When you cut a given album, it's sometimes easy to forget the ingredients that proved integral to your initial success, and possibly opt towards a different route in spite of your better judgment. This could be one interpretation of the comments made during this interview in reference to Mnemic's third album, "Passenger". Favouring tried and tested methods of working, Mnemic returned to those familiar methods in laying down material for their fourth album. However, experimentation and diversity was firmly on the agenda, but whether this resulted in great, arresting material is up for listeners to decide.
Released in Europe on January 15th and in North America on January 26th through Nuclear Blast Records, "Sons Of The System" is the fourth studio full length from Danish metallers Mnemic. Recording occurred at the group's own studio and at Antfarm in Aarhus, Denmark under the supervision of Danish producer Tue Madsen (who's worked with the likes of Halford, Behemoth, Kataklysm, and The Haunted), who oversaw production on 2003's "Mechanical Spin Phenomena" and 2004's "The Audio Injected Soul". Third album "Passenger" (2007), meanwhile, was recorded in Los Angeles with guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers (Arkaea / ex-Fear Factory) and producer Warren Riker (Down / The Fugees).
Conceived by guitarists Mircea Gabriel Eftemie and Rune Stigart, a symbol adorns "Sons Of The System"'s artwork, reportedly the symbol of the outcast, and the symbol "of the people in revolt of a greater evil". An iTunes exclusive single, "Diesel Uterus", was issued on January 8th, its European and North American versions each boasting a "Sons Of The System" track remixed by Claus Larsen of Danish electro act Leaether Strip. On the 16th at Amager Bio, Copenhagen, Denmark, Mnemic performed at the Danish Metal Awards with Meshuggah. The group tour Denmark in February, and Moscow, Russia and Madrid, Spain dates are pencilled in for April.
On December 7th at 17:30 GMT, guitarist Mircea Gabriel Eftemie telephoned Hit The Lights' Robert Gray to discuss "Sons Of The System".
Mircea Gabriel Eftemie: Hi there. This is Mircea from Mnemic.
Hello. This is Robert Gray of Ultimate-Guitar.com. How are you?
Yeah, I'm good.
Would it be ok if began the interview?
Yeah, of course.
Could you provide some background information regarding 'Sons of the System'?
Yeah, sure. We started writing 'Sons of the System' in 2008 or something, two years ago more or less, but we started doing everything more concentrated in 2009. In 2009, we took a break from everything, from the touring activities. We wrote twenty-five songs in total for the album, and only half of these songs made the album. That's mainly because we got lost in the writing process, since we started writing some more experimental material, and some more... I don't know if you can call it fusion rock inspired material, but it was definitely something that confused us. We wrote some songs that reminded us pretty much about our typical style, and having all these mechanical riffs, and rhythms, and patterns just didn't do anything for us. We didn't quite know what to do, because we thought "What would the typical Mnemic listener say to that? Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Are we gonna shoot ourselves in the foot? Are we gonna start experimenting with other stuff?".
In my opinion, I think we did the right thing. Basically, we recorded almost all of the entire album in our rehearsals (laughs). We told a lot of bullshit stories to the press to begin with. We had to record it at Antfarm Studios in Tue Madsen's place, but the dad of our drummer's wife died in the middle of everything, and our drummer had to take care of his family. He came up to us two to three days before we were due to record, and said "Dudes, you got to find someone else to play the drums because I cannot be here for you guys. If I'm going to another studio, I'll be far away from my family and they need me right now". We said "No way. Not possible", and we moved all of Tue's equipment into our own studio. The sound came out pretty good.
So 'Sons of the System' is a very different record in comparison to its predecessor 'Passenger' then?
Yeah, I guess you can say that. Yeah, definitely. It has a lot better direction I would say, because we got pretty much lost on the 'Passenger' album. We had to introduce a new singer into the band, and at the same time, we had management that told us to write songs for the radio. We're not that kind of band. We're still a metal band at the end of the day, but on 'Passenger', a lot of things were just the result of bad decision making, and too many chefs in the kitchen. I'm only gonna speak for myself, but I was pretty egotistical in terms of the writing process: I wanted my ideas on the table first before anyone else's, and I wanted my material to be on the record. We were all pretty much struggling with whatever we wanted on the table and in the songs, so yes, I would definitely say that 'Sons of the System' is a way better album. The whole motto of this album was basically "Two brains are better than one", and the more people that agree upon the material, the better in the end. That might say something about other people liking your material, your music, but we also started experimenting with newer things. I'm actually very happy with how 'Sons of the System' turned out.
Would you say that 'Sons of the System' is a more true Mnemic album? With 'Passenger', you said that Mnemic was pressured to write radio hits, whereas with this album, it seems as though the group opted towards a more natural writing approach... if that makes sense?
Yeah, yeah. Definitely, definitely. I can totally understand what you're saying. I would say 'Sons of the System' comes from the heart, because we weren't really going after opinions. On 'Passenger', our record label said to us "You guys have to write the 'Master of Puppets' - it's your third album". We said "Uh.. ok", but we got lost and everything. We went to Los Angeles to record the album, and recorded it where Megadeth recorded the 'Rust in Peace' album (1990). We got arrogant about the whole thing, and it was really wrong to do so. This time around though, we wanted to keep everything basic, wanted to be on our own turf, and wanted to take our time writing. It isn't about proving to people that we can play our instruments, and it isn't about playing or making music that is super-aggressive, super-extreme, or super-technical, or super-melodic. Writing a good song is more about the substance of the song, so I would definitely say 'Sons of the System' is a more true album. The record comes more from the heart, and has been processed in a totally different way. Also, we actually collaborated with Guillaume, our singer, this time on writing some of the material - he wrote two to three songs for the album as well in collaboration with the rest of us. So yes, definitely.
Although two to three of 'Sons of the System''s songs were written in collaboration with Guillaume, in what other ways would you say Mnemic's musical chemistry with Guillaume has developed since 'Passenger'?
A lot of things have developed. First of all, he's French (laughs). As far as the writing process goes, he was actually here in Denmark - he was here when we were in the last stages of the writing process. He plays guitar as well, and is used to recording in bands, so we actually demoed a lot of material with him, and we didn't really have the time to do that last time. We got to know each other on a totally different level.
Why did Mnemic opt to work with Tue Madsen again?
Because Tue is a really good friend of the band, but more importantly, we feel super, super confident with him. We speak the exact same language, and both parties can see the end goal. We want the same and want to succeed, but at the same time, we want to make some really good material. We want to do something that's solid together, and he knows how to achieve that in collaboration with us. We felt very alienated on 'Passenger', because we were working with two guys that we didn't really know. It was also an experiment in terms of using a producer, so this time around, we just really, really missed Tue. He wanted to produce 'Sons of the System' as well - he wasn't just someone we headhunted, or something like that. It was a very mutual thing, and you can hear the result on the album. We're extremely satisfied with it.
This time around, would you say Nuclear Blast left Mnemic more to its own devices?
They've always done that. Actually, they've always done that. Since we took a break from the band though, I guess they started concentrating on other bands.
You said the label tried to push Mnemic towards writing radio hits, so I thought that Nuclear Blast left the group to its own devices on this occasion, as opposed to the previous one?
It was the management who pushed, and since then - since 'Passenger' - we've fired the management. We got really fed up with how things were run, and you can probably also read in the press what's happening with Fear Factory and their old management - we had the same management as Fear Factory. It wasn't the label. Actually, the label has been behind the band all the time, but communication wise, I guess they were more active. They still are now though. We have to release an album together, so... Not a lot of things have happened. They're still behind us, which we're very grateful for.
You said that 'Sons of the System''s material is the "most diverse" Mnemic band has written to date, so having said that, what new directions does the album venture in?
Personally, I think the whole album isn't linear. In terms of the style, the record goes up and down. 'Sons of the System' is more dynamic, and it's more diverse, in terms of the style of each and every song. Take a song like "Climbing Towards Stars", and compare it with "Sons of the System"; one is really mid-tempo, and the other one is really thrashy. Take a song like "The Erasing", and you have super-theatrical parts with some Arabic inspired melodies. The album goes up and down in terms of the style. That's how I see it, but it doesn't have to be that way for another individual, because how you perceive music is very personal. We've never done such an album before, in my opinion.
How did the Arabic and super-theatrical inspirations emerge within 'Sons of the System''s music? What inspired those influences?
Getting older I guess (laughs). I have no idea. It is quite strange, but we do listen to a lot of other music. I really love a band like Muse, and God Is An Astronaut - I can mention a bunch of other names. We don't listen to the same music as we once did, and our inspiration sources are changing - they always change. There's no favourite. When we started out as a band, of course the influences are evident. We love Meshuggah, Strapping Young Lad, and Fear Factory, but we don't really listen to those bands as we used to. We got inspired by their way of thinking when putting music together. We really love their way of being original, and we wanted to do something in the same vein. It's pretty evident on the first album (2003's 'Mechanical Spin Phenomena'), but I would say it's quite far from what we've done today.
Would you say that Mnemic's goals are bigger than they once were then, and that the group is attempting to create music on a bigger scale?
No, not at all. Our goals have always been the same. On 'Passenger', yes, we did have enormous goals, but those were unrealistic. We're not that kind of band. They tried to pitch us for the radio. Whatever we write has to come from the heart. If it doesn't come from the heart, we're gonna fail.
"We're still a metal band at the end of the day, but on 'Passenger', a lot of things were just the result of bad decision making, and too many chefs in the kitchen."
In what ways does 'Sons of the System' have more electronic elements than past Mnemic albums?
As far as the structuring and layering of 'Sons of the System', some songs do actually have a lot more electronics and samples. If we did add any keyboards and samples to songs in the past, they would be really, really thin. It's as simple as that. On 'Passenger', it wasn't that much different, but we did use a lot more electronics. Also, we experimented a lot with guitar tone; we wanted something a little bit more bassier, a bit more dirtier, and not so polished. We were actually going after a rockier sound. I can't really give you an example right now while I'm thinking about it, but I would say that... Again , a song like "The Erasing"; if you remove all the melodies and things like that, you would have forty percent of the song, because everything else is keyboards, samples and vocals.
When you refer to "a bit more dirtier sound", do you mean that with 'Sons of the System', Mnemic wanted more of a live sound?
Yes, yes. Definitely, definitely. You're absolutely right. On 'Passenger', we used a lot of equipment that wasn't ours. On this album, we basically wanted to replicate our live sound, and we didn't want to use anything else - we didn't want to use any external gear. We wanted to use our own gear that we use live, and we wanted to play with what we had. We didn't want to spend money renting and experimenting with a thousand amps, and a thousand guitars. No, fuck it. We just used our own gear and recorded with it, and did it the natural way, because it would be totally weird to have an oversized sound. But yeah, we went after our own natural sound that we play live.
You said that parts of 'Sons of the System''s music is "super-theatrical". In using the term "super-theatrical", could you explain what you mean?
More atmospheric. Again, I have to bring up a song like "The Erasing", because it pretty much stands out. I think the song is theatrical in terms of this theme, this melody. To me, it has something special to it. It creates a special vibe for me, and the same with a song like "March of the Tripods"; you can almost imagine big tripods walking because the song is so slow, but at the same time, it's so heavy. I see and feel things when I hear music. I know this sounds really super weird, but it gives me a special atmosphere, and that's what I mean about theatrical - because it's big. It feels big when I hear a song like "March of the Tripods", but that's my personal opinion.
Is 'Sons of the System' an album you can truly appreciate by listening to it in its entirety, as a whole, as opposed to listening to one song?
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I can listen to each and every song, and be super content with the songs. It's not how it was on 'Passenger' - I said "Nah, this song needs that, and maybe we should do something different about that". I think everyone in the band feels that way, and feels content about the songs. To me, we've done something right together as a band. The motto has been "Two brains are better than one", and basically, it leaves a lot of room for the collaboration to unfold and blossom. That's what happened, and that's what you hear.
Can you see Mnemic's current musical direction continuing on further albums?
I don't know.. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe in two years from now, we'll have different inspiration sources and we'll do a pop album, but I doubt it's gonna be a pop album. We're still gonna be a metal band at the end of the day, but I definitely want to continue the more rock inspired, more Tool, more Muse inspired style, and blend it with some low-tuned guitars, and experiment with a lot of sampling and so on. I also get inspired a lot by the drum and bass scene, and by Nine Inch Nails, so I want to continue to do something a bit more different than just being totally metal all the time. It's a hard thing to get out of though, because we grew up with this, and this is what we've done for the last four albums.
What can you reveal about the lyrical content found on 'Sons of the System'?
'Sons of the System''s lyrical content is more or less about the political state of the world today, about how societies have evolved, and basically also about how society - in some areas - isn't able to adapt to technologies. For instance, 'Sons of the System' is not a title that is representative of the whole album - it's just the name of a song. The title track's lyrics are very metaphorical; the sons are the people of the earth, and the system is the place that has spat out all these people, which functions as a greater evil or an oppressive force. Basically, the main point is that humanity should stick together against the greater evil. Also, the song is about revolt. I know it sounds really, really sappy of me to say this, but I don't see anything wrong in love and respect towards other people. I think with how the world is changing today... like capitalism - it isn't really capitalism anymore... you have this new hybrid. I would call this slave-ism, because I think that people work too much. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. I see it as a whole mess. I don't have a solution to anything, but it's just my point of view on the world, and of how it is today.
Another aspect is about how mankind has a hard time adapting to technology. For instance, take the internet; you have this obsolete business model for instance, for companies, for record labels. They're not adapting to technology. In my opinion, we should really support the consumers, the fans. We shouldn't tell them "This is bad - this is illegal downloading". I think that's wrong. I think we should encourage consumers and fans to actually spread the music, and that's not where the fault should be put. The fault should be put basically on the big record labels, actually, because the physical medium as we see it today is losing its value. In my opinion, it's becoming a commodity like the LP. It will become a commodity like the LP, the CD. My solution, my suggestion, would be to put a global license on every ISP in the whole world, and if.. I mean, we have one and a half billion people connected to the internet. If this one and a half billion would pay a certain tax, a yearly tax, then we could actually help all the artists and the companies that are actually losing money. This is a super long debate, but it's one of my viewpoints of how things are today.
Does illegal downloading especially become a problem when an album is leaked via the internet before its release date?
I would say it's not a problem for me personally, but it's probably a problem for the band. I do encourage people to download and spread the music, but I would encourage them even more if it was legal. I know this is a paradox, but we should encourage people to spread our music. Everyone is downloading, and it's not possible to stop it. Why not encourage it? Why not benefit out of this whole thing? The more people you have that would spread the music, the more people that would be aware of the band, but then the record label would become... I think record labels still are important, because you need a record label to have a video, to organize interviews like we're doing right now. We have to change the business model, and make downloading legal. I'm not saying to people "Download our music right now", but this whole business model will change at some point - it has to.
Has a music video been recorded for a song off of 'Sons of the System'?
No, not yet. We're in talks with a producer right now. We wanna do something really special with this video, so we're gonna try to stay away from the typical performance video that we've always done. We wanna do something really artistic where we would add our own thing into it, because most of the time, we just made a video just for the sake of making a video and we never had anything to say. When it comes to a video, it was always the producer who did everything. We were like "Alright, cool. Whatever", but we're definitely gonna do a music video, and it's gonna be for "Diesel Uterus", the first single from 'Sons of the System'.
"The whole motto of this album was basically "Two brains are better than one", and the more people that agree upon the material, the better in the end."
What are Mnemic's current touring plans?
We're basically in talks right now with some touring possibilities, but nothing is in place right now. We're doing a small Danish tour in February. We're also playing the Danish Music Awards, and we're also playing in Russia. Basically, we're actually looking into supporting a bigger act. We've been approached about doing our own headlining tour, which I think would be really, really bad to do, because we haven't been out on the road for a long time. We'll see what happens, but as long as people spread the word, that's good with me.
Can you see Mnemic supporting Metallica again?
I'm working on that actually, so I hope so. I just got the word that James (Hetfield, vocals) has our album, and the same with Lars (Ulrich, drums). I hope they're gonna give it a spin, and bring us out in 2010. Nothing is confirmed though, so I don't wanna say anything. If it happens, I'll be really, really happy, and I think we all would be extremely happy. We'll see what happens.
Yeah, fingers crossed.
Where would you like to take Mnemic in the years to come?
I want to play as much as possible. I want to play shows. I know that we will probably never make a living out of what we're doing, but if we can have a certain balance in our lives where we can play music and support our families with our regular day jobs, that would be what I really hope for. I hope that we can get out and play as much as possible, and still maintain a balance.
Do you have a message for the fans of Mnemic?
Yes. Please go to www.sonsofthesystem.com. Check out the new forum that is gonna be set up there, and please, please spread the word about 'Sons of the System'. We hope for the best; we hope that people like the album, and we hope they will buy it, so please support us. Hopefully, if you support us, we'll come to your country and play.
Thanks very much for the interview Mircea - it's really appreciated.
Cool. Thank you very much for having me.
All the best.
For you the same. Have a nice evening.
You too. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
"I would say 'Sons of the System' comes from the heart, because we weren't really going after opinions."