Hailing from Kortrijk, Belgium, Amenra has been a major figure in the story of post-metal. They have defined the way I personally comprehend this type of music in recent years with their unique blend of doom, sludge and post-metal sounds. Their live show perfectly encapsulates their downbeat emotional output and dismal lyrics. Amenra has released five studio albums and paved the way to many side projects for the band members, such as CHVE, Oathbreaker, Wiegedood and Syndrome. Each has its own personality and sound yet still has traits that nod to the dark atmosphere of Amenra.
The band has recently released their new album “Alive” recorded during their remarkable two-performance appearance in Roadburn last month. It features a mix of live recordings of acoustic versions of old tracks and some cover songs.
We recently got in touch with Amenra’s vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout to chat about their new live album, poetry, books and their plans for the church of Ra!
Let’s start from the end, with your acoustic release “Alive”. It has been quite some time since the Afterlife EP. What should we expect on the new record?
Like you said it’s been seven years since the release of the Afterlife EP. And although we have played several acoustic concerts since then, we had nothing to illustrate the live Afterlife experience with. Since the EP we had written several new pieces, as well as reworked Amenra Mass songs into acoustic versions, cover songs and so on. And above all we also had some new members in the live line up.
Several people asked us for those songs so we recorded some of them in the studio and had some good live audio recorded. So it made sense to us to document this, part in our time-line.
We see everything we do as a fragment written in a biography, or diary.
You described making acoustic music as making your sound vulnerable in some way; did you feel the same with the latest album?
Of course, since it is an acoustic album. Our comfort zone is one of a tremendous density and volume. We are allowed to hide within a huge wall of sound. Everything is warped into the overwhelming whole. This gives us a space to work in. We have some room and are easily allowed to lose ourselves in those live shows.
The acoustic chapter in our being is one where we are forced to be fully aware of every movement we make, every breath we take. It is a challenge to us to work towards a method where we can actually dissolve in the acoustic live play as well as which we are used to with the heavy or normal Amenra performances.
It makes us more vulnerable than ever before, almost like being alone in the open at night.
The visual part of the Amenra project has always been a characteristic feature of your albums and personally an interesting aspect to me. Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Christoph Mencke for the artwork of the new album?
Christoph has been in our circle for a couple of years now, unseen, yet very present. His views on aesthetics and art were an inspiration to us all. That’s where his talent as a wood sculptor -besides other skills- mingled with our intentions.
He restored an old church chair of mine and molded it into a symbol of unmatched strength. Words and symbols carved into the chair, adjusting its dimensions.
It is now an amazing sculpture, representing the Afterlife project. The circle, the seven chairs, on stage. Our seven children.
Alive shares the unique experience you had last year with the Belgian poet Sofie Verdoodt at the Saint Jacobs Church. What about Sofie’s poetry attracted you to this collaboration, and do you plan any similar acts in the near future?
We do not plan ahead that much when it comes to collaborations. When the planets align and the time is right, we connect with people and something new is born. It’s the most beautiful thing there is.
Sofie’s work immediately drew me in, but it is hard to say why. You can just feel an unconditional link to someone’s work. You cannot describe or explain why. It feels like you‘ve found one of your long lost siblings. A brother or sister you thought was gone.
I believe we belong to one same family. This is the case with everyone we have worked with in the past.
Despite the dark atmosphere around it, the notion of love is a recurrent theme in your lyrics; as if it’s fighting for space within the music. Can you tell us more about this duality and how it shapes your music?
Love is Pain. The moment you love you allow pain into your life. As well as the utmost and profound beauty of Life.
I cannot explain how it shapes our music. I can tell you it drives all of us. It is that Love we serve and try to protect during Amenra live shows. It is that loves existence that we want to prove to our listeners. It is the Light that drives us all.
Aside from Amenra it has been quite a busy couple of months for you, with the new release ‘RASA’ of your solo project and the tour with Scott Kelly. How can you balance between these projects, and are we likely to seemore individual work from CHVE in the future?
It has been busy years for all of us. We all aim our artistic arrows at several targets. We need to tell different stories and experiences in collective ways as well as solitary ways. It makes it all more interesting, and inspires all other projects.
Right now, Amenra is writing for MASS VI, and a follow-up to Afterlife. Oathbreaker and Syndrome are releasing new albums after summer 16, Wiegedood is writing a new album, to be released in 2017 and Hessian is releasing an EP soon.
As for me with CHVE I have some interesting collaborations going and I will be releasing a live album after summer 2016.
RASA is a studio album, and I wanted to give the audience a chance to also have a release that matches up to the live CHVE experience, with the looping of vocals, hurdy and percussion. It is a totally different approach. I am currently working with Aaron Harris and Tine Guns on that album, and I am very stoked on its outcome.
Being involved in such a wide number of diverse projects, do you have a different creative process for each project and when you have a new musical idea do you have a specific project in mind from the beginning or do you redirect them at the end?
People tend to think that this is a conscious happening, the dividing of projects. It is a very instinctive way of working actually. Something broods in your head and it automatically gets put into a certain existing or new project. It never really happens that some things are to be fought for. It is all very clear to us if this goes into Amenra, Syndrome, Chve, Oathbreaker, Wiegedood or Hessian 🙂
It comes naturally; it’s how we formed ourselves.
Listening to your music at home, I would always perceive it as the kind of music that is best delivered in certain atmospheres and surroundings. You have already played some of the most unique stages around Europe. What do you think are the perfect circumstances to deliver Amenra that you haven’t played yet?
“midden een net omgeploegde akker in de regen ergens in west vlaanderen, vroeg, bij het ochtendgloren. beginnend in de late nacht, eindigend in het droge ochtendlicht.”
I cannot say it better than this. Dawn, in heavy rain, on a field somewhere in west Flanders Belgium. Mud up to our ankles, we start in the dark of night, and end in the breaking of light, sunset. This is what it would be, for me today.
Although there is a certain cohesiveness and bond between your fans, once your music starts it seems to adsorb everyone into a solitary space. How do you comprehend this connection?
I suppose we all go back to the core. Deep within our own selves. Everybody goes to his or hers own space.
“Together alone” is what I call that state of mind.
Amenra is one of the bands that has a special seal of loyalty among its fans themselves and between them and the band, especially when many carve their bodies with the band’s artwork and associated symbols. How does it feel when you see your ideas carved on your fans?!
Overwhelming. We are humbled and thankful to everyone who puts their trust in us, for such a definite and courageous act. It is a form of sacrifice. They give us a little piece of themselves for ever, as we have done for years with our music.
You have transmitted the Church of Ra ideas through various artistic forms, but the book remains one of the main marks on your road. Can you tell us about the motivation behind writing your book, and would you consider repeating that in the future?
Of course, our story is the hardest one to tell, let alone be written down. It can never end. There is no true version, or definite truth to what we do. It is the story of everyone.
Mike Keirsbilck was so kind writing down his interpretation of our existence and function. Through long conversations, interviews and so forth we drew first conclusions. I am sure that this was only the beginning.
I am sure you got used to being asked about Mass VI in the end of every interview by now? But is it still early for a new Mass?
Yes, it still is.