Royce Zanetic & Greg Turner – Neomantra ‘A Henosis of Post-Metal Madness’

Neomantra are a 4 piece post-metal outfit hailing from Perth that deliver heavy-hitting philosophical and atmospheric music with elements of prog, black metal and doom. Sounds like they’ve got a lot going on yet Neomantra’s delivery on Henosis is a beautifully measured sonic journey with a vast cross-over of metal styles that blend seamlessly into the type of music you could play whilst trekking through the wilderness, eating the occasional odd coloured mushroom whilst contemplating your existence. 

Co-produced by Karnivool’s Drew Goddard, this 5 track EP will appeal to fans of Gojira, Tool, Celtic Frost, Crowbar and about half the old school metal albums in your collection. It’s heavy without being a thousand miles an hour. A truly majestic listen. Wall of Sound‘s Duane James sat down with Royce Zanetic (guitar/vocals) and Greg Turner (drums) of Neomantra to discuss the new EP Henosis, their in depth subject matter and what’s to come in the bands future…

Hey Lads, great to meet you – give us a rundown of how Neomantra came to be?

(RZ) – Likewise & thanks so much for the interview. So I wrote a bunch of demos between 2015 and 2016, after having not played music for several years with some health concerns at the time taking priority. I guess I had a lot of creative ideas accumulating during that time, and these demos were somewhat cathartic outputs from that period. I learned how to do some basic drum programming and so put together about ten instrumental tracks, and subsequently worked with Drew (Karnivool) to really polish these demos up, production-wise. I eventually started looking to piece together a band to perform them live – Greg (drums) and Marco (bass) were filling venues around Perth at the time playing in a Tool tribute act (‘The B-Tools’), and playing like the entire ‘Ænima’ album end-to-end, which I thought was pretty damn impressive. Being a Tool fan I went along to one of their shows to see them in action, and from then it was like ‘right I gotta get my hands on these guys’ since they gelled hard already as a rhythm section.. haha. I’d never met them before but tracked them down online to send them a link to my demos. Fortunately they liked what they heard and began to learn the tracks, and we eventually began jamming as a 3-piece instrumental act (interestingly the idea of adding vocals came much later on in the piece). We questioned for some time whether or not to introduce a second guitarist, not feeling we had really encountered anyone we felt strongly enough about yet as a good fit on both personality and ability fronts. But eventually one day Jarod (who I briefly played with in a local band years earlier) randomly turned up in the rehearsal room next to ours at our regular studio with his black metal band (Sanzu). I went next door to say hi, mentioning that I was looking for a guitarist and asking if he was keen to have a listen to the demos… he joined the band pretty much without hesitation shortly afterwards, haha. So things just kind of lined up in that way I guess.

(GT) – It’s a funny thing actually that the initial message Royce sent me in reaching out, accidentally was delivered to a junk message folder somehow, and I completely missed it..  Marco messaged me a number of weeks later asking me if I’d checked out the demos ‘from that dude’ yet.. I was like ‘What dude? What demos?!’… haha. I believe he had another drummer in mind by that time, thinking I’d ignored the invitation or wasn’t interested.. so I very nearly forfeited the opportunity accidentally… lucky Marco brought it to my attention when he did..! Haha.

And what inspired your band’s name? Guessing you blokes like The Matrix?

(RZ) – Haha, well actually the name wasn’t derived from The Matrix movies at all – the word ‘mantra’ resonated with us in the sense that it alludes to a kind of ancient sound repetition that aids to focus one’s thoughts, with an energy that one can really harness and feel. The prefix ‘Neo’ comes from the Greek word ‘neos’, meaning ‘new’. So we likened the music as a type of ‘new mantra’. There’s quite a serious undertone to the name, based on how we felt about the weight of the music and the mix of old and new vibes & influences in it. The opening track ‘Solipsism’ does allude to Nick Bostrom’s ‘Simulation Argument’, similar to the Matrix movie theme where Neo is the main character… but that happened purely by coincidence… I’m not particularly a big sci-fi or movie fan to be honest, haha. But I do read a lot of books & material on philosophical & metaphysical constructs, artificial intelligence, theoretical & quantum physics… that kind of thing.

 (GT) – I do actually dig The Matrix films and am a bit of a sci-fi nerd growing up as a Star Wars kid.. haha. But the concept of the band name is heavily embedded in alternative philosophical & metaphysical concepts, in contrast to the generally accepted status quos of our reality and existence, and not really directly referenced to film or characters as such… although the Matrix does inspire some similar thinking, conceptually. However in my day job as a data analyst I’ve inherited the nickname ‘Neo’ and my data modelling work is referred to as ‘The Matrix’ by my colleagues… so maybe there’s some quantum mechanics at play there, who knows…! Haha.

Having listened to the EP a few times, Henosis takes me back to late 80’s/early 90’s bands like Bathory and Celtic Frost. What inspired you guys to head in that direction sonically?

(RZ) – Interestingly, the style is pretty much based on the old adage of ‘less is more’ – less focus on shredding notes and technical guitar playing, and more feel and focus on song structure. The doom and post-metal influence is kind of there too. I don’t think I had any particular sonic direction in mind specifically, I just started writing within my capability on the guitar at that time, Drew is a magician when it comes to tones haha, so he helped to really dial in the ‘sweet spot’ sonically. And the vocals actually came as a last minute introduction, after hearing bands like Neurosis and Crowbar I wanted to give it a go, also giving an opportunity to elude to the themes in the music lyrically, if not still relatively subtle.

 (GT) – Those bands you mention are some great comparisons sonically, despite interestingly not really being direct influences of ours in this material.. I can definitely hear the similarity in the guitar tones and overall vibe now that you’ve mentioned those groups. I always love hearing other’s subjectivity in the influences we hear in other’s music. A friend of ours Ryan (Chaos Divine) likened our sound to that of “Gojira meets November’s Doom” which I also found to be an interesting take on it too. And as Royce alluded to, Drew is just next level when it comes to sound so I think a bit of his tonal sorcery can be heard infused in our overall sound if you listen for it.

Thematically, Henosis focuses on the notions of self, psyche and reality. As subject matter it’s an incredibly deep rabbit hole to go down, yet you’ve pulled it off beautifully. How did this become the focus of your creation?

(RZ) – I’ve always been heavily into all forms of reading and learning, especially during periods where my health had restricted my capabilities to participate in more physical activities. So it really all stemmed from my interests in psychology, metaphysics and all forms of deep philosophy, and finding music to be a perfect outlet for the expression of all of these interests via a single medium.

(GT) – Yeah I must say, Royce’s philosophical interests really struck us as something fresh and stimulating in itself, as well as in the context of this type of music that I feel has gained much popularity out there at the moment, These concepts also very much reflect his personality… I’ve never felt so intrigued by a person before when some of his stories, surreal experiences and conceptual perspectives, so that was a natural draw and allure for myself, also being one thriving on and finding intrigue in lateral and critical/alternate thinking, and inspiring me to start exploring some of those rabbit holes myself, haha. Our jam room is full of boxes of interesting and obscure books that you’d have trouble finding in your mainstream bookstores, haha. We all dug his ideas for lyrics and really embraced the overall concepts as a band. The music attempts to be pretty “serious” (for lack of a better word), and we are deliberately trying to invoke people to think and reflect, and even learn about the ideas portrayed in the lyrics. We are all on board the train, the path to self-knowledge and experiential understanding.

Having Drew Goddard (Karnivool) on board as co-producer of this EP is a huge coup. How did you acquire his services and how has his inclusion as co-producer affect the overall outcome of the EP?

(RZ) – Well as I mentioned earlier I wrote this music predominantly on guitars, but am certainly not a drummer, and had very little knowledge around music production at all. Being a genuine good bloke and having gotten to know me over the years, Drew offered to help bring the loose demos I’d written into a production standard worthy of demonstration to other musicians and the outside world.. so throughout that process he implicitly became a co-producer putting some serious investment and pride into the initial demo production work, including the drum programming on those demos (which were re-recorded as live drums by Greg in late 2019), plus contributions into the other instrumentation and tonal direction as well, which a lot of was sources from the original demos for the actual recording of the EP at Underground Recording Studios here in Perth. It really all stemmed from Drew and I meeting randomly every now and then at local gigs initially, but becoming familiar and connecting on concepts of alternative philosophies and other interesting stuff. Once Drew understood my plight in not knowing how to further the production of my demos he simply offered to help as an act of kindness and friendship really… Perth’s just like that and a great thing about being part of a smaller music scene in that way I think.

(GT) – I totally agree on this, just to add – for anyone who’s been to Perth for any length of time, you’ll know it’s small, and even smaller in particular aspects such as music and other creative scenes. We have much fewer venues to choose from than the eastern states, and even fewer that really even cater to the more diverse/less commercially mainstream musical styles.. so you very easily encounter many of our incredible local creative talents out and about, whether watching a gigs, or just having lunch and beers at their local, haha. Perth’s really great in that way in terms of having a very intimate scene with regular and familiar faces, easy to make great new friends and also in developing great new connections and networks when it comes to vying for the more limited opportunities we have to play shows here at those well-respected venues. Having said that, we’re extremely grateful that our local scene has been able to persist with bands playing shows at all in these current times, although many of the great local acts we know have all suffered cancellations and rescheduling due to lockdowns (including ourselves).

The third track ‘Dualism’ acts as a segue of sorts between the first two and last two songs, and despite having no vocals it has a lot more going on than just your dual guitar/drum/bass number. The violin section (which reminded me of Melbourne band Ne Obliviscaris) really adds so much weight to, not just the song, but the whole EP. Who played the violin and why was ‘Dualism’ kept as an instrumental piece?

(GT) – The EP was constructed with intent to infuse a holistic sense of equilibrium (dark & light, good & evil, yin & yang…or however you subjectively relate to these concepts)… throughout the entire context of the EP – an as almost an afterthought – including the actual songs themselves. Dualism therefore came as a natural juxtaposition to the intensity of the EP as a whole, once we had the bigger picture to look at (we actually pulled one of the intended tracks from the EP to replace it with Dualism after this realisation was made) Dropping it smack bang in the middle as you say, as a kind of contrasting segue or ‘pivot’, naturally complemented the overall equilibrium theme. The violin was recorded by local musician and friend Julian Nichols – Julian literally walked in never having heard the track before, and dropped the actual violin piece on the EP after one listen… first take, with flawless precision, dynamics and emotion… He’s truly an amazing talent and no doubt will be stoked with your compliments there!

What are your plans going forward after the release of “Henosis”? Any chances of a live showing in the near future? (Either here or outside the Matrix?)

(RZ) As mentioned we ended up dropping a song from the EP to make way for the pivotal instrumental track ‘Dualism’.. so we’re working to release that one as a single next up in the near future. We still have material from the original pool of demos that Henosis was sourced from, so intending to drop another similar EP on the other side of the single as well… there’s that equilibrium thing again.. haha. We did have some plans for a live show sooner than later, but lockdowns have played some part in complicating those plans so we’re now planning an EP launch very early next year, mostly in terms of securing the awesome venue that we wanted because bookings have been so limited here with past Covid restrictions which has knocked on to big delays in securing dates. In the meantime we’re looking to jump on any supporting opportunities that arise, so thought let’s at least get the music out there now (since it’s been a long time coming already!) and get working on our next releases in the pipeline, in the meantime. We’ve also been talking with Drew about him making a cameo appearance on stage for one of the songs at our EP launch show, and have some awesome local supports on board already, so that’ll all be super fun and something cool to look forward to.

To hype up new fans, what are three key things we should all listen out for on the EP once it’s released upon the world?

(GT) – For me I personally I find the central part of the second song ‘Emancipation (Metaphysical Self)’ to be very climatic, it kinda builds momentum through these chaotic sub-riffs, up to this explosive crescendo of the lyrics in ‘breaking the shackles’ achieved through some kind of psychological or spiritual ascension… I totally vibe on this song and this part every time.. haha. I think ‘Dualism’ will come as a surprise (a pleasant one, we hope!) to most, upon first listen in contrast to the intensity of the opening two tracks.. but that really was the point in doing it. It makes sense in the context of our conceptualisation of the EP as a whole. Finally I think the final track ‘Plato’s Shadows’ is a great overall summation of what we’re about, in targeting a specific reference to a philosophical tale (Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’). As much as I love this song, I initially took the lyrics Royce has written quite superficially… but later was intrigued to actually research the tale upon which the lyrics were drawn… I think it’s been a fantastic approach in this song (and really for the entire release) how the sparse and suggestive lyrics manage to still convey the depth of the story being told, without saturation of the complex musical movements by a consistent vocal line.. there’s a real balance to the lyrics and the music which is completely intentional, and again feeds back into our overall approach to delivering the content.

Any final thoughts to add?

(GT) – It’s been a long time coming to release an EP 5 years since the band’s inception, but monumental for us finally reaching the point now where things are finally getting good traction, and with more great material already in the reserves to go towards our conceptual release of two EP’s either side of a single, mirroring the structure of the Henosis EP on a macro level, if you like. We experienced all manner of setbacks and delays in getting to this point (not to mention everyone’s favourite nemesis the global pandemic causing us a bit of a false start on our initial reveal to the world..!), but it’s been evident to us that such a challenging time in world history has been fostering all sorts of new creativity around the world, and we hope that bringing new music to people keeps up the perseverance of all, to see out this shit-show eventually. Also in that respect, it’s devastating seeing the impact the pandemic has had on the music industry nationally, but also close to home with many friends and associates of ours struggling financially and with mental health throughout these times. Please continue to support local artists and your local music scene in any way you can, and look out for each other.

Roger that my friend.

Interview by Duane James @duanejames666

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Pre-Order/Save Henosis here

Neomantra – Henosis tracklisting

1. Solipsism
2. Emancipation (Metaphysical Self)
3. Dualism
4. The Absolute
5. Plato’s Shadows

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