by R.S. Frost
Brendan Sloan is the sole operator behind Australian death metal outfit CONVULSING. His particular brand of cavernous, off-kilter and generally asphyxiating music doesn't typically manifest, one would presume, without a certain amount of trauma behind it. Taking a deeper glance into Brendan’s lyrics, it becomes clear that there is quite an undercurrent of emotions at play here.
- Guilt, mostly. I wouldn't say that anybody saying nice things to me has kept me going particularly. That's nice, and appreciated to an extent, but also ephemeral. The way I keep going is by making commitments to do things, and then the crippling guilt of flaking out is too much to bear and I get it done. That, plus personal catharsis of having processed something with my art, and justifying the things people are saying by keeping up my standards, that’s what motivates me. Nothing anybody has ever said to me has been more negative than my own self-talk, and likewise, nothing positive anyone says to me means anything if I don't feel the same aboutwhat I've done.
This catharsis of emotion through a creative outlet, in this case, music, is somewhat of a recurring theme here at Inner Missive.
It is quite apparent that Brendan is more than adequate on multiple instruments and I am always intrigued by the drive behind multi-instrumentalists, why they began such a demanding undertaking, and where it all started.
- My Grandmother, to whom I dedicate my albums. My earliest memories of music are all with her. Listening to records while she cleaned the house, dancing to MICHAEL JACKSON live tapes, or her teaching me how to play things on a dual-keyboard Technics organ down the back of the house. She began it. My father allegedly played guitar but I never heard him, not even once. Likewise one of his brothers allegedly played drums, but I never heard it. No other musicians in my family.
I was recruited into an orchestral ensemble's training program as a flautist when I was about 10 and also learned to play saxophone and clarinet. I also had afriend who played the guitar, as did his father; a huge music nut. I heard FRANK ZAPPA, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, MIKE OLDFIELD, SIMON AND GARFUNKEL, and KRAFTWERK all around the same time. I started messing around on his classical guitar and bought one for myself. Shortly after that, I came across a copy of Fruityloops 3.5.6 on an Australian Personal Computer demo CD. Technically, the first drum programming work I ever did was figuring out how the beat from AALIYAH – ‘Try Again’ went. Around this time I discovered DAFT PUNK and THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, so of course I started making dance music and got really into the remix scene on a website called SectionZ.com (it doesn't exist anymore, but the internet archive has scraps). DEADMAU5 posted there actually. There exists a terrible remix I did of one of his FLPs. I wonder if he remembers a 12-year-old butchering his song.
Orchestral music, dance remixes, Frank Zappa and Aaliyah. This is all worlds away from what you would end up creating in your bedroom years later. I’m guessing somewhere along the way you were suddenly and unabashedly exposed to the dulcet tones of somebody screaming over the top of distorted guitars?
- Somewhere around 2004 somebody at school gave me copies of SLIPKNOT's self-titled album and ‘Iowa’, and a mix CD full of nu-metal and gangster rap. By that point I'd realised that JETHRO TULL was the only place to find a flute in rock music, and definitely not in heavy metal, so I switched my attention fully to guitar. I kept writing with Fruityloops, which became FL Studio, for a while before I moved away to Adobe Audition, GP5 and REAPER. I did a lot of my old garbage drum tracks that way in a really obnoxious workflow. Another friend and I started a kind of half-arsed band we called TRAVELLER and we recorded a few songs for that. It was basically a melo-death/metalcore band, but then we also wrote a weird doom song together for it, and I did a song called ‘Nexus’ which was basically "brutal tech death" or something in the vein of DISAVOWED or SEVERED SAVIOR. We eventually lost momentum.
It was probably around 2007 that I wrote my first solo metal song, and by that time I had found and heard a billion fucking albums of all genres, and got massively into guitar virtuosity, so it was a mishmash of DECREPIT BIRTH, DREAM THEATER and all kinds of nonsense. I also created my YouTube channel around then, so if you want to go digging... I continued writing from then, but nothing with any regularity. A song a year at best, mostly for exams, and absolutely no consistency of genre.
In 2011 I completed a Bachelor's Degree in Audio Engineering, with a major project in Environmental Acoustics and Speech Intelligibility. Since then, I've been honing my skills as an engineer/producer and composer/performer simultaneously.
So what sparked the creation of Convulsing? Where did this dirty, dense and unfriendly music come from after so much time spent digesting such a variety of styles?
- I don't have an ancestral home that I know about beyond the "white mutt"-ness of most Australians. My maternal grandfather was from Britain and fled during a war, but on my paternal side, I have no idea and don't rightly care. Perhaps this lack of connectivity has shaped my music in ways I'm not conscious of.
It took me until 2016 and the death of my Grandmother to realise I'd wasted 26 years fucking around, either playing other people's music or simply not focusing enough to finish more of my own. She never got to hear what she'd inspired in me, what I was capable of. ‘Errata’ came from that. Now we're here.
In November of 2016 Convulsing released the debut album ‘Errata’. The album was dedicated to Brendan’s grandmother and boasts a fascinating piece of cover art.
- Errata's cover art was made by Joshua Skinner and was originally commissioned to use as artwork for DUMBSAINT. Josh created two weird, incredibly detailed, pointillist works that are each roughly three-times the width of the portion I used for the cover. It didn't end up getting used for Dumbsaint, but it stuck in my mind. When I was looking for art for Errata, my first thought was Randy Ortiz (a quick google will tell you why), but then I remembered Josh's works. I asked him if he'd mind if I used it for Convulsing, given that he was paid for the work he did and it would be a shame to waste it. The cropped portion is also quite different from the style of the rest of the pieces, and farmore 'normally human' than Skinner ordinarily paints. His Instagram handle is @dusoodoo if you want to see what I mean by that.
Errata quickly gained momentum and popularity in the death metal underground, and it wasn’t long until Convulsing became the hot topic of conversation within the extreme metal community.
One facet of this release that stands out to me is the drumming; seamlessly integrated with the multi-layered nature of the music. Am I correct in that all of the drums on this album were digitally programmed?
- Heh, unfortunately, they are. Some songs are more obvious than others. ‘Altered’ probably has the laziest humanising of all the songs on that album. All the note velocities on 127, everything perfectly quantised/locked to the grid... ‘Dis’ probably has the best. Drums excite me as a musician far more than guitars, and so I put probably five times as much effort into getting them right. It's also necessary to think about it as though you are actually playing them. Can a human being move a stick from here to there in time to hit that tom or cymbal, do you even have enough hands? Would it be too ridiculous to play triplets on the feet with straight 16th ride rolls on the hands (Dragged) etc?
A year after ‘Errata’ flooded the scene Convulsing announced a split release with Brisbane-based SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS. How did this split come about?
- In terms of content, it's my stab at "doing a Woven Black Arteries". I treated it from the start like a 20-minute suite, and it's divided into four movements with three 'interludes'. The first two to three minutes is straight up TEITANBLOOD worship. I even tried to copy the Krzysztof Penderecki brass sample (from Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima) from the opening of ‘Seven Chalices’, but I did it with guitars. After that I dunno, I just kind of went with it. The motif in the final movement is possibly the best singular idea I've ever composed.
In August 2018, seemingly out of the blue, with no promotion or lead up, Convulsing’s second full-length album ‘Grievous’ was unleashed upon an unprepared audience.
- The lack of fanfare was, and has always been, intended. I dislike teasers, promos, advance tracks etc. It's like showing a picture in a gallery with three quarters of it obscured for later. I rarely listen to 'singles' or promo blasts of that type because it leads me to assume what the rest will be like; I want to absorb the whole work at once. I also put a lot of effort into track order and pacing, and there is a certain chronology involved that should be unbroken.
The release time (Aug 22, 2018) was the morning of my 28th birthday. I'd moved to Adelaide two weeks prior and left my job and bedroom/dungeon behind, half of my possessions, and most of my old life. One chapter closed, a new one began. Likewise with ‘Grievous’. It's the closure of a big chunk of my life that I'd largely rather not repeat, at least the personal and emotional component.
Continuing with the tradition of engrossing artwork, this album’s visual counterpart was created by Jef Whitehead of LEVIATHAN fame.
- Jef found and bought Errata, then sent me a message about it reminding him of CAMEL in some parts. I replied that I wouldn't be doing this at all if I hadn't heard Leviathan when I was in my mid-teens, and he was the only one to detect the ‘Lady Fantasy’ element. We talked a little after that. He started following me on Instagram, bought the split as well, and at some point during the recording of Grievous said, "You should let me paint something for this!" I replied, "What the fuck do you mean 'let you'? It’d be a dream". I gave him some demos and a brief concept, and we were all set to go when his studio space got seized by developers and his shit got flipped upside down for a few months. I sat on my album and waited. Somewhere mid-June of 2018 he sent me some sketches for the figure, I replied about which ones I felt were stronger, then one morning I got a message while I was eating breakfast with my partner that it was done. Start to what you see in like... 72 hours max... and it's flawless.
Considering I'm such a forthright lefty "SJW cuck" and condemn prejudice, violence and sexual assault in metal, people often try to use Jef as a power move to attack my credibility. "Why did I work with an abuser/rapist?" As far as I'm concerned, I didn't. I've done all the objective investigation that can be done, and none of it has led me to believe he's a bad person or worthy of condemnation. Certainly not the kind of character he is often painted (heh) as. That's before any subjectivity, and I'm prepared to recant all of this if I'm proven wrong. I can't see that happening. As it stands I'm immensely grateful to have his work representing me so perfectly, and he remains a huge source of inspiration. I respect him tremendously, and I'm still in disbelief that I've got a canvas of his in my lounge room that he painted for me specifically. It's unreal to me.
You mentioned that people have made attempts to attack your credibility, coming at you from a moral and social angle. Have you noticed any major shifts within the scene your music tends to appeal to since Convulsing’s inception?
- Only positive ones and I guess it also depends what 'scene' we're talking about... I think it's good that there is less tolerance for "anti-PC for the sake of it" bullshit in metal. There's a lot of actual extreme ideology masquerading as aesthetic, disguising a lot of real prejudice and hatred for minorities, homophobia, transphobia, Nazism/fascism that isn't as blatant as you might expect. I am glad that now, just as punk fans and artists once did, metal people are pushing back against it. I would not say I fully align myself with what Antifa have come to represent, because I do also believe in nuance and detail over the knee-jerk, but if you think you can get away with crypto-fascist imagery or ideas in your music now you are fucking wrong. Your time is up. Get the fuck out of the hall. We don't need you.
Likewise with misogyny and violence against women, women as victims in artwork or lyrical themes, male power etc. Fuck all that shit. It's embarrassing at best and depraved at worst. Saying that, I will freely cop to owning ARGHOSLENT, GRAND BELIAL'S KEY, BURZUM, PROSTITUTE DISFIGUREMENT, and CANNIBAL CORPSE CDs. Feel free to argue with me about this apparent double-standard in an email, dear reader, but my point stands. There's a better way to do confronting music now without victimising or targeting somebody. These ideas are not permitted in society and I'll not permit them in music.
Aside from Convulsing and Dumbsaint, which you mentioned, you are also involved with a number of other bands, both in the studio and in a live setting.
- In 2012 I met the guitarist and drummer of Dumbsaint, signed up for the mailing list at the merch desk and bought a bunch of shit. Nick (drums) added me on Facebook out of the blue a few weeks later; I still don't really know why, and I complained to him that I was struggling to finish music I was working on. He also complained. This relationship of complaint continues to this day. He learned quickly (because I'm one of those 'internet guitarist' types) that I played and I was interested in the same kind of music, and so he asked me to replace their exiting guitar player. I joined shortly before ‘Panorama, in ten pieces.’ was recorded and I've been a member since then. We're not particularly active at present though.
I've also played live guitars and bass in GREYTOMB, and live bass in SOMNIUM NOX. Jack and Rob are both friends, so it was fun to be able to help them out. More recently I've done some vocal work for MISERIST, which you premiered, and a little project called COSMIC PUTREFACTION with Gabriele Gramaglia of THE CLEARING PATH that will see light fairly soon. I'm pretty stoked about both of these things. I really hope Miserist sends me some more things to yell on.
Are there any particular aspects of being a musician that keep you motivated and provide the drive to keep active with so many different projects?
- Music is a fundamental part of my life. Nothing else compares, nothing else can (sorry, darling). The art is its own reward; the dopamine does all the work. "Sex, drugs, rock and roll" disgusts me, acclaim does not interest me, praise and criticism alike are near irrelevant. Convulsing may have been motivated by emotional turmoil or the erosion of identity, but above everything, I justlove music itself. It's the ultimate art form, to me, and to experience and create art is the purpose of human life. At least the purpose of mine.
Given that you have now been active in the music world for a while, I’m curious if you have had any standout experiences, positive or negative.
- As far as most memorable experiences go, I guess I have three:
Performing ‘Panorama...’ material with Dumbsaint in front of several hundred people at Dunk! Fest, held in a huge tent in Zottegem, Belgium. On that same tour, I did guest vocals for my friends in WE LOST THE SEA, performing a song from their debut EP in honour of their departed vocalist. I did that a few times.
The first Convulsing show ever at The Reverence Hotel in September 2018. Now in a couple of months, I'll do it again with PRIMITIVE MAN. Never expected to be doing it live at all.
On the negative side of things, the lead up to that first Negfest at The Reverence was one of the most stressful times of my fucking life and I never want to repeat it. When I woke up that morning I felt sick, and it only got worse from there. My car snapped a driveshaft after breakfast that morning while driving to a friend's studio, which was to rehearse the set with Peter and Robin for the second time ever. My shirts weren't ready until 3:00 p.m. the day of the show... I didn't eat properly... Gear problems... There have probably been others but that will always stand out as fucking awful.
This article is approximately half of the full interview conducted, which explores Brendan’s creative obsession with a Prog Rock legend, his not-so-positive take on anonymity in art and a deeper account of the turmoil that was the impetus for ‘Engraved Upon Beached Bone’.
The full interview is available in the print edition of Inner Missive #1, alongside discussions with PRECARIA, ULVESANG, MISERIST, VLADIMIR CHEBAKOV, RÁN, TRUTH CORRODED, FEDRESPOR and THE ORDER OF APOLLYON.