Metal music is anything but a stagnant genre. Off-shoots and subgenres wax and wane constantly, frequently with other types of music that are often associated with metal due to their dark or aggressive tones. Industrial is a fine example. Its avant-garde fusion of rock and electronic has and still is grouped in to other types and styles of hard rock. Within the history of both genres, eventually the two would meet and spawn their own offspring of the appropriately titled “industrial metal.” In the St. Louis, MO-area market, one of the longest-running industrial metal outfits is Thanatos Eternal. Originally forming in 1998, the group was spearheaded by guitarist/vocalist Brian Long. In Damnation Magazine’s final published interview of 2015, I learned from Brian of Thanatos Eternal’s history from the beginning, their experiences and observations since their inception, and current plans and projects into and past this year.
Thanatos Eternal is a band that’s been around for a few years now. What is your observation of the climate and environment of St. Louis’ local music scene now vs. when the band started?
I can definitely say that metal in particular has exploded in the St. Louis area, back when we had first started playing out you could count the metal bands on one hand, now it seems as though the main focus amongst the younger crowd has migrated away from hardcore and definitely into metal. Industrial has always been a niche market and for the most part industrial bands and noise or experimental groups have all but gone underground from the gig scene to where they were ten years ago. So I have mixed opinions. It’s great to see bands like Lion’s Daughter and Black Fast get exposure that metal bands couldn’t have dreamed of years ago in the region but at the same time I feel as though I am definitely seeing more genre-specific bands and fewer bands that aren’t afraid to break new ground artistically. Within the last couple of years the number of venues in St. Louis for live music catering to heavier music has expanded greatly so that’s definitely provided a lot of new opportunity as well. Overall, contrary to the nay-saying one always hears about the “scene being dead,” I think this is a vibrant time for music in St. Louis, particularly metal.
Thanatos Eternal has also seen a number of lineup changes throughout its tenure. How has this affected the dynamic of the band as a unit, as well as the music itself?
Thanatos Eternal has definitely run through a number of minor members over the years, as well as guest members from other bands or organizations. I can definitely say that trying to organize that has at times been like herding cats, but when it works, it works smashingly. The core of the group has always been myself and Dave Norman with Brad Harkness and Tim Bishop filling out as the other regular contributors. The influx of musical styles has overall been a wonderful thing and has kept us from being stagnant, mostly because while there is some crossover in what everyone listens to, we all have vastly different tastes running the gamut of styles. Dave is deeply involved in more traditional death/black metal with plenty of bands like Genghis Tron thrown in. I come from a background in death metal, early industrial, classical, neo-folk, prog, and avant-garde stuff along the lines of Unexpect, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, or Spektr. Brad brings Grindcore, Electronica, and noise, to the mix. Tim has always added flavors that run the other direction along the lines of Blonde Redhead, Joy Division, and Big Black. We were working with Ryan O’Brien from Cross Examination to be our new drummer, unfortunately his schedule is precluding that from happening but just seeing what we sound like with a solid thrash drummer has definitely put us on the path to seeking that out. To be honest, what drives the human to technology aspect of our sound is more a factor of time and availability rather than personal preference, the machines fill in where we can’t find a person. I’ve always been a fan of bands that don’t sound like other bands so embracing the mixture of styles has become almost a mission.
As an industrial/metal outfit, what challenges does Thanatos Eternal face in existing and competing in the St. Louis-area music market? How does it compare to other areas or markets in which you’ve performed or even lived or visited?
Markets are always fluid. These days we don’t have much difficulty competing in the St. Louis Industrial scene for the same reason that there aren’t many industrial bands to play with, the whole scene seems to have completely dried up. We flow well into the metal scene, particular amongst the bands we know, but there are certainly some metal purists who aren’t really into what we do, but overall reception has been pretty good. The city overall is struggling a bit to get mid-range touring acts based on some of the criminal element, which is easily avoided with a little common sense and has sadly been exaggerated (I have been playing out for years without incident), and the fact that the city is off the beaten path for most tours, being roughly equidistant from the coasts. But struggling to get tours is something St. Louis has always dealt with and I feel the city has the venue infrastructure to be more supportive of touring acts. Unfortunately for us, it’s rare that industrial acts get West of Chicago, but when they do, we end up playing with them. Which has definitely been fun and good for us.
There’s a vast amount of different instruments in Thanatos Eternal, some of which traditional for metal and industrial (synthesizers, samples, programming), but also violin. How do you utilize these different instruments and their sounds when writing songs?
Song-writing is definitely a weird process in this band, it seems to start in one of three places, the drum machine, the piano, or the guitar. From there it becomes a concept and that concept, intellectual or emotional, drives the sound and the instrument palette. More often than not we end up removing parts before the final product because we get a bit overzealous and put too much in. The pianos, violin, and viola are beginning to come more to the forefront and I feel that this is an effort to be more artistically minded while trying to maintain the overall “frenzied oppression” of the sound, while finding new ways to express it. We have always wanted a cellist and that has never effectively panned out, which is a bit of a disappointment. It’s shocking how often we end up writing a piece of music for one instrument that ends up being played on another. So many bands seem to have this concept of the exact layout of a band (i.e. Black metal = drums, bass, 2 guitars, keyboard, vocals) and we’ve just always thought that was ridiculous and limiting, we live in an age where technology allows us to have an entire symphony at our fingertips and eight string guitars can accelerate your carpal tunnel syndrome, there is no excuse not to push the envelope and branch our. Also, I will not rest until Thrash Metal Violin is a respected and accepted genre of music.
Last time we talked, you said that you were working on a new album before you left for overseas. What’s the current status of this, and what are your goals or direction for this album as compared to your previous efforts?
Thankfully all the tracks are laid down now and I think in total it is something like 19 tracks ranging from thirty seconds to over nine minutes. Mixing and mastering is ongoing but everyone who heard it is giving us generally positive feedback. It’s been an endeavor because we’ve undergone a lot of dramatic line-up changes during the process and we all work full-time or more and at this point I don’t remember a time before we were recording. The overall feel of this record is pretty Schizophrenic and not to go into detail but I think we all kind of lost our marbles at some point during it’s creation. The sound ranges from percussion heavy grindcore to industrial noise to orchestral. We have a harpsichord. We have guest appearances from the vocalists from Sinfinis and Hanzel Und Gretyl and the lead chair viola player of the Phoenix Symphony. We have a remix by Hanzel Und Gretyl, and hopefully a remix by St. Louis musician Overthink who was formerly with Polarized Mind once I get him the raw tracks. We’ve covered The Sisters of Mercy, Nine Inch Nails, and Gerard McMann on this. The last you can hear on YouTube as a preliminary promo, just search for “Thanatos Eternal Cry Little Sister.” Once the whole product is complete our goal is to shop for European exposure and distribution and to push for the movie/TV/video game market. So watch out for samples once I start pushing promos out through online sites and magazines for review and exposure. Thanks a lot for giving us the opportunity to talk about it.
Be on the lookout for Thanatos Eternal’s next album, tentatively titled As Empty As God.