Moral Collapse’s Brain-Shattering Madness Demands “Suspension of Belief” (Video Premiere, feat. Olivier de Sagazan)
Last year, Invisible Oranges launched a recurring feature in which some of us gush over metal music videos we love. Had death metal trio Moral Collapse released their new video for “Suspension of Belief” back then, it’d have been an easy grab for me. Featuring performance artist Olivier de Sagazan and centered on his signature work “Transfiguration,” the video heralds the group’s upcoming self-titled debut full-length releasing this April.
Watch the video first before reading any further, as it’s best to experience something like this with as little idea of what to expect as possible. This video was my first encounter with “Transfiguration,” and so I can say from experience that if you’ve never seen de Sagazan perform this piece before, you’re in for an extra-large treat when you meet him in tandem with Moral Collapse. I’m still not over the initial shock.
“Transfiguration” is a work that sees de Sagazan rapidly metamorphosing his face and body through the use of clay, straw, paint, and sometimes even fire. Putting himself through a series of de-evolutions that often obscure all his facial features, de Sagazan reduced himself to a preverbal lifeform, remaking itself through caked-on layers of clay and dripping splotches of paint that yearn to become weeping eyes or a gaping mouth.
Paired with “Suspension of Belief”—one of the few instrumental tracks on Moral Collapse—the physical power of “Transfiguration” is amplified, de Sagazan mirroring the song’s increasingly maddening energy as he drags himself further and further away from anything remotely resembling a coherent human.
Slide down for an in-depth interview with guitarist, bassist, and vocalist Arun Natarajan and drummer Hannes Grossmann about the band, how it came to be, working with de Sagazan, and everything that’s going on in this video.
I have so much love for long-distance bands and what you can accomplish working this way. I understand that the project began while Arun and [Moral Collapse guitarist] Sudarshan Mankad were arranging for Hannes to visit India for a series of drum clinics, but what led to this relationship in the first place? And how did you progress from this initial conversation to the idea of collaborating together for Moral Collapse?
Arun Natarajan (guitar, bass, vocals): Yes, it all began with me asking Hannes if he’d like to come to India again to do some clinics and workshops. It was around the same time when the coronavirus hit us. Everything was canned, but our spirits weren’t.
Initially we discussed a small EP, something we could put out on a shoestring budget. We always spoke about doing the clinic and an album together to start our long-term friendship in music. The project gained momentum during the first wave of the nationwide lockdown period, sometime in February. As we progressed, we decided to do more songs and make it more than an EP.
Hannes has been the key here. He turned all my bedroom riffs into this mammoth material, not just with his drumming, but also with his keen ear and production skills. He was involved in so many things right from the first day; his creativity comes across in the most telepathic way when you are dealing with him as a person. Somehow, he seems to know what the feel of a particular riff is, what it needs. We were very clear about what we wanted: a brutal album that incorporated a lot of Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel and Gorguts.
Hannes Grossmann (drums): The biggest challenge, besides playing the actual parts, was to communicate long-distance to make sure that the album sounds the way Arun wanted. But that worked fine. We recorded in different sessions over several months, so there was a danger for the album to sound too heterogeneous. But I think its variety turned out to be an asset. I’m very happy with how the final result sounds, and I definitely hope that we can do the clinics once the terrible virus is controlled.
Once you’d agreed to work together, how did you move ahead from there? Can you break down your songwriting and recording process?
Natarajan: You know, we had some of the material from 2003, but it was only from 2015 to 2020 that we got a chance to develop these ideas. I always wanted to perform all the parts in a song, never having been much of a team player, and I ended up doing most of the things on this album other than drums and leads.
The songwriting had somewhat of a random process, each time with no end in sight. We kind of mixed a lot of things, using many tricks to come up with the structure of a particular song. It was instinct, haste, hate, excitement and sometimes it was just freewheeling improv—at times, all playing their own games. It was around this time that I was greatly influenced by jazz musicians and free improvisation in general.
So half the things that you hear on the album are what came out in the spur of the moment. It is like an act frozen in time and captured. That act, or bass line, or riff wouldn’t be there if it were any other time. It was also my first collab, and the first time I recorded a full album in my own studio.
Grossmann: I love to improvise, and I always try to sneak in some jazzy parts. A lot of the drumming is spontaneous.
How has your experience in Moral Collapse differed from other bands you’ve been in? I know this isn’t Hannes’ first time working remotely…
Grossmann: Every band I work with is different and thus needs a different approach. In this case, it was important to create a Florida death metal vibe, which I enjoyed a lot.
Natarajan: It is the first time that I've tried to do pretty much everything in a band: guitars, bass and vocals. I was used to this drill with my older band Eccentric Pendulum, though everyone contributed much more. With this project, I contributed most of the songs by planning how everything should be from scratch.
It was also the first time I recorded an album independently at my own studio and space. Sudarshan and I shared a very focused and productive spell of recording for about three months, where we recorded four layers of 7-string guitar, two layers of 6-string guitar, one layer of bass, and many layers of vocals. In a sense, most bass parts were free-improv—stuff I had played for the first time when I was tracking for this album.
Sudarshan has been of intense help as a producer, editing takes on the spot and making the whole process super-fast and efficient. We also recorded some djembe and prepared bass, and the album’s intro track “Anechoic” was a single-take, free-improv noise synth piece.
In many ways, the album was finished very quickly and efficiently. As a musician, I've loved working on this and moving forward without many rehearsals, just letting loose what was already inside me. It was the same with all three of us. It's gonna be a challenge to pull this off live.
This record is filled with collaborations—how did you go about selecting creative partners for the tracks? Did you have certain people in mind while writing the songs?
Natarajan: I was looking to make this record larger than everything, to be honest. I really value Death and Gorguts as a huge influence, and so I’m grateful we got to work with Bobby Koelble (Death) and Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts). Bobby’s addition has been so methodical, clinical and rich; his playing, the dynamics, and his rigor are all unmatched.
I've been in touch with Michael Woess since 2012 or something, and always thought he was very talented. He has so many videos, both covers and originals, and then he got picked to join Agathodamion. We’re glad to have him play a small role in the album.
Tony [Das, of Bhoomi] has always been around—he’s Bangalore’s own shred king. He was there on Eccentric Pendulum's Tellurian EP too. So it was a no-brainer to feature him.
Sandesh [Nagaraj] has been pursuing musical studies and jazz and free improv in California, and more recently in Seattle. He has also taught autistic children to play the guitar, and read and write music. His keen sense of aesthetics was a great addition on a couple of the tracks. Originally a guitarist but now much more, he gave us a wide range of sounds and instruments that create different eerie atmospheres.
Julius [Gabriel] is a friend who I got in touch with through Facebook. He is a relentless, extremely talented psychedelic, jazz, noise, and ambient saxophone player with more than 10 albums, EPs, collaborations and several free-improv live and studio projects. He is really the next Brötzmann in the scene.
Mia Zabelka is a thorough veteran from Vienna who has studied music for the last three decades or more. Her addition with violin, voice, and electronics has delivered a much-needed twist in this all-prevalent OSDM genre, and in a way, has made it completely new, if I could say that myself.
The album closer “Trapped Without Recourse (Rumination)” is straight-up horrifying. What’s happening in that track, and what are you looking to convey—outside of the visceral discomfort I’m experiencing while listening to it?
Natarajan: The concept of the album revolves around the emotions of a mother losing her child to bureaucracy, medieval politics and tyranny. In a sense the title is exactly this: the last step of grief where you are planning to completely give up, or you have found yourself plotting your grand vengeance. The story is a drama set in medieval times, where you have all kinds of shit happening—but our focus, for this record, was on a mother and the loss of her child.
This song was a collaboration with violinist Mia Zabelka, with whom we’ve also collaborated on a full-length called Aftershock, where she plays a lot of violin. It’s a very soundtrack-driven, hard ambient, experimental free-jazz and improv album coming out in April—in a sense, making it the electronic counterpart of the Moral Collapse album. We have a metal album and an electronic album, both of which were done at the same time during the lockdown in 2020.
Onto the video for “Suspension of Belief”—what led you towards Olivier de Sagazan and his signature work “Transfiguration”? This track in particular is such a potent engine for the metamorphosis and violent self-annihilation embodied in the work.
Natarajan: Olivier is no stranger to India nor to the world of metal. He has performed in festivals in India before, and I was very impressed with his work in Samsara, having been a big fan of Ron Fricke and Philip Glass. Mr. de Sagazan had also earlier worked with Hideous Divinity and Century Media making a video for the track “The Embalmer.”
It was during the lockdown period that we got in touch with him, and he was kind enough to give us enough footage to work with, for our montage. The real trick was not to make him look like a puppet in this, with fast edits and cuts. Instead, the video begins gently with a lesser number of edits, and by the time it ends, it slowly glitches out!
We think it is apt to what is going on around us. Humanity as a whole has lost the plot, and we don’t know what we are doing with our forests, our medicines, or our animals. Nothing is ours to begin with, but yet, the misuse? Our leaders have no clue what’s going on. “Transfiguration” is a testimony to all these wrongdoings. It further reinstates that evil is close, so close that you won't know when it will strike.
What was the process like for working on the video? How was that collaboration structured?
Natarajan: The process was seamless. We didn’t get a complete piece, but got parts of it. Mr. de Sagazan isn’t the most accessible person, so we were more than happy with what we received. We had to work with it here in Bangalore as well, do some edits and piece the whole thing together.
The structure was more or less derived from the song itself. During the second half, you can see belief getting suspended when the visuals become further more intense and graphic. It brings us back to reality like a Jodorowsky movie, when he takes his bucket and moves out of frame after his final act.
The clay that he is working with of course signifies the burden that he has to carry, which he eventually gets rid of in the end. As Shakespeare once said, “We all play our parts and then get up and leave!”
I’m surprised here—in a good way, since the final video is so seamless—that the original performance wasn’t done in a single take that you’d then edited down. The end result feels like such a natural complement to the progression of the song. Can you expand more on the process between you and de Sagazan? Bring us behind the curtain a bit, if you don’t mind.
Natarajan: Usually, de Sagazan's “Transfiguration” lasts for about 30 to 45 minutes, during which he does a series of things including setting his own head on fire plus a transformation into a pregnant lady who violently self-destructs herself. We were given about half of this performance, around 15 minutes, which didn't have this entire performance. We had enough to make a good enough collage out of it.
Once we did the montage, we had to wait for approvals from de Sagazan, as he didn't want us to portray him like a broken puppet or something. He needed the video to be methodical with a consistent flow, not chopped up senselessly. The glitchy nature of the edits are witnessed only towards the end. We tried to retain his free-improv vibe in the performance. Anytime there is a radical change in the drums, the edits complement or acknowledge that in some way, and the frame changes.
It was a very complicated montage to do, due to its simplicity, and due to the fact that we had one camera angle to work with. But as you said, the end result seems like a match. Neither of us knew what it was going to look like until it was actually completed. We are glad he liked what he saw.
How does this video complement the ongoing “Transfiguration” canon that de Sagazan has been developing for the past 20-plus years? What sets it apart?
Natarajan: We needed a veteran and a video that would override the track itself with its visual quality, y’know? It’s sort of a role-reversal where the audio is to be conceived as an original soundtrack for the visuals that you see in his transformation. When Mr. de Sagazan steps in, we all become secondary.
Moral Collapse releases April 2nd via Subcontinental Records.
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