Revolver has teamed with Amenra for an exclusive Translucent Gold vinyl variant of their new album, De Doorn. Grab yours now before they're gone!
The night comes quietly in the ancient city of Ghent, Belgium, where life in 2021 remains largely in suspended animation during these final months of the coronavirus pandemic. Cafés and restaurants are closed, cultural events remain in limbo, and the number of infections continues to climb. It's part of a lingering cloud of dread that Amenra singer Colin H. van Eeckhout has known much of his life — and learned to appreciate long before this newest plague year.
In the two decades since they formed, Amenra has come to specialize in epic explorations of pain and suffering — finding a kind of spiritual force amid its post-metal wall of sound and the shrieks and cries of Van Eeckhout. During a normal year, he would be standing center stage with the band he first joined as a teenager, flailing at the mic shirtless, tattooed and scarred, roaring into the void while facing away from the audience. As an example of his commitment to ceremony and sacrifice, he climaxed one performance in 2013 by being pierced with hooks and suspended Christ-like above the stage.
Despite that reverent posture, the singer says he feels a profoundly deep connection to the band's listeners, and Amenra's new and seventh album, De Doorn, was created with their deepest emotional wounds in mind. It's the first from the brooding quintet not to be released as part of their Masses series, which are composed organically in response to the hardships and crises within the immediate circle of Amenra. The roots of De Doorn were different, less a chronicle of personal distress than a gathering of songs created for several side-projects at home.
Two of those projects were designed as "fire rituals" for the locals of Ghent, as Amenra were invited to accompany the formal burning of a pair of sculptures in the city. On one sculpture, spaces were left for people to place slips of paper with writings about personal losses before it was all set aflame.
Last year's international touring plans were canceled, but Amenra's new album was essentially complete by the time Covid-19 struck hard across the Western World. The band had come to the U.S. to mix its five epic tracks and record backing vocals with Caro Tanghe, another Belgium native and the accomplished singer for Oathbreaker. For the first time, the entire album is sung in their native Flemish.
The opening track, "Ogentroost," is a 10-minute epic that eases into focus through waves of guitar, noise and melody, as Van Eeckhout rages on the eternal horror of war and the calming gaze of a mother. Another song is "De Dood in Bloei" (translated as "death in bloom"), on which Van Eeckhout sings: "A scorching sun sets / all light is lost / bodies buried / turn to dust … love denied / and all its beauty / withered and died."
Aside from the De Doorn album, the band has recently released a raw, contemplative black-and-white documentary on its history, directed by Bobby Cochran. Amenra: A Flood of Light captures life on the road and at home with the band, and explores its expanded creative circle of comrades and collaborators known as the Church of Ra.
But now it's just after 9 p.m., and Van Eeckhout has put his twin boys to bed. As he sits at his laptop in a darkened room at home, his beard grown out longer than ever, the singer signs onto Skype to talk about the band's next wave of activity — and seeking some light amid the darkness.
OTHER GENERATIONS IN HISTORY HAD THE BLACK PLAGUE OR WORLD WARS, AND I GUESS COVID-19 IS OUR TRIAL. AT LEAST WE HAVE SKYPE ...
COLIN H. VAN EECKHOUT If this is ours, well, we cannot complain for sure. We live half of our lives online anyway. It could have been worse.
I ASSUME AMENRA HAD BIG PLANS FOR LAST YEAR THAT GOT INTERRUPTED?
We've done shitloads of stuff, but we stayed in Belgium. We didn't really go abroad for anything. It wasn't really possible. So we were stuck here, but we had enough on our hands.
We were writing a live song score to a Russian movie [1975's The Mirror] from Andrei Tarkovsky. And then there was a commissioned piece to rework medieval music from Belgium and Holland. We have an opera/contemporary dance piece. It's all over the place and it broadens your perspective, and you learn a lot from the other worlds.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE PANDEMIC THAT WE'VE LIVED THROUGH WILL COME UP IN YOUR MUSIC AT SOME POINT?
I think it definitely will. We work a lot with the sense of being alone and certain hardships in life you have to carry alone. There's a lot of solitude and isolation in our music anyway. I see it as a very inspiring time. We realized [the importance of] human presence and human warmth and seeing friends. I believe it's the most interesting time in our lifetime. It was a wild year.
WHERE DOES THE ALBUM TITLE FOR DE DOORN COME FROM? IN ENGLISH, IT'S "THE THORN," WHICH SEEMS CONNECTED TO RELIGIOUS IMAGERY, SPIRITUALITY AND PAIN.
It definitely does link to pain, but a lot of people automatically link it to the crown of thorns. This time we didn't choose it for its religious connotation. I grew obsessed by different thorns as created by nature to allow flowers to protect their beauty or their fruits. I made a comparison to human beings, where we all individually grow our own specific kind of thorns to protect ourselves from whatever is going to cause harm. At the same time, we all carry around our wounds that have been inflicted by others.
A LOT OF YOUR NEW DOCUMENTARY TAKES PLACE ON THE ROAD, AND AMENRA LOOKS COMFORTABLE AND INSPIRED THERE. HAS NOT HAVING THAT IN YOUR LIFE BEEN DIFFICULT?
The thing we probably all miss most is just being on the road together, being in the van, going on adventures, discovering new territories. We're used to meeting up with people all over the world. It's weird to have a lot of your friends shut out of your life, as they don't all live in our city or country.
Everybody was scared in the beginning: Shit, how is this going to be? We thought it was going to be hard, but we soon realized that it was a good thing to reroute, get everything back into place. But you do miss being on the road — we've been doing it since we were 16 years old.
AMENRA STARTED AS A TRADITIONAL HARDCORE BAND, BUT YOUR VOCALS SOMEHOW SEEM MORE MUSICAL THAN A LOT OF HARDCORE SINGING.
Album after album, I got more sure of myself. Through the years, you train yourself and you train your body. It's comparable to sports — different conditions, different situations, depending how you feel as well physically. Now I have the balls to go for it, because I know that I can do it.
We have a very broad spectrum of emotion in our music. We have very ferocious parts, and we have very small vulnerable parts. I always write the vocal lines according to the music — I listen to it a zillion times and I ask myself, OK, what do I feel? What voice do I hear in my head on that part? And then I try to accentuate the music vocally and lyrically.
WHAT DOES THE OPENING SONG'S TITLE, "OGENTROOST," MEAN IN ENGLISH?
It's not possible to translate because it's a word that doesn't even exist in our language. The song "Ogentroost" is two words that I put together – ogen is "eyes" and troost is to comfort someone. I put those two together into "eyes of comfort." It sounds simple in English, but in my language it sounds poetic and it makes sense. It's that look in someone's eyes when you were a child and you're really sad. Your mother comforts you, and she has this way of looking you in the eyes that is incomparable to anyone else.
The image used in that song is based on war-torn symbols. Here in Flanders and Belgium, there's still a lot of war memorials and war graves. It's a part of our culture here.
THAT SONG IS ANOTHER 10-MINUTE EPIC. THE BAND HAS A HISTORY OF STRETCHING OUT ...
We really take our time. If you want to make radio-friendly music, you play a riff four bars and switch to another one. But, in our opinion, sometimes the riff or a melody has not reached its maximum capacity if you don't give it enough time. At a certain point, we stopped caring about boring the hell out of people, and we just took the time that we thought a part needed. It's a tension you build. It's a different kind of writing. It's more storytelling.
WHAT KIND OF ARTIST IS DRAWN TO THE CHURCH OF RA?
It's people that are driven beyond measure. They are blood-driven, and they don't really care about money or how much attention it gets — as long as it gets to the right people. It's hard to describe. I love to think that all of those guys are really good-hearted people, who empathize and are able to put themselves in other people's places. That's the key element that kind of links all of those men and women together — be it if you're a dancer, if you're a painter, if you're a photographer. Everybody helps each other out and without compromise. It's a beautiful thing.
DO THE PEOPLE INVOLVED FLUCTUATE OR IS IT A PRETTY CONSISTENT GROUP OF ARTISTS?
It's pretty consistent. You only know how someone really is after a while. You have a lot of people who want to be there, but for the wrong reasons. But then eventually they move on again. We always say that everybody who ever contributed with anything is a part of it in a way, because they helped us build the fortress or whatever we have. We owe a lot to people who helped us along the way. We cannot get credit for everything.
You need them more than a lot of people realize: photographers and graphic designers and artists of all kinds. Sometimes they're treated like shit, because a [different] band or management just use them as a tool to create something that is convenient at the time. But they should be an essential part of your story. That album cover will follow you for the rest of your life. And you want to be able to think back to that cooperation with a warm heart. Both parties want to be proud of what you have accomplished together.
ARE YOU STILL DOING SUSPENSIONS?
We're very careful with that sort of thing so it didn't become a gimmick. It's the first thing people see and talk about in a lot of interviews — but in 20 years I did it twice onstage. It's not an active part of an Amenra concert. It happens when I feel it needs to happen. It's not linked to a release of an album or a show.
You become a material realization of someone overcoming the pain that he is feeling inside. If it happens on the stage and you have thousands of people being dead silent, holding their breath, it creates a connection between people that has somewhat disappeared in our contemporary society. We don't have folkloric beliefs, like seeing a black cat gives you bad luck.
People used to thrive on that. They had this sort of magical world that they tried to believe in and all that stuff's disappeared now. But if you can create a certain unreal tension between people throughout those experiences and gatherings, it makes it special. It makes it worth remembering. And you feel that you're part of something out of the ordinary. It's not an average concert on Friday night.
WHAT IS YOUR SENSE OF AMENRA'S AUDIENCE AND WHAT THE PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW YOU HAVE IN COMMON?
Most people who have been severely hurt in their life at some point — or really hit rock bottom — have more of a chance of being able to connect with what we do. People who live lightly or seek less depth in life, I reckon have more trouble understanding what it is that we're doing. They cannot see past the, "Oh, it's too much of the same riff," or, "Oh, it's too much screaming." It's the kind of music that demands a little effort from listeners.
We'll have the black-metal addict standing next to the 68-year-old accountant that understands what we're doing. We're all human, and in essence we all have the same shit and the same things that we will have to endure at some point in our life. And that's where we all meet. That's what I see in front of me.
THE DOCUMENTARY SHOWS THE CONTRAST BETWEEN YOUR LIFE ON THE ROAD AND YOUR LIFE AT HOME. ONE SCENE IS YOU WITH YOUR TWO KIDS, AND THEY HAVE SOME DRAWINGS OF KISS NEARBY. THEY MUST BE MUSIC FANS.
Right now, they don't give a rat's ass about KISS and Dio anymore. They listen to hip hop. It's funny. It's cool to witness the evolution of a human being. Being on the road all the time as a band is very romantic, but in the end you'll always be a father more than a musician or the singer of a band. It definitely gives value to everything. It's the thing that gives you the feeling of having a place here on earth.
And then we have the band as well that we can try to mean something to someone. It's one of the most beautiful compliments if you get a letter or an email from someone that says, "You saved my life." It's beyond my comprehension that it succeeds, that someone on the other side of the world thanks you for what you have done. We hope someone can get something out of it, but in the end we aim for ourselves.
I GUESS AS YOUR CHILDREN GET OLDER, THEY HAVE MORE OF AN UNDERSTANDING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO. AND ARE THEY CURIOUS ABOUT IT?
A lot of stuff that is happening is sometimes pretty extreme, like with the hooks and the blood and whatever. But they've seen it since they were babies, pretty much, so they don't really see it as something different. They see it as something normal and that's very interesting to see — what might be shocking to someone is normal to someone who is used to seeing it. It's very interesting to see all of that. But like most kids, they don't really give a rat's ass about what their father is doing.
YOU'RE LEAVING A LOT OF EVIDENCE OF WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT.
We try to leave something behind, that can mean something to them, even beyond the grave. They'll always be able to hear their father talk to them, if they want to. And everything we do, it's a long farewell. We've been saying goodbye since the first record we've made. So at least we have that.