Pando Conducts Hypnotizing, Discordant “Rites” (Album Premiere + Interview)
Rites is a study in contrasts. Compared to experimental duo Pando's other work in tone, it differs somewhat, taking a consistently darker and creepier direction, but as a single work, it runs across a vast musical divide from completely abstract noise to raucous black metal. All the while, it toys with juxtapositions of the beautiful and the perverse—Rites is a study in how both of those things can exist at the same time with neither overtaking the other. It's a challenging experience, but it puts a new spin on exactly how dementedly enjoyable music can be. It also offers a new perspective on how shitty our world is—while there's really no question about that, Rites probes the ulcers of the world from new and grimly intriguing directions.
Listen to Rites in full below and read an interview with Pando further down.
While Pando's creation process has generally been unstructured, curating improvisation sessions, field recordings, samples, and more into full works (their the pouch EP's liner notes mention it took six hours, start to finish), the quarantine pushed them to create a record in a different process, involving slightly more structure than before. The circumstances of said quarantine altered the mood of the album as well: as the band mentions below, art is a response to its environment, and Rites, if anything, is pulling its punches in that regard. However, the new process and the gloomier tone work well together: though the album is still vastly inventive and rarely focuses on a motif or texture long enough for anything to seem normal, there's a sense of being shepherded towards an end state... and a gradual loss of hope along the way.
Voice clips throughout the album chip away at that hope, stitching together a depressing and cynical narrative that sometimes clashes with the textures underneath, such as on the final track where classical guitar plays as evidence of child abuse is laid out against the Catholic Church. Sometimes, they echo the corrupted and corrosive sounds underneath: clips of the Declaration of Independence lead into depressingly contradictory word-vomit from Donald Trump as windy noise gusts and growls underneath on "In God We Trust With Our Cold Dead Hands." At other times, voice samples aren't even necessary: the longest track, "Excarnation," is more instrumental than anything, combining violin samples with dark rock, waves of noise, psychedelic excursions and more, leaving unresolved tension as its 12-minute runtime wraps up.
The more musical parts of Rites are, then, almost uplifting interludes between these parts—or, they would be, if they weren't crafted from wholesale slabs of abrasive and overwhelming metal. "Dadaism" and "The Molds of Men," replete with cinematic textures and vindictive blast beats, as well as the sludge-hammering "Total Station Theodolite," give the first half of the record an invigorating jolt of energy, if not positivity, while the back half of the album gets extremely strange to round things out. Though I dearly love engaging drone-doom-noise-and-so-on albums that stay far away from recognizable riffs, the way that Pando builds out these songs using conventional metal elements as well as their vast arsenal of Weird Shit puts Rites on another level: their positioning is no accident.
The contrasting, paradoxical nature of Rites runs all the way up into the album art: the angel at the center looks anything but angelic, and yet there's a clear air of holy reverence. Rather than dumping some black paint on the angel and smashing it with a hammer or something trite, Pando put significant thought into just how unnerving the subject could be. To make their genre-label-resistant soundscape similarly jarring, they've scattered black metal, sludge, and more into a bizarre mire of ceremony and corruption, one perfectly calibrated to pry away at sanity.
I would, perhaps as an understatement, classify your previous works as "weird and experimental," and Rites is definitely along those lines as well, but a lot darker and bleaker. Did you have a particular mood or theme in mind as you created it; was anything weighing on you?
Adam: I mean, the state of the US was pretty “bleak” and “dark” during the time we were writing the album. Art is usually a direct response to the environment you are surrounded by. It's what creates culture. So we had the pandemic, the poor response to the pandemic due to horrible leadership, protests based on racism, and an overload of conspiracy theories being mixed up with actual media news. It's impossible to not acknowledge things like corruption and inhumane behavior when it's so abundant in your society. The album sort of stands as the anti-thesis of all things that make up our western philosophies.
Matt: We have never actually “written” any songs as pando. We typically collect sounds and record sessions, then assemble them into songs. These audio records then stand as documentation of our experiences. Just as a tattoo collector has marks, often used to recall memories, we do the same as two brothers and a portastudio. My son was born around the time we started sculpting this album, which made going out and collecting sounds less frequent, then shortly after that the pandemic began which sealed the deal on hang outs. So the songs on rites are partially written, that is why it exhibits certain qualities. It had to be built from a distance, making this a memory- less album; cold and empty with only observations of the world around us.
"Rites" mixes together a lot of genres that are generally considered harsh or alienating -- black metal, noise, drone, etc. When creating it, how do you balance all these elements and use them together?
Adam: In regards to the sounds heard on the album, Matt and I just listen to a broad range of music and get bored too easily to stick to one consistent genre. Drone metal, black metal, etc. has already had entire albums worth of material done the best way possible. But when I was a kid, there was no such thing as these different “subgenres” of stuff. It was either rock, rap, country, pop, or “screaming” music. So we never look at it like, “Oh, well this one track is a noise track, so the rest of them have to be that to make it cohesive.” I usually don't listen to a whole album that sounds like one thing because once you've heard one death metal song on a specifically death metal record, you know what to expect out of every track. And that's not to say that those albums don't necessarily have value. Bolt Thrower is nasty if you want to bench press a car all day and if you are out in the woods, Wolves in the Throne Room is great. But I just can't find it in myself to make an entire album like that. It's different when you aren't the one recording, mixing, and editing your own stuff because you don't have to listen to the same song a hundred times. A lot of bands, I'm sure, just go into a recording studio, record the track properly and leave the rest to the sound engineer. We record, most of the time when I mix I have no idea what I'm doing, but it makes the results and responses to the previous movement interesting for me and makes it so we never know how it sounds. People get stuck on things like “tone” too much and striving for one set thing. We just want something cohesive. So rather than getting caught up on creating one “perfect” track, we'd much rather have one cohesive album where the tracks flow between each other. I feel like making “albums” with conscious efforts on track placement is a lost art now.
Matt: Adam typically likes to emulate sounds and patterns from influencing genres. He’s the voice of reason if you will, the half that makes our sound have a genera. On my end I usually try to do the opposite and make things I’ve never heard before in music. So I spend my time peeing into empty bottles that have guitar pickups epoxied to it, and Adam records it. Then we mix it, (the sounds with compressors and noise gates, not mix the pee). I wash my hands a lot.
Samples, often lengthy, make up a lot of the album's textures. How do those play a part in songwriting—do you start off with selected samples and build around them, or add them in later? How do you pick which samples to use?
Adam: For the most part, I don't think we like empty space unless it's really important to hone in on one particular sound and make that sound be really important to the atmosphere. I know a couple people have labeled our stuff as “ambient,” but when I think of “ambient music” I think of music that is very minimalistic and for the most part, relaxing. While there's for sure moments within our discog that are pretty meditative, I wouldn't consider us “ambient” by any means because of things like the samples. We choose samples based on how they occupy space within the tracks, what textures they form when being placed in the mix, and how the chosen sample reflects the overall concept of the piece. We never just use “random” samples. There's conscious decisions in even the placement of guitars (or lack thereof). So if the song is about a certain thing, what could be more appropriate than commentary on that subject? It's like building a film score. You wouldn't just put a random noise in a place where there's a guy just walking down the street with his dog unless you really wanted to emphasize something important happening.
Matt: The samples are directly tied to the memory we share while recording them. So when listeners play the albums, they actually have no accurate understanding of what we lived, but they can apply their own life experiences to said sounds. They get used as shading or a gradient in visual art, it makes the sounds have a unique atmosphere. So the songs just come as they do.
I've spent a good amount of time staring at the album art, trying to understand it. Could you explain what it is?
Matt: The album cover is a plaster casting of a neoclassical bust of an angel. I removed the face, there for removing the expression. When you take eye contact out of a situation, you also remove the subconscious intimacy. It’s face was then filled with resin, which is a clear liquid plastic. It was then assigned a halo composed of oxidized metal removed from the bottom of a bucket. This bucket was once a vessel used to carry materials to and from destinations. In chipping out the bottom, it has lost its functional properties. A dozen roses were attached to the metal shards as a symbolic gesture of mourning. A floodlight backlights the sculpture, the empty head allowing the light to pass through. If the head was not empty, you would not be able to see “the light”.
This sculpture then became an icon we used in a photoshoot. These photos make up the album art in the pamphlet for the album. The shoot was driven by the concept of offering. The fold outs of the physical cd case displays two grandparents telling stories to their youth. They too are oxidized, hinting at concept of eroding ideas.
Adam: The album art ties the entire concept together really. Western audiences really like to pay extra attention to the lyrics of songs when it comes to concepts, but there are also other ways of delivering.
Across all your releases, the song titles are consistently excellent; either evocative or just humorous. How do you name your songs, and when in the process does it happen?
Adam: Humor is incredibly important to us and has gotten us through all of our writing processes. Recording, mixing, and editing your own material is especially tedious, more-so when you are doing things like going out of your way to find specific sounds in your environment or society to fit in with one really small part of a track. So dick jokes go a long way when it's your twentieth take on attempting to record this one fucking bird out in the woods or having to go into the middle of downtown Northampton and record people talking about dumb shit like curtains just to accidentally hope for the right cross chatter to fit in the ambience of a piece. The song titles are thought out because I'm a writer and it always bothered me when chapters in books gave away what the whole chapter was about. At that point, why read it? So everyone of our titles are hints at what the songs or albums are about, but hoping to not give things away. There's a lot of play on words. Maybe someone sees “Rites” as a religious “rites” of passage. But maybe they also see it as “rights.” Maybe it's both.
Matt: I used to drink a lot of vodka and roll my undies into my butt crack for the entire evening of recording. Every single title assigned to tracks is based off of a philosophical interpretation about a conversation revolving around my ass cheeks, the questioning of certain characteristics my penis may or may not have, the perfect setting for my double kick pedals, and the socioeconomic repercussions that comes with time dilation. This sounds facetious, but it is accurate. One could argue Alan Watts actually titled these tracks, he just doesn’t know it… yet.
Rites releases March 26th, 2021 via Aesthetic Death.