Melbourne grindcore lunatics A Million Dead Birds Laughing have unleashed two albums of sonic terror – Force Fed Enlightenment and Xen – and show no signs of slowing down with a revitalised lineup and new material in the works. Having recently shared the stage with Ne Obliviscaris, Be’lakor, Death Audio and countless others at Sonic Forge Festival, AMDBL’s guitarist Ben Boyle caught up with Killyourstereo for a chat about early influences, Melbourne’s metal scene and horror movies.
Hey mate, can we start with your name, roll in A Million Dead Birds Laughing and plans for surviving the Mayan apocalypse?
Ben (Boyle) and I play guitar. I’ll be welcoming the apocalypse with open arms.
Can you tell us a little about how A Million Dead Birds Laughing got started and who your early musical influences were?
Myself and Dean (Turner / drummer) were involved in a band that fell apart. We still wanted to do something together and I had a bunch of crazy demos lying around, so we started jamming on them. It all came together pretty quickly after that. Early influences included Nasum and Ulcerate.
Sorry, but we’ve really got to ask: how did you come up with the name A Million Dead Birds Laughing? It’s so cool but it’s kinda fucked up too.
I came up with it when I was recording the demos. It pretty much summed up the sound of the music. I can’t recall exactly why it came to me – it’s somewhat eccentric and funny – but has this ominous, serious implication about it which seemed to fit the vibe. Everyone is always curious about it, but I think it is better that everyone interprets it in their own way. I generally feel it implies that the birds have seen something beyond and are laughing at us and our feeble attempts to live life; they see things we could never hope to witness. Plus, the imagery of a dead bird is quite symbolic and striking.
You guys released your second album Xen in July this year. We’ve been giving it a good thrashing lately and it’s awesomely brutal and off-the-wall batshit bonkers too. Is that what you were aiming for when you wrote this album?
Glad you’re digging the album! Our first album, Force Fed Enlightenment, and the latest release, Xen, were planned and outlined right back at the beginning of the band – even before the lineup was complete, so the skeleton was always there. We knew what we wanted to do and had a general map of how the music was going to evolve, so we set out to write a song for every letter of the alphabet, which was basically a goal we set for ourselves to keep us motivated and writing new material. We then broke the alphabet into two.
Force Fed Enlightenment and Xen were conceived sort of as counterparts to each other: similar in theme but opposites in execution; sort of a ying yang polarity I guess. This was also done with regards to our stage attire (black shirt white tie for FFE – white shirt black tie for XEN). I guess the batshit bonkers is just a result of my writing style and how the individuals in the band interact with it.
Does Xen contain any underlying themes or ideas?
We tend to have underlying themes running through our albums which we discuss while writing. However, for Force Fed Enlightenment and Xen, 100% of the lyrics were written by Adam (Stewart) and a lot of the lyrics came from a personal place for him, but a majority of it dealt with insanity, the nature of god and a metaphorical/abstract take on a lot of other general themes as well. I also tend to write the music with an overall arc/theme or concept in mind, which gradually takes shape as the music flows. I always want the individual parts to fit as a whole when taken as an album, to ensure they work as a complete piece.
We’ve read that with Xen you wanted “to offer up something fresh and sinister to the musical ether”. This being said, do you feel there’s not enough originality within extreme metal circles these days?
There’s certainly a lot of originality out there but it can be rare or at least hard to find these days simply because it’s become cliché to claim your own band is ‘unique’ and ‘genre defining’. I certainly don’t want people to think that’s what we are implying with our statement – we just write music that sums us up. It’s funny though, bands who are truly original or attempting to break the mould tend to go unnoticed and have to work harder than your average cookie cutter band – especially when starting out – because the masses tend to cling to the boundaries set by a certain genre, anything outside of that is ‘breaking the rules’ and ‘unwelcome’, which then causes bands to start regurgitating the same things in their own way to ensure popularity or a sustaining place within that respective genre. I try not to think about music at all. I don’t look to other bands or musicians to tell me how my music should sound. My music is an outlet for my own emotional journey and thought process – it’s not a product I’m trying to fit into your pre-existing notions of how heavy music has to sound. I believe the statement sums up how we feel about offering ourselves to the musical world because that’s exactly what we’re doing. That being said, it should always be a musician’s goal to strive to do something more with the tools they have, something better, something different.
How’s the new material shaping up? Are there any particular bands, experiences or literature influencing the new stuff?
We’re really excited about the new material. We just recently had a lineup change which saw Adam (Stewart) step aside as our vocalist – this was something that unfortunately became unavoidable – and he was replaced by our good friend Darren, who previously sang in Melbourne band The Ocularis Infernum.
The new stuff is definitely heading in a different direction again, but it is still a natural progression for the band. Some of our existing fans may feel it’s a drastic change, mainly due to the shift in vocals, but we were always going to be branching off after the Force Fed Enlightenment and Xen cycles were complete. Those two albums were one package in two parts. It’s exciting doing something fresh now.
As far as inspiration goes, I’ve actually been really inspired by old Samurai films lately, such as Seven Samurai, Sword of Doom, Rashomon, Hara-Kiri, Yojimbo, Lone Wolf and Cub etc. I’ve also been reading up a lot on old world myths and their origins…
We’re hoping to get something released asap with Darren on vocals. Looks to be an EP at this stage. So keep an eye out for that one!
What got you interested in death metal and grind to begin with? Have you always liked the really heavy stuff or were there gateway bands which led you to the real heavy shit?
I was quite young when I got into heavy music. I started out listening to my Dad’s vinyl collection which included things like Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Led Zeppelin. I then moved onto things like Pantera and Slayer in school, then onto melo death, and then just naturally moved onto heavier and heavier stuff from there. The earliest death/black metal bands I remember listening to were Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse and Emperor. As for grind, as soon as I heard Nasum I fell in love with the style.
You guys maintain a bleak aesthetic within A Million Dead Birds Laughing, frequently referencing demons, ‘unseen forces’ and a whole bunch of other freaky shit. So, are you guys proper Satanists? Or is it just for show?
We certainly aren’t Satanists. A lot of the lyrics are metaphorical or abstract representations of a certain feeling or force. I feel the lyrics generally refer to Satan as an outcast of sorts. It’s not referencing it in a religious sense, although that being said, all current available lyrics have been written by Adam, and I can only interpret them. The lyrics on both albums do deal with the inner workings of the mind and a lot of the entities referenced are more akin to ‘astral bodies’ or spiritual ailments, the underlying theme being insanity or spiritual turmoil. Although in other cases such as Beast or Yeti the lyrics are generally tongue-in-cheek looks at certain worldly issues.
What are your top five favourite horror movies?
Hard question. My favourites are probably pretty uninteresting. I watch a lot of movies but I tend to like my horror a certain way. Most of them are old movies that I always remember watching when I was younger:
The Thing (1982),
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
What do you do for a crust outside of A Million Dead Birds Laughing?
I’m not 100% sure what you mean by crust (laughs). But outside of the band I’m pretty busy with a few musical projects (Hadal Maw, Vipassi…), other than that we generally just work day jobs, do a bit of gaming etc…
What do you think of Melbourne’s heavy metal scene? Is it a supportive community? Would you ever be tempted to move overseas?
The Melbourne heavy metal scene is great – but it can be odd sometimes, as it’s kind of divided into its respective sub-genres, which can suck from time to time as there can be a lack of unity overall. It’s supportive in some ways but downright dog eat dog in others. But I generally don’t like getting involved in politics. Melbourne is a good breeding ground for some great bands, and as far as my opinion on the scene, I love it. There is some world class music here and it’s a vibrant scene to be a part of.
I don’t think I could uproot my life and move overseas, but who knows what the future may bring.
What other local bands should we check out and why are they worth our time?
So many Melbourne bands to list, but I’ll narrow it down to: The Mung, Akaname, In Trenches and Anchors. Also, some non-Melbourne bands that are incredible: Brazen Bull, IDYLLS and The Schoenberg Automaton. They’re worth your time because they’re worth ours.
What’s the poppiest shit that you’re prepared to admit you listen to?
We actually listen to a wide variety of shit. I’m not ashamed to say that The National is one of my favourite bands ever.
Do you have much planned for next year?
New release. New everything. Tour tour tour.
Any parting words of advice?
Embrace the change.