Post-metal entity Absent in Body boasts a remarkable lineup—Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, Amenra guitartist Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove and frontman Colin H. Van Eeckhout (also on bass here), plus Sepultura drummer Igor Cavalera. The end result, their debut album Plague God, is a monolithic slab of sludgy post-metal that incorporates both electronic beats and organic drumming.
As the album officially releases today via Relapse, Decibel is pleased to share the music video for “The Half Rising Man,” the final song on Plague God. You can watch the new video now and read an interview with Vandekerckhove and Eeckhout below.
Absent in Body features a pretty notable lineup—members of Neurosis, Sepultura and Amenra—and has been in gestation since 2017. How did the band come together? Has it been difficult to write and record given everyone’s busy schedule?
Mathieu: In 2016, me and Scott were asked to do a split 12″ together, but instead of doing separate tracks, Scott came forth with the idea of doing something together instead.
I used an old song of his called “Absence” as the base, and Scott molded it into “Absent In Body” as we were not always physically together in this. We asked Colin to do vocals on that track, mainly because Scott did not want to carry that load. We “sealed the deal” on a solo tour Scott and Colin did, and took the first band picture. That’s pretty much how the band got started.
After the release, we felt the potential and got the taste of it, so I just continued writing. Early 2018, Scott came to [Amenra bassist] Tim’s [De Gieter] studio after his next EU solo tour, and we laid down his tracks. Colin quickly followed with most of the bass, and we ended up writing some more riffs in the studio. After most of it was done, we had the electronic beats and synths in place and made rough mixes. We wondered how analogue ‘organic’ drums could benefit the whole, just to be able to feel what it does to the album and give me and Tim some more tracks to play with.
Igor spends a large amount of time in Gent, Belgium, where Colin lives. We have some shared friends and had run into each other on a Belgian award show here in the past. Colin got to know him better through Dwid from Integrity and plans were made to do something together someday. And Absent in Body felt like the right project for that. Igor came into the studio in 2019 I think, and elevated it to a higher level with his contribution. It was important for us to record it in the studio together. We needed that focus to be able to blend all of our creative energy into a new whole. It’s a whole different world when you are really committed to the moment and can look each other in the eye while making decisions, and it makes for better hangouts and conversations too. Makes it real.
Plague God feels like a pretty timely title, given the events of the last two years. Were you trying to make a statement about covid-19 or the way the world has handled the pandemic?
Colin: I was the last one to record my parts for Plague God. It took me ages and they allowed me to take my time. I always need to be able to take in the music, and see where it takes me, hear what it is trying to tell me. We all wanted it to be an accurate document of the distressed times we live in. The unrest, the continuous strain we as humans endure, the information overload, natural rampage. The pandemic only added to that. It definitely seeped in there. Lyrics like “distance maintained,” “the air we breathe, brings fear,” “withdraw your hand” for instance refer to that… but it was more than that, the destructive cycle started decades ago.
We all agreed that we wanted to create “a beast.”
Is that the unified concept running throughout the LP? The atmosphere on Plague God makes the album feel very cinematic.
Colin: The main idea of this album is that we wanted to work with the dialectic relationship a human has in this artificial world. A living (empathic) organism being overwhelmed with all the harsh and mostly negative news and information, makes it extremely hard to cope with it. Assuming it has a heart. To have lost touch with Nature, and the big scheme of our existence. Our inventions, once seen as brilliant, are now catching up to us. And Nature slowly but surely taking revenge. We lost touch with the core of life. Wars, as a result of humanity failing to coexist, empathize. Natural disasters. Economical unbalance. All of those initiating streams of refugees seeking for a better life. The Plague God saw humanity eventually eat one another. It is the story of that beast, the last voice of reason.
The description for the new album says that Absent in Body wanted to create something “enduring and defiant” in the modern world. Does this mean that you approached the writing process in a different way than you would have for Neurosis, Amenra or Sepultura
Mathieu: Every band has its own way of working. We all come from other bands with their specific approaches. What differs here from those other ‘main’ bands is that there was total freedom. We came out of nothing. There were no outside expectations while we were creating this, no parameters to be filled, we were free. I explored new horizons composing with synths and electronic beats, without any pressure.
We did obviously feel the vast amount of experience every musician was carrying while writing and recording. We all had our assumptions on what any one of us would bring to the table, but everyone was able to outdo those ‘hopes’ we had for one another. Every idea that was outspoken, was embraced and inspired the next one in line. It was an extremely ‘easy’ task for us to work together, I believe we gathered an exceptional group of individuals, at the right time. It makes me extremely grateful to be a part of this. I am proud and humbled. More than ever.
We’re premiering the new video for “Half Rising Man” today. Can you tell us a bit about the meaning behind that song specifically
Colin: Here, as well as with the artwork of the album, I wanted what you see to be a visual representation of what you hear. Of its content. I wanted to take the viewer with me into that dark realm I saw inside me. The album’s music took me there, and I had to find a way to make it real. The beast needed to come to life, so to speak. I called upon my Berliner friend and performance artist Louis Fleischauer to come and help me out. I had been an avid fan of his ‘living sculptures’ for ages and wanted him to make something of me. His vision was unparalleled. We sought for something that seems familiar, and appears to be of this world, yet is unknown and opposed imminent-but-contained threat. Even though restrained the creature appears to not give up its fight, it continues to spit his words, his only weapon left, and tell its story. Even though the outside world is trying to silence it for good. This too is a bleak representation of what is happening in the world today.
I wrote the lyrics specifically for one of us. I interviewed all the members of the band before I started writing, plowed deep into their minds. Just so I could tell the story right, our story and not only mine. I remember that person, who told me that was the song he had the most ‘trouble’ with, “to be least sure about” – I made it my mission to make that song his. It is the most powerful thing I have ever written.