by R.S. Frost
Matt Wilcock is arguably one of the most accomplished Australian guitarists within extreme metal. Having seen Matt play innumerable times in almost every Australian state with a multitude of bands, I can personally attest to the ferocity and accuracy with which this maniac wields his instrument.
I caught up with Matt to gain some insight into where and how his decision to pick up a guitar, and the subsequent endless hours of repetitive practice that surely followed, began.
- I grew up in Melbourne's east, the Dandenong Ranges specifically, which is about an hour’s drive from the city. I lived there until the age of 25 when I moved to London. The surrounding area was a great place to grow up as a kid and it was full of musicians, some of them incredibly talented. There were people from different musical backgrounds that played all sorts of instruments.
I think that when I was young maybe the people that I played with, learnt off, or simply were just friends with, shaped the way I developed as a musician. I was exposed to many different styles of music, hearing metal at a young age obviously made a huge impression on me, but there were other genres of music that I enjoyed that may have unconsciously left a mark on me. I don’t know if at a young age you necessarily think too much about what your environment impresses upon you unless it’s one of a different nature. I think I was a fairly normal kid that liked listening to heavy metal.
I first started playing music with other people, or in “a band” specifically, when I was around 17 and the energy and excitement of it was like magic to me. It was a whole new world from sitting in my bedroom playing guitar. I was addicted to that energy straight away and for many years I played in numerous bands at the same time, rock bands through to death metal.
Music was my main interest and I wanted to progress in all areas of it. I remember playing with people that weren’t that excited or passionate about it, and I couldn’t understand why! Why would you spend countless hours learning an instrument and not want to play in a band, or play shows, or make an album, or travel the world? It didn’t make sense to me. Once I was an adult, or rather once I had a car and proper equipment, that was it. I set my sights on being in “proper” bands and trying to achieve greater things.
But one would be amiss to think that Matt’s career has been limited to Australia, for this man has taken the riff all around the globe for the better part of the last 20 years.
- There have been many bands that I’ve played with but the main ones, or most significant, that I’ve been involved with over the years would be ABRAMELIN, THE BERZERKER, AKERCOCKE, BELLIGERENT INTENT, and THE ANTICHRIST IMPERIUM.
Abramelin was my favourite Australian band when I was young so when I found out that they needed a second guitarist I did everything I could to get the gig. I think the guys were pretty impressed that at the first rehearsal I knew the songs better than they did! I was hungry though, so I worked hard to get the gig.
After that, I joined The Berzerker, which was an exciting time for me as they were on an international label and had already toured the US. ‘Dissimulate’ was the first album I had recorded on and we toured the US and Europe extensively. It was my time in that band that probably had the most significant effect on my musical future.
I remember seeing The Berzerker live approximately 20 times over a two-three year period in the early 2000s. A friend exposed me to the video clip for ‘No One Wins’, which resulted in the immediate purchase of the first two albums the following morning and a healthy obsession for years to come.
Watching the documentary DVD ‘The Principles and Practices of The Berzerker’, one quickly realises that playing this material is not for the faint of heart, or anyone who is not prepared to physically injure themselves in the process. I’ve also heard that The Berzerker tour bus held similar prerequisites.
- Learning the songs off the first album was a bit of a mixed bag; some of the material was fairly straightforward, some was a bit difficult. The most interesting aspect was probably that Luke (Kenny) had written a few parts on keyboard with samples or whatever and they didn't particularly lend themselves to guitar. I guess some parts were quite unorthodox. I hadn't really been exposed to much in the way of industrial or gabber music before, but I liked the sound and the extremity of it all.
When we went on tour internationally, we left Australia for nearly six months. That's a very long time for four guys to be living in each other’s personal space for and there’s probably an entire book that could be written of crazy stories, but any band that’s been out for even two weeks on the road is probably going to have similar things to say.
I think the personal aspect of that experience is the craziest; somehow we kept going and didn't kill each other. A friend of mine in the UK who saw us the first time we played there came to see us the second time around months later, he said to me he was amazed that since he last saw us we hadn't been home, we'd just been on buses and planes ever since. That statement really made me step back and think about what we were doing.
After touring so much with The Berzerker, I returned to Australia and I guess I was somewhat of a different person. Life here seemed a bit lacking so I bought a one-way flight to the UK and then was able to join Akercocke. I must stress that I bought the flight before the Akercocke position became available, so I was quite fortunate that a decent gig came up, otherwise I may have had to save up for another one-way flight home!
This move was a pretty intense thing to do, as I had left everything in Australia and literally landed at Heathrow with two guitars and a bag, and the temperature was a sultry zero degrees.
Matt dropped the anchor in London and would go on to record on Akercocke’s ’Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone’ in 2005 and then the highly acclaimed ‘Antichrist’ in 2007.
- I joined the band as they were preparing to start recording ‘Words…’ it was an exciting time but hard work. We recorded it ourselves and basically chipped away at it every night after work and on weekends. Hearing it back after mixing/mastering was interesting, it was different to anything I’d been involved in before, but there was lots of feel to it, lots of variation. It was a great album to have been involved in. We toured the UK with its release and then went out through Europe with MORTICIAN.
The following album ‘Antichrist’ seemed to be a rush job for some reason. Looking back at it now I feel that every aspect was only two-thirds of the way there; songwriting, performances, production, the whole package. Many people have told me over the years that they love that album, I cringe a little bit every time I hear that but if people dig it, then that's great.
Akercocke are a band renowned for their devotion to horn and hoof and have on many occasions been referred to as black metal’s “Satanic Gentlemen” due to, I can only assume, their stage attire.
- Whilst touring that album throughout the UK, there was a bit of an issue with a religious group in Northern Ireland that didn't want us to play there. Jason (Mendonça) and David (Gray) appeared on a live debate on television that quickly descended into a farce, they appeared via a live stream after a show we played in Nottingham. There were issues with the sound and the two of them couldn't hear particularly well. Meanwhile, these fools on the "opposing" side of the discussion seemed to be going off on a tangent about waking up in a pool of one's own vomit. From memory, David summed it up by stating that we were all hardworking, tax-paying citizens who were looking forward to playing to the Irish fans.
With that album, we also actually came back to Australia on tour with The Berzerker. That period is a bit of a blur to me as David and myself played two sets every night, one with Akercocke and one with The Berzerker.
Speaking of David, he's the mastermind behind the majority of Akercocke’s lyrical subject matter, particularly on their early albums. He is obsessed with the Devil, henceforth that theme carrying over to our current band.
Tits and goats, that’s the deal and if it ain’t broke, don't fix it.
I'm aware of some of the newer trends or styles of music that are "in" now, but if I don't like it then I pay no further attention to it. Deathcore and slam are examples, I’m pretty sure that sort of stuff is doing well at the moment, but what I’ve heard of it I’m not into, so that’s as far as my knowledge goes.
With “slam” being decidedly absent from your listening schedule, I’m curious as to what sits in your car stereo.
- I'm a bit strange with my tastes in music and what I listen to. There are certain bands/albums that I heard many years ago and I still listen to. There are bands that I only like one album of. On the whole, I very rarely listen to metal now and if I do then it’s because it speaks to me on a deeper level, never because of its musical prowess, technicality, production value or anything like that.
It's about the feel of an album; I’ve been listening to MARDUK’s ‘Panzer Division Marduk’ regularly since it was released. It's a half hour of nonstop violence, it sounds real! Not necessarily amazing, but it sounds violently real. I’ve been listening to GUNS N’ ROSES since ‘Appetite for Destruction’ as well, that album is an amazing moment in history caught forever. The combination of those guys, that songwriting and Slash's guitar playing is one in a million. I guess more recent music that has impacted on me might be the likes of ANAAL NATHRAKH and SHINING; there are aggression and emotion in those bands, a lot more variation with the latter of course. It means something to me anyway, light and dark, up and down or just relentless darkness when I’m in that zone.
On more than one occasion I’ve heard people saying things along the lines of “Anaal Nathrakh are for black metal what The Berzerker is for death metal.” Do you see any truth in this?
- One of the interesting things about music is that everybody interprets things differently. Black metal is a vast area in which some people would say “Deathcrush or fuck off”, and other people are listening to DIMMU BORGIR's latest album.
I can see what you mean by the comparison but I don't know if I agree. Anaal Nathrakh are more of an outrageously "extreme" metal band than black metal to me. I think they're just pushing their own sound further and trying different things.
A lot of people that I talk to who have been in this for as long as you have tend to have very little “middle ground” when it comes to the experiences taken from such a lifestyle. Commonly, they either have a collection of positive and reaffirming experiences, or tales of total and utter torment. I’d be quite interested to hear what kind of impression your career has left on you.
- Certain shows that I’ve played with various bands, not necessarily the biggest shows or festivals but the ones where the band has been firing on all cylinders, where everything has gone right and there’s an extra level of energy or synergy between all members, they're the special moments. When that happens, you don't want the show to end. Some of the travelling has stuck with me over the years, places I’ve been. Having met and toured with some bands that I’ve looked up to since I was younger has been amazing too.
I don't think I’ve been involved personally in too much drama over the years in regards to my musical endeavours and experiences. There have been times where I’ve thought to myself, “What on earth is going on here?”, or “How did this come about?” But that’s in relation to events that are maybe more personal rather than band orientated.
Arriving in London before linking up with Akercocke was a huge thing psychologically. No job, limited money, no family, all my friends in the comfort of Australia. I left Australia on a 30-odd degree day and it was zero in London. There were a few times when I would lay in bed and question what I was doing.
Being in The US trying out drummers for The Berzerker before our European tour will always stay in my mind too. Going to rehearsal rooms at midnight to try out a replacement, then going elsewhere to meet another guy who was interested, all with the days ticking down to a headline tour. I kind of think these moments are like living life on full volume, certainly when compared to working a nine to five.
Your current musical focus is The Antichrist Imperium. The band features current and past members of Acercocke and The Berzerker and has released two albums to date, the most recent being 2018’s ‘Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan’.
What was your thought process when constructing this supergroup of sorts and what ambitions, if any, did you have for the band?
- Towards the end of my time with Akercocke, I think myself and Jason were somewhat moving in different directions musically. Not a bad thing, just one of those things that happens with time. In a very basic sense, I was probably getting heavier and he was probably getting mellower. David and I carried on writing music together and this was to eventually become The Antichrist Imperium.
For a time I actually stepped away from playing in bands, but I still played guitar every day and probably made my most significant improvements as a player in this time. At some point, David and I had heard some old recordings we had done of songs and decided it would be a crime not to make an album. We literally picked up where we left off and got back into it. The both of us worked for the same company at the time, David as a funeral director and myself as a mortician, so we would get together after work, have a bit of a mutual whinge about the workplace and then get stuck into some heavy metal.
- We reached the point where we had an album recorded but no vocals and also no idea who would be appropriate. Our friend, and David's bandmate in VOICES, Sam Loynes jumped on board but wasn't confident with the "death metal" vocals.
Sam Bean, who had played in The Berzerker, happened to be visiting the UK in the coming weeks so we got in touch with him and he literally took a "day off" of holidaying, came to the studio and belted out a whole bunch of outrageous vocals. We were really quite surprised how well the two different vocal approaches worked together and from then we literally polished a few things on the album and it was done.
A newer label APOCALYPTIC WITCHCRAFT released the album for us; they sorted out a bunch of press for us and spread the word. As far as labels go, they've done a great job pushing the albums and we couldn't be happier. It's great that they've released them on CD, cassette and vinyl as well.
It's great to have a team of people that are reliable and on the same page. The band has, in general, received a great response from fans and the press; I guess the only negative, if you can call it that, is that we get the comparisons to Akercocke. But with David contributing lyrics and his drumming style, and the fact that three of us are in, or have been in, Akercocke, it's to be expected really.
With a long list of accomplishments behind you, and the latest Antichrist Imperium album released in June of 2018, what have you got planned for the foreseeable future?
- At the moment, Abramelin is in the process of recording an album. This is a pretty exciting thing to be involved in, as all those years ago when I first played with them I didn't do any recordings. It feels pretty special to be able to be involved in that now.
I've started a rock band in recent months with a few guys that I’ve known for many years. Anyone that knows me knows how much of a Slash fan I am, so it’s great fun to be playing stuff in that style.
The Antichrist Imperium is in the midst of writing material for the third album now. That will be a lot of work as the music is pretty involved and things are a bit more difficult with us living in different parts of the world. It’s an exciting workload though so hopefully that will come to fruition over the next 12 months.
This is an excerpt of the full interview conducted, in which Matt discusses the sometimes incomprehensible motifs behind Belligerent Intent, how he came to be a mortician and further musings on almost two decades within the extreme metal construct.
The full interview is available in the print edition of Inner Missive #2, alongside discussions with THY DARKENED SHADE, WOLCENSMEN, ART AS CATHARSIS, ALTARS, GRIFT, ALTARAGE, ADRIAN BAXTER, PRIMITIVE MAN, COSMIC PUTREFACTION, EMYN MUIL, GIGAN, BYRDI, SLUDGE, ULCERATE and ÖXXÖ XÖÖX.