A swirling vortex of misanthropic doom, death and black metal, Malthusian’s MMXIII demo hinted toward the growing presence of an utterly depraved yet dynamic beast in Ireland’s extreme metal underworld. After the release’s initial pressing sold out almost immediately, Malthusian gained an underground prominence that belied the fact that they had only formed a year earlier, yet the unbridled potency the four-piece wielded revealed a band already dominant in their intent and dedicated in their art.
After going on to carve out a deadly reputation on the live stage with support slots for Bolzer, Altar of Plagues, and other boundary-pushing extreme metal acts, Malthusian recently further vindicated their mounting acclaim with the astoundingly dark and noxiously immersive Below the Hengiform EP [reviewed here]. The release pushes the already high standards of the band’s demo even further, offering three mercilessly imposing anthems of sonic extremism that merge suffocatingly dense subterranean atmosphere with wild, apocalyptic violence. After developing mild tinnitus as a result of numerous listens, Unholy Noise had to get in touch with the band to find out just how they managed to hone such an unforgiving sound, what obscure archaeology has to do with their music, and what drives the band to stray from extreme metal’s beaten path.
Hey guys, cheers for the interview. To get us started can you give us a brief introduction to Malthusian?
Malthusian came together in early 2012. MB and JK decided to have a jam sometime before that and realized they were coming up with some cool stuff and so they asked myself, AC, and PG to try out. Once the lineup was established we started really working on getting the songs in shape and a lot of time was spent writing riffs, chucking riffs out and chopping and juggling them around until we had what we felt was a strong set. Our first gig was with Gospel of the Horns, Bolzer and Zom in late 2012. Invictus Productions had expressed interest early on and after the first gig we agreed to work together. That’s more or less it.
The band’s name directly relates Thomas Malthus’ theory of a necessary and forced return to subsistence living following over-population. How does this theory resonate with your personal interpretation of society, and how do such concepts work their way into your music?
On the first demo we used the Malthusian idea to get the creative juices flowing, most notably on The Mother’s Blade, as it was colourful, dark and somewhat novel. We knew we didn’t want to regurgitate Satanic ideas as none of us are interested in that beyond being fans of a lot of Satanic bands. We have no interest in being labeled as a Malthusian themed band though, even though that seems to be happening already which I think is indicative of the power of the name. With the new songs the lyrics have a different focus, an overarching theme of trying to capture a point of change, of transition, of being suspended in the liminal space between the living, physical world and the world of the dead. Obviously there is a lot more going on as well but that seems to have become a thread that connects the songs.
After the strong reception of the ‘MMXIII’ demo Malthusian began touring at a high level and received much acclaim in the underground early in your life as a band. How are you feeling about the current status of the band, and did this feedback affect the writing and recording of the new EP?
The feedback from the demo has been incredible and we have been lucky to have Invictus behind the scenes pushing us in the right direction in terms of gigs. We are just back from a tour with Altar of Plagues which was a resounding success on all fronts and a really great experience. James from AOP mastered the demo and is into what we are doing and he wanted us on their farewell tour, which was a great honour and a massive boost for our profile. As far as feedback from the demo feeding into the writing process for the new EP, the answer to that is that it didn’t. When we close the door to the rehearsal room we shut out the rest of the world and completely focus on making the most interesting music we can. That is not something you can force, at least not in our case. We know ourselves when we have something exciting on the go, and that is the best gauge, so whatever people make of it later on is not something we worry too much about.
Musically the two releases seem both to show the band going from finding to honing your sound, while clearly demonstrating an already savage and coherent approach to your music that has only been refined for ‘Below the Heingform’. How do you feel Malthusian have developed musically between releases?
I think that we just continued doing what we did on the demo. That is to say, we didn’t want to write three songs for the demo that all sounded the same, rather we worked on making each song distinctive and surprising. With the new EP we followed the same approach. We had absolutely no interest in rewriting the demo, we always want to push each song into new territory, or territory that is new to us, at least. It’s cool to hear that people think we have a distinctive sound as that was always our aim. There are so many excellent bands operating now and we want to stand with them, not spend our time playing catch-up by trying to just rip off what they are doing. That said, a good riff is a good riff and we don’t see ourselves as revolutionizing DM in any way. Writing great songs that fit within our chosen framework is the most important thing.
Does ’Below the Hengiform’ have any particular conceptual or lyrical basis? Judging by the title alone the release seems to have more of a focused approach than the MMXIII (2013) demo; could you expand on this?
Definitely. As I mentioned before there is a loose theme of being torn between two planes of existence, or maybe between a plane of existence and one of non-existence? That idea has spilled out a bit from that fairly fixed visual idea. With Slouching Equinox I was playing with the theme of seasonal change, moving from the full blooming life of summer into the barren winter. The hengiform is an obscure archaeological reference that JK came across in his studies that lent a strong visual element to the ideas we were playing with in the lyrics. I also love playing with language and I find inspiration in odd places- working as an archaeologist helps. I read a lot but I’m not really arsed reading Lovecraft and all the usual authors that metal bands regurgitate ad nauseam. Again, I’d rather wander off the beaten track to find something new.
Malthusian have the complex, dense compositional approach of bands like Portal, Antedeluvian etc. yet imbue the sound with a more doom-centric vibe than these more established bands. Have you purposely aimed for a sound that can’t be as easily lumped in with existing bands? How have you approached the development and direction of your sound if so?
We didn’t want to be just another face in the scene that disappears into insignificance. Those bands you mentioned are leaders because they have found their own sound and that is where we take our inspiration. It’s much more interesting to try to develop a sound that is our own. The doom element naturally crept in. The original idea was for the band to play DM but we soon realized that we had a lot more ideas to work with and rather than veto ideas that didn’t fit neatly into the original plan we just let the songs find their own shape. Three of us are involved in other doom projects so it is unsurprising that that has become a large part of our sound and we are obsessive black metal fans too, which will tell you something.
Most of Malthusian’s members are/have been involved in some of Ireland’s other extreme metal groups; Altar of Plagues, Mourning Beloveth, Abaddon Incarnate to name a few. What does Malthusian offer creatively and personally in contrast to these other projects?
It’s a completely different experience as none of us had ever played together before. The dynamic is different, the ideas are different and the goals are different. I suppose that playing a broad mix of styles with Malthusian has opened up the possibilities with what we can do but you just sort of adapt to any band you are involved in. Ultimately it is about creativity and feeling that creative buzz, so in that regard it is no different to any of our other bands.
Following on from this, with yourselves, Zom, Slidhr etc. putting out some excellent extreme metal and your members being involved in various projects also, (I loved Krawwl’s split/Abaddon Incarnate’s record last year), it seems Ireland’s extreme metal underground is in healthy condition? Can you give us some insight into your experiences of producing this music in Ireland?
The scene here is pretty strong at the minute. I’d also recommend Vircolac, Terminus, Rebirth of Nefast, Wild Rocket and Venus Sleeps for anyone curious about what’s going on. Playing metal in Ireland over the last decade or more has been interesting. The scene has had its ups and downs in terms of bands but there haven’t been many success stories beyond Primordial. Look at Mourning Beloveth for example. Their last album is unreal and by rights they should be a lot bigger than they are but somehow they haven’t made the leap to a wider audience. They have signed a new record contract that promises a lot so hopefully they’ll get the recognition they deserve. Things seem to be turning, though. There is a palpable buzz around Irish bands at the moment so we’ll see what happens.
Judging by your already relatively high level touring (supporting Bolzer, Altar of Plagues and European tours), and a pair of strong releases, things seem to be pretty focused and purposeful in the Malthusian camp. Music aside, what has been your approach to the band’s overall existence and identity so far?
I’m not really sure what to say about that. We just focus on writing songs that excite us, lyrics that are somewhat interesting and atypical and making the visuals add an extra bit of depth to the whole thing. That’s all we can do, anything beyond that is out of our hands.
Thanks again for your time and answers! What does the future hold for Malthusian, and do you have any final comments?
Thanks a lot for the interview. We will be on tour in Europe supporting Negative Plane in the summer and we will start working on new songs for an eventual album.