Band – Amiensus
Album – Abreaction
Country of Origin – USA
Genre – Atmospheric Black Metal
Release Date – October 2, 2020
Label – Transcending Records
Author – Ivan Gossage
This feature is being published in collaboration with Black Metal Daily.
Longing For The Dark To Subside
AMIENSUS – Abreaction Review and Interview with James Benson
If there is one thing that Minnesota quintet AMIENSUS do not shy away from, it’s variation and evolution. Although their discography is spotted with an array of singles and splits, the structure of their musical output was, until now, upheld by three pillar releases: Restoration (2013), Ascension (2015), and All Paths Lead To Death (2017). Across these, the propensity for progression is obvious. The nature-based blackened melodic pseudofolk aspects of Restoration (I hear similarities to AGALLOCH, BORKNAGAR, GALLOWBRAID, closely associated OAK PANTHEON, etc.) developed into a more progressive, epic sound with Ascension (comparable to IHSAHN, XANTHOCHROID, later ENSLAVED), then moved into more traditional synthphonic black metal aggression with All Paths… (think ALGAZANTH, VESPERIAN SORROW, THE BISHOP OF HEXEN, TROLL).
With the new album Abreaction, AMIENSUS seem to take all of these seemingly disparate styles and combine them into a cohesive unity in which every element is pronounced and perfected. And it is pretty damn amazing. From the opening track “Beneath the Waves”, which initially starts as full-on post-rock/alternative with sunny vocals before diving into blacker waters, to the epic, roaring, and heavy black/death/doom “Iconoclasm”, Abreaction manages to span the stylistic output of the AMIENSUS discography and then some, pulling the listener through an elaborate, seamless gambit of sonic and affective approaches. Written by James Benson (vocals, guitar, see also NÒTT, CHROME WAVES, ADORA VIVOS) and Alec Rozsa (vocals, guitar, keyboard, see IDOLUM), with Kelsey Roe (vocals, guitar) contributing “Cold Viscera”, Abreaction has an overflow of talent and tools at their disposal.
Besides the three vocalists/guitarists mentioned, we also find Todd Farnham pulling everything together with a stellar bass performance, Chris Piette providing the foundation with fantastic percussion, and Kakophonix (Chris Brown, see also ABIGAIL WILLIAMS, EMPYREAN THRONE, CHROME WAVES) on cello. As might be expected, we find layered harmonizing electric and acoustic guitars, an array of vocal approaches including plenty of cleans, a variety of keyboard additions from orchestra to organ to piano to brass, and soaring cello mixed perfectly into what was already an eclectic musical template. In order to get a better grasp on everything that went into Abreaction and more, main man James Benson graciously allowed us behind the scenes of AMIENSUS. Continue reading below the music for the full interview.
Ivan Gossage: Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about Abreaction. I’m incredibly excited for this release. I imagine that you are even more so!
James Benson: Yes absolutely! It’s been a long time coming for sure. We have a tendency to drag our feet and rethink a lot of things when it comes to releasing full length albums. Thankfully, our friend Antoine Dufour really helped us in completing this album. And to some degree, a pandemic…
IG: Speaking of which, how is the writing / recording / production process these days for AMIENSUS? You have a new member of the band, correct? Do you anticipate this being the future lineup for the band?
JB: Kelsey, our newest member, actually auditioned and joined the band officially in early 2018 – he, like Chris our drummer, is from Green Bay, WI, whereas the others, including myself, all live in MN. After a few tours and shows, he joined us out in Minnesota and has been a vital voice in our continued development. This is definitely the most cohesive group we’ve had since our inception. We continue to work with some former members in AMIENSUS to some capacity (Aaron McKinney/Joe Waller) however, as they remain close friends of ours and are terrific musicians. We also hope to keep working with Kakophonix, who contributed his talent on our split with ADORA VIVOS this year.
IG: You have even more going on than I thought! Besides an overview on the massive amount of sheer talent that has gone into Abreaction, a main theme of my review of the album was the evolution of AMIENSUS, particularly across Restoration, Ascension, and All Paths Lead To Death. What is your perspective on how the sound of AMIENSUS has progressed over the years and what has driven this expansion?
JB: I could take a few days to write an essay on this topic to be honest. In about 2011, when we set out to write Restoration, and completed it November of 2011 by the way, we were all really young (20 to 25). We really had no idea what we were doing besides trying to put together a bunch of songs to make a full-length album that WE liked, and had no limitations. After 2013, when we set to write Ascension, the band really attempted (intentionally) to grow even much grander in our songwriting and production. There was somewhat of a realization that we had much better tools than previously (in writing Restoration), and a larger talent pool that had developed over the last couple of years to draw from, plus experience with songwriting and production. Shortly before Ascension was released, we began to do touring and live shows. Between 2015 and 2017, before we released and recorded APLTD, the members shifted a bit, with important song-writers Joe and Aaron, and then Zack, leaving the band. Equally important, we wrote from a different perspective after Ascension. The perspective was that of a band intentionally trying to write to play our songs live now. And that was really the biggest shift in our minds. We know that people enjoy our grandiose, progressive songs like “I Am” and “Towards Horizon”, but the reception did not translate to a live audience who was just discovering us for the first time – and to be honest we were a bit sick of relying on backing tracks because touring with seven or eight people would have been impossible. We also received quite a bit of exclusion from most “cliques” because we never fit a specific genre or “scene”. Typically, we were playing with black metal bands, since we kind of fall under that category, but we even did runs with progressive metalcore bands. Hence, APLTD was our statement that, we can write and play black or death metal. It was also the first time we wrote an album with live drums, and the intention of using little to no backing tracks live. It was a fun and powerful album for us, even though it is an EP. It’s 30 minutes long, and we’ve continued playing many tracks off it live because it receives by far the best reception to new audiences.
IG: Interesting. It does seem like the most accessible in many ways, although I have to admit it was Restoration that won me over despite the fact that I think I became aware of AMIENSUS with the release of APLTD. Who have been your musical influences over the years, and do you take different inspiration for different albums? Is there anything that you have been really appreciating so far this year?
JB: I can’t speak for everyone here but what really started AMIENSUS, and “pre-AMIENSUS” was our love of old UNDERØATH, Cries of the Past era UØ. A few of us in our early teens, in the mid 2000’s discovered this album and that’s what brought out our love of heavy music. Obviously, we individually have our own other music tastes, but that album and band specifically are what we bonded on the most and wanted to emulate as kids. As for each album – yeah, we definitely have different inspiration (for each album), and songwriting has evolved a LOT over the last decade. Thankfully, technology has continued to grow, and we’ve closed the gaps in distance between us physically. Most of our music still gets written over Dropbox, but ⅘ of us are pretty close now so that has definitely allowed us to jam out together, and we took advantage of that when writing Abreaction. In terms of what I’m listening to a lot from 2020; TRICOT, RINGO DEATHSTARR, INOREXUM, MORKE, NARROW HEAD, AVERSIO HUMANITATIS, TOWARDS DARKNESS, VELNIAS, WINTERFYLLITH, HUM, RED VELVET, $UICIDEBOY$, DEEPER GRAVES – are on my rotation on Bandcamp and Spotify or Vinyl right now.
IG: Excellent! I’ve been listening to several of those as well, particularly INOREXUM, AVERSIO HUMANITATIS, and VELNIAS. When All Paths… was released, I remember you expressing some frustration that others (fans I assume) did not want to accept that such a more direct black metal approach should be a part of AMIENSUS’ sound, and I got the impression that this might have contributed to your activity with NÒTT. Yet, with Abreaction, it seems like this approach has been successfully incorporated, particularly with songs like “All That Is Unknown” and “Iconoclasm”, but also in parts of others like “Drowned” as well. How do you feel about the sound of Abreaction in relation to the other albums, and how do you view AMIENSUS’ relation to traditional black metal generally at this point?
JB: I think a lot of fans were expecting in 2017 for Amiensus to release Ascension Part 2 or something bigger and more grandiose than Ascension, which is pretty hard to do, and we have never tried to be DIMMU BORGIR or an epic power metal band despite wandering into that territory in some songs. APLTD was a statement that we can rely on ourselves as a 5-piece band to make ear engaging heavy metal without a computer blaring thirty keyboard parts behind us. We were definitely rediscovering ourselves as a band with the loss of a few members and the transition to a live oriented band. Ultimately, APLTD is probably the most polarizing album we have, but it does not reflect so in reception live or otherwise, with maybe an exception for some keyboard warriors who are loudest. Typically, the most well received songs we play live are on that album. Abreaction is what I’ve been quoted in the past stating – an amalgamation of everything in our discography to this point. There are no fillers, no instrumentals except the bonus track, just nine pure songs, and with them a blend of our entire history and new avenues we have just entered. In the future, I absolutely don’t think we will be afraid to release a more black metal oriented track or album. It’s part of who we are, and that will never change.
I would say that a large part of what contributed to NÒTT and the two albums I’ve released was this period as well. It was definitely a continuance of that style of writing, and If you’re reading this and enjoyed APLTD, please give NÒTT a spin! I’m very disappointed that I haven’t been able to play live this year in support of The Great Furnace with Roman, as we were ready to go until COVID hit.
IG: I think I must have missed your previous statements about Abreaction being an amalgamation of the previous material, but considering my “blind” assessment of it in the review, I would be encouraged to see that Abreaction speaks for itself! I looked up the meaning of “abreaction”, and it looks like it basically refers to an emotional expression of unconscious material that accumulates due to a situation causing subconscious conflict. I listened to the album numerous times so I have some intuition about what it might be referring to, but I only have access to two of the songs’ lyrics on Bandcamp. A good thing in the end, because it gives me an opportunity to skip the guesswork and ask you about the conceptual material behind the album.
JB: Alec and I have been the main lyric writers for several years now, and I don’t want to speak too much for him, as he is a prolific writer and could speak much more eloquently to the lyrics he provided for this album, so I’ll speak about the lyrics I contributed. Most of these songs were written between 2017 and 2019 and a lot of current events shaped the topics. However, as with Restoration and Ascension, some were “stream of consciousness” style writing – which is my preferred way to write. Prior to Ascension, I took my first major job after college in the field I studied in – Psychology and Counseling. I’ve been counseling for nearly seven years now, which has vastly shaped my emotions, the way I listen to music for pleasure, the way I write music, my worldview, ECT… in most songs, the lyrics are truly the definition of Abreaction.
IG: I’m curious about the cover art for the album. I love the coloring of it (particularly because I plan on grabbing that blue/gold splatter LP and it looks like it will match it well!), but I can’t tell what it is exactly. My two best guesses are some sort of stone or an oil slick, but I can’t even really discern if it is a painting or a photograph!
JB: You’re actually correct on both guesses! Originally, the front and back covers are two oil pour paintings on wood that I did with my sister in law, who also did guest vocals on this album. I intended for these to be the album art when I made them, and she photographed them for me to use. I have both pieces hanging in my studio.
IG: On the business side of things, it looks that other than a brief stint with Tridroid, you have released the vast majority of AMIENSUS’ material independently. Abreaction, however, will be released through the eclectic Transcending Records. Congratulations on landing that contract! I’m seeing pretty consistent marketing for Abreaction with a release date of October 2nd. How are things going being signed to a label, and how is the preorder progressing?
JB: We’ve always liked holding the reigns, but since we started touring, we’ve had way less money for the production side of things. Transcending Records we knew from the past (I worked with them for my band FAIL TO DECAY in 2018 on our LP “Delve”) and had complete trust they would knock it out of the park in terms of pursuing our vision and supporting our goals for this release. Preorder has been less than expected – The economic state of the world couldn’t have been worse due to coronavirus. We still see the same support on social media, and if someone sincerely cannot afford to stream our music, we are absolutely always willing to share it for free.
IG: With that in mind, I’m going to stop delaying and head over to Transcending now [*literally stopping the interview editing process momentarily to order*] for that LP, and I encourage others reading to do the same. Thank you so much for your time with this interview… and even more so for Abreaction! Any final words for the now and future fans?
JB: We hope that fans of the band, whether their first introduction to us was Restoration, or All Paths Lead to Death, can find some enjoyment in this album, as we sincerely love this album and it’s representation of all things we love about music. If you’re new, strap in and enjoy the ride. We plan on playing most of this album live at some point (post COVID) and hope to catch you in your city, and if not, eventually a live album will be recorded. The last five years have introduced major changes in the band, but as LED ZEPPELIN put it, the song remains the same. We are already into writing our next release and have several songs developing and hope to bring about the next LP in a shorter period of time. If you did not hear it, we also released a self-titled split in June with ADORA VIVOS, which features Joe Waller, who was a part of the band from 2011- 2015, and myself. Hopefully, everyone reading this is safe and healthy. We look forward to 10/02/2020 with much peace thanks to our label and awesome engineer, Antoine Dufour. Wash your hands and wear a mask so we can play some new tunes in 2021!
IG: Thanks again James, may thy will be done.