We’ve been incredibly excited by experimental metal band Asian Death Crustacean here on Backseat Mafia, with the London quartet bringing elements of Jazz, post-rock and Ambient / Electronic music into the mix, surrounding it with gritty, muscular music that hits you like a punch to the head.
Their new album Baikal, out today, has to be in contention for metal album of the year, and so we spoke to the band, who gave us this brilliant insight into the record.
Check out the stream at the bottom, and delve into the record with all true stories behind it.
Part I: Conceptually we liked the idea of opening the album with a faint murmur of serene sounds that gradually escalates into cathartic heaviness. While the core ideas for this track remained stable through its development, a lot of work went into refining and embellishing the details, especially for the very beginning of the track. While arranging the opening, Dan (guitars/sound design) was getting pretty deep into electronic and ambient music, and drew a lot of inspiration from artists like Jon Hopkins and Tim Hecker.
One of the samples used here is the sound of being on the bus home at about 4am, recorded straight into a computer mic and then given lots of processing. Another interesting sound used was the tone from running a finger around the top of a wine glass, which was turned into a droney synth using granular synthesis.As with many sections on the album, we were interested here in layering the guitars and other instruments so as to create a tapestry of interweaving sounds that are moving around each other, rather than just doubling up parts or creating straightforward harmonies.
The way the drums enter was intended to smooth the transition from this abstract starting point into a more directly structured section, coming from a long way in the distance and then initiating the driving build of intensity and energy that continues through to the end of the track before collapsing back down into nothing.
Part II: The start of part II has the atmosphere of the beginning of a journey, setting out with a hopeful sense of intention which grows in intensity and agitation. Appropriately, a lot of the ideas for this section originated in the first material we composed as a group, which has then iteratively developed over the years.Despite not having vocals, we came to the idea early on that we wanted to take a compositional approach of being consciously reserved in places in order to make space for a strong and memorable sense of melody, while using technical intensity elsewhere in order to create specific effects.
This track shows these aspects of the album’s sound especially clearly, with a much more spacious feeling to the first half, foreshadowing the euphoric atmosphere of the conclusion to part V later on, but a more intense atmosphere taking over as the piece progresses.
Part III: The start of part III shows the musical influences George (bass) has picked up from 60s and 70s soul and funk most clearly of any passage on the album, with the bass taking the lead here in shaping the feeling of the music. In the writing process we decided to lean into that and give this section its own character within the context of the album, representing one extreme in its palette of sounds.
The drums started out very minimalistic, but ended up taking on a lot of influence from contemporary jazz, especially Yussef Dayes. This lent a more playful feel to the section, an aspect of the record’s personality which shows itself briefly in a few places but comes through more clearly here.In comparison with parts I and II, this track as a whole has a much more unsettled mood, embracing a feeling of spontaneity and unpredictability which reaches its point of final collapse in the slow disintegration of the ending. This end section is both a cyclical return to, and a warping of, the first heavy riff of the album in part I.
Compositionally, we pushed this sense of continuous mutation through the use of a series of changes in time signature and tempo, as well as use of polyrhythmic structures.
Part IV: With IV we didn’t want to create a placid, chilled out interlude but something that’s challenging and involving to listen to. We decided to change up the feel of the album in this track by recording it without a metronome, providing a contrast to the stricter sense of time found in most of the record, while the inclusion of Michael Crean on violin here also provides a distinct timbre not found elsewhere on the album.The track starts with a light, warm, maybe even nostalgic feeling, taking a breath after the tumultuous conclusion to part III, but over time becomes more unsettling, warped and foreboding, giving way to a dissonance and tension which takes the track from somewhere inviting to a place of growing dread.
This atmosphere of the later passages of part IV both amplifies and gives context to the entrance of part V, making it feel like a deliverance from the abyss while at the same time emerging into a new, more direct kind of heaviness.
Part V: After the material that ultimately became parts I-III had reached a fairly mature state, Rob (guitar) wanted to try constructing a progression of heavier riffs, letting a concept work itself through over a longer duration than we had in parts I-III, and put together the core of what is now the first half of part V.
We chose to keep a consistent tempo for this sequence of riffs to create a bludgeoning, relentless feeling, and you can hear a stoner metal influence coming through here that gives a particular character to this part of the record. When adding cleaner guitar layers to this section, Dan (guitars/sound design) was focused on complementing the riffs with an ominous atmosphere that dips into a black metal flavour.In the process of writing and recording the drums for the album, we decided to construct exact parts for some sections but keep others semi-improvised in order to preserve a sense of spontaneity and ‘live’ feel.
The drum parts following the drop in dynamics half way through part V had some landmarks and concepts predetermined but were left open in order to capture the performance on the day. We focused a lot on the arc of the dynamics of the drums here, as well as their gradual build in intensity from the sparse and abstract way they enter to their chaotic boiling over in the next section.
The middle of V also has the guitars coming the closest of any part of the album to a ‘classic’ prog feeling, and we used vintage amps as well as analogue effects, including tape echo, in service of that sound. This is one of the most harmonically rich sections on the album, and maintains a lingering element of dissonance in order to help tie it together with what came before.We wanted the track to conclude in a massive building intensity that closes out this part of the album with a euphoric, uplifting crescendo.
There are a huge number of guitar layers with distinct timbres interplaying in this final section to help maintain the sense of continuously climbing in this long build. In finalising the drum parts we tried to be conscious of not overusing certain devices like blast beats, saving them mostly for places of maximum intensity like the very end of part V to preserve their impact.
Part VI: This piece started life as a 13/4 guitar loop which was then reversed and built on with a pulse from deep and layered bass guitar chord swells, as well as several layers of saxophone and various granular synths. These included one built from sampling the sound of weights being pulled off a barbell for a metallic and resonant tone. We played with the idea of including some light drums on this track, but decided against it in the end, finding it more satisfying to end the percussive element of the album with the maximum intensity of the conclusion of part V.
This last track gives a ‘turn’ in the arc of the record after the euphoric crescendo that precedes it. Rather than ending the album with an emotionally straightforward reconciliation or resolution, there’s a reflective mood in which the darker, more negative aspects that have been a part of the cyclical journey here linger on. The blissful tone the track starts with morphs into an ominous sense of a negativity that remains as we cyclically sink back into the oblivion that the album began with in part I.