Having already 2 albums under their belt, with the first album featuring 7 different vocalists and both albums having such a blistering progressive edge to them, Deus Ex Machina certainly brings a unique brand of death metal to the table. We talk to Mithun (vocalist) and Ryan (guitarist) of the band to learn more about the concepts behind I, Human, The War Inside and their upcoming album.
Ryan: It’s ‘Day-oh ex ma-kinah’. It is actually Greek-Latin, or rather pre-Latin-Greek.
HMT: From what we know, films and novels use this literary technique, which is somewhat like a divine intervention, is it what it is for your band name too?
R: Yes, yes! Divine intervention.
Mithun: (yells) Slayer!
HMT: How did you get this name?
R: This is a funny story! It was from our original drummer Gene, we didn’t have a name back then on our first gig in 2005 and we were thinking of names along the lines of ‘Alchemy’ or ‘Alchemist’, and we ended up with this one day when we were chilling at Subash’s pub. Yes, he used to run a pub! He suddenly said ‘Deus ex Machina’ and I went, ‘COOL!’ and that was how it was done!
HMT: But how did he come to know about this term?
R: I think it was anime. Not really sure. I found out the name meant ‘divine intervention’ and that was how we started writing our music and based our music on. I am a little political and read a lot about conspiracy theories etc, and that was what our first album was all about and that was how we started. First album was a lot on intervention, humanity, and stuff.
HMT: So we heard that the band has already started writing new materials for the new album, so how is the recording process thus far?
R: That will take quite awhile. We’ve got about a song and a half done now, six riffs, so what’s gonna happen is that… cos Mithun is away in Sweden, so like how we’d do the same for as when I was in the States, I’d record something on my PC, just a couple of riffs, just send it over to the guys…
M: So, I’ll look at the arrangements, lyrical ideas, vocal lines…
R: Yep, by the time we get to the studio, we’ll change again, because we’ll all have ideas flowing in again. The entire band will provide the input, so there is no one main songwriter. So I will come up with the riffs, the rest of the guys will come up with the ideas, and especially Shai, he will say “We gotta change this riff” or “we gotta do this head banging stuff”…so that is how we do stuff.
M: Singh is actually great at arranging! He’s got an excellent sense of rhythm and order!
HMT: So you do not really congregate at a studio to come up with an idea?
R: Once in awhile we do! To tell you the truth, “Assent Dissent” was done like that. We came in the studio; Mithun was away, about 2 months before the actual recording, I heard this riff going on and then Shai and I were like “Eh! Eh! It’s good riff!” Thareni was playing with us back then, he liked it, and I started putting in my effects and all that…so yea…
HMT: Have you tried something like a four-way webcam session?
R: (pauses) Nope.
HMT: Is it because it feels gay?
R: It IS kind of gay lah. Just in case I am without my shirt on and they’ll be like “WHAT THE HELL???”
HMT: Then wear a shirt!
R: Lazy lah!
M: (Laughs hysterically like Count Dracula)
HMT: Anyway, you’ve previously mentioned that “Assent Dissent” was done that way, and it seems like it is one of your most popular songs, so was it hard to coordinate with members being all over the place and busy all the time?
R: It is true that it is not easy, but most of the time I will be in the studio, coming up with my own things, doing my own stuff, mannnnnnnnnnn I have a phonecall! Sorry! (Picks up his call)
M: First thing you have to look at is that if we all come together, it takes up time. Practically everyone in the band is a working professional. At least three of them are married, so of course they have their wives to tend to first, but even when I was in Singapore, I was working. So, my night time would be spent with the band. Therefore, everyone has their own individual stuff to deal with, so yeah…
R: and basically I begin writing most of the time, so I have an idea of what is going on, and I will run through with the guys about what’s running through my ears, and put it there, so when we start writing the music, there is always a basic riff, and ever since I got to know of multi-effects, I started experimenting with it…so for example, “I”, it has this old school tremolo stuff that not many use and “Visions Blind” has this phaserl effect going on, so I just try to enhance stuff as we go along, just experiment, and if the guys like it, and as long as 4 out of 5 like it, we will go for it. We’re very democratic in this way!
HMT: Oh I see. And we noticed that the previous band logo has somewhat changed, does it mark a change in direction?
R: Not really.
HMT: So it is just a mere visual change?
R: Well, um, let’s just say that when Mike did our album cover, when I gave him the idea and all that, the story behind “I HUMAN” was, the old logo came out, it was nice and the guys liked it. But, I would say that it is a little difficult to read I’d say. People don’t know that the ‘D’ is a ‘D’, it looks like a triangle(Sorry Mike, I still like it though). So I started exploring more fonts, and I do IT so I found this new font, and ran through with the guys and “THIS IS IT.” It is futuristic, it’s sharp, it’s not common, and it’s different.
HMT: Do you happen to be a Science Fiction fan or something?
R: (Proudly) I am.
R: I love Star Trek, you can call me a nerd, whatever, I don’t care. (Laughs)
M: Fuck Star Trek! Fuck Star Trek! STAR WARS ALL THE WAY.
HMT: I was flipping through “I HUMAN” and I knew this guy must be a space-freak.
R: (Emphasizes) I am a HUGE Star Trek fan and I have THE collection of ALL the Star Trek DVDs, Star Wars as well.
M: (Exclaims) STAR WARS! I’ve also got Darth Maul’s autograph (Ray Park).
R: (GEEK TALK) I am not here! I am somewhere in the future, I am just a projection!
HMT: So we have here a Star Trek fan and a Star Wars fan.
M: I am actually not as much of a Star Wars fan as I used to be; I just read up on it a lot.
R: So in terms of the last album, that was all what it was about. It talks a lot about those futuristic things. I have always been against cloning, for some reason. I have never approved it. My ex-girlfriend gave me the book “I-Robot”, the original book to read, movie was shit, but the book was amazing. I’ve always got weird ideas, and I was telling the guys and they said “Go for it.” You know, something totally different, something not a lot of bands will step into? There we go.
M: The entire album is like about being cloned and stuff like that, and it also is very ambivalent as to the origins of clones, with a strong sense of ambiguity on the humanity of the clone and is nothing concrete whatsoever, whether the character is a biological clone, or a mechanical clone, or something liminal. When I wrote the lyrics, I actually studied – besides “I-Robot” – other authors that have actually come up with or rather reinterpreted the fundamental laws of robotics. Like Lyuben Dilov, Nikola Kesarovski, Mark W. Tilden and other interpretations of the laws of robotics. So, reading these and delving into fiction like ‘Bladerunner’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Warhammer 40,000’, assisted me in sketching out the concept of man against machine/artificial intelligence/science.
HMT: Like the Three Basic Laws of Robotics! (Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics)
M: Yes, the Three Basic Laws of Robotics! And the whole world of “I-Human” possesses a setting where Isaac Asimov is a deity-like figure. So to the clones, he is referred to as ‘our god Asimov’, ‘The Maker’ etc. I mean that is how they interpret it. The tale of ‘Replicant’, for example, depicts someone who gets cloned, with this said human seeing himself as worthless. However, the Replicant (clone) believes himself to be “everything you are but better”, yet questions himself if “there something I lack?”. But gradually, he begins to embrace himself as a superior lifeform.
R: We also got the idea from the last official Control Denied album to be out this year, when man and machine collide. They were going on this whole man vs. machine idea so, I’m a HUGE Death fan, so, I got the idea from them, and stole it!
HMT: You guys should make a film from it because I feel that it is pretty epic…
M: It IS pretty epic.
R: Actually, we MIGHT do a video somewhere along the line somewhere when Mithun is back again, and when we have a budget enough for a proper video. We met a guy at the bar, who is a videographer, and he does corporate videos, fashion videos, and he is bored the hell out of these. He went “Do you play in a metal band?” I said “yes” and he said “Can I do a video for you?” and we were like “Sure! But how much?” “JUST BUY ME ALCOHOL!”
M: (hinting) Maybe Heavy Metal Tribune might sponsor us?
HMT: We could only sponsor manpower so far, give that little exposure we can give, and help our with the bands and gigs’ logistics, etc. Not profiting at all…
R: Also can lah!
M: You could help us carry the cameras, the microphones…etc…
HMT: Sure! We’d like to see the works anyway.
R: It is actually in the talks right now, we’re trying to shoot it before Mithun leaves actually. The good thing about TNT Studios is that the background is blue, so he could actually change the entire background without us having to leave the studio, so that is something in the works right now, hopefully we will get it done soon.
HMT: Have you not thought of schools?
R: Actually I did a video with Fen-rir. Shai’s and Thomas’s other band, and I was a bass player with them for some time and after I left Azrael, we did the video, and trust me, shooting a video, is… We had three locations in 2 days, and there were 5 guys, packed at the back of a van full of equipments, I SO CAN’T FUCKING MOVE ASSHOLES!
HMT: (Laughing at Ryan’s vivid expressions) I wished this was a video interview instead!
R: I mean it is hard. Kudos to Rudra, they’ve done one, Wormrot’s probably gonna do one, Meza Virs has done one. In fact, Meza Virs was the first band to do it back in 2003. So yea, I’d say it is coming up!
HMT: Hmm! So back to the cloning topic, you’ve mentioned that you didn’t like the idea of cloning right? So since your band has done the album on the mind frame of a clone, so has your…
M: Hmmm, it is not really the mind frame of a clone; certain segments discuss the mind of the clone, but it is more on the topic itself. It is taken from the clone’s various perspectives at the same time.
R: it’s the ethical issues.
M: Yes. We shift from first person to second person to third person perspective.
R: I mean if you guy watch the movie ‘Gattaca’…
R: The guy was a clone…
M: That guy wasn’t a clone, he was deemed as a weak, inferior member of society…
R: Well yes but he has to take all those pills, mess with his genetics…
HMT: Scrape his own skin clean and replace with someone’s…
R: But if you are a clone, why would you want to live forever? To quote Freddy Mercury, “Who wants to live forever?” I mean you live your life, you are gonna leave your loves ones forever, you will need to restart your life with every cycle, and it is an ethical issue, and I am very bothered about it.
M: I am ok with cloning…
R: Ya YOU wanna live forever, not me haha…
M: I am basically for the idea of human progression, like evolution, therefore I am FOR cloning.
R: But based on what we are asked right, there is this scientist guy that has developed a new ‘genome technique’ that will actually take out diseases, take out your defects, they found the DNA thing. Everyone was against it. I don’t believe it. I really don’t believe in it.
HMT: So what if one day you wake up and somehow you realise that you are a clone?
R: I will turn gay.
R: (Laughs) No la, basically from my knowledge you won’t remember. Because the memories will be taken from the human specimen you were cloned from. They just want to implant you with the perfect things to be the perfect human being, and…(phone rings)…SON OF A BITCH MAN!!!!
M: (continues) …if you wake up and you are a clone, nothing much is changed, you just live your life, as per normal! (laughs)
HMT: I am only pro-cloning if I can control when I can destroy my clone or something.
HMT: Mithun, now that you are studying in Sweden, and they have to find sessionists to replace you every time you are not around, how do feel about this?
M: I am actually fine with it, because the essence of the band must be displayed and maintained. For example, if one of the other members suddenly shatters their wristbones before a show, we will need to find a replacement. The band either pulls out, or gets someone to stand in. It also depends on the consensus among the other band members, so yeah.
HMT: So does the band consult you?
M: Yea! They usually give me a call in Sweden…
R: Unfortunately, I left for the States in 2007 when Mithun and Shai joined the band and Rory was still playing with us last time…and Daniel…he is in the States now with his own band. I had to go to the states to do something, and we did was we did our EP when I came back, they didn’t want any guitarists to replace me for any shows AT ALL, for whatever reasons they had, but with the new album that has come out, people have actually started saying we are not just being a progressive band, so we had a lot of opportunities come up, so sometimes, there is sacrifice. We have to sacrifice sometimes. For example, if I cannot make it, it is my responsibility to find someone else to replace me, give him my guitar tabs, if he cannot do it my style, then do it his own style, just get it done. You can’t let the machine stop going on.
HMT: So how do you choose a suitable vocalist to session?
R: When Shatish was singing for us, Thareni from Stillborn was with us, and he recommended Shatish. You know, he is a young guy, he’s got passion, he’s got the drive, get the guy in, he was great. With this new album, we need a different sound; we really need a different sound and someone really close to Mithun, cos the first album has 7 different vocals including myself, which was the shittiest song by the way, but when we were in the studio and back then, Ah Boy, whom we know about 12 years, TNT Ah Boy, asked me to call this guy Joel from Kalodin. I knew his guitarist who is in Nepal. Joel was asking if he could do it his style, I mean, go ahead. Do it your style, and that is how we work. We don’t really fit any sort of genre, Mithun is more into Goth, Doom & Black Metal, I hate Doom and Goth (laughs).
R: Our guitarist, Anand, is a thrash guy, you know, like old school Sepultura, Atheist, etc, our bassist Thomas is a full on prog-head, Singh loves Prog like Dream Theater but listens to everything from Melodic Death to classic Rock and he was schooled in drums by his dad (!), and I am a rojak (mix of everything)! The coolest thing about the band is that when we started out, we were of all different genres, we met together and melted the whole thing, and now is the third phase for the band, and again, different genres and that is why we are very unique sound, I mean in the review guys go like “what the hell you can’t head bang to this shit.” But this is how we work. We try to go against the norms, and put in our own influences, so you don’t hear “oh this is a metal band” we try to be different in a different kind of way.
HMT: So the music being hard to head bang…was it intentional?
R: Yes. For most part, it was Shai who put the off time parts in as we wrote.
HMT: So for the first album, there were 7 different vocals, so how does it feel like to have an album with so many vocals?
R: It was fun. It was REALLLLYYYY fun.
HMT: They brought in all their influences also?
R: Yes, Yes! To tell you the truth, we don’t get to jam with them a lot of times, but most we ever jammed with was Subash, cos we’re drinking khakis and all that. I jammed with Dannie once, Kathi once, I didn’t even bother writing my own vocal lines until the last minute…and there was a female vocalist on 2 of the songs and she came and she just went ‘CLICK’ DONE! I will never admit who she is because she has contractual reasons contract, and all I can say is that she is a professional singer, and she was doing me a favour for this. So whatever you hear inside “War Inside” right, especially the vocal lines was just “erm, what was I supposed to do?” The vocalists would do it with their own style.
|Joel (Kalodin) guesting on vocals|
HMT: So the vocalist just do their own style.
R: That’s how I work a very long time, even in Azra-el as well when Vivek (Bhelliom) was playing with us. Vignesh will write his stuff, David and Kalai will come in, start arranging everything, I’ll come in do my own stuff and they will come in and ask, “What am I supposed to do?” and we just tell them where to start. And it’s a tried and tested formula that it works. It actually works. In a weird sense of way, it works. Order through chaos. [BURPS]
HMT: For I, Human, the last track was an instrumental. Was there a particular reason in including that track?
R: Yes. When I was in Temasek Polytechnic back in the 90s, there was a guy Keith who was an amazing guitar player. He acts like Joe Satriani, he looks like Joe Satriani with glasses, his bald head, same guitar, and he did a jazz version of their stuff, back in poly. And I have always wanted to do it with the Azra-el guys, these guys as well. I was telling them to let’s just do it for the heck of it. We never rehearsed it. The story was, we walked into the studio and everyone was asking if there were anymore songs. We just played it impromptu on the spot and that was it. Then when that bass player – which one was it?
M: Which one?
R: The one that recorded with us.
M: CASPAR! Ghost boy!
R: Yes Caspar, the ghost. When he recorded with us, he was asking if that was our new song and asked how it went. We told him the chords and in 1 take he recorded it as well. I have wanted to do this for 10 years and I finally got it done, but we never released it due to contractual reasons, that’s why in the CD we were like “thanks to Mark Snow for _________”.
HMT: So how does it follow the concept of the album?
R: The X-Files-
R: I’m a huge fan of X-Files, for the first 5 seasons anyway. But it’s different. It relates to abnormal stuff, aliens and all that, and I believe there is life out there, so there you go.
M: Actually I find that the last track sounds like a kick-ass theme song for an animated series. I don’t know why, it’s really catchy!
HMT: The band has covered war and humanity, and the second album has covered science fiction. So what will be the focus on the upcoming album?
M: We are going to continue the story from I, Human actually. We are intending for this to be expanded into a trilogy, perhaps. We don’t want to reveal too much; you never know, someone might just read our interview and steal our ideas. [Laughs] So all we are saying is that it will be a continuation of what I, Human has already laid out.
R: It’s going to be different. In fact, the style that we are writing it right now is a little bit more extreme than what you heard in I, Human. It’s a little bit more of erm, Jigsaw. It’s a lot of different styles mixed together.
M: The constantly-changing structure.
HMT: More progressive.
R: Not really. It’s going to be more insane.
R: Yes, demented. There you go!
HMT: I feel that the idea of the band is very in-depth, but I have to say honestly Singaporeans don’t like to think too deep into the message.
R: Ok I’m going to say something, I need you guys to quote me on this. There has been a lot of bands with a lot of in-depth albums. For example, Soul Fusion. Progressive, and you never knew what they were playing next, it was a really good band and there was a lot of thinking involved when listening to them. There’s a song called Rain and using their effects all that, it was something to do about rain! You know, stuff like that. Take for example, Kaliyuga. When Kali yugawas doing their first album, unfortunately was their only album. “Eh, SUBASH, COME BACK LAH!” [Laughs] They had a song called Song for Reagan. It was actually based on The Exorcist. Not a lot of people have caught The Exorcist. They have heard about it, but it was something different, and in Singapore scene, you really need to be different.
M: There is a gross obsession to be BRUTAL here, so to say. The thing is not about a matter of being afraid of challenges. Most people just don’t want to change. They prefer to conform to the social convention that has already been created for them.
HMT: An irony when metal is all about being non-conforming.
R: Exactly! Again, The War Inside was all about humanity right? So I was trying to take a jab at a lot of things going around. Not just in Singapore but also worldwide. We have actually done interviews outside of Singapore such as the States. They actually enjoyed the stuff, saying that this was something different compared to the stuff that is coming out of South East Asia, even Wikipedia says it,. Being different, unfortunately with Singaporeans, is not a good thing.
M: You become a deviant.
R: Yes you become a deviant, an outsider, an outcast, and no one wants to be that. So we have taken that chance to do that because our band is actually made up of a prog-head, our drummer is everything, he listens to Bhangra. Bhangra beats are complex by the way. He listens to Bhangra, R&B and spanish flamenco music. I listen to really underground techno stuff and all that, stuff like Blood Stain Child, folk music.
M: Industrial and dark wave as well. Plus I’m influenced by voice actors like Chris Latta, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, David Kaye etc..
R: So we come from different musical background. The other thing is also that we are all movie fans. I’m a movie fan, Shai’s a movie fan, Anand loves movies as well. The thing is if you are going to into a music scene, especially here in Singapore, it’s changed in 15-20 years. I used to go to gigs at Sundays at Substation. I’ll be there every 2 weeks, I was back in school back then. It will be a mix of bands from the punk, hardcore and metal scene and everyone were friends. And now, it’s sad. It’s very sad.
HMT: We were curious because at the gig when you performed, a lot of people looked confused as to what was going on, especially your stage antics and the silver body paint.
R: Okay, the thing is, Mithun is the frontman. No matter what happens, he’s the main guy though I started the band in 2004. I’m a violent guy when I’m on stage. I actually don’t remember what I do when I’m on stage.
M: He beat up the whole band once. I remember some of us got thrown across the stage.
R: It was more of a thing like we don’t have a frontman and when Mithun’s not around, I take over the frontman thing because you need someone to lead the band. So if it’s one guy doing something, there is nothing wrong with it. I have seen Behemoth, and the session guitarist walks out with his face slashed, not Nergal. Nergal didn’t do it, he only had a mask and everyone was looking at the other guitarist, like FUCK! There is blood coming out!
M: If you watch Killswitch Engage, it’s the guitarist and Howard Jones (vocals), both of them fronting the band. That’s how they work. Showmanship is really an important factor for us.
R: The thing is, for example. You look at Impiety, you see Shyaithan (frontman) come all the way in front. You look at his back lines, the Mexicans, the Italians which are playing right now or the original line-ups and all that, everyone has been different, and everyone does their own thing. Before the silver stuff, I just draw a black line. It’s an image. If you can’t accept the image, too bad. The guitarist from Killswitch Engage he runs around stage with a cape.
M: And he does some really crazy stuff as well.
R: Yeah! He does really weird stuff! Black Sabbath. Tomy Iommi is Black Sabbath. He wears an overcoat, he plays there and everyone shouts for him.
M: Look at Dragonforce, with everyone running around.
R: Herman Li, and he’s not the frontman! So in terms of that, you need a performer. When Mithun is not around, somebody needs to lead the band. Sathish did a good job, Joel is doing an excellent job as well. Joel did the first gig with us and it was really amazing. I thought Mithun was on stage. I thought, fuck it, I wanted to do something different. So, this is it. As Trey Azagthoth once said, if you listen only to metal, you are an asshole. You need to get your entire stuff out, you need to listen to a lot of ideas. And he’s a gamer. His favourite anime is Sailormoon! He also listens to really weird classical stuff!
M: I listen to metal and I don’t even refer to myself as a metalhead.
HMT: Is there anything else you’d like us to ask?
R: Ask us a stupid question.
HMT: Is there one question that you think that we should have asked but we didn’t?
R: That’s the question. “Why?” “Errrr…. Because?” Ok , in the end, we are just a bunch of guys, we all have our own jobs and Mithun is still in school and we just want to play. We don’t want to try to be different but we are different, and that’s just who we are! Thats Why..hahaha
HMT: Alright, that’s all that we have for you! Thank you for the interview!
R + M: Thank you too!
Deus Ex Machina on MySpace.
Album Review: Deus Ex Machina – I, Human