Thrall's Aokigahara Jukai was a very important album to me, if you couldn't tell from my recent review. I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to ask the band some questions in order to probe deeper into their thoughts behind the myriad of topics explored on the album. This is what Thrall had to say on a number of subjects including their interests in Japanese culture, nature, different philosophical perspectives, and how it all fuels the music they write.
(((o))): I know that parts of Vermin to the Earth were recorded in Japan, whose culture so inspired your work on Aokigahara Jukai; is this where your interest in the country began? Or has there been a curiosity or passion for Japanese culture for a while?
Tom: The drums on Vermin to the Earth were recorded at LM Studio in Osaka with Ippei Suda. Our mate Chew Hasegawa from Corrupted hooked this up for us as Corrupted have long-term ties with Suda, as an engineer and later as a member. Everything else on Vermin to the Earth was recorded by Trent Griggs at his home studio ‘The Gate’ in Tasmania. He put a lot of work into the mixing and tone. His vocal production is particularly outstanding. He also played a couple of guitar parts and did backing vocals along with Em. On Aokigahara Jukai we decided to try and capture something much closer to the live line-up. Neil Thomason recorded the album and a split in about four days. We did everything as live as possible, only vocals and a few leads went down after the fact. Neil is particularly adept at capturing a great drum sound and this was one of the reasons we wanted to work with him. I think we ended up with something unique.
I’ve been interested in Japan for a long time. My fascination with Japan probably started in childhood watching Mighty Atom (Astro Boy) and Robotech. I can remember seeing Akira at The State Cinema when I was about 12 and it blew my mind! I still love that film. I used to watch world cinema late at night on SBS. My favourite Japanese directors were Akira Kurosawa, Takeshi Miike and Shin'ya Tsukamoto. Later I studied film at University, though I never went into making films as I had hoped. I wrote musical scores for a couple of films and performances, half of which weren’t made and my scores went to waste! I was also becoming very interested in Butoh (舞踏, Butō) in the late 90s. Butoh is basically a form of expressionist performance/dance/ritual birthed from reaction to the A-Bomb. One of its defining features is that it defies classification. Whereas Western ballet is oriented toward the sky with all of its leaping and upward energy, Butohis earth-oriented and focused on the space between the body and the spirit. This theme interests me in relation to catharsis and transcendence in black metal. The style of the Yūrei (dim spirit / vengeful ghost) in the film The Grudge (Ju-On) was derived from a combination of traditional ghost style and movement ‘classic’ Butoh style movements. In the late 90s I wrote a score for a Butoh-inspired performance. I reused sections of this score on 'To Velvet Darkness' on Away From the Haunts of Men, though I added acoustic guitar on top. I would love to collaborate with a legitimate Butoh troupe.
Em: I studied Japanese history and language a bit when I was in high school, and I enjoyed Japanese film and art, but if you’d asked me where I wanted to visit most in the world, I would have probably said Europe. I grew up in rural Tasmania in the pre-internet age and so the things I was exposed to were limited to what was on the bookshelf at home, at the public library, or recommended to me by friends. Friends were very important in this cultural underground, and we used to make each other mix tapes and pass on videocassettes. There was this amazing cult movie show on public television hosted by a guy called Dez Mangan and that exposed me to a lot of my formative impressions of Japan, including Wild Zero (The Guitar Wolf movie), Tampopo, and Kurosawa. Through my friends I found out about Zeni Geva, manga, The Boredoms, Shonen Knife, Japanese martial arts… But really, I didn’t know anything about Japan. My impressions were based on peeking through a crack in a curtain at a reflection based on a third-hand recollection of a real thing; so far from what Japan is really like as to almost be irrelevant. It’s so different for people these days: you can just jump on a computer and look up anything that takes your fancy and become an armchair expert in ten clicks of the mouse. It also encourages people to be satisfied with the experience of a place or a thing through a screen rather than seeking a personal connection with a place or a story. Humans are disappearing up our own arses, we are fucking hilarious creatures…
Back in the 90s, back in Tassie, my exposure to other cultures was even further mediated by who I knew or what was being covered in the music magazines, and even then, it was hard to get music magazines at my local news agency. I read a lot of Rolling Stone. It was the grunge years, so most of the coverage was heavily focused on the USA alternative rock scene. My knowledge of what was out there in the world was quite narrow. I think that’s part of why I’m so keen to travel.
It was 2003, I’d just finished University and I moved to Melbourne from Tassie. I was unemployed and finding it hard to get work; I saw an ad that said Teach English in Japan! in the newspaper and just said “fuck it, can’t be any worse than rotting away here in this dark shithole house with no money.” I don’t know what I was expecting when I went over there. I’d never even travelled outside Australia for a holiday. Air travel was so expensive when I was growing up, it was only well-off families who went on holidays overseas – and when you live in Tasmania, everywhere is overseas. The first three months in Japan were really hard. I lived in Nagoya and worked for a fucked up company called NOVA. My Japanese was bollocks. I had no friends. I just hung out with other ex-pat English teachers and drank heavily. It took me a long time to become more adventurous. But in the last six months of my first year there I started learning how to travel in Japan, learned to speak basic Japanese, and started to really thrive as a truly independent person. I can’t stress this enough, but if you’ve never travelled alone, lived in a country as different as Japan without your safety net, you’ll always have been supported by something else. Even the familiarity of your surroundings will reassure you in your home environment. Japan… hell, Asia in general… is so different. Nothing is as you expect. You have to rely on your wits and figure it out. And so, going back to your question, part of my passion for Japan is symbolic, as Japan is the place where I went from being a cloistered child to being an adult. While I was over there I had my first experience of being able to get regular, unfettered access to a stable internet connection and as a compulsive boffin, I researched my new country heavily. I found out about traditional arts, ukio-e, local Japanese bands and record stores; I visited temples and castles and went for long bike-rides through the local area, just soaking it in. I came back to Australia in 2005 and I yearned to go back to Japan, until Tom and I went together in 2008 for two years in Osaka.
Osaka is my home in Japan. Nagoya was always a bit ‘meh’ – I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place, I’ve got great friends there and I love Nagoya’s food. But people there aren’t as welcoming and effusive as the Osakans. In Osaka, buoyed by having Tom by my side, we got really involved in the local punk scene – Osakan d-beat is world class – got to see Corrupted and pester Chew Hasegawa until he became my friend. In Osaka I feel like I grew into Thrall and made the switch from live bassist to writing the drums. It was an amazing time. We travelled from the far north of Japan to the west, and a lot of places in between. I’m always sad that I didn’t spend more time in the Tohoku region before the tsunami – the tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster have cast a long shadow over that whole region. When we went back with the full band in 2013 to visit Aokigahara Jukai and tour, it was so awesome to travel with everyone. Ramez and Tom both have their own relationship with Japan and we got to share a lot of our experience. Ramez lived in Tokyo for two years around the time I was in Nagoya, and Tom had lived in Osaka with me. It was really easy for us to get around because we all have different strengths in communication, logistics and planning in a Japanese context. We got to take turns in being the tour guide for the group. The hardest part was catching the bullet train with all our guitars and gear – trying not to hit people in the head when we were moving down the aisles – but aside from that, it was brilliant fun. So, yes… To return to your question, I have a long-standing relationship with Japan. It is an amazing place, with so many layers, I would encourage anyone who hasn’t been there to make sure to visit Japan at least once in your life.
(((o))): Thrall’s first album, Away From the Haunts of Men, was almost solely the work of Tom. Now you’re a full four-piece band. Did this evolve from performing live or was there simply a desire to bounce ideas off of other people? What is rewarding about creating as a unit as opposed to doing so as a solo performer?
Tom: I wrote Away From the Haunts of Men with the exception of one excellent riff that was written by Trent Griggs. Trent recorded, mixed and produced the album at his home studio ‘The Gate’ in Tasmania. Prior to recording Away From the Haunts of Men our mate Alex invited us to play a couple of live shows with Ruins and Psycroptic and I enlisted Em on bass for these performances. Coincidentally, one of these performances was with ABC Weapons (the band that Ramez was playing in at the time). Away From the Haunts of Men is more akin to Leviathan’s Verräter than a cohesive album.
After our 2013 Japanese tour Leigh Ritson and Thrall parted ways. Leigh has always been based in Tasmania, whereas the rest of the members live in Melbourne, and the distance was just too much in the end. He has several musical projects on the boil and we’re still good friends. Okkvinkalfa stepped into the bass position in Thrall and things are going very well indeed. I recommend that any Thrall listeners check out her other band Hordes of the Black Cross and also Ramez’s other current band Extinct Exist.
Em: My involvement in the band grew kind of organically. First, I just played live bass and hit the “go” button on the drum machine because we had a gig and Tom needed someone to accompany him live. I was living with Tom at the time, we’d played in bands before together – going back to 1997 – so it was an easy fit to enlist me. After that, Tom recorded the first album by himself. Tom was writing a lot in the studio and so it made more sense with the limited time that he had for him to track the bass rather than get me in to figure out the songs. When we were in Japan, we didn’t have the drum machine available to us, so we decided that it would make more sense for me to play drums and find a new live bass player. When it came time to record Vermin to the Earth, again, it made more sense for me to play the drums on the album than it did for Tom to learn to play them, so that’s kind of how we went from being a solo project with live musicians to being a duo. My increasing involvement has been a series of pragmatic decisions over the years. When we got back to Australia, we had Leigh and Ramez playing for us live and we decided that it worked better for us to be a cohesive band than just having live musicians. It’s been a long, organic process, but now we’re at the stage where the band works really well for developing and vetting ideas.
Tom and I discussed an analogy for the benefits of cross-pollination of ideas over the years. It’s a concept that is echoed in Ghost in the Shell and in nature more broadly: over specialisation breeds in weakness. It’s through hybridisation and genetic diversity that an organism will build adaptability, and I think this is as true for an idea as it is for an organism. By having the other members contribute to the songs, the songs can only benefit.
(((o))): To specify concerning Japanese culture, can you speak a bit on what the concept behind this album is? Many people are totally unaware of the stories behind Aokigahara Jukai and how it relates to certain Japanese cultural beliefs and especially taboos surrounding the dead and the spiritual world. How did you come to find out about Aokigahara Jukai and what about it drove you to base an entire album around it?
Tom: We were intrigued by the taboo or stigma surrounding Aokigahara Jukai. The overwhelming reluctance of our Japanese friends to talk about Aokigahara Jukai or shed any light upon the subject only spurred our intrigue. We were repeatedly urged not to go there. After several failed attempts we eventually went there during our 2013 Japan tour. It was one of the most eerily beautiful and still places that I have ever been. The silence of the Jukai is the antithesis of overt noise pollution prevalent in Japanese cities. The disjuncture between the actual physical place and the cultural/mythical construct is really interesting. The only time I ever saw a snake in Japan was as we entered the Jukai. It was a beautiful Japanese Grass Snake (Yamakagashi). I took a photo of it and we watched each other for a while. It didn’t seem very imposing compared to a Tasmanian Copperhead or Tiger Snake. My artwork is filled with snakes so this was a very special moment for me.
Each song on the album is meant to be a distinct story or concept. Aokigahara Jukai the place and/or the cultural construct is the unifying theme. There is a lot in the album about universal themes such as transcendence, despair, death, fecundity through decay, nationalism, social conformity, indoctrination, anti-theism. There is a lot of specific content too. I also tried to use the trees of the Jukai as protagonists with their own agenda, feeding on the dead.
Em: We came to hear about Aokigahara Jukai in the last year we lived in Japan. Our friends Kerry and Dave came over and stayed with us in Osaka and they told us about Aokigahara Jukai. Hilarious that it was our friends from Australia that told us about this totally Japanese thing. After Kerry described it, I started asking other people about it. It was like all our Japanese friends knew about it, but no one had ever talked about it. When we asked people, everyone said “don’t go there.” They told us stories about how you cannot use a compass there. They said “you will get lost and die.” “Evil spirits live there.” “It is an evil place.” To which, of course, I thought “bullshit. I’m going.” The day before we were due to get on the train to go there in 2010, the master of Away from the Haunts of Men went missing in the mail and we had to cancel going to Aokigahara so we could try and get a back up master from Australia to the plant. I don’t know if we would have had a good time if we’d gone then anyway. It was then end of a damp winter, and we probably would have frozen our arses off. When we finally went there with the whole band in late-Spring 2013, it was amazing. It was such a lovely tranquil place – undulating mossy undergrowth, dappled sunlight through maples and cedars, a warm breeze through the trees – it was intensely beautiful. Then again, I didn’t follow any of the ropes that trail off through the undergrowth to look at the dead bodies. That shit’s just grim: leave those poor dead bastards alone.
(((o))): While the topic of suicide is covered heavily on this album, it ends up not being the sole focus. The track 'Ubasute' for example is named for the Japanese cultural tradition that was once practiced somewhat commonly in which the younger generation will bring their parents to a secluded area so they can die alone. How does this speak to you philosophically and especially in how it relates to Japan’s views on death as a whole (not to mention your own views on death)?
Tom: I write a lot about death as it is the most universal and inevitable aspect of life. In my opinion religion is a mental disorder that shelters the human psyche from this inevitability. Religion allows humans to disengage from this world/life and perpetrate horrific acts upon other humans. 'Ecstasy not of the Flesh' and 'Slaves' explore such themes.
Aoikagahara Jukai is not entirely focused on suicide or death, though it is one of the major themes. What interested me most is the threshold between Aokigahara Jukai the physical place and the cultural/mythical construct. The disjuncture between the human-abstraction imposed on the physical location. The band members have all been affected by suicides of those close to us. We’re not trying to romanticise, glorify or advocate suicide. Having said that, ignoring it solves nothing.
Em: The Ubasute ritual is very taboo these days and many modern Japanese would either deny that it was ever practiced or would attribute it to the Ainu. I have no idea what really happened back in the pre-Edo times, because there’s a lack of evidence either way and I don’t dabble in historical conjecture. However, there was a poem that was written in pre-Edo period that speaks from the viewpoint of the old lady being carried by her son up some remote mountain to die. The old lady breaks white twigs to make a trail for her son to follow home, like some kind of Hansel and Gretel thing. I found this poem intriguing.
There is a certain acceptance of death as an inevitable conclusion to life in Japanese culture, it flows through Shinto and the indigenous animist traditions, it was imported from China in the form of Buddhism. In the West, we try to make individuals live forever – sometimes at the expense of those who are left behind. We throw good medicine after bad at bodies that are experiencing systemic collapse. The resources that we expend on people who are obviously and inevitably going to die are immense – particularly in the US health system, people inherit incredible bills for treatments for obviously terminal illnesses that ultimately serves no purpose but to prolong people’s suffering. We ruin lives to extend one life. As a culture we are programmed to prolong life at all costs when the life is human, and yet we will put a dog out of its misery as soon as it becomes apparent that it is no longer able to enjoy its life. I’m not saying that I endorse euthanising people, but I think it’s important for us to examine our preconceptions around what is important about life. Illness and death are very real experiences that touch all people’s lives at some point, and I find those kinds of themes far more powerful to explore than fantasies about deity or mythology. I’m really not interested in writing songs about dragons and made up shit.
(((o))): As a sort of side note, I couldn’t help but think of the film The Ballad of Narayama when reading the lyrics to 'Ubasute'. It’s the only film I can think of about the subject, and I was struck by how unsentimental its approach is in really exploring some blunt realities concerning this practice and other elements of life and death. Your album seems to mirror many of its themes. Is this a reference point for you at all or am I grasping at straws? (As a side note within a side note, I highly recommend this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet!)
Tom: Yes I have a copy of The Ballad of Narayama. It’s a very evocative film, very immersed in the seasons and cycles of nature. In this way it seems to tie in with the elements of animism in Shinto. We encountered it during our preproduction research. It’s definitely not clutching at straws, it’s a relevant reference. I would have sampled the film, but we’re not ‘that kind of band’. I hate being absorbed in the atmosphere of an album and then having the experience ruined by an obvious sample from a movie. I would find lazy and clichéd in the context of what we're trying to do. I would like to say that several reviewers have mistaken the Bell Crickets (Suzumushi, 鈴虫, Homoeogryllus japonicus) at the end of 'Aokigahara Jukai' to be electronically generated. They are actually Bell Crickets that we recorded on location in Japan, as were the cicadas on the end of 'Ubasute'.
Em: Are they cicadas? I have no idea what those spooky bugs were that made that weird noise. We were visiting Koya-san, the equivalent of Mount Wudan for Japanese Buddhism, and we stayed in a Buddhist temple overnight. At sunset we started to hear those noises in the forest and we got out a mini-disc recorder and went following the noises up the hill. They appeared to be most intense in a cedar thicket – but we never saw what the creature that was responsible for the noise actually looked like.
Insects are fucking amazing and so different to humans. I can kind of see how someone might mistake the sound of a cricket for a machine – they are so fundamentally different to mammals, both physically and in the way that they organise their societies in bee and ant populations. But yes, oh-cunning-reviewer who thought those noises were electronic: no, they are 100 per cent natural.
Anyway, Koya-san is another amazing place of natural and man-made beauty in Japan. One of the largest and most prestigious graveyards in Japan is situated around the tomb of Kobo Daishi, the monk who imported Buddhism from China to Japan. Koya-san is all misty mountaintops dotted with samurai families’ grave monuments and enormous temples. There’s a monument to miscarried and aborted babies there that has a water throwing ritual attached to it. It’s a seriously evocative place.
There are also some ‘company graves,’ an interesting artefact of the corporate family mentality that Japan was famous for during the post-War and ‘Tiger Economy’ years. As a company employee, you can select to be buried alongside your company colleagues at the Hitachi grave, or the Sanyo grave, or similar. Personally I couldn’t think of anything more heinous than to spend eternity at work, but then again, I’m a gaijin: I don’t think I’m expected to get it.
(((o))): The lyrics in this album take on many voices. From the opening track, which seems to be from the point of view of someone who wishes to commit suicide, to the album closer which ends on a much more self-empowering note. Are these voices all yours? Do any of them speak more closely to your actual voice, beliefs, and emotions than others? I believe that art is most effective when it explores an issue from several, often conflicting, perspectives. In this way, the "truth" seems to be somewhere in between what is actually said. Is this important to you? To explore these themes without perhaps saying any one concrete statement on them?
Tom: In short, yes! I want to explore themes and conflicting perspectives and prompt others to do so for themselves. I’m fine with others having entirely different interpretations of what my lyrics are about regardless of my intended meaning/message. There are many voices and perspectives on the album. I have tried to inhabit and understand them all in the process of writing the lyrics. I am always attempting to ask others to question and make their own conclusions. I have no interest in proselytising or converting others to my mindset, only to encourage others to free themselves from indoctrination and imposed belief systems. It sounds pretentious, I know, but that’s the truth.
Em: We wanted to make something that would serve as a document of our interest in the topic and our interest is multifaceted. Aokigahara speaks to the relationship between humans and nature, as well as the stories of death related to the ubasute/euthanasia ritual and the suicides that the area is notorious for. As Tom mentioned earlier, we’ve had people close to us commit suicide. We wouldn’t want to approach the idea of suicide in a way that wouldn’t speak to our experience of the topic, which is raw and real, not abstract or imagined.
The realities of creative endeavour are that once you have completed your work, people will bring their interpretation to your work and you can never control what other people will think of your work. Their reaction to your output will be framed by the things that they have experienced in their lives and people will compare things to what they know to attempt to understand it. That’s why a listener with broad tastes will pick up on a bit of that genre-mashing that we sometimes do, and someone with a less developed understanding of music might just think it sounds like Metallica because that’s the heaviest thing they’ve ever heard. They might invest heavily in your artwork and develop a sophisticated interpretation of what you’ve made or they might listen to half of the first track and then throw it out the window of a moving car. You can never account for the audience reaction.
I think with an inspiration as wide as Aokigahara, I think it was necessary to take a multitude of perspectives. The suicidal have a voice in 'The Pact' and 'Longing for Death', the forest itself speaks in the title track, Tom inhabits his own voice in 'Slaves', 'Of Hate' and 'Its Toothless Maw', and I take the role of the old lady being carried to her death. A lot of people sing endlessly about satan, satan, satan… For fuck’s sake, you may as well sing about the boogy man or the abominable snowman or the Easter bunny or whatever. The struggles that we face in the real world are so much more interesting than the struggles of imaginary beings. So, anyway, we make the music that we want to hear ourselves, we write the words that interest us… And that’s pretty much it. What people take away from what we make is beyond our control and I wouldn’t have it any other way because that’s where the interesting tension between intent and effect exists.
(((o))): I wrote in my review of your Aokigahara Jukai that I believe it is important because it is, ultimately, a very life-affirming album. True, there are moments of vitriol and even hatred toward mankind and toward the self, but I believe these are overcome in a way by first acknowledging the sadness of the subject matter and then transcending it through art. This is in stark contrast to the lyrics in Vermin to the Earth which have a much more overtly misanthropic tone. I know on that album too, though, you’ve spoken in previous interviews of the positive power in viewing the world and humanity in a more truthful way. Would it be safe to say that in an unorthodox way your band is very much commenting on life and how to live it with a more positive (or maybe just honest) way of thinking? Or is this a gross misinterpretation of where you’re coming from
Tom: Through all the voices I use in my lyrics I am merely wrestling with existence. In order to do so one needs to try to overcome the blinkered view of religious and moral dogma and indoctrination. I was trying to talk about this in 'Slaves'. “The system of your beliefs, shelters your psyche, limits your consciousness”. Thrall is a conduit for my madness. I find a cathartic release in Haha. I don’t claim to have the answers, and by saying that that I am honest: Be suspicious of anyone who claims to have answers.
Em: People who claim to have “the answers” are invariably full of shit. They’re either deluded megalomaniacs or they are relying on someone else’s answers being correct – why should you copy your homework from someone else? How do you know that the person you’re copying from knows more than you do? You don’t – and you can’t. You’re better off figuring it out yourself. I pity people who blindly trust a book written 1500-odd years ago for their answers for twenty first century living. The only answer I believe is the one that says “keep questioning.” There’s always more to know out there. And yes, I think this is actually a more honest way of living.
We have spoken previously about the importance of not blocking out the truth. Any reasonable adult can agree that humans have had an impact on this planet. Any reasonable adult can agree that humans have created and released poisons into the air, waterways and dirt. And from that standpoint, isn’t the obvious next part of the conversation is “well, what the fuck are we going to do about it?” But that’s where we can never get any consensus. You start with a simple premise, such as “do you want to drink poison?” You progress to “do you think it is OK for other people to poison people?” You extrapolate “is it OK to poison people if it’s going to make you a lot of money?” But you hit the wall when you start to say “what if the poison takes 100 years to work, and you’re poisoning people who aren’t even born yet?” We can’t agree to the point where people start going back and disputing that there’s any problem at all: “It’s not poison.” “It’s not that poisonous.” “You’re being over-emotional.” “In the future, science will fix all the problems that we are causing now.” And that’s when the truth has left the room. There are already dioxins in every ocean, there are detectable levels of dioxin in the breast milk of every woman in the world, there is radiation seeping into the water table, there are 1000s of 44-gallon drums of radioactive waste in every ocean just rusting away… And yet the chairman of the board will still turn a blind eye to all of this in the name of protecting shareholder profit. It comes from this basic, stupid weakness in our social intelligence. We can’t trust each other and we can’t be bothered. We keep ripping the minerals out of our ground and burning fossil fuels because if we don’t do it, someone else will. And we don’t do anything about deforestation or corporate criminals dumping chemicals all over the place, because someone else will. And if we change the way we do business, we’ll have to find a new way to do business. And the truth, at the end of the day, it’s all too fucking difficult.
So, no, I don’t think this album is life affirming. I’m still as misanthropic as fuck and I think it is important for people to remember that 'Slaves' is a bonus track. On the vinyl, the album ends on 'Ghost Chrysalides'. It does not affirm life. It smothers it. It ends on the emptiness of a lone guitar ringing out into the nothing.
Tom: 'Slaves' was intended to be on our fourth album. It may still be reworked/rerecorded. We already have several songs for Thrall IV largely written.
(((o))): Musically, it’s often spoken about that Thrall is particularly adept at blending different styles of music. Is this a conscious effort on your part? Or is this simply the sum of a broad range of influences? I almost feel bad asking this question because it seems sad that it’s somehow surprising to some people when a band listens to several styles of music. Nevertheless, I would be interested in knowing if there is a core philosophy to the band’s sound or if it’s simply the result of a natural progression.
Tom: This is difficult to answer. I suppose that it’s a natural progression and the sum of a broad range of influences. It is also deliberate. We prefer to have an expansive (rather than reductive) musical aesthetic. If it works for the song we’ll do it. All of the current members (Em, Ramez and Okkvinkalfa) have played a broad range of styles of music over the years. Playing live has significantly changed what I write from a studio-focused style to a live focused style. Thrall is a collaborative project but I am still the primary writer.
Em: This is an interesting question for me, as I see myself as a bass player who is playing drums. Because it’s not my primary instrument I have to use what I’m able to do in a creative way to get the effect that I want and this probably results in me shifting a few feels from less obvious sources of inspiration into the Thrall sound. So yeah, I do what I do because I can and it’s what I like and it’s what’s natural to me.
(((o))): I know Tom has been responsible for all of Thrall’s album art, and I have to say that the album cover for Vermin to the Earth was the first thing that made me really open my eyes and want to know who your band was. The artwork for Aokigahara Jukai is especially poignant and evokes the sound of the album so well. What is your background in art? Is your passion for visual art equal to your passion for music? It’s clear there is a connection between the two, but is there one creative endeavour that ever takes precedence over the other? I ask a similar question as this one to a lot of bands, but do you feel like the album would be incomplete without the visual component?
Tom: My visual and musical output is inseparably intertwined. I started drawing earlier than playing music. With Thrall I decided to consolidate both fields of endeavour into the one project much more tightly than previously. I stopped doing exhibitions and concentrated all of my visual output to Thrall and commissions for other bands (Ruins, Regnum, Nekros Manteia, Dead River Runs Dry). I tend to operate in cycles. One medium takes precedence over the other in terms of productivity, then I switch, but neither is more important. It seemed like a good way to retain as much control as possible and reduce costs by keeping as much in house as possible and I wanted to create a distinct visual identity for the project.
(((o))): Finally, what’s the best way we can support Thrall in the next year or two? Are there some exciting shows coming up? What’s the best way for people to get their hands on Aokigahara Jukai?
Tom: Well our next show is Friday 21 March at the Melbourne Hi-Fi supporting Absu on their 2014 Australian tour. Portal and Denouncement Pyre are playing all of the dates on the tour as well. After that we’ll be planning some interstate shows to promo Aokigahara Jukai. You can get all of our releases and merch direct from us on our Bandcamp our LP from Eisenwald or our CDs from Moribund Records.
Em: You can buy our albums directly from us through the Bandcamp site – but once we’ve sold out, it’s great if people can support our labels by buying legitimately through them because the labels support us. If people don’t buy from the small to medium-sized labels, the labels disappear, and the support they provide bands disappears too.
I would also like to encourage people to buy the remaining copies of the original pressing of Away from the Haunts of Men from Håken at Total Holocaust Records. I have a personal debt to him: he was the first to believe in us and he made the ultimate version of the album artwork and then we ran off with Moribund – what a bunch of bastards we are! But the Total Holocaust limited edition version with the silver foil packaging is one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever set my eyes on. There’s only 500 copies of it in existence I can’t believe that they haven’t sold out yet. Send well‑hidden cash money to Håken in an envelope and feel massively old school, and support his continued journey unearthing the best underground bands out there.
(((o))): Thank you very much for this in depth interview. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you, and I wish you all great success!
Tom: Thanks Luke! It’s been refreshing for us to have a reviewer engage with the album intellectually.