One of my favorite records of this year is Believer’s Transhuman. Their specific branch of progressive thrash metal is a poignant example of forward thinking metal. On behalf of the band keyboard player/guitarist Jeff King (JK) and guitarist/singer Kurt Bachman (KB) provided some interesting insights on the concept behind Transhuman, the creative process and their views on the current metal scene.
Hi there and thank you for doing this interview. Your latest album, entitled Transhuman, is an excellent showpiece of intelligent and tastefully executed progressive thrash metal. Are you happy the way it turned out? What are your hopes and expectations in terms of feedback from your audience and press?
KB: Yes, we’re happy with the way it turned out. We had a great team, from Kevin Gutierrez and Maor Appelbaum who helped us realize our vision sonically, to Michael Rosner who created our artwork. We took a lot of risks and feel good about that. Regarding expectations, we have none. We suspect that some will understand the album better than others, just like with all of our albums. Ultimately we have to be happy with it ourselves and we don’t write with the expectations of others in mind.
Truth be told it took me several intense listening sessions to get into Transhuman, but it has grown on me quite a lot. In fact, it’s one of the better albums I heard so far this year. I feel the album is a real grower. What do you think of this?
JK: We’ve noticed that many people are experiencing it that way. We wanted to write something that could be listened to again and again and so if people are finding new things in it upon repeated listens, I guess we succeeded in that regard. A lot of my favorite albums were growers, so that’s a real compliment.
When the band started to work on Transhuman what was the general mindset? What were you guys aiming for?
KB: We didn’t want to rewrite an album that we had already put out and we wanted to push ourselves musically and focus more on the songwriting and arrangements. The writing process was different this time around. It was more of a band effort as far as collaboration, feedback and input from all the band members goes. Leaving space for all of the instruments and voices was very important. We started at the very beginning of the writing process with that in mind. If I wrote some guitar riffs that were less complex, I didn’t automatically throw them away like I would have done before.
What I really like about the album is the sophisticated way on how technique is combined with intelligent song writing. The synthesizers and guitar/melody lines are very much interwoven in songs like “Lie Awake”, “G.U.T.”, “Clean Room” and “Mindsteps.” How do you manage to do that?
JK: We recorded the album in layers. Rhythm guitars and drums first, followed by bass and/or vocals, then keyboards and guitar leads. We consciously left a lot of space at each stage, knowing that we wanted to let the following tracks breathe and have room. Musically, if the song has space and a decent chord progression you can take it a lot of different directions when it comes to vocals and keyboards. Due to time constraints I wrote a lot of the basic keyboard lines on the spot as we were writing vocal melodies and then went back later to refine them. There was definitely some interplay there.
In my review I made some comparisons with Cynic (futuristic approach) and Psychotic Waltz (forward thinking headspace). What do you think of these bands and are you guys by any chance inspired by them?
KB: We think they’re great musicians and we have a lot of respect for what they’re doing. We are inspired by their willingness to experiment and incredible musicianship more so than any direct musical influence.
From what I’ve heard and read the lyrics on Transhuman deal with genetic and biological science trying to create some new species of super humans. What is your own opinion on such matters?
JK: It’s more about enhancing our own abilities rather than creating something new. It’s not about animal/human hybrids or anything like that. We already have technologies that are commonplace, such as artificial limbs, laser eye surgery, orthodontics, etc. that have dramatically improved the human condition. Medical technologies being developed today will take this to the next level. What is coming is much more personal, where the technology will be inside of us at a cellular level. It will cause us to change or evolve our perceptions about what it means to be human. We were interested in creating awareness of these things because they’re coming, and the ethical dilemmas will need to be dealt with on a societal level.
The story/history of Believer can be compared with bands like Atheist, Cynic and Pestilence. All these bands made records which were far ahead of their time and got a lot of negative reactions from conservative-minded metal heads. How do you look back on it? Have things changed for the better in today’s scene?
KB: We’re honored to be mentioned in the same sentences as those bands, and we’re friends with many of them. All of us brought our own unique creations to the genre of progressive/technical metal, but it seems that things haven’t really changed with the attitudes of the fans. Let’s be honest, fans who identify very personally with any musical genre are not known for their open-mindedness, and that seems to be the vast majority of metal fans in today’s world. People who only listen to metal typically only like the first couple albums we put out. They don’t really like when a band changes or experiments musically. That’s fine with us because as we have evolved, we’ve picked up new fans who like what we’re doing in the present. Today’s typical Believer fan listens to other styles beyond metal and appreciate the nods toward other genres that we stick into our music.
Believer folded back in 1994 only to reform in 2008. What were the biggest changes when you returned to the scene with Gabriel two years ago?
KB: The internet and pirating lead to a decline in actual sales, impacting everyone involved in the production of album. I also think that the metal fanbase is even more fragmented as there are currently numerous subgenres. When we started, there was thrash and the beginnings of death metal and then just metal. Everyone seemed to enjoy all the subgenres, whereas today, metal fans seem to stick to one sound while ignoring the others.
Most of the band members have a career and a family to take care of besides Believer. How did this change your outlook on the band’s career and music in general?
JK: It allows us to do what we do without the pressure of the business dictating how we write our music. Like many other artists these days, we cannot depend on album sales or touring income to earn a living.
Time for the final question. What’s next in line for Believer and when can we expect you guys in Europe and in the Netherlands?
KB: Right now we’re working on our live show, trying to eat as much curry as possible and restore a sense of normalcy to our lives. We’re in our post-album-release recovery period.
Any final thoughts or remarks?
KB: Please check out believerband.com and to learn more about the album influences, check out the movie “Transcendent Man” about Ray Kurzweil and also his book “The Singularity is Near”. Of course the very intriguing read of “Ego Tunnel” by Thomas Metzinger is a must.