ZT INTERROGATION: REPRISAL SHARE THE STING IN THEIR TALE…
Reprisal: in the words of ZT writer Chris Kee, their self-released Ichneumanity is “a strong opening statement from a band with plenty of potential”. Following their appearance on issue 057’s covermount CD, what better time to catch up with the band’s founding members, Ollie du Toit and Theo Brooke, to discuss wasps, Charles Darwin and being told to shut the fuck up by Russ Russell.
ZT: Tell us a bit about the band; when you formed, how you formed, what your intentions were at the time etc. Ollie: Reprisal came from an intensive period of horror movie watching, beer drinking and the occasional exchange of musical ideas between the two of us around 2009/2010. We come from vastly different places as musicians, but managed to find common ground more often than not. Whether it be Arise-era Sepultura worship, being amused by the fact that the ‘Men Behaving Badly’ theme inexplicably emerges at the very beginning of Nile’s Black Seeds Of Vengeance record (first track, 0:24, can never be unheard) or acknowledging that there is ALWAYS time for hair metal.
Theo: We started without a clearly defined sound in mind, but we always seemed to gravitate toward hooky riffs with splashes of technicality. We always knew we wanted fast tempos, but over time we found more and more use for groove. Tight song structures are at the heart of what we do, as well as the awareness that at its core, the best metal is just good ol’ rock n’ roll. Our often hilarious DIY demos gradually came together and when we recruited Sion on drums, we began to form ‘songs’. With Tom joining on vocals in 2012, we started to evolve from a crossover thrash-meets-Motörhead style into the death thrash sound we have today.
ZT: Ichneumanity: what thought went into the album in terms of theme, song titles etc. Ichneumonidae represents a family of insects, your title clearly references this, made all the more apparent by Dan Seagrave’s brilliant cover artwork, which we’ll discuss later. Can you interpret the album title for us? Theo: I became interested in the ichneumon wasp when I read a letter Charles Darwin wrote to a botanist called Asa Gray about a year after The Origin Of Species was published. He said that he doesn’t believe that a ‘beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars’. The rest of the letter is about the unfavourable reviews and criticism the book received, and alludes to Darwin’s own struggle to reconcile the truth of his discovery with his faith. He concludes that while he ‘had no intention to write aetheistically’, he felt that the life cycle of the ichneumon wasp gave him no choice.
To me the letter says that to Darwin, the cost of understanding was to have to regard both the very best and the absolute worst things with a kind of ‘banal equality’, as real and unreal were not things that he could choose based on his personal beliefs, but were given to him by his investigation of the world. As a concept, Ichneumanity is about what a complete, morally neutral portrait of ourselves, both as a species and as individuals, would look like. Or sound like, as the case may be.
ZT: The demo scored an impressive 4/6 in the latest issue of ZT, with the reviewer commenting on your ability to “blend old-school elements with modern awareness and aggression” to great effect. Was this intentional or simply a result of your influences? What bands, old and new, would you cite as influential in Reprisal’s sound? Ollie: My writing style is firmly rooted in the thrash and death metal traditions of Testament, Death, Coroner and Exodus. I rarely analyse the genesis of our sound, but it probably came about as a result of using these classic influences whilst also refusing to adopt the standpoint that no incredible music has been written since 1991. I’m equally inspired by musicians pushing the outer limits of what the metal genre can be (guys like Mastodon and Meshuggah) as I am by bands showing that you can still breathe new life into existing archetypes (Havok, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder). All of this keeps me excited about what the future holds musically.
Theo: To me, ‘modern’ metal is kind of schizophrenic: it’s either achingly dull (Machine Head/ deathcore/ those millennial American bands whose continuing popularity has long exceeded any kind of cultural relevance) or completely insane (Revocation). Writing metal used to be about gradually increasing the intricacy and extremity, but in 2014 it’s as much about the challenge of finding new things to do with the template as it is about making something abrasive sound listenable AND compelling.
Carcass are the masters of this: it’s one thing to have a string of great riffs, but like them, we see using modern extreme metal ‘shapes’ to write memorable songs as the biggest challenge in metal today. TL:DR – Carcass, Revocation, Sepultura, Napalm Death, Gojira. Also, Ginger Wildheart: greatest songwriter of all time.
ZT: The demo’s mixed and mastered by Russ Russell. What was the experience like for the band and why did you specifically choose Russ? Ollie: When we finished writing Ichneumanity, we found ourselves toying with whether or not to produce ourselves or to use friends with studio chops. During this period we also decided to fire off some emails to a few production legends (expecting them to be swiftly filed under ‘spam’), and Russ replied enthusiastically about the demo we had sent him. The rest is a matter of record.
Theo: Russ does not mess about when it comes to making great records. It’s not every day you get to see a man responsible for some of the most important albums to you personally twiddling knobs to make something you did in your bedroom sound like you didn’t do it in your bedroom. Also he’s also got a really diplomatic way of telling you to shut the fuck up when you’re being annoying. I really value that in a person.
ZT: You used Dan Seagrave for the cover artwork , what prompted this and what process did you go through with him to get to the end result? Theo: Fuck the rest, get the best basically. Dan Seagrave album art is not just album art. It’s Dan Seagrave Album Art. For me, his work has always defined what metal is visually: it’s intricate and monolithic, and like the very best metal it manages to find both beauty and sadness in that oppressive hugeness. As a teenager I had a huge poster of Gateways To Annihilation by Morbid Angel which I used to stare at for hours, and so when it came to who was going to do the Ichneumanity art, we thought we’d at least try and get him to do something for us.
He’s amazing to work with; he told us our original idea was too pretentious and complicated, and scaled it back into something more compositionally focused. He also suggested using an unconventional (for metal) colour palette in order to make the design really jump out. Watching him gradually create something that incredible out of an idea you came up with in your kitchen was a genuinely humbling experience and testament to his unearthly ability.
Basically he’s Dan Seagrave.
ZT: How do you view the current UK death metal scene and what bands, if any, do you bear any allegiance to? Theo: In the past 2 or 3 years, the UK extreme metal scene has very quietly become the best in world; only now are stalwarts like Napalm Death and Carcass putting out the absolute best records of their careers. Flayed Disciple’s debut is hands down the best death metal album of the past 5 years, Penthos by Ageless Oblivion is a record of astonishing breadth and Gojira-like vision, and the upcoming releases from Bloodshot Dawn, Seprevation and AGHAST! will be uncompromising masterclasses in extreme metal.
The most exciting live show I’ve seen for some time was a black metal band called Exquisite Ending playing in the back room of a pub in Guildford: it ended with three men, their faces obscured by black hoods, screaming ‘THERE IS NO GOD’ repeatedly over an oppressive fortress of feedback while monochrome suicidal imagery looped on a screen behind them. This is not happening anywhere else.
It’s an incredibly idiosyncratic and varied scene, typically British and overflowing with quality. We’re genuinely honoured to be a part of it.
ZT: If you had to encourage people to listen to Ichneumanity, what would you say to convince them it’s a worthwhile use of their time? Ollie: We write extreme metal that sticks in your head. We never compromise on aggression, but we also write enormous hooks. Our philosophy is that the point at which the spectre of Eddie Van Halen disappears from the rear-view mirror is also the point at which the wheels fall off the car. We terrify and caress in equal measure; sort of like being lovingly spooned by The Faceless Creature Of Inconceivable Monstrosity.
The consumption of music is changing in such a way, that with recorded music, you are often competing for the attention of listeners along with any number of other things, but playing live gives you the opportunity to be loud and obnoxious, giving people no choice but to subjected to a damned good thrashing. Plus, from a purely egotistical standpoint, nothing beats the realisation that something you created is causing strangers in front of you to windmill themselves senseless.
ZT: Do you have any live shows coming up and do Reprisal relish taking to the stage or see it as a necessity in today’s climate? Ollie: We will be opening a few shows on Bonded By Blood’s UK tour in May (London, Bristol and Brighton) and will also be playing the prestigious Headbanger’s Balls charity event in London (with Fleshrot, Flayed Disciple and many more) this November.