Although some may argue that progressive metal is twenty years going past its expiry date, there are bands like Hemina to prove those naysayers wrong. Coming from the land down under, Hemina fuse stirring melodies with the sort of cerebral madness you may have come to expect from the genre. Douglas Skene (also in the neo-prog band Anubis- check ‘em out!) answered some questions I had about them, their craft, and their new album “Synthetic”, released at the dawn of 2012.
Conor: Introduce yourselves!
Doug: Hey dude, this is Dougie from Hemina. I’ll introduce the other guys. We have my main man Mitch Coull on guitar and backing vox, Jess Martin schlapping und backing vox, Phill Eltakchi providing the textural keys and Mat Irsak who is the brains and balls behind the groove. You may have noticed a different drummer played on Synthetic and that was Andrew Craig. Whilst we had a great time playing together, we had to move on for the typical musical differences that happen unfortunately in bands. You can be sure to keep an eye out on the new flavour that Mat has brought to the band giving a lot of finesse, dynamics and groove to our sound.
Conor: Hemina is an interesting name. Like your contemporary prog metallers in Haken, it is a name that intrigues me, but not one I’m all too sure how to pronounce, much less understand. What’s the story behind it?
Doug: Ok, to end the pronunciation issue which is probably my fault for not coming up with a commonly used word as a band name, it’s pronounced as Heh-mee-na or for you in the know of IPA (hemi:nʌ). It’s a Proto-Germanic word for Heaven which was chosen for its relevance to our ethereal sound palette. I also like the end of the word conveying for of a female touch (it’s actually a semi-common female name in the Indian subcontinent) and a gentle underpinning unlike the very aggressive and metallic names many bands have. It was possibly was my mindset at the time trying to distance myself from Metal which I was feeling very disenchanted with throughout the compositional process of ‘Synthetic’ between 2007-2010.
Conor: If you were given five or ten words to describe your sound to a stranger and convince them to listen to Hemina, what would your answer be?
Doug: Beautiful, Melodic, Emotional, Pure, Textured, Dense, Challenging, Confronting, Dark, Light, Balanced.
Conor: One thing that really stands out to me with Hemina’s music is that there is a balance between the melodic, and cerebral elements in the sound. How do your compositions come together? Do these disparate elements spawn from different musicians, or is there a sort of understanding that you want to pursue this ‘balanced’ take on progressive metal?
Doug: Really the whole compositional process is very natural. Balance is always in mind. As the album is a concept piece and everything I seem to do has a very gestalt approach of understanding things as a part of the whole, our songs would not worth without the light and shade, and respect to the dynamic curve of especially such a long album. I like to think that the melodic elements come at the forefront and that any perceived cerebral elements are just there to serve the melodic backbone of the music. I will often have whole music structures or melodic ideas in my head which I must transcribe. We actually get all of our songs down in guitar pro so that we can refine everything til we are pleased. This will then form the skeleton of our songs which will be elaborated upon and ornamented throughout the recording process. Whilst the album I do consider to be “thinking man’s” music to a degree, I believe the themes and harmony hit the listener on a visceral and natural level. The disparate elements could be seen as the band member’s contributions to a degree but I think it’s more about the vision I/we have with having balance and we do not see it as being disparate.
Conor: To date, Hemina has released two albums: the EP “As We Know It” and the first full-length, “Synthetic”- an album that’s earned some pretty heavy acclaim since it’s been released. Although it wasn’t a great deal of time between the release of the two albums, there’s a noticeable improvement on “Synthetic.” What do you change or refine in the band in order to climb this plateau?
Doug: Most of ‘Synthetic’ was close to being completed in a bear-bones kind of fashion prior to ‘As We Know It’ but we just wanted to have something out there that showed were serious about releasing music. It seems as though many live Australian bands here on our rather weak scene do not ever end up releasing something. We needed to have something to start building the name and anticipation for ‘Synthetic’. Our understanding of production and our technical competencies were not as strong on the EP and we did things on a very tight time and financial budget so it does not sound as good as it could have in retrospect. I can’t even listen to it anymore to be honest except for the opener which I still adore. Those vocal harmonies invoke something almost subconsciously Lynchian in me. ‘Synthetic’ sounds far more mature to my ears and I am really proud of it even though I hear things that are a bit dense or could have been been better from a production perspective, ignoring that it really touches me on an emotional level. It was never meant to be something that people are supposed to be impressed with in terms of chops or instrumental w**kery. It was meant to evoke the empathy inside of all us and to cause you to look at your life from some sort of foreign perspective. We all became much better players after playing live for some time after the ‘As We Know It’ release and I was most certainly a better singer coming into record ‘Synthetic’, just as I have vastly improved since the release of the album also. I’d like to think that the overal package of Hemina will be improved by a greater margin than between the first releases with our upcoming album ‘Venus’. We’ll lose some fans too which is always the case if there is even a slight change in sound between albums. The new one is going to be Synthetic’s obese tastier cousin.
Conor: Lyrics don’t seem to be nearly as important to the overall scope of Hemina as is the music itself, but there are some interesting themes that leave enough ambiguity to make a listener wonder. Is there some sort of concept going on in “Synthetic?” What is the writing process behind lyrics? For that matter, do lyrics come after the music has been all written?
Doug: Well for me the lyrics are actually a huge part but they nearly always come after the music has been written. The music builds the atmosphere or world for the lyrics to breathe in. Often melodies are written with the music that call for particular lyrics. I always have in mind a direction for lyrics and the words seem to come to me reasonably fast usually.
I thought I’d include the story of the album on the website so that people could analyse the lyrics in the context of that but obviously some ambiguity will always be there and that’s desired. I hate things being too literal, music needs to tap into the subconscious in some ways and provoke new thoughts.
I see ‘Synthetic’ as a part of at least a 3 album world without necessarily being a trilogy as such. I think great conceptual lyrics stand alone as well as working effectively in a narrative context – that’s just good songwriting to me.
Here is the synopsis of the Synthetic concept from the Hemina website (www.hemina.com.au) – hopefully it will give you a new perspective to live through ‘Synthetic’ on relistens.
“Lost somewhere in the space that exists between fantasy and reality, life and death – a young angel makes his way onto the Earth after a young pious woman is violated by a lowly thug on the streets. Crossing the planes of existence by means of a horribly violent birth, the young boy is born into our modern world with an innate feeling of confusion and disgust of where his journey has taken him. Why is he here and will he fight ’till the end for the answers?
Disturbed from his seemingly infinite rest, the child is forced to live a sheltered and indoctrinated life in an isolated shack somewhere in the desolate mountain ranges with his mother, who despite her horrible circumstances stays true to her vehemently strong religious convictions. The years pass by rapidly and the boy loses the childhood he needed and so desperately deserved.
Older in age, he manages to snake out of the home in hope of finding his crowd. For all the wrong reasons, he resorts to petty thievery, murder and the battery of children in gangs as this is the only time he truly feels as though he belongs. In spite of this, he still feels lost in his insecurities and wonders what it is truly like to have friends.
Bored with the gang’s previous acts of violence, his buddies use their powers of persuasion to make him break into a car for them. To their dismay, a police vehicle patrolling the area had come after the crooks after hearing the glass of a car shatter. Displaying their true character, the others run off and leave our angel apprehended by the law. The boy is forced to remember all the warnings his mother gave him about friends and why he did not need them. These thoughts are disturbed by the as he is taken aback by the beauty of a golden-haired, green-eyed police officer that is taking him to be questioned. The angel senses a sense of depression and incompleteness in this enchantress and in a brief moment of illogical heated passion through connection of eyes, the two flee to start a new life together without the worries of their pasts. They seal their deal by making love together on the beach under the light of stars. A new child is born.
Life goes on and the once young boy is now a father himself. Plagued with guilt for simply leaving his mother to her own devices in their mountain sanctuary, he wishes to return to at least cure his curiosity of how she is living without him. He travels to come clean to his mother about his new life, only to find her lying dead before his eyes. In complete cold shock of what has happened combined with his past history of run-ins with the law, he escapes before anyone has the chance to confront him.
The angel take his wife and son out to a distant forest to clear his mind with some good old-fashioned family bonding, teaching his boy how to hunt and sharing his philosophies on life. The helicopter circle the skies looking for signs of a killer as someone must have tipped the police off about someone suspicious leaving the mother’s secluded mountain sanctuary. Fed up with the pressures and unfairness of his existence, the angel puts his son and wife to bed so that he can finish up some of his own business. He kisses his son on the forehead and says his last goodbyes before executing himself upon the pile of animals that had managed to hunt that day. His wife watches still from through the cracks of their tent door and goes back to sleep ignoring the sounds of gunfire.
In an attempted to be reunited with his one true love, his mother, the angel makes his journey back to his origins in the world that exists between life and death; the conduit to the sky. He is confronted with his fears of being alone, and stuck forever – never knowing where he truly fit in. This angel needed answers as to why he was here and this was the only place he was going to get them. Taunted by an unrelenting drive to see his mother once again, he travels heaven and earth to find her, only to find himself back in that mountain cottage he grew up in. But where were his answers? Who will answer them? In the midst of his angst he felt a strange sense of purpose and clarity. A baron mirror stands on a hill outside his window. Lying in the glistening reflection cast by the grand mirror, the answers to all his questions are found. With urgency he glanced into the mirror to be flooded with memories of a love once known. Lost somewhere in the space that exists between fantasy and reality, life and death – a young angel makes his way onto the earth after a young pious woman is violated by a lowly thug on the streets.”
Conor: What’s the metal and progressive scene in Australia like? I’m certainly aware of your black metal scene- Bestial Warlust, Drowning the Light, and Woods of Desolation (among others) are all fantastic.
Doug: The metal and progressive scenes are small and as a whole not overly supportive in my eyes. I find people in bands often try to support other bands but most people can’t muster the energy to get their arses out to see you even at ridiculously cheap costs like $10 for a show of 3-4 talented bands. There are some bands doing great stuff here though – I play in Anubis whose two albums seem to have gotten good reviews from the Prog Community, we’ve also got Unitopia and Ben Craven on more of the standard Prog stuff. In terms of Prog Metal, there are great things happening for Caligula’s Horse (My fav of Aussie Prog Metal), Voyager, Chaos Divine, Arcane, Avarin, Vanishing Point, and if you can track down ‘Silent Atonement’ by now dead Western Australian Band Noctis you would be doing yourself a great favour.
Conor: Where do you think the progressive metal scene stands today, as a whole? Are there any bands (besides yourselves!) that stand out to you as being exceptional?
Doug: Well it seems pretty thriving in a way but support is not overly grand for it. In Australia, barely any Prog Metal bands tour here which totally blows. Apart from Dream Theater who have come twice (and graciously to my delight brought Pain of Salvation once) and Opeth who are thankful regulars – we don’t see a lot. Bands that I love at the moment are Pain of Salvation, Caligula’s Horse, Leprous, Periphery, Tesseract, Anathema (seriously one of the best), Haken, still waiting for another Aspera/Above Symmetry release!, Voyager, Ayreon. I’m honestly digging a lot of “djent” music and there are a lot that are doing that great.
Conor: Although the EP received a good amount of underground acclaim in its time, “Synthetic” has really taken off in terms of how the prog world has received it. What can you attribute to its success?
Doug: Hard work and a good album. We also went for a lot more PR through Nightmare Records with this album. I wish it had taken off more which would be cool but people should keep spreading the word!
Conor: What lies in the future of Hemina? Come tour past Vancouver, we’ll sample Canadian craft beers before the show!
Doug: We’d love to tour North America and Canada – put us in touch with someone who can arrange something and we’ll polish off those beverages, mate
Conor: Although Hemina is still a relatively young band, there’s no doubt you’ve picked up some tricks with the development of an album like “Synthetic.” What advice, then, could you give to upcoming and unknown musicians or bands- words of wisdom to ease their course?
Doug: Seriously, make the music for you. If you hear your product and you wouldn’t wanna listen to it at least as much as your favourite bands, what the hell are you wasting your time for? Each musical creation I work on, it’s exactly what I want to listen to. There is no point creating music at an attempt to be something someone else will like, if you make something that you adore then you know it’s pure and potentially receivable as non-contrived and fresh by others too! People need to hear your music also so my above statement is not saying that fans are unimportant. They’re really everything at the end of the day that separates you from being a bedroom strummer and a musician. Work hard, have a band where people pull their weight and be prepared for a slog and a half if you want to get anywhere because at the end of the day – not many people do.
Conor: Is there anything crucial I may have missed? Would you care to discuss the finer intricacies of potted plants?
Doug: Potted plants… Well you’ve gotta start with a nice, moist soil… what are we doing here?
Conor: Lastly, do you have a favourite sort of cheeseburger?
Doug: Preferably one with nicely seasoned meat, lots of it and with some sort or hot touch like chili. Pretty much rather a nice vindaloo when it’s said and done!