamentals of life for me.”
“So, it’s not about being blind to reality or running away at all,” he continues. “It’s the knowledge that you’re free, that no one can ever imprison your mind or tell you what to think. Things like meditation, astral travels, fantasies, and theories, but also physical travels and being open to explore things you don’t know yet, are all expressions of this liberty. It doesn’t matter who or where you are. I mean, look at Stephen Hawking, for example, and how he has changed the understanding of our universe from a seemingly hopeless, un-free position. As we say in German, ‘die gedanken sind frei,’ [‘thoughts are free’], and I feel it’s my duty as a creative person to use that freedom to its absolute limit, so I can hopefully come back with fresh ideas to the ones who want to hear them.”
When it comes to this world-building, how do these diverse cosmic ideas come to fruition? Morean laughs and notes that it takes time, patience, and a lot of research.
“It usually starts with something really small: some detail you see or read or just some vague intuition of hidden depths in something you wouldn’t notice at first,” he shares. “Then, that little seed incubates in the subconscious mind. In time, I become obsessed by it, and ideas start to come. If it’s a good idea, it gets bigger all the time, and before you know it, you have to build a whole universe. For example, when I first heard about the concept of Dyson spheres, [hypothetical megastructures that encompass stars to capture their energetic output], all I wondered was, ‘What if we actually tried to build one?’ So, I investigate: I read an article and watch a video or two, and each of those things tends to prompt me to find out about 20 more concepts I need to grasp before I can even begin to understand the first article.”
“Out of each of those ideas,” he notes, “words, images, whole trees of sub-ideas start to grow as soon as you let them. Then, you start making your own connections between things, screwing around with the fundamental parameters of the world you’ve just born. And slowly, a world appears in your head, demanding to be dragged out of the dungeon dimensions into reality. It’s really a privilege to get to work at the very beginning of the creative chain! One thing I’ve always liked to do, which is no small factor behind the stuff I write, is to try to take an idea as far as I possibly can. When you start fantasizing about the cosmos or biochemistry or geology or pretty much whatever, you soon find yourself chasing an infinite horizon of possibilities. I just hope that Alkaloid will exist long enough for me to feel I’ve truly and honestly said everything I have to say about those things. At the moment, it feels [like] even a hundred new albums wouldn’t be enough.”
Photo by Christian Martin Weiss