Interview With Aeon Zen


For the longest time, I had thought the creative zest that first fuelled progressive metal had died. In recent years however, there has been a resurgence of bands that have been doing well to revive my spirits. Particularly from the UK, progressive metal has been getting an exciting makeover. Joining the ranks of other innovative UK prog metal acts like Haken, To-Mera, Threshold and TesseracT, Aeon Zen are putting their own, eclectic spin on progressive metal. Their latest album “Enigma” is a fantastic start to 2013, and promises even greater things from this relatively young band in the future. Hails to band mastermind Rich Hinks for taking the time to respond to these questions!

Conor: What’s the significance behind the name Aeon Zen? It really seems to work with the progressive metal aesthetic.

Rich: That’s exactly what I was hoping for, a band name that effectively sums up our musical style, but while still sounding interesting. It also ties in well with the title of our new album “Enigma”, as the band name itself is fairly enigmatic! But the meaning behind it was to convey an eternal state of bliss, which our music hopefully comes some way to achieving. It also eludes to the fact that Aeon Zen’s music, and my writing style, encompasses many different genres and facets of rock and metal, thereby covering the A to Z of styles.

What was behind the formation of Aeon Zen?

It was initially after having played in several bands prior to Aeon Zen where things gradually fell apart  and not having any real focus, so I decided to create my own musical project where I could write whatever music I wanted and decide for myself where to set the bar musically. This of course led to forming a full band to enable us to play live, which has grown and grown after the last few years to where we are today.

Although the ‘melodic progressive metal’ style has been done to death and beyond in my opinion, your style is fresh in the sense that you know when to kick up the pace and aggression. I’m hearing Gojira as much as I’m hearing Dream Theater. How might you describe your style and objective; is there a conscious directive here to eschew or innovate the typical prog metal sound?

I always have ideas of how to do things a bit differently from other bands, and to mix lots of different styles, but always in a way that fits the song and album. I find that my musical tastes are generally too broad to simply stick with the “melodic progressive metal” label, and while I do enjoy writing music in that style, I could never confine myself simply to that. For example, on our new album “Enigma”, we have one track that has a melodic, atmospheric, perhaps classic progressive metal sound to it, followed immediately by a much heavier, faster paced, almost technical death metal song, which in turn is followed by a piano, saxophone and vocal ballad. This might sound somewhat disjointed on paper, but I put great care into ensuring that all the music flows, and I think you really do have to hear it to appreciate that.

What’s the creative process for Aeon Zen? Given the eclectic approach, I imagine it’s something of a collaborative approach.

Far from it! I write all the music myself, and do the majority of the playing and recording as well. When I’m writing I do keep in mind the playing styles of the other guys in the band, as it’s always good to try and get some other character into the music as well, like when I’m writing vocal parts, for example, for our singer, Andi Kravljaca. I will usually have an idea of how I want the melodies and words to sound, but they are always tailored to suit his voice and vocal style.

When it comes to writing, for the new album I took the approach of writing and recording simultaneously. So I would basically sit down in front of the recording station and start recording whatever flows out, which is how the majority of “Enigma” was created. I find that this really helps keep the songs sounding alive and spontaneous. Another example for this one would be my vocals in the track “Eternal Snow” which were recorded completely on the fly, lyrics and all. They just fit so well with the mood of the track that I had to keep them, so what you hear on the album is an improvised first take.

The new album “Enigma” is being called a prog concept album, although like To-Mera’s “Exile” from last year, I get the impression that the concept is kept more abstract than the familiar rock opera/narrative approach. Anything you can say about the idea behind “Enigma”?

Definitely, I didn’t want to create a “concept album by numbers” if you will. The standard rock opera type approach has been done many times, to great effect I might add, and there are many great albums that use that format, but Aeon Zen are constantly trying to find ways to forge our own identity and put our own twist on things, which is why the concept is a slightly more open-ended one. Our music is pretty diverse, so I wanted to create a concept that would fit in with all the different styles and be open to interpretation.

Were there any particular challenges in making this album a reality?

There are always certain logistical challenges, especially when working with multiple vocalists across different countries. I remember frantically trying to sort out guide vocal tracks to send over to a singer on “Enigma” at 5am the morning that we started a month long European tour, so things can get pretty hectic! The other main challenge with this album that has differed from my previous ones is the format of the vocals. In the past I have used guest vocalists in a “one singer per track” format, but with “Enigma” we have Andi on board as our lead vocalist, but I still wanted to keep the Aeon Zen sound. So on this album I intertwined all the vocal parts, so while Andi is taking the lead there are other vocalists (myself included) that trade off each other. This really helps with the album’s flow and it also really helps when it comes to performing live too!

Britannia has been the home to a fast-growing scene of some of progressive metal’s finest new guard. Haken, To-Mera, TesseracT and yourselves all first come to mind. Do you think there is anything in particular that’s provoking this surge of UK progressive metal?

I’m not sure to be honest, but I think it’s about time that British music had a bit of resurgence! Plus there are so many great bands out there these days, there were bound to be some from over here haha

What’s the progressive scene like locally? Any great lesser-known bands you can recommend that I should check out?

I live around Cambridge, and unfortunately there isn’t actually too much going on here. I think the bands in the UK are generally pretty spread out, so I’m not sure as to whether there’s any one particular place that is spear-heading the movement. Off the top of my head, they’re certainly not local to me, but if you don’t already know them then I definitely recommend checking out the band Divinity, awesome progressive metal with death metal leanings.

What advice would you give to other musicians?

The main thing that I’ve always pursued with Aeon Zen is to keep writing music that I feel passionate about musically. To keep an open mind approach to song-writing is definitely a big thing to keep in mind. Hopefully that’s a slightly different approach to advice than lots of people might take, always nice to have some variation!

What have you been listening to these days?

I’ve mostly been keeping busy with my own music and bands that I’ve been working with on the production side of things at my studio ( Saying that, I have gotten into the latest album by The Faceless recently, that’s some fantastic technical progressive metal.

Favourite beer, favourite cheeseburgers?

Well my absolute favourite food is a good bit of juicy steak, can’t beat that! I actually don’t drink, so I’ll be rocking out with the soft drinks haha.

What lies in the future for Aeon Zen? A tour, perhaps?

I certainly hope so! I’m working out some things at the moment, so we’ll have to see what happens. I’ve also started work on the next Aeon Zen album, so there’ll definitely be more music from us in the not too distant future!

Thanks, and cheers from Vancouver! Hope to see you guys play here sometime.

Thanks Conor, and thanks to everyone who took the time to read this. Please to check out our new album “Enigma”, if you like any of the musical styles I’ve mentioned, then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

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