Don’t Call Black Metal Phenomenon Martrod a Supergroup
Collaborations are tricky. They tend to conjure a lot of different images for people. Sometimes they work (see: SECT). Other times, they just end up sounding like everyone's doing their own thing without utilizing the concept that brought them together in the first place: collaboration. In the strange case of Martröd — which features members of Antaeus, Wormlust, Blut Aus Nord and Leviathan, amongst other masters of the craft of black metal — it absolutely works without really sounding like anything the participants have worked on independently. Together, they have brought forth Transmutation of Wounds, a twisted and dark recording that has seized the attention of the black metal underground. The glue that holds this international endeavor together is the ambitious Alex Poole, who also is responsible for projects such as Skáphe, Chaos Moon and Esoterica.
I sat down with Poole to talk about this project — which was kept pretty well under wraps for a long gestation period — to see what his motivation was in undertaking such an endeavor. Did he have everyone who ended up involved in mind when initially cultivating the idea? “This whole thing was sort of spur of the moment," he explains. "There wasn't any sort of list or goal in mind. I asked people I respect a great deal and, to some extent, have worked with prior. There were a few cold calls to people I didn't know, but it all worked out. There's also an element of me that wanted to see what would happen. Luckily, everyone took this seriously — it wasn't a phoned-in sort of thing. We wrote hours of material before settling on what we have.”
Certain people seem to view these types of creative meetings as anything but what they truly are: different artists experimenting with different methods, working together for the satisfaction of creating. When asked whether the process or the result was most satisfying, Poole replies, “Both have been equally rewarding. The process of collaboration is something that I hadn't practiced much of. I was pretty ignorant to how others approach songwriting, having worked alone, for the most part, since I began. Working with everyone and seeing their processes was a very rewarding experience. Especially [Wormlust multi-instrumentalist] H.V. Lyngdal's philosophy and approach to art, which was amazing to witness and be involved in. The process was lengthy and challenging, but necessary in order to meld together, and ultimately satisfying. A lot of credit goes to BST Studios for piecing together the massive result of our collaboration. There were so many layers of guitars and other things, I don't think any of us knew what the end result would sound like, which was exciting. It worked out and sounded better than I imagined. “
While the players involved are primarily known for their other creative outputs, it’s not surprising that some are calling Martröd a “supergroup,” a term that obviously is a point of contention for Poole. “It absolutely cheapens it," he says. "The term is a lazy advertising scheme that implies way too much; it generates way too many expectations from those interested. We all agreed, labels included, to not use this term or really mention who is involved in the band, aside from a basic rundown of the lineup. It's not because we're a secret project or we want to be mysterious, but lineups are a distraction from what is actually important. This isn't going to be a magical combination of everything you like about the individual artists involved. It never is. This is its own entity. It will have its own identity, and we will create what we want to create. Upset by that? Fuck yourself.”
He continues: “I'm not much for the opinions of others; it's none of my business what other people feel. That said, it is always very interesting seeing how people perceive — even assume — shit about artistic intent or member participation. We didn't write music that would be cool to pop on and instantly grab you with tired chord progressions and song structures like so much 'revered' black metal [of] today. I like music that you need to sit with to understand, and I want to write music in that style. That's just personal preference. With that comes misunderstanding, which isn't my problem. Just sit with things and maybe a hidden element or meaning will become clear — if not, cool. All of this kind of plays to a much more grand frustration with music: the need to constantly rank and compare bands against other bands like it's a fucking baseball league. There's nothing wrong with reviews or having favorite albums, but it feels like it's gone so violently overboard. Everything is a fucking list and every list is the same. You know who else made lists?”
As Poole is also involved in my band, Krieg, I’ve had a front row seat from foundation to fruition of this beast. It’s very obviously been a labor of love for everyone involved. But love doesn’t conquer shit when it comes to the pragmatic aspects of doing something like this. I ask Poole what he feels the biggest challenge was in putting this together. “Distance," he answers. "All of us are pretty spread out. Putting together detailed tracks where we're all weighing in and contributing without being able to sit down and flesh things out in person makes the process more challenging. Difference in time zones, schedules with other projects / personal lives, etc., make the process slow. It's a test of patience.”
He goes on to add, “We wrote these two songs in 2014, and it wasn't released until just recently. There were a lot of setbacks, delays and a whole host of other things that pushed everything into a weird gray area for awhile. I think we're in a much stronger state now; we understand the processes more. Our artistic goals are more in line, and I think it will be more apparent with the material we are writing now.”
This obviously leaves the gate wide open for more recordings, more creating and greater tests of patience, right? “I don't use long-term goals," Poole shrugs. "We have a lot of great ideas for the future, but they remain ideas. We stay in the present. We could put out a full-length next year or dissolve the band tomorrow. The unknown will remain unknown until we discover it.”
And with that, friends, we decide to end our conversation. Martröd obviously offer a complex sound built by a collection of complex and diverse minds, and should be approached by anyone interested in black metal who holds the exploration of the mind above all.
Transmutation of Wounds is available through Fallen Empire Records and Terratur Possessions.