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Belus’ Matt Mewton Talks Darkness in Black Metal

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Brooklyn-based dark metallers Belus open up their debut full-length with something like heavy math-jazz, evoking a real and tingly excitement. About a minute later, the band breaks into its signature brand of blackened doom, but the mystery and variance of the introduction ends up forming the backbone of the entire record. Black metal and doom may seem at the forefront of Apophenia (due out October 13th via Vendetta Records), but a tasteful eclecticism hovers in proximity, and the band picks its spots mindfully.

“I think what ties it all together is just how diverse our musical tastes are,” notes guitarist and vocalist Matt Mewton, who also plays in the black metal band Woe. “No two songs are (hopefully) alike, which is kind of accidental but also somewhat by design. Each member moves compositions in a different direction — I tend to push the more aggressive death metal influences, Lesley [Wolf] (Mortals, Slaywhore) brings black metal ideas and sensibilities into the mix, and Jacques [Johnson] writes interesting drum patterns that help give the songs a unique flavor.”

Mixed together, Apophenia is a fresh take on an over-saturated genre: black metal has always been a powerful force, but perhaps weakened over the past 20 years with numerous and ever-pretentious runs through the motions. New York City has some fine bands to its name (e.g. Anicon, Krallice, Black Anvil) — these groups display tendencies toward the roots of black metal (punk, noise, dark art), one reason why their modern form of black metal works. Belus keeps the NYC tradition up. They forge a sound rooted in why there is black metal, not a sound completely based on black metal.

“For me, there’s plenty of stylistic ingenuity in black metal, but it doesn’t always need to fall under the ‘black metal’ label for me to find that emotive sweet spot that I look for in this style of music,” Mewton says. “I’m all in favor of being able to bring whatever influences you have to the table and making something unique out of it, whether it’s black metal or basket weaving. The willingness to push boundaries and abscond traditions, to me, is what keeps art forms entertaining.”

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Belus formed in 2010, focusing strictly on doom metal. When Wolf joined in 2012, the band started again from scratch, forging a more varied sound. They released a demo in 2012, did a tour, released an EP (Deserted) and a split with Anicon in 2013, and then laid low for a few years, writing and processing. The past year though, has been a busy one, especially with the new album.

“We spent the second half of 2016 finishing the writing for Apophenia, and went into the studio in February of this year with Nolan Voss,” Mewton explains. “Nolan is a good friend of ours — he plays in Anicon and is also a killer sound engineer who keeps getting better and better. We were thrilled to be able to work with him on Apophenia; he did a fantastic job. Collaborating with someone who knows our sound as well as he does made the recording process quite seamless.”

Apophenia comes out with an arty resonance. It’s varied enough to continually surprise you, never boring you. You find yourself going back to the album’s introduction looking for clues; you find a pattern out of sheer interest because the record doesn’t sound faked in the slightest. To wit: the album cover involves the organization of philosophic mushrooms, feathers, and insects… like math and science connected infinitely to art. There are questions there, and you’re eager to inspect them. Though you might not find any answers, it’s something Belus plays with and expands on.

“There is an inherent understanding in art that things are meant to have tangible, concrete significance,” Mewton notes. “But I’m not sure that meaning has to be present in order for the music to be enjoyed. That’s not to say we don’t have strong feelings about our music or what it signifies. There is some fairly dark lyrical content, a lot of which I feel very strongly about. As a whole though, I think the record’s meaning is more in what isn’t there rather than what is. Hopefully that keeps someone guessing out there somewhere.”

And on to cassette tapes: the true driving force of underground music. Mewton was kind enough to give some insight into his top five cassettes by bands from NYC for the long journey from New York to Oregon, or New York to Texas, or something like that.

“Negative Plane: spooky black metal for those overnight drives, ” he declaims. “Krallice: blazing fast, highly technical, yet somehow has more grooves than the side of a highway — Ariadne: haunting vocal melodies, vast soundscapes, and just awe-inspiring — White Hills: psych rock that’s distinct yet catchy; perfect driving music; and some Trenchgrinder: I need to be able to listen to Bolt Thrower on tour.”

— Christopher Harrington

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