Binary Order’s Rusted Industrial Metal Resurfaces with “Messages from the Deep” (Interview)
Imagine the sheen of a late-90s disaster movie, cinematic angles and panoramic shots included, mired across a cyberpunk backdrop and you’ll be halfway grasping Binary Order’s newest album Messages from the Deep, released in November. The other half of the equation is an adoration for chunky soundscapes and nu-metal. The marriage of these elements spawned the one-man project’s fifth full-length that’s equal parts dystopia and dopamine. Benjamin Blank, the artist behind Binary Order, spoke to us about, among other topics that influenced his new industrial metal album, his love for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles and Papa Roach.
Vocally, Blank performs in a sweet and savory register two decades in the rearview mirror. He’s unafraid of drawing from metalcore, but his choruses are bonafide radio-rock; rugged yet tuneful. He conveys the pathos necessary to act as the protagonist, a role instrumental to Messages from the Deep as the world Blank envisions has no idols. The record doesn’t permit much air to pass through it. It’s sterilized to the degree that there’s no room for human expression beyond Blank’s vocals, an approach that lands quite effectively. Blank needs to be the protagonist because otherwise soulful tracks like “Still Water” would lack empathy. He reflects the conflict between synthetic worlds and analog realities which sits at Messages from the Deep’s core. Technophilic aggression battles with human resolve with the former stifling the latter. It’s grim, as Blank balances a gruff performance with osmium-dense forays into a future that has no need for emotionality.
Though Messages from the Deep is Blank’s fifth album under the Binary Order name, he views it as a new beginning. During the period between communicating through email and publishing this interview, he removed all albums preceding Messages from the Deep from streaming services. As such, it’s best to look at his newest full-length through the lens of a re-debut. It brandishes his newfound aggressive focus while keeping his quirky interests at its heart. Read more about Blank and his influences in the interview below.
Your music concerns the negative path that modern societal establishments are heading down. Why do you feel industrial music is generally pessimistic about the future?
I think more aggressive styles of music attract people who want to express more pessimistic views purely because of the inherent nature of the sound. With industrial specifically, there is usually a negative focus on tech and the future that the sound again, lends itself naturally to given the mixture of electronics in the music.
Ultimately I think it’s what sound best serves the message that the vocal element is trying to convey, and for me, that mixture of aggression and synthetic sounds helps emphasize the subjects I touch on. It’s also a chicken and egg situation a bit, given that I genuinely love the sound of industrial and what I sing about would be issues I’d want to express regardless of genre. So to answer your question, I don’t know.
While digging through your music, I was surprised by the acoustic “Home” from The Deafening Sound of the Killing Machine. I quite enjoyed it but imagine it’d be tough to implement a sound like that into your current industrial sound. How much have you experimented with combining acoustic work into your material?
Yeah, it’s a good point to bring up because obviously, I have the genre attached to Binary Order as industrial metal but that doesn’t encompass all the styles I experiment with. There are a few more rock and acoustic moments on Messages from the Deep such as “Still Water” and “A Good Death” which I think are examples of me working that sound into my material.
I love acoustic music and more stripped genres and bands, so it’s something that’s always going to be part of Binary Order but won’t necessarily be what Binary Order’s focus is. For me, the music has to be interesting and exciting, so if more acoustic elements seem like a natural fit for how I want to express myself, they’ll be present.
Right now I’m very much in the stage of wanting to be heavy, aggressive, and distorted but it might not always be like that.
The title track from Messages From the Deep may be my favorite track of yours. How does it reflect where you may take Binary Order in the future, or are you more interested in bringing out the aggression in your sound?
Thank you! Yeah as I said right now I’m focusing on writing aggressive music, but I’m very attracted to ambient and soundscape pieces in general. I tried to add that in as much as it felt natural to do so on Messages from the Deep and on the title track itself. It felt like I could push those elements further to make the song ultimately what it became.
Like the acoustic elements, the soundscape/ambient stuff is part of what Binary Order can be purely because musically it’s a sound I want to express myself with. I listen to many artists like Loscil, Boards of Canada, Tim Hecker, and 2814, and would love to write a full album in that style. It’s something I’ve had on my mental to-do list for years now. It’s why in my previous releases there are tracks like Dunes and Time Enough for example.
But it has to make sense to do so right? Following up Messages from the Deep with an hour long ambient, electronic album feels like a betrayal of where I am right now, I’m not quite ready to throw a complete curveball and write Kid A just yet. Although that’s not to say the next release will be a complete retread of what came before either.
You mentioned that you see Messages from the Deep as a new beginning regarding Binary Order’s style. What distinguishes it from your previous albums, in your opinion?
Messages from the Deep is just the first time I feel like I got Binary Order right, from a production, performance, songwriting, art direction, etc. point of view. And I want everything I established on this release to be the baseline for everything going forward in terms of quality.
There are good songs on my previous releases but the quality of certain aspects, be it performance or production, always let the entire package down, so I wanted to have Messages from the Deep as a fresh start for Binary Order. Although that’s not to say those previous songs aren’t valid anymore, they’re just what I consider demo versions of what they will be – my intention is to remaster/re-record a lot of my earlier material at some point… maybe when I run out of new ideas (which will be after the ambient album).
You said that the Terminator theme is a perfect piece of music (you’re correct, by the way) and I’ve heard that you’re a noted fan of film composers. How do film scores influence you?
I’ve always seemed to have an ear for music, and that is predominant in films. I’ll watch a film and it’ll be as much an auditory experience as a visual one for example, while people I watch a film with, unless there’s a pop song that kicks in, won’t notice there being music in it at all. All my favorite films have stunning soundtracks – Akira, Jurassic Park, Fury Road, Blade Runner, etc – that are a large part of their appeal for me and always have been since I was a child. The same goes for video games.
With something like Terminator, for example, that soundtrack is what brings that film to life for me. I’m not just sitting there taking this harsh, violent neon-lit world in visually; I’m hearing this crazy, intense synthetic score. With Binary Order it’s the same in that I’m trying to bring to life the themes I’m singing about through audio, I’m essentially scoring my life if you think about it.
In another interview, you said, “the cliché for futuristic music is always synthwave but I find that a little short-sighted.” I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this as I’m inclined to agree. So, why do you think it’s short-sighted, and what do you project non-cliched futuristic music will sound like?
I get why synthwave is used to score the typical futuristic setting. It was essentially created in the 80s and back then the current/near future of music was electronic pop, but the interesting part for me is if you watch the films that are mainstays in the genre – like Akira or Blade Runner – their soundtracks are so much more diverse, challenging and inspiring than one small subgenre of electronic music.
Synthwave has its place in those settings (as it does in my sound) but it’s just unimaginative to me if that’s the entire soundtrack given the possibilities of what these futures could actually sound like. A good example of this is Dredd from 2012. The soundtrack we got is this great industrial metal-sounding piece, which is actually very inspirational for my own sound. It has elements of multiple different genres of electronic and it’s so harsh and atmospheric in places – but originally there was a more traditional synthwave soundtrack by Geoff Barrow (of Portishead and Beak) and Ben Salisbury that was rejected, which isn’t to comment on the quality of what they did, but I think the film would not have the impact (at least on me) if it didn’t have the intensity of the music it does now.
I listen to artists like Lorn, Oneohtrix Point Never, or HEALTH, who are making these incredibly creative almost alien-sounding pieces of electronic music, and for me, that is pushing toward where I think cyberpunk or futuristic-sounding music should be heading.
While fear of the future is a prevalent theme on Messages from the Deep, do you ever believe you could pen music that looks kindly towards the future?
Haha no, my friends have often joked that if they ever made a film about my life it would be called “Binary Order: A Life in Minor.” I’ve never written a song in a major (I don’t even know the scales) let alone written about a positive subject.
Music for me is a way to express my frustrations, anger, and sadness in a creative way that I don’t get the opportunity to do elsewhere in my life. I can live with my own happiness and positivity when I find it, but my negative emotions I have to process them through music to deal with them.
If I ever got to the point where I didn’t have anything negative to sing about I’d probably just make instrumental music.
I read that you previously worked in the video game industry and hold the Sonic 3 & Knuckles soundtrack in high regard. What lessons can traditional music take from music specifically made for video games?
Yeah that game is actually my favourite video game of all time, so I could talk for hours, and hours about it (and Sonic and Sega…but I don’t want to be the Chris Chan of industrial) and the music itself really holds a special place in my heart.
There’s a YouTube channel called carpathia808 that breaks down the layers of those songs (and others from that era) and to see how they’re built is endlessly interesting to me. My brother once made a point that those songs are like one big chorus in that most songs are just a good chorus and then a boring variation for every other element whereas the Sonic compositions are all good.
Still, to answer your question, there is a lot, especially in that era of SNES/Mega Drive, where you had composers doing so much with huge constraints that a lot of musicians could really benefit from studying, myself included. It’s also similar to how I view movie soundtracks, in that the composer for those games is literally scoring this world that the game represents, and the music itself brings the world to life as much as any other part does.
In other interviews, you said that you listened to Papa Roach pretty often while making Messages from the Deep and that you became interested in music during nu-metal’s heyday. I can hear nu-metal’s density in your music and I’m interested to hear what else attracts you to the style.
Papa Roach are my favorite band and I know that’s not a cool thing to say, especially for industrial metal guys but I love Roach. Always have since I first heard Infest. During the making of Messages from the Deep, they released Ego Trip, their latest release. It’s so inspiring to see them still kicking out these great releases despite it being over twenty years since they released Infest. The track “Kill the Noise” actually inspired the pull back on the guitar in the second verse of “Violence,” so while we may not sound the same there’s a definite through line in my songwriting approach.
I grew up with nu-metal, that genre was exploding around the same time I started taking an interest in popular music and it really became my baseline for my interest in metal music, the attraction was more right time right place than an active choice though. I loved the expression of negative emotions found in numerous nu-metal releases and it really spoke to me on a personal level and where I was/what I was going through at the time. Infest was monumental for me in that regard.
As I’ve grown older I discovered other amazing genres that I just wasn’t familiar with before and my taste has grown vastly. So nu-metal doesn’t encapsulate my entire taste in music, far, far from it, but I still know all the words to every song on Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water and I’ll never pretend I don’t.
Messages from the Deep is out now on Binary Order’s Bandcamp.