Since their inception in 2010, Hadal Maw have fast procured a stature as a benchmark for creating new perspectives on heavy music. Emerging onto the Australia live metal scene in late 2012 with their debut single, Shadow Caste, followed by extensive touring, they steadily amassed a dedicated following, culminating in 2014 with the release of their debut album Senium; a revitalising take on the technical death metal genre. Putting song writing, groove and creativity at the core of their ethos in place of sterile technicality and sheer brutality, Senium was met with acclaim from fans and critics alike.
After launching their debut album, the band continued taking their music around the country, finding themselves sharing the stage with the likes of Decapitated, Suffocation, Ne Obliviscaris, Psycroptic, Beyond Creation, King Parrot, Aborted and many more.
In 2018, the wealth of experience and toil in their creative pursuit have coalesced into Charlatan, an effort to drive the darkest elements of their practice to the forefront of their sound and realize a vision of creating the most oppressive sound in the genre.
Tonight, I am talking with Rob Brens, official beat keeper in the band.
After two well received albums, the band is not resting on its laurels. You’ve got a new EP out, Charlatan. Tell me a bit about the writing process for this one? “The full stream was out on Friday. We really didn’t do anything drastically different from what we have done in the past. Ben (Boyle) and Nick (Rackham) are the two main composers and the guitarists. Usually they’ll write a shell of tune to compose in and sometimes they’ll undertake the complete guitar tune, sometimes some guide-based parts. That’ll get circulated around the rest of us and then I’ll write my drum parts and it’ll go back. It then becomes a process of adjustment between the guitar and drum parts. Nick, who is the main producer of the band will then create a demo from his studio of the whole thing and then Sam (Dillon) will add his vocals over the top. Basically, we’ll have a completed instrumental song ready to go. Sam may make little adjustments here and there to make certain phrases fit better when he is laying down his vocals, but that is generally the order of it. We’ve tried doing the whole jamming thing in the band room, but we can be in there for about two hours and may be lucky to get two riffs up and running. Where the way we do it Nick can grind it out and we can have a full demo up and running of a song within a week. It’s obviously a lot more efficient that way”.
Brens continues: “I think because of how detailed the music is it makes sense to do it this way. Over the years we’ve gotten better and better at creating space for everyone. That was really noticeable on this one I became more and more sensitive to how busy and detailed the guitar work is so I’ve been stripping the drums back a lot further. On top of that we are actively trying to make space for vocals where previous efforts almost sounded like a full-blown instrumental odyssey with vocals smashed on top.”
What is the message you are trying to convey with your writing? Is it coming from personal experience, a comment on society? What? “Yeah probably more the latter, Sam is the lyric writer of the band. Last album it was each song was its own self-contained message, where this EP has its running commentary from start to finish. This time Sam was focusing a little more on world events and institutions, inherent instabilities at this point in time and what we could be looking at if it goes too far in a certain direction. Usually when people ask me I don’t want to go too far into that as I don’t want to put words in Sam’s mouth. But that is the general vibe of it.”
What bands were your inspiration when you were starting out? What sort of influences did they bring to your style? “Just drum wise? At the very start I was on to a massive Gojira and Mastodon trip, just because of how well they were marrying different genres of metal and creating a new sound out of it. This was at the time where Gojira were on their third or fourth album and creating this new wave of heavy stuff with atmospherics and a strong compositional element. This is all stuff that Nick would’ve been writing, it says on our Bio that we’ve been around since 2010 but he had all this stuff in the pipeline well and truly before that. Nick also draws his influences from a lot of classical stuff, composition in general. The very first Hadal Maw demos had like flutes and all kinds of crazy shit in it as he was producing it on his own. When I started to collaborate with him, I asked ‘Can we just ditch all the violins, flutes and shit like that?’ But that tends to be why there are so many counterparts going on in the songs. Which is funny because nowadays we are becoming more experimental, non-guitar instruments and samples. It’s come full circle – I mean there are still no flutes… But we are embracing that experimental side of things again. Personally, it’s becoming more about Meshuggah these days because I’ve noticed, especially drum wise, how much simpler it’s gotten again, and again. In the most recent album I’ve really noticed the groove and the space he was creating is so powerful and it’s something I wanted to bring in to our sound as well. You really notice this playing live, things just feel different when you start playing these songs to a crowd.”
Well that covers the next question I was going to ask. ‘The band seems to be forging its own identity, described in some spaces as breaking away from death metal. What was behind that and was it a conscious decision or just a natural progression?’ But I think you’ve answered that now, you are growing as a band and the whole move seems to be a natural progression. “We should’ve had a few reviews come out already and all nice comments aside, the best thing they’ve said is that this sounds like them (Hadal Maw). To me, that is one of the best things you can achieve, and we’ve been trying to do our best to avoid just sounding like other bands. Otherwise it feels a little bit redundant, there’s one Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Gojira – so we don’t really need to give people another one. I think it’s just age, experience. We released our first single, then two albums so it’s like we’ve already written twenty three or twenty four songs and the other five here (Charlatan). Going through that enough times, like full album productions, playing enough shows with enough bands, all of that is going to feed into your maturity. We’ve also became a bit consumed by the sludge metal thing and we wanted to see how we could inject that into our music. That’s going to naturally bring a lot more spacious approach to our writing.”
You’re out on the road with Taswegians Psycroptic and Canadians Archspire soon. What can punters expect from you guys? “A lot darker and filthier from our end, because it’s obviously a very technical and heavy bill. Archspire have that absurdly technical, fast, modern tech-death sound and Psycroptic are a much groovier, thrashier take on the technical death metal sound. We’re coming from a much darker and sludgier sound with the eight string guitars. We’ll be like just big fucking downer on everyone and then the other bands can brighten everyone back up again with the thrashier fun sort of shit. Even though it’s all cut from the same sort of cloth, I’m hoping for the discerning listeners they’ll get a nice breadth of heaviness from the three bands.”
This isn’t your first tour with Psycroptic, does that make it easier having that familiarity? “Oh, fuck yeah. Especially with Dave Haley (Psycroptic – drums), not just being on the bill, but running the show as he does. He doesn’t fuck around at all, you know that all the I’s are dotted and t’s are going to be crossed and all is going to be run really well. He’s got a great crew and all venues are ones that we’ve played before. Archspire are experienced tourers, so we just know that there’s going to be a lot of experienced people. They all know the ropes, the know what everyone else is doing and everyone there are all there to make everyone’s job easier and have a really good night of it. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it.”
It makes everything easier that way and you can just concentrate on your music and putting on the best show you can. “Totally, as long as we make sure we are pulling our weight and doing the right things. We can focus on starting on time, finishing on time, playing as good as we can and not getting embarrassed by two of the world’s best tech metal acts.”
What’s your favourite song to play live? “Ohh, this run we are going to be playing the new release start to finish. There’s a track on the album (not released as yet) called Vilify, which is pushing on seven minutes long. It’s the most different Hadal song that we’ve put together. It’s definitely one of the most fun to play at the moment. From previous releases, there’s a song called Simian Plague that we put out as one of the singles off the second album. It is another big, dirgy, heavy, breakdown, kind of song. The first album has a song called Altar of Ire which people tend to know so that’s always good fun to play. It tends to be the easier songs to be honest because you can get into it and have a lot of fun. The harder ones you are stuck in your own head, making sure you get it right but at least everyone else is having a good time with them.”
What’s the song that sends the fans mental? “Coil and Altar of Ire off the first album. I remember one time we had to cut a set short because of technical difficulties that were happening, and we couldn’t play Coil. That was the first time we ever had to do that, and everyone just started fucking yelling at us. We couldn’t do anything, but it’s good to know that people are passionate enough about it to hurl abuse at us for not playing it… I’ll take that rather than that’s cool, you guys can go. We’ve been waiting for you guys to finish anyway…”
What’s the best part of touring, what’s the worst? “Best part is making new friends. It sounds clichéd but it is really cool to get to know people on a particular level that quite a lot of other people don’t. You’re spending that much time around someone, granted this particular run is only pretty brief but you still get to get some good hangtime in. For me personally it’s a sense of routine that seems to emerge, once you get in and the novelty starts to wear off, I feel like I’m in my place in the world and I know what I’m doing. Loading in and loading out, the changeovers, its like this is right, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Obviously playing, hanging out and seeing so many different places there’s a range of aspects of it that are awesome. Lack of sleep definitely hits the bottom of the list, that and driving long distances. The diet tends to shit the bed if you are not keeping a close eye on things. Nowadays I tend not to drink much on tours, particularly with Hadal, as its not the easiest stuff to play. It’s hard enough when you’re well rested, let alone when you’re tired and potentially hungover. It can be stressful enough on the body if you’re not looking after yourself. Even in the chaotic elements (at least in hindsight) you learn to love it.”
So, do what do you do to keep yourself fresh, obviously as a drummer you’ve got to be fit and flexible. o you hit the gym? “Yeah. I do all that stuff. But that’s for my own health and fitness, my mental health and all that good stuff which I’d be doing even if I wasn’t doing drums. Staying fit and healthy gives me the headroom to get in the kind of practice that I need to make it all work. It’s good for injury prevention, that is for sure. But outside of all that stuff it’s just getting on the kit and playing as much as you can, getting conditioned. Leading up to this run, I’ll be working on the tunes slow, playing the tunes fast, doing drills, just trying to keep my feet and hands going as much as I can so when it comes to playing the set it feels effortless. I have some quick workouts that keep me fit and same goes for my drums. At my day job, I have a 15-minute morning tea where I have my sticks with me and I’ll do a ten-minute drill, grab a coffee and go back to work. It’s about building consistency and I find it works with the more I do.”
Could you describe the Aussie metal scene from your view? “Its probably the best it’s ever been. But it’s hard to define because Hadal Maw went really hard for the first few years and I was really in touch with what was going on with that scene. Whereas now I’m more guided by my own interests and I’m really in touch with the sludge metal scene. Melbourne is just phenomenal at the moment, there are so many fucking cool bands. I also play in a metalcore band called Mirrors and I play in an instrumental progressive band called Up In The Sky and they have their own respective scenes. I am at the point where I just can’t fucking keep up… But every time I do a bill with any of those bands anywhere in the country someone is doing some fucking cool shit. I’ve been playing around Melbourne and Australia for about the past fifteen years and those days where you’d turn up watching a band and white knuckle watching the whole thing. You’d be feeling oh man, this is rough. But those days aren’t seen anymore, everyone has their shit together in a big way now. It only takes a few of those bands to inspire the locals and lift the whole scene. You know all boats rise with the tide. You’ll go to a gig and the opening band at the venue will just be shredding, so in that sense it’s absolutely thriving. And you’ve got Soundworks Touring and Direct Touring working together, pulling these incredible tours together that we thought we’d never see. I’ve been hearing a lot about of how Australian bands have been creating a reputation on the international scene for their uniqueness and the quality of their performance. That’s my observation anyway.”
What are the plans for after this tour? Is the overseas market on the radar? “It’s definitely on the radar, it’s just finding the right opportunity to do it. It seems to be a cautionary tale whenever you see a band that makes the leap and you can tell it’s an expensive tour. They get back and you don’t hear from them for a while or a couple of members decide they don’t want to do it anymore. There are options out there but we just want to make sure sustainability is at the forefront and it is a decision that works for us long term.”
Psycroptic On Tour with Archspire & Hadal Maw:
16/08/2018 – Brisbane – Crowbar
17/08/2018 – Sydney – Bald Faced Stag
18/08/2018 – Melbourne – Max Watts
19/08/2018 – Canberra – The Basement
24/08/2018 – Hobart – The Brisbane Hotel*
25/08/2018 – Adelaide – Fowlers*
*No Hadal Maw