A day before the official release of Die Lederpredigt, Folterkammer’s powerhouse vocalist (and delightfully pleasant presence) Andromeda Anarchia joined me to talk about how this incredibly theatrical and terrifying album came to be. Through lots of laughter and hope for better days, a conversation about how this incredible album came to be unfurled through a phone call.
MPN: How has your year been?
Andromeda Anarchia: My year was very special. Very overwhelming in many ways, but, musically, still interesting because of Folterkammer and Imperial Triumphant, and the Imperial Triumphant record that was out. I was a guest vocalist on that, too! That was really exciting. I was lucky to play a small tour in Germany with a metal jazz band called Kilter before the big lockdown started here in Europe, so that was okay, but I’m currently stuck in Paris. I’m waiting for things to change, and hoping that we get a vaccine soon and that people are as safe as possible. It’s a crazy year, right?
MPN: Absolutely. Did you spend most of your quarantine in Paris then? How long have you been there?
Andromeda Anarchia: A part in New York, because normally I live in Brooklyn now, but I’m Swiss. I’m actually from Switzerland. I moved to Brooklyn and then [quarantine] started and I had to go to Europe for a recording session and for that tour, and ever since then I’ve been stuck here. I’ve been here since summer.
MPN: Oh, my gosh!
Andromeda Anarchia: Yes, exactly. Between the U.S.A. and Europe, the borders are closed, so it’s extremely difficult to be allowed to enter the other country. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if I’m stuck at home in New York or here in Paris as long as I can still continue to work on my music. I miss New York! That’s not easy. I mean, for everybody, it’s not really a “go back to normal,” I guess that’s it impossible, but to a new normal, which is safe for everybody because this is a really horrible situation for everybody. But I’m super excited for the album release tomorrow!
MPN: Yeah! Did you have to record this album remotely with everyone? Did you record separately?
Andromeda Anarchia: Yeah, well, it depends. We were all over the place! Zach [Ezrin] and I, and Brendan [McGowan], we live in New York, and Darren [Hanson] lives in California. Brendan is the composer of all these songs, and he and Zach were working on some ideas that Zach was showing him, his compositions. Zachary had some new ideas for arrangements, and he called me because we already had some kind of opera/black metal fusion ideas in our heads. He said, “hey, Darren has these amazing songs to work on. Do you have ideas for lyrics and melodies?” So they sent me the raw files and I looked at it, and then they recorded part of the instrumental parts, and I put my vocal parts on it, then they had some more ideas they added. The Imperial [Triumphant] bass player, Steve Blanco, did all of the sound engineering on my voice. Zach was there too, of course. That was an amazing production. It was really funny, actually. For the voice recording, we were in the basement of the rehearsal space of Imperial Triumphant, and next door there were guys rehearsing their stuff, and I wanted to have that raw ambience to record the vocals, and to contrast them with the classical singing. We really wanted to have that old school black metal approach to the whole thing. That was really a lot of fun! That’s how we recorded this record. Because we were in different places, that’s how we did it. These days, that’s actually possible, which is really great.
MPN: That’s perfect!
Andromeda Anarchia: Yeah! That was really cool. That was a new experience for me, too. To really record, in such a short time, all these tracks I had, like, two days to record vocals. Like, two afternoons to sing all the operatic parts and the harsh vocals. At first I thought I would isolate those voices from each other, but I did not. I did everything just like that. That it was even possible was great for me to find out. That’s something I’m really excited about. When you’re studying classical singing, it’s all about erasing distortions on your voice. You have to have that big, clean sound. No, no, don’t sing modern music. You’ll ruin your voice. I’m told to not do harsh vocals, but I always loved it, so it’s the perfect playground for me.
MPN: How long was this project in the works then?
Andromeda Anarchia: Well, it took us, like, two, three years from the first idea of “we could do that” until now. The whole process of production, of writing lyrics, of writing the music, arranging things, mixing, mastering, all the preparations that we are doing now – I would say at least two years and maybe a bit more.
MPN: Did you have a story the whole time? Did you know you wanted to do a twisting of the feminine stereotype? Was that always something you wanted to do?
Andromeda Anarchia: Absolutely. I love strong female power characters. It’s not often present in black metal music. It’s always about this cliche of being against the church, which is great, but I didn’t want to go into that cliche too much with satanism and also the very male stereotype picture of God to deconstruct. I wanted to take that picture Holy Maria being so gentle and being protective – that image of what a woman should be like – and I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to look at the world and the way it is, not base it off of fiction, but of actual monsters that are human beings in the world. There are some women, too. I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about an evil female super power. I’m a female singer. I cannot put myself into the place of a man like that. I think that’s the grandiosity, also from the vocal point of view, from the singing point of view, to have a huge, strong voice of a woman and to be so evil. That’s so new for me to do that! To have that evil spirit, that vicious female power, why not? Why should it be only a male power? I totally wanted to go that way. A bit less typical satanist, but still with that rebellious power that goes with black metal. It’s against all these authorities and obedient structures, but portrays a female force that tries to inflict that evil spirit on all of her submissives. The concept of being so dependent on somebody, and somebody that abuses that dependency – that was something I wanted to write about to fight against it from a singing point of view. You need something that gives you power to raise your voice. It’s similar to acting. You need to have a vision of something so you can really put that emotion into it because that’s not a normal feeling I have in my everyday life. That was a very special experience for me to write in my mother tongue. Normally I mostly write songs in English, but this time it was in German. And to write something so evil in German was a new thing to me.
MPN: Did you feel like this put you out of your comfort zone, or was it pretty easy for you to do?
Andromeda Anarchia: It depends. The singing part was really easy, and I had a lot of fun. But the writing process, as I said, I wanted to see what was going on with this world. I needed a source of inspiration to write lyrics, and I was tired of the fiction thing. You know, the stories we have from religion. I didn’t want to sing about Satan and demons and angels. I wanted to look at the world and see, if you want to translate it, what are real demons? What are real monstrous people? What do they do, and what makes them monstrous to us? It’s sad, but it’s true. It’s all over the place. You open up the news and you see such pain and terror and torture. We don’t need all this fiction, we have it right here. It was hard because I read some things – I wanted to make something evil and I wanted to know about some topics, and for me that was a hard time, to be honest. For a few weeks I was in this world of writing lyrics and I wanted to really create something evil. I really struggled for a few days. I had to enter into a new world, and then I had to take a break for a few weeks to find a healthy distance. I stopped reading the news, I stopped watching documentaries, and I just tried to find my distance so I’m able to control the emotion to put into the singing. And that was good. It was like acting. I had my distance, and I was able to perform it. Until then I understood what I had to do. I think when you do the research part of the writing, you enter this world and it overwhelms you. Then you take a step back, and then you learn how to handle these forces and you can use them to perform. It takes a whole process. You cannot skip one part. For Folterkammer, to really do something so dark and evil, it was totally necessary for me to do that – the whole process. I wanted to also have a certain theatrical aspect to it, and also a certain kind of humor because how do we deal with tragedies? I think humor is an important part to not have that big weight on us all the time. That “weltschmerz” as we say in German; the pain of the world on our shoulders. You know the German singer Nina Hagen?
Andromeda Anarchia: I totally love her, and I always loved how she inserted the classical singing into punk rock music and made it so theatrical. If you understand the lyrics, she’s so funny! She has really a lot of humor. Zach is also a big Nina Hagen fan, and we wanted to have this sort of “Nina Hagen goes black metal” approach to it. I wanted to really add the theatrical part. I didn’t want to identify with this evilness; I didn’t want to be stuck with that. I wanted to be able to say, hey, there are evil things, but for me, I’m an artist, I don’t want to identify with that. I take things with humor so not to be overwhelmed all the time. I think you can hear that in the lyrics and in the way I write, and also how it’s performed. I think there is a certain theatrical thing that you can hear easily in these songs. I hope that people can hear that despite all of these evil things I’m singing about, I had a lot of fun performing them.
MPN: For sure, for sure!
Andromeda Anarchia: Okay, great! We had fun during the vocal recording session with Zach and Steve being there – they’re really great guys. To know we were all working toward the same thing, it was so much fun. I think we really need that energy to break through and slice through all those evil spirits. To go through that and be rebellious, I think it’s all positive energy in the end. I think that’s something that is important to me – when you walk through hell, when you walk through the darkness, at the end, you want to be sure it’s behind you. You sliced your way through it. For me, the theatrical aspects help me a lot. Opera is all about theater. It’s not really a form of music, it’s more a form of theater with music being used for performing the stage play. It gives so many options to perform like that! When you take that classical, operatic approach, it’s so overdramatic and I love that.
MPN: Do you guys have any plans for visuals to go along with this album? Any music videos?
Andromeda Anarchia: I just say be curious for tomorrow.
MPN: Oh, perfect.
Andromeda Anarchia: Stay tuned! It’s been really difficult because of the Covid situation because of the fact that I’m stuck here in Europe and they are there in the U.S.A. It’s really hard to make a music video. Everybody is improvising at the moment. We wanted to do something and we figured out a way we could. I don’t want to speak too much about it. I want you to be surprised!
MPN: That’s exciting!
Andromeda Anarchia: Yeah, that’s for the album release tomorrow. I think that’s great to show something with it.
MPN: What was your entrance into black metal?
Andromeda Anarchia: I always loved metal music, like really extreme metal music, but it doesn’t really matter what style in the end. I love death metal as much as I love black metal, really technical death metal, too – I’m a huge Meshuggah fan, for example. Black metal was always a wave that caught my attention and pulled me with it. It’s something unique in the metal world. I mean, this universe is so huge, and there are so many styles of expressing yourself as a musician. But black metal, there is this rawness. It’s not about perfection soundwise, for example like with technical death metal. The productions are not clean, and I love that. I love that it has that dirty thing to it. To know that in the 80’s and 90’s, these bands were so remote and they just had some improvised equipment to produce everything. It gave a certain sound, and it gave a certain quality to it that I really love. I think that’s what really attracted me to it. I mean, satanic symbols, they’re fun, but it wasn’t really so much that. Also, the voice, it’s more like – compared to death metal where you have those low growls, or grindcore where you have those super low, great voices, all these gargles and such – when you go to black metal, you have these high pitched screams that are rough. I love that. I love that sound, too. I know I started off with bands like Celtic Frost, and I knew some black metal bands from Norwegia like Dissection, but I didn’t like all these things that happened like the right-wing political attitude. I didn’t like that at all. I didn’t want to identify with that scene because of that. Nowadays, we have this chance as black metal musicians to redefine, or to give new meaning to things; to step away from all that political stuff and all that dark kind of history. It’s a great way of expressing yourself in metal, and it should not be ruined just because of a few protagonists who were racists, or who were basically just jerks in my opinion, but the music was great. When Imperial Triumphant started to release songs, I was really intrigued. Or with Liturgy, I thought that was something cool because that’s not in that European old tradition thing. They tried to do something new and I loved it. When Kenny Grohowski entered Imperial Triumphant, I was like, “wow!” I knew him from John Zorn. I love jazz music, and free, improvised music, too. It gave a new edge to the band. Then they started to define their style with all these influences from jazz music, and I was totally into it. I met Zach in New York when I was there, and he asked me to contribute guest vocals on Vile Luxury, and then again on Alphaville. We knew we wanted to do something together, but that’s the new generation of black metal! How it’s happening now, that’s so interesting. There’s so much going on. All these bands that pop up everywhere and are so creative and try to mix styles from whatever. It doesn’t matter! It’s just about music in the end. Yes, of course, it flows into a certain direction like black metal or death metal, but it’s not just about that. It’s about pushing the boundaries, to step across the borders, to find new things. I find that so interesting. That’s what we tried with Folterkammer, too – to mix new things and to see how far we could go to step away from the old cliche, like with the topics we write about. We use those traditions to pick them up into something new. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
MPN: Absolutely! It seems like there’s an inclusivity that wasn’t there before.
Andromeda Anarchia: Exactly, right!? To know that it now happens all over the place, that you can hear there’s a New York black metal scene now happening, and you can see them bring that sound back to Europe. In Europe, you see it getting picked back up here in France. In Germany, too, when I was on tour – Oh, yes! Imperial Triumphant! That’s such an amazing band! – and it’s like, wow, okay! It’s growing, and it’s growing fast! That’s really amazing to see that. It’s more open-minded, massively more open-minded than it used to be in the 90’s, but I guess it’s also to do with the internet and the world wide connections we can do now so easily. It was not possible when I was a kid. There was no internet for me! I had to go to the record store and just hope I find something nice. In Switzerland, it’s so small, so it takes time to find those things. Now, everything goes very fast. I think that’s really great. That’s something beautiful about how we can communicate nowadays. We can share everything, like music.
MPN: Music is a great connector! For a final question, I would like to ask what is something you are looking forward to?
Andromeda Anarchia: With Folterkammer?
MPN: With anything!
Andromeda Anarchia: To perform again.
MPN: Yes. Oh, yes.
Andromeda Anarchia: I really miss it. It’s not just about me being on stage and to share that with other musicians, it’s also to connect with the community again, with the people in the audience, to see what other bands are doing. To just go out and give a hug again, and to share a drink, you know? To have a good time! I totally miss it, and that’s what I’m totally looking forward to. To have festivals again, to have concerts again. I miss that so much. It’s like being a fish, but somebody took you out of the water. You know what I mean? It’s like, gasp, I want to go back!
MPN: I’m dying over here!
Andromeda Anarchia: Exactly! It’s like I can’t breathe anymore! We’re all in the same boat about that. Everybody. When I was in Germany for the Kilter tour to open for Panzerballett, it’s a German metal jazz band, it was just a few concerts, and there were rules that were very strict about how you are allowed to perform, and how many people can be in the audience. But, when we talked to the people after the shows, you saw how much they miss the concerts; how much they miss to go out and see live music being performed. It was very touching. I was very moved to see how happy they were, and also to see how happy all of the other musicians were. It’s so much more important than we think – that we can meet, that we can have experiences like that. So, that’s what I’m looking forward to. Also, that people don’t have to be scared anymore. I hope that there is a vaccine that will work very soon, and that people are protected. I hope we can just meet again without worrying all the time. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I think we have so many blessings in life, we have all we need, more or less. It’s a beautiful luxury we have when we’re allowed to go out and perform, or to meet friends, and to have a good time. I think what I’ve learned is that the social aspect of being human is really, really important. With new media, we are also easily isolating ourselves, but it’s also good because we are easily staying connected with each other when we cannot meet. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot during these last few months – the social aspect of being human. That’s really important. Music, as you said so well, it’s a very good connector. It’s a wonderful platform to lift that social aspect – to meet people, to share good memories. Some of my greatest memories, I don’t know how it is for you, are of when I make music with others, and when I went to concerts.
Andromeda Anarchia: The most amazing moments, some of them. Now we can’t have that anymore, so that’s what I’m looking forward to. To meet people, to share with people right away with direct interaction, not just through the internet. I can’t wait for that! Honestly, to hug my friends again! It’s horrible to not be able to do that. Or my grandparents, for example, my sisters! Just to go give a hug without worries. To jump around with friends and be crazy. I think that’s the most precious thing in life for me – to have that freedom, to have that opportunity to share music with others so directly. To me, that’s a luxury, a real gift in life to be able to do that. So, now we have to be patient. We have to be calm. We have to have hope.
MPN: I’m right there with you. I feel like music is an identity for a lot of people, so this year kind of makes a lot of people feel lost, very lost.
Andromeda Anarchia: Yes, exactly, because we can’t connect, right? Connecting is so important. With music, we don’t really need a language. Even with, for example, with Folterkammer, I sing in German. If I can bring a certain emotion into the music, you can also hear that when you listen to it. You don’t need to understand the words behind that. It’s fun to understand the words, but that’s not just all about it. The beauty of music, to me, is that no matter what language you sing, even if you invent one, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the sound, this power of the sound that makes us connect with each other. That’s amazing. It’s so beautiful. I miss that, to feel the bass in my belly.
Andromeda Anarchia: You like that, too? *laughs* I miss that so much.
MPN: I just miss crying at shows!
Andromeda Anarchia: Oh, yes! Oh, my god, so much, right? When I’m here and I practice for myself, it’s like, what am I doing this for? I really just hope that one day I can go back on stage. It’s like, my god, I can’t share that! There’s nobody that cheers with me, that yells with me, that screams with me, so I can do the same with other people ahhh! *laughs* You know what? We can use that to prepare ourselves so that one day we can go back out there and we can just yell our lungs out and we will not lose our voices because we have been training so well.
MPN: Oh, for sure! If you guys ever make it out to Michigan, in whatever timeline that is, please let me know.
Andromeda Anarchia: Oh, of course. I would love to go on tour! I would really love to perform Folterkammer live on stage. For me, that’s music that needs to go out there with all the sweat, and all the people. The screaming! As you said, you miss that so much. Oh, boy. I think that could be so great with the music. You know, normally, with opera, that music is so calm and sophisticated. With metal, you can really express yourself directly. To mix those worlds, that’s very intriguing to me to know we can take that operatic feel and drama and just throw it into that direct, raw, energetic metal context. To just throw it there and have fun with it. That’s why I really hope we can perform that live.
MPN: One day, one day!
Andromeda Anarchia: *let’s out an operatic ahhh* Music is so much fun.