Dense, dynamic, highly complex and insurmountably heavy; Coma Cluster Void’s uniquely terrifying brand of technical death metal is something to behold. From their 2016 opus Mind Cemeteries, to their recently-released EP Thoughts From a Stone, it is clear that the sextet are on a path towards death metal greatness, refusing to sacrifice their singular artistic vision. Their music is meticulously constructed yet devastatingly chaotic, bringing together the best that technical and experimental metal has to offer.
Svbterranean recently caught up with five-sixths of the band to discuss their approach to their music, their new recording and more.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Coma Cluster Void?
Mike: I’m Mike and I do a lot of screaming and writing of some words.
Chris: I’m Chris and I record my drum-set being thrown down the stairs!
Sylvia: Hello, i am Sylvia Hinz and i love to destroy bass lines and other stuff.
Austin: I’m Austin, I yell at microphones.
John: Hi, I’m John Strieder and I am the artistic director of the band. I write the music, play the guitars, do the mixing and mastering, the artworks and illustrations.
How did the band come together?
Sylvia: John and I always felt drawn towards extreme forms of music, like dissonant art music and metal, and at some point John wanted to pursue our ideas in a metal setting. It took us a while to search for the right people for this project: passionate and reliable people, owning the gear needed to record from home, so we won’t have to face regional limits regarding the choice of comrades for CCV.
Mike: Both John and Sylvia reached out to me online expressing their interest in having me check out some music snippets that they were putting together for CCV. I am typically a bit guarded when receiving emails like this but I checked it out of course and immediately fell in love with what they were doing. It was an absolute no brainer to join in their vision.
Chris: My friend and Thoren guitarist, Anthony Lipari, introduced me to John and after exchanging Spaceballs memes in Facebook chat, the rest was history.
Austin: I had worked on an online collaboration with Anthony Columbus, who said he had some ‘secret german technology’ to produce it (that was John). Later John contacted me in regards to being one of the CCV vocalists.
How do you feel the band’s sound, or your approach to writing for the band, has changed since its inception?
John: I have a sort of map in my head of things I want to do, but this map expands along as well, because every new option creates new branches of options. There’s a german expression … “not to fall into the house with the door”. We want to take people on a journey, “Mind Cemeteries” was the beginning, “Thoughts From A Stone” takes things further.
Mike: Mind Cemeteries was the first experience in sending files back and forth and not jamming with a band in the same room. Once I was able to get passed the traditional way of writing/playing, it was very easy to work in this fashion. The songs (and John) have pushed me to new limits in writing, which I welcome. As an artist I never want to stay pigeon-holed and CCV has allowed myself to expand my writing style and arrangement focus. Through both releases, this expansion has been prominent.
How do you feel writing and performing with Coma Cluster Void has pushed you as a musician?
Austin: In order to fit vocals to the material, I had to wrap my mind around it first. I do this not through the numbers and structure of the song, but the mood and story being told. The instruments create such a dense canvas, getting lost can be easy and make it tempting to just follow a single instrument or sing ‘over’ the music. Finding the medium between the two has been the real journey thus far for me. Matching the vocal performances of others [for a natural doubling] can pose quite a challenge as well!
Mike: I agree with what Austin has to say, I too had to listen to the material over and over to really figure it all out. Once it starts to make sense, then the placement and arrangements begin to form.
Sylvia: For me, finding the time to play the bass besides my classical and experimental endeavours was a struggle at first, but after a while, and in correspondence and exchange with the others, i was able to create time frames for the work on CCV.
Chris: The rhythmic ideas presented are unlike anything I could get away with in any other band. Sure, some bands might throw in odd time signatures, polyrhythms, or metric modulations, but even those have conventions. We expand further on layered polyrhythms, complex tuplets, tempo modulations and making every measure ebb and flow in a way you haven’t heard before in metal.
John: But of course, in the end, the song is the most important thing. Let me give an example: When we stack multiple layers of polyrhythms and subdivisions in the later part of “Thoughts From A Stone” (the accompaniment of Sylvia’s mezzo soprano vocals) it is to express an flood of feeling(s). It’s an allegory:„flood“ is derived from “flood of water”, and becomes here a “flood of notes”.
Thoughts from a Stone is essentially one longer piece of music in which all tracks move seamlessly into one another. Was it the band’s intention to create one flowing piece or did everything come together organically during the writing process?
Mike: This had been planned out from the get-go: a 22 minute opus with a variety of moods, colors and textures for the listener to interpret. Once John presented the skeleton in both written and musical direction, it was time to hunker down and work our parts into the body of the composition. It was without a doubt the most challenging piece of music that I have personally worked on. For many years I have wanted to be involved with a long song like this so once it was completed and we (Gen and I) were able to just sit down with headphones and take it all in, I too couldn’t be more proud of what we did collectively.
John: I usually start with an overall vision of a piece, and then make it more and more detailed. I created an overview of the form and shared it with my band mates, at the end I had a PDF with a letter and a description for each Riff/Part: What is their place, what is their function, and so on. This way, the rest of the band had an orientation guide at hand. It was important for me to continue seamlessly where Mind Cemeteries has left the listener: The last we hear on “Mind Cemeteries” is the sentence “through death we part”, first screamed, then spoken. The first thing we hear on “Thoughts From A Stone” is the same sentence, now even softer. In the same way, we hear in the Prologue, Interlude and Epilogue of “Mind Cemeteries” Sylvia singing (humming) into the double bass recorder while playing, she continues that in the Introduction of Thoughts From A Stone, but then in the middle, she goes from humming into a soft singing style, then into a strong mezzo-soprano voice, and then into scream. TFAS ends with Sylvia humming the same melody into the double bass recorder, as she did in the beginning of Mind Cemeteries, to finally close the circle. I like to describe large bows in music. There were actually some lyrical cites from Mind Cemeteries planned (even recorded), but we decided to drop those … after all, things shouldn’t be too obvious 😉
How would you compare it to your previous full-length, Mind Cemeteries?
John: Personally I don’t think it’s of much use to compare them. Despite being set in the same world, they tell different stories, thus the music is different.
Sylvia: It’s the same band 😀
What were some of the challenges faced, if any were faced, during the writing process of Thoughts from a Stone?
Chris: The piece’s base are quintuplets at 80 bpm. However, in a drumming context, some phrases felt better to play in a different subdivision and tempo. Coordinating tempo modulations online was not the easiest, which resulted in some interesting and nuanced phrase lengths and transitions. It was the most challenging thing I ever recorded. I didn’t think I would be able to do what I did in a metal context. I’m super proud!
Sylvia: It’s always a challenge to give the bass lines its own special character, next to the 10-string guitar.
John: The bass often has a key role, since multiple riffs throughout the album are based on the same quintuplet motif we hear in the first Riff. It is supposed to remind the listener where a “new” riff originated from.
What are some of the themes explored on Thoughts from a Stone and what does the title imply?
John: It’s a picture I carried for a long while with me: What if we could hear the thoughts of a stone that is corroding throughout the aeons, seeing formation and extinction of all kinds? Or, even not that. Just that the stone thinks. But of course, „stone“ is also a synonym for the planet we live on.
In general, where do the band’s lyrics and themes draw influence from?
Mike: You know, a lot of the themes over the first record are based on real life scenarios and how we cope with loss, depression, character building ordeals and everyday life as individuals. Yes, it may be one person’s take lyrically but most people can relate in some degree or another.
How do you feel the music on Thoughts from a Stone compliments its themes, or vice versa?
Austin: I feel like the theme and music aren’t separate from each other, it’s but one thought. The dynamics and textures paint a vivid picture of a twisted world, the Iron Empress, and her kin. The wordsand characters portrayed create a need for the music.
Mike: In the case of the song Iron Empress and the lyrical approach for TFAS, it’s a fictional character with an undertone of real life moments and perceptions. John and I had discussed the theme for TFAS well in advance, pretty much right after MC was released so there was plenty of time to mull everything over and properly set the tone of the song.
How does the artwork tie into the concepts of the record?
John: A lot of things we do are based on allegories, archaic ones as well as our own ones. Things can mean multiple things at the same time. Like mentioned, this goes down far into the musical micro- and macrocosm, but also the lyrics, and in addition the artwork. Within the Artwork, I interpreted the „Thoughts From A Stone“ as to us seeing the „brain“ of the „stone“, as temples of gigantic labyrinthic stone fractals, labyrinthic like the music …
Coma Cluster Void utilizes dissonance heavily in its music. What do you feel dissonance adds to CCV’s music and heavy music as a whole?
John: It’s what attracted me to metal in the first place. It’s what makes the difference between Iron Maiden and Slayer. Slayer use “dissonant melodies (riffs)” which doesn’t fit the diatonic scale. Sometimes they play them in parallel minor thirds (sometimes parallel major thirds), annulling the diatonic scale even more. All this resulting in their dark and brutal tone. That’s one of the reasons “Reign in Blood” is so great: The pureness of it.
I have the feeling that in the metal community today, “dissonance” is only associated with “screechy” chords, while it actually has been about the whole dark side of metal, all the time.
Chris: I just don’t think you can sound as aggressive as possible without using dissonance. There’s a quality to it, when arranged correctly, that presents a unique and suffocating atmosphere.
John: The whole theme is rather complex, and it’s hard to make a short statement that is true for all cases, and it also depends on your background. In the classical sense, there are only two consonant chords, everything else is considered dissonant. On the other hand, in the classical sense, all Jazz chords are considered dissonant, whereas in their sense within Jazz they aren’t! Personally, I care only about how much I like sounds and how much those sounds are capable of expressing my emotions. My natural language is dissonant and atonal, and it’s all from the heart.
In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of modern technical death metal, or even metal general? How do you feel Coma Cluster Void sticks out among the crowd?
John: For me, it’s a predetermined chamber ensemble of instruments. If you listen to a record or visit a concert with string quartets from various composers from the 18th century up to today, every piece has the same instruments and the same sound, yet the music can be totally different. You have to create your individuality with the composition itself. This is quite fascinating for me: the way of thinking music from different minds poured into the same form! Coma Cluster Void is my take on the predetermined “metal ensemble” (two Guitars, one bass, one drum kit plus vocals). This is also the reason why we don’t use overdubs (like ambience guitar or Soli) or doublings, because if in a String Quartet apparently an third Violinist jumps on the stage, the idea is killed, haha!
Austin: When I heard the CCV material years ago I was blown away, it was some of the heaviest audio I had found, just insane. Then John sent me the first track to do vocals to and I was taken back by the honest, emotive lyrics Mike had written. It wasn’t cookie cutter metal themes like ‘corpse rot snot shot’ or ‘sub-human organism meta-consciousness imploder’. I have been out of the death metal thing for awhile. It all seemed to mush together as the computers took over. Not only are performances being stripped of emotion, there is no real substance in lots of it anyways. CCV is a beast of details and depth, so much thought goes into each release that even after repeated listens, there is always more to hear and learn.
Sylvia: We aim to follow our own path musically and lyrically.
Chris: I find it suffocating to think you have to play to any implied pros or cons of a genre. My tastes evolve and I do what I like to do; as should other people, even if it doesn’t “break the mold” you should still have fun! That being said, I just really like injecting my brand of math and groove into an ensemble, and I study techniques to constantly develop my personal type of phrasing.
Any final words or thoughts?
Austin: Thanks for the interview! We are still just scratching the surface, stay unconventionally tuned for more.