Monochromatic Residua – An Interview with Aaron Myers-Brooks
What are all those words? I shall explain.
Monochromatic Residua is a death metal project born from the mind of composer, teacher, and—most importantly here—microtonal guitarist Aaron Myers-Brooks. In case the word “microtonal” puts you off a little bit, fret not! The band doesn’t set out to confound you with insanely avantgarde material, but rather presents a palatable and very interesting blend of technical death metal and microtonal elements.
The project first saw the light of day in 2018 as a solo endeavour before finding a drummer in freelance percussionist and educator Stephen Klunk. The duo recorded a single together before eventually rounding out the lineup with vocalist Albert C. Hall. Now a full band, they are finally ready to unleash their first “proper” release, the EP Eternal Mountain.
Now, when I say they don’t set out to confound you, that doesn’t mean that the level of technicality in these 6 brief tracks isn’t fit to make your head spin. The band fly through tempo changes and shifting time signatures in aggressive flurries, peppered with a hearty dose of dissonance and given sonic superpowers by Brooks’ use of a 17-tone guitar. The amount of things happening and the speed at which they’re happening will seldom have you feeling like you’re on safe ground.
Yet what could easily become music for mad scientists and only the most musically learned listeners always remains anchored by remarkable restraint and respectful nods to familiar death metal tropes. Rather than constructing every riff purely out of half-tones, notably off-sounding leads are used sparingly and actually serve to make songs more memorable when they recur. It’s a spice in the dish rather than a main ingredient. And rather than trying to shake you off by consistently twisting and turning, there are plenty of moments where the songwriting offers respite and makes sure you’re still along for the ride, if not downright inviting you to bang your head. While often angular and sometimes bizarre, the music never feels completely alien.
With my interest piqued, I decided to reach out to Myers-Brooks himself, who very kindly answered my questions about the ideas behind the project and how it came about.
When did you first learn about microtonal scales, and what attracted you to those sounds?
I believe I was first exposed to microtonality via 20th century composer Ben Johnston’s solo piano piece on the “Sound Forms for Piano” comp. I found hearing these alien tonalities on such a familiar instrument totally weird and exciting. One of my grad-school teachers, Mathew Rosenblum, is a big microtonal composer within the contemporary classical realm, and thus my interests in microtonality was very much encouraged while I was a music theory/composition student at the University of Pittsburgh.
I like how the exploration of tuning is such a wide open field. You can create sweeter, more consonant sounding music, extremely dissonant music, and everything in between. It can sound totally experimental, or it can relate to traditions that have been around for centuries.
When did the idea of combining more “classical” technical death metal with microtonal elements first arise? One of the influences you cite is Jute Gyte, a project I’ve repeatedly tried and failed to get into, whereas I found Monochromatic Residua much more easily digestible. How much of a role does the accessibility of the music play when you’re composing?
I tend to think one of the strengths of metal is its ability to be both serious and fun at the same time, in a way that’s similar to comic books. I definitely wanted this music to be fun to listen to, despite the challenge that can come with experiencing an unfamiliar tuning system. In addition to more overtly experimental stuff like Jute Gyte, which I love, I was also listening to a fair amount of Immolation while coming up with my guitar parts for this EP. I like how they can come up with super gnarly, dissonant riffs, but then somehow the structure of the songs makes everything accessible.
What does the project’s name refer to? Is there a certain lyrical theme that the music revolves around?
It’s how I visualize the sound of death metal. A sort of dripping filigree of similarly colored ooze and shards. The lyrics are all based either on dystopian sci-fi themes, or imaginary alien landscapes, again trying to keep with a comic-book-esque weird and dark but also fun vibe.
Some of the songs overtly refer to video games. The final track of the new EP is a description of stage 6 of Bio-Hazard Battle on the Sega Genesis, where a giant battleship that has been taken over by alien creatures is gradually destroyed. The first song on the earlier self-titled release is a reference to the famously difficult “Maniac Mode” in Mushihimesama Futari (aka Bug Princess 2). Albert wrote the lyrics for the title track on the new EP, which is literally about a mountain that goes on forever.
The sound of the synths heard in various places on the EP (most notably in “Instrumental 5” and the closing track) is very consistent, which makes me think there may have been a particular inspiration for it. How did these eerie sounds come about?
The synth sounds were all generated via the FM8 software synthesizer and then played with a MIDI piano controller. FM synthesis is known for its ability to create bell-like tones. I thought these sounds might work well with the alien/futuristic theme. The synths were a last minute addition, and were in part inspired by Colin Marston‘s various pandemic-era projects, many of which incorporate synths to varying degrees.
How did you find your bandmates? There’s a fair bit of info out there about you and Stephen Klunk, but I couldn’t find anything about the vocalist, Albert. Who is he?
I initially met Stephen as an audience member of his amazing Patchwork Duo, who are a contemporary classical sax/drums group. I helped them with some minor tech stuff at their first gig in Pittsburgh. They later asked me to compose a piece for them, which I gladly did in the form of “Four Grids.” Stephen mentioned he wanted to collaborate on a metal project, so I asked him to be the drummer for Monochromatic Residua. Thus far we haven’t had a chance to play in a room together as of yet.
Me and Albert played together in heavy no-wave band Night Vapor from 2012-2019, which I was proud to be a part of. (My research skills have failed me yet again. -Hans) He had a super unique style in that band which was sometimes compared to Captain Beefheart and Michael Gerald from Killdozer. We are both big death metal fans, so I asked him if he wanted to contribute some vocals and he said yes!
What was the production process of the EP? Did you guys actually meet or did everything happen online? Was the pandemic a hindrance?
It was mostly online. Me and Stephen sent parts back and forth via Sibelius, which is notation software that does both tab and staff notation. Generally I would send him a recording of a mostly complete guitar part that I made at home, along with the tab, then he would come up with his drum parts and write them out in traditional notation. For the most part, my only input on the drums was to say “that sounds awesome!”
Once instrumental parts were written, I reamped the rhythm guitars at a spacious local spot in Pittsburgh called The Shred Shed by myself. Stephen recorded his drums along to programmed backing tracks with Steve Perrino at Bottleworks in Cleveland. I recorded my vocals in my basement. Me and Albert then recorded his vocals at the Shred Shed, working on rhythmic placement together. I mixed and mastered everything at home, occasionally checking the sound in my car. The pandemic wasn’t a hindrance, in that we knew the process would be something like this when we started in spring 2020. In fact the pandemic may have sped things along, as we all lost gigs, and thus had more time to work on it.
Are there long-term plans for the project? A full-length perhaps or, should circumstances permit it, some live shows?
I think given the current uncertainty of the world we aren’t really formulating any plans just yet, but I will say I’d be super excited to make more music with these guys!
Between this project, your solo work, and your other bands AutoReplicant and Night Vapor, you seem to be keeping busy. Are you working on something at the moment?
I think I’m slowing down just a bit for the moment, but AutoReplicant has written guitar/bass parts for three new songs since the pandemic began, and is gradually working on more. Check AR out if a punk-tinged approach to mathy grind/thrash sounds appealing to you!
Thank you for your time! The closing words are yours, if you like. Got any recommendations? Anecdotes? Sage advice? Cryptic messages?
Here are some other microtonal metal/prog/punk bands and solo musicians to check out, in addition to the aforementioned Jute Gyte: Victory Over the Sun, Agonanist, Jock Tears, Jon Bap, Cryptic Ruse, Last Sacrament, Mercury Tree, Brendan Byrnes, and Horse Lords. Apologies to any I forgot!
Also, hit up Metatonal Music if you’d like your own microtonal guitar.
Finally, thank you so much for checking out our music! I hope it brings a little catharsis and/or joy.
Eternal Mountain is available on Bandcamp as of this Friday. Remember that all proceeds today go directly to the artists!