We took the chance to sit down with Malthusian‘s Matt Bree (guitars and vocals) and new entry Tom McKenna (guitars) just before their gig in Milan, while touring supported by US youngsters Suffering Hour. Lots of things were said, even more were thought, the most were drunk. We started off recalling their past Italian gigs and the vibes they got. The best one they could retrace was doubtlessly the one-day fest where Mortuary Drape was headlining, Navajo Calling Fest back in 2015. “Mortuary Drape under a full Moon, that was fucking cool”.
I asked this to start off because an usual topic in your interviews is your country, Ireland, and the small national scene. Here in Italy we have more or less the same problem, there’s not much room for underground metal…
MB: Well, that time was busy, because there were “big” bands playing, but other times we were playing here and shit, nobody was there. On the other hand that Navajo Calling left a really good impression on us.
Pretty relatable to the Irish situation then?
MB: Well, yes, Ireland’s always going to have a small scene. It’s just the way it is. But it’s healthier, it’s doing very well. Recently Sacrilegia came out and they’ll be playing Maryland Deathfest, which is great for a newborn band, but generally it’s the same sort of things that carries on. No real change, at least the people playing the music don’t change much [chuckles].
Moving now to the things that you do: your debut, Across Deaths, was released in 2018 on Invictus Productions. After one year it’s time to look back and take stock.
MB: Yeah, it’s a mixed feedback. The album took a long time to come out, and maybe we missed an opportunity to work on the momentum we had with the demo and the ep… But I fucking love it. It’s always going to be a subjective thing when it comes to something like that anyway, but yeah, we had Darragh of Invictus releasing Across Deaths in Europe and Matt from Dark Descent taking care of the US, so everything is fine. But there’s so much fucking music coming out today. Even us as fans…
TMK: It’s fucking hard to keep up with all that.
MB: And people are more and more thicker now, they change so quick, everything happens so fast and so many people get lost in the milieu… But it’s time for us to dig our heels in.
And what do you try to convey with your music?
MB: Nothing. This is just the music we love. Of course it’s rooted in darkness, it’s direct, it shakes and stimulates me creatively. I think that comes across very well in the music, but it’s not something we do consciously.
So the plan is to release something new soon?
MB: Well, it won’t be this year anyway, but hopefully…
TMK: We are working on an EP, and we’d like to release it sooner rather than later, hopefully early next year.
MB: We just started working on it, Tom is new, he joined when Andy [Cunningham, voice and guitars] left. He toured with us before, when I couldn’t go, and he was the only option. And we started writing. It’s all coming together nicely, but we had to put a lot into it, John [King, drummer for Dread Sovereign, Conan and several others] is a very busy man, but the ball is rolling. We’re starting to get excited.
You brought this up: you had your first line-up change…
MB: The only line-up change, yeah.
What happened with Andy?
MB: Just… Fucking… It’s run its course, like… We’re all getting old. He got married, he’s got a kid now, a job and all that. Life takes over.
TMK: I played with ’em in 2015, in the US, and then I was busy myself and now I am back because Andy left, you know.
MB: But even Andy said it, straight away, he sent it in the same message: “Just get Tom to do it”. It would have been the only option, really. If Tom refused we would have probably packed it in. With Andy we’re all still best friends, we were all at his engagement party, at his wedding.
I was curious about this because as you probably know there are not many bands able to keep the same line-up for years, and I recall Andy was the one in charge of most of the interviews…
MB: Fuck, let him do them all!
TMK: Man he likes to talk! [all laugh]
That’s why I was surprised he was not part of the gang anymore.
MB: Yeah, he’s such a passionate man about this music. And, yeah, Andy fucking loves to talk, so we were always happy to let him do the interviews.
TMK: It was me who sorted out this interview, I told Matt about it like an hour ago. “By the way, we’re going to do an interview”.
MB: The two guys who are inside just went “NO. FUCKING. WAY.”
Well Matt you also released an interview with Bardo Methodology last year, you do like to talk as well after all.
MB: True, that was me, but Andy did the first one.
That’s the way I like interviews, discussing with the band and not just asking mindlessly when the next album is going to be released… And I remember that one of the topics you covered was drugs.
MB: Yeah, nobody wants to read that shit anymore, that’s why Bardo is an amazing magazine. [Laughs] Correct, it was drugs, to an extent. Niklas [Göransson, Bardo Methodology editor] is mad about psychedelics and we discussed all of that previously, so it all tended to go in that direction. And I like drugs, I do drugs [all laugh]. But doing the interview with him to me was so much more than music, and I was shitting myself because, you know, topics with him are so different, way more interpersonal, it just took that flow. But it’s all relevant to the person you are, where in the world you are from and your fucking madness within.
Sure thing, and the more you understand the person, the more you understand and appreciate the music. Another hint I got from that piece is that you’re passionate about techno.
MB: Absolutely, I’m into all music. Techno is amazing.
As I recall you said it all comes down to being stricken by the music. My personal feeling is that mainstream music, which has always been cozy and welcoming, in a way, is becoming easier and easier and easier, while electronic underground music.
MB: Is fighting back. Makes you tormented. Frightened. Definitely true, and even mainstream electronic music lately seems to be getting heavier and dirtier, across the board. And yeah, stuff like Vatican Shadow is extremely direct music, then there’s stuff like Daughters, that’s not specifically electronic but it’s getting fairly big and it’s dark and oppressive. I like pop music as well, it’s got its time and its place, but yeah, needless to say it’s in the underground that I can see more deviant and noisy stuff.
Talking about music which is far from metal: you said in your album there are contributions all over the album by Cormac MacDiarmada from Lankum, is that right? Where is that? I really cannot find much of that violin.
MB: Indeed. All the end of “The Gloom Epoch” is viola and fiddle [ok, that can be heard, indeed – Bosj]. Lankum are all friends of ours and Cossie came up with the idea and it was beautiful to get away from the noise for a while recording. He fucking nailed it. He put so much down, and that’s what we ended up using, because it’s tricky to get a good placement for all that. At first we were like: “What are we supposed to do with this?”. He just landed it in and I think it’s perfect, it definitely captures the feel of our album.
So I expect Malthusian to be featured on their incoming album.
MB: Lankum’s? Nooo.
TMK: That’d be cool, though [all laugh]
They release a video just days ago, if I’m not mistaken.
MB: Yeah, “The Wild Rover”. And we were talking about drugs, right? That’s all a trippy madness! But no, us on their album, that won’t work at all! But I’m really psyched for their album, they got darker and dronier, which is amazing for a band that was initially getting some sort of “mainstream” success. And then you change your name [Lankum was originally called Lynched] and get more unconventional… There’s confidence in doing that, and they do it well, and people seem to like it, which is amazing. Making big changes and having people showing their appreciation to drony songs.
TMK: Well they’ve always been kind of weird, “The Turkish Reveille” on their last album, that was drony.
MB: Right, that whole album was seriously drony man. And this version of The Wild Rover is based on an older version, it’s not the one people are used to. They’re really putting some research into their tunes.
Talking about research, one of the main topics in older interviews conducted by Andy was…
Still developing that concept now that Andy’s out?
MB: No. Andy wrote all the lyrics. I wrote some for the demo, but I love Andy style of writing, and he loves writing, so I was happy to just let him go with that. Johnny is also an archaeologist actually, seems like in the band we’re into digging fucking holes. I just dig ’em in other ways, not with a shovel. But it’s amazing, some things he used, those beautiful concepts he brought into the music. That’s something we’ll have to readdress. I wouldn’t mind him writing lyrics still, but that does not float as well with the other people, so that probably won’t happen, at least not knowingly…
TMK: Yeah, we’ve been riding together for several years and we’re all on the same wavelength, so musically we’re not worried at all. We started jamming and everything went smoothly, it’s sounding exactly how we wanted it to.
MB: The lyrics on the other hand… They were his fucking duty. We’ll smuggle him back in.
Coming to lyrics, a weird question. In extreme metal there’s always been a fascination for fantasy and escapism, since the early years. In recent years I could see a shift towards the more cosmic aspects of existence.
MB: Blood Incantation.
Exactly, or the whole cosmic black metal wave, with concepts about astral bodies, universes and all that. And I think you fit into that area, talking about archaeology but dealing with planet Earth, digging those holes you mentioned. Why do you think this is happening? Is it just because hell and trolls lost their appeal?
MB: That’s a fucking really weird question. [all laugh]
TMK: I believe this had more to do with the fact that everything sort of evolved. At a point in time in metal you could get away with singing about whatever, about the devil or whips and leather and chains. But everything has to evolve and you cannot come out as a band thirty years after the facts, after all that stuff’s been done, do it yourself and not sound like a fucking retarded. There’s bands that do it and I love them, I respect those who can make it and keep that kind of ridiculous lyrics, Midnight for instance, and actually make something good with their music, but apart from those few everything’s got to evolve, for some people. Me included, I couldn’t write that sort of lyrics and be ok with myself. You can’t just rehash the same things over and over and over. Shit’s got to go further. Now everything’s incorporated into a wider look at the universe.
MB: The way you look at the universe I think it has much to do with the internet. When it was all about Tolkien people were just reading them books. Now everything is there, and for the cosmic side of things, well, nothing will make you feel more insignificant. This sheer bleakness, you know? To some degree, people want to be taken more seriously, rather than, well…
TMK: Satan, leather and chains.
[Me pointing at Tom’s Grotesque t-shirt] Grotesque were teens that growled about Satan, but that was thirty years ago, those guys matured just like the whole concept of extreme metal.
TMK: It was different before. Take The Lord Of The Rings. In the Nineties you had to read it, it was a niche thing, but then in 2001 everybody knew about it, everybody discovered that names and concepts came from there. “Oh, Gorgoroth? Yeah, they took their name from The Lord Of The Rings”.
MB: But hey, my name’s always been Bree. [all laugh]
Actually that’s a good observation, this focus shift is a way to become even more exclusive.
TMK: Absolutely! In the 90s it was exclusive to read Tolkien books. It was a thing for few people.
MB: Mainstream culture just sucked it in and churned it out, spits it back out. And it happens faster and faster, and people get tired of everything more quickly every day. It works like this with music, but also with films and everything else. Man, this ended up being a very interesting question.
Glad you dug it.
MB: See, we’re good at talking shit.
I want to discuss your name for a second: Malthusian. So you’re positive about the fact that mankind is the cause of its own demise? We’re the root of all evil and we’re destined to fail?
MB: Yes. Yes. It’s a thing my mom told to my dad what, ten years ago, and I had a lot of time to reflect on it. I can see that in every facet of life. We’re constantly fucking ourselves over and over and over, in every aspect. And even if it is some kind of fantasy notion, saying stuff like “we are the problem”, the thing is that we definitely are. It is our fault. Rich people get richer, poor get poorer, the thing keeps going on and who gives a fuck. I’m ok with that as well, I guess. Fuck it, I’m gonna get drunk and die.
TMK: Yeah. [and the two share a sip of their canned beer]
MB: This coming from people with no family, no children, nothing like that. Of course, this way it’s easier to say so, when you’re out at least partially of the problem.
But it’s also your choice to enter this kind of problem. I know I could not afford children, or a family.
MB: I want a fucking dog, man!
I couldn’t even afford a dog, I’m out of my house 14 hours a day.
MB: You’d kill the poor fuck. So yeah, people do, they knowingly go into these situations, so… Yeah, as a fucking grown adult: this is what they’ve done, it’s their choice, I shouldn’t have to give a shit about their fucking kids. Unless… She’s fucking beautiful. [everybody laughs]