Revelator: An Interview with Cain Cressall

Posted by Prarthana Nandini Venunathan on

The Amenta

The Amenta is a belief, an experience; representing those parts of the human psyche that most would be afraid of confronting. They explore the realms of the known world we live in that go beyond what we see with the naked eye, taking us down a dark, ominous yet enlightening path . There is beauty in chaos, a method to their madness and truth in the absurd and it has returned. After a number of years in what was a very important, transitional period in the band’s long career, the Australian, genre-defying extreme band will see the release of their newest record, ‘Revelator’ in 2021. 

The last time I saw The Amenta live was in 2014 when they played alongside Rotting Christ on their Australian tour. In fact that was the last time most of us saw them live as shortly after the band sort of disappeared into the abyss for a while to come.

“That was a long time ago! Wow! I’ve been good though; a long journey from that point. 2020 was really the tightening of the screws with finishing the album. Since finishing that Rotting Christ Tour, we’d been kicking around bits and pieces of ideas and putting together. There were many arrangements, breaking them down, fleshing them out, throwing them out and then bringing them back in. There was a lot of construction and deconstruction of these songs, but finally 2020, was when we were like ‘this is actually a finished thing, it exists now, it’s pretty crazy!’. I can't believe it's actually come to fruition. It got to a point where I was starting to wonder if this was a figment of my imagination and I’m not really in a band at all, or if I was just talking to my imaginary friends about this band I’ve been writing songs with for the last 8 years that no one’s heard! I think all of us at some stage thought ‘this may never happen’. This may just be a myth but no I’m stoked that it’s real now!”

As The Amenta came to the end of their set on that incredible night, they left with words that implied it would be their last for some time. While no one really knew what this meant, it was a moment of disappointment for many fans and supporters alike. However, the band members themselves were uncertain of what was to come. 

“I think it’s really just that we genuinely didn’t know. We didn’t have anything planned or a real statement to make about where we were at or what we were doing. All we knew was that we were burnt out but at the same time, there was still a great chemistry between us which we’ve always had.  The dynamic between us was strong and we knew we had no intention of straight out calling it quits. We did have a lot of logistical kind of issues against us largely to do with location, being more and more spread out plus taking on more responsibilities outside of the band, just life. That was when we all realised it was the right time to step back. So at that point it was hard to put a statement out there when you don’t really know.”

The Amenta

Having been a band that has always defied the norm, genres and labels and always paving their own path, it was crucial for a band like Amenta to take some time off and Cain expressed how necessary it was for them as individuals and as a band. Mysterious as it was, there were still things brewing. The Amenta was still quietly lingering in the background. 

“Looking back on it, yes, definitely. There have been points where I’ve almost wished there was a deadline to sort of push things forward. That being said, when I look at where we are now, the different things that have gone on between our last tour and the present, I realise how crucial that space really was for the band. It wouldn’t have been possible for us otherwise to evolve. 

So at that point, we didn’t have the headspace to really do that but now it’s all worked out. There were bits and pieces in progress back then for sure, after that tour. Riffs and partial arrangements that were kicking around before we had taken that step back so even though we took that step back there were still things being experimented with but without the weight of deadlines and expectations. It became an experiment for the sake of it which was a real breath of fresh air for us and something that we really needed after all those years.” 

Was the return from a seven year long hiatus daunting for the band? According to Cain, not in the least and to no surprise. The band has always seamlessly carried itself from one release and live show to the next, reminding us to remain true to the art and not be phased by external encounters. 

“It has been great; not daunting at all. I think in our heads, we haven’t really stopped. Between the group of us and in our minds, the band has always been active even though we stepped away from touring; The Amenta is still this active thing that we’ve all engaged in - even if there’s a couple of weeks between exchanges, it’s still something ticking over in the back of your head all the time. It was just like no one has really been involved in our process and at a certain point, we figured it was time to let people start becoming more involved in what we’re doing so we started drip feeding bits and pieces out there.One part of putting that song out, was to get a sense of how this is going to go down because there is some fresh stuff coming through in the new material. Then again, every album the band has put out has turned the tables on the previous one anyway but we maintain certain elements that are always part of the Amenta sound.” 

With three intense and incredible new singles out and only weeks away from the release of their new album, Cain discussed that even though they are exploring new realms within their own art and embracing new sources of inspiration, The Amenta has always maintained it’s signature sound and approach to writing and creation. This also led to discussing his passion for the obscure and unsettling world of dark art and film. 

 

”The process has been more or less the same but it’s where we’re coming from that I think is the main thing that has probably changed. I think there are certain elements and inspirations that may be more prevalent this time around but at the end of the day, it is still The Amenta. It still has those particular qualities that have been with the band since the beginning such as the kind of style and approach that comes through in the guitar work and Tim’s cinematic approach to soundscaping and experimenting with sounds.”

“One thing that I can't move away from is writing stuff that I’m tailoring it to be uncomfortable and unsettling. I’m in love with the concept of creating vocal melodies and patterns that create uncomfortable  feelings. I've always found this thrilling excitement in making people feel uncomfortable. I love when I’m listening to something that just gives me chills and makes me feel unsafe. It’s weird but I do love it; for the same reason I love a lot of film dark film and dark art because you find yourself in that situation where there's some kind of artistic expression that's been put together in a certain way to make you feel genuinely strange and unsettled. That is just magic to me.”

Magic is right, as that is precisely what I would say to describe this long-awaited album’s music. From the first words of ‘Kali Yuga’ I heard on the first single they released, ‘Sere Money’, I knew I would love every moment of this album. A very apt phrase for the time we’re in, as things are constantly changing, Cain began shedding light on the various inspirations for the themes contained within, as well as the writing process. 

 

“That’s all Tim, who is a very prolific lyricist and who very early on in the process of writing this album put forward one or two sheets of lyrics. He had given me some sheets and I found this one that suited the vibe of this song but there was no specific reference as to where the melodies or vocal patterns would sit. It’s almost as if he had given me a page from his diary and asked me to make it work with one of the tracks. That’s how we’ve worked in the past. We’re very much about creating a solid package.” 

Regardless of being in different parts of the country and the world, it has not hindered The Amenta’s progress in the slightest. As they always have, the band continued to create the most grim, avant-garde and extreme sounds that have now resulted in the harrowing, brilliant masterpiece that is ‘ Revelator’

“The distance is something we’re quite  used to because we’ve been writing that way since I joined the band and that is the only way I’ve known with them. I think the most difficult part of it was that we didn’t have a deadline so it was easy to sit too close to the canvas and then get to a point where you start losing sight of whether you’re chasing something worthwhile or not. However, I think that’s just a common thing that creatives go through when you’re in that situation. It’s no different for us; it crept in and when it did, sometimes you just have to bang your head against a wall before you go, ‘Alright, it’s time to turn around, walk away and get some perspective and then come back to the drawing board’

The result of this artistic work ethic and dedication results in something otherworldly, probably how I would best describe the film clip for the first single ‘Sere Money’, a track that musically sees them explore a world of sounds and imagery that is beyond your wildest dreams. Being the incredibly haunting track that it is, it makes complete sense for it to be released with a visual to enhance the listener’s experience. But be warned as this film clip is not for the faint-hearted. We discussed the inspiration behind the video and how it eventually came to be, masks, ballerinas and all.

“Thank you so much. The video was a collaborative effort between myself and an old friend from high school who I hadn't been in touch with for close to 20 years. It was right at the first wave of lockdown when we realised we needed to put together some visuals to get the ball rolling and you know what a painful time to be trying to create something a collaborative artistic vision when no one's supposed to be leaving the house. It was a tricky situation. Out of nowhere I got a message from Garth Hurley of CRT Films who I was unaware was working in the film industry.”

“In high school we used to do a lot of work on dark art projects together so we started working together with no idea how it would go down.  Once we got into it, we found that we had both grown up a lot since high school. We communicated stronger than ever before so it was easy to work together.I don't think there's been one idea where he's said no I can't do that so it was a fun, challenging and expansive process!”

“The themes that I was kind of playing around with were largely to do with transformation and navigating dimensions, existing in those different dimensions. A lot of the imagery was just subconscious offerings so I would just listen to the song with headphones and be kind of an open receptacle for imagery to come through and I was allowing whatever was brought up to be honoured and if I found that that imagery was exciting ten I would write it down. There are some aspects that I didn't necessarily realise at the time what they were what they meant. If they are coming up to me there must be some reason for it and I know what I’m seeing in my head is exciting to me so if it's exciting to me I’m sure it will be exciting to someone else. There were things along the way, as we put it together that I’m starting to realise where it's actually coming from. It's been an exciting journey.”


My curious mind wanted to know more; Cain had more to share on the symbolism and underlying message of the ‘Sere Money’ clip. 

“A lot of it is just navigating life, just finding yourself in these different bizarre situations. Sometimes we just get very twisted up in the egoic mind that it can be so chaotic; born from this constant change, transitioning and growing but at the same time trying to navigate through a lot. 

For instance, wearing that mask of suffering and learning the struggle with wearing it; learning that there's a choice in wearing that mask as well as attachment to it. Then, drawing other people into your experience who you’re then pushing your negativity on to and they can find themselves wearing that mask too. That's kind of where other people wearing it in the video came in;  realising the attachment (unknowingly drawing that energy from those around them) and then people find themselves in their own experience. ‘How did I get here? How did I end up carrying this and struggling through this?’ This character in the middle has sucked these people in but it's all their choices along the way as well just the same as it was his choice to find himself in those different situations.”  

I’ve always been fascinated by Cain both as a performer and an artist, confessing just how intrigued I was by the masks that he had created for the film clip. This fascination led to a very interesting part of our conversation where he discusses some of the sources of his inspiration for the new video and the many elements of symbolism that lies within it as well as some experiments that led to the final result used in the film clip. 

“The masks were originally symbolic of narcissism and something that I’ve kind of been on both ends of the stick. Just learning that over the last 15 years, realising there was a time where there were fairly narcissistic qualities going on within me that I wasn't even aware of and then  coming to terms with that and learning about it. I think I really developed a lot more empathy over the last  decade or so and learnt a lot about how much more choice we have than we tend to think we have. So that symbolism of narcissism was originally inspired by a book written by David Lynch called ‘Catching the Big Fish’ where he talks about creativity and meditation. There’s a where he refers to the ‘pain body’ - his name for it is the suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity and he’s written some songs that are lyrically partially tied in with this concept. That really resonated with me when I read it.”

“I realised that he describes it as really negative people that essentially meditate on negativity and it’s almost they see it as part of their being and keep it in their being whether they realise its a choice or not, they’re holding that energy because they have attachments to it. I definitely spent a long time wearing that. Initially, I was going to construct it out of pig’s skin and I wanted to create a whole bodysuit so I started with some experiments that went horribly wrong but the concept stuck with me. Luckily, I found some amazing Perth based special effects wizards; namely Will Huntley who has done a lot of work in Hollywood and he put me in touch with an amazing makeup and effects artist, Rich Hatwell who is also phenomenal. He was very accommodating, taught me a few things to get the ball rolling and here I am. Once I got the first one up and running, I’ve been obsessed with it.” 

The Amenta

Tying it all together is part of the journey when listening to any music by The Amenta. As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t just a track or an album; there is much, much more to experience. They are artists that create layers within their work and the depth in each goes far beyond just one watch or listen. 

“Absolutely. There’s deliberately room for interpretation with the lyrics, the videos, the album artwork other than the music itself. Lyrically, there’s a large degree of personal perspective going on there and I didn’t want to force myself into Tim’s head. Instead, I made a conscious effort to honour where he is coming from, which is quite difficult to do but I found my own natural inspiration from his words. I just wanted to take the way those words resonate with me personally that’s where I felt would be the most powerful place to come from. It’s like this web of magic that’s being passed around.” 

It has been quite a long journey for the Amenta since their last release and if you know them well enough, you will be very aware how dedicated this group of artists is. So there it comes as no surprise, that a lot of effort, thought and sheer mastery of their sound and art has gone into the making of their new album. 

“Well it's both, in one sense, each track is indeed an entity of its own and the album is a real journey. Every track has its own space to mutate and develop into its own thing. It all ties together in a really cohesive concept, so, to some degree a concept album. There are very, very strong connections between the songs lyrically and sonically; there are a lot of different emotions coming through. There’s some stark, bleak moments and some frenzied, aggressive stuff amongst other things which for some reason we’ve agreed, all fit together in this new release. There were certain points where we were not sure whether what we were experimenting with was going to be The Amenta or not. But now, I’m very excited for what we’ve created and for it to finally exist!” 

That part right there; is why I love what I do. The sense of passion and dedication with which an artist expresses themselves is beyond magickal - and that is exactly what Cain is all about. Nearing over a decade with The Amenta, it has been quite a long, intense yet amazing journey for the band as well as for Cain but one that has been memorable and exciting. 

“Definitely.  One of the reasons I think we’re still working together is that on one hand we respect each other’s musical sense and artistic vision a lot. At the same time, we challenge each other and if that challenge factor wasn’t there, we probably would have fizzled out by now. There was an interview with Jack Nicholson that I was reading once and he is a huge inspiration of mine. He says,’I get so much more out of the situations where I’m being challenged because that’s where you grow. If I just exclusively said yes to things where I can do whatever I wanted to, I wouldn’t learn anything.” I relate so much to this because that's part of what has kept the band exciting even though at some points, it does get difficult. But the times where we just grind each other into the ground till breaking point and till some magic sprouts out, makes it worth it. 

“Since day one, we realised there was an eye to eye connection as creatives even though we come from completely different backgrounds and influences; there’s common ground and a kind of brotherhood with an unspoken understanding. We have a really great camaraderie as touring artists as well. So you know, at those breaking points, once you pass through the storm, you know there’s going to be something spectacular on the other side, so you just keep pushing forward.”  

Driven by his ardent love for all things dark, art and music, it comes as no surprise that this Perth-based vocalist is also a renowned vocal coach and teacher, passing on his knowledge, experience and wisdom to those who share his passion. As any true teacher, he continues to grow and learn from his students and through his exchanges with them. 

“It is amazing to be able to do it and something that I really love. It’s definitely carried me through getting this album to completion and has kept me active vocally, even at points where I might have some down time and there’s no vocal parts as such that anyone is waiting on being finished. I’ve still got these passionate vocalists coming into my studio every other day bringing all sorts of new sources of inspiration that I would never hear, if it wasn’t for them. There're a lot of surprises that pop up with students I work with - where I’ve got to listen to something for the first time, recognise what they're doing, how they’re doing it and then break that down in a way to practically make sense of that with the person I’m working with.”

“I’ve ended up discovering bands that I didn’t think I would really be into and that have been really inspiring for me. I get so much inspiration in teaching and also through seeing passionate musicians take these bits of information, exercises and going away and putting it to work, coming back later and saying, ‘holy shit I just worked out what you explained to me!’. It truly fills me with this excitement about music because I listen to things that are new or maybe that I’ve always loved but never attempted doing because I’ve got this false belief it’s out of my range. I start learning more myself, doing the homework and bringing that to my practice which leads me to experimenting with The Amenta. It’s a really amazing co-creative process and we always  end up going on a journey together.” 

Cain had one last message for his fans, supporters and extended The Amenta family. 

“Yes, there is actually one thing I would really love to say which is one thing I don’t do well is selling things. I hate that shit and I can’t do it but I know that there are people out there that want to be able to be part of this and make a difference in getting us back out there. I want to be out there, all of us do. But we’re in a situation that is more challenging than it ever has been to get music out there and people interested. So, if there’s one thing that I can comfortably ask anyone out there that really does want to be part of this and help us is purely to just jump on board, follow us on YouTube, Spotify, etc. It’s as simple as finding the button and clicking it but those interactions, that connection with you guys that wants to see us doing more, those connections are gold to us. Thank you.” 

The Amenta

Check out The Amenta on Bandcamp here.

Merchandise available right here on Direct Merch. Check out the full collection and pre-order the new album Revelator here.

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