The Day The Earth Stood Dead

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An odd spelling for the band name, a digital-only label that offers its releases to the masses for free download, and an approach to death metal that is traditional, song-centric, and just damn heavy… In the case of Contaigeon’s Death as the Gates of Delirium on UK label Works of Ein, the combination is a winning one.

This is UKDM the way it’s supposed to sound; dark, evil, and lethal. Morbid Angel is the most apt (though not the only) point of reference and Contaigeon applies the fundamentals in a way that is genuine and devoid of soulless mimicry. In other words, Death as the Gates of Delirium is the good stuff and any self-respecting death metal fan would be foolish to pass up the chance to download it here. Rahab – he of the six slithering strings – is the man with the answers.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Why the misspelling of the name? Is it simply to distinguish yourself from acts using the “Contagion” name?

Yeah, though that’s the lesser reason. Apparently, the label of one of the other bands with the regular spelling liked to get legal over it, despite the band in question being defunct for near a decade. We tried to combine the words “contagion” and “aeon;” we wanted the name to be evocative and atmospheric of itself, to conjure up images of Dan Seagrave-esq nightmare landscapes. Surreal environments of corruption and madness spreading out forever. It was quite a difficult one to come up with. None of us are really into gore or Satanism, so we had to come up with something that represented in as succinct a way as possible what we are and the feeling we are trying to achieve with the music. Additionally, back in my misspent youth, just when I was getting into death metal, I used to play war games and my army was dedicated to the plague god; one of my favorite models was the contagion siege engine. My friends and family thought I had contracted some kind of communicable madness, listening to this horrid ”’noise” and imagining these fetid machines lumbering over a battle field spewing death and horror, so it’s got a personal connection for me at least.

Please shed some light on the formation of Contaigeon. Had all of the members been in previous UK acts, death metal or otherwise?

Rahab: Well at some point or other we have all been in various no-name demo bands, but myself and Ein (from W.O.E.) had a project called Mordiggian years ago that did a demo and then kind of dissipated due to us not having the writing or studio skill create what we heard in our heads. That was probably the initial seed of what would become Contaigeon. Pretty much two years ago today, myself, Ein and Archeon [Gutteral Incantations and Six String Sickness] were in the local rock pub checking out some bands, one of which was that bland, vanilla death metal that seems so prevalent today. It got us to discussing what it was that was missing from this band’s music and what it was that we originally found so exciting about death metal when we first encountered it and we realized that’s what we had been trying to do with Mordiggian. So we got together with Verminnion [Four String Funerary Dirge] and Carrious [Keeper of Rhythmic Rituals] and spent 2009 jamming stuff out and eventually had an album’s worth of tracks that we were pretty pleased with.

Tell us about Works of Ein and why you chose to go with a digital-only, free-download record label? Had you given any serious consideration to more traditional labels?

Rahab: You know it never even crossed our minds to demo stuff and canvas the traditional labels. We had a body of songs that we were happy with and were content to play in the rehearsal room. There just didn’t seem to be any point in us going the traditional route. We don’t want to play live, we don’t want to make any money or have musical careers or any of that sort of thing. We just want to make this music for our own enjoyment. We definitely wanted to have something recorded for ourselves to listen at home that was better quality than the rough rehearsals we had taped and we just figured we would have to save up some cash and do it in a local studio.

W.O.E was already being set up to release Eins, Halo of the Sun and Kult of Eihort stuff and we never thought to ask them, figuring they were just going to do that weird end of black metal but they offered for us to be the first release and we thought why not? We know the people involved and didn’t really have anything to lose, so we went with them. They helped us to record the album and sorted out the artwork and so forth, so they got a first release to test the waters and we got something to listen to at home for free. We knew they were planning to do their other releases as ‘pay what you like’ or free downloads so we just went along with that. We would only end up doing the same any way.

Are there any plans to release Death at the Gates of Delirium on CD, vinyl, and/or cassette?

Rahab: All of those formats would be great, but the costs are prohibitive, especially for the vinyl. W.O.E are looking at a print-on-demand type service for a basic jewel case CD, but there is not enough demand to justify even a limited pressing of a physical media. We are happy to make do with our CDRs and hand-drawn art for the time being; after all, we got an album for nothing.

Have many people downloaded the album and has anyone paid anything?

Rahab: We have had a couple of hundred downloads from the official site but, oddly, most people seem to be getting it from p2p networks and MP3 blogs, so its impossible to keep track of, so I guess it’s doing pretty badly by normal label standards.

Brooke Johnson [Works of Ein]: It’s actually a free download with the cost being a valid email address and permission to add you to our mailing list so there has been nothing to pay. It’s been a real struggle to get any press for it at all, especially in the printed media. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only print review it’s had has been in Decibel. It’s a bit of a pain, but we understand that a willfully obscure band like Contaigeon, who don’t play live are not really going to draw readers and shift mages. Another problem we have come across is that of promos. Even in this age of iPools and digital promos, some people will not even consider a review unless there is a physical copy or at least a “proper” CD promo. We are super grateful to the webzines and people spreading word of mouth that have been supporting both the WOE releases. There still seems to be a stigma to free download-only releases, especially with the growing glut of “Myspace” projects vying for limited attention. It’s going to be a tough  slog to get over that and to get the attention of people who would be receptive to what a band like Contaigeon are doing.

Musically, to these ears anyway, with Death at the Gates of Delirium the bands that come to mind are Morbid Angel in a significant way, as well as early Immolation. Realizing that Contaigeon has its own identity, would you say that those comparisons are accurate? Have you gotten any comparisons to bands that you find puzzling?

Rahab: The Morbid Angel reference is spot on, one of our all time favorite DM bands. I love that subtle perturbing nausea and frenzied rabidity that their earlier works have. We wanted to incorporate that into our sound without aping mindlessly. A lot of bands are influenced by Morbid Angel, but will only take one or two elements from their music without realizing that it’s the way they combined and manipulated those elements in relation to each other that made the music so primal and exhilarating. The Immolation reference is a bit odd and a few people have mentioned it. I had never actually (knowingly) heard any until very recently so there is no conscious influence on there. Musically other than Morbid Angel, I would say that Autopsy (Mental Funeral) was a big influence and a few of Incantation’s records.

Though you excel at writing memorable songs, rather than mere exercises in bludgeon, one thing that really makes this album stand out is the absolutely morbid atmosphere just pours out of it.

Rahab: Cool thanks, it’s something we really worked on and wanted to push. We wanted the music to sound and feel morbid and obscure, like if the lights went out it would start writhing from the speakers in fetid ropey coils. Atmosphere and feeling are two things that modern death metal is really lacking. Not that having a clear sound necessarily means a lifeless and soulless record or is bad thing when used in the correct context; it’s just not for us and not what we want in our music. We want it to sound horribly alive and organic like some seething otherworldly beast pushing its face against the fabric of reality. It took a lot of experimenting to get right; you can’t just whack a load of reverb on it or play  sloppy  and expect it to sound good. To get the right balance of festering ambience and clarity and power takes as much work as a super clean triggered to the nines mix.

Along those same lines, I’m intrigued by the names of the places at which you recorded and mixed/mastered the album, respectively. Sanctum of Disease and Alchemellia Hospital (by Brooke Johnson). Do tell.

Rahab: The Sanctum is our rehearsal space where all the tracking was done and the Hospital is Brooke’s studio where it was mixed and mastered. The Sanctum earned its name partially by being in the middle of decaying industrial estate, surrounded by dead and slowly dying businesses and partially because the building should have been condemned years ago. It’s not particularly exciting as far as urban decay goes, but it does have a certain air or hopelessness and an inordinate amount of bedraggled plants growing through cracks and mulch dwellers scuttling about.

You’ve dedicated the album to H.P. Lovecraft and Sladislav Beksinsk. How direct these influences in the lyrics you’ve written and what are is it about both that you find particularly compelling?

Rahab: Both are artists whose work had an immediate, visceral and profound impact on us. Both depict not just moments in time, but windows into entire functioning worlds that compel you to explore beyond the boundaries of their respective media. It’s something that’s intrinsically connected to the music for me because it’s a feeling I got from early DM covers, especially those by Dan Seagrave. They made me want to buy the album in the hope that the music would tell the story of what was happening on the cover. There is a union of media that seems to be sadly missing these days, where album art and music combine to create something beyond the whole and that’s something that is vitally important for the kind of area we inhabit. I guess that comes in part from the decline of the physical format, but still very little thought seems to go into the packaging of the physical product. There seems to be no attempt to move outside of tired cliché and downright bad “that’ll do” Photoshop abominations. Not that PS it inherently bad, it’s just a tool and therefore only as good or bad as the person using it, just like digital sound recording while I’m about the subject.

Though I suspect you don’t give much of a shit, what is your opinion about the bands that are now considered the “leaders” (at least in an industry sense) of the UKDM scene, such as Trigger the Bloodshed and Annotations of an Autopsy? My question is not intended to paint a bad picture of either act, but more to highlight the vast differences in styles between the new school and the “old” school, as led (past and present) by veteran giants like Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Carcass, and Cancer, as well as bands like Fleshrot.

Rahab: I’ve caught Trigger live a few times and they always put on an impressive performance, technically they run rings round Contaigeon, but I can never remember a whole song; just a blur of shredding and blast beats. I had never heard Annotations until I had a peep on You Tube just now and it’s not the sort of thing we are really into, just going off the couple of tracks I saw. You can certainly hear the influence of the old guard in the new bands; it’s just that, as I said earlier, the technical aspects, both in the playing and production have been pushed much further at the expense of a lot of the atmosphere and identity. I guess that’s the tradeoff; if you want mechanical precision then you’re going to lose a lot of the humanity from it. I’m not against it; it’s just not what I want from my death metal. There are a few interesting artifacts moldering under the British soil though. I can highly recommend Cruciamentum for example.

Then again, a truer, more organic, and decidedly song-based style of death metal has gained in popularity these last couple of years. To what do you attribute this phenomenon?

Rahab: I honestly don’t know, but I could speculate that as the last few years have seen an oversaturation of the super clean, super tight death metal bands so maybe people are just getting tired of the sound. It is after all, a trend like any other. Then there are people like us who grew up with a certain fondness, call it nostalgia if you like, for a certain sound and that’s what we want to make and listen to and because there is now a generation of metal heads who were too young or not even born when these sounds first emerged. It’s all new to them and something different and even a little alien to what they consider the norm and therefore quite exciting.

What of future plans for Contaigeon in the way of releases, touring, and or gigs?

Rahab: Well we are writing more material as always and would like to have a new album out sometime next year. We are always up for split releases and the like so if anyone is interested get in touch. We are also considering playing a few shows, but getting other people to play the instruments. Like I said we have no interest touring, but I would like to see how the songs work live and we have had a number of volunteers for the idea.

www.myspace.com/contaigeon

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