Our Weekly Featured Artist this week is none other than Asian Death Crustacean, a band that will certainly grab the attention of many progressive- and extreme metal fans among our followers. Their debut album Baikal released in late June, to my own rapturous applause and that of critics across the board. Their fresh-sounding blend of post-rock, doom, and progressive metal is transcendental and crushing at the same time, offering up a sonic palette of wonder.
I spoke to and got answers from the whole band – which is comprised of Dan Peacock and Rob Doull (guitars), George Bunting (bass guitar), and James Kay (drums) – for this feature today. To begin with, let us dive into the origins of the band and how this unique blend of music of theirs has landed within our ears, before moving on to the thoughts and ideas behind their work. Based in London, UK, Asian Death Crustacean formed six years ago and have been largely a touring band until this point. They’ve supported UK instrumental acts like Three Trapped Tigers, Poly-Math, and The Physics House Band across the country, before knuckling down and knocking out their debut album, the aforementioned Baikal.
Now here is the interesting part. From the remnants of two bands, Asian Death Crustacean formed – one a blackened death metal band, the other an experimental jazz outfit. But how does a group combine polar opposite genres and end up with music like what is being presented to us? According to the band themselves, the magic ingredient is not, in fact, overlapping musical influences; on the contrary, it is more their collective attitude towards the creative process. From the outset, the four have declined to focus on a specific mood, genre, or style, instead preferring to focus on interesting and original expressions in their music. The only thing the group do look to focus on is a sense of melody in their music, something that becomes very obvious when you listen to “Baikal II”, a song that has you bouncing throughout. Similar acts might lose that bounce in favour of something experimental and technical or utterly destructive dissonance.
Rather than simply inject these moments into their music, the experimental and destructive moments are woven into the melodic fabric of each track. I’d even go as far to say that the resulting melodies are so infectious, you feel obliged to work out some interpretive dance to the insane grooves dotted throughout the album. Considering the circumstances, though, this might just be COVID cabin fever finally setting in.
As you might expect from a band with such different backgrounds, there is not one singular artist or group who would be classified as a decider for the album’s sound; instead, they did each get to influence sections and moments in the record. Hidden behind the veil of extreme metal, ambient, and jazz music, there are many other ideas and influences. The band mention that it is very easy to miss the traces of math rock, soul, punk, and more old-school traditional prog tucked away, showcasing the breadth of influence that facilitated this album.
For me, Baikal was one of the first albums in a good while to have climaxes that truly impacted me, breakdowns that left me with stubbed toes due to my excitement. Asking the band about them and if they were a focus when recording, I was surprised to hear that only towards the end of the process did they really accentuate them:
‘I don’t think from the beginning we focused specifically on writing music that contained enormous climaxes, but we definitely focused on having the strongest and most engaging dynamics possible, which naturally means you end up with a lot of peaks and troughs in intensity. Once some of these parts of the record evolved we definitely did focus on them as ‘climactic’ sort of moments though.‘
Developing on this, they mention that when they got to the mixing stage, Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios did help them shape and accentuate these moments, allowing them to translate onto the record with the full ferocity that our ears bear witness to. Maybe this is why these moments feel so organic – where others will strive for that soul-crushing breakdown, ADC are looking at the complete package.
Now, with this being said, focusing solely on these enormous climaxes would do a disservice to the music of Asian Death Crustacean. Whilst these huge moments on the album are certainly a wonder to behold, the real technicality lies in how the band ascend to these peaks. It would also be wrong to imply that their music only gets more raucous in this process, as the band use silence and space to really accentuate the rise and falls of their music. At some points, things drops down to nothing, allowing the swell before the storm to really impact the listener. One of the key driving forces behind this? The drums.
As you explore the breadth of this album, you’ll notice that the drums play a key role in almost every part. From the free jazz sections to the blackened furore levied upon the listener, they are a firm foundation for the music to grow from, while also providing some of the most exciting moments, such as the three big bass drum hits as the wave crashes in “Baikal I”, a moment that imbues the subsequent drop with even more power. Yet, amazingly, the drums were recorded on a single day, with Kay being able to improvise on the spot, allowing the band to pick and choose which fills they preferred.
Whilst they did refine the drum parts prior to said day in the studio, making sure that the drums complimented the other instruments, they agreed not to micromanage the process, again compounding the record’s aura of being organic. The guitar recording took much longer, and according to the band was also much harder:
‘It was a very long slog recording all of the guitars and bass DI ourselves, especially doing all of that before there were any drums (it takes a long time to produce your best takes to the inspiration of a clicking metronome). The album was recorded as two continuous 25-ish minute pieces of music, and the recording projects for these were massive – in the region of 100 tracks each.‘
Quite an undertaking, but as you consume the record, you’ll hear how cohesive and well mapped-out everything is because of their efforts.
Which is a great chance to segway into the question: Why Fascination Street Studios? This being Asian Death Crustacean‘s first album, their experience with producers was limited. The band decided to go through their favourite records and pick producers from there, ones they felt would be able to fully capture the various sounds and moods on their records.
It was Opeth‘s Watershed that won the argument, the band loving the contrasting sounds Jens Bogren had managed to capture on the record in 2008. They were keen to not overuse triggers and tools like AxeFX, preferring an organic and precise approach to their music. Considering Fascination Street‘s varied portfolio, they (rightly) believed that this was the correct choice for them. The band also noted that the time they spent in Sweden was one of the best parts of the recording process, them spending time at both studio locations in Stockholm and Örebro.
Thinking of trips abroad, we asked about the bands plans to tour after COVID has settled, but right now, they are taking things as they come. With an exciting experimental music scene in the UK, we should hope that things open up soon around here so they can get back to strutting their stuff on the stage once again. Taking a moment to dream of the future, however, I asked the band members who their favourite touring partners were and who they’d most like to perform alongside of in the future. Plugging Kay’s other band demcats as their favourite tour buds and highlighting how intense a double bill is for a drummer, they decided on Sunn O))), Yussef Dayes, and Russian Circles as bands/artists they’d love to play with in future. Certainly a show I’d go to!
Wrapping the interview up, I asked the most important question of all – what next? Noting that they’ve already had six years together, it was exciting to hear that whilst they have plenty of unused material, they felt more compelled to write new music. The current state of the world might have hindered them thus far, but like many other artists, they are slowly adapting to remote working to begin their songwriting process. However, let us hope Asian Death Crustacean can get back together (in person) and pump out some more great music for us to enjoy.
Thanks for reading; be sure to check out the band’s social links below, and leave a comment about your thoughts on the album!