Sunday afternoon in everhell, date unknown. I flick a commercial music channel on and yawn at the perpetually smiling woman figure ranting some quarter-interesting anecdote about the latest hot American metal exports, Puddle of Mudd. Whilst looking for something worth a read at the book store, I saw this name kicking and screaming on the cover of Kerrang! or Metal Hammer magazine. Puddle of Mudd. What kind of name is that for a band? This is supposed to be metal, right? I think we have another name for it: detritus, or, less fancily, crap. Pretentious half-hearted corporate bogus shit.
Woody Allen once said that in perpetrating a revolution, there are two requirements: someone or something to revolt against and someone to actually show up and do the revolting. Here we have the object, Puddle of Mudd (and the American metal scene in general, bar a few individual exceptions). I wonder if Aphotic, from Green Bay, WI, USA, could be one of the bands eager for the barricades.
By hearing their music, a delightfully strong case of ‘ambient death’ (we’ll come to that later on), one is led to believe that the lives of Aphotic members Chad (vocals and bass), Steve (guitar and programming) and Keith (guitar and programming) don’t revolve round dogmas and ideologies the way they revolve round emotion and the self. So, their zeal for this utopian campaign against the American metal scene might have to be questioned. Nonetheless, when I drop the words ‘liberalism’ and ‘freedom of speech’ at Keith’s feet, he doesn’t have to think long to make something of them.
“I hate liberals,” he shoots, less sanguinely, “I hate all people for the most part. A lot of people seem lazy and expect things to be handed to them. There always seems to be a haze in my vision filled with hate over most things concerning other people and the state of life in general. It often extends into myself. I can’t be a philosopher in any sense. I try not to think too much about things I can’t control… or sometimes, even things I can. It often leads to thoughts of wasted time and energy that cannot be got back.”
‘Scuse moi? I thought Americans had it innate in them to keep to their pseudo-lively armour of positivism until eternity ends. This wash of truthfulness is a little difficult to take. Guess spelling effervescence can be a task to some of them, then.
“As far as that nu-metal shit goes, I can’t stand it, and as far as the word ‘extreme’ goes, it is most often a synonym for ‘fucking horseshit’,” Keith continues taking down the ducks.
From the underground’s point of view there is a deep savoir faire to Aphotic’s music, a certain ‘why, they must’ve been here for ages’. However, this doesn’t mean Aphotic are willing to suit themselves to every 16-year-old’s idea of what an underground metal band is all about. ‘Aphotic’ meaning the part of the ocean that is too deep to ever receive any sort of sunlight, I don’t think anyone misses the symbolism.
“I’m glad that this could be brought up,” Keith states. “Aphotic isn’t ‘extreme’ metal. We don’t put on clown make up, we don’t grab goat nuts, we don’t wear gay fetish clothing, and we don’t sing about Satan or gore. We don’t play as fast as we can just for the sake of being fast, we don’t play as brutal as we can simply for the sake of being brutal. We dress the same to go to the grocery store as we do to go on stage. We write and play only the music that comes from us naturally.”
Naturally it may come from them, but that doesn’t mean Aphotic wouldn’t have mentors to look up to. As I wrote about the band’s second demo CD Under Veil of Dark, it is an expedition of melancholic yet forceful tunes not always that distant from one Swedish then-trio’s comeback album of 1996. It will in all likelihood strike a chord with the more sentient listeners who caught up with the outburst of atmospheric metal making cabin-high waves in Europe the latter part of the nineties. The deathy tactics and ephemeral tokens of diversity make for combustible listening and set Aphotic apart from their European counterparts. Yet more than an instance of blind coincidences and a random selection of previously unmixed musical ingredients, it is especially the focused style that forces one to lift an eyebrow and lend an ear for the American band.
But, as said, all this didn’t appear as a ‘road-to-Damascus’ sort of revelation in the heads of the three Americans. We could play the game Spot the Idol, but let’s give Keith the chance to rip these stitches open himself.
“One of my most important goals would be to have some of the guys in Opeth actually listen to Aphotic someday and say that it is good and unique and that it doesn’t sound like them much at all,” he says, bringing up another likely point of reference. But there’s more. Keith admits to never have listened to Bathory but he shares my enthusiasm for Rapture’s Futile.
“The debut album of Rapture is a great record but two that are just as good and even more grossly overlooked in my opinion are the two October Tide albums, Rain Without End and Grey Dawn. More people should own all three of these albums. They are some of the best that are out there.”
So we now have Opeth, Rapture and October Tide. But there’s still that first one missing. Before I know it, Keith’s got the remaining one off his chest.
“The relationship between Katatonia and Aphotic is deeper than just Steve and I listening to them a lot. When you really love a band’s music and you really connect to it on a personal level, I think that it seeps out of you when you are writing your own music. You might be on the same level as other people in some way or your styles might be similar, or you might have some of the same likes and dislikes concerning music. People can tell for the most part if you are consciously trying to sound like someone or if it is just influential.”
Now we have the names. We still need some methodology to latch on to.
“I don’t think that every man possesses an inbred artistic power. I think that most people don’t have anything original or artistic in them at all. I believe more in the idea that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I’m definitely not on any sort of ‘quest’ to be someone or to ‘find myself’ through my music. I already know myself too well. The music is something that I feel I have to do at this point in my life. A necessary release of what is inside of me if you will. You don’t have to be the best musician, as long as it is personal and unique.
“Our songwriting process is pretty much always the same. Steve and I come up with some guitar parts that create a mood or atmosphere and the rest of the song seems to flow out rapidly after that. Steve then programs the drums, we both arrange it, and I usually program the keyboards but Steve does help do some of the keyboards just like I help him think of drum beats once in a while. After that Chad learns the bass lines and writes the lyrics.”
So, what about this genre issue, huh? A lot of people are saying Aphotic play doom music, but the band use the term ‘ambient death’ themselves. If doom is Black Sabbath, Candlemass, early Trouble and Pentagram playing a festival at a church backyard with the supporting bell tolls and Lee Dorrian as the one-man audience, then I guess Aphotic are as much a Puddle of Mudd double as they are a doom band. But we all know Americans have a rather twisted view of doom metal, what with the guttural days of glory of Winter and all.
“I’m the one that coined us with the term ‘ambient death’,” Keith discloses. “I never thought of us as doom and I still don’t. People have different views on what doom is though. I think of doom as really slow bands like Disembowelment or Dusk. It doesn’t bother me though. People can call it what they want. It’s my music and I call it ambient death, and I will continue to do so. We are a mid-paced death metal band with a heavy emphasis on ambience and atmosphere… ambient death.”
The name Dusk came up. According to Keith, there isn’t much worth to relive about the transformation from the late doom death legends Dusk to Aphotic. Aphotic didn’t start exactly the next day Dusk was dead.
“In a way it did but at the same time it didn’t,” the guitarist ponders. “Dusk was pretty much dead after Steve Crane left the band. Chad and I joined Dusk a while later. We recorded about six songs that never got released and then we basically just broke up for a multitude of reasons… too many to list, but to put it simply, we couldn’t all exist in the same room. More than a year later four out of five of us ended up trying to make it work again. I could tell right away that it wasn’t going to, so Steve and I contacted Chad, got rid of the other two guys from Dusk, and started Aphotic.”
At the moment the little mechanisms within the band seem to be functioning fluidly in cohesion.
“Generally I don’t have too many hesitations with major decisions. We all know where we want to go musically. At first when we started there might have been some, but now everything flows out naturally enough. I don’t think about it much. It just happens. If people like it, which I want them to, it’s great and wonderful, but I am not going to take any of their advice on what Aphotic should do, or change anything to make them happy. The only bad decision that I have made that I can think of right now would be recording that first release [Aphotic’s 2000 demo, simply entitled Aphotic] so quickly. I guess it would have been better to wait. Some of that stuff is really not passable to us anymore, but some is still good. And I wish I never had written “Livid Dread”. I fucking hate playing that song!”
Keith concludes the chat with a firm statement about the band’s mechanic undertones and future musical mapping. It is clear that machines in the shape of Genesis P-Orridge are not to take over this man’s mind.
“I never wanted to sound at all industrial, which can be hard when using programmed drums. I hate industrial sounding bands and music. Aphotic doesn’t sound at all industrial now, that’s for sure. We have a good direction that we are headed in. It’s more and more sounding like we are getting our niche. The death vocals that are on our first two releases will continue, but we will not be headed into the traditional death metal style at all. I draw influences outside of metal and like I said, we have found our sound and we will continue to grow. We do plan on being around for a while, but it is dependent on getting a record deal. I can’t see continuing if we don’t get signed off of three demo releases, and that third demo isn’t in our near future. We could record a full-length at any time now…”
For hell or high water, Aphotic did cause a ripple. Sadly, their third demo Stillness Grows grew old with little label interest. In 2005, Aphotic recorded an EP called Failure. Shortly after, they split up.